On the flight from Los Angeles I met my birthday twin who was also going to be on the Crown Princess celebrating her birthday like me and we shared a cab to the port and ended up hanging with them every night at Skywalkers before dinner. We really enjoyed meeting and comparing activities at the same place and same time every night, we used the Platinum/Elite lounge for this, they still provide cheese and veggies and olives among other nibbles.
I booked the cruise early this year and was thrilled to get a specific room—C742—which is the most aft portside Caribe balcony because I read that it was larger than the rest of the portside rooms on this deck and that was true. The balcony has extra room in it making it huge, comparable to the rear facing rooms I have stayed in before.
Embarkation was a breeze and we were in our room by noon. Our room smelled terrible, the poor steward who had also just come aboard was busy scrubbing the walls of the room as we approached it, the floor was damp from cleaning and I could see the steward was beside himself trying to clean the room from a really bad smoke smell. I could tell from the beginning that he was a fantastic steward, but the room was so bad that I knew I had to leave the ship or get my room changed pronto.
We left the room to grab a bite in the MDR, which was opened and not too crowded. I hoped the room would air out in the meantime. I met up with my Birthday twin Teri and her husband Brad and we enjoyed a nice lunch. Back at the room, my poor steward was still scrubbing and he advised me to try and change rooms. I was so bummed out but I decided to fix it and not dwell, I had trivia to win and dinners to eat. I called the front desk every 10 minutes to bug them and finally I relocated to R337, yes I was annoying but within an hour I was in a comparable room with a much smaller balcony but did not smell like smoke.
The new room (R337) was located mid ship. It was a noisy room, I could hear walking all day long and every morning at 6am somebody was dragging chairs and tables around and this became my wake-up call! I had never stayed on the 14th floor so this was a new experience and I did enjoy it. Good thing I am not too fussy about noises and movement.
On the first sea day we got news of a sick passenger and the ship diverted to Bermuda, thankfully we could do that and the passenger was safely transported off the ship via tender.
The sea days were so much fun, we had 10 total. There was an abundance of lectures, games, activities, and lots of trivia all day long. We lucked into a "dream team" of trivia brilliance (the Aristocrats) and won our fair share of games. Al, the head Aristocrat, was one of the most interesting people I met in a long time, a world traveler for years he had a vast amount of information and trivia and wow did I learn from him!
I did not realize how many people cheat in trivia. There was the team that always placed themselves far from others so nobody could see them look through books and lists of answers, when they disputed an answer (each time they got something wrong) they would march up to the cruise staffer and point out the correct answer. The book they cited from was a reference book that had been stolen from the Princess library, geesh! The things people will do for a luggage tag, well actually I heard from a staffer that they give them as tips to the staff!
The food was good, I am not a foodie and ate a lot of Vegetarian although I am not one. It seemed to me that there was a lot more butter and cream in dishes, everything from meat to veggies got a pad of butter on it in the Crown Grill and it was good but very rich. We ate breakfast in the International Cafe, and Lunch and Dinner in the MDR. My favorite discovery was that I could have Panini Sandwiches made at the International cafe! My clothing managed to shrink a lot from so much exposure to salt water.
We enjoyed the port days and had never been to the Azores, or Lisbon. The ship tours were in US Dollars and seemed more reasonable than many private tours that were quoted in Euros. As always the money exchange on the ship offered terrible rates in addition to high fees so we waited to get off the ship and make money exchanges. We found that many vendors (especially street vendors) would take dollars and I met a couple that refused to carry anything but US money and they got plenty of stuff in each port.
We enjoyed the Azorean Island of Sao Miguel and took a private tour which visited the highlights of the island including Ponta Delgata, Sete cidades, Lagoa do Fogo (fire lake), and Caldeiras velha which is a warm water waterfall inside a reserve park area, with a small hotspring and beautiful foliage along the way. After our tour we visited a farm for an authentic Portuguese lunch. Our hosts served us homemade cheeses, breads, sausages, fish and Chicken, and an amazing desert of Passion fruit flan. Its was an amazing intimate experience that was very special, sitting at a long farm table with 40-50 other folks from other ships.
