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6,089 Repositioning Cruise Reviews

Celebrity does it again. First time on these new ship's Great job on a very nice class ship. Many things to do and see for a 15 night but 7 day at sea journey (crossing the Atlantic). So many choices of food and ... Read More
Celebrity does it again. First time on these new ship's Great job on a very nice class ship. Many things to do and see for a 15 night but 7 day at sea journey (crossing the Atlantic). So many choices of food and style's of dining that one hand to be happy busy or what ever you wished to be. Even though the cost adds up we did all of the specialty restaurants and some even twice. They were the highlight of the eats on the ship and not just the food but the service was what we have so much enjoyed about Celebrity. We almost tried select dining but chose late seating in MDR and it was not what we have come to expect from Celebrity. We traveled with another couple who have never cruised and wanted them to experience the MDR. Marginal at best and we are not picky people. Therefore I truly believe that the hiring of outstanding waiters and assistants has lagged behind the addition of new ship's, in the MDR for the most part. Lets face it with the addition of 5 new ship's they have had to increase there personal by at least 40 percent if my math is correct. I do not believe that Celebrity is simply cutting cost, but they are having some growing pains. Wine cellar is really nice place to go before dinner. We spent many nights. Pools are wonderful. Shows good. Blue was outstanding service and only $5.00 extra. Ports were nice. Disembark was a little slow but it always is when they reposition due to customs and Coast Guard inspection. Saw many old faces from previous cruises. FYI the best secret is use the direct luggage transfer if you are flying Southwest. As soon as you leave customs they load it on a truck and you don't touch it again till your home. Huge line at airport for checking. We had a CS and it was really nice, perfect size for a long cruise but a little high in price. I am sure with the fleet growing there will be some better deals to come and Celebrity will catch up on service. All in all a great experience and look forward to another trip on these big new ships. Always Celebrity Read Less
Sail Date October 2010
We embarked from Venice. Arrived at the port terminal at 11:30AM, and were on board by noon. No Problem. Our suite was beautiful, everything we expected and more. We particularly enjoyed the perk of being able to have breakfast and ... Read More
We embarked from Venice. Arrived at the port terminal at 11:30AM, and were on board by noon. No Problem. Our suite was beautiful, everything we expected and more. We particularly enjoyed the perk of being able to have breakfast and lunch in Cagney's. The breakfast and lunches were wonderful. We had dinner in five specialty restaurants and enjoyed each of them. We really enjoyed the French Bistro, and went there twice. Cagneys was good, and the Italian restaurant was OK, but the menu was lacking creativity. We had a dinner in our room one night from the Asian restaurant. Our butler service was outstanding that night and for the entire cruise. We ate in the main dining room the rest of the nights, and experienced no problems. The food was good, well presented, service was good, and deserts were outstanding. The ports we visited were good, we had done them before, and didn't use any NCL tours. We took the Hop on Hop Off bus in each port. Enjoyable. Attended two shows on the ship and enjoyed them. We visited the casino each night and enjoyed ourselves there. The casino people, dealers, etc. were really very nice. We experienced one stormy day at sea, rough seas, etc, but it wasn't that bad. That night, we at in our room from the Asian restaurant. No sense having to get your balance every 10 steps. The captain kept everyone well informed and and I believe he handled the ship and the situation well. I heard and read a lot of negatives about the cruise, mainly from the die hard Cruise Critic members. They seemed to have a lot to say about everything. Maybe we're easy to please, but we've been on Crystal cruises, Holland American, Costa, Seabourn, Celebrity and this cruise was just as good as any of them. The ship was immaculate and the workers were very amiable. Like any other cruise, they try to sell you, but I didn't think there was any pressure. We got off the ship as easily as we boarded, there was a slight delay that had something to do with the luggage, but it was worked out and didn't upset anything. On a scale of 1 to 10, I would rate this cruise at a 9. We thoroughly enjoyed it, and would go again. We are unhappy that the Gem is no longer doing Transatlantic cruises. Hopefully it will return. Read Less
Sail Date October 2010
As always I will preface this review with the rejoinder that these are my thoughts and mine alone. Others on the same cruise may disagree with me as may any who read this. Pre-cruise. We originally booked this cruise in the ... Read More
As always I will preface this review with the rejoinder that these are my thoughts and mine alone. Others on the same cruise may disagree with me as may any who read this. Pre-cruise. We originally booked this cruise in the winter of 2010. It would be my wife's and my 2nd transatlantic and on our favorite cruise line - Celebrity. However, things sometimes have a way of getting in the way. Because of long term health problems, my wife opted out of the cruise. After much discussion with her and family, I decided that I would continue on the cruise as a single. We live 3 ½ hours north of Boston. I drove there and used a Park/Sleep/Fly arrangement at the Embassy Suite Logan Airport Hotel. Using Celebrity's air program I was able to book a non-stop flight from Boston to Rome and left Boston on the 27th arriving the next morning in Rome. The flight was uneventful and the service was very good. Meeting up with 4 other folks from Cruise Critic we had pre-arranged a cab to our hotel, the Hotel Parlemento. Located in the heart of Rome, midway between the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain, it was an excellent choice not only for its' location, but also for its amenites and superb staff. I played tourist over the next 3 day, both on my own and with new found friends from Cruise Critic (C/C). One of the C/C group was extremely involved in planning for the group. She had arranged bus transportion from Rome to Civatecchia and on Sunday morning, October 31st, C/C members staying around the city made their way to our hotel where the bus showed up promptly. The drive to the port was uneventful and took about an hour. The weather was gray, wet and a bit gloomy. We arrived at the ship about 12:30. Check-in and first impressions. After leaving the bus and turning our luggage over to porters, we made our way into the cruise terminal. Although a bit busy, the lines moved quickly. The check-in folks were pleasant and efficient and I was onboard by 1:15. I headed immediately to my cabin (7286) for a quick look-around. The cabin was ready, so I quickly unpacked my carry-on and headed to the Oceanview cafe for lunch with friends. My initial impression of the ship was that it was beautiful and well laid-out. My opinion would not change over the cruise. This class ship, while large, is easy to get around and has good a "good" flow to it. Cabin. I was booked in Cabin 7286. This was a category 1A located on Sunrise Deck (deck 7). Its location was directly across from the amidships elevators, starboard side and being on the aft angle of the "hump", it had a rather large, deep balcony. The bed was situated near the balcony, which IMO made for easier movement. As a single traveler, I had no complaints about the size of the cabin, nor its' storage capacity. Having said that, I think a couple who didn't pack carefully, would find storage a bit limited for this two week voyage. The closet was smaller than I am used to on other ships and had no enclosed drawers (but again, as a single traveler, storage was more than adequate). On the same side of the room as the closet was a couch and small table. Celebrity had moved the safe from this closet to one of the drawers located on the opposite side of the cabin. There was a dresser like piece of furniture that contained 4 drawers and was where the small refrigerator and adequate safe were located. A small dressing table and mirror were attached. Above this was a 32" flat screen televesion set. A large (queen sized) bed completed the furnishings. (This bed could be separated into two twin beds). Above the bed was a large storage area and there was plenty of room under the bed to store suitcases. Individual reading lamps were located on either side of the bed. The room lighting took a little getting used to but once learnt, was easy to use. A nice feature is a dimmed night light that stays on in the bathroom. All in all the room is extremely comfortable. As mentioned earlier the balcony was larger than normal because of its' location on the angle of the hump. It was the depth of the balcony that increased the size from that of the "normal" sized balconies. There were two chairs and a round table. I would spend a couple hours a day out there with a glass of wine and my Kindle, just enjoying life at sea. My steward and his assistant were as good as any I have had in over 20 cruises. They patiently explained the workings of the lighting to me (twice). One afternoon, realizing I had locked my key in the room, I called reception and the assistant was up (from his break I am sure) within 5 minutes with a smile and his key. They always greeted me by name and and task I asked of them was done quickly and pleasantly. Food. Food is too subjective a subject for me to discuss in detail, but I will say that while I feel that the quality of food has declined (throughout the industry) over my years of cruising, I never once experienced hunger pangs. I love the layout of the Oceanview Cafe as compared to the "normal" buffet line on other ships. With many stations located throughout, there were rarely any lines. Mornings saw "eggs to order" and lunches "pasta to order" amongst many, many, many other choices. I was seated at a table for eight on the main level of the Silhouette Dining Room for my early dining. Other members of the table were people from the C/C group. Two would leave us on the 3rd night as they decided that early dinner was not to their liking, especially on the ports portion of the cruise. Our waiter and his assistant were friendly and efficient, but busy and did not interact with the table to any extent. I also ate at the Bistro on Five, Murano's and Silk Harvest. It was in the latter two (upcharge) dining venues that the former quality of food and service were re-vitalized, IMO. The food at both of these venues was superb and that was matched by the service. I enjoyed the experiences of both tremendously. Entertainment. I only went to 3 or 4 of the evening shows. The production shows were not really different than others I have seen over the years. I believe the only truly different thing is the enthusiasm of the performers. On this trip, they were OK. Most of my evenings were spent with friends enjoying other entertainment offered throughout the ship. It was varied and pretty good. The cruise director, Dru Pavlov, and his staff were busy, entertaining and approachable. One hiccup occurred on Veteran's/Remembrance Day. Announcements were given that instructed the veterans of a function in their honor would be held in the Observation Lounge at 10 a.m. When we arrived some function or another was being held and we were directed to a side room where some chairs were set up. A crewmember was coming in and out. Nothing happened. Phone calls were made. A half-hour after the designated time as most of us vets were preparing to leave, the assistant cruise director came in and said this would do at all and directed us into the Observation Lounge where coffee and water was served. Another 10-15 minutes and Dru and the Captain arrived. Dru gave, what in my opinion, was a poorly conceived, hesitant, extrempraneous speech thanking us for our service. For the most part, the veterans just sat around doing what we do best, exchanging stories. I have never felt the need to be recognized for my service, but I was offended at the lack of respect shown by the ship's staff in the one particular meeting. Ports of Call. We visited Livorno, Italy, Cannes, France and Barcelona, Cartegena, Cadiz and Tenerife (Canary Islands), Spain. It was a great itinerary. A bit port intensive, there was only one sea day the first week. When my wife was originally scheduled for this trip, we had booked tours with other C/C folks in Cannes, Barcelona and Tenerife. However, I canceled those tours to allow couples on the wait list to enjoy. I would just meander around the different ports. No plans had been made for Livorno. Good thing and the weather was wet, cool and damp the entire port visit. The rest of the voyage would see sunny skies and increasingly warmer temperatures as it progressed. Cannes - I just walked around, enjoying the sites and souveneir shopping. Barcelona - Two C/C couples and I went on a walking tour of Las Ramblas and other areas of the city. We stopped at the WalMart of Europe (El Cortes Inglese) and picked up some wine, then walked deeper into the city to a Gaudi building. We enjoyed a fantastic "all you can eat" buffet luncheon at a cafe' called La Vac Paca. We meandered back down Las Ramblas enjoying the street actors and the sites in general. Cartegena - Again, I headed out on my own enjoying the sites of this lovely town. I soon met up with friends from the ship. One of the couples and I headed for a view from the fort overlooking an old bullring and the city in general. Transportation to and from the ship was provided. Cadiz - In my opinion, this was the hidden gem of the trip. The two couples from my Barcelona sojourn and myself were joined by two single ladies from C/C and we headed off on our own walking tour. I was on a mission to find table linens for my wife. Once that was accomplished, we visited the Cathedral and "downtown" area of Cadiz. The two ladies became separated from us, so the 5 of us headed off on a walking tour around Cadiz. What a beautiful city on the sea this is. We walked around the complete seawall in about 3 or 4 hours of leisurely walking. We stopped at a seaside taverna for calamari and cold, cold cerveza. It was a wonderful day. Tenerife - I had been there the previous year, but once again I headed out on my own. It was a Sunday and the vast majority of the shops were closed. I sat around having a couple of beers and people watched for a couple of hours then headed back to the ship. Although this was a port intensive cruise up to this point, I had not overtaxed myself with tours. I walked, shopped and enjoyed at my own pace. Not a bad way of seeing these cities. Cruise Critic. We had a very large C/C contingent aboard. So large, that we had two Cruise Connection get-togethers. We also had a cabin crawl, bar crawl, gift exchange and slot-pull (where we doubled our monies - thank you very much). These get togethers were spaced throughout the at-sea part of our cruise and helped fill the days at sea. As I mentioned before the ship itself is beautiful and easy to get around. There were plenty of lounge chairs available around the pools and decks above it. The lawn club is interesting and a quiet place to relax and just enjoy. There were daily glass-blowing shows (where 3 of our C/C group won 4 of the give-a-ways over the cruise (including a vase won by myself). There were daily lectures from various experts. Trivia, bingo and other cruise staples were available. If one is interested in rock-climbing, ice skating, etc., etc. this is not the ship for them. However for a day that one could be as busy as they wanted or as relaxed as they cared to be, this is the cruise. As with all good things, this too had to end. Fifteen days after it started it ended in Port Everglades, Florida and it was here that things went awry. Disembarkation, while good for some, was horrible for others. Because Royal Caribbean has designated what used to be Celebrity's pier to house the Oasis and Allure of the Seas. Unfortunately on the date we arrived, the Allure came into port. The Equinox was delegated to an old, woefully inadequate terminal. There were two or three other ships in the port as well (on a Monday), making the pier area quite congested. Customs, as seems to be usual in Florida, was understaffed. Add this to the fact that this was the Equinox's first visit to the United States this season and all the ingredients for a massive mess were in place. Apparently, the initial folks off had no problem. I was scheduled off at 8:30 and that is exactly when I was called. However, it started slowing down almost immediately. It took me the better part of an hour to get off the ship, get in line for baggage pickup and clear customs. AND, it only got worse for those after me. There was blame to assign all around. Customs for their usual understaffed, officious personnel.Celebrity for not having any personnel explaining the backup to those folks in line. Other passengers who didn't feel waiting in line was part of their package and others who thought they could get off ahead of their scheduled time only to find out that their bags were still on their original schedule (These folks could be found just outside the luggage area, milling about, waiting on their luggage. According to some folks I have talke with since luggage was hard to locate, was not in designated areas and/or luggage tags were missing. All in all a not so great ending to what was a fantastic cruise. IMO, only a couple of glitches on this cruise. There were many, many excellent things on or about this cruise. Foremost amonst them are the wonderful folks I met and friends I made from the C/C boards (and others). I would recommend Celebrity to anybody considering a cruise. I would highly recommend the "S" class ship for the amenities it offers. And, if you have the time put them both together on a transatlantic cruise - you won't be disappointed. Read Less
Sail Date October 2010
Celebrity's loyalty program allows you to reach 'Elite' level faster than any other cruise line. This level provides the cruiser with use of the Elite level lounge with 2 hours of complimentary drinks and appetizers each ... Read More
Celebrity's loyalty program allows you to reach 'Elite' level faster than any other cruise line. This level provides the cruiser with use of the Elite level lounge with 2 hours of complimentary drinks and appetizers each evening. The Elite level passenger also receives 90 minutes of free Internet use and 2 bags of laundry washed and folded complimentary. Beyond the above Celebrity provides wonderful meals whether at assigned seating or at 'select' or anytime seating. Our cabin was 1401. A C2 cabin of 190 sf and an over-sized balcony of approx. 60 sf. We picked this cabin because it was near the ship's aft and because of the extra 6-9 sf of balcony. A fruit basket, fresh flowers, and evening appetizers were provided. Cabin and dining service was at the highest level. The singers and dancers in the main show room were some of the most talented that I've seen on the high seas. From Cherbourg we toured Mont Saint Michel. The tour director on our bus was a French woman who spoke impeccable English and who had the most wonderful presentation for the entire 7 hours. As with other large cruise ship's, stability on the ocean was excellent. In summery, Celebrity provides an excellent cruise experience and the 'Eclipse' is a wonderful ship. Southampton was our departure port. It is a 2 hour train ride from London's Victoria Station. Jury's Hotel was inexpensive and only a $10 taxi ride from the port. Le Havre is not a great city to tour but it is a good jumping off point for tours of the Normandy beaches. Cherbourg was only toured by bus on the was to Mont Saint Michel. Vigo, Spain is a pretty town with a beautiful bay. Tours to Santiago de Compostela can be booked from this port. Ponta Delgada is a cute town with friendly people in the Portuguese Azores. Read Less
Sail Date October 2010
Warning: Most of my journals are long and include pre-cruise information. Skip down to October 31st if you want to by-pass the Rome portion of my journal. 28 October 2010, Thursday Louisa and I met up at Dulles international airport - ... Read More
Warning: Most of my journals are long and include pre-cruise information. Skip down to October 31st if you want to by-pass the Rome portion of my journal. 28 October 2010, Thursday Louisa and I met up at Dulles international airport - Tony and Lucy (our dog) dropped me off. I had purchased a neat hand scale to weigh my bags. With the airlines charging for overweight luggage, I wanted to be sure I didn't go over the limit and pay any luggage fees. I was traveling with a large 29" spinner suitcase and a carry-on bag. Louisa was sure her bag was over 50 pounds. A man saw me hook up the scale to her suitcase and said he was interested in seeing it. I asked him if he could lift the suitcase for me. Sure enough, it weighed 55 pounds. Louisa moved some things around and I added a few items to my carryon bag. After check-in, we had drinks at the bar near the gate. Larry and Anne (from Kauai) joined us. They had arrived from LAX and were on our flight. We had a nice time with them. They bought our drinks, which was a nice treat. Thanks! We had also ordered fried artichoke hearts with aioli sauce, which hit the spot. There were several other cruise critic members on our flight, so we chatted with them at the gate. We encountered lots of turbulence during the first portion of the flight. It smoothed out once we started to cross the Atlantic. A flight attendant came up and I showed her my USAirways ID card to see about getting some complimentary wine. She looked at my seat number and said, "32B and C, yes, we know about you, the Captain told us." A friend of mine is a captain for United and Tony had contacted her to see if she was flying our flight. She sent a letter to the captain on board asking if he could help us out. We enjoyed a few glasses of wine. Later during the flight, the captain came up to me and introduced himself. We talked for about 10 minutes. It was nice of him to take the time to chat with us. Our flight landed about 20 minutes early but the taxi to the gate seem to take forever, reminding me of the taxing at Charles de Gaulle in France. After a quick check-in with customs and gathering our luggage, we met up with John, who had arrived from Boston. I hired Stefano from Rome Cabs to take five of us to Hotel Parlamento in Rome. The price was right: 60 euros plus tip for all of us. It took about an hour to get to the hotel, as we hit rush hour in Rome. Hotel Parlamento (Via delle Convertite, 5) was in a great location: Close to the Trevi fountain, Spanish Steps, and around the corner from via del Corso, the famous shopping street. Just half a block away is a bus station, at piazza San Silvestro. The hotel has a tiny elevator, so it took a while to get all of the luggage up to the 3rd floor. Then there's one flight of stairs to the hotel lobby. Our room (#94), one flight up from the lobby level, had a view of the inner courtyard. It was very quiet at night, so I didn't mind the lack of views. The room was small and a tight fit with our luggage, but Louisa and I arranged the room so that we could walk around. Twin beds, on the soft side, were comfortable. Lighting was poor but I wasn't surprised. Most hotels I've stayed in while in Europe seem to use low wattage. The room had a flat screen tv., a small table, and end tables next to the beds. The bathroom was a nice size with a large counter top space. Lighting could be better but we had a window for light and fresh air. Small shower and bidet. Next to the lobby/check-in area is a small breakfast room. And on our floor, there's a doorway to the rooftop terrace. Some of the rooms have direct access to the terrace. This was one area we used during the late afternoon or evenings, enjoying a glass of wine or two, or to simply sit and write in my journal. Since we were staying just three nights, we didn't unpack too many things. We headed out and explored our area. For lunch near the Spanish steps, Louisa and I enjoyed a tasty 10-euro antipasti buffet at Ristorante ala Rampa. You fill your one plate up for the 10-euro price. I had fresh mozzarella, meatballs, grilled eggplant and zucchini, white bean salad, calamari salad, marinated octopus, sautEed spinach, etc. Everything was delicious and I actually had too much on my plate. There were many other choices to select for lunch. The Spanish Steps were packed with people sunning themselves, as it was a beautiful sunny day. I went inside the church at the top, Trinita dei Monti. It was my first time there. Not as spectacular as other Churches' in Rome. The weather was on the cold side, so I was glad that I brought my London fog heavy jacket. We walked along via del Corso and window shopped. Fancy shoes, boots, and elegant dresses were on display. Later, we met up with John on the terrace for some drinks before dinner. For dinner, we dined at Colline Emiliane (via degli Avignonesi, 22, 00187 Roma, Italy +39 06 481 7538)?, which was located about a 15- minute walk from the hotel. It's a small restaurant located close to two other favorites of mine (Gioa Mia and Hostaria Romana). I enjoy finding local restaurants that serve authentic cuisine. Colline Emiliane serves classic Bolognese dishes. I was hoping they would have lasagna Bolognese, like I had in Bologna a few years ago. It was served with green lasagna, which was heavenly! This restaurant didn't have it but the menu had many other great choices. The three of us shared a couple of plates of mortadella and proscuitto. Both were excellent and sliced ever so thin. I had the tagliatelle alla Bolognese, which was delicious, along with a side dish of sautEed spinach and garlic. John and Louisa enjoyed their meal. With house red wine, our bill came to 27 euros each. On the way back to the hotel, we swung by the Trevi fountain, always a crowded scene with people tossing their coin (or two) into the fountain for a future return to Rome. Back at the hotel, we ran into Christine and Paul, so the five of us had some drinks on the terrace, including some limoncello that I made and brought with me. It was an easy day for us, but relaxing. 