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6,054 Repositioning Cruise Reviews

The cruise.. in a nutshell.. Flew to NYC, and then got on the big bird, 777, to London, man that beast looks big, especially when you sit in row 42 of 43 rows.. LOL. Tiny seats, no leg room.. the body curves so you really don't have ... Read More
The cruise.. in a nutshell.. Flew to NYC, and then got on the big bird, 777, to London, man that beast looks big, especially when you sit in row 42 of 43 rows.. LOL. Tiny seats, no leg room.. the body curves so you really don't have much legroom on the window seat, but we figured it beats the 5 seats in the middle... let the time warp start! The sun was up and then it was DOWN and then it was UP. We moved our watched up SIX hours today... We arrive at Heathrow, the passport check went very quickly.. then we got our luggage, pretty easy... and found our van for the trip to Dover.. nice trip over.. saw a bit of the landscape in England, looks like any other place really.. some like Nebraska.. rolling hills... rainy day. Arrive at Dover, cruise terminal, we check in and sit for 3 hours.. heck had we known this we would have given up all our luggage and done something in Dover, it looks like a small place.. Around 2 PM we finally get on the ship, but not to our room, not until around 2:30.. the lifeboat drill is at 3:30.. so we hang out until then... did a bit of unpacking. room is great, lots of good shelves and drawers, no problems there... scads of room and plenty of hangers.. just right actaully. Ship is nice, big and clean..... immediately we notice the ages, we are YOUNG very young.. really young, VERY young.. and we are thinking this may not be a good thing.. LOL. Looked like the average cruising age for this trip was in the 70 to 75 range. And we found out 400 on the ship had been on the ship for 12 nights already, with the Baltics cruise, which we hear is wonderful... maybe one day, but not for a couple of decades.. LOL. We find the Garden Cafe and get a bite to eat, food looks good enough... we are really tired, so we skip the first night of entertainment, which we heard later was a good comedian... . The Freestyle cruising is different. you eat when you want, but to go to the Tzars palace you must dress up a bit, (no jeans)... mostly we went to Azure, same food, and shared big tables, which is very interesting when you eat with Americans, lots of Canadians and mix in some Europeans... kind of fun. Fish... first night on the ship I ordered the Red Snapper, it was so tough I couldn't get a knife into it.. really I had no idea one could cook fish long enough to make it like a rubber ball, our table of 8 was very impressed with it.. we all played with it. Our waiter didn't think it was very humorous and he took a long time to bring me a replacement dish.. this was my first impression. The two nights they offered Lobster (tiny tail) it was very tough, the second time one the waiters asked me how my food was, so I told him, " my lobster is very tough".. so he kindly brought me another, which was also very tough, so hubby got three lobster tails that night. The fish was generally very overcooked. the fish and chips in the Blue Lagoon was very good. This is how tea works. the doors open at 3 PM you file in and sit wherever you want.. and everyone is served at the same time.. we enjoyed it, the little cucumber sandwiches are really tasty... the English however noted that this is not how high tea is served.. no gloves ect.. for us it was fine. Never did meet our steward in person, we saw several in the halls, but never did one introduce himself... (Carnival cruise we met our Steward three times the first day and we were given a card with his name and number in case we needed anything). Room was kept very clean and nice, we didn't get to enjoy many towel animals though.. we got two rabbits and a snake in our 11 nights.. we are funny we enjoy those little extra's.. Room service: one night we skipped the big restaurants and they had coconut cream pie, later on I was hungry for it.. and we called for it and we were told, "sorry it is not on the menu"... (doesn't it all come from the same galley)... so we didn't order anything.. the room service menu is set in stone, never changes... so next day at the Garden Cafe I enjoyed a nice piece of Coconut Cream Pie......... it wasn't like I asked them to make ME a coconut cream pie, it was already being served in the two nice dining rooms. Free style dining, pros and cons...... con you never get the same waiter even if you go to the same table two nights in a row.... pro you eat when and where you want... we enjoyed sharing most nights... depending on the menu's we would decide to eat in a dining room or the cafe. Tzars is nicer, but we found the service to be very slow at times... Azure quicker. The entertainment, we heard a lot of complaints about it, but we personally found it to be OK, all fairly enjoyable, the dance shows were really great and the Cirque show the last night is one not to miss, very well done even in very rough seas. The seas were very rough at times, and it was bit nauseating, so we drank water, and skipped the alcohol, and I took off my damn scopolamine patch it was making me very dry.. and I did just fine without it.. but now I know, we can both handle very rough seas, I was really amazed at no one lost their balance, but the staff was good to help folks out if they needed it, carrying their food etc... The side to side roll and up and down of the ship was quite evident at times.. you'd sit in the theatre with the curtain closed waiting for a show to start and the curtain would sway significantly from side to side.. Stay well hydrated and just keep eating.... I did feel badly for two young sisters, they were in the dining room at lunch and clearly green with sea sickness, so the waiter offered gingerale, and then collected $1.95 for each one... now I realize the ship needs to make $$ and they can't help the rough seas, but really it seems like they could have just let them have two free cans of gingerale. The conversations were interesting.. one day we sat with a French lady, and it was hard to understand each other, but we had an interesting conversation about many things. Some of the cruisers were very well traveled, they have been everywhere twice! In fact many seemed bored with the ports of call, they prefer the days at sea... many read all the time, saw Kindles everywhere.. and people playing cards, dominio's etc.. some never left the ship at all. Each port was interesting, Iceland wasn't as interesting as I had dreamt, but the Blue Lagoon was a big highlight for us... we only had about 90 minutes there, but it really was enough. Lerwick was sweet, quaint. Halifax was very, very interesting, it was nice to do a half day of exploring on our own, we covered a lot of ground on foot, and boy we felt it. The next day was nice getting on a bus and going to Peggy's Cove, had a wonderful narrator who was born and raised in Nova Scotia, and she loves her city... that is a one beautiful place, and the rain Gods were kind to us, it poured rain all the way over, stopped when we arrived, and started again as we left. The seas there are fascinating to watch, and the huge smooth rocks very cool to walk on. Then the city tour the hop off and on buses was nice, we just sat and listened to our narrator talk about the city... Halifax is a very livable city. Canada is nice, and the people are very nice. Iceland we did a gray line tour, at a much cheaper price than what NCL offered... and in Lerwick we just walked around, in Halifax we booked two NCL tours which were comparable in price to Gray Line. One of the big highlights was getting up very early and watching the Statue of Liberty as we sailed by her... really it gives you a feeling for what our forefathers saw as they traveled into NYC to immigrate here.. of course not on a great ship such as ours.. but still pretty neat... We slid under one of the big bridges, it really looks like you won't make it under, very cool to see... and then to watch the sun rise up over New York City.. way cool... the pics don't do it justice. A great trip, no big problems, we had jet lag for days, and shared a cold back and forth a bit... and at times the trip was a bit dull, but enjoyable.. The ship was exquisitely clean, and they sprayed our hands before entering the buffet or any restaurant... nice. The cruise lines are big on getting you to book another cruise or put down a deposit.. at once of the events. the cruise director asked for a show of hands on how many put down deposits or rebooked.. and ONE person raised their hand.. it was rather telling. The speciality restaurants, if you walk by them, no one is dining there... and we noticed every day they had a special for them, buy one get one free, etc.. they really don't get any business to speak of and those who did use it complained they would try to get a 7PM reservation but they could only get a 6:15 or 8PM slot, so when they would arrive at say 8 PM they would be the ONLY diners, the guess is it has to do with staffing.. We heard Cagneys' had tough steaks, but that Mama's pasta is delicious. The Garden Cafe does stay really busy and then you have those travelers who seem to show up at 0700 for breakfast and then they set up a table for dominos near the window and never move till the sun sets. We saw one couple (two people) setting at the same window table for 8 every day... this is OK when the place is not busy, but during dining times they should give it up .... The food is fairly bland, but tolerable, the older folks couldn't get enough salt to come out of the shakers... (we found it to be salted just fine). The chilled soups are good and offered daily. The vegetable consume was wonderful on a rough sea day. The cappucino/latte machines are great. The lounges are nice, as is the entertainment they provide, the Spinnaker lounge is really nice, too bad it's used for everything from bingo to trivia, it'd be nice to just be able to sit and relax in there and lounge around a bit. The dance troupe is wonderful, I was surprised they didn't utilize them more in the entertainment.. I think in the 11 nights we saw them three times. It was interesting to hear conversations about the stars... the hypnotist talked about his "Vegas show".. and all his CD's.. it makes one wonder why is he in the middle of the Atlantic selling his CD'sx for "half off"... Everything with NCL seems to have a selling point.. the Chinese medicine guy (from Brazil) ended his talk about Chinese Medicine selling his "special formula's for life"... After a while it makes you not want to go to a lecture because you feel like it's going to be a marketing scheme for something. The $25 laundry bag is costly! Not having a guest laundry is definitely a way to make more $$$ off your guests.... we packed enough to last. The cabin had plenty of room for everything. The Showers are great!! no curtain, rather a nice door, so you don't have a wet bathroom everyday. Plenty of good bathrooms all over the ship, and very clean and nice. We noticed in the last three nights of the cruise the staff became much more friendly and conversational... in the first nine nights they were just doing a job. and many looked rather worn down... The crew entertainment on the last night was hilarious!! And we missed the Liars club, we heard it was also hilarious. NCL didn't get our $250 for another cruise, but we'd use them again, this cruise was unusual in that it was repositioning 11 night trip, so the clientele will be older as not many in the 40 to 50 age range can take off that long from life. If you prefer a cruise with no or very few kids this is the one.. we saw maybe 12 children on the ship, and about that many teenagers. The chocoholic buffet is a must go, as it is some of the best dessert you will get on ship.. the souffles were good, but most of the desserts were not worth the calories, especially the jello type cheesecake, not the touted New York Style cheesecake which is clearly is not. The ice cream is good and can be had at anytime in the Garden Cafe. And my one big complaint is when we would go to a lounge to enjoy a show, the waiters would come along and take our drink order, often we would order Ice water, they would smile and say OK and never come back. one night we had three different waiters take our drink order and finally one gal brought us ONE glass of water (no ice) to share... One guy during trivia actually brought us water on the first try and we got a $5 tip from me... he was so pleased and he gave us great service all through that event. The waiters should bring whatever you order, as we may then order a real drink later.. or we may give them a real tip for water.. but many assumed incorrectly. Also if they put a napkin down in front of you, that seems to be a signal to other waiters, of "don't bother they aren't ordering real drinks"... Iceland's port offered 15 minutes of intenret for $2.. $3 for 30 minutes.. NCL is slow and costly. Really this is about ICELAND .. (not listed in the offering).. we stopped in Reykjavik.. do the Blue Lagoon.. it's wonderful!!! We did the city tour in the am.. and Blue Lagoonin the afternoon.. via Gray Line.. the cost was much more reasoanble and we felt very safe.. The port building at Reykjavik has internet for $2 for 15 and only $3 for 30 minutes.. very useful.. Read Less
Sail Date September 2009
We started off feeling like we were stranded in the airport at Gatwick. Once we got through customs and into the terminal building there was no NCL person to be found. We wanted to take the NCL bus to the port, I had contacted NCL prior to ... Read More
We started off feeling like we were stranded in the airport at Gatwick. Once we got through customs and into the terminal building there was no NCL person to be found. We wanted to take the NCL bus to the port, I had contacted NCL prior to our departure and was assured that our name would be put on the "list" to reserve space on the bus for us. I went to the airport information desk and had the NCL representative paged, and got no response. Since there was no answer to our page I went and enquired about taking either a bus or train to Dover, none would have made it to the port on time. I was almost ready to take a taxi to the port when I decided to have the rep paged again. This time the page went out to "the Norwegian Cruise Line representative" and a rep showed up in about 5 minutes. She was about 5'3" and holding her NCL sign at chest level! She explained that she was looking for another couple, I suggested that my husband hold the sign up in the air for all to see but the offer was declined so we stood there while she ran around looking for the missing people. We stood waiting for over 1 hour, she finally found the missing couple in another terminal. Our coach left around 12:30 and so by the time we arrived at the ship there were no lines to check in and we were at our cabin in no time. Our cabin was on deck 4, forward. It had a porthole. It is hard to describe here but the porthole was recessed and the water got into the porthole and spun around in it like a front loading washing machine. The noise was terrible. After 2 sleepless nights in the cabin we were moved to a cabin on deck 8, thanks to the efforts of John O'Hara the hotel director. There were many people on this cruise who seemed to have no regard for other passengers. I have read here that the Garden Cafe (buffet) staff didn't bus the tables fast enough and at times this was true, the staff was busy talking to each other and weren't moving very fast. This is true of a lot of companies...if the boss isn't around then slack off a little. My complaint would be not of NCL but of the people who seemed to think it was perfectly okay to sit at a table during peak times (while others were carrying around plates of food looking for a place to sit) and bring out needlepoint, dominoes, books or cards. The food was okay but we knew that we were not going to get gourmet meals...we went for the itinerary which is what attracts us to NCL in the first place. We ate in Mama's Italian restaurant on one night, the rest of the time we ate in Tsars Palace for dinner. We usually had breakfast and lunch at the buffet. We are not picky and always found something to our liking. Cookies and ice cream seemed to be a big hit with all of the passengers. We went to most of the shows and enjoyed them. We bought a spa pass for the 2 of us, $169 for the cruise. Single passes were available for $20 per day or $50 on port days and the port day pass was only good from 8 - 2 pm. We enjoyed the heated loungers and the large spa tub although it did need a good scrubbing by the end of the cruise. Watching the sunset from the front windows of the spa was really a treat. Lerwick, Shetland Island was our first port. The pier was right in the town and since we were exhausted from our first night in the "washing machine room" we did not have any tours booked. We walked along the streets and window shopped, we also took a lot of pictures of the quaint little houses about the town. Our second port was Rekjavik, Iceland. We booked a ship tour to the Blue Lagoon Spa.We had a very informative guide who told us the history of Iceland and explained much of what we were seeing on the way to the Blue Lagoon. I think it took about 45 minutes to get there. When we arrived at the Blue Lagoon we were given plastic wrist bands similar to thick wrist watch straps. This wrist band got you through the turnstiles and also doubled as the key to your locker. We were told that it was necessary to take a "naked" shower prior to entering the lagoon but there was no attendant to enforce this. Everyone that I saw obeyed the signs and took a "naked" shower. The lagoon itself was very nice, the water was an odd milky blue colour and in some areas of the lagoon the water was a little hotter than others. In a couple of places on the perimeter of the lagoon there were crates that had long ladles for scooping up silica mud to put on your face. There was also an area that had a waterfall as well as an area that had a steam bath and another with a sauna. We were in the water about 1.5 hours and really enjoyed our stay. On the way out there is a gift shop that sells all kind of products made from the minerals and mud from the lagoon. Read Less
Sail Date September 2009
We chose Costa because of the itinerary; the first time that they had sailed into New York. We started in Savona where embarking was frankly shambolic! It took over 3 hours to embark with no announcements as to what was taking so long. ... Read More
We chose Costa because of the itinerary; the first time that they had sailed into New York. We started in Savona where embarking was frankly shambolic! It took over 3 hours to embark with no announcements as to what was taking so long. Once on board we were very impressed with the 10 deck atrium and the public areas on the Atlantica are very impressive. English speakers were definitely in the minority with the rest of the guests being Italian and French. This didn't bother us but where a film would be shown in English in a small meeting room the Italians and French got comfy seats in the theatre and inexplicably the muster/safety video on the TV was never shown in English! There were some lectures (about NYC, the history of the Atlantic crossing, etc) on sea days which were very good but again not all of them were done in English. The lectures and films were subsequently shown on the TV in the cabin but again the English version was missing. You could pay to watch a film in your cabin but at Euros 8.95 we thought it a bit steep especially as the films weren't that good anyway. The cabin was of a good size with plenty of wardrobe space and generously sized comfortable bed. Cabin steward service was excellent. Our only problem was that (as we were on late sitting for dinner) the water wasn't as hot as we would like in the evenings, but was fine in the mornings. We were a little disappointed with the food on the Atlantica. It was not very tasty and sometimes wasn't particularly warm but it was plentiful with lots of choice. We ate at the Club Atlantica (which inexplicably turned into the Tuscan Steakhouse half way through the cruise with a different menu and was always shown in the "Today" magazine as fully booked - we think it was solely for the use of Costa Club members then). We weren't impressed with the Club Atlantica; the food was cold - served on cold plates which is a particular bug bear of mine - and we didn't feel it was worth the Euros 20 per head extra it cost, but it was our wedding anniversary and with a nice bottle of fizz we had a very nice evening. Service in the main restaurant was excellent if a little rushed (the waiters would clear plates of those who had finished before the others had finished). The waiters were friendly as you would expect. The buffet restaurant was a bit of a nightmare at first with a lot of shoving and pushing by (I have to say) the Italians, but over time they did calm down and it was quite civilised. The buffet food was OK but again nothing special really. The desserts were particularly disappointing - they looked different but seemed to taste the same. Traditional Afternoon Tea served in the Cafe Florian was nice especially as you were able to get your tea in a proper cup rather than the plastic ones in the buffet. We had breakfast once in the main restaurant and it did make a nice change to be served and the eggs benedict were excellent (as were the breakfast muffins). The entertainment was a mixed bag really. The usual glitzy shows in the theatre which aren't our thing although the Tenor Alberti Jelboni was excellent. We never watched the entertainment in the Piazza Madame Butterfly because the quiz/games/competitions were geared solely for the Italians and it didn't look like any English was spoken at all. The Corello Lounge was not very popular but the band that played there at the beginning of the cruise were excellent. The pianist in the Atrium bar was excellent as were the classical trio in Cafe Florian. You really could wander around the ship and take your pick on the music being played. We usually settled for the Atrium bar and we were well served by the Head Barman Joel. Ports of call were good being Barcelona, Lisbon, The Azores and then the wonderful arrival into NYC which although earlier than billed (4am rather than 6am) was a wonderful experience. The atmosphere on the boat as we entered the harbour was magical. Sailing out of New York at dusk is something I would recommend and was worth the whole trip on its own. We then went to Newport Rhode Island which we loved; a great place to wander around. The next stop was Charlottetown on Price Edward Island which we were not impressed with at all (it should have been Boston but they had to change it before the Cruise). We ended up in Quebec City which was another nice place to wander around. Most of the English speaking excursions were cancelled because the numbers were too low which disappointed some people but we prefer to do our own thing so this didn't worry us but many of the English speakers were not happy about this. The port information provided was not that good (we have received much more comprehensive information on other boats which would give more details about getting taxis, etc. The port information Cost provided was simply about the history of theport). Our only real problem with the cruise was the price of the drinks at Euros 7 (which included a 15% service fee which was put on every drink). There was also a Euro 10 service charge per cabin per day which meant that it was not necessary to tip any of the staff at the end of the cruise. This meant that our tips (being the service charge on each drink and the daily charge) came to over Euro 300, so you didn't really feel like tipping any individual staff members All in all we enjoyed our Cruise on the Costa Atlantica. Would we choose Costa again? Well quite frankly we are not particularly loyal Cruisers having been on four different cruises with four different companies, so it is the itineraries that attract us rather than the company. If Costa had an itinerary which we fancied doing we would sail with them again. Read Less
Sail Date September 2009
Bottom Line This is a very long review, so for those who want to skip to the bottom line, here it is - I very much enjoyed my cruise on the Jewel. As noted below, there were a few minor negatives, but they were far outweighed by the ... Read More
Bottom Line This is a very long review, so for those who want to skip to the bottom line, here it is - I very much enjoyed my cruise on the Jewel. As noted below, there were a few minor negatives, but they were far outweighed by the positives. The ship is nice, the itinerary was excellent (other than missing a port), the staff was great, the entertainment was good (with Le Cirque Bijou being outstanding), and the food was good to excellent. Background My friend Linda and I are in our 50s. This was my 9th NCL cruise (16th overall), Linda's 9th NCL cruise (15th overall). We booked the Jewel primarily because we wanted to try a Trans-Atlantic sailing (lots of sea days) and the itinerary was very appealing. Reservation, Pre-Cruise and Embarkation I booked this cruise directly through my PCC at NCL about a year ago. He was very helpful and professional, answering all of my questions in a timely manner. I reserved a BA cabin with a $100 per cabin OBC. Soon after I booked, prices went down significantly and a new NCL promotion was in effect. A quick call to my PCC gave me the choice of a price reduction or a cabin upgrade from my original BA cabin to an AF for the same price. In addition, my OBC would increase from $100 to $300 if I opted for the AF. I did so. A couple months later, I received an email promotion from a cruise TA that I have booked through several times in the past. Their offer matched NCL's pricing but doubled the OBC. Despite my positive dealings with my PCC, I couldn't pass up this offer, so I cancelled my direct booking and rebooked through the TA, retaining my AF cabin but now with $600 OBC. Finally, another two months later, American Express was offering a $100 OBC if you paid for the cruise with an Amex card (which I normally do anyway). An email to the TA confirmed that I was qualified for this additional OBC, giving me a total of $700 OBC - wow! We decided to fly to London on Thursday 9/17 (with the cruise embarking on Saturday 9/19). The overnight flight would get us to Heathrow on Friday. Through our CC roll call, we had arranged to share a transfer with three others (Len, Mike and Wendy). Our flight included a stopover in Dublin, where we encountered mechanical problems with our plane, delaying our arrival in London. When we arrived, we couldn't find Jeff (our driver). Fortunately, I had purchased an unlocked cell phone with a UK SIM card, so I was able to call Jeff and figure out where he was waiting for us. Having the phone also allowed us to communicate with Mike and Wendy, who were waiting for us with Len at a local hotel. Once Jeff picked us all up, we headed over to Dover, where we were all staying at the Best Western Churchill. Linda and I opted for the Best Western Churchill because of its location right on the water with a clear view of the White Cliffs of Dover and its proximity to the pier (a quick, inexpensive cab ride the next morning). There were a couple of bad reviews of the Best Western on Trip Advisor, but we chose to ignore them, figuring the price was right ($115 for the night) and it was only one night - how bad could it be? It turned out fine. The hotel is certainly not modern or luxurious but it was perfectly adequate, and it was centrally located for everything that we wanted to do (visit Dover Castle, walk around central Dover, walk along the waterfront, and view the Cliffs). After quickly checking in and putting our bags in our rooms, we headed to Dover Castle (short cab ride from the hotel). We spent a couple hours there and enjoyed exploring the castle and getting great hilltop, panoramic views of Dover and the English Channel. It was a brisk, downhill walk back to the hotel (with a brief stop at a convenience store to pick up soda). After taking a breather at the hotel, we headed back out to explore Dover, looking for a good place to have a local meal. We ended up at the Park Inn where we had a nice, casual dinner in a pub atmosphere. The next morning, we called for a cab to take us to the pier. With five of us sharing the ride (plus all of our bags), we ordered a mini-van, which was not a problem. It was a quick ride to the pier, where our bags were quickly taken by the porters. They were so fast that they ran off without waiting for a tip. We made our way through the check-in process, which didn't take long at all (maybe 10-15 minutes). Then, we sat in the waiting room, waiting for our color to be called. That took all of 10-15 minutes. We were on the ship before noon. As we embarked, we were greeted by crew members (including a couple of officers) along with free glasses of champagne. Our cabins weren't ready yet, so Linda sat in the atrium while I ran around the ship taking photos. Half an hour later, I rejoined Linda and we went to the Azura dining room for a nice sit-down lunch. Our bags were delivered to our cabin very quickly (fastest that I can ever recall), probably around 2 or 2:30. I was completely unpacked before the muster drill at 3:30. Sailaway was great since we got spectacular views from the ship of Dover, the White Cliffs and the English Channel. The Ship I liked the dEcor of the ship. However, if your preference is understated elegance, the Jewel might not be your cup of tea. The ship is also well maintained with very few signs of wear and tear. The worst that I encountered was one public bathroom that was not very clean. Early in the cruise, Hotel Director John O'Hara invited us to join him on the bridge. Captain Hoydal graciously welcomed us and spent quite a bit of time talking to us, telling us about the ship's operation and answering our questions. We also took part in the "Behind the Scenes" ship tour, which was complimentary for Platinum Latitudes. The tour was supervised by Group Service Coordinator Rochelle Brown. I'm pretty sure the regular fee for the tour was $55. The tour lasted for almost 3 hours. We started in the Art Gallery with a welcome from the Hotel Director, John O'Hara. Then, we proceeded to the bridge, where the Captain gave us a very detailed tour and entertained questions. Next came the Stardust Theater and a tour of the backstage area, including the dressing rooms and the stage itself. Then, we were taken through the laundry room and the environmental systems area (waste management). Next came a tour of the provisions area, where all of the food is stored and processed (meat cutting, vegetable cleaning/cutting, etc.), followed by a walk-through of the actual galley where the meals are prepared. It was a fascinating tour but its length and physical demands (lots of walking and standing with no chance to sit down) should be kept in mind by anyone considering it. Also, the group size (approximately 20) occasionally made it difficult to hear the guide. Stateroom We were booked in 11002, a starboard AF mini-suite, pretty much identical to the AF that we had on the Gem a year earlier. We were very pleased with the location and accommodations - spacious, plenty of storage drawers, roomy closet with lots of hangers, spacious balcony, coffeemaker, a safe that was eye-level, a desk with two chairs (the hair dryer was stored in one of the desk drawers), a roomy sofa that could be made into another bed if needed, a small (old-style CRT) tv, a small coffee table, a curtain that could be drawn to separate the tv/sofa area from the beds, a bathroom with a full tub, and a mini-fridge that was stocked but still had enough room for the bottles of soda that we had carried on. We were originally intending to have the steward empty the fridge but we decided that it really wasn't necessary. We picked 11002 because it was the last AF on the starboard side and it was under the spa, which (to me) meant the likeliness of noise would be close to zero (this proved to be true). We also thought that 11002 would have only one neighbor, which also reduced the chance of noise. However, we didn't know that there were several cabins forward of our cabin that were used for crew members. In fact, Darin Wyman (our Cruise Director) was right next door! As it turned out, noise was never a factor at all. Since 11002 was all the way forward, it did lead to lots of walking when we wanted to do anything at the stern of the ship (mainly dining in Tsar's Palace or the Great Outdoors, or going to the Galleria Shops). However, for our purposes, it was still a convenient location since it was below the Spinnaker Lounge and above the Stardust Theater and Jewel Club Casino (all places that we frequented). The two beds had been prepared as a single bed. We asked the steward to separate the beds and it was done later in the afternoon. We also requested extra towels to be supplied throughout the cruise - no problem there either. Two bathrobes were hanging in the closet and two beach towels were laid out on the bed. The bathroom was partitioned into three sections. On one side was the toilet, separated from the rest of the bathroom by a sliding door. In the middle was the sink area with several small shelves on the wall, probably adequate for most people's toiletries. A liquid soap dispenser is mounted on the wall. There is also a shelf under the sink with a built-in trash bin. Also mounted on the side wall is a Kleenex dispenser. On the left side of the bathroom is the tub. The tub is very deep, so getting in and out of the tub may not be as easy as at home. There's a clothesline above the tub and the tub has a 3-part sliding door, not a curtain. The tub's water controls might be a little tricky to some: instead of a cold water knob and a hot water knob, there is just a single water knob (on the left) for water pressure. The temperature of the water is controlled by a knob on the right, with the temperature indicated in degrees Celsius. Our steward was courteous and professional throughout the cruise, although he never did introduce himself to us - something that doesn't bother us at all but I know is important to some. He also made quite a few towel animals for us - not something that makes or breaks a cruise for us but still fun. I think we ended up getting five towel animals. We also received chocolate mints on our pillows every night. We were so happy with our steward that we gave him an additional tip at the end of the cruise on top of the automatic gratuity. Muster Drill The muster drill was held at 3:30pm, right before sailaway. Our muster station was in the Stardust Theater. It was quick and easy and took only 15-20 minutes. OBC There's always a little apprehension as to whether one's OBC is going to be accurately credited. I had printed out email confirmations from my TA indicating the exact amount that I should be receiving. Fortunately, this proved unnecessary because in