The sail into Lisbon was beautiful, so was the sail away. The dock where we were was very close to everything so we decided to use the tram system to get us around, as well as our trusty feet! We walked a lot, especially after taking the famous "tram 28" which did not go very far, and at the top of the hill we were asked to get off and then stand in line and board the tram across the square! Huh? We encountered some hostility on the tram and were called "ugly Americans" because we refused to stand while the tram was moving, Safetyman Ken would not allow it! I always listen to Safetyman Ken! As we walked down through the ancient streets, we found a Pisswa and everyone posed in it! I had only seen pisswa's in Paris, I did not realize they were all over Europe. Our friends Char and Trevor from Toronto cracked us up as we giggled our way down the hills and through the narrow streets of the Alfama. I found a beautiful green glass/crystal doorknob in an antique store for 5 Euros, my only purchase. Looks like I'll be collecting doorknobs from now on, they make perfect trinkets, they are authentic and inexpensive.
Rotterdam was also an interesting sail in port, it took us several hours to reach the cruise port and we passed some beautiful windmills along the way. We had such a funny day in this port, everything I planned went wrong and I had to abandon my agenda in favor of what unfolded, I gladly gave it up! We all decided to take the train into Amsterdam, I encouraged everyone to take the metro rather than the free shuttle (which I imagined would drop us off at some Dutch version of Diamonds International) and so we did that. However the metro broke down and we were forced to take a tram instead, and all of this was very time consuming so we missed the early train to Amsterdam. Take the free shuttle if you go!
We ended up on a highspeed train to Amsterdam, it took 40 minutes and dropped us off at Amsterdam Central where it was an easy walk to the Red Light district, and all the things that make Amsterdam so unique. The red light district was eye opening as usual, we found those narrow alleys where you walk through single file and shop for sex! I spend a good portion of time watching my feet, wish I was more comfortable with this type of thing but I was not born that way. From the train station walk down Dam Street and the district is to the left, hugging several canals. There is a church there, the Oude Kerk, and if you follow the streets that border it you are in the main part of the red light district. Don't be surprised if you see school children in this area either.
One of the people in our group bought a marijuana brownie and ate half of it as we walked through the red light district, by the time we got onto the hoho boat, she could barely hold up her head! She could not walk off the boat and 5 of us had to carry her, she rested on the stairs of central station as we fed her a burger and a milkshake. We were worried that we couldn't get her back to the ship but thankfully she recovered quickly. We visited Leiden on the way back to the ship and got to see a more pleasing part of Holland. What a day!
Next port was Zeebrugge, Belgium. This was a terrible port in that there was no way to get out of it without paying for a private taxi or using the "shuttle" which cost $6 Euros each way and they made us buy RT claiming they would not sell us tickets on the return bus! I had arranged for a private taxi through Koen Keereman of Brugse Taxi Service and they never showed up. Thankfully there were other taxis available for hire, even if they cost more money. Be careful if you use this company.
Other than the impossible task of getting out of the port, we really enjoyed Brugge. We actually made it there by 8:20 am and had the town to ourselves for the next hour, it's such a cute town to walk. We took a boat ride around and enjoyed the great weather. Slowly the town filled up with people, by noon it was packed. We ate French Fries and everybody agreed that the catsup tasted funny, it was not as sweet.
The last four days of the cruise were hectic with different ports and no sea days to pack and relax. I tried to pack each night a little, but I hated being reminded that the cruise was coming to an end. At least I was going home with clean clothing; it is so nice to enjoy the elite benefits of being a loyal cruiser with Princess!
Le Havre was an interesting port, so French and so lovely. We took a ship tour to Giverny (a miserable zoo of people slamming into me and stepping into my shots) with lunch included at a riverside French restaurant that reminded me cafeteria food, it was so gross. Our last stop was Rouen I had forgotten how much I love France, this always happens to me, and it took me by surprise when we visited Rouen's main Cathedral. I started swooning and I was filled with emotion, I could not stop crying! As we exited the Cathedral we saw an almost nude clown posing for an artist to paint, this greatly embarrassed our Princess tour guide but I told her we had just visited Amsterdam! Next there was a Bachelor party going on in town, it was hysterically funny to watch; the future groom was dressed in drag and his friends, dressed like the Mario Brothers of Nintendo fame, were taking him around to all the stores and cafes and embarrassing him, all the while Mario Brothers Music was blasting. It was a hot mess of a spectacle, and I was so glad I got to see it. Loved Rouen, France but the rest of the tour was not so good!
We disembarked in Southampton at 7am, it was easy and uneventful even though we were really tired. We took a half day tour & airport transfer to Stonehenge, with a Windsor Castle drive by, and we got to Heathrow by 1PM. We really enjoyed Stonehenge, I found a 100% recycled wool blanket there for 12 pounds (roughly $18 US dollars) and a great pop up book.