29 October 2010, Friday, Rome Italy What a beautiful day! Last year in Rome it rained a lot. This morning was clear and crisp. I slept well thanks to half of an ambien pill. The wine and limoncello the night before might have helped too. The hotel serves a simple breakfast that includes fruit, yogurt, croissants, cheese, crackers, cereal, coffee, tea, and juice. It was just enough to get you going for the day. The breakfast room is pretty small, but it seemed to work out okay with people arriving at different times. The owner of the hotel, an older gentleman, invited my friends and me to some wine and snacks later in the afternoon on the terrace. There were a dozen of us at the hotel that were going on the cruise. This was such a nice offer. Today was a day of Churches. First Louisa and I visited the Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini, which is a crypt with displays of many bones and skulls (over 4,000 Capuchin friars). There were four or five rooms. Many of the bones were made into shapes and designs, which hung on the walls and the ceilings. It's probably not a place for everyone. Next we headed to Santa Maria della Vittoria, a Baroque church, where the famous Bernini statue of St. Teresa of Avila is located. I had missed this church last year, as Tony and I had arrived at the wrong time - it was closed for lunch, so I was glad to be able to see the exquisite and sensual looking statue. St. Teresa is about to be pierced by an angel's arrow, the symbol of God's love, or so I'm told. Heading south, we had lunch at Trattoria Monti (Via San Vito, 13a, Tel: 06.446.6573), a nice local restaurant. It's close to the Santa Maria Maggiore. I had the rigatoni with pecorino cheese, minced sausage, and black pepper. The pasta was perfectly 'al dente' and delicious. Santa Maria Maggiore is one of the largest churches in Rome. It has a beautiful coffered ceiling, thick columns and wonderful mosaic tiled flooring. The last church of the day was San Pietro in Vincoli (Saint Peter in Chains). I had been here before, but wanted Louisa to see Michelangelo's sculpture of Moses. We headed back to the hotel, walking past the Colosseum, Roman Forum and took pictures along the way. Louisa and I headed to the terrace for our afternoon wine party with our friends. Roberto served red wine and chips/crackers. We ended up drinking four carafes of wine! It was getting colder as the sun began to set. We invited a young woman to join us. Cate was sitting outside at another table. I also invited her to join us for happy hour the next day with the cruise group. For dinner, Louisa, Christine, Paul, John and I had dinner at Gioia Mia (Via degli Avignonesi, 34, tel 06.4882784), my forth visit there. Packed as usual and fast service, as the owner likes to turn the tables to take the many customers. Reservations are a must! Louisa and I shared a � liter of white wine. We all shared a plate of antipasti. All of us ordered the papparadelle alla gran duca (wide ribbon pasta with ham, mushrooms, cream, tomatoes and cognac), which was excellent, very flavorful and one of the house specialties. 18 euros per person. After, we walked to the Trevi fountain and stopped in a couple of stores and sampled some liquor. Back in our room, the five of us had some wine before retiring for the night. 30 October 2010, Saturday, Rome Italy It was another beautiful day in Rome. Having been here several times, I decided on another easy going day. After breakfast, Louisa and I headed over to Trastevere. On the way over, we swung by Piazza Navona, which was quite active with tourists and street vendors, as well as visited the market at Campo dei Fiori. It was also crowded with food vendors. It made me wish we stayed in an apartment so we could cook some Italian dishes. In Trastevere, we walked around the area, did a little window shopping but didn't buy anything. Clouds started to roll in and it got cooler. For lunch, we dined at Roma Sparita, which was recommended to me two years ago by my friend GB (editor of www.italiannotebook.com where I have several articles published). When I had asked him for restaurant recommendations, he told me, "If you want to eat in Trastevere, ONLY do Roma Sparita!" Just a few months ago, I was watching No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain. He had dined at this same place! The name of the restaurant was never mentioned, but his review was so interesting that I searched his web site and found out it was the place my friend recommended to me! Located in the corner of a simple piazza and next to a church, we dined al fresco. Louisa and I ordered fried, stuffed zucchini flowers, which had mozzarella and anchovy inside (should have ordered more!). I had the tagliolini cacio e pepe, which was a pasta dish with pecorino cheese and pepper served in a crispy parmesan cheese bowl. Simply delectable! Louisa had the fettucini with mushrooms, which was also very good. Completely satisfied with our lunch, we walked to the Santa Maria in Trastevere church before heading back over the Tiber River. Louisa had enough of walking, so we took a taxi to the hotel. The ride was welcomed. After our rest in the hotel room, we walked to La Curia di Bacco near the Campo dei Fiori for our pre-cruise get together with fellow cruisers. I had set up a happy hour for 50 people (about 40 showed up) that included antipasti and wine. Everyone had a great time. Food was fine, but I've had better antipasti at other bars, but it served us well, as we needed a large place to take all of us. For dinner, my same dinner group dined at La Sagrestia (via del Seminario, 89. Tel: 06 67 97 581). I think I had one of the best meals in Rome on this trip: Seafood pasta that was baked in parchment paper. It had calamari, shrimp, clams, mussels, and lobster. It was in a very light red sauce. The seafood was tender (the lobster didn't taste right, so I avoided eating it) and the linguini cooked properly. I also had an appetizer of bruschetta with a tartufo spread. With wine, it was 20 euros per person. Another walk past the Trevi fountain, Louisa picked up a bottle of limoncello for the cabin. More drinks on the roof top terrace. A nice end to our time in Rome. Tomorrow we head to the ship for our 15-night cruise. 31 October 2010, Sunday, Rome Italy It was time to pack up and head to the ship. Louisa and I did most of the packing last night. Of course, we didn't unpack too many things anyway. I didn't sleep well, as I was concerned about the bus service I hired to take 39 of us to the port. I wanted things to run smoothly, unlike last year's problem. When I got up, I used Louisa's phone and re-confirmed the pick up time. I was told, "Yes, the driver will be there at 11:30am." I corrected her saying I requested an 11:00am pick up time. The breakfast room was crowded with us cruisers having our last breakfast and others just checking in to the hotel. We met Debra and Tom, who had arrived from their hotel, so they joined us for breakfast. Mr. Chini didn't charge Debra and Tom, saying they were my guests. I found all of the employees at the hotel to be friendly and provided very good service. In fact, after showing Debra and Tom our room, they said they would stay at Hotel Parlamento. They didn't like the service where they stayed. Debra and Tom helped us take our luggage downstairs. At one point, Tiziano told me, "Come see me before you leave. I have to kiss you." What a flirt! He was one of the younger men at the hotel. Downstairs all of the cruisers were waiting for the bus. Thank goodness everyone showed up. Everyone was chatting up a storm and at one point, I saw a woman look out her window wondering what the noise was all about. Apparently the building holds two hotels and apartments. It had been raining all morning, but at least the weather held out until today. I took Debra and Tom to the nearby grocery store to buy some wine to have while on the ship. On the way back, I ran into Tiziano who said, "Don't forget, I need to kiss you goodbye." I'm all smiles. Upstairs, I said my goodbyes to the staff and Tiziano got his kiss. The bus was parked a block away at the bus area, so everyone had to haul their luggage. It took a while for the driver to load all suitcases and had to open another compartment to add the last five pieces. Note to self: If I use this company again, the maximum number of people should be 34. An hour or so later, we arrived at the port. It continued to rain. Not long after, we checked in and were on our way to the ship. It was very windy and rainy, so not a nice start to the cruise. On board, we received the standard glass of champagne, a nice touch. This was Louisa's first cruise, so I was quite excited for her and so was she. She loved our room (cabin 9261) and the views from the balcony. Surprisingly, our room was ready. We met our room attendant, a very quiet man from Thailand. Our cabin is in a very good location: near the elevators, port side for a sunny balcony (although it was hot most of the day), and just four decks below the ocean view cafe. It was also a concierge class cabin, so a bottle of champagne was sitting on the table in an ice bucket. After lunch at the ocean view cafe, I took Louisa around to see some of the ship. The Equinox is in excellent shape, still looks brand new. At 3:30pm, many of us gathered at the ocean view bar for our early sail away party. It was very cold and windy, so we moved to the sky observation lounge. Being Halloween, many wore masks. I made masks for Louisa and me but ended up not wearing them. I saved mine for next year's cruise. The sail away party was lots of fun. Many people showed up and the bartenders couldn't keep up with our drink orders. The muster was at 5:15pm. Louisa and I went to Michael's club, same location as last year for Tony and me. It lasted just 15 minutes and then we were back in the room. Dinner was at 6pm, which I wanted to try. After two days, Louisa and I felt it was just too early for us so we switched to late. For dinner I started with the crab Louis with avocado, the caprese, the mushroom cappuccino soup and then the prime rib. Oh my, the cut of meat was huge! I could only eat half of it and I like to eat. It was a great dinner to start this cruise. Later, we ran into Tom and Debra at the Quasar bar. They were dressed in Halloween costumes. We had drinks in their cabin. They had a large balcony, so we stood outside for a while. The wind was really blowing and you could see swirls of water in the air. The ship was rocking but it was a fun rock. We had a fun night. 1 November 2010, Monday - Livorno, Italy What a miserable day! It rained all day long! I hired a private tour company (Tuscan Sunshine Tours, 50 euros pp plus tip) for the day to take eight of us to Lucca and Pisa. The company's name didn't help. We docked at 7:00am and were off the ship by 7:30am (Louisa and I ordered room service for breakfast). In my group were Larry, Anne, Elizabeth, Eric, Laura, Jeff, Louisa, and me. Franco drove us to Lucca, which was about 30 minutes away. It was just drizzling when we arrived in Lucca. Too bad for the weather - Lucca is such a beautiful city to enjoy in the sunshine. Franco started our tour with a visit to the Cattedrale di San Martino, a church located on the south-east side of town. I loved the smaller columns on the fa�ade of the building, as they are in different designs: candy striped, checkered, zigzag, floral, knotted, and even plain. Inside, you can see a painting by Tintoretto, the Last Supper, which was done in the late 1500s. Franco took us for a short walk down a few narrow streets (in the rain!) to Piazza Napoleone. Surrounding the square were large trees, very pretty, but not so in the rain. Walking north, we visited San Michele and San Frediano, two other important churches in Lucca. Nearby is the Roman theatre, now a beautiful oblong shaped piazza. People were setting up booths for various shopping products. Also going on in Lucca was a large comic book convention. Apparently this yearly convention is quite popular. Many young kids were dressed in costume of their favorite comic book character. I have a photo or two of the piazza from several years ago - it was a sunny day, so I wasn't overly disappointed that I missed out on some good photo ops. The group split up for a few hours. By then it stopped raining and all of us were hopeful. Louisa and I stopped at a bar for a snack before heading up to walk along the town walls. Lots of people were biking and walking their dogs, but it began to rain again. Louisa and I just couldn't stand it. Instead of our original plans to buy a panini and eat on the go, we decided to go to a restaurant I had been to before. I also decided not to climb the Guinigi tower (it has a tree growing on the top). Along the way we stopped in a leather store, where I purchased a beautiful purse. On display were the materials that the owners used to make their purses, belts, wallets, jackets, etc. It was nice to know I purchased a hand-made product. By now, it was pouring! Louisa and I ran into a ceramic store to wait out the rain. It did not let up at all! We stayed long enough for me to buy a small ceramic bowl. There were may beautiful things in the store. I love Italian ceramics! Knowing the restaurant was just one block away, we made a mad dash to Trattoria da Leo (Via Tegrini, 1, tel 0583 492236). We were drenched. My shoes and socks were completely soaked and my umbrella as well. It was great to be in a warm and inviting restaurant. The waiter gave us napkins to sop up our wet socks, so we were very grateful. Our lunch consisted of local soups, which we felt would be the best on the menu to warm us up. And they did. My soup, minestra di farro, was made of faro and spelt, close in taste to a lentil soup. It's a local Lucchese specialty and was full of flavor. Louisa had a soup that was similar to a split pea soup. We shared a side dish of baked fennel that was topped with parmesan cheese. Simply made yet wonderful. With a half carafe of wine, our lunch was 12 euros each. We sat for the longest time not wanting to leave the warmth of the restaurant. We headed back to the van and fortunately for us it was just drizzling. We got back to the van early but the rest of the gang was already there. I guess they had enough ot Lucca and the rain. Our next stop was to Pisa. I wasn't interested in going there but a few wanted to climb the tower. Louisa and I were done for the day and decided we would just sit in the van while the rest toured Pisa. Franco was kind to us and took us for a short drive showing us the area and marina in Pisa. I saw a sign for Livorno and was temped to ask him to drop us off at the ship but decided that would cost him extra in gas. Back in Pisa, he bought us hot tea at a cafe where we sat for a while. On the way back to the van, Louisa and I walked by the tower and took the obligatory photograph. On the way a young Italian said to me, "Ciao sexy." Smiling, I said, "Louisa, did you hear that guy?" "No." When I told her she said, "Wow, you must be desperate." She thought I meant one of the guys who were selling umbrellas. "No! The good looking Italian!" We both laughed. As we drove back to the port, the clouds began to break up and we could see spots of blue sky and a rainbow. I had collected everyone's money and paid Franco. Happy to be back on board the ship, we changed out of our wet clothes and got ready for the evening. Dinner tonight: Escargot, salad with gorgonzola, chicken saltimbocca; cigar tres leches for dessert. Later we met new friends Ken and Victor and Rob and Carlos at the martini bar. 2 November 2010, Tuesday, Cannes France A cloudy day today but I think everyone on the ship was thankful it wasn't like yesterday. Most of the tours from Livorno to Cinque Terre had been cancelled, so those tourists were very disappointed in their day. I wonder what they did instead. Louisa and I had breakfast in the cabin again, as it was another early wake up call. I booked a private tour for eight people (Louisa, me, Debra, Jon, Alan, Anita, Dennis, Virginia) to visit a few hill towns. Dennis wasn't feeling well and remained on the ship, but Virginia still joined us. Everyone met near the passport bar before boarding a tender to get to Cannes. Our guide, Alain, met us and whisked us away for the day. We had a nice drive from Cannes to Nice as we drove along the coastal road. Beautiful sailboats and yachts were docked on various places. Money showed everywhere in these towns. Still fairly early, the towns quietly woke up. As we arrived in Antibes, Alain asked us if we wanted to see the outdoor market. We voted for no, as we wanted as much time in the hill towns. I told Alan we didn't want to do any shopping. I ate my words. While at one of the stoplights, I looked to the left and saw a small kitchen shop and in the window display was something Louisa and I had used in Provence last year: Acrylic lemon presses. We were at dinner one night and our meal was served with sliced lemons that we could press and pour onto our fish. We looked everywhere for these presses and even asked the waiter if we could buy them. He said no, so anytime we were out shopping, we kept an eye out on this nifty gadget. I couldn't believe my eyes! There it was in one corner of the window begging to be purchased. As Alain continued through the light, I quickly turned to the others and asked if I could have 5 minutes so I could purchase the presses. I jumped out with my wallet and walked quickly to the store, bought a set and ran back to the van where it had pulled over and out of the traffic lane. I was thrilled that I finally had one in my hands. I should have bought two sets, but didn't think of it at the time. If I had more time I would have browsed the store, as it had lots of neat items. Passing through Nice and a quick stop for photo ops, we headed to a lookout point for Villefranche. Along the way we passed Elton John's house...or I should say one of his homes. At the lookout point, Alain told us it was a pick up joint for gays. Interesting bit of information. The views from above were excellent. Villefranche is a beautiful port town, very colorful, and hidden in a small curve of the coast line. We were getting anxious to see some hill towns, so Alain took us to Biot. Before getting to the center of town, we stopped at a glass factory. This area is known for its glass with little bubbles. A defect in the glass-making process is their signature design. Some of the pieces were gorgeous but also very expensive! None of us bought anything. Biot is a very small yet charming medieval village. The town was pleasant to walk around and it wasn't crowded with tourists. In the center is the Place des Arcades, where you can sit and relax. Next we drove to Vence, just 19km away. Larger than Biot, it had a lot of charm too. There were cafes at the Place ClEmenceau and a church across the way. We spent about an hour here walking around the town. 4km away was Saint Paul-de-Vence. This was one place I did not want to see, as I had read it was a beautiful tourist-trap village. I wanted picturesque, delightful, small, and characteristic. Alain, during our email correspondence, kept assisting that it was a town not to be missed. I had told him no thanks, but during our drive he asked the entire group, so we ended up going there. Yes, it was a picturesque town but there was no charm due to the many shops and shop signs down every street and tourists. I did manage to head off from the main street and was able to take some photos that I was hoping to take. It seemed that Alain kept pushing the shopping. I suppose he didn't realize were not the typical tourists that wanted to shop. We wanted to see the towns themselves. Our last stop was my absolute favorite, Tourrettes-sur-Loup. This perched town was beautiful and what I expected for a French hill town. It was a quiet place with very few tourists, as well as some shops (although not obtrusive). The main street is the Grand Rue that begins at the parking lot, goes through the village and to the other side. I found delightful scenes around every corner. Too bad that it was an overcast day. We encountered some sprinkles, but nothing like yesterday in Italy. This is definitely a town I would like to see again in the sunshine or to even spent a night there. Lunch consisted of simple panini's while standing under an arch while it rained. At least it rained briefly. The main restaurants were expensive and we didn't want to take a lot of time at lunch. Back at the port we thanks Alain for the tour. He did a good job but next time I hire someone I will stand my ground about where I want to go. I don't think anyone stepped inside a shop in Saint Paul-de-Vence. Tonight was the first formal night. There were three on this cruise. Around 5pm, Louisa and I met up with friends Bruce, Gail, Sharon, Jack and others in the observation sky lounge for happy hour drinks. For dinner, Louisa and I had switched from early to late dining. We sat with Christine, Paul, Harvey, and Connie. 6pm was just too early for us. Dinner: Beef carpaccio and rack of lamb. Lamb is one of my favorites! 3 November 2010, Tuesday - Barcelona, Spain Ah, finally, sunshine! In fact, we had sunny days the rest of our trip. I didn't have a lot of plans for Barcelona since I had been there several times before. I just wanted to enjoy the sights of the Gothic quarter and Las Ramblas. Louisa and I took the local bus to town, as it was too far to walk from where we were docked. Celebrity had a shuttle service for 6 euros round trip, but the bus was half the price. We ended up waiting a little longer but chatted with a few people in line. The bus dropped us of next to the Columbus monument and we walked up Las Ramblas. Nearby on the left is Placa del Rei, a beautiful square with lamp posts designed by Gaudi. In the center of the square is a large fountain where people can sit and enjoy this spot. As we walked along Las Ramblas, we saw several human statues already at work and others getting set up with their makeup and clothing. We saw some interesting ones: A headless chef, a Yoda-like character that floated in the air (easy to figure out), an invisible man with floating sunglasses, a fruit stand, a baby in a carriage (annoying guy) and the creature from the movie Alien - he scared a little girl into crying as he leaned towards her. One section of Las Ramblas has several flower stalls with lots of colorful flowers and plants. There's also a bird market but that was further up the street. On the left past the Leicu metro is the fabulous mercat (indoor market). With so many people in town the market was hard to walk around. It seemed like every type of fruit, vegetable, meat, and seafood were on display. Some of the shops had cured ham hanging from the ceiling. They looked wonderful. I purchased a few ounces of the tasty meat to snack on. Off Las Ramblas on Calle Ferran, there is a great place for tapas: Mikel Etxea (#15). On display on the counters were numerous types of tapas to choose from, several of which were served on slices of toasted bread. We had chorizo topped with brie (baked), zucchini slice topped with a potato croquette and roumalade-type sauce, a mixed seafood salad with green and black olives, meatballs in a thick red sauce, and skewered chunks of pork (my favorite), along with some red wine. It wasn't cheap but the food was very good and filling. Later we did some window shopping, bought a couple of items, walked by the Cathedral (under partial scaffolding), and then headed back to the ship. Onboard in the theatre we caught the last half of the flamenco show, which consisted of three dancers, a lead male singer, and a male guitarist. They were very good. Our usual evening on the ship started with happy hour at the sky observation lounge, which lasts between 4pm and 6pm. As a new Captain's Club Elite member, I was able to enjoy complimentary drinks, 90 minutes of internet access, laundry service, and other perks. Louisa enjoyed the happy hour too since she was booked in my cabin. Entertainment of the night was a card magician. He was very good. Dinner: Oysters Rockefeller, seafood risotto, pate, and stuffed sole with vegetables topped with a tiny amount of black caviar. 4 November 2010, Wednesday, Cartagena Spain This morning (68 degrees and sunny) the cruise critic group met at the passport bar at 9:00am for our 'cruise critic connections party.' Although many of us already met at the sail away party, this was the official get together. About 60 people showed up. The staff served coffee, tea, juice, and pastries. We had about 45 minutes before everyone split up and got off the ship for the day. I had talked to my point and asked for a second get together later in the cruise, knowing that 45 minutes wouldn't satisfy people. Cartagena is an easy port to visit, but we were docked away from the town center. The Queen Elizabeth was docked in front of the town center, where we were docked last year. There was complimentary shuttle service to the center of town. For some reason we couldn't walk to town on our own. Maybe it was because of the roads and lack of sidewalk, but as we drove, it didn't look dangerous. I decided on a very relaxing, do not much of anything for this port. This cruise, being port intensive in the beginning, was beginning to wear on me and since I had been here before, I wasn't worried about 'seeing it all.' Cartagena is a clean city with palm trees, beautiful architecture, and a pretty pedestrian street. Along the street is city hall, shops, bars and restaurants. At the bottom end of the pedestrian street is the town hall. A few of us walked inside just in time for a short tour. The building had been restored. It was amazing to see the "before" photographs. One room had three large chandeliers and tapestries with coat of arms on the walls. It was quite colorful. The front entrance leads to a beautiful marble split staircase with a rich red carpet runner in the middle - elegant and regal looking. We did some window shopping and admired the wrought iron balconies and marble tiled fa�ade of the buildings; and we stepped inside one church. Being a small town, we kept running into cruise friends. For lunch Louisa and I had some fried calamari and marinated mussels along with a glass of sangria that went down too quickly. Debra and Tom had joined us, as we sat outside, people-watched, and had a good time talking. Dinner: Crab fritters; seafood risotto with scallops, shrimp and mussels. After dinner, we hit the martini bar for some drinks. 5 November 2010, Friday, Cadiz Spain 75 degrees and clear. Cadiz was my favorite port to visit on this cruise and it was my first visit there. Many cruisers opted for tours to Seville (1.5 hours away) but I had been there a couple of times, so I wanted to enjoy something new. The town of Cadiz juts out on the Atlantic Ocean at the end of a narrow peninsula, making it a compact town to walk around. There are large promenades along the water, as well as fortifications. There are many small pedestrian streets to wander around with lots of shops, bars, and restaurants. Parts of the area reminded me of the small streets in Seville with its white washed buildings, wrought iron work, and colorful bougainvillea spilling over the balconies. A bunch of us walked to town and headed to the cathedral. I purchased a combination ticket that included a visit to the crypt and nearby museum. Part of the interior of the cathedral is in restoration. I climbed the cathedral's bell tower for great city views. From above you can see the cathedral's yellow tiled dome. The building itself is of Baroque design and is made entirely of stone. The interesting round-shaped domed crypt contains the tomb of Manuel de Falla, an Andalusian composer. The museum is pretty small but had striking paintings, sculptures and massive song books. More tapas for lunch. A friend recommended a place in the center of town called Las Flores. Nearby is a flower market and a block away is the main market (which we missed seeing). Louisa and I shared a some tapas: fried calamari, empanadas, and meat/potato croquettes. We enjoyed sitting outside in the shade. Inside the restaurant, many men were standing at the bar eating fried seafood and smoking their cigarettes like a chimney. After lunch, we took a walk through the market, which must have closed an hour before. There were still people cleaning up their booths. Nearby was a restaurant with a Moorish style interior. The owner came out and asked if we wanted to have lunch. I told him we were admiring the interior. He was getting a little too friendly with me and put his arm around me and asked Louisa to take our photo. We walked along side the water on the wide promenade, passing a couple of beaches and an area with modern sculptures. In one area was the El Parque GenovEs, a lush garden with sculpted trees and fountains. It's a place to sit, relax and enjoy the peacefulness of the gardens. Having walked all day long, we cut through town and passed a lovely large square before getting back to the ship. The special drink of the evening was mojitos. At the mast bar, Louisa and I sat and had a round while wearing pool towels around our shoulders. It had gotten cold and windy. Marco, the bartender, flirted and joked with us. Being a little too windy, we went to the pool deck away from the wind and sat with Cheryl, Emily. They too were drinking mojitos. We had a fun time with them. Dinner tonight: Spinach turnover, petit filet mignon (huge!), and a Caesar salad. After dinner, a bunch of us met at the ensemble lounge for drinks (Christine, Paul, Debra, Tom, Larry, Nancy, John, Louisa & me). It's a nice area on the ship with comfortable chairs and with performers doing jazz. Lucky for us, we got to set our clocks back one hour. It's great to cruise east to west, as we gain back time slowly and arrive home without any jetlag. 