our cabin on embarkation day were NCL statements accurately detailing all of the OBC credits that I was expecting. Latitudes There were 1400 Latitudes members on this cruise! Because of the number of people involved, they split up the group and held two Latitudes parties in the Spinnaker Lounge on different days. Ours was held on Friday (almost a week after embarkation, much later than usual, which seemed odd but I assume there were scheduling conflicts). The officers were introduced and the Captain welcomed us aboard with a few brief remarks. Drinks and hors d'oeuvres were served and there was a raffle for several prizes. As Platinum Latitudes members (neither of us actually qualifies but several years ago, we both purchased Freestyle Cruise Rewards onboard a Dawn cruise and, at the time, the purchase included an upgrade in Latitudes status), we were also invited to a Latitudes party for Silver, Gold & Platinum members. This party was held on Sunday (9/27) but we had a scheduling conflict and couldn't attend. Linda and I both purchased $250 Cruise Rewards for future bookings. As long as you know you will cruise within four years, it's a deal that's hard to pass up since you get $100 immediate OBC for your current sailing and the $250 will serve as your total deposit for a new cruise (for most cabin categories). We also asked for and received Jewel Latitudes pins from the onboard cruise consultant in addition to an unsolicited badge holder/lanyard. Other benefits that we received as Platinum Latitudes members included: complimentary dinner in Le Bistro with a bottle of wine, a complimentary "Behind the Scenes" tour, early tendering in Lerwick, early disembarkation in Reykjavik and Halifax, complimentary "fill the bag" laundry service (offered twice, which we used once, normally a $25 service), and VIP disembarkation in NYC. Cruise Critic Activities We had a very active CC roll call and kudos to Len, Margie, Kit and Tony (among others) for putting in all the time, effort and cost (mainly Len's wonderful lanyards and CC member id badges) in organizing our CC activities, including the Meet & Greet, a gift exchange, Murder Mystery Dinner, Cabin Poker Crawl, and Farewell Dinner. Group Service Coordinator Rochelle Brown was instrumental in many of these events, serving as the ship's main contact for group events. On our first sea day, we held the CC M&G in the Spinnaker Lounge (bumping a session of Bingo). We had a tremendous turnout - probably between 90 and 100 attendees. It was fun to meet many of those who attended, finally getting a chance to put a face to the screen name. Quite a few staff members and officers attended the M&G. Refreshments were provided. Following the M&G, we held the gift exchange, which was a lot of fun. It served to really loosen up the crowd and gave us our first chance to interact with one another. Len coordinated the Murder Mystery Dinner, which ended up being held in Tsar's Palace. The name of this murder mystery was the Eternal Cruise (for those who had participated in the past and didn't want to repeat it). The ship's staff set this up specifically for CC because the regular MMD on this cruise was held in Cagney's and a fee was charged for it, whereas the CC MMD was held without a surcharge. The Cabin Poker Crawl was held on our second sea day (Tuesday). The CC members who were interested in participating met in Bar City, where we divided into two groups. We toured an inside cabin, an oceanview, a balcony, an AF mini-suite, and an AB suite (all cabins belonging to participating CC members). At each cabin, a card was dealt (each time from a new deck) to each attendee, so at the end of the crawl, each attendee had a 5-card poker hand. At the beginning of the crawl, each attendee who wanted to play the poker aspect of the tour anted up $10 to the pot, which would be split between the high and low poker hands at the end of the crawl. We had 12 players for a $120 pot. Following the crawl, we all reconvened in Bar City, where we revealed our poker hands. The high and low hands then split the pot. This was a great, fun activity since it allowed us to see five different categories of cabins, CC members got to have fun together, and there was money to be won. The CC farewell dinner was held following our port stop in Halifax (Monday, 9/28) in Tsar's Palace. Again, we had a good turnout (probably 50-60 people). TV Here's the channel guide for the ship's tv: 21 - Onboard Information 22 - Navigational Information 23 - Bow Cam & Announcements 24 - Safety 25 - Shore Excursions & Cruise Rewards 26 - Destination & Shopping 27 - Onboard Activities 28 - Fox News 29 - BBC Entertainment 30 - ESPN 31 - BBC Knowledge 32 - TVE 33 - BBC World News 34 - New Release Movies 35 - Feature Movies 36 - French & Spanish Movies 37 - German & Subtitled Movies 38 - Spa Information Some of the stations faded in and out depending on the ship's reception (weak signal, poor signal, no signal). Channel 34 showed recent movies, not what I would call "new releases" but fairly recent (within the past 3 to 6 months). Channel 35 showed older movies but some still worth seeing, especially if you failed to see them in their initial release. Here are the recent releases that were showing on Channel 34: The Proposal, Star Trek, State of Play, Angels and Demons, Earth, Fast and Furious 4, My Life in Ruins, and Ghosts of Girlfriends Past The channel cycled through these eight movies (in the same order) throughout the day and throughout the cruise. Here are the featured movies that were showing on Channel 35: 21, August Rush, Bella, Chaos Theory, Charlie Wilson's War, Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, Definitely Maybe, Enchanted, Fool's Gold, The Best of Hannah Montana, I Am Legend, Iron Man, Kung Fu Panda, Leatherheads, Mad Money, Made of Honor, Michael Clayton, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, National Treasure: Book of Secrets, P.S. I Love You, Run Fatboy Run, The Bucket List, The Forbidden Kingdom, The Great Debaters, The Holiday, The Other Boleyn Girl, The Spiderwick Chronicles, The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep, Vantage Point, and Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins As with Channel 34, Channel 35 cycled through these movies in order 4-1/2 times during the cruise. Some of the movies were also shown in the Fyzz Lounge. Dining There are numerous places to eat onboard. Here's how the dining venues break down on the Jewel. Included, no reservations recommended Azura (Main Dining Room) Tsar's Palace (Main Dining Room) Blue Lagoon (almost 24/7 comfort food) Garden Cafe (buffet) Great Outdoors (buffet) Room Service Surcharge, reservations recommended Le Bistro (French/Continental) - $15 Cagney's (Steakhouse) - $25 Sushi and Sake Bar - $15 Chin-Chin (Asian) - $15 Mongolian Hot Pot - $15 Tango's (Tex/Mex) - $10 Mama's Kitchen (Italian) - $10 Teppanyaki (Japanese hibachi) - $25 Miscellaneous Tapas Bar (free tapas with the purchase of a drink) Java Cafe (free dessert with the purchase of a specialty coffee) We dined in most of the venues. Azura is the smaller of the two main dining rooms. Tsar's is quite large. We had three dinners and one lunch in the main dining rooms. All of the meals were good but not exceptional. Linda specifically enjoyed the chilled soups. The buffet was quite good (for a buffet) in that there was a large selection of items, including salads, soups, breads, meats, poultry, pizza, pasta, hot dogs, burgers, carvery station, wok station, Indian food station, sandwich station, desserts, self-serve ice cream, and self-serve espresso/cappuccino machine. At breakfast, there was also an omelet station. We had most of our lunches in the buffet and enjoyed the food we had. We never had dinner there. There does tend to be a problem finding an open table in the buffet but it never took us longer than a few minutes to find an unoccupied table. Also, they seem to run out of glasses too quickly. Tables were cleared and cleaned promptly. The Blue Lagoon has three different menus - breakfast, main menu (served for lunch and dinner), and a late night menu (a shortened version of the main menu). We ate there several times and enjoyed the potato skins, wings, Chefs salad, fish and chips, and cheeseburger. They offer mild and hot wings. I ordered the hot and enjoyed them but still think they should be hotter. I seem to recall that they were hotter on previous NCL cruises. Breakfast was good. I had the "Full House" breakfast (2 eggs any style, bacon, sausage, baked beans, sautEed mushrooms, and hash browns), substituting a ham and cheese omelet for the 2 eggs. Both the service and the breakfast were good. We ordered room service several times, usually as a wake-up meal on port days. They were always punctual, calling 5-10 minutes before delivery. The menu is a little more extensive than it used to be (noted additions include an angus burger and eggs all day) but I do miss the chocolate mousse. We had meals in almost all of the specialty restaurants - Le Bistro, Cagney's Steakhouse (twice), Chin-Chin, Tango's, Mama's Kitchen, and Teppanyaki (twice). All of our meals in the surcharge restaurants were good to excellent. The service was excellent, too. Food and Beverage Manager Michael Harris often stopped by our table in the dining rooms to ask how we were enjoying our meals. We were fortunate enough to have a meal in Teppanyaki with some of the staff, including Hotel Director John O'Hara and Cruise Director Darin Wyman, among others. It was great to get to know Darin just a bit on a personal level. He struck us as thoughtful, engaging and very passionate about his job. They offered 50% off the surcharge at Chin Chin and Mama's for reservations between 5:30 and 6:30 on port days. They also offered $5 off at Cagney's, also on port days for early seatings. We took advantage of all three deals since it fit our schedule. A minor note: since the discounts being offered are 50% off and $5 off and no longer just 2-for-1, single diners will have no problem qualifying for the discounts. In the past, 2-for-1 didn't offer any benefit to single diners since they really couldn't eat two meals and the ship wouldn't recompute it as 50% off. We had absolutely no problem getting reservations to any of the restaurants. We booked most of them over the telephone. They allow reservations for same day and next day. As Platinum Latitudes members, we were allowed to book an extra day in advance. I know that many people don't like the idea of paying a surcharge for dining on a cruise ship and I can understand that viewpoint. Also, no one is happy that the surcharges have gone up over the years (with the Italian and Tex-Mex restaurants imposing surcharges after initially being included). But my approach is that I price the cruise and then budget extra for dining surcharges. If I still feel that the total price is a good deal, I book the cruise. To me, even with the higher surcharges, the specialty restaurants are worth it. In addition, our sizeable OBC more than covered all of our surcharge dining. We were disappointed that we weren't able to obtain copies of the entire cruise's dinner menus for the main dining rooms in order to strategize our dining plans for the week. We asked at the main reception desk in the atrium but they weren't available (as they have been on some of my previous NCL cruises). Later on in the cruise, I asked the Restaurant Manager Mihaela Mocan, who had greeted us several times during the cruise in the restaurants, for a copy of all the menus. She was gracious enough to do so, sending a full copy of all the dinner menus to my cabin. I do think, however, that having them available at reception for anyone's perusal should be routine. Mihaela was also kind enough to obtain and give Linda the recipe for the mushroom soup that is served in Le Bistro. We were very surprised to see how empty all of the surcharge restaurants were. Despite the fees, they have always been somewhat busy on our previous NCL cruises. Teppanyaki, in particular, struck me because it has always been one of the toughest restaurants to book, but not on this cruise. I'm willing to bet that you could have gotten a reservation at any of the surcharge restaurants for almost any time of your choosing or simply showed up without a reservation. For those who are interested, they offered two special meals during the cruise - a Jazz Brunch in Le Bistro for $15 and a Taste of India lunch in Chin Chin for $15. Late-night snacks are served in the casino around 11:30 pm. The Chocoholic Buffet was held at 10:30pm in the Garden Cafe on Monday, 9/28. Activities Chances are you won't be bored on the Jewel. The ship offers most of what you would expect on a cruise ship and probably much more - bingo, port and shopping talks, art auctions, excursion briefings, portrait sittings, spa treatments, casino gambling (in addition to slot, blackjack and Texas Hold 'Em tournaments), internet cafe, Latitudes party for repeat cruisers, VIP Latitudes party for Silver, Gold and Platinum members, onboard shopping, yoga, tennis, trivia sessions, shuffleboard, lectures, fitness classes, wine/martini/margarita tastings, card room, video arcade games, Wii in the Fyzz Lounge, karaoke, golf putting competition, ping pong, basketball, country line dancing, White Hot party, disco dancing, towel folding demo, aerobics, singles get-togethers, etc. There were also meetings for Friends of Bill W. and Friends of Dorothy. I'm sure I missed some other activities, so be sure to peruse your Freestyle Daily thoroughly. NCL "U" sessions included: "Shetlands to Empire" lecture by Jim Forrester; New World Wine/Cheese Tasting ($15); European Beer Tasting & Food Pairing ($18); The Art of Making Sushi & Sake Tasting ($15); "Iceland Emerges" lecture by Jim Forrester; The Art of Infused Vodka and Martini Tasting ($15); "Great Conveyor Belt" lecture by Jim Forrester; Old World Wine Tasting ($15); "Canada's Rock" lecture by Jim Forrester; Global Beer Tasting ($15); "The Blueness Province" lecture by Jim Forrester; and "Drifting Continents" lecture by Jim Forrester. For those who are interested in more active participation or simply enjoy watching your fellow passengers have fun, you can sign up for the Murder Mystery Dinner (this time offered in Cagney's for a fee, limited to 64 participants); or check out any of the audience-participation games: the Newlywed Not So Newlywed Game; Liar's Club; Majority Rules; The Perfect Couple; Dancing with the Stars; or Where in the World Am I? No Qwest on this sailing - I'm guessing it was omitted because of the older demographic. The game room was very active on this sailing. In fact, at times there was a need for more tables and chairs. This is when the Latitudes Room next door would have come in handy but the Latitudes Room has been converted into the Lifestyles Room and was being used as a satellite sales location for the Galleria Shops. The game room was well stocked with games and the staff sponsored bridge games (held in Tango's) and Scrabble (no room that day in the Game Room so we relocated to Tsar's Palace). I met several people playing Scrabble and got together with them to teach them how to play mah-jongg, a great way to spend a couple spare hours on a sea day. The Game Room had several mah-jongg sets but we had to go through a couple of them to put together a complete set. The Library was also quite busy with lots of readers. In fact, reading could be seen throughout the ship, in the lounges and in the windowsill sitting areas. CD Darin Wyman, in response to the clear need for reading spaces, even designated certain areas of the ship as DMZ (Designated Malacophonous Zones), such as Le Bistro from 7am-4pm or Tsar's Palace from 7am-2pm. The Library also supplied daily written trivia quizzes, crosswords and sudoku puzzles. Bora Bora Spa According to the spa's promotional flyer, the spa offers: heated mosaic lounge chairs, a thalasso therapy pool, steam rooms, sauna, Japanese plunge pools, Jacuzzi tubs, tropical showers, and relaxation areas. Various passes for the spa were available - 11-day pass for $99 (individual) or $165 (couple); 1-day pass for $20; port day cruise pass (8am-2pm on all port days) for $50. For those interested in spa treatments, here's their main menu: Teeth whitening - $149; ionithermie - $159 (one 50-min session) or $399 (three 50-min sessions); oxydermy facial - $169; La Therapie hydra-lift facial - $119; aroma spa seaweed massage - $195 (half-body) or $259 (full body); absolute spa ritual - $265; Mandara hot stone heaven - $145 (50 min) or $195 (75 min); acupuncture - $150 (first treatment) and $125 (follow-up treatments); aroma-flex - $119; couples float massage - $179; deep tissue massage - $129; Swedish massage - $119 They ran $99 specials during the cruise ($99 for any one of the following): hot stone massage; La Therapie hydra-lift facial; Swedish massage; Ionithermie inch loss treatment; lime and ginger exfoliation with massage; milk wrap with massage; back massage with reflexology on the feet; and fire and ice manicure and pedicure combo. They also ran a special for combining certain treatments (you mix and match) - 3 for $99; 4 for $119; or all for $129. The services included: European mini facial; pro collagen eye treatment; conditioning hair treatment; scalp, neck and shoulder massage; moisturing hand spa; and foot and ankle massage. Lastly, they offered a special combo deal of mini-treatments (20-min versions of the more expensive, longer treatments) - 3 for $99 (you mix and match). The mini-treatments included: scalp massage; hand and arm massage; foot and ankle massage; back massage; mini-facial; hot stones back massage; and milk wrap. Please note that an 18% (not 15%, as with bar tabs) service charge is automatically added to all of the above fees. Shows There was a show every night in the Stardust. On embarkation night, there was a Welcome Aboard Show, hosted by the Cruise Director, Darin Wyman. It wasn't really your typical Welcome Aboard Show since it wasn't used to preview some of the acts that would occur later in the cruise. The show was a quick welcome from Darin, followed by a stand-up comedy act by Tucker, who was pretty funny. Tucker offered a second show on the following night in the Spinnaker Lounge. There were three production shows in the Stardust Theater - Band on the Run, Country Gold, and Le Cirque Bijou. All were presented by the Jean Ann Ryan Company. I enjoyed them all for the most part. I thought the singers and dancers were enthusiastic and talented. Le Cirque Bijou was by far the most impressive, with the acrobats displaying eye-popping stunts of strength, timing, flexibility, agility and balance. This is a show not to be missed. Other shows presented in the Stardust Theater included: Buddy Wachter on banjo (okay); Los Locos Ole (comedic duo, eccentric humor, not exactly mainstream, not well received); Hypnotist Dr. Scott Lewis (fairly traditional, Vegas-style hypnosis act, generally funny); Chantz Powell (young pheenom, extremely talented singer-dancer-trumpeter); Comedian Jeff Harms (long-time actor/comedian, still pretty funny, especially with his interaction with the audience); Dorothy Bishop (singer, who had to catch up to the ship in Halifax when we missed docking in St. John's, Newfoundland; good voice but stylistically may not appeal to everyone). Most of the individual Stardust acts put on second shows later on in the cruise in the Spinnaker Lounge. Two other shows were presented in the Stardust - the International Crew Show and the Passenger Talent Show. The crew members were quite good, especially considering they are amateurs. The passengers were also pretty entertaining. Kudos to CC members Rita and Barry, who performed in the show (Rita sang and Barry did a stand-up routine). Following the International Crew Show, the officers and many of the crew staged their Norwegian Way finale. Following the Passenger Talent Show, Fountains was presented as a finale. Word was that Fountains was not going to be presented on this sailing, but numerous requests by CC members convinced them to perform it. It was greeted with uproarious laughter and much applause. Music in the Lounges There were numerous musical acts performing throughout the ship - 4 Strings Quartet in the Atrium, pianist Constantine Dragulyov, the Alambre Trio, Kenosis and Carrie Stone. These groups offered a very diverse selection of music, with a little something for almost everyone's taste. It was clear, however, that the music chosen by the groups was done so with this sailing's demographic in mind, i.e., skewing towards an older audience. Casino/Gambling The casino offers what you would expect: table games (blackjack, craps, roulette, three-card poker, Let It Ride, and Texas Hold 'Em) and slots (pennies on up), including video poker. There's also that game that seems to be incredibly popular for a reason that eludes me - The Tumbler - you drop your quarters/tokens in, trying to cause the machine to push a prize into the prize chute. There are a couple of blackjack tables at poolside. However, they were never put to use during our sailing since the weather was chilly throughout. There is also a blackjack machine up in Spinnaker Lounge. The advantages of the blackjack machine is that it still pays 3-to-2 for blackjack (whereas the $5 table in the casino pays only 6-to-5), it stands on all 17s (whereas the dealer hits a soft 17 in the casino), it uses a 6-deck shoe without a continuous shuffler (unlike the casino), and there's no smoking allowed in the Spinnaker. The casino also runs tournaments for blackjack, slots and Texas Hold 'Em. The casino was not very busy at all, even on sea days. Many of the tables were empty. Occasionally, the $5 blackjack table was full but that was it. The Tumbler, however, still attracted a decent crowd. Signing up for the Casinos at Sea card qualifies you for accumulating points as you gamble, points that equate to dollars off your shipboard account. You need a minimum of 25 points to get $25 credited to your account, but the points are also allowed to carry over to your next cruise if it's within a year. There is no fee to obtain the CAS card, so it's worth signing up for. When you do so, you also receive a coupon book for specific casino promotions. For instance, for $10, you can obtain $20 in slot play. Linda used that coupon and parlayed the $10 into $75 or so. Another coupon serves as a first-card ace at the blackjack table. A third coupon serves as a $10 match play coupon at a table game. There are several other coupons in the coupon book. If you're planning to gamble anyway, sign up for the CAS card and get the coupon book. Some of the coupons are actually worthwhile. Executive Casino Host Che Alapa Ap was kind enough to comp us drinks one night and, later on in the cruise, comped us a meal in Cagney's. Ports and Shore Excursions In Lerwick (a tender port), we booked an NCL excursion - Scalloway Castle and Shetland Ponies. It was a good excursion, showing us much of Lerwick and the countryside. We got to spend enough time at the castle and plenty of time checking out the ponies. Following the excursion, we walked around the town of Lerwick, right near where the tenders docked. We walked around Fort Charlotte and up and down the 2 or 3 main streets of Lerwick, in and out of many of the shops. For Reykjavik, 8 of us from the CC roll call booked an independent tour of the Golden Circle, which included a visit to Thingvellir National Park, the Geysirs, Gullfoss Waterfall, the Hellishaedi Geothermal Power Plant, and a quick tour of downtown Reykjavik. This was an all-day tour, lasting from 8:15 to about 5pm. Thingvellir was geologically fascinating since we were walking around the area where Iceland is slowly splitting apart (but growing since the rift gets filled in), where the North American and Euro-Asian tectonic plates meet. The Geysirs and hot springs were also fun to view. Gullfoss Waterfall was beautiful and the power plant reinforced one of the more interesting facts about Iceland - i.e., how it generates much of its electricity at very low cost by harnessing the geo-thermal power that it sits on top of. One major disappointment was missing the port stop of St. John's, Newfoundland. The harbormaster in St. John's closed the port to traffic because of high winds. In Halifax, we didn't book an excursion. Linda, Len and I walked along the waterfront until we reached the Halifax Casino, which we checked out briefly. We then turned around and returned to the ship, with a detour at a local supermarket to pick up soda. At the end of the cruise, we were again fortunate enough to be invited to the bridge to view our sunrise entry into New York Harbor. Despite having to get out of bed before 5am, we were thrilled to take advantage of this opportunity. A huge thank you to Hotel Director John O'Hara and Captain Hoydal for allowing us this privilege. Service Our steward was excellent. The staff at main reception was courteous and attentive. The wait staff throughout the ship was eager to please. Smiles were commonplace. I cannot say enough about the officers and staff members who went out of their way to cater to our CC group. Captain Hoydal was very gracious and made time for us despite his extremely busy schedule; Hotel Director John O'Hara was incredibly accommodating; Cruise Director Darin Wyman always had a welcoming smile; Food and Beverage Manager Michael Harris made sure that we were cared for; Executive Casino Host Che Alapa Ap was a pleasure to deal with; Group Service Coordinator Rochelle Brown provided excellent service; this is all in addition to the aforementioned Restaurant Manager Mihaela Mocan, who supplied me with the dinner menus and Linda with the soup recipe. Conclusion I would absolutely sail on the Jewel again and would recommend her to friends and family. Of course, there's always the caveat - if you're someone who loves traditional cruising with fixed dining times, assigned tables, and assigned tablemates, it might not be for you. But, for me, Freestyle is still the way to go. Read Less
Sail Date September 2009
EMBARKATION We boarded the Emerald Princess in Copenhagen. The boarding process was simple and efficient, considering the number of passengers involved. The total time to board was around one hour. One annoyance was that Princess ran out ... Read More
EMBARKATION We boarded the Emerald Princess in Copenhagen. The boarding process was simple and efficient, considering the number of passengers involved. The total time to board was around one hour. One annoyance was that Princess ran out of coffee and water in the waiting area. We were able to access out cabins as soon as we boarded which was a pleasant surprise. CABINS Our cabin was an interior on the Baha deck. From the time we arrived there were problems. The suction for the commode did not work. It was repaired on four different occasions. We experienced a loss of ventilation for a twelve-hour period during the second night on board. After four days of problems and numerous calls to customer service, we were able to reach someone in authority who moved us to another cabin on the Aloha deck. The new cabin had no problems. Talking to other passengers we discovered that numerous cabins had problems with their commode suction. The Emerald Princess is a new ship. Problems as described above should be a rarity. SHIP LAYOUT/CONDITION One of the most egregious problems encountered during our cruise was the ship's lack of public area spaces. With over 3200 passengers on board and the inability to use the outside decks due to weather, there were people everywhere. The public areas seemed to be the same size as the Diamond and Sapphire Princess. Both of these ships have 750-800 less passengers. In order to get a good seat for shows and lectures in the Princess Theater and the Explorers Lounge, one needed to arrive a full hour prior to the event. On other ships that we have sailed, arriving thirty minutes ahead of time was more than adequate. One last observation: getting to the Bottecelli Dining Room was nearly impossible. Many folks needed the entire cruise before they found their way to the space. Poorly laid out at best. Finally, the temperature inside the ship was far too warm most of the time. I heard more than a few complaints about the heat. SERVICE The ships crew was staffed by people from 42 countries. Cultural differences were evident. Our cabin attendant and dining room waiters (Philippines) were superb. Friendliness and service was consistently excellent. This cannot be said about the Horizon Buffett. Many of the wait staff were form Eastern Europe. Service ranges from excellent to downright poor. Many staff members displayed "attitude", especially during the breakfast time. Many days we had to get our own coffee and juice while the waiters stood around and watched. ENTERTAINMENT The entertainment offered was poor at best. The production shows were definitely not geared to mature audiences. We walked out of two of the three shows presented. There was an opera singer who was OK and the requisite Magician. The only saving grace was the comedy and (lecture) of Kevin Hughes. He was excellent! Other lecturers put us to sleep. The lady who did the port lectures spoke at length on the history of the area but offered little practical advice (i. e. where to exchange money, transportation, shopping etc.) PORT CALLS The ports selected (Oslo, Edinburgh, Belfast, Dublin, Reykjavik, Greenland, and Newfoundland) were excellent. However, the time in many of the ports was so brief, that there was little time to explore on one's own. Additionally, tendering in Edinburgh and Greenland was an adventure by itself. We waited over an hour in line waiting to tender back from Greenland. Due to weather, we missed St. John's Newfoundland altogether. While severe weather in the North Atlantic is not unusual this time of year, Princess might have had a contingency plan in place such as maybe a stop in Bermuda or Princess Keys. FOOD The food on board was not up to Princess standards. We cruised on Golden Princess to Alaska in July, and the food was noticeably better. The main dining room vegetables were consistently undercooked. Desserts ranged from outstanding to not editable. The Horizon Buffet was average at best. A noticeable exception was the Pizza Bar and Hamburger Line. Both were very good. However, since both places were exposed to the elements, one didn't eat there very often. DEBARKATION The debarkation process could have been improved by placing a crew member in each assembly area to keep traffic flowing and passengers under control. There was a great deal of pushing and shoving in assembly areas. We were told to be available for leaving the ship at 7 AM but were not allowed to go ashore until 7:45 AM. OVERALL IMPRESSION We will cruise Princess again but never on Emerald Princess or any other Princess ship this large. It just wasn't worth the hassle. Other smaller Princess ships are more to our liking. I do not recommend this ship to anyone that is uncomfortable with large crowds. Read Less
Sail Date September 2009
we wanted a good getaway and spotted this unusual itin and at a great price we could not refuse the weather was as expected for end of summer beginning of fall in the far north of this route we had cool weather and windy nites a couple ... Read More
we wanted a good getaway and spotted this unusual itin and at a great price we could not refuse the weather was as expected for end of summer beginning of fall in the far north of this route we had cool weather and windy nites a couple of drizzly days with a cold wind but we were prepared with a sweater etc we missed a couple of ports due to rough seas at the docking and anchoring ports but it was expected we would possible miss one or two the captain gave us a cruising day for one port and a first time cruise of a fjord in Greenland as far into it as the charts allowed which was a spectacular substitute for a small nothing port the crown princess is a beautiful ship but quite large 3000 pass crowd control was very well done considering the ports only one port was time consuming getting into the port via tenders but not the fault of the ship it was due to the port not being able to handle such a large ship but it worked out the returns were better the food was very good the horizon court was fine i think adding 25.00 p/person or more for specialty restaurants is gouging the passenger after all we have already paid for food and lodging in the cruise fare the cabin inside baja deck was adequate in size and very tasteful with excellent cabin service even with the few days of rough water the ship did not feel we were being hit with high waves it was almost as smooth as a carib cruise in calm water a few passengers were upset we missed 3 ports and had substitutes but as a seasoned cruiser we understand the captain has the right to alter the ports or sequence of ports as he feels he must to ensure the safety of the passengers and the ship one port was eliminated due to a large drifting iceberg that got stuck right in the middle of the anchoring area for ships so we could not go close to it as the ship could have been damaged due to 90 percent of the burg is under water i thought the captain was overly cautious on some ports but i feel he made the correct decisions all in all it was a wonderful experience Read Less
Sail Date September 2009
This was our 26th cruise, 2nd transAtlantic. 13 with Princess; 13 divided among Carnival, Disney, NCL, RCCL, Paul Gauguin. We flew non-stop from ATL to CPN and paid a second visit to the Marriott on the river. $40 cab ride from the ... Read More