6 November 2010, Saturday, First Day at Sea Being a 'port intensive' cruise, everyone was so happy for our first sea day. There's always lots to do on a ship but you can choose to do just a little or cram it all in. Celebrity has a new format for their list of events, which looks like the t.v. guide, so it makes for easy reading and to see if there are any overlaps of events. I started my day by walking outside on the 'track' for 45 minutes. Eight laps equal a mile but I added a few rounds of the upper deck to get some stair-climbing in. I did this on during the sea days and was happy I came home one pound lighter! I ate and drank what I wanted but didn't go overboard. Our second cruise group get together was at 10:30am at the passport bar. It was a good turnout. Some people chose to meet later for a camera talk, which I arrived after lunch. I had gotten a list of people together who wanted to meet up and talk about their cameras and get some pointers how to take better pictures. Several people had emailed me saying they were looking forward to my lecture! It wasn't a lecture but a forum, although I certainly appreciated the compliments. For lunch, I enjoyed the brunch that Celebrity serves. Lots to choose from (except no crab claws this time). In the afternoon, about 90 people participated in the cabin crawl where we visit some cabins to see the various layouts, larger balconies, and suites. Of course, in the suites, you could hear people sigh, ooh and ahh. Some day! This was the largest crawl I've done; I created three groups of people and staggered them by 5-10 minutes. This way the hallways weren't packed with one large group. It was a lot of fun. One suite had glasses of champagne and snacks. Having some on board credit to spend, Louisa and I went to the spa to make reservations to have massages, which we made for later in the week. Outside the spa area two young women were giving complimentary 5-minute massages. That was such a tease, but nice. The Sky observation lounge was crowded with elites enjoying happy hour. Dinner: A mouse patE; shrimp, scallop and avocado salad; stuffed chicken breast, which was breaded and served with green beans and carrots. It was Nancy's birthday, so we celebrated in her cabin with Larry and friends. 7 November Sunday, Tenerife, Canary Islands Today was 66 degrees and clear, although it sometimes felt cooler. I had booked a rental car but later canceled the reservations, as I decided to take the tram to La Laguna in the morning with a visit to Santa Cruz in the afternoon and not mess with parking and filling the car with gas. However, I regretted not keeping the car, as 99% of the stores and restaurants were closed being a Sunday. Friends Bruce and Gail joined us, and their new friends Mary and Don. Celebrity provided shuttle buses from the ship to the entrance of the port, otherwise, it was a 15-minute walk. At the tram area, we had to buy our tickets from a machine and had some difficulty. It turned out the machine was broken, so we had to jump the tracks to buy our tickets. I went over, bought mine, and went back to the other side. Don was the last to buy tickets, as he allowed another couple (Diane and Murray from Canada) to step in and buy theirs. I turned to Mary, "Oh look, Don is being nice and allowing that couple to buy their ticket before him. He'll probably miss the tram." In the next minute, the tram was coming towards us and it was moving fast! The doors opened and I got on board, while Louisa walked up to the front (from the outside) to tell the driver to please wait. Don and Bruce began to jump the tracks to our side. Seconds later, the doors began to close and I realized the rest wouldn't get on the tram in time, so I moved quickly to get off. Nope, the door shut in my face, I couldn't open it, and the tram began to move. So, there I was leaving the station looking at my friends through the window. I began to laugh and I waved. Diane and Murray were on board and realized at that moment what happened - had they bought their tickets last, my group would have made it on board with me. I could have gotten off at the next stop and walked back but decided to chat with my new friends. I knew the others would eventually catch up to me. La Laguna sits way above sea level so it was much cooler than in Santa Cruz. Diane and Murray talked to me while I waited for the rest of the group at the end of the line. I thought they were going to tour around with us but actually they decided to wait with me until the rest of the group arrived. I thought that was very nice of them. Our visit to La Laguna was pleasant. The town is listed as a world heritage site by UNISCO and was once the capital of Tenerife. Much of the architecture in town is of Mudejar design, which is a combination of European and Muslim design. The buildings are colorful and the walls of the entrance ways are tiled. I was hoping to catch the 10:30am tourist office walking tour but many places were closed. The rest of the group arrived after 10:30am, so it was too late. I figured out later that there probably wasn't a tour that day. We walked around the town, visited the oldest church, Iglesia de la Concepcion, (mass was in session), stopped for drinks, and visited the indoor market. I had lost my sunglasses the previous day (I always bring two pair of sunglasses but didn't on this trip), but I was able to find a pair at the market for 3.90 euros. Cheap but stylish! Outside the market were many people enjoying their Sunday afternoon. There were kids on bikes, people hanging around talking to friends, and shopping for food. The town came alive in the afternoon. Last year I saw a dog poke his head out of the corner of a second story window. He was people watching or just getting some fresh air. Well, I saw him again! Same window, same corner. I guess the owners keep that window open for him. Most of the stores were closed but I was able to purchase some local sauces (mojo rojo and mojo verde) at a souvenir store. They are tasty sauces that you can use for cooking, spread, or dip. Last year Tony had packed the jars that we purchased in his carry-on bag, forgetting about airport security. Of course, they were taken away. I was so upset, but they were inexpensive. When he works (airline pilot) he's able to bring home liquids in his bag. He just forgot they were in the carry-on. I made sure these jars were nicely wrapped and packed in my checked bag. We all had lunch at a small Turkish restaurant. The food was tasty and quite filling. In fact, Louisa and I should have split a sandwich. After, we took the tram back to the port and walked back to the ship. We decided it wasn't worth walking around Santa Cruz since everything was closed. Being the last port before sailing across the Atlantic ocean, we made sure we got back to the ship early enough. Don't want to miss the ship at this port! Back on board, several of us went to Erick and Jen's cabin (small suite with a large corner balcony) for a sail away get together. They ordered several platters of food from their butler but Louisa and I only had a couple of small bites. We had plans to dine at the Silk Harvest and knew we had to go easy on the food. It was a pretty sail away from Tenerife. Beautiful sunset. We looked out knowing we had seven days ahead of us at sea. Nice! Dinner: As I said, I knew we had to eat lightly during the say. This restaurant you must go hungry and early. Last year, ten of us had 8:30pm dinner reservations. We all waddled back to our rooms after 11pm. I made reservations for 6:30pm, which was perfect. Louisa and I dined with our original dinner mates John, Jane and Tony, and Jen and Kevin. All of us were eying certain dishes on the menu but I zeroed in on the sushi. Our waiter said, "If you will allow me, I will choose for you. You will enjoy 90% of the menu." And we did: Pork ribs, spring rolls, shumai, cream cheese wontons, salt n' pepper ike & ebi (squid and rock shrimp), chicken lettuce wraps, a wonderful assortment of sushi and sashimi (my favorite), red curry duck, salmon and scallop stir-fry, etc. Assorted desserts including caramelized bananas. Everyone loved the variety of foods. The chef came out too to make sure we were enjoying our dinner. It was a filling dinner and I took a well needed walk around the ship afterwards. There won't be a Silk Harvest on the Eclipse next year (my cruise next fall 2011), which is a shame. It's such a popular place and the food is some of the best on the ship. Qsine is replacing this restaurant, which is a contemporary tapas-like place where customers will order their food via an ipad. Celebrity is certainly going with today's technology flow. The entertainment of the evening was the "Flava" of the Med, which was held pool side. There were lots of dancers and singers performing various Mediterranean music: French, Greek, Italian, etc. It started close to 11pm, so we didn't stay long. Sea Days People have asked me, "What do you do on a ship with so many days at sea? Don't you get bored?" Not at all! You can relax the entire time or you can dive into all of the activities and lectures the ship has to offer. Many people bring books (or kindles) to read, some bring board games, but the best part is getting to know your fellow cruisers, which can turn into lasting friendships. For me, I would work out in the morning, walking the track for 40-45 minutes and then have breakfast. Later I would participate in an activity or two or listen to a lecture. Other times I would write in my journal or read my book. And of course, many of us enjoyed the nightly happy hour in the sky lounge. Since we did have six sea days, I'll just do a quick write up of each day: 8 November, Monday, At Sea Everyday on the ship there is always a sale at the stores. Today was "Mediterranean Market shopping." Most of the items were cheap souvenirs. Instead, I bought a clear plastic cocktail tumbler that light up at the bottom. I had seen them last night at the Flava party, in which fruity, frozen drinks were served. I figure I could use it in my office and pretend I'm on a cruise ship someplace. I organized a bridge tour for some friends. The tours are short, about 15 minutes, but always interesting to do. For a cruise critic group event, we had a wine tasting party at 2:30pm. Those that participated brought a bottle of wine (per couple) from their hometown. Louisa brought a nice dry chardonnay wine from Virginia. It was a lot of fun! There must have been 20-25 bottles for everyone to try. We were given the sky observation lounge for an hour and the staff provided wine glasses and bottle openers. About an hour into the event, the area was taken over by trivia players, so we gathered the bottles and moved to a corner of the room to continue our party. Formal night again. Dinner: Tuna carpaccio, French onion soup, and Duck a l'Orange. Evening entertainment was the dazzling Cirque du Soleil show with acrobatic performers flying around in the air above the stage and audience using various ropes and wires, extravagant costumes, and a contortionist, which always makes me cringe. She was amazing. The show was very similar to last year and with the same Wow factor. 9 November, Tuesday, At Sea Morning exercise routine and breakfast. 11:15am lecture in the theatre: "What do Astronomers do?" I really enjoyed the lecturer. Noon - lunch in the dining room with friends. It's nice to sit and be served, rather than go through the buffet at the ocean view cafe. I found the food in the dining room to be much better than at the buffet, although there's a wider selection to choose from. Window shopping at the stores. I bought a blue topaz ring, 50% off. Bought a different one another day. 2pm cruise critic group gift exchange in the Quasar bar - everyone brought a gift from home ($15 limit). I brought a Maryland recipe book. 4:30pm cocktails with Bruce and Gail in their cabin with their friends. Lovely rainbow outside. Clocks turned back 1 hour. Dinner: Steak, baked potato and green beans. 10 November, Wednesday, At Sea Morning exercise routine and breakfast. 10am Lecture "The Berlin Airlift" - very interesting and I learned a lot. 11:15am - lecture "The Moon" - Fine, but didn't stay entire time. Met friends for lunch in the dining room. 1pm - Captain's Club Celebration in the sky observation lounge with food and cocktails: Prime rib, sushi bar, crepes, fruits, etc. 2pm cruise critic slot pull. Everyone that participated ($15) ended up with $29. Exciting to watch and participate. 6:30pm. Dinner at the Muranos specialty restaurant ($35 supplement): Dinner was just as wonderful as last year. This is the place to go for fine dining with elegant service. I reserved the small wine cellar room, which has a table for 10 people. It's set off from the main dining room, so we had some privacy. The dinner group included Louisa, John, Tom and Debra, Erick and Jen, Harvey and Connie. Dianne and Doug had canceled, as they were not feeling well. Our waiter started our evening with the amuse bouche, a small fried, breaded crab ball. When it comes to cruising, everyone knows it's okay to order more than one appetizer, entrEe, or dessert in the dining room. I didn't think this was possible at Murano's. However, I was told that yes, you could ask for a second appetizer. Instead of asking for two, I asked the waiter for a larger portion of foie gras. He said that the portions were the same size, but that he would serve me a double portion. I was a happy woman! This melt-in-your mouth delicacy was served with a filo pastry filled duck rillettes, equally delicious. For my soup, I had the lobster bisque. The waiter set down the plate, already garnished, and poured the bisque into the bowl. I really liked the special small touches they provided during our dinner. Service is impeccable. Next I had the rack of lamb, coated with a mushroom crust. I sampled a small variety of cheese from the cheese cart and orange soufflE for dessert. Everyone had a great time and enjoyed the atmosphere and food at Murano's. Clocks turned back one hour 11 November, Thursday, At Sea 10am Veterans Day/Remembrance Day. This was a fiasco. I had requested that Celebrity have an event for Veterans Day/Remembrance Day, like I did last year. I asked if the cruise director (CD) could give a speech and provide a place for veterans to be able to spend time together. Nothing was posted in the Celebrity Today flyer, and I only heard about the time/location from another passenger. Because of the lack of announcement, attendance was small. Everyone that showed up waited in a conference room next to the Observation sky lounge that had chairs set up along with a podium. About 20 minutes later, I made a phone call to the onboard event coordinator asking when the CD would arrive. He showed up 10 minutes later. We were moved to the lounge, but still waited. By 10:45am, I needed to leave; the CD still had not started the event. I found out that the CD gave a poor speech, certainly nothing that made the veterans feel appreciated for their services. Many people were upset. I think Celebrity should make November 11th a standard event on board their ships and show the respect veterans deserve. Louisa and I attended the Elite wine tasting event. There were four wines to sample, two reds and two whites. This was a repeat event, as the Captains Club hostess screwed up the original event by having it in the Tuscan Grill dining room. What was she thinking? There were over 700 Elite members on board the ship and the dining room probably held 200 people. Last year it was held in the dining room. Many of us were turned away at the door, and quite rudely. After a few of us talked to the Concierge at guest relations, he apologized and assured us there would be a second one and that he would personally escort us to the dining room. 3:30pm Another cruise critic event was the pub crawl. Not sure how that went, as I didn't attend. I believe it's a poker game/drinking event. 5pm was my massage. I felt like a noodle when done. I wish massages weren't so expensive, otherwise, I'd have them all the time! 12 November, Friday, At Sea Today was the second brunch. Lots of the same foods as the first brunch, but a few additions, to include a delicious chicken pot pie. 4:30pm cocktail party in our cabin. Bruce and Gail, who I have sailed with three times now, always invited me to their cabin for drinks, so I wanted to play hostess for them and some friends. Louisa and I ordered some canapEs, and picked up some cheese/crackers and other goodies from the ocean view cafe. Christine and Paul (their cabin was next to ours) ordered food from room service, so we had a nice spread of food. We had our room attendant open the partition on the balcony between cabins for extra room. 13 November, Saturday, At Sea The seas: Three days ago, the captain told us that he would be changing his course due to the tail end of the weather from the last hurricane in the Caribbean. He also stated that the swells could get as high as 12 feet, which seemed like nothing at all to me. Anytime I looked out onto the ocean, I tried to figure out the height of the waves and swells; however, it was really difficult to do so, especially being so high up on the ship. We ended up heading in a south-west direction and skirted Cuba before hitting Florida, about a 250 mile difference from the original course. I loved the rocking of the ship and didn't find it uncomfortable, except to say everyone swayed left and right as they walked down corridors. I loved lying in my bed being rocked to sleep each night. Today the captain said it would be the worse of the three days and recommended that women not wear high heal shoes. It was formal night, so I don't think woman listened to the captain. I did hear that some people were seasick, but really, it wasn't anything serious. Galley tour 10:00am. A glass of champagne is served to start the tour, which lasted 20 minutes or so. This is always fun to do, as you can watch some of the cooks in action. Cooking competition followed in the theatre. Two cruisers competed with chefs helping them to cook their dishes. Skipped the elegant tea (3:30pm). Formal night - Lobster for dinner! 14 November, Sunday, At Sea Breakfast in the elite lounge. Third/last cruise critic party in the late morning. Lots of hugs and "great to meet you" comments. At least a dozen Hobgoblins will be cruising the Eclipse next October 2011 with me. Lunch in the restaurant with Louisa, Tom, and Debra. Pool-side the remainder of the day. 15 November 2010, Monday I woke up at 6:30am and felt sad. The cruise was over and it was time to vacate our cabin and ship for new passengers. As I opened the curtains, another cruise ship was just pulling in. There were four ships total, so I knew it would be a busy morning. Louisa and I had our last breakfast at the ocean view cafe. Lox and bagel for me. We said our goodbyes to friends that we saw. Group 19, 8:25am. Instead of waiting in the Tuscan Grill with the other elite members, we went to the dining room with Christine and Paul. Getting off the ship was very easy, but it took a long time to get inside the terminal. Apparently there were only three customs agents handling two ships in one large terminal area. Many people complained about the long wait and also having a hard time finding their luggage. Luggage was placed in the wrong numbered area. Fortunately for Louisa and me, we found ours in the right spot and at the end of the group of luggage. Very easy to see. Unfortunately, a wheel was missing from Louisa's newly purchased spinner suitcase, which made it difficult for her to pull it. Erick, Jen, Louisa and I shared a taxi to the airport. We asked the man at the curb for a van, but he squeezed us in a large car. The taxi driver was very upset, but it wasn't our fault. He took the long way to the airport, making a right turn and down the road that hugged the port, rather than going straight, which we all knew, and told him so. He said, "Do you want to tell me how to get there?" What choice did we have? The ride was about $18, so the longer route didn't add to the cost too much. Still, it was upsetting. On the way to the airport, as we were on I-95, we saw a man on a bicycle peddling between the two right lanes! We were all stunned to see cars swerve over to avoid hitting the man! He must have been on drugs. Check in took a while. I was hoping that I could flash my USAirways employee ID card to avoid the $25 luggage fee but it didn't work out. It's a shame that a large company like USAirways doesn't take care of their own employees and dependents. The flight home was so full and the overhead bins were full that they took my carry on bag and had it checked (and about 20 other passengers too). I had to scramble before handing it over and took out my valuables and shoved them in my large bag/purse. The flight home was fine. We landed at Washington National where Louisa took a taxi home and Tony picked me up. Summary: Great, great cruise! I loved the ports, loved the sea days, and enjoying meeting new friends. We were all disappointed in the weather in Livorno and Cannes, but were happy for the sunny days on all other days. If I ever do a cruise again from Rome (Civitavecchia), I most likely spend a few day outside of Rome. Having been to Rome several times now, I'd like to spend time elsewhere. My absolute favorite port was Cadiz. It was such a beautiful city. I definitely want to return to the French Riviera and visit more hill towns. Tourrettes-sur-Loup was my favorite town. Well, that's it for now....until my next cruise next fall. I'll be sailing on the Celebrity Eclipse out of Southampton, England to Miami. The itinerary will be Le Havre, Cherbourg, a day a sea, Vigo Spain, a day at sea, Ponta Delgada (Azores), and six days at sea. I'll be spending four nights in London prior to the cruise. I can't wait! Monica Pileggi www.luvtotravel.homestead.com/home.html PS: I hope to get my photos online soon. When I do, it will be on this site in the travel gallery: www.pileggiphotography.com Read Less
Sail Date October 2010
Air--Normally we do our own, however cruise air with Star Clippers (SC) was MUCH better even with the $100 pp custom air (3 days before and after cruise). Saved over a $1000 from what I was seeing. Official taxi voucher from Lisbon ... Read More
Air--Normally we do our own, however cruise air with Star Clippers (SC) was MUCH better even with the $100 pp custom air (3 days before and after cruise). Saved over a $1000 from what I was seeing. Official taxi voucher from Lisbon airport to old town was more than expected--total 21E-but included tip and luggage, and didn't have to hassle with driver. Not bad after a long overnight airline trip. Stayed at ZuzaBed B&B--only 4 rooms. Great! Luis was an awesome host. Check reviews on Trip Advisor. He gave us excellent local information for our Lisbon adventure. Recommended. Lisbon is very walkable if you are in good shape. Lots to do and see in compact area. Did take the tram to Belem--recommended. The trams going up to the Castle were very crowded-I can see how people get pick-pocketed. We walked--no problem. Ate a lot in Bairro Alto--lots of small local restaurants. We liked the Alfaia Wine Bar. The Napoleao Wine market had a great selection of wines. Took the ferry across the bay for lunch at Porto Final--a neat OLD place on the water. Royal Clipper was docked about 5 minutes from Zuzabed. Boarding started at 4 PM. Went smoothly, greeted by Captain and some crew, drinks and appetizers in Tropical Bar. We have been on the Royal before, so no surprises. Ship was in great condition and they constantly worked on it. The crew was always attentive and friendly. After dinner when we returned to our cabin that first night, the leeboards were up and the portholes closed. We did some rolling the next couple of days due to the remnants of Atlantic hurricanes—on the way to Morocco and then on to Tenerife. Not bad, some people fell over in their chairs during meals, and some glasses/plates fell off tables. A couple of people did get some bruises, but I think that is all. We felt fine. In port, we talked to some people on the BIG ships and they had the same issues with the rollers. The rest of the time at sea was pretty calm. Casablanca was the first port. Two tours offered, one of Casablanca and the big mosque, and one to Rabat. Or, you could do it on your own. We chose Rabat (the political capital) at 35E pp, based on my research and our likes. Drove through the countryside, went to the Royal Palace, Mohammed V Mausoleum, Hassan Tour, drove by the Chellah, and walked the Kasbah des Oudayas. Very nice a/c bus, tour guides, and info. Clean city. Less than 4 hours. Recommended! That night we sailed for Safi. The main point of going there was to get people on the tour buses for Marrakesh-- about a 3 hour drive each way. We elected not to go on the tour. We walked around Safi with another couple—not impressive, and fairly dirty. The flies were awful in port, and those flies stayed with the ship for DAYS!! Safi is known for its pottery, but I was not impressed. For some reason, we did not go to the port of Essaouira that afternoon (which was scheduled). Apparently, that had been known by the crew at the start of the sailing, but they never let us know that. Last year's TA also skipped that port. That was my one major disappointment of the trip. I had done a lot of research on the town and some of my friends who have been there said it was really great. Just wish they had let us know in advance. Oh well, I got over it. The Marrakesh buses arrived about dinner time after a 12 hour trip. Most of the people I talked to were not too excited about the trip and said it was too long and the market was too much of a zoo. Tenerife was the last port before all the days at sea. We elected to stay in town, no tour. Had plenty to do. We really liked it. Very clean. Walked all over, visited an internet cafe (our last fix for 11 days), the old town was very nice, had lunch at Mojos y Mojitos which had an outdoor area on the street. About 6-7 cafes lined up here on a walking street. The promenade along the waterfront is a nice stroll, and there is a vertical garden. The ship is docked right there at the bottom of town by the promenade. Easy. Nice day! Recommended. At sea was relaxing, a lot of reading to catch up on. We saw plenty of Kindles, etc, and the library had quite a few books. We did not get bored. The crew had plenty of activities—Spanish lessons, a marine biologist, other lectures, ship tours, Captain talks, films, contests, talent shows, exercise classes, mast climbing, and some other wild and crazy stuff. Food was fine, no water sports (of course!) except the pool. We used the treadmills in the gym quite a bit. Germans, Brits, Americans, Canadians, French, and Spanish were the major passengers (in that order, I believe) with other countries represented. I did not have a problem with smokers and I am sensitive to that. As this was our 5th SC cruise, it reconfirmed the guests are very interesting, intelligent, and well travelled. We met a bunch of cool people!! We sailed, but mostly motor sailed due to the light winds—remember, the Captain has to keep to a fairly tight schedule. Most people understood this. Light layering of clothes with jeans worked well in Lisbon, Morocco, and Tenerife. Bring a light windbreaker, also. After Tenerife it was shorts and swim suits! One rainy day at sea, it was in the middle of the trip and we needed it for a change. The only currency we used during the whole trip was USD and Euros, but also charged a few things. Arrival in Barbados was fun as they tucked us between other huge ships in port. Make sure you are on deck for this (actually for all arrivals and departures)! We have been to Barbados before, but we still stayed for three days. Had to rest from the cruise! Taxi was 30 BD ($15) to our hotel the Peach and Quiet. Car rental was $70 inclusive per day from Courtesy Car Rental (we just did one day). Eat flying fish while you are there--great—no bones and not too fishy tasting!! It was a wonderful trip. RECOMMENDED! Read Less
Sail Date October 2010
We have just completed our seventh cruise with NCL and it was our third time on the Jade. Combined with 4 cruises on other lines, for a total of 11 cruises, I feel qualified to make a review. We choose NCL because of its freestyle ... Read More
We have just completed our seventh cruise with NCL and it was our third time on the Jade. Combined with 4 cruises on other lines, for a total of 11 cruises, I feel qualified to make a review. We choose NCL because of its freestyle concept. Take note: FREESTYLE does NOT mean FREE!! Freestyle applies most commonly to the dining experience. You can choose the time at which you have supper and you choose whether you share a table with others. In the main dining rooms, dress is resort casual (i.e. no jeans, shorts, t-shirts or sandals, and definitely no bathing suits) at dinner time, so, gentlemen, you can leave your tux or suit and ties at home, and, ladies, forget the fancy evening gown, shoes and handbags. You simply don't need any of it unless you WANT to wear it. We also choose NCL because of the people who work on board. We have always had truly outstanding service from our waiters and stateroom attendants, and this trip was no exception, The Reception Desk staff also gave us tremendous service. In fact, every crew or staff member we encountered gave us great service. We were greeted with smiles from every employee we encountered on board. I don't understand why so many people complain about the terrible service they get on NCL ships; we've always found it professional, courteous and friendly. Unfortunately, we cannot say the same for other cruise lines we've sailed with, however. As on other cruise lines I've cruised with, there are specialty restaurants and they, like NCL, have nominal fees. Those fees cover the main menu, and if you want something a little more extravagant from the same menu a surcharge may apply. Alcohol is never included, and tips are not included. Specialty coffees may not be part of the price, and in fact, any alcohol, soft drinks or specialty coffees that you order anywhere on the ship are at an extra charge. If you read the information on the NCL site, in the brochure, or on the menu itself (they are available at the reservations desk for you to read and they are on display in the Crystal Atrium and near Teppanyaki) you will find this information in clear black-and-white print. No surprises. Your cruise cost includes your accommodation on board, and includes meals you have in the main dining rooms, the Blue Lagoon and Garden Cafe. Room service is also included, but it is a good idea to tip the waiter/waitress who brings it to you stateroom. The cruise fare never includes alcohol, soft drinks or specialty foods/coffees anywhere on the ship. At dinner, certain juices, such as cranberry juice, may be an extra charge. Cruise fare does not include your airfares, pre- or post-cruise hotels, or transfers between the airport and hotels to the ship, unless you book a package that includes these items. All of this is clearly explained on the site and in the brochure, but you must take the time to read it. Your travel professional should also be able to provide this information to you, but you may have to ask for it. NCL, like all cruise lines, offers shore excursions, spa/salon, photo and laundry services among others. As with other cruise lines, NCL charges for these services, so NCL is not out of line in doing so. How much you pay varies from company to company, but no one obliges you to buy anything on-board. It is your choice, so you can't complain about what you spend. Keep in mind that your cruise, regardless which company you cruise with, becomes expensive due to your purchases on board. I know people who've spent over $US1200 on alcohol alone during their cruise. You can join them, or you can keep onboard expenses to a respectable minimum, or eliminate them altogether, by purchasing carefully and responsibly. No one forces you to buy anything on board, and no one scolds you if you don't. It isn't a fast-food restaurant that intimidates you into super-sizing. In this respect I am not a good client for cruise companies since I severely and radically keep such purchases to the absolute bare minimum, if I buy anything at all. To me, the point of cruising is to enjoy the ship and all it has to offer, and to visit the ports. I read the brochure and check the website, so I know what is included and what is not, and thus I make informed decisions about spending on board. Now you know, and now you, too, can make informed choices. Everyone complains about the US$12 tip that is automatically charged to your on-board account each day. I have absolutely no complaints about it whatsoever. It saves me the trouble of calculating how much to tip and to whom I must give the tip. I usually tip individuals for the outstanding service they give in addition to the daily charge. Anyway, if you tip the traditional way, you'll pay that much or more, so why complain? To lower the tip rate is extremely cheap and petty, and not to leave tips at all is rude and inconsiderate. The choice is still up to you. The food and beverage service I found to be top rate. Since I am on a sodium-free and cholesterol-free diet, the maitres d' and the chefs in the Grand Pacific were extremely accommodating in providing such a menu. Everything was excellent, and I am a particularly fussy eater anyway when it comes to food choices. So if I can find something good to eat, you can, too. Except for "Elements!" I saw none of the shows. "Elements!" is essentially magic show meets Cirque-du-Soleil meets the ballet. It starts with sound effects for a thunder/lightning/rain storm. I was not particularly impressed by the show and found myself rather bored with it. I felt the magic show to be rather amateurish and it was easy to see how the "illusions" were performed. The dancers, though, did their best to save the show. It was the final number about winter and snow that really pulled the show together. It was more impressive that all the rest combined. The Norwegian Jade began its career as the Pride of Hawai'i. In 2008 it was removed from its Hawai'ian runs, re-furbished and re-christened as the Jade. As of this writing, it sails the Mediterranean year-long. It has retained its original dEcor of Hawai'ian and Polynesian themes which are blatantly out-of-place where it sails. Once you get used to the Hawai'ian and Polynesian images on the exterior walls on Deck 7 and on the interior staircases, and throughout the Grand Pacific dining room as well as the oversized flowers above the elevators on Deck 7, you realize the dEcor of the ship is not what makes your cruise an enjoyable experience. It is every individual working on board from the wait-staff in the various restaurant venues to your stateroom attendants to Reception Desk staff to the casino staff along with every other employee that really make your stay on the ship the wonderful experience it should be. So, sit back, relax and enjoy your cruise, being thankful and appreciative that you can take such a vacation. Stop looking for things to complain about because you ruin your vacation and that of others; if you don't like it, don't cruise and don't travel - just stay home. Our cruise was a 7-day Mediterranean, Barcelona round-trip. We ported in Monte Carlo, Livorno (the port for Florence and Pisa), Civitavecchia (the port for Rome), Naples and Palma de Mallorca. Five ports in 7 days becomes a little hectic, but we enjoyed our cruise anyway. We went ashore in all of the ports, mostly in the mornings, and spent the afternoons on the ship. Monte Carlo is, in my opinion, worth visiting if only to see the beautiful homes, the marina, the palace and the church. Walking the quaint streets and stopping for a coffee and a croissant was charming, even in the rain. .From here you can take a train into France and stop at St-Tropez, Cannes or Nice. Or you can take a shore excursion to Eze and visit the perfume factory. Whatever you do, Monte Carlo is beautiful. Livorno, our next port, is a gateway to Florence and Pisa. Having been to both places several times, we opted to stay in Livorno this time. There is very little to do here, in my opinion, so we spent our time walking around and shopping, which was our intention. If you choose to go to Florence, you can visit the Accademia di Belle Arte (book a tour to avoid the line-ups to enter), the home of Michelangelo's Statue of David. You can find replicas of the statue scattered throughout the city. Be sure to visit the Duomo, and if you go to the upper hills you can get some great photos of Florence. If you are looking for leather goods, anything from shoes to handbags to briefcases, this is the place to shop. It may be pricy, but the quality is worth it. You can also find extremely good quality shirts and ties here. In Pisa, be sure to visit the church and its Baptistry as well as the Leaning Tower. If the Tower is open, you can get some splendid shots of Pisa. In Civitavecchia, we decided to take the train into Rome. The ticket cost is 9 euro which gets you return fare Civitavecchia to Rome. The same ticket allows you to take the bus and metro in Rome for an unlimited number of trips. It is an extremely good value for money. The must-sees here are Saint Peter's Basilica (for which I recommend a tour of some kind if you don't want to spend 3 hours waiting in line), Saint Peter's Square, the Coliseum and Circus Maximus among other sites. Naples - what can I say? If you don't go to Sorrento, Capri or Pompeii, or visit the castle, or if you don't climb Vesuvius, being in Naples is, in my opinion, utterly a waste of time. There is absolutely nothing to see or do. Everything is under construction or ought to be, and it was exactly the same 4 years ago. On this visit, it was worse because there was a garbage collection strike (which we'd been warned about) and it was cold, windy and raining. We found what we were looking for and headed directly back to the ship, which is probably the best place to be. Naples is one city where you have to be very careful, not only of pickpockets but of the drivers. It seems there is no traffic code, and if there is it is not respected. They will stop very short of hitting you if you are daring enough to try to cross a street. The driver will look at you as if he didn't see you and it wasn't his fault. But you must cross the streets if you want to get anywhere, so be warned. To be fair, there are very few places in Italy that I truly like visiting. I chose this cruise not for Italy especially, but for Monte Carlo and Palma. Palma de Mallorca is typically Spanish and is strongly Catalan. It has some beautiful sites to see and just walking the streets is a fine way to spend your time. In part I chose this cruise to be on a ship and I was extremely satisfied with that experience. Though we'd spent the month of February 2010 on this ship, it was a welcoming feeling getting back on-board. The check-in process was simple and smooth, and was handled very efficiently and very professionally by a pleasant young man named Pablo. After completing our check-in, Pablo directed us to the boarding area and we were able to board the ship immediately. As our stateroom was not yet ready (you can usually access your stateroom at about 2:30 pm), we went to Grand Pacific, one of the included dining rooms, for lunch. After lunch, we had about 30 minutes to wait for access to our stateroom, and we spent some of this time re-exploring the ship. We really enjoy sailing on NCL, and we will be back on board another ship very soon. NCL caters to our needs and satisfies what we need in cruise ships. Read Less
Sail Date October 2010
Background Information: My review describes the Silver Spirit on her 14 day transatlantic voyage from Lisbon to Bridgetown, Barbados, October 2010. I flew from Sydney to Lisbon and had 4 nights at the Hotel Avenida Palace. This ... Read More
Background Information: My review describes the Silver Spirit on her 14 day transatlantic voyage from Lisbon to Bridgetown, Barbados, October 2010. I flew from Sydney to Lisbon and had 4 nights at the Hotel Avenida Palace. This hotel is stunning. The public rooms have beautiful stained glass windows and magnificent chandeliers. My single room was a good size with 2 twin beds, a decent sized bathroom and the location was excellent. Easy walk to the main squares and next door to the railway station to Sintra. If I had the opportunity in the future, I would definitely stay at the Avenida Palace. A Cruise Critic get-together had been organised at the Marriott Hotel for the night before embarkation. This function was well attended and we all had a great time getting to know each other. This set the scene for an excellent cruise. Travel To Port of Embarkation: Embarkation was quick and easy. Charlie and I checked out of the hotel and got a car to the port at around 12pm. Our luggage was taken immediately and we were shown where to check-in. From there, it was a short walk to the ship where we were welcomed onboard and had our picture taken. A number of CC friends arrived around the same time and after a short wait, we had a very nice lunch, the first of many, in The Restaurant. Ship Info: I loved the ship. My favourite place was the Panorama Lounge which has incredibly comfortable armchairs and a lovely outside area with lounges and day beds. I also loved the Bar. Our group of 10 met there every evening for drinks. The only place I didn't like was the spa/gym area. The spa, in my opinion, was way too big and the gym, way too small. The area aft with the spa was lovely but there is a $25/day charge for it. The pool area is nice however the running/walking track is very short unless you walk the whole deck and on hot sunny days was very difficult because of all the lounge chairs in the way. I don't worship the sun so I didn't use the pool area, although I had several nice lunches at the tables on the pool deck. The pool deck did get crowded particularly on the sea days. The Observation Lounge was beautiful but very under utilised. It's almost like you forget it's there and seems to be more like a private lounge for the Silver Suites. It was a lovely venue for a get-together for all the passengers who were continuing on the Barbados round trip. If I remember correctly, we had 465 passengers on board. We also had a get-together for all the CC members who had registered on the roll call. This was held in Stars and was a morning tea affair. Hotel Director, Paolo, had organised for invitations to go out the previous night and we had 28 people attend. Roll call meet and greets are a fantastic way to meet fellow passengers. Stateroom: For the first time ever, I had a balcony and I loved it. This was due to Silversea's very reasonable single supplement of 125% (which probably won't happen again at anytime soon!!). My suite, 610, was lovely. The bed and pillows were so comfortable that most mornings I didn't want to leave my bed. I loved the TV screens in the mirrors and the ability to watch a movie on demand - a choice of over 400. The bathroom was fabulous with the full length bath and rainforest shower head. The tap and basin were a little odd but once I got used to it, was fine. The balcony was fabulous, much wider than I expected and the chair and foot stool were very comfortable. I often had a Bellini and cheese platter out on my balcony. It was great. My butler was Andung/Indonesia and my cabin attendant was Dalfon/Philippines. They were both very nice. I was not asked if I wanted the unpacking service, so I unpacked myself. I had been in my room for several hours before Andung came to offer me the toiletries (I chose the Ferragamo). I really didn't need a butler, I'm such a low maintenance cruiser but he was very pleasant and always brought my breakfast on time and with a smile. After my long bus trip back from Marrakesh, Andung had drawn a bubble bath for me. When I walked into my bathroom, there were lots of little battery-operated candles and heaps of bubbles. It was a gorgeous surprise. Dining: I thoroughly enjoyed the food. I had one dud meal on the cruise and it was the Kansas beef. I asked for it rare but it came pretty much with its heart still beating - it wasn't nice at all. Everything else was yum. I had breakfast in bed every morning. We often went to the Restaurant for lunch and later in the cruise, La Terrazza, for lunch. I tried every option for dinner: The Restaurant, La Terrazza, Seishin, Le Champagne, Stars and the Hot Rocks grill which we re-named the Hot Rocks Cafe. The Restaurant: interesting menus and lots of seafood which I love. Also the lamb chops were brilliant - from Australia (of course!). Desserts (and I'm a huge dessert fan) were spectacular. La Terrazza: I had my best ever pasta dish there. It was long pasta in a cheese and pepper sauce and it was to die for. I dined at LT 3 times and each time I had this delightful meal. LT was great for lunch as well, there is a lovely al fresco area on the aft deck (bigger than the other ships) and the buffet area has plenty of room to manoeuvre and choose food. I don't normally do buffets on cruise ships because they tend to be like cafeterias but this was very orderly. Seishin: the night we dined at Seishin, it was full, no spare tables at all. I chose the degustation menu for $40 and it was huge. 8 or so courses and I thoroughly enjoyed each course. With Seishin, although I liked the food, it was a case of been there, done that so won't go again next time. Le Champagne: the theme for our night was "Flavours of the Fall" which included mushrooms of various types and truffles. Venison was the main course and I hadn't eaten it in a long time because I felt it was like eating Bambi, however, this venison was so tender that I quickly forgot all about Bambi and got stuck into it. I was glad to have tried Le Champagne but I won't do it again. Stars: Dining at Stars started at around 9pm or so. I cheated and had some dinner in my room first so wasn't all that hungry, however the little dishes of tapas were yummy and well presented. We had a table of 8 and we were fairly rowdy (in fact everywhere we dined we were rowdy). I don't remember anything about the singer - maybe I had too many Bellinis! Hot Rocks Cafe: I loved this venue. We dined here several times and each time I had the Aussie lamb chops and the Madagascar prawns. It was so much fun cooking the food on the hot stone plates. One night it was very windy but that didn't stop us having fun. A lovely afternoon tea service was held daily in La Terrazza offering all types of tea (or coffee). One afternoon there was an incredible chocolate buffet. It was delightful. Service: Lunch service was always excellent however the dinner service in The Restaurant was a little lack lustre for Silversea. I think this may have been because we always had a table of 10 and it is difficult to wait on a large table and perhaps there just isn't enough waiters. However on our last night, it took nearly 3 hours to eat. On the subject of drinks, the service in the Bar and Panorama Lounge was always excellent. All the staff members were friendly and would do their best to provide your request. Activities: Besides all the eating and drinking, trivia was my favourite activity. My team was focused and we did very well because we had a variety of nations represented: Australia, USA, Canada, Bahamas, England and Ireland. During our sea days across the Atlantic, we had trivia twice a day and I never missed it. I also got hooked on Bingo and played it every day. There were a lot of other activities like language classes, enrichment lectures, boat building (go Bernard!), fitness classes (I only did one in the whole 21 days and that was a stretch class!). I found that most of my time was spent relaxing and chatting with my new found friends. Port & Shore Excursions: I enjoyed my shore excursions in Tangier (Cap Spartel) and the full day trip to Marrakesh. Although the bus ride is long, don't miss Marrakesh. It was fascinating, especially roaming through the medina, seeing the tiny alleyways and shop fronts. The major problem there is the hawkers, they never leave you alone and are constantly in your face. One guy followed me the whole way and kept telling me he was sure I was a movie star! Very corny but it gets annoying so be prepared. I did the fire mountains tour to see the lunar and volcanic landscape in Arrecife. It was so amazing. There was a camel ride which was lots of fun as well as a visit to a winery to view the unorthodox method of grape growing on the mountainside. There was also a wine tasting. In Tenerife, I did the tour to the Orotavo Valley and Puerto De La Cruz. We had a few stops for photo opportunities and a walk around the town which was right on the water. On the way back to the ship, we stopped off at a beautiful Orchid Garden. It was in Tenerife that our dear friend Charlie was taken off the ship and to hospital. He was very ill in intensive care and I was able to get frequent updates from the Hotel Director as the ship was in constant contact with the hospital. I'm pleased to say that Charlie is doing much better now but we sure did miss him and his sense of humour. Six glorious sea days across the Atlantic, sunny, warm and calm. Next port of call was Antigua. Since I'd already been here some years ago, I didn't do an excursion. Instead, a group of us wandered around the town but came back to the ship because of a huge downpour. As we had been following Hurricane Tomas, we were unable to call into St Lucia so Dominica was the substituted port. It rained very heavily in the morning and in the afternoon I got off the ship and bought a fridge magnet. We were docked out of town because this was an unscheduled stop - I think it was one of the Royal Caribbean ships that was docked in town. Entertainment: For the first time ever on a cruise, I only went to one show and that was Aquarius. I enjoyed it immensely because I love the music from that era. I didn't make any of the other shows because we were always too late - our dining usually finished around 1030pm and then a few of us would go to the Panorama Lounge for more cocktails and dancing with the DJ playing his favourite playlists - although it got a bit boring because he played the same thing nearly every night. After reading RonMathMD's review of this cruise, I have to disagree that they were the youngest on the ship. Two in our group were in their late twenties/early thirties and were always in the Panorama Lounge each night dancing to the music. Disembarkation: I didn't leave the ship as I was doing the next cruise, round trip Barbados. Disembarkation was very sad as all my friends (except for PhilipB) had to leave. During our next 7 days, Philip and I continually talked about how much we missed them. Summary: When summing up my experience, what comes to mind is not that the gym was crap or the suites not wide enough, it was the remarkable people that I met. I want to thank all my Silver Spirit friends for their wonderful friendship during those 14 days. I will look back fondly and remember our good times. I hope that we will have the opportunity to sail again in the not too distant future. Read Less
Sail Date October 2010
Background: Having travelled on the Whisper in the spring this year we wished to see just how well the dry dock refit had worked out. More of that later. This was a 12 day transatlantic crossing, departing Southampton and heading to ... Read More