This was our 26th cruise, 2nd transAtlantic. 13 with Princess; 13 divided among Carnival, Disney, NCL, RCCL, Paul Gauguin. We flew non-stop from ATL to CPN and paid a second visit to the Marriott on the river. $40 cab ride from the airport. Centrally located to most major attractions and a 10 minute walk to the main train station. Since we'd been to Copenhagen previously we visited sights we'd missed before such as the National Museum and Church of our Savior. Executive level amenities are well worth the additional krona. This is a typical Marriott, i.e., clean, spacious rooms and helpful staff. Embarkation was less than 30 minutes from taxi drop-off to unlocking our balcony cabin. We've always been Princess fans and I couldn't understand the negative comments from other CruiseCritics but this time we experienced some of the issues first-hand. BTW, we're still Princess fans and have booked two future cruises. Most (if not all) of the problems arose because there are 3,000 passengers on a ship designed for 2,500. This creates crowding in all public areas, specifically the Horizon Court buffet and any performance venues. If you want a decent seat, take a book and plant yourself 30-40 minutes early. And plan your breakfast for off-hours when it's not so crowded. We had a table for 2, early dining in the Boticelli dining room. The service was extremely slow and after the third night - when it took an hour and 15 minutes to get our entree - we didn't go back. Three strikes and you're out. The waiter seemed to be working very hard but there was no cohesive teamwork between him and his assistant. Enjoyed the Wheelhouse Bar pub-grub and Vines Wine Bar. The Vista Lounge, present on many other Princess ships, has been superceded by Fusion Nightclub. The way it's arranged, it can't be used as a venue for the Capt. cocktail party (champagne only this time) or the returning cruisers' Capt. Circle parties. These were held in the Atrium and it just wasn't worth the crowding and hassle. We only dressed for one formal evening and plan to shun these events in the future. We also will stick to Princess' smaller ships unless it's an itinerary we can't refuse. But all in all, we had a great cruise. The captain did an admirable job navigating thru 2 North Atlantic storms, one with 80 mph winds and 21 ft. seas. Luckily, we do not suffer from seasickness. We missed St. Johns, Newfoundland due to weather and this created 7 straight days at sea. Princess did a great job of scheduling a variety of movies during sea days in the Princess Theatre as a diversion. Reykjavik, Iceland: Probably the highlight of our cruise. The ship has a "Golden Circle" bus excursion which we had signed up for. However, we didn't relish being stuck on a bus with 40+ people for 8.5 hours, so we decided to rent a car from Hertz at the regional airport. Great decision! We managed to see all the major sights in the Reykjavik area and had no problem navigating the roads. They were all paved but had no shoulders and we only saw one guardrail all day. The topography is pretty barren and created by volcanic activity. Thingvillir National Park is memorable for being able to walk down the tectonic plate between the continents of N. America and Europe. Also the site of the world's first parlaiment approx. 900 AD. The highlight was Gullfoss (Golden Falls) a spectacular waterfalls for which pictures do not do justice. The geyser area was not as impressive as Yellowstone's; however, Geysir is the namesake of all geysers throughout the world. There was some spectacular scenery in the highlands on the ride back to Reykjavik via Selfoss. We caught the last Hertz courtesy van back to the dock with minutes to spare. Would love to return to Iceland for a longer visit. Qaqortoq, Greenland. Never did we think we'd ever visit Greenland. The approach with a full moon and our first iceburg sighting of the day was quite memorable. We were tendered to Q-toq and (thanks to other CruiseCritic reviews) knew to hit the one and only gift shop first thing. We scooped up our souvenirs and spent the next 3 hours exploring. The houses are brightly colored and climb up and down the streets surrounding the harbor - and so did we. Quite different from any place we've ever visited. Mostly Inuits but some Danes and other Europeans as well. We had selected a nice French cabernet and some local beer at their grocery but were crestfallen to learn there are no liquor sales on Sunday. The sail-away down the channel was spectacular. At dinner, the Capt. announced that they had spotted a large iceburg 1/2 nautical mile away and he thought photos or videos would be a nice souvenir of Greenland. What a treat! It was a distance from the ship and was hard to estimate as to size but it was approximately half the size of the Emerald. We did a complete 360 around the iceburg so everyone could see. With the setting sun as a backdrop, it was quite a sight indeed. Read Less
Sail Date September 2009
I had been anxiously awaiting the transatlantic cruise for months and it was finally here! We spent 3 amazing days in Paris, no snobby or unfriendly Parisians were encountered, and 2 in London. Even though the itinerary of the ... Read More
I had been anxiously awaiting the transatlantic cruise for months and it was finally here! We spent 3 amazing days in Paris, no snobby or unfriendly Parisians were encountered, and 2 in London. Even though the itinerary of the transatlantic cruise said Paris (Le Havre), the city of Paris is 2 1/2 hours away by train or bus! No way was I not seeing the Eiffel Tower sparkle at night! We arranged for our own transportation to the Harwich Terminal and it took a good 2 hours from London. The train stops right at the Terminal so next time that will be the method. The check in was a breeze and we were off! I was disappointed by the cabin, so small, and it was a balcony on the 6th deck. The beds are horrible!! Those egg crates for padding that they try and appease you with are just as bad. Room service was punctual but was never hot when it got to our room. Our attendant was exceptional as was all the service throughout the trip. The crew make the experience since you're spending practically 24/7 together. The ship is showing its' age. I was disappointed with the entire cruise. Amazing with the 3 other reviews on the same ship, we could have such different experiences. The food was ok at best and the only good meal was the Parade dinner. The entertainment was ok, the activities were the same. The bingo king was obnoxious while he took he was being cute. The shore excursions were varied and well organized. I'm not sure if the excursions at St. John, NF were cancelled because of the bumpy ride or the fact that we left Reykjavik 3-4 hours late! We were on board before departure time (remember they'll leave you behind) and we saw bus after bus pull up and watch as it snaked through the port building to get everyone back on board! What a joke! The sea were high between Scotland and Reykjavik and then onto Canada. The dining was sparse a couple of nights and the entertainment cancelled. I felt that the quality of the Celebrity cruise had slipped since our last cruise. While you think you'd be treated differently, the specials offered on board were better than what they offered their repeat customers. Shame! Some cabins lost their luggage for the entire trip from the Celebrity transfers out of Heathrow airport. We had to lend them some of our clothes because Celebrity had only given them complimentary laundry services at the time. Can you imagine a 2 week cruise with the clothes you wore on the plane? Yikes!! I chose this cruise because of the Celebrity name, the ports and because it was my husbands' first trip to Europe. However, it will probably be my last cruise with Celebrity. Outside of the amazing service and crew it was just an ok ship with ok food and entertainment.   Read Less
Sail Date September 2009
This was our 6th or 7th Princess cruise, and we're up to 75 days or so, consquently they gave us a bottle of champagne when we arrived at our cabin (well, a coupon for one waiting for us in the dining room). Vacations to Go, our ... Read More
This was our 6th or 7th Princess cruise, and we're up to 75 days or so, consquently they gave us a bottle of champagne when we arrived at our cabin (well, a coupon for one waiting for us in the dining room). Vacations to Go, our travel agent, had a bouqet sent too, so we left the dock on the first day feeling quite special. But, lets not get ahead of the story. First we have to get to Copenhagen. Princess's first air booking for us from San Francisco to Copenhagen required about 26 hours in transit. We declined and they booked us a SF-London, London-Copenhagen schedule of about 14 hours, and we elected to arrive a day early hoping to work off some jet lag, and see the town. No problems. In the afternoon of our second day we took a cab to the docks and got on board the Emerald in under 30 minutes. It is probably best not to arrive with the Princess transfer crowd if you want quicker embarkation. We had balcony cabin C 501, which we booked way back when the economy was collapsing, and so we got a great cabin at a great price. Our balcony was double sized and, weather permitting, we enjoyed it. No problems whatever with the cabin, and Eric, our steward was personable, friendly, helpful and we were able to keep our eccentric schedule with no difficulties. We did not find the ship crowded, nor the public spaces cramped. But we had a double balcony and spent a lot of time in the cabin. We dislike controlled seating, and opted for the open dining rooms for almost all meals. Quite quickly we discovered that eating at 8 meant you could almost always just sail in through the door and get a table with no delay. Since our sense of time was in confusion due to moving through a lot of time zones to get to the cruise, 8 was as good a time to eat as any. Normally we accept a table with whomever shows up at the same time and we met some interesting people. The last few days we found two other couples who were good company and ate with them each evening. On our last Princess Cruise we took to stopping at Vines for a glass of sparkling wine and a snack (free) before dining. We did it again on the Emerald and Jorge, our waiter, was another highlight of the trip. Vines was offering free tapas and sashimi, which was quite good. The food in the dining room ranged from acceptable to very good - they had a "home cooking" entre on most menus and I usually went for that. I find on cruise ships that there are often eccentric ideas about what the fancier dishes are and how to prepare them. One tip: they had no cocktail sauce for the shrimp cocktails, and the "American sauce" which is ketchup, was sparingly applied I always got a side of sauce, and a bottle of tabasco and mixed to taste. I tried getting horseradish but it had no bite so I gave up on it. Upstairs was the cafeteria (Horizon Court) and a smaller area called the Caribe or something like that. It had excellent food - really better than the dining room often. We would lunch there and at least once diner there. We don't like cruise ship entertainment & have no comment about the shows. My wife felt the opera singer, who performed in the central area of the ship one night, was not very good. This I know from nothing, as Tom Lehrer said. The magician was magical, we liked him. We took only one tour. That was in Dublin and we went to Powerscourt gardens because I have been reading Jane Austen novels and everyone is always in the great house or walking in the shrubbery or garden and I wanted to see one. It was great, the tour guide was at least so-so, par for the course. Otherwise we just got off the ship and wandered around the ports. Oslo was our first port, and my first chance to buy a charger for my computer, as I left this indispensaible item at the Citigarden motel in San Francisco the sleepy morning we flew out. We grabbed a cab, had several adventures and got the item. Then we walked the port area, had one of the most expensive lunches in human history, visited the Nobel Peace center (before they announced Obama's prize, but they were doing a Martin Luther King to Obama display so that should have been a tip off.) The weather was good there, and in every port except St. Johns, Newfoundland, which was skipped by the ship due to gales. Edinburgh was next. We anchored in the Firth of Fourth near the famous bridge - in itself worth the trip just to say the name. There is a replica of the Golden Gate Bridge in SF, in use there as well. Tendered to the dock, bussed to the city. To my complete surprise we ate at a Spanish restaurant, which was quite good, enjoyed a book store and a hardware store (got an indoor/outdoor thermometer) and walked to a large park & museum area where some Nigerians were singing a gospel trance song for a very long time, which did not prevent a bagpipper from doing his thing, all to the background of jackhammers installing the new streetcar line. Charles Ives eat your heart out. Belfast was overcast, and notable to me for the incredible heart attack inducing breakfasts and lunch menus. Nice ferris wheel by the city hall. We rode on its counterpart in Copenhagen. (Very dull at night, Copenhagen is not much to see from the air after dark). In iceland in retrospect we should have taken the tour or rented a cab and gotten out of town. I wish I had seen the Golden Circle attractions. Worse yet I visited the post office and spent a fortune on year sets of stamps for my collection. Despite the currency collapse recently, prices were high. Qaqortoq (pronounce the q's as k's) was marvelous. The place is big for Greenland but at 3200 residents, small for the world. It was easy to walk the town, and between the brightly colored houses and the rock carvings scattered everywhere, not to mention the lake, there was much to see. We visited several local grocery stores and my wife got what seemed to be a popsickle with a licorish coating. The town boasts a Thai restaurant, and I can now say that I have eaten reindeer at a Thai restaurant in Greenland. It was good, but the joint was absolutely jammed and service, while pleasant, was slow. While dining we looked out the window and saw people standing in a line. We were a block or two from the pier & couldn't figure out what they were doing. After lunch it turned out that not everyone who tendered in was enjoying the local culture, gaily painted houses, and art work, and having spent 15 minutes ashore were now waiting for the tender. We went up the hill to another grocery store, saw some folk art murals, and a boy of about 10 years with a brown dog, green pop bottle, and blue hair. When we finally had to leave we were welcomed at the tender dock with hot soup and no line. On the way out we saw a couple of icebergs which had inexpicably drifted into the bay. The gales were great. The ship itself hardly rocked in gale force winds and officially rough seas. We don't get sea sick, apparently, but this was not a proper test. I think only one thing fell off a table while we were dining. I went to deck 5 and photographed waves breaking against the windows of the future cruises office - one did every few minutes and it was a challenge to snap the shot but I got a couple of good ones. Disembarkation had its moment of confusion as we tried to find our luggage in the huge shed where customs was, but aside from some time in line, no problem. We were flying out in the afternoon so we took the Everglades and Flamingo Park tour. Excellent. I would skip the alligator show at the Everglades unless you are into old-time southern roadside kitsch, but the alligator we saw in the wild was a airboat trip highlight. Flamingo gardens offers a tram tour. Skip it, the narration is quite bad and the tram badly in need of maintenance (carts pulled by a tractor like thing). But flowers everywhere and the flamingos must be seen to be believed. So we saw them. Next trip on the Norwegian Jade in January. Read Less
Sail Date September 2009
B2B Barcelona / Venice Grand Med 12 days Sep 25, 2009 Venice / FLL Transatlantic 18 Days Oct 7, 2009 Princess Air: Routing - All Flights NWA + KLM. SFO / Detroit / Amsterdam / Barcelona. There was 2-hour layover in DTT and 90 min ... Read More
B2B Barcelona / Venice Grand Med 12 days Sep 25, 2009 Venice / FLL Transatlantic 18 Days Oct 7, 2009 Princess Air: Routing - All Flights NWA + KLM. SFO / Detroit / Amsterdam / Barcelona. There was 2-hour layover in DTT and 90 min layover in AMS. Luggage was booked SFO / BCN and boarding pass with all seat numbers were given at SFO. All flights were on-time. AMS: There were self-serve kiosks for transfer (if one did not have seats for AMS / BCN). Longish walk from arrival gate to Immigration / Security. Be sure to stand in non-EU Lines! Took about 20 minutes. The nice attractive security lady asked me to open the carry-on, took out the travel umbrella and opened it. Took out the electronic luggage scale asked what it was. Then these 2 items went through the scanner again. At boarding a check-in lady went through the boarding line and took away many (including mine) carry-ons and tagged them and checked them. We got it at the regular carousel in BCN. BCN: We knew we would need carts because DW has an injured shoulder. We had between us 4 pieces of regular luggage (3 bottles of wine and chargers etc. take up space), and 2 carry-ons. We saw 2 small carts and were thinking of taking them downstairs to the carousel when a nice person tells us "Baja"and pointed and we see tons of regular luggage carts. We got 2 carts and exited. Princess Staff were right there and we gave our luggage to be loaded into the luggage bus and were led to the pax bus. At the port, there was security check first (20 minutes) and then check-in. We got our cabin cards and went next door to the Duty Free Shop that had good Spanish wines - bought 3 bottles and a simple corkscrew and charged them. Inside the Ship: We went to our cabin (JJ Inside for first leg then BA for TA). The cabin steward Cerry came over as we are opening the door, greeted us by name, and opened the cabin door. Luckily, he was to be our steward for the full 30 days because the BA cabin was on the same deck 5 or 6 cabins away. We went to the Cafe Caribe for light lunch and then to the Sanctuary. We were disappointed that the Sanctuary is open only till 4:30pm so we did not make a reservation. Port Sightseeing: We had a very active and sophisticated Roll Call with Ann & Ramah continually updating the Spreadsheet. So for some ports we had joined our CC members and some were with Princess. Monaco: We just walked toward town. Finding the escalator was tricky. Naturally the main attractions were Grace Kelly related. Then we joined with another couple and took a cab to the Casino. But they would not let me in without an ID. We went to the casino next door and then walked down (about 30 min) back to the ship. Caution: remember to memorize some landmarks - we got lost in Rome and almost did not find our tour van. Rome: We booked the Princess Train to Rome and walked to the Basilica and looked for the Vatican Museum. There was a big line but there were many agents for guides offering entrance without waiting in line. We bargained the price down from 40 euros pp to 35. The agent gave us a slip with the price and took us to a guide who took us to a small office where we paid. There were about 12 of us with that guide and we by-passed the lines. The museum was very very crowded. We did not take a guidebook. To appreciate the Sistine Chapel one needs a diagram of the ceiling! Afterwards we went to the Basilica (no lines now). We then wandered around trying to get to the Spanish steps and then made our way back to the train station. Naples: We just took the ferry to Capri, went up the cable car and wandered around. Try the small alleys away from the shopping street. We got 3 bottles from a small grocery store - the Barolla was excellent but the Monticello was disappointing. There are restrooms where the cable car comes up. Athens: We joined the tour arranged by CC member Kathleen and it was excellent. Istanbul: We booked the Princess Bosphorus with lunch. Very good value - gets sold out quickly. Ephesus: We joined a tour arranged by Allen and it included the terrace houses which is a must. Remember to take bottled water - no food or drinks available after you enter the gates. Artemis Pillar - is it a hoax? Avoided carpet weaving. We did not go to the leather factory either - though others said that the leather jackets were a good buy. Venice: Princess After-Hours Tour of St. Marks. Expensive but worth it. Exclusive look at areas normally closed to tours. Got valporetto pass on first day. We has 2 nights on the ship. We found ATMs at both ends of Rialto Bridge - one did not accept foreign cards. The other one did. Rome City Tour: Arranged by CC member Dorothy (&Joe): Marco of Romeconnection was superb. My Italian Lira dropped at Trevi brought me back after 40 years. Will the Euro dropped now bring me back? Remember to go down to the edge of fountain to throw your coin. Dorothy & Joe - may be we should have thrown some coins into your cabin to get us together on another cruise! Naples: Joined CarolynR tour with Fabrizio (Allarounditaly). Great guy. Fabulous Lunch Barcelona: Sagrada Famila with CarolynR. As soon as we docked, 4 of us got a cab to Sagrada (20 euro total with tip). So we got there and were in the front of the line for the ticket office to open. Toilets are under the Sagrada (if needed). Join the line immediately for the elevator - gets longer and longer. 2 (or maybe 4) euros for the elevator. What a marvel. We read about how it took 100 years to build many of the cathedrals - Sagtada will take 50 years. From Sagrada took a cab to Las Rambla. We strolled the Las Ramblas, ate lunch, went to the market off Las Ramblas, then took cab back to ship. Cabs were hard to find at Las Ramblas. Food: Rome - pasta with white truffle (20 euro - the most expensive pasta on the menu) but such a wonderful delicate taste. Athens: I asked the tour guide - she recommended Lamb Fricassee. The heavenly sauce. After I told her what I thought, the tour guide said it is a specialty in that restaurant and she always orders it. Naples Fabrizio's choice of the restaurant near Positano perched on a hill with a magnificent view and a 6-course lunch to match (only 25 euros with wine). Murano - wandered into a restaurant with a courtyard. Superb fried seafood platter - one of the best fried calamari. Las Ramblas - cannot be in Barcelona without trying Paella Marinara. On the ship: lamb chop, Pate (at breakfast in Cafe Caribe), and omelets with Jalapeno. Ship food was very good but not memorable. Our waiters - Napoleon and Sunil were excellent. And on the first leg - Maitre D' Generoso (so special) and cheerful Istvan (Headwaiter) made each dinner a joy. They both left the ship in Venice. Our tablemates on the first leg were a honeymoon couple from Spain - and we enjoyed our Spanish dinner wines with them. Ruby: Our first time on this class of ship. Sailing into Venice watching from the deck - all teary-eyed pax. Captain Charming Tony Yeomans -- if you write your memoirs title it "Parallel Parking The Ruby Princess". We all held our breaths as the captain maneuvered it between 2 docked ships in Venice! Skywalkers: We were regulars here especially for sailaways. Vinod always welcomed us. The appetizers - especially freshly made carpaccio and guacamole. Do not miss going through the Rock of Gibraltar from a high deck. Vines: About 20 of the 30 evenings we were here before dinner. On our first evening, Florian the Sommelier gave us a warm welcome and we were hooked. Florian knows his wines. And then there was the sashimi and ceviche superbly crafted by sushi chef Sajid for us. Oh! What a treat! We ordered wine by the glass and also by the bottles. Our favorites - Luce $90 with gratuity (for our taste it out-classed Opus) and our regular pinot noir Calera - a great value at $40. The Piazza and the aft end of Ruby are different from the Grand Class Ships- the views from the golf link is great. Memorable Interactions: We get back from Rome and were walking to our cabin. A cabin door opens and a hand thrusts a bottle of Champagne into my hand and the door closes. I keep walking to our cabin a few doors away wondering. There are 2 glasses of champagne in it. DW tells me - it was Raymond (and Pam). We laugh and drink it in the balcony. We are going to the Coop in Venice and run into our Steward Cerry. So I ask him if we can get him anything - embarrassed he says "Some Mints". We bring mints and some chocolates in a nice small light transparent plastic container. He looks at it and says - "I will take it home - my family must know that I have nice pax." We meet a couple in Horizon Court. The wife tells us that they are enjoying the cruise. But they have a worried look. Her husband left the hearing aid batteries on their kitchen table. He has only one battery left and they are on these excursions and cannot get batteries. I tell them we will look for the batteries in Lisbon our next port. That evening we find a sample battery and a note in our mailbox. So in Lisbon, we find a watch store. No -- they don't have it - then I point to my "ear". "Ah" says the guy and comes out and points further down the street. We try another pharmacy - she points and says "Up". I tell DW there are only apts. above the stores and no stairs. DW says she saw stairs. So we cross the street and push a slightly open door. There are stairs. We go up and we are right in front of a Hearing Aid Store! We give the batteries to the couple late that evening. Next day we run into the couple -- she hugs DW and starts crying. She says "Now - my husband can hear." We tell her that she had faith in 2 total strangers and her faith led us to the store. She says it is Mitzvah. They send us flowers. Cabin Get Togethers - wonderful wine and appetizers and conversations. Thanks to everyone on our Roll Call that made the whole trip so memorable. Each one has to find what gives them joy and bring that way of life to their cruise. Enjoy. Read Less
Sail Date September 2009
A new cruiser and new-ish to these forums, this is my review, for good or bad! For me, like the curate's egg - the cruise was good in parts. Ports of call: I booked the trip based on the itinerary published in the brochure. This ... Read More
A new cruiser and new-ish to these forums, this is my review, for good or bad! For me, like the curate's egg - the cruise was good in parts. Ports of call: I booked the trip based on the itinerary published in the brochure. This was subsequently changed and substantial port changes were made from 14 - 27 October. F.O wrote that the Canadian authorities had advised that this sector was in breach of legislation protecting registered ships engaged in coastal trading. They had apparently vigorously disputed Canada's interpretation but said that they were not able to gain any concessions from the authorities. This did make me slightly concerned about how a company with F.O's reputation and experience could be caught out by such legislation at such a late stage in the process, how could they get it so wrong? After all, this had been planned for how many months. Bite the bullet, I thought, and make the best of it. I enjoyed most of the ports of call that I was able to go on, norovirus and ports cancellations preventing me from going ashore at Shelburne, Sydney, St Pierre and Miquelon and St John's, NF. Overall as some of the smaller ports of call had 'closed down' for the winter, more judicious planning would have given us more shore time at places like Bar Harbour, Oak Bluffs and Lunenburg where there was a lot to see and do. Sunny and warmer weather certainly would have added to the small town charm of the smaller ports in Canada - Cornerbrook, Baie-Comeau, Gaspe, Digby - though the welcome and hospitality of local people, waiting to host us even in cold and breezy conditions, was really heart warming. Tendering procedures were sometimes tediously long with F.O booked trips taking priority over we lesser mortals who had privately arranged our own excursions. So I missed one early and privately pre-booked trip in Bar Harbor and a planned bus tour of Martha's Vineyard was curtailed. I got ashore early at Lunenburg by booking a F.O tour at the last minute. I think it was here that others, who had to wait for tenders to get them into this beautiful area, were not called until early afternoon, then they had to be back on board for a tea time departure so they decided not to leave the ship. What a shame as this is a stunning area to visit. Maybe the cruise would have found better weather and sea conditions had it been possible to maintain the original schedule and if it had started a few weeks earlier. Public areas on the ship: Public areas were very clean, good looking - if in somewhat 70s' decor - and well maintained though at times it was difficult to get a 'window' seat in the library or the walk through area to the Morning Light pub - first come, first served! The Morning Light pub? A bit lacking in character and somewhat divided up by high backed benches and all 'curtained in', claustrophobic given the large area, but there was generally plenty of room there for a sit down. There were other areas on Deck 7 where sofas and easy chairs were available and the library of course (if you didn't mind snoring!) And it was enjoyable to hear the Trio playing in one of the seating areas there. The bars I used the Lido and Observatory bars mostly, sometimes used the Marquee Bar for afternoon tea. The Lido and Observatory both have a reasonable view of the outside world. It is a bit of a do to get to the Observatory and Marquee bars if you are at the 'wrong end' of the ship. Staf:. These lovely people made my time on board. I was really impressed with the ship's wait-on, bar and cabin staff, and pay particular commendation to the 3 waiters on table 107 in Ballindaloch, the Palms staff, the Lido and Observatory bars staff and my cabin stewardess Ong. They were really great, always friendly, cheerful and caring as were the majority of staff engaged in day to day chores around the ship. Reception staff were rather less cheery, a little bit forbidding, maybe instructed to maintain a certain distance and reserve, as was one of the senior European staff I had dealings with, whose manner was brusque and intimidating, perhaps to bat off complaints? Who knows? Entertainment: What I saw of the evening entertainment was good and varied but some performers had the edge. What stood out for me was the Balmoral Troupe and the Crew's Show - excellent. What a talented crowd they are! Day time entertainment, card games, darts, deck games, carpet games, quizzes and lots of people were participating and having a good time. A personal preference on my part is not to do games but I was quite happy with a book and a people watch! But there were some interesting lectures and the Arts and Crafts classes seemed well patronised as did the dancing. For singles travellers: I am very used to solo travelling, others less so, so my comments here are based on chats with other singles who were looking for introductions to like travellers. Not all of these have access to PCs so please bear with me if I am reporting their views. Arrangements would have benefited from a little more forethought and care and attention. After all, this line prides itself on being 'all about the people'. The growing demand from singles in the holiday market should be one that companies might respond to in a positive way. Several basic and achievable proposals were brought to the attention of the Entertainment/Cruise Director to try to introduce single travellers, maybe just to dine or maybe to team up for outings. (What was in place was not working). He agreed but nothing changed during the course of the 6 weeks. Maybe it was out of his hands but several passengers remarked that they felt rather let down by the apparent lack of care and cohesion especially when it was part of programmed events in the Daily Times. It was also remarked that cruise hosts should be more 'age appropriate' to the average age of guests, it could be too much like Blue Peter. Food and Drink: I am a real foodie. The food was OK overall but the main restaurant served tiny portions from the menu except for a number of notable occasions, such as the lamb shank and Beef Wellington nights. The buffet was more generous. It was rather less exciting than I had been led to expect but mass catering and economic constraints are undoubtedly a factor. Cruise food always had a reputation of being excellent, maybe that was in the good old days or maybe my expectations were too high. It sometimes looked better than it tasted. It didn't stop me eating it though as anyone else doing the cooking is a bonus! For me, there were some high spots in the 2 restaurants where I ate most of my meals. I loved the roast dinners and the Palms Buffet nights where the staff dressed up in costume. The stir fry cook there made some great dinners and there was sometime a queue for his cooking - your meal could be cooked to your taste and I thought that was super. The fresh omlettes were delicious in the moring as were the late supper fish and chips. Drinks prices were reasonable too without the surcharge sometimes levied by other cruise companies. Accommodation: The ship, whilst common areas are a bit spiffy, still has some shabby and well worn cabins, one of which I was allocated. I did not think that this was worth the money I paid, nor would I expect my B&B guests in my home to occupy such poorly re-furbed bedrooms. I had an older cabin on Deck 4. It had new-ish soft furnishing but was well worn in the bedroom and the bathroom with really poor refurbishment of the fixtures and fittings, screws holes left un-Polyfilla'ed, bathroom shelf rails loose, the bath really looked unwholesome with a stained bottom and anti slip strips that were partially peeled off, paintwork that had been given a lick and a promise - all things that would have taken a couple of hours at most to fix and look well cared for. Sickness: Infections can and do occur all too frequently in establishments where large numbers of people congregate for any length of time but on this ship Norovirus made its presence felt again after having been on board on the British Isles cruise earlier in the month. There was also a nasty throat and chest infection that has followed people home, with serious repercussions in a couple of cases I heard about. As well there is what seemed to be a viral ear infection (or streptoccocal bacterial infection, take your pick) that continues to plague us, I now have both of those a week after coming home. All part of the risk of travelling with so many people at such close quarters, I know. Regarding NV I think that any efforts made by management to restrict the spread - isolation, hand washes everywhere, closure of self serve buffets, washing down of banisters, lifts' handrails etc and the fumigation of cabins after release from 'custody' - might have been somewhat snookered by the less than hygienic habits of some passengers. I'll leave that to your imagination. It has been suggested elsewhere on the forums that we oldies are less than careful in our personal care -not me, matey - but I now understand why such comments are made. I lost much of the third sector of the cruise to sickness, isolated for over 48 hours and then a further self chosen isolation for a further 20 hours. Believe me, the after effects of the virus are enough to dampen one's enthusiasm for partying so I was rather glad to get some air at Cobh and to arrive back home 2 days later. To add insult to injury the coach driver on the way back from Dover - Victoria locked the toilet and said it was for single use only - we weren't sure if he meant that was only for one person to use or if it was only for Number 1s - who dared ask after that? God forbid that one of us really DID need to use it! Noxious fumes in cabin: What really made me anxious - as a single traveller - was not only contracting NV, though that was bad enough, but what happened in my cabin in the first week of October. I had the heating switched on and fell asleep whilst reading, then awoke briefly and registered this smell, fell asleep again (at least I hope it was sleep), woke again and the smell was stronger, enough to get me off the bed with a pounding violent headache and dizziness, the former lasting for a number of days. It was coming through the aircon vent. I switched it to the cold position immediately. I reported it to reception by phone, checked to see that the couple in the next cabin was OK, went on deck to get fresh air, then went to Reception in person and demanded that they make a log of it. I heard nothing else so eventually went to see the Guest Relations officer. You can take your pick of the reasons given for the fumes: 1) It is caused by routine maintenance, the engineers say it will clear soon (reception) 2) the engineers know there is a problem and are working to fix it (reception) 3) the ship was bunkered the day before in port (?was it) and the fumes were as a result of that and/or (GRO) 4) the fumes were not in your cabin, they were in the corridor and this happens when the door to the engine room is left open (GRO) This problem, as I reported it, was denied verbally and in writing by the GRO, who inferred that I was making it up to get a free upgrade. (I should add that I had asked for an upgrade when I went to see him on the first occasion and even offered to pay so that I could get a fresh air flow in the cabin - he said that no upgrade was available, unpaid or paid. Instead he offered me a cabin on deck 5. I saw no benefit in going from one sealed box to another so declined). Make what you will of that. This has happened on the Braemar too, according to another poster, so maybe it is an accepted part of being aboard a ship. If it is, it's potentially very dangerous, the immediate and long term ill effects of exposure are well documented, especially from bunker fuel fumes, as I have since discovered. My overall review is this cruise varies between excellent and downright frightening! As I said, I was a first timer - would I go again? That is very doubtful. I am quite put off. I am not a whinger about the smaller things in life, but this was a substantial investment for me in terms of money and time, having got over a health scare earlier in the year, I was determined to try to push into life all those things that I never had an opportunity to do before - but it didn't come up to the mark. As a single passenger I paid a lot of money for this cruise, £6000, and certainly expected a 4* service, if not a little more, judging by the Fred. Olsen brochure's description and many passengers' complimentary reviews. The fact that I was subsequently offered the cruise for £3400 does grate. Was it value for money at £6000? For me, definitely not! Nor would it have been at £3400. I am disappointed by parts of the cruise (maybe the ship/itinerary planning more than the 'cruise') but the port days were very enjoyable in the main and I met some really pleasant travelling companions. I had anticipated cruising - and with F.Olsen for their UK departures - as a new holiday-ing phase in my life as I get older and less enthusiastic about DIY flights and touring. I am having to think again. I know that there will be many who had a great time, I only wish I had been one of them. My overall marking is 1 and the reason for this is based on GRO's lack of care and concern over the 'fumes' incident and the his intimation that I was making it up to get a free upgrade. This is a pity as it detracts completely from other areas where far higher grades have been awarded and the overall mark suffers as the result of one man's action Read Less