Background: Having travelled on the Whisper in the spring this year we wished to see just how well the dry dock refit had worked out. More of that later. This was a 12 day transatlantic crossing, departing Southampton and heading to New York via Fowey (UK), Waterford (Irish Republic), St John (Newfoundland, Canada), Halifax (Nova Scotia, Canada)and Newport (Rhode Island, US). Best of all, 4 full days at sea between Waterford and St John. The ship had approximately 270 odd guests, so about 75% full. Ship's Company: Master - Captain Cataldo Destefano Hotel Director - Norman Rafelson Cruise Director - Don Fluke Guest Relations Manager - Saskia Harm Shore Concierge Manager - Scott Kinney Executive Chef - Lionel Lavergne Restaurant Manager - Ali Yilmazturk Guest Entertainers - Michael Victor, Judy Carmichael Guest Lecturers - Corey Sandler, Alastair Bruce, Thomson Smillie Bridge Instructors - Chris & Tammy Moll Internatioanl Hostesses - Carla & Soraia Singers & Dancers - Sophie, Charlotte, Brandon, Gemma, Cameron, Irina & Alex Embarkation: Very straightforward, arrived at the Southampton Cruise Terminal at about 12:45, no one else there. In fact the Whisper was the only cruise ship in port. Checked in by the lovely Charlotte and on the ship in less than 5 minutes. Photos taken at reception and told that our suite would be ready at 14:00. Decided to go and check and found it was ready, so took possession and went for lunch. Look and feel: The Whisper now looks spic and span and has more of a feel of how she would have been when first entering service. All the soft furnishings in the suites have been renewed, the mattresses were changed, all the carpeting was changed throughout the ship, restaurant chairs recovered & re-varnished. The furniture on the pool deck has been renewed and a set of banquettes added between the two spa pools and the back of the pool deck. The furniture at the back of the Panorama lounge is new. Both these are cane based tables and chairs with deep cushions and are more comfortable than the wooden ones they replaced. A fixed awning has been attached over the section between the bar and grill on the pool deck, to provide additional cover for the pool grill in the evening. A further fixed awning is now above the outside section of the Terrazza, providing cover, but meaning that you cannot sit outside for either breakfast or lunch and be in direct sunshine. I happen to prefer the back of the Terrazza the way it was, but I suspect opinions will be mixed. One addition in the suites is an alarm clock/Ipod dock and speaker. The dance floor in the Panorama has been completely cleaned (to remove the horrible deep black marks made by the flamenco dancers earlier this year) and the band stand has been moved across the room. Entering the Panorama its now on the left side. This leaves the area by the bar free for serving. Seems to work ok. The only oddity that we noticed was the pattern on the carpet on decks 5, 6 and 7 in the main public areas, it had a large wavy design, and when the ship was moving I suspect that looking at will make any slightly nauseous person feel somewhat worse. All in all the refit worked well (and it was needed). Staff in general: Much more like the SS service of old, with some returning from the Spirit, and those who were new earlier this year now up to speed. Bar staff were superb, especially Oliver in the Grappa, Edourdo (?sp) in the Main Bar, and the Pool bar guy. The waiting staff were very good all round, with Ali Yilmazturk absolutely outstanding. Food: The Restaurant: Did not use for breakfast. Had lunch on the Galley Lunch day (too much food as ever, but well done) and once for a special occasion which was excellent. Dinner was generally good to very good. The menu is still missing the old SS wow factor, but we ate well most evenings, exceptionally well on a couple of occasions and I only had to send one meal back. (a big improvement over the previous cruise) La Terrazza: Ate breakfast most days and the food selection was good, plenty of fresh fruit (although the mangoes were not ripe), and the service was excellent. It was never crowded, mainly because the ship was not full. Also ate lunch here most days, generally good to pretty good, the freshly made pasta was always excellent. Service again very good. Avoided for dinner as we do not like or agree with the change away from regional Italian dinners. The current menu is too samey. La Champagne: Have never eaten here, nor seen any reason too yet. We live in London and can eat at Michelin starred restaurants when we please and I have not yet seen a menu in La Champagne that lives up to that standard. Shouldn't put anyone else off though, just our opinion. Pool Grill: Occasionally had fresh fish for lunch, which was always good, and ate here one evening with the Hot Rocks concept. It was a cold evening, but we had a good time, the rocks worked well and the food and service were excellent. I do not think that there were ever more than 6 to 8 people here in the evenings on this cruise, mainly because of the weather. It will work much better in balmier climes. Wines: Generally an ok selection, with some gems. Firstly they ran out of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and also had no new world Chardonnay, which annoyed quite a few people. But there were other SB's, from Chile and France, there was some old world Chardonnay, there were two Reislings from Alsace, one a very good Hugel, and there was a pretty good selection of reds, including some Barberra. The head sommelier, Lukas, was pretty knowledgeable, and were his wine waiters, and always ready to help with something else if you did not like the days choice. I admit that the provisioning could have been better, and they could have found a more oaky Chardonnay from the paid list for those disgruntled aficionados, but there was plenty of choice if you looked and especially if you took the time to have a conversation with the sommelier. Overall Food & Wine: It is obvious that the budget has continued to be trimmed, apparent in food choices and the level and range of wines, but it is still pretty good. Not quite 5* but it does reach 4 and 1/2*'s. Entertainment: The cruise director, Don Fluke, was clearly barking. His Trivia questions and general trivia handling were weird to say the least. Other than that he was pretty professional. The singers and dancers were very, very good, especially when they were under pressure to perform on a stage that was moving with a 6' swell. Two shows were cancelled and moved because of poor conditions and those guests who complained about this really had no appreciation of how difficult or dangerous the conditions were. This was exacerbated by there only being one guest entertainer on board for the crossing instead of the published two. Never did find out what happened to the other one. The two guest entertainers, one a tenor and the other a pianist were both good and generally up to the usual SS standard. Each did two shows. The bar duo were good without being obtrusive and the SS band were perfectly ok. Enrichment: The guest lecturers were all very good, but Alistair Bruce, the voice of Sky News for Royal and major occasions, was outstanding. The bridge lecturers, Chris and Tammy Moll, were also very good. They were extremely professional and rather nice people too. Other Guests: A good mixture from the UK, US, Australia and a few Europeans. Happy to dress up and enter into the SS spirit. At least 175 Venetian Society guests, including a couple with 1,000 days - wow. They got flowers and a gift, having probably paid for a large chunk of the ship. Some smokers, two pony tails, one an aging hippy. Two British ladies of indeterminate years, who just happened to monopolise the two gentlemen hosts. Ports: All the ports were well worth visiting, especially those on the North American seaboard, but I do not intend to review them here. Shore Excursions: Did not use any, the desk staff were good, and I believe most people enjoyed the ones taken. Generally they are expensive, but they do look after you well. Disembarkation: Ran rather late, about an hour or so, but this was mostly due to US Customs. Once cleared, everything was speeded up and the whole process functioned well. No complaints really. Gripes: The lack of NZ Sauvignon Blanc mentioned above. This is popular, especially with the Brits and its just poor provisioning not to get it right. The Charity charge and wrist bands. This is just SS being particularly bone headed and stupid. The lack of ship's tenders in Newport. This was forced on SS by US Customs crawling all over the ship and crew for hours, apparently this was the first time in 4 years that the Whisper had been in a US port. The port tender, the good ship Amazing Grace, was used, however the schedules got messed up, and instead of a half hourly service there were waits in excess of an hour. Not handled well by the crew, but partly out of their hands. On arrival into New York some fool (probably Don Fluke) played Sinatra's New York, New York on the open decks (no problem), but also through the internal pa system at high volume and at 06:30. Those that had tried to lie in were not amused. Overall: A good cruise and itinerary and nice to see the Whisper back up to speed with the normal SS service. Read Less
Sail Date September 2010
After multiple Princess cruises, we decided to try our first Transatlantic. This was the longest cruise (14 days) we've ever taken, but after a year of personal stress, we were looking forward to some interesting ports and plenty of ... Read More
After multiple Princess cruises, we decided to try our first Transatlantic. This was the longest cruise (14 days) we've ever taken, but after a year of personal stress, we were looking forward to some interesting ports and plenty of rest and relaxation. Having read previous reviews of Transatlantic cruises, we knew chances were good we might miss ports. As such, we chose to only book Princess tours which ended up working to our overall advantage. This was my 18th Princess cruise, and my husband's 16th. I was pleasantly surprised that the passengers were a good mix of age groups, although there were very few children. About three weeks prior to the trip, we were informed that we had been upgraded to a full suite from our category AC mini-suite. This was a wonderful surprise which I am sure also helped considerably in our enjoyment of the trip. We arrived at the dock in Southampton by private car, and while the lines were a bit long, they moved fairly quickly. This was the first time we had departed from the new cruise terminal. It seems to have plenty of check-in desks and also had multiple security lines prior to boarding the ship. I believe this helped in the speed upon which we were able to board. This was our second trip on the Crown Princess, so we were already familiar with the layout. As we were fairly early, we chose to go to the Horizon Court for lunch. We immediately noticed a change from our trip on Princess last year: You no longer pick up your own silverware. It is on the table. Also, drinks are provided by the staff in the Horizon Court. Later in the trip, we also had staff carry our trays and assist us in finding a place to sit. Overall I think this is an improvement from the way things used to be handled. There was also signage indicating the entrance and exit to the buffet. After lunch we returned to our suite where we were met by our cabin steward, Chai. He did an excellent job of taking care of us the entire trip. Our luggage arrived fairly soon after and we were able to unpack prior to muster. Again, we experienced another change from previous cruises: cruise staff were at the doorway to the muster station where they scanned your cruise card. Other than that, muster was typical Princess, handled in the comfort of the common areas. We sailed shortly after our departure time of 5 p.m., following two other ships. Our first port was the next day in Falmouth. Our Princess tour was good, with an excellent guide and driver. Even the Cornish tea we had was handled well for such a large group, with everyone served in a reasonable amount of time. We then had plenty of time to explore and take photos of St. Michael's Mount. Because Falmouth is a tender port, returning to the ship was a bit of a nightmare with very long lines. This is just a limitation of this particular port, and unfortunately many of the tours all arrived back at the same time. We departed and sailed for Dublin, Ireland. Weather in Dublin was overcast and eventually cold and rainy. We took the Princess tour to Malahide Castle and then an Irish pub for an Irish coffee. This was the only tour we felt did not live up to Princess' normal quality. The guide wasn't very good and as it was Sunday, the Irish pub was packed with locals making it almost impossible for a bus load of tourists to be served. This was our least favorite stop. Due to gale force winds in the Irish Sea, we overnighted in Dublin and did not depart until the next evening. The stop in Belfast was scrapped and we headed toward Iceland. Although we were prepared for rough weather, we honestly didn't experience anything we felt was overly rough. Days at sea were spent relaxing, watching movies, and making new friends. We had actively participated in our roll call and attended both meet and greets. Many people went to a lot of work to make these events exceptional, creating buttons and name tags. The cruise director, Sam, attended the first one, and Captain Nash and one of the other officers attended the second one. I appreciated that they recognized the Cruise Critic group and took the time to attend. Captain Nash was very personable and open to questions. He also advised us that Princess does read Cruise Critic and passes on information to the ships' staffs. Unfortunately, winds continued to plague our trip and the stop in Iceland also had to be cancelled. We could see Reykjavik and three attempts to enter the port were made, we just couldn't enter due to gusty winds. The ship did exchange entertainers, but the decision was made to go on to Greenland. We were fortunate to pick up our ice pilot as we encountered various icebergs in and around Greenland. Many people were upset about missing Iceland. It should be understood, however, that if the harbor pilot of a port will not take the ship in, there is nothing the captain or Princess can do. Ultimately, it is the port's decision. After rough seas, we were blessed with nice weather and were able to do a day of scenic cruising in Greenland. Princess really worked at making this experience special, stopping near a village, dispatching a tender to retrieve some glacial ice and take pictures of the ship. This was an extra, unexpected, but greatly appreciated, bonus. Our stop in Qaqortoq was another tender situation. Lines were long returning to the ship, but logistically there just wasn't much that could be done as this is a very small village. Our final stop was St. John's, Newfoundland. This port is missed many times because of weather, but we were graced with getting into port. We had a fabulous tour and enjoyed plenty of time to explore the area near the dock. The people of St. John's were very hospitable and made our day there special, even sending the local mounted police to the dock. This was my favorite port with its history and fabulous buildings and views. Since this was our first fourteen day cruise, we took the opportunity to eat in a variety of venues. Hands down, our favorite was Sabatini's. This was our first experience with Sabatini's and we will definitely be back. First, as part of the suite benefits, we had breakfast each morning in Sabatini's. The wait staff, from the head waiter down, were exceptional. They worked as a team and made you feel extra special each morning. The menu wasn't anything extremely special and stayed the same throughout the trip. But the service made our mornings start out on a positive, stress-free note. The one evening we ate dinner there was also exceptional. The food was excellent with a large variety, primarily seafood, and more of the fabulous service. Be sure to save room for the espresso creme brulee ... it is awesome! We also ate at the Crown Grille and were rather underwhelmed. This used to be our favorite on Princess ships, and for some reason the food isn't as good as we remembered. We ate plenty of pizza (always good), had gelato and ice cream, enjoyed a lunch in the International Cafe, and used the benefits of our suite by ordering room service. Suites have their own room service staff, and these individuals were fabulous. Always very pleasant and efficient, even setting the coffee table with a tablecloth and utensils before leaving. We tried some of the new room service items (lasagna and chili) and they are a good change. Lunch in the dining room was overall better than the dinners, although I'm not quite sure why. We also ate twice at the Wheelhouse Bar for "pub" food. I wish Princess would move the pub food lunches to the Crown Grill where you could have a "real" table. It seems this has become very popular and the lines are always long. Even with fourteen days on the ship, we still never ventured to Vines or had tea. I think Princess does an exceptional job of giving you options and we definitely never went hungry. We also went to Skywalkers several evenings before dinner for drinks and appetizers. We saw several of the shows and they were good. The International Crew Show is always the highlight of any Princess cruise and this one was excellent as well. Diane Cousins was superb and the other comedians we saw were OK. Regardless, there was plenty of variety on the ship. The one evening we went to Skywalkers for music, it was pretty dead and we didn't stay long. The best evening was the party in the Piazza. We had experienced this last year on the Island Princess and knew not to miss it. Streamers are handed out and thrown and the live band played some pretty good dance music. Overall the cruise staff did a pretty good job providing things to do and had good positive energy. I have to admit we spend a lot of time in our cabin, so we try to book the most space we can afford, especially on a long cruise. The suite was fabulous and we were fortunate for the upgrade. On this particular itinerary, having a small balcony was not an issue as we didn't spend much time out there relaxing, just taking pictures. I was surprised that we had internet access throughout the trip, albeit slow at times, but we still had very few connection problems and could get on sometime each day. The crew of the Crown Princess are overall a happy and friendly bunch. I believe the tone of the Captain has a lot to do with this. Throughout our great adventure, Captain Nash did his best to keep a positive outlook and spread a bit of humor on the situation. I think that attitude affected the entire crew. Disembarkation in New York went very well. We used the Elite lounge to wait for our color and number to be called. It did take us awhile to find our luggage, but we procured an excellent porter who literally whisked us through immigration and customs and onto a waiting bus. We used the Princess transfers to LaGuardia and arrived in plenty of time for our afternoon flight. Overall, we really enjoyed our first Transatlantic. We went with an expectation of rest and relaxation knowing the Crown Princess staff would take good care of us. They exceeded that expectation, especially in outstanding suite service (much better than our previous suites). Although ports were missed, the ones we made were very good. We saw things we wouldn't normally see on the more "common" cruises. I would recommend this cruise for anyone interested in lots of ship time and the possibility of seeing something different. Read Less
Sail Date September 2010
This was our first cruise since 2007,the last one being Canada/NE on the Constellation. This was our 3rd cruise on this ship, and we've loved the ship, and the ambiance. On arrival at the port, we had a short wait, and were allowed on ... Read More
This was our first cruise since 2007,the last one being Canada/NE on the Constellation. This was our 3rd cruise on this ship, and we've loved the ship, and the ambiance. On arrival at the port, we had a short wait, and were allowed on board about noon, but the staterooms weren't ready until about 1pm. Our stateroom attendant, Schubert, was excellent, looking after every detail, and responding immediately to whatever question we had. We also enjoyed the special little touches offered to elite travelers. Some have said the appetizer bread was stale, but it doesn't take long for those little squares to dry out. The champagne was cold, and the coupons were much appreciated. Our waiter, Augusto, was also excellent, and his assistant..Lorena? was very good, as well. They were both very personable, and made dining a pleasure. The food....not so much. It was OK, but I noted that the dinner served on our return flight had more flavor than any of the meals in the dining room. Little things seemed s bit "off",such as the shrimp cocktails being served in a small dessert dish, rather than the cocktail dishes used previously. Nothing big to complain about, just a slight feeling of cut-backs. My husband has difficulty walking very far, so we can't comment on the entertainment, and we only did one tour, but it was great. A lady on the Cruise Critic roll call arranged a tour of the Amalfi Coast with Sorrento limousine service and it was very enjoyable. Our driver/guide, Girardo was very accommodating and informative. There were just 7 of us on the tour, and after an unexpected hour spent in Sorrento, and a visit to beautiful Positano, Girardo took us to a charming, noisy, delicious tratorria, Where we tasted various Italian dishes, and wines. It was a highlight of our tour. Because of time constraints, we didn't have much time to spend in Amalfi or Rapallo, but it was a splendid day. Rapallo, but it was a lovely, memorable day. As an added note, the refurbishing was well done. All in all, we enjoyed the cruise very much. The disembarkation was smooth and efficient, in spite of a long wait in line for boarding passes. We had a 10am flight, and made it with time to spare. Read Less
Sail Date September 2010
We used Princess Air so we embarked in London at Victoria Station. Princess was unsigned but fairly easy to find - the place is a bus station and reminded me of US Greyhound stations. But we got the bus and the ride to Southampton was ... Read More
We used Princess Air so we embarked in London at Victoria Station. Princess was unsigned but fairly easy to find - the place is a bus station and reminded me of US Greyhound stations. But we got the bus and the ride to Southampton was enjoyable. Embarkation was quick and easy thanks to the special counters for Platinum passengers like us. We were on the ship in a very few minutes. We had picked B622, our room steward was Oliver, and he was great. We put him to work right away, however, as we wanted robes, and a pad to soften my wife's side of the bed, and a new lampshade for my bedside lamp which was equipped with one which didn't let enough light out to read by. He got it all done quickly and was helpful throughout the cruise. Perhaps the ship didn't sail full, for room stewards usually are too busy to be helpful. Entertainment: On our first night we shared a table for 6 in the Anytime Dining room and were fortunate enough to sit with two other couples that we liked from the start. We ate with them for the rest of the cruise and it was quite a bit of fun. Normally we enjoy meeting new people at dinner, but we haven't met such compatible people for many cruises. I put this under entertainment because our dinner companions were excited about the pianist, and the juggler, and the ventriloquist. We did not see any of them, and except the Maxtone-Graham lectures entertained ourselves. I can't recommend Maxtone-Graham highly enough. If you are on a cruise where he is speaking, skip lunch if you have to, but listen to his presentations about pre-cruise ocean liners. He is a very engaging speaker and knows his subject well. Ports: Bergen was somewhat of a yawn. The Bryggen section (old town) was somewhat interesting. We took a boat tour of the fjord but it was nothing to write home about, despite the fact that I seem to be doing that now. If I return to Bergen, I'll just walk around instead of taking a tour. Norway is quite expensive. If only the Euro would collapse.... Lerwick in the Shetlands was a star port for us. My wife is an accomplished knitter, the Shetlands are famous for their wool, and in Lerwick is the #1 supplier of it, Jamieson and Smith (hope that second name is right). We found their establishment was an easy walk from the ship, and spent quite a bit of time there - enough to buy quite a bit of wool so my wife can knit a particular multi-color sweater than caught her fancy. We ate lunch in a hotel restaurant for a million dollars but it was good food. In London I was struck with their street categories. In Lerwick I found a "close" that was about 3 feet wide which may be a record for a tiny public passage. Torshavn in the Faroes was also a good place to walk around. They don't have any native trees, but created a small forest around a stream as a park which we enjoyed. At the top of the park was an art museum, which they opened 2 hours early so that we could see it. We had a very good conversation with the manager of the gallery about all sorts of things - from Faroese art to what immigration problems they might face if they joined the EU (and fishing problems, which is what has kept Iceland out and made Greenland quit). It is a real pleasure for us to have a good conversation with someone in one of the ports. Pack a lunch from the ship, however, or be prepared to have the shrinkage from your wallet be greater than the expansion to your waist from eating there. Our first port in Iceland is one I can't spell but its up top just a few miles below the arctic circle, and rhymes with Tipperary. Great port. Last trip to Iceland we just walked about the capital. Bad move. This time we took a tour to the Godafoss waterfall - incredible. Saw the old time turf houses, and the botanical garden. Great tour, book it yourself when you get off the ship. After a sea day we visited the capital, which I also can't spell. Took a tour to bathe in the Blue Lagoon, which was wonderful. Nice hot water, sauna, waterfall to stand under. They use geothermal heat for power and this lagoon is the overflow from one of the power plants. There were hundreds of people in it. Nice mud to pack on your face, if you're into that sort of thing. Food was expensive, even in the cafeteria. Now the sea days really picked up. We altered course to skirt some serious bad weather and went through a gale, I think. On prior cruises the cabin TV had a channel which shows where you are and gives somewhat current wind speeds, temperatures, and wave heights. Not so on the Grand Princess and what they did have was disappointing, and not informative. Perhaps the only drawback to the cruise (other than spending quite a bit on the internet). Our last port call was Sydney, in Canada. It rained. Best I can say is they were happy to see us - had a very well organized pier building with many, many vendors. I got a used book about the Oxford English Dictionary for $5, and examined but didn't buy, about 100 cds of Cape Breton music. It's pleasant enough but not my cup of tea, so to speak. I'm a blues and old-time mountain music kind of guy. Cape Breton music is a big deal in Sydney and there was a 50' fiddle on the pier. Ate at a chain to get out of the rain, first cheap meal on shore on the whole trip. I needed new shoes as the sole was coming off my right one, and so to my wife's pleasure I actually suggested we go shoe shopping. Got a good pair, but they were not locally made - I could have bought them in any city in the US I imagine. Still, I needed shoes and they had them. Real estate in the outlying regions around Sydney is incredibly cheap - I saw good looking houses, with power, going for well under $100,000. I imagine everyone is moving to the city. Good place to retire to? More sea days and the weather warming quickly as we went south. My sea days are pure luxury. Room service brings breakfast (and as it true of most cruises, can't get the order right so you have to overorder to be sure you get what you want -there is an icebox in the cabin to store extras) I bought quite a few pictures to go through (and took hundreds more) and spent some enjoyable hours working with them. Lunch was often taken up in the cafe - better selection and better view -walk a mile around deck 7 (3 times round) except when the gale was blowing by, catch a Maxtone-Graham lecture, meet our companions for a pre-dinner drink and show 'n' tell of the day's activities, a nice long dinner with some good wine, read a bit and so to bed. The time passes so pleasantly that sometimes I hope we won't be able to land at the next port. (We did reach them all. Last year we missed the Canadian port due to the weather) Princess Survey: I too filled it out at length spending some time on it, and it was really annoying to have the final screen say the survey was closed. A really stupid error on Princess's part. Food: I liked it, and the waiter's wine suggestions were excellent. I hear that more subtle tastes than mine find fault with cruise food - and sometimes it really is messed up, but you just send it back and get something else. Luckily I must have done enough times round deck 7 for I only gained 2 pounds on the trip. Warning: the cheesecake is too dry. In retrospect I wish I had dined up on deck 14 a few times, but eating with our shipboard friends was such fun that I just skipped it. Sometimes the best food on the ship is in the informal cafe. I never heard anyone praise the quite expensive speciality restaurants. The "pub lunch" was quite good, and had a long enough line every noontime that we tried it only once. All in all I had a great time, and transatlantic cruises are considerably less expensive than other routes. Recommended. Read Less
Sail Date September 2010
Background Having undertaken a couple of eastbound southerly route transatlantic crossings before, my wife and I decided to join this westbound northerly sailing from Harwich (UK) for a change. We were particularly attracted by the ... Read More
Background Having undertaken a couple of eastbound southerly route transatlantic crossings before, my wife and I decided to join this westbound northerly sailing from Harwich (UK) for a change. We were particularly attracted by the published itinerary which included stops in Le Havre and Cherbourg (France), Cobh (Ireland), Akureyri and Reykjavik (Iceland), St John's NF and Sydney NS (Canada) before disembarking in Boston (USA). It subsequently transpired however that the call into St John's was missed due to bad weather (see below). Travel to port In consideration of the variety of potential causes for flight disruptions which arose in the months leading up to the cruise (volcano eruptions, airline staff disputes and threatened airport closures etc) we thought it prudent to position ourselves in Harwich a day ahead of the cruise. Accordingly we flew to Stansted airport and completed the 46 mile road journey to Harwich by private transfer (I'm still trying to fathom out why that cost us more than our 314 mile flight from Edinburgh did). Pre-cruise Hotel We stayed overnight at the Premier Inn which was clean, comfortable and convenient for a supermarket to pick up those inevitable last minute provisions we somehow believe that we just could not do without on the ship. The adjacent Mayflower restaurant offered a good variety of reasonably priced pub style food for dinner and a choice of healthy, or not so healthy, breakfast options for those who could not wait for the Windjammer to open onboard at noon. Embarkation Embarkation at Harwich was extremely well handled. Having checked-in online and printed off our Set Sail passes beforehand, the check-in procedure took no longer than it takes to swipe a credit card. Issued with our Sea Pass cards, which serve as your stateroom door key, your identity card for getting on and off the ship and your charge card for onboard purchases, we were allowed onboard the ship by about 11:00am, our stateroom was available by 1:00pm and our luggage was delivered by 2:30pm. Ship info The ship itself is one of our favourites in the fleet and has been highly maintained throughout to preserve its appearance and charm. The Centrum area in particular is quite stunning from all angles (remember to look down on it through the glass observation window in the Crown & Anchor lounge on deck 12), the decor and furnishings in the Schooner bar and Safari Club on deck 6 are a delight to behold and the glass covered Solarium area on deck 11 offers the facility to read or relax on a lounger regardless of the weather. The Seaview Cafe on deck 12 offers a good choice of casual style made to order snacks and meals as an alternative venue for lunch or a late night supper. Stateroom Due to the popularity of this cruise, the best stateroom available when we booked in December 2009 was a solitary E2 balcony which we gladly accepted purely and simply to ensure a place for us onboard. However, after final payment date, a few more staterooms opened up and we were able to upgrade to a junior suite instead. The additional space and storage this afforded us was most welcome on a 14 night sailing. Our stateroom attendant team did a great job maintaining the place to our liking and constantly replenished the toiletries, tissues, tea & coffee tray and ice etc as required, without having to be asked. Dining Back home we would never think of going to the same restaurant for dinner 14 nights hard running and, as such, we adopt a regime onboard which we call 'My Time and Place' Dining - some nights Main Dining Room, some nights Windjammer, some nights Chops Grille and some nights Portofinos. We were assigned to a full table for 10 in Tides dining room deck 4 level and were fortunate insofar as everybody got on really well with each other and the service was good. The down side to the MDR nowadays is that the dinner menus are pretty much standard across the fleet and have not varied in recent years. As such, they tend to lose interest and appeal after a while. Serving food whilst it remains hot also seems to be difficult to achieve when serving so many meals at the same time. In contrast, the food in the Windjammer is usually warmer and includes choices over and above that on the MDR menu of the day. Pity they closed the doors at 9:00pm on this sailing (on some European itineraries it stays open longer to fit in with the lifestyle of those accustomed to having a siesta in the afternoon and eating later at night). We have found that 'Chops Grille' and 'Portofinos' food and service can vary from one ship to another but on this sailing they were both excellent. Activities Apart from the usual recreational activities as listed in the daily compass this particular cruise added a couple of unique events. Firstly, a fellow passenger had suggested to the Cruise Director that, since the ship would pass close by Plymouth UK on the 390th anniversary of the Mayflower having set sail from there laden with a group of disgruntled separatists intent on setting up camp in America, the cruise line should mark the occasion in the form of some onboard gatherings and talks on the subject for those interested in the alleged similarities between that sailing and ours. Personally I do wonder how one could compare the two. Mayflower took 66 days to get there - Jewel of the Seas did it in 14 days. Mayflower carried 102 passengers with a crew of 25-30 - Jewel of the Seas carried 2501 guests with a crew of 842. Mayflower colonists suffered greatly from diseases like scurvy due to lack of shelter and conditions onboard ship - Jewel of the Seas paying guests could expect nothing worse than acute indigestion and perhaps a bout or two of alcohol intoxication. The other event came as a surprise when Captain 'Stig' announced that on the night before arriving in Akureyri the ship would cross into the Arctic Circle and accordingly King Neptune would board the ship then to assist him perform the traditional ritual of initiating those onboard who wished to be inaugurated into the Ancient and Honourable Company of Blue Noses as is customary on such an occasion. The initiation ceremony required having ice and cold water dropped down your back, knocking back a shot of grog in one go and having your nose painted blue at the end. The Captain (who claimed to be born within the Arctic Circle to the North of Norway and was therefore exempt from initiation) had mischievously brought along two different sizes of ladle for dispensing the ice and water (a regular size for the passengers and a jumbo size for his executive officers). A formal certificate to commemorate the event was presented to everyone as a keepsake. For the benefit of those who have not set eyes on King Neptune before, he looks just like a crew member dressed in drag and threatened with termination of his contract if he refused to do as he was told. Itinerary change Due to the presence of an Arctic Low Pressure Storm in our intended path from Reykjavik to St John's, in the interest of passenger and crew safety and comfort, the Captain made the wise decision to alter the ships course and avoid the worst of the storm. In so doing however, the required diversion added 300 miles to our journey which, in turn, necessitated cancelling the visit to St John's. To his credit he hosted a special presentation the next day to fully inform the passengers of his reasoning in this regard and was commended by all present for doing so. It was suggested that if the original course had been maintained we could have encountered waves of 13-14 metres in height. By changing route we got off with seas in the region of 6 metres or so as we sailed through the night. A refund of the recoverable port fees was automatically credited to our onboard account in the circumstances. Ports of call Le Havre (weather good) - this is primarily the setting off point for visiting Paris and the majority of tours offered from here reflect this. It is quite far however and can be exhausting. If Paris sounds like a journey too far, closer by is the lovely port of Honfleur for those who prefer a more relaxing time. Having been to these places before we opted to stay onboard this time and made good use of the Solarium whilst the ship was quiet. Cherbourg (weather fair) - the landing beaches of Normandy are the most popular tour from here and never fail to tug at the emotions of all who visit to pay homage. However there are a few places of interest to be discovered within Cherbourg itself, the highlight for us on this visit being 'La CitE de la Mer' maritime museum which houses an aquarium, an exhibition of numerous deep sea diving vessels spanning many years and, last but not least, the French Navy's first nuclear missile-launching submarine 'Le Redoubtable' superbly preserved and open to internal inspection. It is situated directly adjacent to the main cruise terminal building which, itself, contains a number of interesting artefacts reflecting its connection with notable sailings from there in years gone by. Cobh (weather fair) - The fact that the ship berths directly alongside the town centre it encourages you to do nothing more than walk off the ship, find a good pub and eavesdrop on the inimitable Craic between locals whilst supping a pint or more of Murphy's draught ale. The Heritage Centre on the quayside gives a good insight to the history of Cobh and its links with the Great Famine, Ellis Island immigration processing centre and, of course, the Titanic. Also on the quayside is the train station from where they run a regular service into Cork. Coach tours can also be arranged to visit other nearby visitor attractions including Blarney Castle with its infamous stone which purports to give all who kiss it 'the gift of the gab'. Akureyri (weather good) - Upon first sight, I could have sworn that we had docked somewhere in the North of Scotland. The scenery and landscape is very similar. The town itself is quite small but we did come across a couple of places worthy of a visit. We climbed the 112 steps to the Akureyrarkirkja church on the hill for a look inside and to admire the view from its grounds over the town and the fjord it stands on. We also visited the botanical gardens which, surprisingly for its geographic location, included some lush vegetation and species of plants that would not survive in my own garden back home. For those wishing to see further afield, coach tours were available to take in the surrounding countryside and the waterfalls, craters and bubbling hot and smelly mud fields etc that it had to offer. However, judging by the people we spoke with who had gone on this tour, the majority of time was spent driving to and from these sites with nothing of great interest between stops. Reykjavik (weather heavy showers) - In contrast to the charm and homeliness of Akureyri, we actually found Reykjavik dull, dismal and depressing. We had taken the local tourist board shuttle bus from the pier into town hoping to find some impressive buildings, broad streets and upmarket shopping precincts etc that you associate with capital cities around the world. Nope! - We didn't find any I'm afraid. Mostly tacky souvenir shops all selling the same items. Things were not helped by the fact that the heavens opened the minute we stepped off the bus and it looked set to stay that way for some time. We persevered for about half an hour before deciding to catch the next shuttle bus back to the ship. Coach tours to some more waterfalls, hot springs and steam vents etc were available as was the option to visit the Blue Lagoon and wallow in geothermal water along with the bacteria of countless others who have been there before you. Sydney (weather fair with occasional showers) - As s result of the aforementioned itinerary change the ship arrived here half a day earlier than planned offering the opportunity for us to sample the local nightlife in town. However, since it started to rain heavily, we decided to stay onboard till the morning. Next day we picked up a map from the tourist information desk and set off on a suggested walking tour which took in many of the oldest houses, some of which are now preserved as museums. Disappointingly, many of the surrounding properties on the route are in a dilapidated state and project the image of a rundown area. The main street too lacked appeal and atmosphere with little in the way of decent shops. That said however, we did enjoy are time there and, being Scottish, are pleased to have set foot in Nova Scotia. We shall always remember the friendliness and politeness of the locals who go out of their way to assist you find your way around. The drivers too are the most courteous I have come across anywhere in the world. If they sense that you may wish to cross street they will stop and wave you over, regardless of whether or not you are near a crossing. Sea Days (weather typical for the region and time of year) - The majority of sea days were on the bleak side with high winds, mist and rain which somewhat curtailed outdoor activities. By night the mist turned to fog which thwarted any chance we may have had of seeing the Northern Lights in the skies around Iceland. Apparently the fog did eventually clear and they were visible at 3:00am on a couple of nights but, alas, we were in a deep slumber by then. Disembarkation Disembarkation was preceded by US Customs and Immigration inspection of all passengers. In this instance not being an American worked to our advantage as they had set up a separate stall for 'aliens' only, who were few and far between on this cruise. Was surprised at how the process on this occasion was less stringent than that we are usually subjected to when arriving by air - no finger prints taken, no questions asked and no having to show tickets to prove our intention to return home. Due to an apparent problem unloading luggage from the ship, disembarkation did not start at the predicted time and, when it did start, the so called express walk-off took an eternity because of the inability of the majority of people to manage their own luggage down the sloping gangway. Fortunately we were in no rush to get off since we had arranged for an overnight stay in Boston before returning home but the possibility of this happening again should be kept in mind when planning onward travel arrangements. Post cruise in Boston (weather glorious) - Thanks to some really good information posted on Cruise Critic North American Homeports board -East Coast Departures forum before leaving home we were able to decide where to stay and what to do in the time we had available. Because of its close proximity to Black Falcon cruise terminal and good transport links for getting around town and to the airport we chose the Westin Boston Waterfront hotel with late check-out facility allowing us use of the room right up until we needed to leave for our early evening flight home. The Old Town trolley tour was ideal for us since we were able to join it directly in front of the hotel and could get off and on as we wished at the various stops along the route. Our ticket also included a harbour sightseeing cruise which offered a different perspective of the city. Summary We thoroughly enjoyed this crossing particularly because it afforded us the opportunity to sail in new waters and see new places we would not have contemplated travelling to by any other means (Akureyri, Reykjavik, Sydney and Boston). The Jewel of the Seas is a fabulous ship and Captain Stig Nielsen, his officers and crew were fantastic. The crystal block presented to us for having attained our 30th Crown & Anchor cruise credit whilst onboard will serve as a great memento of the good times and experiences we had. Read Less
Sail Date September 2010
Grand Princess 9/25/2010 Transatlantic Crossing Summary. This is our seventh transatlantic crossing but the first time we took the Arctic Circle route. Given the unpredictable nature of North Atlantic weather, we were very ... Read More
Grand Princess 9/25/2010 Transatlantic Crossing Summary. This is our seventh transatlantic crossing but the first time we took the Arctic Circle route. Given the unpredictable nature of North Atlantic weather, we were very fortunate to visit all our scheduled ports. The ports are unique and well worth seeing. We did have rough seas on the open water portion of the crossing but that is not uncommon for the North Atlantic. Background: We are an early 60s couple, recently retired and living in Brooklyn, NY. This is our 32nd cruise, mostly Holland America with a number of cruises with Celebrity, NCL, Princess and Royal Caribbean. We have cruised in the Caribbean, Alaska, Panama Canal, transatlantic and Hawaii. Pre-cruise. Normally, we book air on our own which is cheaper and more convenient. With an international open jaw (out to one city back from another), we used Princess' EZAir arrangements which worked out OK. Keep in mind that Princess charges a deviation fee each time you request a specific flight. Since the return flight we wanted was not available at the time and we had to book it after our outbound flight was booked, Princess charged us each $150 for the deviations, not $75 as they state in their booking material and website. We flew out from JFK to London Heathrow on Wednesday September 22nd on American Airlines 142 which is a daytime flight that arrives about 8:30 PM at Terminal 3. Due to reconstruction work in the immigration hall and a large number of passengers trying to get in ahead of a possible strike by immigration agents (later canceled), we had to wait about 40-50 minutes to clear immigration. From there we went to the baggage hall to reclaim our bags. In Terminal 3, there is a large sign board to the right as you come off the escalator/stairs that will tell on which luggage belt bags from a given flight will be. After exiting the baggage hall, we went directly to the Heathrow Express (follow the signage in the main arrival hall). American also offered Heathrow Express tickets for sale at the boarding counter for about $28 pp for coach service. The Heathrow Express trains leave from a lower platform reachable by ramp and elevator where you can buy tickets using credit cards or cash, £18. The trains leave every 15 minutes and take 15 minutes to arrive at Paddington Station, just north of Hyde Park. Go to the far end of Platform 1 for first class service and to be closer to the exit from the Paddington station. We reserved a one bedroom suite at the Darlington Hyde Park hotel on Sussex Garden, about 1/3 mile from Paddington for two nights. While it was expensive, the room was very comfortable and the hotel offered a full English breakfast and free Wifi (lobby only). On Thursday which was rainy most of the day, we did see little Venice which is the interchange point between the Grand Union Canal from the north and the Regent Canal which connects to the Thames. We picked a few books at Foyle's Bookstore on Charing Cross road. Although the rain put a damper on it, we did go to the Camden Locks market which had interesting stuff especially if you are into goth clothing and tattoos. Dinner Thursday, we ate at Kolissi which is a comfortable Greek restaurant near the hotel. We later found that along Edgware Road two blocks east of the hotel, there is an extensive Lebanese district which had a number of places to eat along with drugstores and supermarkets. Friday the 24th, we took a train from Victoria to Southampton Central. The cab from the Darlington to Victoria cost about £17 with tip. Note that taxis can be hailed on the street while cabs are arranged ahead of time for a fixed price. The usual train to Southampton leaves from Waterloo via Southwest Railway taking about 75 minutes for about £32 pp. We found that Southern Railway was offering an advance book fare to Southampton for £3.75 pp. This ride took about 150 minutes over a longer route. Once at Southampton, we walked our bags to the Novotel Southampton less than a quarter-mile away. The hotel is a modern 7 floor building which shares a parking area with two other hotels. We prebooked a room with queen bed and full English breakfast for about $110. Nearby are a TGI-Friday and Mickey D. There is an extensive shopping area nearby for anything you might need. That night, we met up with a group of people from cruise-critic on the Grand roll call for dinner. The dinner was in a medieval pub called the Red Lion in the old part of Southampton. Saturday dawned reasonably clear and we walked around town until 11:30 AM when we checked out and took a car service to the port. The car cost about £7 with tip. The Grand docked at pier 106, Mayflower Terminal, the farthest west passenger port. There was a very long line and no indication of whether there was a separate line for Platinum and Elite pax. We finally found that line after a 30 minute wait and we checked in shortly thereafter. Princess needs to add more service people on embarkation days. Unfortunately, the wait for others was much longer. We got our suitcases before muster drill and unpacked by sail-away. By comparison, disembarkation at Fort Lauderdale was simple and fast. With a noon flight, we were one of the last to leave but arrived at FLL with two hours to spare. Itinerary and Weather. The Grand Princess crossing was 16 days from Southampton to Fort Lauderdale along the Arctic Circle. We left Southampton on September 25th at 4 PM; Sunday transiting the Channel and North Sea; Monday, September 27th, Bergen, Norway (noon to 7 PM); Tuesday, Lerwick, Shetland Islands (7 AM to 5 PM); Wednesday, Torshavn, Faroe Islands (7 AM to 5 PM); Thursday, enroute to Iceland; Friday, October 1st, Akureyri, Iceland (7 AM to 4 PM); Saturday, at sea; Sunday, Reykjavik, Iceland (7 AM to 4 PM); three days at sea; Thursday October 7th, Sydney, Nova Scotia (7 AM to 2 PM); three more days at sea arriving Fort Lauderdale on Monday, October 11th at 6 AM. As for what clothes to pack, think Alaska with a one or two pairs of shorts and polo shirts. I did pack two Hawaiian shirts just for fun and found them useful. The weather was rainy in London while Friday night and Saturday morning in Southampton were clear and cool. The transit of the English Channel and North Sea was accompanied by gale force winds and rough seas (2.5 to 4 M or 8 to 13 foot waves) to very rough seas (4 to 6 M or 13 to 20 foot waves). Bergen was sunny and cool while Lerwick was partly sunny and windy. Torshavn was cloudy and rainy. For all three, the sea conditions were moderate (4 to 8 foot waves) which allowed for tender ops at Lerwick and Torshavn. The transit to Akureyri, Iceland had near gale force winds and rough to very rough sea conditions. For both Akureyri and Reykjavik, it was partly cloudy, windy with highs near 50 F. Seas were moderate. After Reykjavik, the weather was cloudy and windy with violent gale conditions and very rough seas to high seas (6 to 9 M or 20 to 30 foot waves) due to a strong low pressure system coming up to the Maritimes. As a result, the captain rerouted us through the Belle Isles passage into the Gulf of St. Lawrence using Newfoundland as a windbreak for our approach to Sydney, Nova Scotia. After Sydney, we sailed into a near gale wind from the south which made for rough seas. The last two sea days were calmer and warmer as we approached Fort Lauderdale. Monday when we disembarked was warm and sunny and our flight home was smooth with some cloudiness at JFK. However, Monday night in Brooklyn, we had severe winds, heavy rains and ½ inch hail that loudly rattled the windows, a rather dramatic ending to our vacation. The Ship. The Grand Princess was the first of the Grand class of ships and went into service in 1997. While the ship does show some wear and rust spots: that is not uncommon for ships of her age, she does not show the kind of wear and tear that some have described. She does not have the International Cafe nor Vines though these service areas are supposed to be added in the April; 2011 dry docking. To distinguish starboard (right) from port (left) on cabin decks, the hallway rugs on the port side have red background in the side trim (even numbered cabins) and the hallway rugs on starboard have light blue trim background (odd numbered cabins). The forward elevator lobby had red and dark blue trim while the aft lobby has light blue with light green trim. This color code scheme appears to apply for all Grand and Crown class ships. The mid-ship elevator lobby is U shaped with the bottom of the U facing forward. There are also two panorama elevators with glass walls mid-ship. Cabin. We booked a category AD mini-suite on Emerald deck. Since our cabin was at the stern, we did get some ship motion though not as much as cabins near the bow. While we were above the Vista Lounge, there was minimal noise from the shows below and they ended by 11 PM. The stern side thrusters made much more noise and vibration and served as a useful alarm clock when we entered port. The heating system worked fine in the cabin and around the ship. The TV channels were limited as expected due to being in high latitudes, however, the Grand does not have detailed routing information that other ships we have been on have. A general map plot showing expected position at local noon along a planned route and general weather conditions for the area was available, but real-time weather and sea states were not. Perhaps this is a software upgrade that can be done in dry dock. The mini-suite is 9 by 30 feet with a shaded veranda measuring 9 by 6.5 feet. The mini-suites are divided into a sleeping and sitting areas each with their own 26 inch LCD TVs. There is a small desk and fridge in the sleeping area and a couch with foldout bed, coffee table and a chair in the sitting area. There is plenty of open shelf space and adequate clothes storage with a walk in closet. The bathroom is full size with a tub and a good amount of open counter and shelf space. There are only two 110 AC sockets in the cabin by the desk. Bring an extension cord or power strip if your electronics use a wall wart charger, otherwise you can use only one