Sail Date September 2009
We are Josie & Al, mid-sixties, essentially retired, living in Houston TX. This was our fifth cruise together in just over two years; the previous four were with Princess. I've been on approximately 40, although my last Royal ... Read More
We are Josie & Al, mid-sixties, essentially retired, living in Houston TX. This was our fifth cruise together in just over two years; the previous four were with Princess. I've been on approximately 40, although my last Royal Caribbean voyage was in 2002. Now that they've become more competitive, we were anxious to try them. We booked the cruise a year prior to sailing, and anticipated this adventure from that time on. We had always wanted to experience a transatlantic cruise, and at under $1000/pp including airfare, it was an offer we couldn't turn down. This will be a pretty comprehensive review, so please bear with me. Each component will be rated from * to *****. EMBARKATION ... ****. With approximately 3700 passengers to process, the terminal at Southampton was large and well-staffed. We arrived about 3:00, two hours before departure, and snaked through the line in about twenty minutes. We were a bit apprehensive about leaving our luggage outside virtually unattended, but it all got aboard, and was delivered to our stateroom promptly. The cruise was essentially sold out. THE SHIP ... ****. The Independence is a Freedom-class vessel, one up from the Voyager class, and below the new Oasis of the Seas. It was launched last year, and is in pristine condition. Despite its size, we found it easy to get around, and had it figured out in about an hour. The Royal Promenade (Deck 5) makes it feel less crowded, although passengers were really packed in during scheduled events there ... you can only disperse such a mass of humanity so far. There are two quaint eating establishments, the Promenade Cafe (pastries, sandwiches, etc.) and Sorrento's (pizza, Italian salads and desserts). Coffee, tea and snacks are available 24/7, and there is no additional charge for food. They're both wonderful. The pool deck (11) is massive and very pleasing aesthetically, including two cantilevered hot tubs extending 12' beyond the ship, and a large area dedicated to children's use. We discovered two glaring omissions, however. One was the lack of an indoor pool (or at least a retractable dome), which precludes use in cold and inclement weather (Europe in November certainly falls into this category). The other was no outdoor food venue, save for a self-serve frozen yogurt machine. With the adult pool area forward and the Windjammer Cafe (buffet) aft, one has to traverse the length of the ship in order to grab a bite, then take it all the way back. The Sports Deck (12) contains the rock wall, mini-golf course, basketball court and the new Flo-Rider. OUR STATEROOM ... *****. We booked an inside guarantee (generally a Cat. Q, the least expensive accommodations) and were pleasantly surprised at an upgrade to a Cat. N ... still inside, but in a terrific location. We were in #3615, on Deck Three, mid-ship, close to the art gallery, the main floor of the dining room (where sit-down breakfast and lunch were served daily), the ice rink (Studio B, also used for other activities ... the ice is covered with a removable floor) and the On-Air Karaoke venue. We were concerned with the proximity to these potentially noisy places, but heard absolutely nothing. It's a great area (just a few staterooms, in a location where the ship's movement is minimal) ... and it connects to 3613 (again, we heard zero). So if you're planning to travel on the cheap, and will have need for adjoining staterooms, book these! They're away from the rows and rows of cabins on the upper decks, and just a few steps from pretty much everything. We often walked the two flights up to the Promenade and theatres. THE PASSENGERS ... *****. Americans were definitely in the minority. The majority were British, with significant numbers of Canadians, Asians, and Europeans. It was an exhilarating experience sailing with such a diverse group of people. This being both a lengthy trip, and a time when children are in school, the number of kids was limited to 128. Most were pretty much invisible, and those who were seen were hardly heard ... a total non-issue. THE STAFF ... *****. I've excluded the dining room employees here, as I'll cover them when I address the food-related matters. We found everyone to be congenial and eager to help. The folks at Guest Services were as good as I've ever encountered, and our stateroom steward(ess), Desena, a lovely Jamaican gal, was absolutely perfect ... available when needed, in a stealth mode when appropriate. No complaints whatsoever with any of these folks. The Cruise Director can play a huge role in the overall enjoyment of a voyage. Ours was Joff Eaton ... probably the best I've ever come across (the memory is fading, but I don't remember anyone quite as good ... perhaps Graham Seymour; but if there's any difference, it's minimal). In addition to the usual qualities, we found him quite approachable, eager to please, efficient and very much in charge. We saw him every morning at our progressive trivia contest, and continued to return solely because of him ... we had absolutely no shot at winning. He actually made losing fun! His staff likewise performed flawlessly. If there's something that needs a bit of work, it's the daily telecast that runs continuously from midnight to noon. Joff and the Activities Director, Katie, summarize the day and preview what's ahead. Granted, they both have a sense of humor; but their schtick is just plain silly and immature ... this comment coming from a fan of The Three Stooges. It was an effort to watch it. ENTERTAINMENT ... ***. We've never been fans of cruise ship productions, and none of the three programs did anything to change our minds. The singers and dancers are talented kids ... but the content of all the shows was inane, as usual, probably in an effort to please 3700 passengers. The scenery and costumes, however, were dazzling, and their creators deserve high praise. As for the guest performers (lots of them ... remember, it's a 13-nighter), this is as subjective a topic as food. A quartet of tenors known as Teatro was adored by the crowd. We thought their voices were thin, the repertoire stale, and the harmony (what there was of it) elementary. By contrast, the impressionist, Sean O'Shea, received many negative comments ... we really liked him. The other entertainers were the usual nondescript singers, comedians, hypnotists, etc. There was also a pianist, Tian Jang, who brought down the house. Josie thought he was wonderful; my impression was that the masters didn't write their concertos to be backed up by a big band. If you liked Liberace, you'd love this guy. But in any event, we had something to see each evening. Unlike cruises in warmer weather, there was no Calypso/Reggae deck band ... with winds up to 108 mph across the bow, that's understandable. But those musical groups on board were outstanding, especially a Latin trio called Clave. The house orchestra (10 pieces) was excellent. There were also two ice shows, both really great. It still amazes me how those kids can work so well on the "small ice." DINING ... **. As usual there was plenty to eat in many venues. The Windjammer buffet was by far the best we've ever come across, both in terms of variety and quality. There are two mirror-image serving areas, each divided into many components ... meats (including a carving station), cold, hot, a "burgerama," desserts, salads, all with many choices. Adjoining each side is Jade, food with an Asian flair, including sushi, fried rice, stir-fry, curry ... pretty good stuff. After being introduced to such an array in the self-service area, one would expect it to carry through to the Main Dining Room. Unfortunately, such was not the case. We're veteran cruisers, and know full well that dinners are not the "gourmet feasts" as advertised, but rather good banquet-quality food. Still, we were disappointed. With an exception here and there, we found the menus very limited and lacking imagination. Preparation and presentation were at best ordinary, with most dishes exceptionally bland (which might explain why the wait staff was pushing the "fresh-ground pepper" whenever possible). Even the signature lobster dinner (actually a tail, served with shrimp) was subpar ... overcooked and delivered at close to room temperature. We actually had to ask for drawn butter. Desserts lacked creativity, and we often found nothing appealing enough to order. Ice cream was largely vanilla, chocolate and strawberry, most likely a concession to Ben & Jerry's, which has a shop on the Promenade. Service was inconsistent, at times bordering on the inept. Even when the station was not at capacity, there were inordinate waits between courses, salads brought before appetizers, soups and main dishes served lukewarm, long waits for tables to be cleared, staff whizzing by the tightly-packed-in tables, which proved very distracting ... in short, hardly the "Gold Crown Service" touted by Royal Caribbean. We were informed by a travel agent/passenger that about 40% of the staff was moved to the new Oasis of the Seas prior to this cruise, and that much of the kitchen personnel were new. Based on what we experienced, this would seem correct. Breakfast and lunch menus in the Main Dining Room were identical each day, but a buffet table was available at breakfast, and a manned salad bar was present at lunch. The augmenting of the rather ordinary daily menus with these selections is a nice touch ... if not for the fact that they kept running out of the more popular lunch choices such as shrimp, it would have worked perfectly. It's a great concept, but the execution needs work. PORTS OF CALL ... *****. I'm not going to devote much space to the stops. After all, what could be bad about Paris, other than the two-hour ride each way? But the tour was wonderful, and we did get that fabulous panoramic view from the Eiffel Tower! There was an issue upon our return to Le Havre, which literally and figuratively put a damper on the day. When we arrived back at the ship (along with at least 25 other coaches) we found exactly one gangway open ... and that was a pretty steep climb. There were people with physical disabilities who could not even attempt the embarkation. To make matters worse, it had become cold, windy and rainy. Only after a half-hour or so did two other gangways open. We did fill out a complaint form, and were credited with half the cost of the excursion ... a fair compensation; but it never should have happened. Our visits to Cherbourg, France and Vigo, Spain were lovely. We got to see the major attractions, and learned much about the cultures. But by far, the biggest surprise came at Funchal, Madeira. This is a Portuguese island, west of Casa Blanca, Morocco and north of the Canary Islands ... roughly the same latitude as Fort Lauderdale. If you think that it's tough driving in St. Thomas, it will feel like a straightaway in comparison. But every hairpin turn, curve, and close call with oncoming traffic was worth it. The views were absolutely incredible, the people as accommodating and welcoming as possible ... just a wonderful day. We stopped at a mountaintop restaurant to sample local wine, cheese and bread ... magnificent ambience. Madeira is a vacation destination for Europeans ... we can certainly understand why. The stop was an appropriate prelude to the upcoming six consecutive sea days. ABOUT THOSE SEA DAYS ... ***. If anything, it provided the opportunity to readjust from the jet lag, as we gained back an hour for five days, passing through the various time zones. We just wish that there were a few more activities ... but the weather gradually became warmer and calmer, and the deck was alive and rocking by the time we reached Fort Lauderdale. There was one huge nighttime party up there, which we enjoyed very much. The late-night buffet was spectacular. DISEMBARKATION ... *. There's nothing like enjoying a wonderful cruise, then having to wait over two hours past your scheduled departure time, with pretty much nothing to do. It does wonders for those with flights to catch and excursions to take. Royal Caribbean assessed total blame on US Customs, citing, (1) a necessary thorough health inspection, since the ship had not been in US waters for over 6 months, (2) the large number of non-US citizens needing to be processed, and (3) only ten agents on duty. I can accept all of that ... but this is hardly the first time that an RCI ship has encountered this set of circumstances. A simple caveat about possible delays for these reasons would have at least mitigated the anxiety experienced by many. We were being picked up by a dear friend ... thankfully, he's still that, although he was seriously inconvenienced. For the record, we were due off at 9:00 and reached our luggage at 11:15. CONCLUSION ... This deserves a mention: kudos to Royal Caribbean for its policy on smoking. In addition to the usual places, it is prohibited in staterooms (except on balconies), open bars (i.e. those direct walk-in venues), and even the casino (there's a small area of slot machines where puffing is permitted on certain days from about 9:30 to 11:00 a.m., but that's it). We often had to pass through the Casino Royale on our way elsewhere, and it was wonderful not to breathe in that stench. Overall, the trip was a marvelous experience, and we'd certainly do it again ... although likely with another cruise line. Royal Caribbean has brought us the concept that bigger is better ... but they need to tweak some procedures, all related to the number of passengers they attempt to accommodate at any given time. Lines for shore excursion assignments and ice show tickets (complimentary and ultimately unnecessary) were interminable ... and with a little thought and advance planning, these issues could easily be resolved. There were also two bookkeeping errors that took what seemed like an eternity to rectify. We opted for My Time Dining, which requires that all gratuities be prepaid, since RCI does not add them to your account as other lines do ... not a problem, except that they had no record of us paying them (about a year in advance, I might add). Only after I showed the Guest Services Supervisor the invoice from my travel agent did they notify corporate (everything goes through Miami) and correct the problem. The other involved a charge of $4.54 for a bottle of water from the mini-bar. We never took a thing from the fridge, and filed a dispute with Guest Services about five days before we disembarked. As of our leaving, the charge was still on our account. We were far from the only ones with similar problems ... inexcusable, given today's sophisticated accounting programs. Add to this our disappointment with the dining room food and service, and a look at another carrier is certainly warranted. If you've gotten this far, thank you. I trust that you've gleaned some valuable information ... but if you need more, please feel free to e-mail me at ... al@duffey.net. Smooth sailing! Read Less
Sail Date September 2009
Embarkation/De-Embarkation. Carnival had this down pat. We (Dennis and I)were at the pier at 12 noon, on this ship at 12:10pm and in the lido area by 12:15pm. We were pleasantly surprised. Cabin - Large, spacious but needed ... Read More
Embarkation/De-Embarkation. Carnival had this down pat. We (Dennis and I)were at the pier at 12 noon, on this ship at 12:10pm and in the lido area by 12:15pm. We were pleasantly surprised. Cabin - Large, spacious but needed attention. Phone didn't work, light switches that did nothing. We did miss the room controls for air/heat that other lines provide. Instead on the air vents in the ceiling are the flow valves to increase or decrease the amount of air you got. Ship - Overall it was OK. You can see and feel the age (10yrs) of the ship. We wish the hot tubs worked but all were closed off the entire trip. We felt that as a first time cruiser who has nothing to compare the experience with you would be happy. For seasoned travellers not so much. Corners were cut. Spa - This unfortunately was the worst portion of the trip. We walked into the treatment room and as you lay face down you see the tiles from the walls all separating from the wall. It looked like a basement bathroom that was being forgotten. Also, camp O is right above you so as that relaxing music is playing the teens are screaming, slamming the B-ball on the ground, and having a great time while you cannot enjoy the massage. The staff of the spa however were very nice and professional. Casino - Pleasant Shows - Entertaining. Nothing bad nothing outstanding. Dinning - Avoid the Lido at all costs. Just order room service and stick with the main dinning rooms. Unless you have children then by all means head to the lido. Because that's where you will find 1000 other children (No joke. Brad cruise director announced it on the overhead that this ship had 1000 registered 17 and under children) Lido food was not good, the ice tea machines didn't work and we watched as parents screamed at their kids to find a table for them. Main dinning was tasty food and excellent service. Pros's - Embarkation,de-embarkation, St. John (I think this is an underrated port.) Staff attitude and service. Con's - General Maintenance, Lido deck, Poor Spa facility Overall If you have children from 12 and under this may be a cruise for you. Camp Carnival seemed to keep the children very happy, entertained and busy. If you are going thinking you will relax ( As I did ) then avoid the ship. We had children running up and down the halls at 3am just banging on the walls and some peoples cabin doors for fun. Cruise Director would come on the PA in the mornings to remind people to be courteous but that did nothing. This was one part of the trip that I couldn't fault Carnival on. Carnival promotes fun for the family and that's what you should expect. They also will do whatever they can to get you to charge anything to your room. 6 drink servers asked myself and a few others within 5 mins if we wanted a drink. (i know they are on rounds but c'mon) We tried to avoid most of the sun decks and public areas and hang out on our balcony. With the weather so beautiful the entire trip this was the saving grace of the trip. I hope this review helps. Oh the reason why I went with carnival was that it fit the bill at the time. Needed a quick 4 day escape and they had the itinerary and embarkation port that worked for me. Read Less
Sail Date August 2009
Having read various reviews about the Independence, I felt compelled to write about her. I am not sure if some of the critics could have been on the same ship as me. All I can say is I am glad I did not see all the reviews before my first ... Read More
Having read various reviews about the Independence, I felt compelled to write about her. I am not sure if some of the critics could have been on the same ship as me. All I can say is I am glad I did not see all the reviews before my first sailing!! it might have put me off, thank goodness we sailed on this fantastic ship. SHE IS AMAZING,and so are her crew. I have nothing to compare her with, so my opinion is completely unbiased, and I wonder if some seasoned cuisers are to nit picky!! you can find a problem or complaint anywhere if you are looking for it. First the transatlantic crossing from Southampton to Fort Lauderdale, when I boarded the ship, her magnificence overwelmed me, I felt the tears of joy. The D2 STATEROOM 7666 was the same stateroom, (but opposite side of the ship to the 7366 on our return) The size took me by surprise, it seemed large, there was a large studio couch that makes into a bed if required, enough room for 4 people to sit on. a coffee table in front of it, an adequate desk/dressing table, with chair, a real kettle!!, flat screen TV, a large bed, lovely private balcony with a table and chairs, where I spent many a happy hour, on both journeys. An adequate bathroom with shower, yes, we were very happy!! Oh! I nearly forgot our fantastic cabin attendant, nothing was to much trouble. DINING, we do not like formalities, and enjoy very casual dining, the beauty of this on the cruise is, you choose, we dined just two evenings in the MDR, on the ship going to Fort Lauderdale, which was very enjoyable, but found ouselves being drawn back to the windjammer, and on our return to Southampton only ate in the windjammer. I have to say, the food was excellent, so many choices, beautifully prepared and presented, the quality was first class. The staff were very helpfull, and did their best to provide anything special you asked for, eg. my husband can only have soya milk. Our food was always hot, reading some peoples complaints about just warm food we noticed some people pick up a plate and wonder around the food stations, deciding what to have, so food cools down quickly when removed from hot plates etc. We walked around first, having decided what we wanted, we then picked up a plate, and went straight to our choice, then immediately to our table, so the food had not had chance to cool down. We really enjoyed the Windjamer, it was huge, and nicely decorated, with magnificent panoramic windows all round. PUBLIC AREAS, We enjoyed walking around the ship, even though the ship was full to capacity, with so many passengers, we were amazed the ship never seemed crowded, the pool deks were always busy, but I found a lounger or chair somewhere, the same on deck 12 above. We walked around deck 5 many times, and hardly ever saw anyone else. for us it was lovely not to feel crammed into spaces with lots of other people. The inside areas, are all beautifully decorated and furnished, and we enjoyed sitting in the various lounges throughout the ship. On deck five, the inside promenade deck was lovely to walk through, with shops and cafes, it was quite a social gathering place for a lot of people. I saw some of the shows, not all, but those I saw were very enjoyable. The ice skating shows were fantastic. COMING from Fort Lauderdale, on the first day at sea, in the Alhambra theatre the Captain introduced his officers, and asked if anyone knew where the first port of call was to be, someone shouted out don't care, everyone clapped and cheered, because to be honest with you, I didn't care either, I was on my floating bit of paradise, in the middle of nowhere, mentally totally lost in paradise. I loved the 6 days at sea, in the middle of the ocean, and almost felt sorry as we approached the Azores, Madeira, Vigo, and back into Southampton. We were very pleased the Captain was the same on both our transatlantic voyages. Captian Teo, we found him to be amusing on his daily announcements. He always spoke to people when he wondered through the public areas, and was very approachable, we spoke to him on several occasions, throughout our trip back to Southampton, and he was friendly, accommodating, and was willing to answer any questions, but gave the impression of always being very much in charge. A Captain who gave us confidence, who ran a tight ship so to speak!!, and whos crew seemed to speak very highly of him. Finally, I am very disappointed she is going back to Florida so late in November, otherwise we would have booked on her. We are booked on the Celebrity Equinox. But we have booked on the Independence to come back to Southampton in April 2010, sadly that is her last transatlantic, she is staying in Europe. Hopefully in the future she may be required to do transatlantic again, I will be the first to book on her if she does. I absolutley love her, and all she had to offer. Read Less
Sail Date August 2009
To begin, this experience was top notch from the moment we landed in New York to our arrival back at the Heathrow airport 6 days later.Cunard gets top marks for efficiency. The transfers to and from the airports worked like clockwork. ... Read More
To begin, this experience was top notch from the moment we landed in New York to our arrival back at the Heathrow airport 6 days later.Cunard gets top marks for efficiency. The transfers to and from the airports worked like clockwork. Embarcation was fast and courteous, we were in our cabin by 12:20 and having lunch in King's Court 10 minutes later. By 1:30 all of our bags had arrived and our room stewardess had introduced herself. Our cabin was booked as"obstructed view" but we lucked out on this too. 8059 is between the lifeboats so we had an excellent view of the ocean. Our table in the Britiannia was #262 on the balcony overlooking the Commodore's table an excellent location for people watching. We were assigned a table for 6 and our dinner companions were very agreeable ( a fellow Canadian lady travelling alone, an American couple with whom we agreed early on not to discuss politics and a very charming well travelled lady now living in NYC but who is actually a world traveller). The food was a cut above what we had experienced on cruise ships and the portions were reasonable not enormous. We had dinner one evening at Todd English and while the room itself is very impressive I didn't find the food that much more enjoyable than the dining room. The shows in the "Planetarium" were worth seeing albiet somewhat short.The library is really impressive over 8000 books and big comfortable chairs overlooking the bow of the ship. The English Pub lunches are not to be missed and the afternoon tea service is really worth experiencing although the same scones and teacakes are served up on deck 7 in the King's Court, it's not quite the same as being served with a quartet of musicians and white gloved waiters. Although the pool areas are spacious and lounge chairs are abundant we spent more time on our balcony than on deck. Somethig we noticed right away was how quiet this ship is. Never heard noise from hallways or other cabins and could hardly detect the sound of the engines. Two minor criticisms, the internet is very sloooow and I wished they had small teapots in the King's Court (as a tea drinker, I hate tea bags in a cup)However those are petty annoyances compared to the overall first class experience. Read Less
Sail Date August 2009
This was our main holiday for this year and although shorter than we normally take the quality of the package more than made up for the time spent on holiday. We travelled out to New York on a direct flight from Glasgow with Continental ... Read More
This was our main holiday for this year and although shorter than we normally take the quality of the package more than made up for the time spent on holiday. We travelled out to New York on a direct flight from Glasgow with Continental Airways. This was arranged through Cunard as part of the overall package. This is not a good idea. The aircraft is cramped and service on board is not wonderful. try to get a flight with BA, which although through London would be much more comfortable. Terminal 5 is great. We arrived on time at Newark and quickly passed through immigration and customs and were promptly met by the Cunard representative who directed us to our transfer, a city car, which took us to our selected hotel in Manhattan, the Waldorf Astoria. This iconic hotel sits on Park Avenue and is ideally situated for everything a tourist would want to do in New York. 5th Avenue shops, Broadway, Times Square, Central Park were all within an easy 10 minute walk. Taxis are plentiful and inexpensive when returning from a long days sightseeing. The hotel was great full of character and the rooms are typical of an American hotel, big, clean and all the amenities you would need for a short stay. One word of warning, prices in the bars were high reflecting the status of the hotel. Buy water and wine elsewhere and drink it in your room! At the end of our stay we were ready for the QM2 and again the transfer arrangements to the berth in Brooklyn went to plan. We arrived at 2.30pm and I would suggest if you are making your own way to the ship to go earlier as the queues to check in were lengthy and we had to wait aroung 45 minutes. Nevertheless once on board we quickly found our stateroom and set off to explore. Being that little bit late meant that the buffet was closing when we got there in readiness for the boat drill and we had to wait until the drill was finished before getting a snack. The organisation of the Kings Court buffet could have been better and we decided that we would not be visiting again. After the drill we returned to our cabin, the bagggage had been delivered, we met our steward and unpacked ready for dinner. A word on our steward. He introduced himself as Ronaldo, explained how to contact him if needed, showed us the features of the stateroom and left. We hardly ever saw him again after that few minutes. He carried out his duties expertly, maintained the room to a very high standard, clean towels, toiletries, bed turned down each eveing without us being bothered by his intrusions. A great way to serve your clients. So to the dining experience. We were in the Britannia Club section of the restaurant, a table for six guests, were there is no set time to dine, go anytime between 6.30 and 9.00. Our table companions were a great crowd, the chat was fun and we regularly found ourselves staying to the last people present. This always sets the tone for a great cruise. We did have some doubts regarding people turning up at different times for their meals causing an odd feeling to the meal but in reality this did not happen as we usually agreed at what time to eat and everyone arrived dutifully on time. Indeed we often met for a pre dinner drink. The food was superb. Great choice at every meal, breakfast, lunch and dinner, we did not want to try any of the other venues so good was the restaurant. There was a good choice of wine at a range of prices to suit all pockets, indeed the general price of drinks was similar to a bar at home. Service was good and again unobtrusive, the waiters were weel mtrained and experienced. The maitre d' for this restaurant was superb, meeting and greeting at all meals, using your names and willing to meet any unusual special requests without fuss. We decided to visit the spa for a massage. On QM2 the spa is run by Canyon Ranch, is very weel organised and offers every type of treatment you may wish to try. A word of warning here, the prices are top notch, probably double the equivalent on shore. But hey you are on holiday and can worry about the cost later. We each had the signature Canyon Ranch massage. Fantastic. As part of having a treatment you get a day pass to the other spa facities, such as the sauna, steam room, hydrotherapy pool, all of which are worth a visit. I used the gym daily, it is very well equipped and staffed by professional trainers. The gym classes were limited in choice and again a warning, a charge of $50 per week has been introduced for the classes, probably not worth the money so burn up the calories in the gym. There was plenty of lectures to attend during our cruise, delivered by experts on their subjects and each lasting about an hour. If you don't want to sit for so long then the lectures are shown on stateroom TV and you can dip in and out as you wish. The entertainement on board was limited. The production shows in the theatre were not the best and the specialist enetrtainers not our cup of tea but speaking to people who did attend found them reasonable. At the end of our cruise we had to get back to Glasgow and found the easiest and best value was to arrange the transfer ourselves. we arranged for self diembarkation from the ship. This involves carrying your own baggage ashore but at a time to suit yourself in our case 7.45am. We had arranged a private transfer to Heathrow with a company called Smith for Airports. This was a good decision. The cost was less than the coach transfer offered by Cunard and was at our own choice of time etc. We were at Heathrow within 1 hour of leaving Southampton. One thing which we found irritating was the number of teenagers that were travelling on board. By the second day they had all met up and were roaming the ship in packs. They dominated the indoor swimming pool and jacuzzi and seemed to have taken over certain areas of the ship. Our solution was to let the dogs out of the kennel and put the teenagers in the kennel. A bit outrageous maybe but just a warning to others travelling without children. To sum up our experience. Fab, fab fab on every front. Try to get the opportunity to travel transatlantic with Cunard, they have been in business for a long time and the experience built up over those years does really show. Read Less