socket. There is an extra 110 AC socket behind each LCD TV. The bathroom has Ground Fault Interrupter 110 AC sockets as well. The veranda had two loungers with a cocktail table on one side and two chairs on the other side of the veranda. Only the mini-suites on Emerald deck are covered, all the other mini-suites on Dolphin deck are fully exposed to the weather and the prying eyes of fellow passengers. Ports of Call. As noted above, Southampton embarkation was not handled well. Additional check-in staff is needed to reduce waiting times that exceeded two hours for some pax. Also in port that day were RCI's Independence of the Seas and P&O's Ventura. Due to the size of the Grand, we did not use the regular cruise ship port in Bergen but rather a cargo port in the south part of the city. We took part in a privately arranged tour of Bergen which was arranged by a cruise critic member. The tour included Fort Fjell, built by the Germans during World War II, a stave church, downtown Bergen and the Mount Floyen funicular. Fort Fjell located in a mountainous area south of the city was built to protect the sea approaches to German occupied Bergen and mounted three 11 inch naval rifles. The fortifications supporting the rifle installation was very extensive and was dug into the mountain. Our tour was pre-arranged and this facility is not yet open to the general public. The stave church was typical of early wood structures in Norway where they are much more familiar with boat building styles. Mount Floyen is about 1,000 feet high just north of the city and is easily accessible by funicular from downtown. It is also accessible by road if you are so inclined. While our timing was constrained by our noon arrival, if you can, it is best to go up Mount Floyen in the morning so the sun is not in your eyes/lens as you look at the city. We took a ship tour in Lerwick to a Shetland pony farm and to Scalloway Castle. The pony farm was interesting as the ponies (they are true horses though smaller) were bred for harsh climates and grow a very thick coat as protection. They are capable of carrying a full grown person though their feet may drag on the ground. Scalloway Castle was built by then island governor Patrick Stewart who mistreated the islanders to the extent that they eventually rebelled against him. There are also several wind generators that serves one fifth of the island's electric load. At Torshavn in the Faroe Islands, we just walked around the town; there is a nice park near the top of a hill that gives a view of the harbor. We headed back to the ship when it began to rain. In both Lerwick and Torshavn, tender service was used since we were unable to dock. This necessitated a lengthy wait for going ashore and returning. Not fun waiting in the rain. In both Akureyri and Reykjavik, Iceland, we took tours arranged by two other cruise critic members. Iceland is very geologically active since it is located on the midlantic rift and it has lots of volcanic activity. In Akureyri, we went first to Godafoss which is a large waterfall near the town where the Icelandic leader, Thorgeir Thorkelsson, decreed the island would convert to Christianity and hurled his pagan idols into the falls. Next was Namaskard which are hot sulfur pits and boiling mud pools. This area provides geothermal steam for electricity generation and hot water for heating. We then went to Lake Myvatn which is a popular warm water spa. The water is light blue in color due to the presence of cyno-bacteria. Afterwards, we visited Skutustadir which has large craters that were formed when lava overflowed the lakeshore's sodden ground. Finally, we went to Dimmuborgir or "Twilight Castles" with weirdly shaped lava formations formed by a lava lake that flowed over marshy ground and then cooled and receded. At Reykjavik, we did a version of the Golden Circle tour which included Thingvellir National Park located in a rift valley covered by lava and later covered by typical Icelandic vegetation of low birch, willow trees and blueberry bushes. The western wall of the fault is an approximately 120-foot-high cliff, under which the Althing, Iceland's lawmaking assemblies met from 930 A.D. onward. We then went to Gullfoss Waterfall or "Golden Waterfall" which flows down a series of cascades into a deep gorge. Nearby is the Strokkur Geyser in the Geyser area which has many hot springs. The geyser shoots a 60-foot-high column of hot water at frequent intervals. Iceland uses the volcanic heat source to heat their homes and to generate electricity. Our last stop was at the Hellisheidi Power Plant which produces about 280 MW of electricity from thermal hat water and steam. After three days at sea, we stopped at Sydney, Nova Scotia. Since heavy rain was forecasted for the day we were to arrive, we just walked around a bit visiting a craft fair in one of the churches and retreated back to the ship. Sydney has a dedicated cruise port but can only handle one ship at a time. The Costa Atlantica was also in port and they had to tender in until we left at 2 PM and the Atlantica could take our place at the port. The Pax and Roll Call. With cruise of this duration and routing, most of the pax are retired or close to it. I saw one or two children though they may have been more. Predicated on our experiences, about a third of the pax were from the British Commonwealth with the remainder being American with a few from other countries. The front desk staff told us that about 1,200 of the 2,500 on board pax were Platinum or Elite. While the weather did keep many pax inside, the Grand did not feel crowded the way the Caribbean or Crown Princess felt on bad weather days. Not having the Riviera deck and its extra 250 cabins does help. There was a CruiseCritic rollcall for this cruise which proved to be quite helpful and informative. Known as the Nordic Explorers, there were a number of members who chipped in to plan various activities ranging from pre-cruise dinner in Southampton; coordinating the meet and mingle meeting with Princes; tours of Bergen, Norway; Akureyri and Reykjavik, Iceland and other activities including trivia and various games. A hearty thanks to all those who helped to make these activities the success they were. Entertainment. We normally do not care for ship entertainment so we did not see some of the evening shows. We did catch Princess' newest show, the British Invasion which we did like though some of the music played was is from a later time period. Still, it is worth seeing. The Zach Bartholomew jazz quartet in the Wheelhouse bar was good and there was piano music played in the Atrium or at the Promenade Lounge during the afternoon and evening. As the cruise progressed, the evening entertainment seemed to diminish in quality. There were two lecturers for the days we were at sea. One was a financial adviser who spoke on various aspects of financial planning for retirement. She was mildly interesting. The second lecturer was the eminent maritime historian and author John Maxstone-Graham. He has written a number of books on the history of passenger ships including the Titanic. His lectures were well attended and seating was at a premium or non-existent if you came late. Mr. Graham spoke on the events on the Titanic, on the history of transatlantic crossings and polar exploration. His talks are informative and entertaining. Dining Service. Princess has a decidedly Italian tilt to their cuisine and those dishes are often the best choices. There is both traditional dining (5:45 PM and 8 PM in the Botticelli Dining room (Fiesta deck 6) and Anytime Dining in the Da Vinci Dining Room on Plaza deck (deck 5) and Michelangelo Dining Room (Fiesta deck). With Anytime Dining, you pick the time you want to eat and then deal with the line that may exist. A willingness to share a table generally gets you seated sooner. Breakfast and lunch is served in the Michelangelo Dining Room with open seating. While we have done Anytime Dining on other Princess cruises, this time we opted for early traditional seating. We were joined by a retired couple from Ohio and an American-British couple from Las Vegas. We had lively conversations and a good time was had by all. We had a table of eight but one couple showed up only once. Note that the Botticelli Dining room can only be accessed by stairs or elevators since it is at the aft end of Fiesta deck. The nearest restrooms are on Promenade deck (deck 7). For the our cruise, there were three formal nights, the first sea day, the second day after Reykjavik (possibly due to rough sea conditions) and the next to last sea day. The second formal night also had the Captains Circle repeaters party before dinner. Most men wore suits or tuxedos with a few just wearing sports jackets and no tie. The other nights were smart casual. Each dinner has a collection of small plates that include a salad, several hot and cold appetizers and two soups. There are five choices for main courses that change nightly; usually one or two selections of seafood, poultry, red meat and vegetarian. In addition, there are two pasta dishes, one of which is always fettuccini Alfredo (very good but very rich). Princess has four always available entrees that are the same each night, broiled salmon, broiled chicken breast, New York sirloin and a beef tournedos. A plain tossed salad, Caesar salad and a shrimp cocktail round out the always available selections. Lunch is structured with small plates and daily entrees, one of which is often an interesting salad. Breakfast is a standard eggs, breakfast meats and fruits with two specials each day. In general, we found the meals to be more flavorful but often more salty than we are used to, YMMV. The red meat dishes were usually tender though Princess tends towards the well done side. Seafood was good and fresh for the most part, since the Grand had been provisioning in European ports, some of the seafood was unfamiliar to us. The Horizon Court is Princess' buffet area on Lido (deck 14) which is available for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The breakfast and lunch choices are often more expansive than in the dining room, however, by the time you find a table and get your beverages, the food has often gotten cold. For that and other reasons, we usually preferred the dining room. Instead of trays and plates, Princess uses a large oval plate that can double as a tray; a good idea since they take up less space on the tables than trays and there is one less item for the pickup staff to clear and clean. We did not try the themed dinners which included Caribbean and German cuisines. Other than you have to wear some clothing, there is no dress code here. The pizzeria on Lido deck has very good thin crispy crust pies which are easily the match of most NYC pizzas. There are pizza Margarita and pepperoni and a special that changes daily. The afternoon teas (3:30 to 4:30 PM) were nice affairs, but the tea sandwiches and pastries were unremarkable and the timing did not always work for us, still you should give it a try. For Platinum and Elite pax, Princess offered a semi-private cocktail party in Skywalker's from 5 to 8 PM with appetizers and a special drink of the day. With over 1,200 pax at the Platinum or Elite level (and a number of freeloaders Princess' staff was not checking key cards), it was impossible to find a seat at 5 PM. We found out from others that after the first seating pax (us) left, seating was easier to find. While nice in concept, the execution needs some more work. We gave up on this after two days and went elsewhere for pre-dinner cocktails. After 8 PM, all well drinks and some specialty drinks are available for $2.99 each. Miscellaneous. The Grand was not full and there were a number of empty cabins. We found out from a fellow passenger that unoccupied cabins are coded with a blue label (for first-time pax to Princess) tagged Mr. Smith/Mrs. Smith with no first name or initial. This made it entertaining to figure out which cabins near us were empty. For this crossing, passports for non-EU residents were held by ship until after we left Sydney. This is the first time we experienced this in six crossings since 2000. This may now be an EU requirement so keep a photocopy of your passport or a passport card on your person when you go ashore. The UK has recently changed its currency to add anti-counterfeiting security features. Older currency without these features will no longer be accepted at most retail outlets and will have to be exchanged for newer currency at a bank. The Shetland Islands are part of the UK and use the same currency. Norway is not part of the EU so you will need either Norwegian currency (Norwegian Kroner) or a credit card for purchases. The same goes for Torshavn and Iceland. Icelanders will accept Euros or dollars at the current exchange rate. The UK is five hours ahead of US east coast (NYC) time, except for the transition to/from summer time which occurs at different dates for US versus UK. Norway is one hour ahead of the UK while the Shetland Islands and the Faroe Islands are on UK time. Iceland is four hours ahead of US east coast time and Sydney is one hour ahead. Keep you watches synchronized to ship time whether or not it differs from local time. I heard that several pax had missed the ship in various ports and had to catch us to us at the next port at their own cost. Gripes. What is a cruise review without a few of these! Southampton check-in is probably our biggest gripe as there were insufficient staff and/or service positions to handle the crowd of people at the terminal. I have heard from some UK pax that is a recurring issue at Southampton. Such overcrowding has not been an issue at their US terminals and Princess needs to resolve this quickly. There are 14 elevators on some of Grand class ships (Grand, Golden, Star and Caribbean), however, they are dispatched in a quirky manner. The four aft elevators do not serve the same decks. The two outer units serve decks 6 (Botticelli Dining Room) to deck 17 (Skywalker's Lounge). The two inner units serve decks 7 to 14 only. This means a long wait to go to/from the Botticelli Dining Room or Skywalker's to other decks since there are only two elevators available for those decks. This is a design flaw that was rectified in Diamond and Sapphire Princess pair built in Japan and on the follow-on Crown class ships. The four forward units operate as a group and have no issues. The mid-ship elevator bank has six elevators but only the four non-panorama units are linked together so only one unit answers a call for service at a given deck. The others in that four can pass through without stopping. The two panorama elevators are individually controlled so you may have to hit three call buttons to ensure that a unit will stop at your deck. This means that other elevators will also stop at that deck with no one boarding. At a minimum, Princess should reprogram the two panorama elevators to operate together as the other four now do. Ideally, all six units should be programmed to operate as a group for the decks they serve in common. The Grand has nine hot tubs, two forward in the Lotus pool area, four mid-ship on Lido deck two aft by the Oasis Bar on Sport deck and one in the teen area. Of the six working tubs in the Lotus and mid-ship area, none had functioning bubblers. The water was warm, but no circulation. I assume this will be fixed during dry docking. Useful Weblinks. For info on transfers from Heathrow or Gatwick airports to central London, from London to cruise-ports and general hotel info, this site is useful. http://www.londontoolkit.com Google Earth, an interactive global map that you can populate with all sorts of info http://earth.google.com/intl/en/download-earth.html To which you can add mappings of cruise ships worldwide, live plots most of the time. After downloading and opening Google Earth, click on Add, then Network Link and put in the following. For storm tracking in the North Atlantic, click on Add, then Network Link and put in the following, http://bbs.keyhole.com/ubb/download.php?Number=110283 For stand-alone ship tracking near shore, go here. http://www.marinetraffic.com/ais/ Hurricane havens courtesy of the US Navy. http://www.nrlmry.navy.mil/pubs.htm For information on how wave heights are categorized, see this. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Douglas_Sea_Scale If you have not yet gotten cruise insurance, this site may be helpful. http://www.insuremytrip.com/ Finally, some amusing observations on working on a cruise ship. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ve2_8aDv0xE Read Less
Sail Date September 2010
We chose MSC Poesia's transatlantic voyage because of its unique itinerary and early autumn sailing. We went with the attitude to "not sweat the small stuff". As I liked the size of MSC Lirica, which my ... Read More
We chose MSC Poesia's transatlantic voyage because of its unique itinerary and early autumn sailing. We went with the attitude to "not sweat the small stuff". As I liked the size of MSC Lirica, which my husband and I had sailing on previously, I was unsure how I would like the larger Poesia. I needn't have worried, as it wasn't an issue, as we never felt crowded on this beautiful ship. Prior to the cruise, we spent 2 nights in Hamburg and 3 nights in Lubeck, Germany. We enjoyed both and could have easily spent longer at each place. We caught the train from Lubeck to Kiel on the day of departure. We walked, with our luggage, to the wharf. We later discovered that there was a bus from the train station to the wharf. Embarkation. We received our luggage labels to complete at the wharf. As the hall was very crowded, we waited, in the sun, in the pretty park over the road. After awhile, we walked down the mall to find icecreams. When we returned to the hall, we embarked with group no. 19. Cabin My daughter and I found our inside cabin on 11th deck met our requirements. We liked the storage space under the beds for luggage, wardrobe space was adequate, bathroom, with shower, was better than on the Lirica. We used our own shampoo and conditioner, as well as soap. However, there was liquid soap and shampoo in wall containers. Management and Staff As on the Lirica, the Indonesian staff, both in the dining room and cabins, were excellent. We found the management much improved on the Poesia. Management was friendlier and more helpful, than on the Lirica. I didn't see one Italian shrug of the shoulders on this cruise. Food We ate well on this cruise. We ate mainly in the dining room for all meals. When in doubt, we chose Italian meals, which were always good. However, much to my surprise, the meat meals were also good. Icecream for desert is always a treat on Italian ships. I liked the Vegemite on the tables, and complementary iced water, coffee and hot black tea, with lemon, after all meals. The pizza was excellent. However, I'd have liked more variety. Entertainment We enjoyed the visual acts and opera in the beautiful theatre and the classical music in the foyers and lounges. However, I would have liked to have seen a little less opera and more musicals, which appeal to a broader audience. Later in Toronto, we went to Cirque Du Soleil's Banana Shpeel. Poesia's acrobatic acts were in a similiar class of unique entertainment. Our favourite daytime entertainment was The Champions Quiz, which had an english speaking co-announcer. Trivia was difficult, as it was hard to understand the english pronounciations of questions, especially on the open deck. Daytime entertainment is not MSC's forte. I would like to see more informative presentations, such as on ports of call (history, culture, etc.), rather than just selling their tours. Poesia's library needs more English books. An extra book of reference world maps and books on ports of call should be held in the library, not to be removed, for all to access. Ports of Call Cruise was chosen for its ports of call. - Copenhagen, Southampton, Le Havre, Vigo, Lisbon, Ponta Delgade, Azores Islands, Bermuda (overnight), New York (overnight). Due to a cyclone, we cruised to Boston (overnight) in lieu of Bermuda. We were disappointed to miss Bermuda, but understood the valid reason. Ponta Delgade, Azores was our favourite new port of call. Loved both overnights in Boston and New York. Disembarkation Disembarkation was a breeze, as we just sat on the top deck enjoying the atmosphere of being on a ship in the heart of Manhattan. We strolled off, when numbers decreased, walked along the waterfront to the ferry terminal and caught a ferry to New Jersey, then a lightrail to our accommodation in Jersey City. Things, which could be improved on MSC - longer times needed in ports of call. Le Havre - Demarkation was too shakey and embarkation was too steep here. I felt unsafe. 9 - 3.30 in Le Havre is just not enough time for independent travel. Saw two buses "MS Poesia" returning from Le Havre to the ship. Looked like crew on board, but passengers weren't advised of availability of these buses. Smoking - Broadway Show Quiz (excellent) was held in smoking allowed lounge - Pigalle Lounge, Deck 7. Our one and only visit. MSC needs to change its attitude on smoking, to meet many countries' modern thinking on the dangers of smoking. Things I love about MSC - unique itineraries and ports of call spotless beautiful ships two for the price of one special offers Australia in 2012 I do hope MSC cruises to Australia/NZ in 2012 and continues with all of the above. Would I recommend MSC to fellow cruisers? Yes, but I would explain their points of difference. Read Less
Sail Date September 2010
Embarkation: Oh dear... I'm sure there's a collective groan from many hundreds of people who stood in line (in my case for over two hours), mostly outside in the freezing wind and with the nearest restrooms a cold walk ... Read More
Embarkation: Oh dear... I'm sure there's a collective groan from many hundreds of people who stood in line (in my case for over two hours), mostly outside in the freezing wind and with the nearest restrooms a cold walk away in another building. Simply unacceptable. One of the reasons I was given for the time it took to check in was that Princess had forgotten to ask non US passengers to print off a spare copy of their 'ESTA' form to present at check-in and staff were having to write everything out long-hand. Entertainment: There was a wide variety of activities and entertainment. If you didn't like the act or show in the Princess Theatre, there was always something on offer elsewhere. I personally enjoyed the daily darts tournament in 'Snookers' bar and met some great people while playing. On a few occasions, I heard passengers complaining to the ever patient cruise directors staff that "they were bored" or had "nothing to do". In my opinion, there was plenty to do if you were prepared to make the effort and join in. People also had to take into consideration that our position on the globe and the weather closed off a lot of the outside deck areas where additional activities would normally take place. An evening with Ray & Billy in the Vista Lounge was a highlight among the shows I saw. I enjoyed the afternoon movies although some of the movie choices weren't ideal for the age demographic. Another minor criticism is the venue for a majority of the movies. The Vista Lounge, at times, didn't have enough seats for everyone and the seating layout offered a lot of 'obstructions' between the viewer and the screen. 'Skywalkers' night club was always empty but a small group of us took full advantage and had a great time with the place to ourselves most nights! I also enjoyed the comfy leather sofas, live jazz band and singer in the 'Wheelhouse Bar' of an evening. All credit to the cruise director, Billy, and his staff Dave, Andy, Adam, Andrew, Jimmy Lee, Sonja and Karen who, without exception, worked tirelessly and with great patience and humor. They always remembered your name and always had time for a few words. Dining: I had 'Anytime Dining' and never had a bad experience with food or service in any of the restaurants & food outlets. A memorable meal was in 'Sabatinis' which was well worth the $20 per head cover charge. I did have to ask for extra vegetables with a lot of meals but it was never a problem for the staff. I used room service a lot, the food was always good and arrived quickly. I just had to remember to order cold milk along with my pot of tea! Internet: The internet worked well but was, as usual, pricey! Cabin: The cabin was comfortable and offered plenty of space with no noise disturbance from the cabins either side or from the hallway. The balcony offers more than enough room for the two chairs and table provided and always felt private. Most importantly, the bed was very comfortable! Big thank you to Randy who was an excellent concierge / cabin steward, friendly, always remembered my name and was helpful and efficient. Spa & Fitness: The gym was never overcrowded (probably something to do with the average passenger age being 74!) and well equipped. Great views out to sea too! The Spa offered a wide range of treatments in a pleasant environment and all the staff I spoke to and was treated by were polite, knowledgeable and friendly. 'Ultimate Ship Tour': A real highlight of the cruise was the 'Ultimate Ship Tour', a three and a half hour tour of the parts of the ship the passengers (and even some of the crew) normally don't get to see. The tour is strictly limited to one group of 12 people per cruise and costs $150 per person. The tour included Princess theatre & back stage, mooring deck, engine control room, kitchens & stores, print shop, photo print shop, laundry and concluded with a tour of the bridge and champagne and canapes with the captain. The ships photographer accompanied the tour to capture it all. That evening when I returned to my cabin, there was a Princess bathrobe, chefs whites, personlised note book and a copy of all the photographs taken from the tour (with a album to put them in) to keep as souvenirs of the tour. Brilliant! Princess Survey: I completed the survey a few days after I got home and after putting a lot of thought and time onto answering the questions, clicked the 'submit' button to read the message on the screen "survey was now closed". I even emailed Princess to ask if it was an error and if they'd received my survey but I've yet to receive a reply. One more thing... With reference to 'couple of cruisers' review, I also noticed a high number of short-tempered passengers. At times I was on the end of it as I was mistaken for crew as I was at the younger end of the passenger spectrum! The most memorable time was in the library when a lady stormed up to me and 'returned a book' by throwing it at me and without a word, storming off again! I found her ignorance amusing but it was disgraceful behavior at best. I used the lift to go up one floor, not a crime surely? As I got out a guy commented "who gets in a lift for just one floor", followed by his friend saying "I can't believe they just did that". They were of course ignorant to the fact that I was with my wife who suffers from chronic knee pain and struggles with steps. Luckily for them, that was the last I saw of either of them for the remainder of the cruise... Read Less
Sail Date September 2010
After a 25-day voyage on the Queen Mary 2 round-trip from New York, I am pleased to provide my perspective on the embarkation/disembarkation process, the ship, its staff, and its passengers. Check-in at Red Hook Terminal was a bit ... Read More