Sail Date August 2009
Background Information: We sailed NYC to Southampton as part of a three cruise vacation. It was our first time on the QM2 or on Cunard. Hotel Info: We flew into NYC (JFK) the day before and stayed overnight at the Marriott ... Read More
Background Information: We sailed NYC to Southampton as part of a three cruise vacation. It was our first time on the QM2 or on Cunard. Hotel Info: We flew into NYC (JFK) the day before and stayed overnight at the Marriott Fairfield Inn at JFK. Air train from the terminal to a central pick up point where the hotel shuttle picked us up. The Fairfield Inn has a pleasant restaurant which is open at night until 10 pm and we had a decent meal after arriving. Not much near the hotel to walk to, so the restaurant was a nice surprise. Ship Info: The QM2 is a rarity, built as an ocean liner, not a cruise ship. She travels as steady as a rock even in rough waters. It is really a remarkable ship, and we would not hesitate to make use of it again as a wonderful alternative to Business Class air fare to and from London. The ship motors along faster than the average ship on a T/A but you can hardly feel the motion. Activities: We are not activity oriented, preferring to do things on our own. The internet facilities are fantastic (although pricey), and the library outdoes anything I have ever seen at sea. I found loads of books that appealed to me and managed to read three of them during the cruise. We played trivia a few times. Awesome fitness center. One unexpected activity was diverting to get within 200 miles of Newfoundland so the Canadian Air Force could medivac one unfortunate passenger and his wife off the ship. They had to be hoisted up from the ship to the helicopter while the ship tenders shot up flares all around the ship. Quite exciting, and the passenger was reported recovering well in St John's, Newfoundland hospital. It had no impact on arrival time in London. Service Impeccable in all respects. You could want for nothing as all you had to do was ask. (with one exception noted below). Port & Shore Excursions: Only ports are embarking at Brooklyn Cruise Terminal and landing at QE2 Terminal in Southampton. Southampton is a nice city to spend a day or so if you have time. We didn't as we were immediately going to another Terminal to board the Grand Princess. Cunard refused to arrange transportation to the other terminal despite the fact there were more than 20 other parties also joining the Grand. They refused even though we lobbied for it and were willing to pay. Odd, especially since Cunard and Princess are owned by the same parent. That was the one negative blot on "White Star Service". Travel To Port of Embarkation: Jet Blue from Phoenix to JFK, shuttle to Fairfield Inn for overnight, and car service arranged by Fairfield Inn (on only 10 minutes notice) to the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal. Car service cost $50 which we felt was reasonable. It's about a 30 minute ride. Problem was at the terminal where there was one way in and out, and we sat in traffic for another 20 minutes inside the terminal grounds before reaching the terminal building. Once out of the car, check-in was smooth and fast. Stateroom: We had a "sheltered balcony" stateroom. The stateroom itself was more than adequate; in fact, it was remarkably nice. The balcony was fine as we had been warned in advance that you could only see anything while standing. But we love to spend time on the balcony even in questionably weather and we wouldn't go without one. Dining: We ate in the Britannia Restaurant at the early sitting (6:00 pm). Anytime dining is not an option, but the late sitting (8:30) was too late for us so we adjusted to dining earlier than our preferred 7:00-7:30. We travelled with another couple and ate with them every night, sharing with others on most occasions and met some very nice people. The food at dinner is excellent and the portions are just right in size. Not to be missed is the extra- charge Todd English restaurant for dinner. It is a dining experience as good as any restaurant on land and well worth the modest surcharge. We checked out the "buffet area" which at night is split into four different distinctive dining venues, but we didn't try them. Breakfast we did at the buffet everyday save for one day in the dining room. Lunches we did wherever seemed convenient, but try to enjoy at least one lunch in the Pub - very nice English pub food. While we are not "formal" people, the three formal nights were a dress-up treat. And it's fun to see everyone all dolled up. We didn't (although we could have) bring a couple bottles of wine on board. We would when we take theQM2 again. The wines on board are very nice but quite expensive. When you factor in the 15% gratuity, plan on spending a minimum of $50 a bottle. Alcoholic drinks are expensive as well - I would estimate all drinks are 30-50% more expensive than you would pay on the typical Princess cruise. But then again, it is the Queen Mary! Children's Clubs: There were lots of children of all ages on board and we often saw supervised groups of them doing activities. They were never a bother and seemed to be constantly organized. Entertainment: Great lecturers - Royal Astronomical Society and a British coroner. It was all informative and enjoyable. There are several different shows in the Planetarium. We watched one and it was a lot of fun. They tend to be crowded, so get your tickets early. They had a female operatic vocalist performing who was well received but wasn't our cup of tea. The jazz violinist and the jazz combo were both excellent, and we saw them both several times. Disembarkation Smooth and easy. It took about 20 minutes to get a cab to the next cruise terminal, and the driver happily diverted to a wine warehouse where we picked up a few bottles to take on the Grand Princess. Southampton was trafficy since there were three other large cruise ships in port the same day. Read Less
Sail Date August 2009
This review is primarily a travelogue of what we did in the various ports on our 36-day cruise. It was marketed as two 18-day cruises, "The Land of Fire and Ice" (NYC-Dover) and "The Top of the World" (Dover-NYC), so I ... Read More
This review is primarily a travelogue of what we did in the various ports on our 36-day cruise. It was marketed as two 18-day cruises, "The Land of Fire and Ice" (NYC-Dover) and "The Top of the World" (Dover-NYC), so I have reviewed each segment separately. Only one port (Qaqortoq) was included in both cruises. For more details about us, please see the companion review. Day 18 (Wednesday, August 12) Dover, England (Turnaround Day), on EDT+5 The TP docked at the Western Docks (www.whitecliffscountry.org.uk/pdf/dover-map.pdf). We left the ship around 7AM and hiked to the White Cliffs Visitor Centre. From the Cruise Terminal, walk out to the A20. At the second roundabout, turn right towards the waterfront. Walk along Waterloo Crescent then Marine Parade towards the Eastern Docks Ferry Terminal. Before you get to the Ferry Terminal, use the pedestrian crossing to cross over to East Cliff, there are some signs if you look hard. Continue on Athol Terrace to the steps that will lead you up to the Visitor Centre. This area is somewhat run-down; obviously more locals than tourists go this way. The White Cliffs Visitor Centre (www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-vh/w-visits/w-findaplace/w-thewhitecliffsofdover.htm) was not open that early but we had downloaded maps of hikes to the South Foreland Lighthouse (www.kent.gov.uk/NR/rdonlyres/C5C7D63B-875F-4EA5-94F9-0841E09E1E29/0/walksineastkentsouthforeland.pdf or www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/white_cliffs_-_wildlife_walk.pdf). On the way to the lighthouse, we took the more developed, inland path. At the entrance of the lighthouse property (which also was not yet open when we reached it) there is a marked footpath that leads along the wall on the north side to trails closer to the cliffs. We took those back and found a spot where we could get down to the beach and look up at the cliffs (www.discoveringfossils.co.uk/dover_kent_fossils.htm). To return to town, head back down the same way you came and along East Cliff until it joins the A20. Take the first right at the Leisure Centre (#4 on the map); near the parking lot behind the Leisure Centre are the interesting ruins of an old church and a pub called "The White Horse." Between the pub and the ruins is an alley way, which leads to steps that will take you straight up to the Dover Castle (www.english-heritage.org.uk/server/show/nav.14571). When you buy your tickets, be sure to ask about the tour of the "Secret Wartime Tunnels" (included in the price of admission). After this 10-mile day we decided we deserved a nice Foster's and a hot shower! Day 19 (Thursday, August 13) At Sea, on EDT+5 We spent the day recuperating after all the hiking in Dover. In the afternoon, there was a Cruise Critic get-together in the Tahitian Lounge. Tonight was the Captain's Welcome Cocktail party and the first of three formal nights on this leg of the cruise. Day 20 (Friday, August 14) Dublin, Ireland, on EDT+5 The TP docked at the Alexandra Basin, Dublin Port. The ship offered a shuttle downtown for $5 pp each way; it stopped on Kildare St. near Trinity College and National Art Museum. We had considered walking but a Cruise Critic member who was on the previous Dover-NYC cruise advised against it. This was good advice because there was not much to see along the route that made it worth the long walk. The shuttle did pass the Famine Memorial and the Custom House. After getting off the shuttle, we walked around St. Stephen's Green and Merrion Square. We had bought a Dublin Pass (www.dublinpass.ie/dublinpass/) before we left the US, so our next stop was the Old Kilmainham Gaol (www.heritageireland.ie/en/Dublin/KilmainhamGaol/) and a good dose of Irish history. Then we were off for a pint at the Guiness Storehouse (www.guinness-storehouse.com) — everything you ever wanted to know about brewing beer. Next we crossed the River Liffey to the Old Jameson Distillery (www.jamesonwhiskey.com/Heritage_Old_jameson_distillery_Tour_info.aspx) to learn all about making Irish whiskey and have a "wee nip." John served on a taste panel comparing Jameson with Scotch and sour mash whiskey; he was the only one to admit he preferred the Jack Daniels. Finally we took a student-led tour of Trinity College (www.tcd.ie/Library/old-library/tour-attractions/), which ended at the Old Library (www.bookofkells.ie/) and a peek at the Book of Kells illuminated manuscript plus a visit to the really interesting Long Room in the library. Note that the tour meets in the courtyard next to the main gate, not at the Old Library. The cost of the tour including admission to the BOK is €10 (BOK alone is €9). By this time in the afternoon, there not a particularly large crowd for either the tour or the viewing of the Book of Kells. We planned our walking route using parts of the following walking tours (especially the iWalks brochures), so we actually were able to see quite a lot. However, the port visit here was entirely too short! www.visitdublin.com/multimedia/DublinPodcasts/iwalk.aspx?id=275 www.frommers.com/articles/5058.html goireland.about.com/od/dublinandleinster/ss/walkdublin.htm Day 21 (Saturday, August 15) Greenock, Scotland, on EDT+5 This was the first of several ports where we were competing with the Maasdam for dock space. Fortunately, there was room for both of us at the dock at the Clydeport Ocean Terminal. We awoke to pouring rain and live bagpipe music. The Iverclyde Tourist Group welcomed us warmly with pipers and abundant advice on attractions in the area. They offer 3 different free tours (£5 pp donation suggested) (inverclydetouristgroup.co.uk/tours) in the Greenock area. We took the tour to Newark Castle in Port Glasgow (www.historic-scotland.gov.uk/propertyresults/propertyoverview.htm?PropID=PL_221&PropName=Newark%20Castle). The castle dates from the 1500s and is only now being restored but was interesting because of several spiral staircases — one up to the battlements, which we of course climbed. After getting back to Greenock, we went to the Old West Kirk (www.owkgreenock.info) and had a tour there. We had intended to walk to some of the other sites of interest (inverclydetouristgroup.co.uk/showcase) but it was just too miserable in the rain. We returned to the ship to have something to eat and make a sandwich for the 9 hour bus tour to Edinburgh for the Military Tattoo (www.edinburgh-tattoo.co.uk). We investigated going on our own but decided that the logistics made this one worth doing through the ship. The Tattoo has never been cancelled due to weather and the forecast was for rain, cold, and strong winds! Also, the seating is notoriously cramped (the Scots must have very narrow butts, shoulders, and knees). The ship's tour office suggested taking something to pad the seat; cushions are rented at the venue for £1 each. We decided to take pool towels inside the 2-1/2 gallon zip-lock bags we use for packing. We figured we could use them to dry off when we got back to the bus after the performance. The Tattoo is such a popular event that the traffic was horrendous; it took 3 hours to get there (versus only 1-1/2 to get back). On the other hand, we took a roundabout way through the Scottish countryside and got to see at a distance Loch Lomond, Stirling Castle (site of Robert the Bruce's great victory at Brannockburn), and the Wallace monument (above the site of his great victory at Stirling bridge). The crowds were enormous (it reminded me of Mardi Gras); fortunately the seating is reserved. The Tattoo program itself was fantastic (www.edinburgh-tattoo.co.uk/programme/program_2009.html but without the RAF medical rescue) and the setting is outstanding with Edinburgh Castle illuminated in the background. We understand now why it is described as a "must see!" Fortunately, it did not rain but the wind was over 25 mph and John was sure the spotlights creaking above our heads were going to blow down and kill us; the flags at the top of the stands were flapping so hard they were making loud snapping noises. Our guide expressed concern about the kilts being blown around. We were bundled up well in fleece, wind jackets/pants, hats, and gloves, so we were comfortable enough. Umbrellas are not allowed, so we also had plastic ponchos in case of a real downpour. Our group was very prompt about returning to the bus and we got back to the ship just before midnight. I didn't see any flags — good thing I bought one in Halifax. Day 22 (Sunday, August 16) At Sea, on EDT+5 We spent the day relaxing after our late night at the Tattoo and getting ready for the Faroe Islands tomorrow. Day 23 (Monday, August 17) Torshaven, Faroe Islands, on EDT+5 We were supposed to dock in Torshaven (www.visittorshavn.fo/UK/index.asp?pID={FE442432-1421-4E80-815E-D87A12234B21}) but the Maasdam beat us to it, leaving us to tender. In the morning we hiked all around town and had culture shock when I tried to buy a flag for my collection. For a little 3x5 inch flag, it was $38! Needless to say, I passed on that. The Old Town in Torshaven was interesting with all the grass-roofed houses. In the afternoon, we took a bus/boat tour to the Vestmanna bird cliffs (www.faroeislands.com/Default.aspx?pageid=9817) on the other side of the island. This was another tour we considered doing on our own. However, the timing was very tight and we were afraid that the ship would reserve all the seats on the only tour that would fit the port schedule. The boat went right up to the sea cliffs and sailed through several sea arches and through a cave that must have been at least 100 yards long. The nesting season was over, so we did not see many birds in the cliffs. We saw puffins in the water and in flight but they were too far away to get a decent picture. On the way back from this tour, we saw someone mowing his roof. Day 24 (Tuesday, August 18) Seydisfjordur, Iceland, on EDT+4 We were scheduled to tender in Seydisfjordur (www.sfk.is/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=122&Itemid=1) but the dock was free. We hiked on our own to the Vestdalur Nature Reserve (www.frommers.com/destinations/seydisfjordur/4112010020.html). This is a valley with a series of plateaus. At each plateau, the river makes a gorgeous waterfall (or 2 or 3). At the top, is a lake (Vestdalsvatn) that is frozen most of the year. Although we encountered some snow on the hike, the lake was thawed. The trail starts about 1-1/4 miles north of the village center, past the youth hostel; there is a sign marking the trailhead and showing area trails. We had printed out and brought this map www.simnet.is/ffau/kortindex_enska.html, which shows the trail going along the north side (away from town) of the Vestdalsá River. The "trail" was not very well marked and we had to ford several streams and walk through boggy areas. On the way back, we took a different trail (#44 on the trail sign) that was better marked (green stakes with yellow tops) but only slightly less soggy. However, the views of the waterfalls are much better from the trail on the north side of the river. BTW, you can sport the boggy areas from all the bog cotton (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_Cottongrass). There were sheep all over the valley. After the hike, we discovered that in addition to mud our boots were covered in a light layer of wool that we collected out of the grass. After that hike, we walked around the town a bit to see the old wooden buildings and then up to another waterfall (Budarafoss) that was right next to the ship. Back on the ship, we discovered that the top of the refrigerator is a good place to dry your boots. Day 25 (Wednesday, August 19) At Sea, on EDT+4 We spent the day resting up from hiking 5 hours yesterday! Although it was overcast, we were able to see the huge Vatnajokull glacier and lava flows along the coast. We also had good views of the Vestmanna Islands and Surtsey (an island formed by an eruption in 1963). Day 26 (Thursday, August 20) Reykjavik, Iceland, on EDT+4 Reykjavik (www.visitreykjavik.is) was another port where we and the Maasdam could both be accommodated at the dock (Skarfabakki Pier). I had arranged a private taxi tour for us and 3 other couples (Paul929207, Sydney1a, Cycmom) with Hreyfill (www.hreyfill.is/english/). Our driver/guide was Hjorleifur Hardarson (or Hjorlei, approximately pronounced Hurly), owner of taxi #487. John and I had visited Reykjavik previously; on that trip, we rented a car and drove the "Golden Circle." This time, we wanted to see something different, so we booked the "South Coast Spectacular" tour. This took us along the southern coast of Iceland (www.heimur.is/heimur/upload/files/kort/islkort2009-bakhlid.pdf) to the southernmost town of Vik. Along the way, we saw lava fields, views of the Vestmanna Islands and Surtsey, waterfalls (Urridafoss (Salmon Falls), Seljalandsfoss, Skógarfoss (really gorgeous!), and many unnamed ones), glaciers (Eyjafjallajökull and Mýrdalsjökull), and sea stacks/arches (Dyrholaey). We made a photo stop at the Skógar Folk Museum to see turf-roofed houses. On the way back to Reykjavik, we saw Gluggafoss (Window Falls) near Fljotshlid and more unnamed waterfalls, stopped at the Sólheimajökull glacier tongue, and even got a peek at the most active volcano in Europe, Mt. Hekla. (Hekla means "cloaked" or "hooded" because it is usually covered with clouds.) Our final stop before returning to the ship was a thermal field in Hveragerdi, which is used to heat greenhouses that grow most of the vegetables (like tomatoes) and flowers sold in Iceland. The only vegetables that seem to be grown outside are potatoes. We also passed several geothermal energy plants and natural thermal areas. Hjorlei was not as talkative as the driver/guides we had for Akureyri and Lerwick and he did not have a loud voice or microphone like the others. However, he was willing to answer all our questions at length, spoke excellent English and seemed genuinely pleased to be showing off the beautiful scenes in Iceland. Also, there was no problem modifying the itinerary (www.hreyfill.is/hreyfill/en/taxi_tours/south_coast_spectacular/) on the fly. Note that the banquet mentioned in the itinerary is no longer offered but we did have a quick snack break at Vik although most of us brought sandwiches from the ship. Day 27 (Friday, August 21) At Sea, on EDT+3 This was the day of the Princess Grapevine and also the Captain's Circle party so free drinks! Tonight was the second of three formal nights on this leg of the cruise. It was a nice day to relax and finish my library book, Stephen Colbert's "I Am America (And So Can You)." Day 28 (Saturday, August 22) Cruising Prins Christian Sund, on EDT+2 This was a fantastic day! Even though the Maasdam left Reykjavik before us, the TP went through the sound first and had a beautiful, sunny day. She went through later after the clouds had rolled in. We saw the Greenland ice cap, tidewater glaciers, hanging glaciers, sheer cliff faces, a fishing village, and several packs of seals hunting fish. The last Dover-NYC cruise was unable to get into the sound due to ice, so we felt lucky to be able to see the gorgeous scenery. The trip through the sound took all day and by the end we were exhausted from the unrelentingly beautiful sights. Day 29 (Sunday, August 23) Qaqartoq, Greenland, on EDT+2 This was our second visit to this port; see the previous review for more information and links. Captain Kent took the scenic route from Prins Christian Sund, so Maasdam beat us here — they got the close anchorage and we were further out. This time the Qaqortoq residents had several shows and demonstrations (for a price); guess it wasn't worth the trouble when it was just the TP. If you want to hike, download a map (www.greenland.com/content/english/tourist/towns_regions/south_greenland/qaqortoq/map_of_qaqortoq); the tourist office has a more detailed free map of the town but it does not show the trails. Anyway, this time we took the second trail from the bottom right (at the back of a construction site), walked up and down the ridges, and almost came back on the trail at the bottom right. Again, we had to make our own trails because they are not marked very well (or at all, mostly). After that, we walked around town a little to see the fish market and the fountain (under repair); we went back to the ship a little early. The captain had moved the departure up an hour because high winds were expected at 4pm. They came in right on schedule as we left the anchorage. He had been worried because there was a large iceberg right between us and the Maasdam. Day 30 (Monday, August 24) At Sea, on EDT+2 We really had some rocking and rolling last night! Today we had the "Most Traveled Passenger" luncheon. We moved up to the second from the bottom table. At the luncheon we found out that the captain is navigating the TP among **4** low pressure systems, one of which is the remains of Hurricane Bob. Relaxing on our balcony this afternoon, we saw spouts of 15-20 whales. From what we could see of the backs and fins, they were probably Minke whales. Day 31 (Tuesday, August 25) At Sea, on EDT+2 The people who went to the "Most Traveled Passenger" luncheon yesterday were allowed to visit the bridge today. As before, this was top secret. I got to sit in the captain's chair! Day 32 (Wednesday, August 26) St Pierre, France, on EDT+2 Both the TP and the Maasdam were supposed to be in St. Johns, Newfoundland, today and in SP&M tomorrow. However, the authorities in SP&M realized that it would be an incredibly bad idea to have both ships in port on the same day; of course the Maasdam got to keep her original schedule and the TP had to alter hers. We found out after we returned that the Maasdam was not able to dock in SP&M and had to skip that port. Anyway, SP&M (www.visitspm.com; map at www.st-pierre-et-miquelon.com/english/cartes.php) had a free shuttle downtown to the tourist office; this is actually very walkable and we felt foolish taking the shuttle. We walked around the harbor, up to Fort Lorraine, the Cross, and the War Memorial; that took about an hour since each was not particularly extensive. Then we spent about 1/2 hour on a successful (thanks to Paul929207) search for a SP&M regional flag (the official flag is the French tricolor). We almost gave up on hiking as rain and high winds were threatening. On the way back to the ship we passed the carousel, the Sailors' Memorial, the Pointe aux Canons, the lighthouse, and the salines (fishing stations). Eventually, we decided to chance it and ended up hiking about 4 hours --- over to the other side of the island. We could not find any trail maps for SP&M online; the tourist office has a more detailed free map of the town (somewhat better than the link above) but it does not show the trails. The tourist office does have a large display with trail descriptions. Next to each description is a button that lights up the trail on the display. We tried taking photos of the display and direction but they were very hard to view once we were on the trail. We went up the road to the reservoir but lost the trail pretty quickly (we should have gone clockwise around the reservoir instead of counter-clockwise). We took off north cross-country and eventually saw the plank bridges on the Devil's Cape Trail from a high point. We hiked that trail for about an hour, then backtracked and took the Henry's Beach Trail. Then we backtracked to the main trail and took it back to the road above the ship. These trails were marked with paint blazes and had plank bridges over most of the boggy spots. At the very end of our hike, we finally found a trail kiosk with a map of the trails in the area of the ship. If you want to hike, here are our suggestions. From the ship you will notice a road heading uphill behind the abandoned building at the dock. To get to that road, you have to walk out of the dock area and make a sharp right when you reach the main road. Take the uphill road until you see the kiosk with the trail map. Follow the Devil's Cape Trail until you reach the junction with the Henry's Beach Trail. The Henry's Beach Trail makes a loop on the map to return to the kiosk but we were told at the tourist office that this section is closed. Backtrack to the Devil's Cape Trail and continue on it to the north side of the island and eventually into town on the Anse à Pierre Trail, ending on Rue Brue. Walk around town and then head back to the ship along the main road. BTW, from the ship you will have an excellent view of Ile aux Marins (Sailors' Island). It didn't look irresistible to us but if you want to see it, you can either take the ship's guided shore excursion for $59 pp or take the ferry on your own for a couple of euros pp. If you go on your own, the ship may have booked all the ferry tickets (not as likely with a small ship like the TP). If you are willing to take that chance, ferry schedules and last-minute tickets are available at the tourist office. Bobtroll and his wife went on their own with no problem and provided this information. Day 33 (Thursday, August 27) Sidney, Nova Scotia, on EDT+1 This itinerary change wouldn't have been any problem if it had been announced in advance. However, the passengers were not informed until the beginning of this leg of the cruise. This left us unable to do our usual intensive research on the port. We considered renting a car and driving the Cabot Trail to the Cape Breton National Park but the distances involved made that iffy. In the morning, we stopped at the Sydney (cbisland.com/index2.php) tourist office in the Joan Harriss Cruise Pavilion to pick up a city map. It was an attractive city but we did all three of the walking tours in about an hour. In the afternoon, we took a ship's tour to Fort Louisbourg (www.pc.gc.ca/eng/lhn-nhs/ns/louisbourg/index.aspx). It is sort of like a French Colonial Williamsburg but a bit later in history. Our guide made this special with a lot of amusing anecdotes and the ship's tour was well worth it. When we got back to the ship, we were supposed to sail immediately but the wind was too strong. And the harbor pilot went off duty at 6PM. So we were stuck here until 5AM the next morning. Why couldn't we have had an overnight someplace like Dublin or NYC? Day 34 (Friday, August 28) At Sea, on EDT+1 This is the third and last formal night on this leg of the cruise and also the Captain's Gala cocktail party. We had some rough weather today from the remains of Hurricane Danny. Day 35 (Saturday, August 29) At Sea, on EDT+1 The Cruise Critic people had another group lunch today. We saw dolphins from our balcony! Day 36 (Sunday, August 30) NYC, on EDT We arrived about an hour late but had no trouble catching our flight and were back home by late afternoon. I still need flags from the Shetlands, the Faroes, and Greenland. Read Less
Sail Date August 2009
Our first cruise in 1999 on the QE2 was a 5 day cruise around the Caribbean. We liked the ship but the stops were uninteresting and the land tours overpriced. Our next cruise was just after 9/11 from Boston to Southampton. We enjoyed the ... Read More
Our first cruise in 1999 on the QE2 was a 5 day cruise around the Caribbean. We liked the ship but the stops were uninteresting and the land tours overpriced. Our next cruise was just after 9/11 from Boston to Southampton. We enjoyed the voyage but decided that it was better to travel from East to West as then the clocks were moved back each night rather than forward, which made for a more relaxing journey. We sailed quite often on the QE2 from Southampton to New York and then also on the maiden voyage of the QM2 from Southampton to New York. Our latest (and probably final) cruise was from Hamburg to New York. In the 'old days' on boarding a white gloved member of Cunard personnel was lined up ready to take one to one's room. After boarding for this crossing, on asking to be shown to our room, we were advised that the first concierge was busy and the second concierge was at lunch (when the passengers were boarding!!). So we had to sit down and wait for 5 -10 minutes until we were shown to our room. In good 5 star hotels, on arrival, one is shown to one's room by a receptionist. It seems that Cunard thinks otherwise. PRO s: We had been upgraded to a penthouse. A nice spacious room. The room was always cleaned and made up while we were at breakfast and turned down while we were at dinner. A very good breakfast with plenty of choices. CON s: After we had settled in the room, our white gloved butler bustled in talking on his mobile phone. He asked which 'free' bottles of spirit we would like. We said we would just like a bottle of Campari. Later he returned to say, sorry, not possible. Luckily we had brought a bottle of Campari aboard. We already had ice but asked for a couple of swizzle sticks................. with no result. On the first formal night we asked our butler if he could tie a bow tie. He said he couldn't, but would find someone who knew how to do it............no result. Cunard's cost cutting is very evident in the menus. Less or no luxury foods (eg: foie gras, souffles, table side cooking etc) Less desire to offer more rolls, cheese course and so on. Less petit fours. Dining room staff generally met expectations but never exceeded them. The auction/sale of 3rd rate junky paintings has become old hat. The shops on board are similarly selling either junky stuff or overpriced items. SUMMARY: Previously we considered Cunard's transatlantic crossings fair value compared with first class air travel plus 5 or so nights stay in a 5 star hotel. But at over $12,000 for 2, with only 3 star service they are no longer competitive. Read Less
Sail Date August 2009
There's an old adage that states "If it ain't broke don't fix it." Captain Ravera and his crew aboard the beautiful Tahitian Princess maintain the old world charm of cruising that is so terribly missed on many of ... Read More
There's an old adage that states "If it ain't broke don't fix it." Captain Ravera and his crew aboard the beautiful Tahitian Princess maintain the old world charm of cruising that is so terribly missed on many of the other cruise ships. Granted the mega-ships offer more activities and if that is what you are looking for it's wonderful but if you miss the attention to detail, a slightly slower pace and fine dining with a service staff that is at your beck and call the Tahitian Princess is where you would want to be. This is our 2nd cruise aboard the Tahitian Princess and I must say it felt as if we were coming home again. Captain Stephano Ravera, who is probably the most popular and most loved captain aboard any ship in any fleet in the world, continues to be visible and welcome all of his passengers to his "Beautiful White Lady." Once on board it doesn't take long for you to lose your passenger status and quickly become part of the Tahitian Princess family. What continues to resound in my mind is the captain's constant remark that he treats his guests as he would want his parents to be treated on any given cruise. On July 7th we boarded the Tahitian Princess in Dover, England. We had arrived at Gatwick Airport on July 5th since my husband, the "Crabby Old Guy", and I don't like to take the chance of having our luggage arrive late and not have it with us when we board. Dover is a quaint little port town and you have the option of staying at a local B&B or the Ramada Inn. We chose the Ramada Inn which is about 4 miles from the town and we were not disappointed with our choice. The town of Canterbury, which may have a few more hotel options and a bit more scenic, is about a half hour away by cab or bus and is perfect for a day trip if you have the time. Our embarkation went smoothly and we boarded the ship at 11:30 AM and the cabins were ready, cleaned and open to all passengers. We dropped off our carry-on luggage and went to the buffet to have a delicious lunch. After lunch we returned to our cabin to find our luggage in our room which was a nice surprise. There is no doubt the Tahitian Princess operates like a fine tuned instrument and the Captain and crew seem to anticipate all of their guests requests even before being asked. Our muster station was in the lounge and we were told that it makes it much easier for the passengers to have a place to sit comfortably in the event that they would ever have to remain at the muster station for an extended period of time. It was absolutely lovely to sit on the balcony facing the White Cliffs of Dover and watch the locals' fish from the pier prior to our departure. July 8th was a relaxing sea day and at mid-afternoon 25 members of the Cruise Critic Roll Call met in the Library for a Meet and Greet. Captain Ravera and the Passenger Services Director, Giacomo Manfredi, stopped by to welcome us all to the ship. Pictures were taken and ideas on excursions were exchanged and as the norm in these days of technology internet friends met in person for the first time aboard the Tahitian Princess. That night was our first formal dinner and a funny anecdote was told by one of our tablemates. Apparently he was having some difficulty tying his tie so he stepped out into the hallway and fortunately for him an older gentleman and his wife were passing by. He asked the gentlemen if he could please help him with his tie. The gentleman stood in front of our friend and immediately tied a perfect knot. Our friend's wife said "I thought you would have had to stand behind him to tie it" and he replied "Oh, no I do this every day...you see I'm an undertaker." Once again, truth is stranger, or in this case funnier, than fiction. July 9th we docked in the port of Dublin, Ireland. We opted to take the Princess shuttle ($5.00 a person one way) into town. Once there we took the "Hop On Hop Off" bus which loops the entire city while the bus driver gives a great commentary about this bustling, modern and beautiful city. We hopped off at Saint Patrick's Cathedral and after a visit there back on and back off, at the Kilmainham Gaol (the now closed infamous 19th Century city prison), for a quick tour. After these rather contrasting views of Dublin, we found a traditional Irish Pub for a lunch of fish-and-chips and, of course, 'a wee pint' of ale. Shopping was next on our to-do list and then a trip back to the ship. (If you are not in the mood to tour another large city you may find a tour through the countryside more appealing and there are many fantastic ones to choose from.) July 10th we woke to the melodious sounds of bagpipes from a bagpiper in full dress who had come to the pier to welcome the Tahitian Princess; a wonderful welcome to Scotland. So far Mother Nature has been considerably kind to us with unseasonably sunny and warm days on this cruise. We decided to take a Princess organized tour of the countryside in Scotland and try the high-road and the low-road and visit Loch Lomond! At 8:30AM a charming kilted Scotsman, named John, escorted us onto the coach with a hearty handshake and smile and our adventure began. We drove through the lowlands to a wool factory and sheep herding demonstration. The demonstration was give by a burley, sun-worn shepherd. We were all so amazed at the ability of the border collies to rein in the sheep. Of course, a few of us (including me) couldn't resist volunteering to help out the shepherd with a little exercise in herding. Since they train the dogs first by herding geese the shepherd thought it would be an interesting as well as an entertaining sight to have six of us tourists try to herd the geese. Well, after chasing a gaggle of geese all over the field and working up a sweat we decided herding should definitely be left to the dogs and the shepherd. After a short drive we were taken to a local hotel for an American/Scottish lunch. It was fine but unfortunately with all of the marvelous local foods to sample we had a rather nondescript chicken and vegetable plate. The one item of local cuisine was the dessert, a wonderful dish made of oats, cream and honey topped with fresh raspberries. From there we were off to the highlands. This area of the countryside is amazing, and a more beautiful sight I can't imagine. Experiencing the towering mountains that overlook lush green fields covered with purple heather was definitely a beautiful site which I will never forget. After experiencing our full sized tour bus driver expertly negotiating the narrow windy highland roads going up the mountains I was really thankful we hadn't decided to rent a car and drive it ourselves. Now I know for sure where the term Braveheart originated. We also made a brief stop at a farm for a quick visit with Hamish, a Highland Bull. Hamish, a local movie star with Harry Potter film credits to his name, stood tall and proud with a rack of curled horns that was most impressive and the hairiest face you've ever seen. I had a chance to feed Hamish some fruit and Hamish returned the favor by "sliming" me as my 8 year old grandson would say. All in all it was quite an experience. Next on our tour was an hour's cruise on beautiful Loch Lomond and then a return ride to the ship. I would definitely recommend this tour to everyone. After returning to the ship we were informed that, unfortunately, the pesky Norovirus that seems to love cruise ships so well was now discovered on board. The Tahitian Princess crew was efficient, effective and professional while following full procedures to contain the virus. So as seasoned cruisers we began to wash and wash and sanitize our hands as we went to and from activities and meals. The efforts of the crew were taken to heart and while a bit inconvenient at times we all complied with the containment procedures and carried on having a relaxing time of it. July 11th the entire ship awoke to the news at 7AM that there was a medical emergency and a passenger was being airlifted by helicopter to a hospital in Glasgow. The Royal Navy and Air Wing conducted the transfer both swiftly and efficiently. The nature of the passenger's illness was not announced but we were assured that it was not due to the Norovirus. Fortunately, there were no new cases of the Norovirus reported today and it seems that only 10 passengers were stricken with the virus. If all goes well we shall drop from a red alert to yellow in the next few days and everything will go back to normal. Despite all of this commotion, the professional way it was all handled did not significantly impede our ability to have a relaxing and scenic cruise up the coast of Scotland. We are traveling up to that part of the world, just below the Arctic Circle, at that time of the year when the sun is visible almost the entire day - the Midnight Sun. So, yes indeed, the sun is beginning to set around 9:30 PM. It is very odd to be finishing dinner at the late night seating just as twilight begins. By the time we reach our northern most point we should have less than 3 hours of night-darkness. On the bright side the casino will finally open today since the UK does not permit gambling in their waters. Interestingly enough, I have found that on the longer cruises you have more time to develop friendships with the passengers onboard. On the shorter cruises it's a bit more hectic as everyone is scurrying to find the perfect tour, activity or just the layout of the ship. My husband, The Crabby Old Guy, and I have been very fortunate to meet many wonderful people from different countries and all walks of life. The one thing we keep reminding ourselves is that laughter is universal and, believe me when I tell you, that we have had a lot of laughs on the Tahitian Princess. In the evening many of us congregate in the casino at the nickel or quarter slot machines and I think we are having a tournament to see who can lose the most money the fastest. You know the routine...bet 20 credits and win 2. The odd thing is that we celebrate our 2 credit wins together and with a laugh. I guess it's like looking at a glass half empty or half full. LOL July 12th was a Sunday and we found ourselves in the town of Torshavn, located on the Faroe Islands off the coast of Norway. Never heard of them, well neither had any of us but that is part of the grand adventure of cruising in this part of the world, a new, far away place that few have heard of and fewer have been able to visit. As in many of the European countries, most of the shops and restaurants here were closed; this was a bit of an itinerary scheduling disappointment. (By-the-way, for those of you cruisers on the July 25th TP sailing from NY to Dover, you will be in Bergen on a Sunday and according to Passenger Services Director, Mr. Manfredi, the town market and shops will be open.) Torshavn is an extremely picturesque port town. It's a simple walk from the pier to the town and many of the houses have roofs covered with live grass-growing sod. This custom is a holdover from early settlement days when the heavy sod helped keep the walls steady in the wind and help sop up rain. Unfortunately, one of the locals told us that insects love to nest in the sod which is why newer homes mostly have regular roofs. After a 10 minute walk from the ship dock we found the town square down near another pier. There was only one shop and a small cafe open. So there sat most of the Tahitian Princess passengers having a nice pint of the local brew or a coffee and enjoying a lovely sunny day. There were some passengers who opted to take tours either by cab or the ship's tour to the outlying parts of the island. I was very surprised to see how expensive the food and clothing was and most of us purchased very few souvenirs. A relatively simple three course meal of salad, cod and desert at one of the two local hotel restaurants was $90.00 US per person. A chicken Panini was about $11.00 US at an outdoor sandwich stand. While certainly a scenic stop and nice place to stretch our sea-legs most of the passengers agreed that the double whammy of stopping at a town that did not seem to care if we were there or not and landfall on a Sunday was a bit of a downer; a longer stay in another of the wonderful larger ports, such as Scotland or Reykjavik might have been more interesting. That evening we had reservations for dinner at Sabatini's Trattoria ($20 per person surcharge). What a great place to eat. My one suggestion to those of you who have never eaten at Sabatini's before is to make sure you have a light lunch that day. The food is well prepared and you have a taste of everything on the menu, (8 antipasti, 4 pizzas, 2 soups (including a fantastic saffron flavored cioppino) and 3 pastas). Your only decision is what entrEe and dessert (the apricot pie is delicious) you would like. If you are a brie lover, as I am, make sure you taste the baked Italian brie. It seems to be creamier and softer than the French brie and ohhhhh so good. I will try and post a copy of the menu when I get home at the end of the month but in the mean time there is a sample menu posted on the Princess website. I heard that there is some talk about "simplifying" this grand menu, I hope that whatever changes made will be only minor as this is a fantastic value in an age of "plus-pricing". Cruising in the North Atlantic and into the ports at the top of the world provide some stunning and unique scenery. The mountains, glacial areas and lava fields are beautiful in their rugged and other-worldly vistas. Captain Ravera and his crew took great care and time to cruise close to these areas to afford all unforgettable views and some simply stunning photo-ops, thanks to the TP bridge crew for all of that hard work on our behalf. July 13th found us in our first of two ports in Iceland, Seydisfjordur. As we entered the fjord between snow capped mountains the beauty of this part of the world was just breathtaking. Now, for some reason that name of the town just didn't roll easily over the tongues of the majority of English speaking passengers onboard. So after we all butchered the name multiple times we now refer to it as "The-S Town". It doesn't help that the Icelandic language has several different letters in their alphabet than we do and therefore you really can't sound out most of their words. So what is the best way to get from point-A to point-B, do what The Crabby Old Guy and I do...keep a map handy and just point to the places you want to go to. Don't worry, they already know you are a tourist, LOL, and the good folks in all of these lovely towns are very willing to help you find your way around. The town center is a short walk from the pier (less then 5 minutes and you will be standing in front of the town pharmacy) and has only about 750 residents. Imagine, the docking of the TP more than doubled the number of people in that area. But Seydisfjordur is an absolutely delightful place where the town's people were very welcoming to us and the prices of good quality gift items and cafe food are quite reasonable. If you are in the mood for lamb, a local favorite, check out the braised lamb with root vegetables luncheon at the local hotel near the beautiful Blue Church. It is local lamb that has heather incorporated into its diet and the taste is phenomenal in its simplicity. Thankfully, Mother Nature continued to smile on us with lovely weather. There are tours available for the area but we opted to just walk through the town on our own. As you leave the pier and reach the main street, the first yellow house with a green roof on the right hand side (a little tourists shop) has an exhibition by Adalheidur S. Eysteinsdottir. This woman has been sculpting for fifteen years and models her sculptures after 1000 year old sheep that were brought over from Denmark. She has a unique way of using small bits and pieces of wood to create her sheep. She has exhibited in New York and Canada and is now making plans to bring her exhibition all over the world. You can check out her website at www.freyjulundur.is. July 14th was a sea day and most of us just rested up for our next port of call, Reykjavik, Iceland. That evening was a formal night and we met a very dignified gentleman dressed in a proper tuxedo. On his lapel, though, were 9 different pins. When I asked him what they represented, he explained each briefly and when he got to the last one he, straight facedly replied "You see this little penguin? Well, it cost me $25,000 on my cruise to Antarctica." July 15th. I can't begin to count the number of tours that are available to us during our 18 day "On the Top of the World", cruise. However, one tour in particular has been the butt (pun intended) of many discussions and jokes among the passengers, officers, crew and staff aboard the T.P. The Blue Lagoon in Reykjavik, Iceland is a spa done up in Scandinavian modern style where clients pay to take a dip in geo-thermal heated mineral water contained in a man made lava pit. The Crabby Old Guy insists on referring to this beautifully exotic and luxurious place, picked by Conde Nast as one of the top geo-thermal spas in the world, as a place where you bathe in a rock bed filled with industrial waste and pay a nice hefty price for it. In good sanitary style the spa management requires each patron to take a shower "with no clothing on" before you enter the Blue Lagoon waters. Some how this too offended Crabby's sensibilities as he felt somewhat insulted by the notion that he needed to clean up before getting into the "algae mineral pit"; some guys just do not get it. Of course all of the hype about this shower protocol captured the imagination of all and folks began to speculate. Deep questions such as; just who takes a shower with their clothes on? And will the Blue Lagoon make me look like a Smurf if I stay in too long? Etc. Many of us also began to wonder if Iceland, being the liberal minded country that it is, would only have co-ed shower rooms (this one was mostly a source of speculation by the guys onboard). The women onboard even went so far as to plan, if necessary, to have their husbands stand in front of them in the shower room. By the way all shower rooms are separate and gender specific, thank you. Many of us ladies and the more enlightened of the men, felt it would be a sin to travel all these thousands of miles to Iceland and not experience the Blue Lagoon. So bright and early, 7:15 AM to be exact, we all boarded our bus with our bathing suits and towels packed (tip to others, bring flip flops and a robe too!) and had a 45 minute drive through a rather desolate lava strewn countryside. It was almost eerie to be driving for miles without seeing at least one tree. The land, due to volcanic activity, is filled with lava rock and almost reminds you of the craters on the moon. Our tour guide informed us that it would take at least another 200 years before the area will be filled with trees. We finally reached our destination and believe me we were all still rather clueless regarding what to expect. Thankfully, when we got into the facility, everything was quite civilized, modern, ultra-clean and very pleasant. We were given a high-tech wrist band with a microchip to wear which we were told was used to scan our lockers and lock them. The Crabby Old Guy, who is not a swimmer, was hoping that it was also a means to track him in case he got lost in the Blue Lagoon. No matter what your age is we all did a quick sprint (the sprint was definitely faster than most of us have moved in a good number of years) from the locker rooms into the lagoon. The air temperature was 53 degrees F and felt a tad bit nippy to be walking around in our bathing suits, even when dry. The water was an eerie murky opalescent blue and I'm guessing that it was at least 100 degrees F but it felt wonderful. We were on the tour with two couples who we met onboard the first night. The six of us were floating in the lagoon when we saw a man with his face covered in white just like a mime. We thought he had put on some zinc oxide since it had become quite sunny. The next minute we saw him with a group of his friends and they too had white faces which led to a comment by one of our friends that they belonged to the Marcelle Marceau tour. It wasn't long before we discovered pails filled with white silica that you ladled into your hands and then smeared all over your face for a Blue Lagoon facial. One of our friends, Carol had been swimming off in the distance when she returned and saw us all in white faces. The look of shock was priceless! We all decided that we must have a photo of all of us in our white masks; the kids will never believe that we would do this without proof positive! After returning to the ship and a quick on-board lunch we decided to take a ride into Reykjavik by taxi. The cab driver told us we had to taste one of their famous hotdogs at what translates into "Town's Best Hot Dog Stand". He told us that this stand, which has been there since the 1930's, is where locals go after being away from home to get a right proper hotdog. So as we stood in a rather impressive line of locals (it was after all 2PM) we spotted a photo and a cartoon inside of the stand of Bill Clinton eating one of their hotdogs. Imagine that. The cab driver had told us they don't like to tell people that the following week President Clinton suffered a heart attack. The hot dog tasted like a mix between an American hotdog and a sausage and the mustard they use is a khaki color and tastes completely different than our mustard and more like a honey base product. The dogs were also frequently served with mayonnaise or "bread crumbs" (which really taste like those fried onions you get from a can and use on green-bean casserole). We walked for an hour or two around the main district shopping area and found the prices to be rather high. July 16th was a sea day- translate - another eating-sleeping-reading-meandering day on board the Tahitian Princess. Everyone was very excited about entering Prins Christian Sound in Greenland the next day. Sadly, the excitement didn't last long when the Captain announced that the Sound would be closed due to a large number of ice floes and icebergs that came down from the Arctic and now surrounded the entrance to the sound. We also were encountering rather substantial wave action and gale force winds that made navigation very perilous and once again those of us who have sailed with Captain Ravera before were very thankful that he was at the helm. July 17th at 8:00AM Captain Ravera, who had been on the bridge since 4:00AM that morning monitoring the seas, the weather reports and working with an on-board Greenlandic pilot, brought us as close as safely possible to the entrance of Prins Christian Sound and many of us witnessed for the first time up close and personal huge icebergs surrounding the entire coast line of Greenland like the rings of Saturn. New words were added to our vocabulary such as "bergie bits" (floating ice bigger than a piano), and growlers (sort of the size of a person). Massive pieces of polar ice were also being moved all around us by 50 knot winds (gale force) and we watched in amazement at the raw spectacle of Greenland's snow and ice covered mountain coast. Parallel to the coast were two belts of ice floes and it didn't take long for us to realize this wasn't a Disneyland ride, this was the real deal. It was a time when all of us, once again, appreciated having a professional crew on a well managed ship to give us as good a view of the land as possible but to keep us all safe and comfortable in some fantastic weather. This was all very dramatic and many of us sitting in the Tahitian Lounge watching the area were at times in awe and at times somewhat tense when a wind or wave gust took the ship. Crabby of course didn't help matters as he continued to hum the theme song of the Titanic in my ear. One other modest observation to share. It's interesting to note that there is very little animal life to be seen in this region. It is not at all what you see in Alaska or the Antarctic. July 18th was supposed to be Qaqortoq, our only port of call in Greenland. Once again Captain Ravera announced that due to weather and a belt of ice directly in the path of our port we would not be able to dock in Greenland. Disappointment could be heard throughout the ship but we all understood that his decision was made for our safety. Still many wondered how if the Sound and the port are closed to the ships more often than open and whether Princess Cruise Lines Corporate should add a note to the itinerary stating the possibility of closure. Many people felt a bit frustrated that after visiting the Faroe Islands on Sunday when everything was closed and then missing out on Greenland only to have an additional port in Canada be added (Sydney, Nova Scotia) it was not the itinerary they had traveled from as far away as Australia for or had hoped or paid for. Everyone was thankful that Captain Ravera was at the helm and looking out for our safety and we are quite aware that Mother Nature can be fickle at times but it would have been nice to be informed from the start that there was a very large possibility that these two events could be cancelled. Several people onboard told us they have taken a similar itinerary and have also been closed out of the sound before. One couple even mentioned this was the fourth time that they had cruised to the Sound only to have it closed. At any rate, when life gives you lemons you might as well enjoy some lemonade so we are now looking at three continuous days of not so scenic cruising in the rather cold and foggy North Atlantic heading to St. John's, Newfoundland which we should arrive on the 20th. But there are some bits of good news. Due to the diligence of the crew and the passengers the Norovirus onboard has been contained and we are now at yellow alert which is the norm. The food is great, the ship is comfortable, the entertainment staff is working hard to put on some additional activities and the well heeled and well traveled companion guests on this rather eventful voyage are most interesting to talk with. July 20th was a great day for all of us onboard the Tahitian Princess. It was the first time in four days that we didn't wake up to a cold and foggy North Atlantic Sea weather day. As we pulled into St John's, Newfoundland, at the eastern most tip of the American Continent, it was as if a miracle occurred... the sun was out and the passengers onboard all had big smiles on their faces. Everyone seemed to be stepping a little more lively and even though many of us aren't morning people until our first cup of coffee or tea, we were all chattering happily and laughter could be heard all over the ship. Kudos to Captain Ravera and his staff who worked vigilantly on the bridge both day and night to get us safely through the icebergs, gale force winds and fog. There were times in the past three days when the fog was so thick that you couldn't see the water. At 4:00AM of the morning we were to dock at St. John's, when most of us were sleeping Captain Ravera was called to the bridge by his officers. While the fog horn blew every 5 minutes warning other ships of our position the ship, again this is no Disneyworld ride folks, was safely guided through the proverbial pea-soup. When I asked the Captain how he managed the long hours on the bridge, he smiled and said, "It's part of the job, madam." The Newfoundlanders were unbelievably welcoming to the passengers on the TP. We woke to the sounds of a fife and drum and when we disembarked there were two beautiful and friendly black Labrador dogs and a black Newfoundland dog to greet us. Many of the passengers took advantage of a photo-op with the dogs. We were also greeted with the firing of two cannons at the entrance of the harbor. Okay, there were quite a few jokes being made as to where the cannons were being aimed. Anyway, it was quite a nice welcome that made our journey there seem even more of an event. At 9:15AM my husband, "The Crabby Old Guy" and I boarded a van with a few of the nice people we met on board and were off through the beautiful countryside to get on a boat for whale sightings and a look at Puffin Island. (Some of us were shocked when in Iceland we saw roasted puffin on the menu.) Once on the boat they announced that a pod of 11 to 15 humpback whales and a calf were spotted in the fjord, so we took an unexpected brief detour to go whale watching. The commentator on the boat said whale watching is 90% patience and 10% luck. Let me tell you it was definitely our lucky day because for more than an hour the whales performed as if they were in a show at Sea World. One mother and calf both breached the water at nearly the same time; it was an incredible sight to see a 30 to 40 ton whale rise out of the water and jump 10 feet in the air. So much was going on that many of us missed incredible photo shots all around the small boat. It wasn't long before we all agreed to meet back onboard the TP and swap photos. Interestingly enough the majority of us had taken the cruise to see Puffin Island and the whale watching was just secondary, but at the end of it all we agreed that the highlight of the trip were the whales and even 100,000+ birds on the sanctuary island as fantastic as that was, could not top the whale watching experience. After we spent over an hour watching the whales we headed back on the original course and sailed out to the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve and North America's largest Atlantic puffin colony...what an amazing sight that was! Over a hundred-thousand (who do you think counts all of them to verify the tourist script?) puffins, seagulls and kittiwakes were perched on and flying in huge warming flocks around the rocks and inlets of the sanctuary island. The puffins looked like miniature penguins all lined up in the crevices in the rock. I was surprised to learn that the puffins only keep their colorful orange beak for three months during the mating season. Once back onboard the TP most of us headed for the buffet. Although many of us planned to take a stroll through the town which, by the way, is very hilly the urge to take a nice relaxing nap seemed to work for many others of us. You must remember that we all wanted to be bright-eyed and alert when we made our after dinner donations at the casino. July 21st we docked in the French Territory of St Pierre et Miquelon. The town provided us a complimentary shuttle (a yellow school bus) to take us into the heart of the town which was about a 10 to 15 minute ride. The town was a beautifully quaint fishing village that had much of the charm of a French-mainland town. Outside the information center was a lady playing old French songs on an accordion while inside the attendants were handing out maps and samples of the local berry liqueur.The weather was sunny and beautiful and it was just pleasant to take a leisurely stroll through the town. The shops were open in the AM and PM but, keeping with good French tradition, even when the cruise ships are in port, most of them closed between 12:00 noon and 2:00PM. We were told that cod fishing was the island's main industry. For any ladies interested they now also sell cod skin pocketbooks and wallets which are quite attractive. Oddly enough the cod skin resembles the snake skin bags and wallets that were so popular years ago. Many of the ship's passengers were trying to get a signal on their cell phones, but to no avail. One of our dinner companions was told that there are no cell phones on the island. When she asked the information hostess how they were able to get by without cell phones she quickly and earnestly replied, "It's a very small island." ah, such a French answer...LOL. One passenger on hearing this story did reply that, "Our teenagers would be revolting and sending up smoke signals." This evening was the one "Chef's Table" on this cruise (on this length voyage there are usually two but with Mr. Norovirus on board one had to be cancelled). Unfortunately, we were not able to do this food-as-theater event but from what we hear it is well worth the $75-80 per-person charge. The meal, which begins in the galley with a tour, includes champaign and wine pairings with appetizers and then everyone goes to one of the specialty restaurants for the remainder of their specially prepared gourmet meal. The entrEe is the chef's choice, and usually includes lobster, veal or lamb and all served in a grand style. Passengers are given a souvenir photo with the chef and Maitre de Hotel and a beautifully hand printed menu. Seating for these events are limited so if this sort of fine dining event is of interest inquire of the Maitre' de Hotel or the call the dining reservations line early on. Oh, one final note of calm about our Norovirus visitor, particularly for those coming aboard for the July 25th sailing out of New York. I spoke with the ship's Senior Doctor, Dr. Lana Strydom, just today (July 23) and she told me that since 7/17 all has been normal on the gastrointestinal front! Food service and all amenities on board are back to a blissful state of enjoyment. They all did a great job in containing this thing. July 22 was our last port-of-call in Sydney, Nova Scotia. Sadly, it was a foggy rainy day and for the first time on this voyage we had to tender into the port. Many of the passengers decided to just go into the town and walk around while others took tours of the city and Bell Museum. "Crabby" and I decided not to brave the elements and to stay onboard and get a few things done, like our laundry. After a relaxing lunch at the buffet (I am going to miss these lunches) I met with Silvio Zampieri, the Maitre D' Hotel. Silvio is probably one of the best Maitre Ds I have met on any of my cruises. I know last year several of the passengers had problems with the previous Maitre D' well, let me tell you, for those of you considering to take a cruise on the Tahitian Princess, Silvio is a breath of fresh air. We sat and chatted for awhile and Silvio told us that there was a change of scheduling and he was supposed to be on vacation with his wife, Laura and two little boys this cruise and instead he was here working. I can't even begin to imagine the sacrifices made for those who have chosen to work on these cruise ships. Silvio proudly took out a picture of his two little red headed boys and the look in his eyes spoke volumes about just how much he missed them! However, he said they and his wife would be joining him on the ship in Halifax. He couldn't be more excited and I wished that we could have been there to see this reunion. I asked Silvio how he dealt with difficult passengers on a day-to-day basis as well as supervise some sixty-eight personnel and with a smile on his face he only said, "It's my job Signora, it is not always easy but it is what I do to make sure that you all have a pleasant cruise, and besides, most of my staff are good hard working people and most of the passengers are a pleasure to deal with." Yet, there are the difficult passengers that all of the crew on all of the ships need to accommodate. It never fails to amaze me how some people can't make a request...they just demand. Later this evening as we sat down at our table and I started to think about all the amazing people we had met on this voyage. A couple from Germany, Peter and Martina, a couple from Australia, Richard and Carol, John and Lisa from Florida, John and Sally, Bob and Elaine and Penny and Don, Pat and Mike, Carolina and oh so many more. What made this trip so wonderful was that we met people who we would love to have as friends for the rest of our lives. Perhaps, the length of the cruise gave us more time to enjoy the companionship of so many others. On a seven day cruise you have fewer sea days and less time to spend with other passengers. We have decided that we really enjoy this length cruise for many reasons, including the people meetings, and it won't be our last extended cruise. Peter thank you for the collage picture. July 23 was a day at sea and the countdown to our "return to reality" had begun ...less than 48 hours till we disembark. Chef Michael Borns and Maitre D' Hotel Silvio Zampiere gave a funny and well staged - and succulent - culinary demonstration in the Cabaret Lounge and followed with a tour of the ship's galley. Aside from learning some new cooking techniques the banter between the two was very funny and left all of us laughing as we walked out of the lounge into the Casino. I just love the fact that on every cruise ship after you have seen the evening show you walk directly into the Casino. Don't you think this positioning is little like having the milk displayed in back of the supermarket...location, location, location! Now if only the slot machines would cooperate just once this trip and pay for this great adventure. Okay, can't I dream? Crabby says my dreaming is costing him a small fortune, LOL. Today we decided to go to the Steakhouse Restaurant for their "Traditional English Pub Luncheon" (no charge). I ordered the Fish and Chips and Crabby had the Bangers and Mash and we were both delighted with our choices. I would recommend keeping an eye on the daily events to see when these special theme meals are being presented, they are a great break from the dinning and buffet lunches on these longer trips. After lunch Crabby had to go to the library to return some books and I chose to wander over to the Casino since I was determined to see at lease on of those darn slot machines finally pay off...or maybe NOT! On the way I bumped into JJ King, our Cruise Director. If you have never sailed with JJ before you're missing a real personality. For you Baby Boomers out there I would describe him as a cross between Cary Grant and Fred Astaire, and he sings with the style of an accomplished crooner! Yes ladies, he's charming, debonair and sniffle, sniffle...happily married to the Manager of the Boutique Shops onboard. There I go again dreaming, oops just kidding Crabby. As you can see I'm definitely a people person and love to ask questions (I blame it on my age). I asked JJ what led him to a life at sea. He replied "I come from Kent, England and have been with Princess Cruise Lines for 23 years. I first started out as an entertainer and singer. When you are a land based entertainer you spend a good deal of time auditioning for and waiting for your next job. At sea, well, we get to do what we love every single day, entertain people." When asked about some of the difficulties of his position JJ said that on the World Cruise they had 56 Cabaret acts to schedule and manage. This means setting up rehearsals as soon as the act boards, getting the staging right and dealing with the entertainer's needs and personalities. Princess Corporate Offices assigns the entertainment onboard each ship and the Cruise Director and his assistant directors have a lot of logistic issues including saying some prays that they all make their flights and show up at their designated port to board the ship and entertain on time and with their equipment. On this cruise one of the entertainers arrived on the ship without his luggage. Quickly, JJ had to find an outfit for him to wear. A few hours later the wonderful pop-violin musician was all outfitted in his signature white attire, he was dressed in a pair of officer's white pants, a shirt from the boutique and a borrowed tie with some sequins glued on to it and he was on stage entertaining all the passengers. When for some reason or other the ship cannot get into the port or has to divert the Cruise Director and his staff are scrambling to create and fill time with unplanned events for the entire day. What I found most interesting about JJ was his ability to manage all the entertainment on the ship and still be very visible and take the time to sit and talk with the passengers. Also, Princess, particularly on this type of upscale cruise, does not inundate passengers with countless "advertisement" announcements during the voyage. The best cruise directors, like JJ, provide just the correct amount of PA- delivered information to help you know what is going on but not so much that you feel you just stepped into the middle of a Circus Midway. JJ and team, thank you for a job well done! Oh! I don't want to forget to give a special mention about Frankie, the Assistant Cruise Director who also can be seen working hard all day and into the evening all over the ship. Late one evening as we were leaving the Casino Lounge Frankie was diligently putting away all of the Karaoke equipment. I asked Frankie "When do you sleep?" He laughed and said "When the job is done." Frankie was known by many of the passengers we joined on the cruise and all loved having him on board. Frankie not only oversees many of the programs on board he also MC's several of them. He has over 17 years experience at sea conversing with passengers and making their voyage very comfortable and enjoyable. We would love to cruise again with Frankie, and if any of you see him on a cruise, say "HI" to him for Crabby and I. July 24 is our final day at sea. It's hard to believe that 18 days could pass so quickly. According to the map we are just off the coast of Maine. It's going to be a very busy day and the Tahitian Princess is rocking and rolling and not just with activity-it is a bit wavy out there in the Atlantic. Oddly enough this is probably the roughest seas we have had in the 18 days. Perhaps, the seas are waving farewell, (ouch! Bad pun). Early that day Crabby was busy packing and I was going to see what sales were going on in the boutiques today. Yep, the tee shirts are all on sale. Some great jewelry sales but my dear husband would throw me overboard if he saw an exorbitant amount (according to him) on my cruise card. You know, I should just buy a piece of jewelry and charge it to that darn slot machine by the door. Can't wait for Crabby to see my casino credits, oops! This afternoon the Crabby Old Guy is giving a seminar on...and you won't believe this...drum roll..." A Behind The Scenes Look At The Marketing of Viagra"! Yes, Crabby worked for Pfizer and was amazingly involved with the birth of the world's most incredible sex drug. Yes, there were plenty of chuckles during the talk as he described how the churches, Congress and many celebrities were involved in getting the drug to market quickly. He did request that no one ask a personal question in regard to taking Viagra themselves and made sure that everyone knew there would be no samples...LOL. I was just happy this talk was given on the last day since poor Crabby, can you image if it was the first day would have spent the entire trip answering questions. Well according to Frankie, who MC'd, and JJ the seminar was just great. He had over 200 people there and they all seemed to enjoy it. Considering the rolling of the ship it was a great turn out. Good job Crabby! Let me tell everyone before I receive a 1000 emails complaining about my calling my sweet husband The Crabby Old Guy. He was the one who gave himself that name. He reads all my blogs and reviews them before I publish then and very often will remind me of a funny story about himself that I missed. Dinner this last evening was going to be very special night. We had decided a few days before to invite some of the people who had become friends to have a farewell dinner with us at Sabatini's Trattoria. I also invited Captain Ravera and the ship's physician Doctor Lana Strydom to join us. We were all so pleasantly surprised when the Captain and the Doctor sat down and joined us. The company of friends, food and conversation was wonderful. We exchanged email addresses and reminisced. We had shared so many adventures and laughs in the past 18 days that we all agreed that we had to stay in touch. Nello, one of the wonderful dining room supervisors, and Silvio stopped by and we thanked them for their fabulous service. It was an interesting feeling to know that we boarded the ship in Dover and did not know any of the passengers onboard and we were now leaving with the feeling of family members leaving a reunion. July 25 arrival New York. The Statue of Liberty never looked so sweet. Breakfast would be the last meal we had onboard the Tahitian Princess - for this trip. Entering the Buffet on Deck 9 was bittersweet. Good-byes and hugs were seen everywhere. We all wanted to hold onto one more moment on this amazing cruise. My wonderful friend Carol (an artist from Australia) surprised me with a pastel of a beautiful dolphin. Carol, it is hanging in my office and I will cherish it forever. Captain Ravera, and crew, once again you have given us a memorable and safe cruise. It was a privilege to be invited to dine at your table. Hopefully we will meet again on the Ocean Princess (the new name for the Tahitian Princess when it leaves dry-dock in November). We appreciate the hours you stood on the bridge through the fog, icebergs and rough seas while we slept comfortably in our beds. You are a Captain of Captains! Ciao and Warm Hugs, The Savvy Old Lady Read Less
Sail Date July 2009
Our QM2 cruise, Part 1, our first Trans Atlantic voyage. First I will say this was our first time on a Cunard ship, (36 cruises in all) and if the other smaller Cunard ships are anything like QM2. Then you all are in for a treat. They have ... Read More
Our QM2 cruise, Part 1, our first Trans Atlantic voyage. First I will say this was our first time on a Cunard ship, (36 cruises in all) and if the other smaller Cunard ships are anything like QM2. Then you all are in for a treat. They have what they call the White Star service. If something is not right they will make it right. We cannot complain about anything, it was our BEST cruise ever. QM2 cuts threw the water like butter. Even in 12-foot seas and 40-knot winds, we hardly felt movement at all. For the most part it was all so smooth, you didn't realize you were in the middle of the Atlantic. The service was first class, and they all made you feel you were special. Our waitress, Angela, and her Assistant Balazs were great. We are hoping to have them again next year, yes, you read right, we booked another 24 day on QM2 for June7, 2010. This time it will do the whole West Coast of Norway, without the stops in Hamburg Germany or Oslo Norway. We'll cross the Arctic Circle and are hoping to see the northern lights (aurora Borealis) next time. We will keep in touch and will find out when the time gets close if they will still be on QM2. The food in the dining room and the buffets, were from good to excellent. There are 4 different buffets, each opening at different time in the morning for us early birds and late risers. They all are themed, Lotus, is oriental, La Piazza, is Italian, The Carvery is roasts, different every day, and the Chef's Galley, had pancakes, waffles, omelets, fresh made when you ordered them. Or you could go to one of the others for the usual breakfast food. The dining room is also open seating for breakfast and lunch. For lunch they had different things to get, except Chef's Gallery had fresh made sandwiches from fresh cut cold cuts, different salads for sandwiches, tuna, shrimp turkey etc. Also fresh made hot dogs, hamburgers and French fries. This was my favorite lunch time place. They also had in the other buffets, fresh fruit, all of the time, not just for morning; the desserts were delicious, very tempting. Last but not least was the soft ice cream machines, vanilla, chocolate or twisty combo. My favorite for sure! We ate mostly in the dining room, after Ellis and I realized they weren't too strict on the dress codes. A dark suit, white shirt and tie, was for formal nights if you didn't have a tux, and semi formal was a jacket tie or no tie, and casual was nice slax, collared shirts. I was worried about the dress codes because was told not to go if I wasn't going to get all formal dress for the most part. There was a nice mix of dresses and slax etc. So I never felt under dressed. Although we did go to La Piazza one night with our tablemat's to see how the food was there. One word Delicious. Didn't go to their fancy pay to go restaurant, Todd English. We were quite satisfied with the dining room foods. We had a sheltered balcony on deck 5. It was the usual room, 240+sq.ft, king size bed and very nice sheets and down comforters, and 2 pillows that can be shaped for your own comfort. The bathroom has 2 shelves in the corner of the sink top and roomy shelves underneath the sink. Soft tissues and the nicest soft toilet paper I have ever had on a ship. They also had nice bars of soap, body gel shower soap, shampoo, hair conditioner, hand lotion, shower cap, and the usual Q-tips, etc. The balcony is all enclosed except for a large window shape opening. Which was recommended for the T/A. Glad we got it because it kept the wind and rain and ocean spray outside. Some people on the open balconies couldn't use them all the time because of those reasons. The balcony could fit 4 chairs/people easy with a table. We love trivia and had some enjoyable times playing it and meeting other people from England and Germany who were also on one of the B2B2B cruises. We made friends with our tablemates. They also are our age, and on for the 24 days, live in Florida. We hope to go visit and that they will come here. They made a great cruise even better. The shows in the Royal Ascot theater, with the singers and dancers were really first rate. Much better it seemed to us than the others we have seen before on other cruises did. The guest singers, piano player, lecturer's etc were also very good and interesting. The ship has a planetarium/movie theater also. They had 4 different planetarium shows, which were outstanding, all done by professional actors, David Attenborough, Tom Hanks, Harrison Ford and others. The movies they played in the theater changed every day, it was played three times that day. Also on the TV in room, there were 3 different movie channels, which played 3 different movies each day continuously. Also news channels and some other channels like Discovery. On sea days they have a walkway behind windows to view the bridge, we were lucky to come when they weren't busy and one of the officers came out to give us a little history on the controls etc. Then we took a tour thru the library. Over 9,000 books, and a really lovely place to watch the sea thru some large windows that face the bow of the ship. Nice comfortable chairs to sit and read. Also a nice little book store. They have a smoking room with air filters running day and night. For those who enjoy a cigar or pipe, with some fine brandy after a long day at sea. There is so much going on each day that you cannot get bored, if you do go take a nap! LOL!!! The days flew by and before we knew it, it was our first stop in Southampton, England. So many tours, we decided on going to Stone Henge and the Salisbury Cathedral. It was awesome. Southampton was also full of history. Next time we hope to get to London. As we sailed along the English Channel and into the North Sea, we past oil platforms constantly, we even saw one that was on fire. Very scary to think of those men out there, but there were already three ships nearby to assist them. Also we saw many of the huge windmills they are putting up all over for electric. Wish we in USA would rethink of doing this. From what we saw they are very "Green" conscious. Money is in pounds, but the ship has a machine, which will change out our US dollars into pounds, or Euro, or Kroner. It was easy to change over and just have some of their money because you never know when you might need something. Then it was all aboard for our next port of call, Hamburg, Germany. On to Hamburg Germany. They actually have a QM2 day, when the ship arrives. When arriving their band comes down to the ship and plays wonderful music Tents are set up with beer, (of course) and food, and a stage with music groups singing and playing. The crowds of people there even at 6 AM, when we arrived, but there were literally 1000's by the time we left. They lined the banks of the Elbe river, both sides, viewing us and waving arms, flags etc. This went on for miles! When it got dark just before we left the Elbe, and entered the North Sea , one of the towns even had a fireworks display for us. It was the icing on the cake for a wonderful day. We took a canal tour, that a cruisemate recommended to us of Hamburg waterways. We did it on a shallow hull canal boat. I had met a fellow from Hamburg, when we were in Southampton, and he gave me information and brochures on what to do. We also exchanged US dollars for Euros with him. So took away the middleman. He wikll be in USA this winter and told me always have some money in your pocket for things, including pay toilets over there. It was really lovely, cruising by the homes, gardens with huge old trees and the Weeping willow trees were amazing! seeing the skyline with so many church spires. I never realized how many churches and cathedrals there were. One thing I must give Cunard credit for before I forget, if the ship doesn't dock right in the towns, they have a free shuttle to take you to town and back. It runs on a good schedule, giving you plenty of time to wander around the town and check out the local shopping etc. Not sure I want to go back, but you never know! Then it was another sea day, next was Oslo, Norway. All I can say is that Norway took my breath away, and the main reason we are doing it again next year. I want to see it- all the way up to the Arctic circle. In Oslo we had so many choices of tours, but Ellis had been to Oslo, 55 years ago and wanted to go back to what he remembered that stood out in his mind, Viegland Gardens and the Viking ship Museum. Viegland was a man who did larger than life sculptures. He had made over 200 of them and gave them to the town. The town made a lovely park and gardens with the statues all over, with huge old trees, flowers, fountains and benches to rest. The most outstanding statue was the Obelisk, it was huge, about 40 feet tall and was made up of people, young, old and babies, climbing on top of each other. Viegland died before giving it a name, but Ellis' Mother said it was the people trying to climb to heaven, which I thought was just a perfect explanation. Then it was on the tour coach again to the Viking Museum. First we did take a tour of the countryside, but it was a foggy day and so didn't see too much. Our tour guide described to us what we would have seen, if the fog wasn't so thick. LOL! Guess she wanted to give us our moneys worth. The Viking ship museum was truly amazing, sorry I keep using these words, but you have to see these ships, and how small they were to cross the Atlantic. The detail hand made nails and decorative sculpting was just beautiful. Nail heads all made by hand, and on a large sleigh, they were made into design patterns. I now see why Ellis wanted to go back. So much to see next time we'll do something else for sure. Another sea day, and then we were in Stavanger, Norway. The town of Ellis' Mother and family. Another sea day has past and we finally are here pulling into the dock in the heart of this lovely little city, Stavange, Norway. Ellis returns after 55 years and the excited of being here has us both acting silly and giddy. Very exciting for me too. A little back track, about 2-3 years ago we met a couple on another cruise and because friends, they live in Stavanger, and told us if we ever get there to let them know. We did and there they were, Camilla, Schell and their daughtr Sofia, smiling and hugs all around, almost like coming home. They promised us a personal tour, and they surely did just that. First off we went to Ellis’ Mother’s house where she grew up, we took pictures and I am always looking down, and what did I find, a penny, Norwegian of course. I showed Ellis ( I had heard this a long time ago, that when you find a penny near a special place it is someone that has past on sending their love.) Well I still get a lump in my throat, and then walking back there was another penny. I said to Ellis who could it be? He said Mom and that one is for you. We finally got back in the car and went to the church that Mom used to go to every day, we couldn’t go in because they were practicing, but it was a beautiful and we stood listening to the singers practice. We then were taken to their beach, yes, they have beaches in Norway. Schell told us that the gulf stream comes up there and brings warm waters that keep them almost snow free every year. In fact if it does snow the children get the day off to have fun. We went to a cove where the Vikings defended their land and there were 3 huge swords that were made of iron/steel, sticking in the ground as a memorial for these valient vikings who protected there land. We loved the little cottages to the beautiful sprawling homes. The cows as the laziest I have ever seen. Most of them are just laying around in the fields not standing and walking like we usually see here at home. They also have wild horses that live off the land and will be eatting grass right on the roadside. Not afraid of man at all. We ended our visit in the oil drilling museum and they had a nice outdoor area on the dock to have lunch. We bought us all lunch, and one warning make sure you have plenty of Kroner, it is expensive in Norway We were glad they excepted credit cards. We went back into the little town with narrow streets and alleyways. There was hanging planters just blooming with colorful flowers. Then it was time to say good bye to our friends, hugs and kisses and plans to meet again in Florida, but this was before we booked the cruise for next year. Things looked almost the same to Ellis, but there were many changes over the years, still had the ferries to get around to the islands that surround us, but now bridges can be seen in the distance and we also were told there were 2 tunnels made to connect 2 of the islands with the main one where the hospital was located. We now look forward ot our return trip. On to Bergen, Norway.We took a panorama tour of the area then went to take the finicular up mount Floien to the overview of the city. Another beautiful place, awsome views from up there. It gets crowded so go early, or you’ll be on a very long waiting line. The next day we stayed on the ship while we dropped passengers off to take the 7-8 hour tour coach from Hellesylt, just a drop off point and then the views we waited for so long, going to Geiranger. We went thru the fjords that you see on postcards and paintings. WOW!! Look at that waterfall! WOW! There is the bridal veil falls. We were told it had been dry there and just a day before we arrived they had a heavy rain and so we were able to see the beautoful water falls that were in so many places we passed. The ship stopped for picture taking and the lecturer was busy telling us all the history etc about the area. Lunchtime and we arrived in Geiranger. It is a tender stop, so had lunch then jumped on the next tender to the area, which is a very large camp grounds, motels, cottages and up on the mountain a hotel overlooking this breath taking view. It started raining so back to the ship we went, to take a nap and then get ready for tomorrow and Alesund. Alesund is still another beautiful place, we took another coach panorama tour with still more breath taking views. Quaint cottages sitting on outcroppings on the side of the mountains. They don’t mow their grass, they have heards of goats and sheep to do that. Some places had thached roofs and we asked who mowed the roof. Our guide laughed and s aid they just put a goat or sheep on the roof for a couple of days and its “mowed”,( eaten) . We all laughed to think of the sight to see the animals on the roofs. The sun was setting after 10 PM and was risen each morning before we were up. As we did lose an hour a night crossing to the east, we gained them back one hour a day and was grateful for the extra hour each night to catch up on our sleep. I awoke to darkness, but felt we were still moving, opened the drapes and there she stood in all her glory, Miss Liberty with her shining torch, welcoming us home. Woke Ellis up to take her picture and then the New York City skyline, which still was sparkling at the pre-dawn hour. I am so thankful to God that we were able to make this trip and just to know we’ll be back next year and even see more of Norway . Anyone who knows me knows how this cruise was definitely our best cruise ever. If you ever get the chance do it! You won’t be sorry! . The End or maybe not! Read Less
Sail Date July 2009
John and I (Carolyn) are retired university professors in our late fifties, who have been cruising since October, 1991. We are Elite Captain's Circle members on Princess but have also cruised on Holland America, Royal Caribbean, ... Read More
John and I (Carolyn) are retired university professors in our late fifties, who have been cruising since October, 1991. We are Elite Captain's Circle members on Princess but have also cruised on Holland America, Royal Caribbean, Costa, and Commodore. Most of our cruises have been in the Caribbean but we have also cruised to Alaska, the Panama Canal, the Mediterranean, Scandinavia/Russia, Hawaii, French Polynesia, South America/Antarctic Peninsula, the Far East, and the Amazon River. For shore excursions, we prefer nature and wildlife tours that involve hiking, snorkeling, or SCUBA diving. In particular, we will hike for miles to see waterfalls, volcanoes, caves, or other interesting geologic features. We also enjoy lighthouses, forts, castles, and anything else we can legally climb up on for a good view. Both of us are natives of New Orleans and, as such, are interested in good food and good times. Our preferred souvenir is a small regional or national flag. One this trip, I was seeking flags from Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Greenland, Sheltands, Faroes, Scotland, and St. Pierre & Miquelon. This review is primarily a travelogue of what we did in the various ports, including links to tourist sites and maps. As is our custom, we mostly took self-guided tours/hikes or private tours arranged with other members of our Cruise Critic roll call. However, we did take some Princess tours when timing or availability was a major issue. We had previously visited only one of the ports (Reykjavik). We booked this as a 36-day cruise. However, it was marketed as two 18-day cruises, "The Land of Fire and Ice" (NYC-Dover) and "The Top of the World" (Dover-NYC). Thus I have reviewed each segment separately. Only one port (Qaqortoq) was included in both cruises. Day 0 (Saturday, July 25) NYC, on EDT John and I flew to NYC on Friday afternoon and spent the night (on Marriott rewards points) at a Fairfield Inn near LGA. The next morning, we taxied to the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal with hopes of a fast embarkation so we could hike across the Brooklyn Bridge. We arrived at the terminal about 11AM and checked in quickly. However, we had to wait in the Platinum/Elite lounge for over 2 hours before we could embark due to an extensive Coast Guard inspection of the Tahitian Princess. By the time we made it to our cabin, time was getting short and we decided to save the hike for another visit. In case you are interested in trying the hike, these are the instructions that Coo359a2 obtained from the General Manager of the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal: Exit the cruise terminal at the Pioneer and Conover Street gate. Go two blocks to Van Brunt Street and make a left. Take Van Brunt for several blocks to Union Street. Make a right and go to Columbia Street. On Columbia make a left. Follow Columbia all the way to Atlantic Avenue. Make a right onto Atlantic. Go a few blocks and make a left onto Clinton Street. Clinton becomes Cadman Plaza. Follow Cadman Plaza to Old Fulton Street. At Old Fulton make a right onto Prospect Street. There is a pedestrian stair case to the bridge in that area. Total walk from the terminal to the bridge is about 2.5 miles. The bridge itself is about a mile walk. You might want to think about following Court or Smith Streets as they have some nice shops, restaurants, and bars along the way. All the streets along the route I gave you have sidewalks that are in good shape. If you want to cut down some of the walk, you could take the B61 bus which stops outside our terminal on Van Brunt Street and Pioneer Street. Take it to Atlantic Avenue and Court Street and you will cut off about 2 miles of your walk. (Note: Coo359a2 bought bus tickets at the little corner quick stop on the street straight from the ship. For more information on pedestrian access to the bridge, see transalt.org/files/resources/bridges/brooklyn.html.) For a self-guided walking tour of the Brooklyn Heights neighborhood, check out www.brooklynhistory.org/publications/download/Brooklyn_Heights_tour.pdf or www.galttech.com/research/travel/brooklyn-heights-promenade-walking-tour.php. Day 1 (Sunday, July 26) At Sea on EDT+1 The first full day was a sea day and we were in dense fog all day. In the afternoon, there was a Cruise Critic get-together in the Tahitian Lounge. Tonight was the Captain's Welcome Cocktail party and the first of three formal nights on this leg of the cruise. Day 2 (Monday, July 27) Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, on EDT+1 We were supposed to dock at Pavilion 22 in Halifax (www.cruisehalifax.ca/our-city/halifax-seaport.html) at 7AM but that was delayed due to the low tide. Then the Captain announced that the Customs & Immigration officials thought we were arriving at 8AM and were not even at the dock yet. We finally got off the ship at about 8:30AM and hiked along the waterfront boardwalk and over to the car rental agency to pick up our compact car, which turned out to be a Sebring convertible. Unfortunately, it was foggy and misty all morning so we did not bother trying to put the top down — we just took off along the Lighthouse Route (novascotia.com/en/home/planatrip/gettingaround/scenic_travelways/lighthouse_route/default.aspx) for Peggy's Cove (www.peggyscovearea.com), hoping to get there before the tour buses. The fog was even worse at Peggy's Cove but we could walk up to the lighthouse and see it and the gigantic granite boulders. In some ways, the fishing boats and lobster traps in the village had a special beauty in the fog. We continued on along St. Margaret's Bay and the fog was not as dense there. We left the Lighthouse Route at Upper Tantallon and returned to Halifax along the main highway. By now the fog had cleared and it was warm and sunny. We stopped at the Fairview Lawn Cemetery (www.halifax.ca/history/titanicfvc.html), where over 100 Titanic victims are buried (including "J. Dawson" — J. for Joseph or James, not Jack). It is a lovely cemetery with lots of trees. Next we dropped off the car and hiked up to the Halifax Citadel (www.pc.gc.ca/eng/lhn-nhs/ns/halifax/index.aspx), just in time for a guided tour. It was fun to watch the reenactors (dressed in kilts) trying to teach some kids under 7 how to march in formation. On the way back to the ship, we walked through the Public Gardens and the Victoria Gardens. We also stopped at an Atlantic Superstore near the dock to pick up some sunscreen, wine, and granola bars. I was able to find flags for Nova Scotia and Newfoundland in the cruise terminal and a flag for Scotland at the Citadel. Back on the ship, almost everyone returned on time except for two older men. An officer had to go fetch one of them away from the shops. When the ship left, the Captain announced that some of the passengers had used calendars instead of watches to tell time. Day 3 (Tuesday, July 28) At Sea, on EDT+1.5 We had some sun in the morning and John actually saw a whale spout (I was brushing my teeth and missed it). Later the fog moved in again. Day 4 (Wednesday, July 29) St. Anthony, Newfoundland, Canada, on EDT+1.5 It was foggy all night but it was pretty clear by the time we started tendering into St. Anthony (www.town.stanthony.nf.ca/attractions.php) at noon. We had hoped the dock would be the municipal dock but it was one furthest from where we wanted to be (Fishing Point Park) and near the "downtown" by the Grenfell Handicraft Center. Once we got off the tender, we headed for Fishing Point and the trails there (www.town.stanthony.nf.ca/Hiking_trails.php); that took 23 minutes at fairly fast pace. The trails were quite nice, especially the Santana Trail to the top of the headland — only 477 steps to a great viewpoint. After hiking all the trails there, we went back towards the dock and did the Tea House Trail around the Grenfell House; it has nice lookouts. After that we headed for the Harbour Trail but we were getting tired, so we decided to punt on that and go back to the ship about 4PM. The last tender was at 4:30PM and the ship left at 5PM — no stragglers today. Day 5 (Thursday, July 30) At Sea, on EDT+2 Today was the "Most Cruised Passengers" luncheon; this is for the 40 passengers with the most days on Princess. The Captain's Circle host, Sylvain, told us we barely made the cutoff with 282 days; we were just happy to have made it. BTW there are supposedly 674 people onboard and 80% are past passengers. There is a new perk for Elite members — a special lounge with snacks and a $5 special drink. John and I have been twice but it doesn't seem very popular; only 2 or 3 other couples were there. The snacks are not very special either although the smoked salmon yesterday was very nice. Also, there are wordy signs in the Internet Cafe explaining that you cannot get bonus minutes (like the embarkation special) unless you buy an internet package that costs more than the complimentary Platinum/Elite package. Day 6 (Friday, July 31) Qaqortoq, Greenland, on EDT+2 The people on the previous cruise (Dover-NYC) could not get into this port because of ice. We arrived in Qaqortoq (www.qaq.gl/index.asp?lang=eng&num=45) at noon, grabbed the first tender, and headed out to hike the mountain behind the town. If you want to hike, download a map (www.greenland.com/content/english/tourist/towns_regions/south_greenland/qaqortoq/map_of_qaqortoq); the tourist office has a more detailed free map of the town but it does not show the trails. Princess does not offer any tours in Qaqortoq but there were some local tours listed on a board outside the tourist office. The weather was sunny and cool when we started to hike but we were down to shirt sleeves by the end. The trails were supposed to start behind the high school (#1 on the map). We found something that looked like it might be a trail and headed up. I would call it a "slightly improved pig track" but John said that would be an insult to pigs. There was nothing to mark the trail except a few cairns near the top. Occasionally though there was some litter and a shotgun shell, which told us people must have passed that way sometime in the last 50 years. Fortunately, there are no trees and few bushes of any size; it is easy to see where you want to go even if you can't see a trail. Anyway, we first took the "trail" past the lake but did not go all the way to the green triangle (that's on the next fjord), only as far as the saddle between the hills. This is where we first encountered midges. We had brought DEET wipes and also no-see-um head nets that drape over our hats (www.coghlans.com/catalogue/productList.php?catID=11) because we had been warned they would be needed at Lake Myvatn in Iceland. However, all of that had been left back on the ship and we had to resort to vigorous swatting instead. We then backtracked to the second trail shown from point #1 to the top of that peak (about 1000 feet high). The views from the top of the ocean and all the icebergs were spectacular! No luck finding flags here, The tourist office had patches but the only flags were "party picks." They suggested that I try the grocery stores. I finally found paper flags about 8x10 inches in pack of 10. I decided to try to find one in Nanortalik. Day 7 (Saturday, August 1) Nanortalik, Greenland, on EDT+2 Today we had a full day in Nanortalik (www.nanortaliktourism.com/uk/home.html) so we did not even get up until the Captain announced that tendering had started. The tender ticket system was abandoned today because there was no huge demand to go ashore (unlike yesterday). However, we thought the scenery around Nanortalik was even more beautiful than at Qaqortoq. Princess does not offer any tours in Nanortalik but the tourist office had a number of activities scheduled (for a price). Princess did not seem to know anything about these activities; an announcement was made about them after the ship had started tendering and they are listed on the Nanortalik web site. We had downloaded a map (www.nanortaliktourism.com/uk/map.html) and copies were available from the tourist office. We climbed up the second highest mountain, Quassik or Raven Mountain. Again, we encountered midges but this time we were prepared. The DEET did not seem to have any effect; the midges seem to like "tourists with DEET sauce". We did use the netting and it works but obscures your vision. Plus you look like a real dork. However, it beats midges in your eyes, ears, nose, and mouth. Take my word for it, they do not taste good but are high in protein. We originally planned to walk back down the trail to town and then take the trail along the coast to see the fjord. However, the trails here were only slightly better than the ones in Qaqortoq. We decided that if the Greenlanders didn't care about marking their trails, then we did not care about staying on them. So we simply hiked down the opposite side of the mountain to the fjord and walked along the shore back to town. There were some small bergs grounded on the beach and we got to touch one. John saw one further out calve and another split — I was not looking and only heard the crack. Again, the trail (such as it was) appeared and disappeared but we made it back after about 5 hours (John estimates we hiked at least 9 miles). There have been a lot of icebergs — in fact the Captain said that he had to thread his way into Nanortalik very carefully. It has been interesting seeing so many weird shapes. Not much sea life although John did see a seal yesterday leaving Qaqortoq; by the time I got my binoculars focused he had dived. Also, the wildflowers are gorgeous; we took a lot of pictures of those. The wild blueberries were ripening in both Greenland ports and were delicious, much better than the midges. There were no flags here. There were high winds in the Denmark Strait so we did some rocking and rolling during the night. The Captain made an announcement to the cabins and public areas at dinnertime that anyone prone to motion sickness should pop their pills, slap on their patches, or snap on their bands in preparation. Day 8 (Sunday, August 2) At Sea, on EDT+3 Tonight was the second of three formal nights on this leg of the cruise. The Captain's Circle Cocktail Party was held tonight. Day 9 (Monday, August 3) At Sea, on EDT+4 Tonight we did the Chef's Table for the third time. We had previously done it on the Emerald and the Pacific. It was outstanding, as usual. The people who went to the "Most Traveled Passenger" luncheon on Thursday were allowed to visit the bridge today. This was top secret! Day 10 (Tuesday, August 4) Grundarfjordur, Iceland, on EDT+4 This was our first of 5 ports in Iceland. As we sailed into the harbor, we could see Kirkjufell mountain, reputedly the most beautiful mountain in Iceland. We took the first tender ashore and walked into town; I was told that the town provided a free maps and a shuttle later in the day. In all our cruises, this is the only port for which Princess did not provide any port guide. Although we had doubts (given the difficulty of arranging it), our rental car was available once we found the office and someone to fill out the paperwork. If you want to rent a car (the availability is very limited), get the details from the tourist office (www.grundarfjordur.is/default.asp?tre_rod=002|&Sid_Id=10283&tId=1&qsr) well in advance. Bobtroll and his wife joined us on our tour of the Snaefellsnes peninsula, so we opted for a slightly larger Toyota Avensis instead of the Hundai Getz that I had originally reserved. First we drove east on Hwy 54 (www.bigmap.is/resources/Images/6238_bigmap2008_1.jpg) to see a tall waterfall just outside of Grundarfjordur. Then we made a U-turn and drove towards Olafsvik, stopping at the Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall and reflective pool near Kirkjufell. There are many waterfalls all along the coast road. About 5 km before Olafsvik, Hwy 54 turns inland and becomes a gravel road. We think the bus tour went that way but we did not. We continued along the coast on Hwy 574 until reaching Hwy F570 (also a gravel road) just before Olafsvik. Here we turned left (south) towards the town of Arnarstapi. Hwy F570 passes through the Snæfellsjökull National Park (english.ust.is/Snaefellsjokullnationalpark). The volcano is the setting for Jules Verne's "Journey to the Centre of The Earth." As we crossed the volcano, we could see parts of the glacier but the top was hidden in the clouds. The road was a little rough but the rugged volcanic scenery was fascinating. On the southern side of the peninsula, we rejoined Hwy 574 and turned left (east) towards Budir for a couple of miles. We stopped at the Raudfeldargja ravine just north of the highway; this is an unbelievably narrow gorge that was cut into the east side of Mt. Botnsfjall by the Sleggjubeina River. It is supposed to have elves and many birds during nesting season; we did not see any elves or many birds. We only walked a short way into the ravine because of the amount of water flowing out. Further east we could see the Hnausahraun lava field. We turned west on Hwy 574 to Arnarstapi. By now we the clouds were dissipating and we were getting good views of the glacier. At Arnarstapi, we caught up to the ship's tour. Here, we took a short hike to the coast and along it for about a mile towards the Arnarstapi harbor. There is a sculpture of Bardur Snæfellsas (a demi-troll who protects the area from evil) above the beach at Arnarstapi. The coast is lined with magnificent lava formations, columnar basalt, ravines, natural bridges, and grottoes. One landmark is a large arch with a hole alongside called Gatkettur. More formations surround the pier. Continuing clockwise around the peninsula towards Hellnar, we passed through the Hellnahraun lava field, which stretches from the sea up to the glacier. Turning off the main road, we followed a steep dead-end road to Hellnar, with its picturesque hoof-shaped harbor and tiny pebbly beach. To left of the harbor is a sea cave, Badstofa, known for its special light exposure and colorful interior (we did not have time to hike to it). Valasnos, a freestanding rock, extends east of the bay. The National Park Visitor's Center is here; there are displays and some brochures and maps on the area. Hellnar is the birthplace of explorers who settled Vineland and had the first European child there. As we left Hellnar, we passed Lake Bardarlaug, an explosive crater from the close of the last glacial epoch. The crater is said to have been the bathing pool of the Bardur Snæfellsas. Driving further west along Hwy 574, we stopped at Malarrif to see a lighthouse, the basalt pillars of Londrangar, and the hill Svalthúfa. The latter two are the remains of a crater, which has been eroded to its present form by the sea. The farmers in the area never made or make hay on the hill, because it is said to belong to the elves living in the area. Younger lava fields surround this old crater ruin. About 10 km west of Hellnar is the turn off for Djupalon, where a short steep trail took us to Djupalonssandur, a beautiful pebbled beach with the remains of a shipwreck. On the beach there are also 4 big stones, which people used to test their strength in the days of the fishing stations: Fully Strong 154 kg, Half-Strong 100 kg, Weakling 54 kg, and Bungler 23 kg. Weakling marked the frontier of wimphood; any man who couldn't lift it was deemed unsuitable for life as a fisherman. The stones were actually less impressive than the beach. After another 4 km, we saw the Holaholar Crater (113 m), believed to be an elf town/community. We drove through the wall of Berudalur Valley and into a natural amphitheatre inside the cone. We did not have time to hike to the top of either this crater or the Saxholl crater, which is a little further down the road. Next we turned east onto the gravel road up the Eysteinsdalur valley, which runs alongside the Móðulækur river, towards the Snæfellsjökull glacier. We hiked to the waterfall Klukkufoss, just a short distance from the road, before returning to Hwy 574. We took another detour from the main road to Skarðsvík, an attractive little bay with light-colored sand and then the long road to Öndverðarnes for relics of fishing and domestic occupation and a lighthouse. It turned really cold and windy here. An ancient well named Fálki was a water source for the residents of Öndverðarnes that was supposed to have three flavors — fresh water, sea water, and wine. I didn't get to find out for sure about the well as it was dark in there and I didn't bring a flashlight. Retuning to Grundarfjordur, we had time to drive through the town and visit the church before returning the car and walking back to the tender dock. Day 11 (Wednesday, August 5) Isafjordur, Iceland, on EDT+4 Our day in Isafjordur (www.isafjordur.is/english/) was a bit of a disappointment. We had planned to hike to the Gleidarhjalli shelf above Isafjordur in the morning (www.vesturferdir.is/index.php?k=3&p=140 Read Less
Sail Date July 2009
This was cruise number 60++ for me and my 3rd time on the Maasdam. The Maasdam while 16 years old is still a beautiful classic cruise liner. The staterooms are well laid out, appointed, and the beds and bedding/pillows are exceptionally ... Read More
This was cruise number 60++ for me and my 3rd time on the Maasdam. The Maasdam while 16 years old is still a beautiful classic cruise liner. The staterooms are well laid out, appointed, and the beds and bedding/pillows are exceptionally comfortable. A few of the light switches don't make logical sense.. For some reason the switch designer decided to put a few "fake" switches that are purely decorational and non functional right next to the real switches...so you'll likely find yourself flipping a lot of buttons trying to find a particular light switch. The bathroom is better than most ships although another small shelf or two would sure be welcome as there is but a single slim storage shelf that is overcrowded. There is also a powerful fixed hair dryer unit in the bathroom. The amenities are acceptable but the stewards don't seem to overdo it with replenishment. I had to ask for shampoo/ soap on several occasions. The towels are big, nice and plentiful. There is only one power plug in the main cabin so if you have a computer or camera charger etc a small power strip from home will come in useful. A plug in electric hair dryer is provided and there also is a magnifying makeup mirror. The DVD is nice but you might want to bring a few of your own DVDs as the ship charges a rental fee. The flat screen TV is good but channel selection other than the usual channels pushing Holland cruise produts are very very minimal. Probably the "best" channel is the camera that shows the front of the ship so you can see what the weather looks like, where you're headed etc. It seems that they might also want to install additional cameras so you can see the port/starboard/stern views as well....very minimal cost to the ship and each could easily have their own channel so you could see on your in room TV what is going on in the sea/ports etc. The promenade deck is very nice. No jogging is allowed which is a good idea as it is really more of a walking/strolling deck. Joggers use the Sun deck track or the treadmills in the gym. There are adequate classic teak deck chairs on the promenade deck where you can spend some quality time with a book, napping, or watching the sea. One negative is if you get cigar smokers who just don't seem to get it that most people really would prefer to smell the fresh sea air and not their stinky cigars. One guy consistently was on deck and would often stand at the front and the smoke would naturally drift towards the stern meaning everyone everywhere on his side of the ship got to breathe in the noxious foul smelling crap. PLEASE if you smoke at least have the courtesy to smoke at the stern of the ship where your smoke will immediately be sucked out the back. The cigarette smokers also use the promenade deck for their fixes but that smoke is much less bothersome than cigar. I would suggest that if Holland is going to continue to allow smoking they would do well to restrict it to outdoor areas at the REAR of the ship. The top deck, the sports deck also has a smaller outdoor track if you prefer open sky walking etc. Just forward of this track are two staircases that go to a large deck above the crow's nest with the best views on the ship. It seems most passengers don't even know this deck is here and you can experience some beautiful sunsets and scenic cruising if you go here. The gym and spa seemed well equipped and managed but I don't use those facilities and can't really report much. The library is nicely laid out and a busy place. While the selection is good they could certainly upgrade their bestsellers selection a bit. It would also seem to make sense to designate a couple of shelves to a passenger leave one/ take one paperback exchange. There are several internet ready computers in the library. Unfortunately Holland also still charges gouge prices for internet usage of about 40 cents a minutes with it often taking several minutes to get properly connected and even then it's more like an old dial up speed. Not my cup of tea. Overall I was able to find internet in the ports without any major major problems in most places....all you have to do is ask. In several ports the best spot was the local library that had either free or very cheap with multiple machines. If you bring your laptop you can also usually find a cafe etc with free wifi so you just buy a coffee or something and surf away. The Crow's Nest , top level forward, offers great views. Unfortunately Holland still allows smoking in ½ the room and no matter how hard they try it seems to always smell like stale smoke. It appeared to me that about 95% of the passengers were non smokers so it's a shame that a few of the hooked have to spoil pleasant spots like the Crow's Nest for the rest. The library can get pretty crowded at times and naturally some passengers seem to want to talk too loudly and disturb those who are trying to use the library for reading. Also, unfortunately the casino is located next door to the library and since smoking is allowed there you get the stale smoke drifting down to the library and it's hard to not let it bother you. Once again, air generally moves from the front of the ship towards the rear, even indoors and the library is "downwind" from the smoky casino. The casino itself is fine but the smokers seem to have decided it's their place to sit and chain smoke while they pull slot handles. Most times just walking through the casino with cigarettes a blazing is enough to make me quicken my step to get away from it. I suspect there are many many passengers who avoid the casino like the plague just to avoid the cig smoke. The Rotterdam dining room is a pleasant room. If you like to eat a bit later, as I do, then you can pretty much just show up with no reservations any night at around 7;30 pm and get a nice table with no problems. The Rotterdam dining room food and service was good and the selections more than adequate. The Lido dining area is nicely laid out with many many selections. No trays are provided which I suppose is to reduce food consumption or suppose to make it seem less cafeteria like. However, this results in most people having to make several trips back and forth from their table as there is no way you can carry a salad,soup, entrEe and beverage in one trip. There is quite a bit of staff available to assist the most infirm but other passengers are on their own. The Lido food is generally tasty and is not a good place to hang out if you are on a diet. There is a hamburger/sandwich/taco set up beside the pool on the Lido deck with wonderful burgers/fries/etc. There are also many special BBQ's held out by the pool with different themes. The Pinnacle restaurant seems underutilized most likely due to a $20 per person cover charge. It's a nice restaurant and the food is definitely a little better than the normal dining room but it seems most people aren't willing to pay $20 for the experience. Most nights when I looked it the Pinnacle was less than ¼ full. It seems that more of the ship's officers eat there more than the passengers. I suspect if they would consider lowering the cover to a more reasonable $10 that they would entice more patrons and everyone would be happier. Room service is ok but not great. They have the usual hang your breakfast order outside your door and delivery is supposedly made within a 30 minute "window". However, my orders were consistently delivered about 15 minutes early which was just fine once I understood how it works. Evening room service was ho hum at best and you pretty much have to order every single thing you want (like ketchup for fries) or it is not provided. Non breakfast delivery time seemed to always be about 35 minutes and tips seemed to be genuinely appreciated. Lots of bars and booze available on the ship but thankfully it was not all pushed nearly as much as other ships I have experienced. And to Holland's eternal credit they don't hassle you if you want to bring a bottle of wine or a few beers onboard to enjoy in your stateroom. The show room is just fine although there are many seats in the rear and in the balcony where sightlines would be bad. However, I found that for the second show especially it was rare that the room was full. There is a nice movie theatre with popcorn available. The movie selection was weak at best but many passengers attended the movies with quite a bit of snoring to be heard. One suggestion would be to have more matinee or even morning showings as it would be a nice daytime entertainment option even on port call days when many people only go ashore for a couple of hours and then back to the ship. The entertainment ran the gamut of usual cruise line fare with singers/dancers/comedians/magicians etc. Some are quite good and some are absolutely awful and make you wonder why in the world the Holland corporate entertainment department would have selected them. There is the usual bingo and the like but again it seems Holland doesn't promote this ad nauseum via the ships speakers like other cruise lines. The guest lecturers were a major disappointment to me. Although they all have multiple degrees and impressive professorial resumes the fact is that most all of them were about as exciting as watching paint dry. Knowing everything academically about a subject and being able to do an enjoyable 45 minute presentation are two different skills. Most felt like sitting in a very boring college class. Again, it seems to me that Holland entertainment division picks these people strictly from a resume without ever having auditioned them to see if they are also interesting/entertaining. Another pet peeve is when they open the audience to questions but do NOT provide a microphone NOR do they repeat the questions so the rest of the audience might have some clue to what is being discussed. Rule number one of public speaking: HE WHO HAS THE MICROPHONE MUST REPEAT THE QUESTION ALOUD SO EVERYONE IN THE AUDIENCE CAN HEAR. In my opinion our particular cruise featured way too many Iceland stops (6). Iceland is interesting but it is certainly not that interesting and 2 or 3 calls would have been more than adequate. It seemed a shame to waste so much time in little Iceland ports with pretty much nothing to see and then rush through Scotland, Ireland, England, and many other port calls where extra time would have been a plus. The information provided by Holland for the various port calls was AWFUL. A small flyer is placed in the cabins the night before each port giving a little bit of the history but that's about it. Information that most passengers might find useful like public transport options, internet cafes, bank/exchange/ATM info was totally non existent so if you don't buy the overpriced ship excursions you're on your own. It's really a shame that most ships seem to take the attitude that if you don't buy their tours they aren't going to give you any information. In a nutshell if you don't buy the tours you are a bit of a steerage class passenger when it comes to shoreside information. And of course as usual most of the tours are sold at gouge you prices. Fortunately I am experienced enough that I was able to figure out public transport, internet cafes, etc on my own as I really have no desire to participate in the organized shore excursions. Overall the service throughout the ship is quite good though it seemed to me that since Carnival took over Holland that there not as many employees as previously. There were several days when our cabin steward didn't clean my cabin until after 1 pm even though the please clean sign had been out since 8 am. Some passengers indicated that the stewards now have many more staterooms to clean than the pre Carnival days. Generally I found the Filipino and Indonesian staff to be warm, gracious, and accommodating. The Dutch officers/staff seemed a bit stand offish to me compared to other ships officers I have experienced. Generally the onboard announcements weren't too terribly obtrusive like many ships where some idiot is on the ships speakers every few minutes pushing all the onboard revenue enhancers like bingo, special drinks, etc. Unfortunately I could barely understand our captain due to a pretty strong accent. All in all it was a wonderful cruise and the Maasdam remains a personal favorite ship of mine. Read Less
Sail Date July 2009
This was my first ever ocean cruise.  I had been on a river cruise earlier this year.  We got off to an inauspicious start, waiting around for about 3 hours at the Sheraton at Heathrow airport.  We were treated to cookies and coffee or ... Read More
This was my first ever ocean cruise.  I had been on a river cruise earlier this year.  We got off to an inauspicious start, waiting around for about 3 hours at the Sheraton at Heathrow airport.  We were treated to cookies and coffee or tea (self-service) and parked in the bar area while awaiting the arrival of the rest of the passengers who were to accompany us on the bus ride to Southampton.   Why we were not simply put on a later flight from NYC, I don't know.  There were plenty of flights that would have made the timing much better.  (Cunard booked our flight on Virgin Atlantic.  There's a reason why VA is so cheap.  They don't feed you very much.  Bring your own food or expect to land in Heathrow with a ravenous appetite.  The seats are crowded together and seemed particularly narrow.  If at all possible, have Cunard book you on British Air or book your own flight on another airline.  Perhaps an upgrade to would have made the flight more bearable, but it was an extra $350 each.) As was expected, the wait at the ship's terminal was lengthy, but there were over 2500 passengers checking in, passing through security, and boarding.  It was civilized and organized.   However, the only food available was from an independent kiosk that had a very limited selection of overpriced food and beverages. Our cabin was roomy and clean, if somewhat worn-looking. This is a bit surprising considering the ship was only  launched in 2004. Our king-sized bed had two parallel depressions, running from head to foot.  However, it was still quite comfortable.  The loveseat was a bit shabby, as was the bed cover.  Everything was very clean.  There was an abundant supply of quality toiletries.  We were met with a split of sparkling white wine, chilling on ice, and two glasses. The staff & crew are amazing. They do everything they can to make the voyage a wonderful experience. The word "no" is rarely heard from them.  They are from dozens of different countries all over the world and are impeccably trained.  We were always greeted and addressed as "madam" or "sir."  The bathroom had one outlet that was only compatible with an electric shaver.  My husband uses a Waterpik for dental hygiene.  Our cabin steward tried to get us an adapter, which didn't do the job, and even went so far as to borrow an electrician's extension cord long enough for my husband to use his Waterpik in the bathroom while plugging it in to the only compatible outlet that was 10 feet away over the desk.   Afternoon tea was delightful but sometimes crowded, and was always accompanied by live music, either a solo harpist, or a five-piece band.  The food included finger sandwiches, scones with jam and clotted cream, and an assortment of pastries.  There was no choice of teas, but the blend served was fine.  Waiters circulated about the room constantly offering more of whatever, and a teacup was never allowed to go empty.  The British know how to do afternoon tea. Despite 7"-9" seas, the trip was pretty smooth.  The ship is huge.  Three laps around the Lido deck is a mile. That's huge.  Specs regarding the ship can be found on Cunard's web site.  We went to all three formal evenings and danced in the ballroom (also the room where they serve tea) on the "largest ballroom dance floor at sea" every night.  The evening entertainment ranged from poor (a RADA production of a condensed version "Hobson's Choice" that was unintelligible; the tenor Preston Coe who was less then stellar) to excellent world-class musicians (Robin Hill, guitarist; Nicola Loud, violinist) performing.     The Illuminations planetarium was a neat daytime diversion, although some of the projectors were slightly out of alignment, thus making orbits segmented.   The downside?  Mediocre to downright terrible food was the biggest disappointment, although I give kudos to the pastry chefs.  If the QM2 can bring up the quality of the meals to be on par with the quality of the service, we'll be back.  Otherwise, we'll take our future cruises on other lines. Read Less
Sail Date June 2009
About us: This was our second cruise. Our first one was about 10 years ago - Western Caribbean on the Celebrity Infinity. We're a 50ish married couple. Hotel: We stayed at Clairidge's. This was our first time in London. We knew ... Read More
About us: This was our second cruise. Our first one was about 10 years ago - Western Caribbean on the Celebrity Infinity. We're a 50ish married couple. Hotel: We stayed at Clairidge's. This was our first time in London. We knew it was pricey but did not realize how much! We read in a review about the hotel that if you have to ask how much, don't stay here. Our 3 night stay with room, food (we ate dinner in the hotel each night), drinks and taxes was almost $4,000 USD. The exchange rate did not help (the US dollar is worth very little in the UK and Europe). The room was a decent size but rather dark with no view. The marble bathroom was updated and had the most fantastic shower and toiletries. Getting to the boat: We were in shock to find out Southampton (the embarkation point) was a 2-3 hour car ride from the heart of London depending on traffic. After calling several cab companies we found out it was ~$500 USD for a taxi or ~$800 USD for a private car from our hotel. A couple we spoke to on board the QM2 said they purchased the transfer from Cunard and it was ~$500 USD but a nightmare. They were sent to the train station with all their luggage and had to wait around for hours, then board the train where there was little room for your luggage. They were quite grumpy by the time they arrived aboard. By contrast, although quite expensive, we had a smooth and pleasant trip from the hotel to the ship. Embarkation: Had to wait a bit but was very smooth - no real problems First impression on boarding the boat: Not impressed. Expected a fabulous and glamorous entry / lobby. But it was sort of blah. Room: We had a Queen's Grill Suite (Q6). Very spacious room, nice sized closet, nice sized bathroom. The balcony was a good size (not as small as we had feared) - you could stretch out on a chaise lounge at a bit of an angle. On arrival, a chilled bottle of champagne with chocolate covered strawberries awaited us. The cabin butler greeted us, showed us the contents of the mini-fridge which included another bottle of complimentary champagne, canned soda and bottled water. She indicated that we were entitled to two bottles of wine and offered us a choice of red, white or both. This was a very pleasant surprise. Unfortunately, it was downhill from there. The king size bed had no mattress on it. Instead it was a 2" foam pad over the box spring. When you tried to sleep at night, you felt the steel from the box spring in your back and a quite noticeable gap between the two sides of the bed. In the cabin, we heard a ship structural snapping and cracking noise in one wall. It sounded like the ship was going to come apart. We complained about the bed and the noise. They brought us 2 more duvets to put under the fitted sheet which helped but not enough. They told us the noise was normal and in all the rooms. We later learned that the cabins were constructed in modules with lots of plastic. When the ship twists / bends with the motion of the waves, the plastic in the walls creaks and snaps. The TV in the room was a modern flat panel. They played some great, newer movies around the clock at no charge. Room service was great. The butler and her assistant were friendly and attentive. We forgot to think about what side of the ship we should request a cabin. On these transatlantic voyages, one side of the ship is facing south the whole time. That is the side you want. So, go for port on Westbound and starboard on Eastbound. Food: The Queens Grill atmosphere was not the greatest. The food and service, however, was phenomenal. Plenty of choices on the menu, half of which changed daily. If you wanted something not on the menu and they had the ingredients available, you got it - no extra charge. In the Queens Grill, you do have an assigned table but no assigned time. You just show up during the dinner hours (I think they were 6-10) whenever you are hungry. Same concept for Breakfast and Lunch (same table). Each night, the cabin butler left us the next day's menus to preview. You can order as many appetizers or desserts or anything on the menu for that matter. No questions asked. This was definitely one of the highlights of our trip. Strongly recommend the Dover Sole and the Short Ribs. The wine and liquor are reasonably priced. If you don't feel like eating at the Queens Grill the buffets were also pretty good with a nice variety of offerings. You can also bring your own bottle of vintage wine or champagne (brought from home or bought on board) to the Queens Grill for a nominal corkage fee. Bars: Our favorite was the Commodore which was just down the corridor from our cabin. It occupies the front of deck 9 and is a great place to view during the day. At night, there is a piano player. Nice, upscale bar. They also have an enclosed, ventilated cigar room. If you are a smoker, this is one of the few public areas where you can smoke. The cigars for sale there were mostly stale (not fresh) so recommend bringing your own. We also tried the Queens Grill Lounge but didn't like it as well as the Commodore plus it was at the other end of the ship from our cabin as well as being 2 decks below. Every time we decided to try one of the other bars, they were too crowded. Entertainment: We didn't go to any of the variety shows at night. We enjoyed some of the afternoon lectures and really liked a classical guitar concert offered. They claim to have the largest library at sea and it does have a good selection. Our cabin was one floor up from the library and very convenient. They also have a book club. Prior to the voyage, they will announce the book on the Cunard website. Or you can pick up copies in the library (purchase or borrow) when you board. Near the end of the voyage, they have a book club discussion. If you want to see a planetarium show, you have to pick up your tickets that morning. There is an observation deck where you can watch the Captain and crew "drive" the ship. Very interesting! If you want to use the golf simulator - book immediately. They fill up fast. One of the things we most enjoyed was simply walking around the deck. Be careful though, it can get very windy. If the winds come up it gets quite strong (if the ship is travelling about 25 MPH and the wind is 25 MPH in the same direction = 50 MPH effectively). Internet access: If you bring your own laptop, you can pay by the minute or buy a package. If you want to just check your email or don't have a laptop, there are computers in the library or in the computer center you can use. Same thing, either pay by the minute or buy a package. Cell phones: We didn't realize that they would work but they do! Had a signal most of the time but the per minute charges while away from shore can be pricey - I think they said it was $10/minute. While you are near land, you just pick up the normal cell signals. We had considered renting a satellite phone (for emergencies) but are glad we didn't'. Formal nights: There are 3 on the transatlantic and really are formal. Pets: There is a kennel on the top deck near the rear of the boat. They have a fenced area outside for them to run around in. We saw quite a few dogs and they looked like they were having fun. Casino: Was smaller than we expected. They did have a special table for Texas Hold 'em which is automated and there were plenty of tournaments if you like to play. Plenty of slot and bingo tournaments too. Ship: This ship is built for the transatlantic voyage. It is smaller than many other cruise ships for this reason. Very stable. You almost never feel the motion. If you are worried about being seasick, stop worrying. The length of the ship is dictated by the docking area in Southampton and the room to turn there. The height is dictated by the Verrazano Narrows bridge in NY (had to be able to sail under it). In general, the ship is looking a little outdated and is in need of a remodel. The passengers: This is an adult ship. We saw some kids but not that many. You don't need to worry about seeing a bunch of kids everywhere. The age group was mostly 45-80 years old although there were some younger couples. The mix was mostly UK citizens (about 2/3), followed by US citizens and a few from many different countries. Many of our fellow passengers were repeat customers. Definitely a gay friendly cruise. Tipping: They automatically add $13/pp per day for "service" (tips) and gratuity charges for liquor were 15%. But, on your check in the bars and restaurants they still have a line for tips. All of the staff are definitely looking for an additional tip the last day or so of the cruise. Disembarkation: Queens Grill passengers are one of the first groups off the ship. If you want to, you can not put your bags out the night before and leave the ship whenever. If you opt for a transfer, you report to the theater and are called in groups for your transfers. We did this. The cost was reasonable but our bus drive appears to have never been to JFK before and didn't seem to speak English. I think we drove around the airport about 10 times while he tried to figure out how to get to the terminal we needed. Note: We emailed Cunard after returning home regarding our uncomfortable bed and the noise in our cabin. We never received a reply. Although Cunard seems British, they are now owned by an American company. The attitude seems to be if you don't like it, go pound sand because they aren't changing. Read Less
Sail Date June 2009

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