After a 25-day voyage on the Queen Mary 2 round-trip from New York, I am pleased to provide my perspective on the embarkation/disembarkation process, the ship, its staff, and its passengers. Check-in at Red Hook Terminal was a bit tedious because the ship had been five hours late in arriving due to electrical problems experienced near Quebec. My initial impression of staff in the terminal was a bit gruff as that was how we were welcomed to the terminal: a guy with a clipboard barking orders. We arrived early (around 11 am) and sat until 2 pm when we were finally able to check in. Cunard provided some food for embarking passengers in the terminal in the meantime. The ship didn't leave until around 10 pm but we were on board by 3 pm. The ship met all my expectations. Although I don't find her particularly elegant viewed from the exterior, on the interior she surely is. I particularly liked the Chart Room, the Royal Court Theatre, the Queen's Ballroom, and the Britannia Dining Room. Our Britannia stateroom (in this case an in-hull balcony on deck six) was amazingly practical. You can't tell from the photos, but you can store a lot of clothes and personal items in the room without clutter. It's also comfortable. The bed was so comfortable that we stripped the sheets to determine the manufacturer of the mattress before disembarking in preparation for replacing our own. The passengers were overwhelmingly older than 60 (including me) and on the eastbound crossing, predominantly British. On the Mediterranean voyage the British were even a larger proportion of passengers, much like folks you'd find on a Mexican Riviera cruise in the U.S., but less outgoing. The westbound crossing had a majority of Americans but I wouldn't have known it had they not announced the fact at the commodore's reception. The dress code during the day is relaxed. No one needs to fret. Surprisingly, there were people walking in the hallways in their Cunard robes and slippers, something that I found a bit over the top. In the evenings, formal/semi-formal nights outnumber the "elegant casual" by far. Although I enjoy wearing a tuxedo, I have to admit to having faced "formal fatigue" after almost a month. Many others—men and women—expressed the same. Having said that, "elegance" is in the eye of the beholder. Based on what I saw, I would advise anyone considering QM2 not to expect the image from the Cunard brochures. There is, in my opinion, a substantial dose of dowdiness. Many women on Cruise Critic worry they won't have the right clothes. Take my word for it: no worries. Watch some of the YouTube videos of QM2 trips or look at pictures passengers have taken on Flickr or other online photo sites for a reality check. The experience of QM2 staff was mixed. In the Britannia Room, many of the wait staff appeared both inexperienced and uncoordinated. (The person assigned "pepper grinding" duty became a standing joke at our table: he dispensed black pepper from his grinder as if he had been asked by the company to preserve every precious peppercorn). According to veterans of the line, many of the experienced staff had been assigned to the new Queen Elizabeth. It's curious to me why Cunard would ever sell its flagship short. On the other hand, the stateroom staff was outstanding. I couldn't have asked for better. Wait staff in the Commodore Club was particularly good as well. The pub was mixed: when Cszabo the Hungarian bartender was there, it was excellent; other times it could be lackadaisical. I had one negative experience with staff in the Queen's Ballroom for tea when staff initially refused to seat us because it was 10 minutes before the end of service. Overall however, staff was friendly and competent. Staff invariably greeted passengers in the hallways. The entertainment on-board was also mixed. I found the stage shows to be kitschy and boring, although the talent was fine overall. The RADA plays were quite good, as were the lectures. Overall, there were many more activities than could be accommodated, especially by anyone trying to sleep-in and relax. I particularly loved the jazz in the Commodore Club at night and the special concerts by Julliard School jazz faculty. The Planetarium is worth the effort, if only to remind one how small we are in context of the universe. Just pick up tickets in a little plastic stand on the desk near the Connexions (internet access) area on deck two forward before lunch. There is a show every half hour in early afternoon and there are four different shows altogether. We enjoyed an occasional darts game in the pub as well as the trivia contests that proved good fun and were intensely competitive. The games area on either side of foredeck two was also fun and relaxing, especially given its perspective on the ocean: up close and personal! I'd recommend the crossing to anyone who wants to arrive on the eastern or western shore of the Atlantic relaxed, with a preference for the westbound crossing, since one gains an hour almost every night. I had hoped for rougher seas but had to accept seas like glass on this voyage. The small swells of 9-12 feet we experienced for a day and half after leaving Southampton for New York appeared to cause some people to lose their minds, but there is no way to appreciate QM2's abilities without some good-sized North Atlantic swells and I had hoped for something more exciting. A couple of other tips: lunch in Britannia was, in my opinion, almost always better than what was offered in the Kings Court, and choices for breakfast were quite a bit better if you can get yourself up early enough, i.e. before 9:30 am. However, in the evening, we discovered that the food in the Kings Court was often better than what was offered in Britannia, and with better service. One must reserve, but there's a little button on the phone in your room to do so. If you want to attend the Chef's Kitchen dinner, make reservations without delay after boarding. There aren't many places available. There was a French evening we had wanted to enjoy but found that by waiting one day after leaving Southampton, we were already too late. We had mixed experience with our dinner tables that changed on each segment of the voyage. On the way back from Southampton, we were paired with a family group traveling together who had not expected to have to sit with others. By the time the maitre d' figured things out, the trip was over. We were moving tables every evening. One way to avoid such a situation is to travel and eat with a group, or get a table for two. One other observation from my perspective is that the cruise in the Mediterranean, moving every night to a new port at which one disembarks at 9-10 am and has to embark again at 4 pm for a 5 pm departure, is exhausting. We got frustrated both with the pace (especially after the leisurely crossing) and not being able to spend enough time in cities/regions we liked. We decided we probably wouldn't bother cruising again on QM2 (with perhaps the exception of a World Cruise) but would continue gladly to use her for the transatlantic crossing. We discovered, comparing notes with other passengers who had purchased Cunard tours in Naples, that we were all fed the identical and very poor lunch in spite of the fact that we were in different areas of the region and eating in different restaurants. For a line that sells itself as "luxury" it was surprising and a not a little depressing. We had the sense that the restaurant staff where we ate was a bit embarrassed to be serving such dreck. One more thing: a fellow passenger with whom we'd become acquainted found in Southampton that another passenger had taken her luggage away. She had nothing but the clothes on her back and was headed for London for two days of theater before flying home. She was in a panic. In New York, a few bags fell into the river as they were being removed from the hold, at least one of which was permanently lost. Beware. I was not at all impressed by the staff's consideration of the inconvenienced passengers. Disembarkation was easy and efficient overall. We stayed on the ship as long as we could and upon departure found our luggage with no problem. In sum, I'd recommend this ship to anyone who wants to experience a real ocean liner on a transatlantic crossing. As Maxton said it's "The Only Way to Cross." Read Less
Sail Date September 2010
*************************************** * Iceland/Norway Explorer Cruise 2010 * *************************************** ~~ At Sea Again: September 26th ~~ Yes, we are currently again at sea on the Grand Princess on our ... Read More
*************************************** * Iceland/Norway Explorer Cruise 2010 * *************************************** ~~ At Sea Again: September 26th ~~ Yes, we are currently again at sea on the Grand Princess on our way to Bergen, Norway, having left Southampton, UK, yesterday afternoon at 4 PM. The ship is apparently full to capacity at 2600 passengers, increased by a few hundred from 3 or more per some staterooms. This is our third time cruising aboard the Grand Princess (1998), the first of the "Grand Class" cruise ships of Princess: Grand Princess, Star Princess, Golden Princess, and the larger Caribbean Princess, Crown Princess, Emerald Princess, Diamond Princess, Sapphire Princess, and Ruby Princess. In surprisingly good condition, the Grand Princess is due soon for an extensive dry dock to bring it up to par with the newer ships: Piazza on Deck 5, Crown Grill premium dining, International Marketplace and "Vines" on Deck 5, etc. My Air New Zealand flight Wednesday from LAX to London Heathrow Airport (LHR) was excellent, as I have come to expect from this airline; comfortable seating on a beautifully refurbished 747-400 with individual TV screens and customized entertainment options, delicious food and open bar - VERY different from the sub-mediocre United Airlines service. The flight departed LAX at 4:30 PM and arrived in London 9 hours later - an hour early! - at 10 AM on Thursday, with only a few short periods of "Fasten Seat-belts" bumpy air: overall, a very enjoyable flight. After a lengthy wait getting through Immigration Control - the UK has very intensive examination, I easily retrieved my luggage and passed through Customs and was ready for the Hotel Hoppa shuttle bus over to the nearby Renaissance LHR Hotel where we would stay for two nights: Thursday and Friday. This is the same hotel where we stayed before and after our British Isles cruise in August, with the view from our room being onto the north - busy! - runway: airliners from all over the world, landing and taking off every 2 minutes. Fortunately, the triple-paned windows prevent almost all sounds from the aircraft. Many 747s, 777s, and a few of the HUGE AirBus 380s, as well as AirBus 330s and 340s: quite a display! Thursday afternoon was spent napping, relaxing and watching the action from the airport. Later on in the evening we again walked over to the nearby Pheasant Inn, which we had discovered in August; this time, however, it was pouring rain when we left the hotel but with our trusty umbrellas we arrived to a packed pub and were lucky to find an empty table. Again, the food was very delicious, very large portions, and at a reasonable price; the two pints of London Pride - for me - added to the enjoyment. By the time we finished and started back to the hotel, the rain had stopped and a full moon was visible in the clear skies. Sleep came easily - at least until around 2 or 3, but we persisted and slept in until 7 AM when the airport action resumed in earnest. Our plan for Friday was to take the public bus (free) from the hotel back over to Heathrow Airport's Central Bus Station, descend to the Underground "Tube" station and take the train into Central London, to the Green Park Station from which we would walk through the park to Buckingham Palace for our 11:30 AM tour of 19 of the State Rooms. Our arrival was early, BUT almost immediately, due to an unexplained package left between the Palace and the Victoria Fountain, the ENTIRE area was cleared by security personnel, pushing all of the hundreds of us down the Mall for a considerable distance, until the bomb squad examined and disposed of said package. Our return to the Palace was in time for the tour, and proceeded with further complication. The interior Buckingham Palace tours began in 1994, as a result of the disastrous fire at Windsor Castle, and the financing of its rebuilding. Now, for two months each summer in August and September, these tours have become among the most popular in London. The tour is extensive and well planned, and these formal staterooms are absolutely splendid in their lavish dEcor and art displays. The only comparison I might make would be to either the Peterhof/Summer Palace or Catherine's Palace near St. Petersburg in Russia. Buckingham Palace, however, exhibits a warmth and feeling of comfort with its superb lighting and presentation. It was a truly memorable experience to see the Queen's "home" during her summer absence. The rest of the afternoon and evening were spent with Canadian friends of Patric, my friend and travel agent, who reside and work in the Canadian High Commission building on Grosvenor Square in Mayfair, once the home of the United States Embassy, now located in a newer building across the Square. Their apartment on the 6th floor of "MacDonald House" is spacious and comfortable and our dinner that evening was excellent, making our 10 PM departure all that more difficult. We located the Bond Tube Station, took the train back to the Green Park Tube Station, transferred to the Piccadilly Line train (very crowded) for Heathrow Airport, ascended to the Central Bus Station, and caught another public bus back to our nearby hotel. It was a long but very interesting, informative, and enjoyable day and evening in London. Yesterday morning at 9 AM we departed the Renaissance LHR Hotel for Terminal 3 Arrivals area, by means of the Hotel Hoppa shuttle bus, where we met Princess personnel for our coach transfer down to Southampton and the Grand Princess; our names were checked against the Princess manifest, our luggage was checked in, we were given a red sticker identifying our coach and, after a wait of about 30 minutes in this very crowded Arrivals area, our coach was called and we departed for the port, a journey of about an hour and a half. On our noon arrival at the Mayflower Cruise Terminal - one of 4 such cruise terminals in Southampton, we encountered HUGE lines of passengers awaiting delayed check in, which was supposed to have started at 11:30 AM. Being of Elite status in Princess' Captain's Circle, however, we were ushered to a much shorter line for our Preferred Check In which proceeded without further delay, and soon we were through airport-style security and allowed on board the Grand Princess, getting to our stateroom #326 on Emerald Deck 8 at about 1:30 PM. In view of the time of year and the northern itinerary of this cruise, we had chosen an (obstructed) ocean view stateroom near the center of the ship for stability considerations; Emerald Deck 8 is the lowest of the passenger decks which is also preferable in case of the substantial sea motion that we expect. Last evening we got our first experience of "moderate" to "rough" seas; tonight we may get "very rough" sea conditions. The "obstructed" ocean view from our stateroom is not really that bad, over the top of a covered lifeboat. It is now raining and quite cool outside the windows here in the Conservatory on Deck 15, a mezzanine surrounding a covered swimming pool; it is one of my favorite places of recluse. The pool has been drained and its surface netted in anticipation of rough seas, but up on the upper level it is pleasant, dry and quiet. This afternoon I will finish my unpacking and then attend a 2 PM meeting of the Cruise Critic group aboard with whom I have been communicating online for the past several months; the Captain, Cruise Director, and other crew are expected to join us in the Skywalker's Lounge on Deck 17, the ugly "Walmart shopping cart handle" feature of the Grand Princess and its two sister ships. So this is the first issue of updates on this cruise "journal" to which I will be adding periodically. Tomorrow we are due in Bergen, Norway, from noon until 6 PM; having been there before it will be a leisurely walk-about on our own. ~~ Beautiful Sunny Day in Bergen, Norway: September 28th ~~ After a rather rough ride at sea from Southampton (rough to very rough), the seas finally calmed around midnight on Sunday and our arrival at noon in Bergen was under clear skies and warm sun! Quite a change! Our docking was at a more distant pier than had been indicated, requiring a local shuttle bus through the crowded industrial dock area into the center of Bergen; the lines of passengers waiting for a bus were long, LONG, but were accommodated rather quickly. Having been to Bergen before in 2006 at the conclusion of an 11-day Norwegian Coastal Voyage round trip from Bergen to Kirkenes, near the Russian border, there was little new for us to see or do. Our previous visit had allowed us to tour extensively. We again chose to take the "Fløibanen" funicular up to the top of mountain with a fantastic view over Bergen city and harbor. Since it was such a clear, sunny day the views were awesome! We observed a Hurtigruten boat approach and dock while we watched; this is the company that operates the Coastal Voyages. Of course, the HUGE Grand Princess was easily seen at the distant dock. After descending back down to the city we walked the short distance to the First Hotel Marin where we had spent 4 nights in 2006; it had not changed a bit, of course. Then it was time for me to find a comfortable sidewalk table at which to enjoy a glass or two of wine while Jim made his rounds, shopping and photographing. Around 5 PM we returned to the park with a spectacular fountain in lake's center near which the shuttle buses back to the ship were located, reboarding the ship well before the 6:30 PM "all aboard." The 7 PM departure was accompanied by a local brass band serenading us from the dock. With blissfully smooth seas again last evening, this morning we are at anchor in Lerwick, Shetland Islands, Scotland, where our 9:45 AM tour of Jarlshof Ruins and Hoswick Centre will give us a nice visit of this rather small island - complete with sights of the famous Shetland Ponies. So it is time to wrap this up, finish my breakfast of delicious melons and fruit, and prepare for our day ashore. More later... ~~ Yesterday in Lerwick, Shetland Islands, Scotland: September 29th ~~ Except for the strong winds, increasing during the day, our visit to Lerwick on the largest of the Shetland Islands, part of Scotland, was most pleasant under clear, sunny skies - BUT chilly and dry! Lerwick is the capital and is a quaint city with architecture - primarily of stone - reminiscent of Norway, Denmark and Sweden, all of which at one time claimed the Shetland Islands. Even our tour guide Astrid was Norwegian, living in Lerwick. Our tour of the day, from 9:45 AM until 1:45 PM, was all the way down to the tip of this Island, to the Jarlshof Ruins that were uncovered by one of the fierce North Seas storms years ago, and date back to ancient times. The main attraction to me was the coach ride down through the unique countryside and the frequent views of grazing Shetland ponies which themselves also date back to the days of the Vikings who inhabited these territories. The landscape is unique in its stark absence of trees; they just refuse to grow in the severe weather conditions with the North Sea on one side of the Island and the Atlantic Ocean on the other. The prevalent strong winds, and the salt spray they carry, are not conducive to the growth of trees. Although North Sea oil is a main contributor to the area's wealth, heating oil on the Island is still quite expensive and peat is still cut from the loamy soil and burned for heat. It is not a very friendly climate, that's for sure! Our drive was first through the small city of Lerwick and then along the rugged coast of the North Sea, until we approached the bottom tip of the Island where we crossed over and proceeded down the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. At the very tip is the airport that appeared to be quite busy, considering the location; our roadway actually crossed over the end of the runway. On our return trip we had to stop for a plane to take off. Midway in our journey was a stop at the Hoswick Centre, a very nice, modern visitors center with clean bathrooms, hot coffee, tea and wonderful scones - a welcome stop. Also in the Centre were numerous photos and artifacts denoting history of the region. Arrival at the Jarlshof Ruins and the large old hotel located nearby, the bright sunshine disguised the cold wind and chilling temperatures, and the hour visit of the Ruins was quite sufficient for viewing this organized display of ancient rocks. My choice was an early exit back to the warm hotel and a glass of wine. Back on the bus, returning to Lerwick, we saw more Shetland ponies with their thick coats and sturdy, short legs; our route back was on the major highway, in contrast to our transit on the way down on very narrow - many times one-lane - roadways. The scenery was spectacular and especially enjoyable from the comfort of our tour bus. Back in Lerwick at the pier, we encountered an already lengthy line of passengers waiting for a tender back to the ship and I chose to join the line even though it was only 2 PM. Jim wanted to further investigate the city, photographing and shopping; he would be on the last tender at 4:30 PM for our 5 PM departure. Even standing there in the tender line for that short time I was chilled to the bone and return to our ship and our WARM stateroom was very welcome. Of course, we were well prepared for the cool weather with our sweaters, leather jackets, and earmuffs, but it was still COLD! Today we are again at anchor at Tórshavn on one of the Faroe Islands, part of Denmark, and the weather forecast is for much cooler temperatures and the possibility of rain, so yesterday might have been a "treat" weather-wise. I'll report later on our experiences. ~~ A Day at Sea in Route to Iceland, September 30th ~~ Today, Thursday, September 30th, we are at sea headed for our first Icelandic port of Akureyri tomorrow, which is on the north shore of this island nation. The seas are "moderate" with some motion although not enough to be of concern. With our stateroom location on Emerald Deck 8 and near amidships, the sea motion is at a minimum; the most we feel are the large swells, up and down, and a little of the rolling motion: not nearly as bad as we had anticipated. So all is fine - so far! There are many more days at sea, yet to come. Yesterday, Wednesday, we were at anchor in the harbor of Tórshavn, Faroe Islands, Denmark, and our tour of the day was by no doubt THE MOST SPECTACULAR of ANY tour I've had on ANY of my 34 previous cruises! After tendering ashore in midmorning, we went by bus from the moderately sized town of Tórshavn up to the northern part of this Faroe Island, Streymoy - one of 18, to a small port village of Vestmanna where we boarded a good-sized launch for our "Cruising of the Vestmanna Cliffs." We wisely chose to sit on the upper, open deck despite the cold wind and threat of rain, and are we glad that we did. Our cruise proceeded past several fish pens where salmon, primarily, are "farmed," and the large fish were jumping wildly, much to our delight. Then we passed near the very steep hillside on which multitudes of sheep were precariously grazing. I concluded that instead of grass on these hillsides they were using Velcro to keep the sheep "attached" to the steep hillside. Seriously, the problem of sheep venturing too close to the rugged shoreline and falling into the surf, and being unable to climb back up, is of constant concern, partially addressed by short sections of fencing along such precipitous edges along the slopes. Farther on we came upon increasingly steep, shear cliffs, soaring upwards to over 600 meters, formed by volcanic activity eons ago. If any of you have toured the Napali Coast on Kauai, Hawaii, you will have a "partial" feeling of the immensity and verticality of these cliffs that are inhabited by scores of wild birds. Unfortunately for us, most of these nesting birds have departed for the year but we did get to see many, many puffins (sea parrots). The waters near the base of these cliffs is a beautiful, medium turquoise blue and is, of course, very deep even at the water's edge. Several times our boat would enter what looked like a large cut in the rocks extending far into the mountain, surrounded by these towering spires, and the boat guide's narration would reverberate from the surfaces. Those of us on the top deck were required to wear bright yellow hard hats in case of any falling debris. (None did!) The farther we proceeded up the coast the more spectacular became these towering rock spires. Our last entrance into one of the "cracks" mentioned above found many seals or sea lions playing in the calm waters inside, and our exit was by a different route, this time passing through a huge arch in one of the rocks. I quickly ran out of superlatives to express this awesome experience! I had NO IDEA that such raw, rugged beauty was in store for us when I randomly booked this cruise. When it was time to finally head back to the dock at Vestmanna, our return was much more rapid, farther out from the cliffs, and the strong winds were blessedly shielded by our earmuffs, scarves, and watch caps - besides our heavy coats and gloves. Those inside on the lower deck had no idea of the splendor and grandeur that they had missed; our outside discomfort was well worth the sensation of looking directly upward at these towering citadels of rock. WHAT AN EXPERIENCE! After our return to the dock and disembarking our cruise boat, there was time for bathrooms and a cup of hot chocolate that, for whatever it cost, was a welcome treat. Then back on our WARM bus for our hour-long trip back to Tórshavn and the long LONG line of passengers awaiting return to the ship by tender. Fortunately, the line moved rather rapidly, there being two tenders at a time, and shortly we were soon back aboard the wonderfully comfortable Grand Princess by mid afternoon. Rain had commenced just after we reboarded the buses in Vestmanna, but had subsided by the time of our arrival at the tender dock. We were quite lucky with the unpredictable weather in this remote place in the North Atlantic. The departure of our ship at 5 PM was on schedule and we are now headed for Iceland. Tomorrow we are on tour for the majority of the day so my report may have to wait until day-after-tomorrow when we are again at sea for our second Icelandic port of Reykjavik. ~~ Our Day in Akureyri: October 2nd ~~ Today we are again at sea, headed for our second Iceland port of Reykjavik on the southwest corner of this Island nation. Our route is to the west of Iceland and to the east of Greenland. There is a gentle motion of the seas presently due to large ocean swells but so far our only really rough seas were on the first sea day out of Southampton. After tomorrow we will be at sea for three days in route to Nova Scotia, Canada. Our day started early since the report time for the tour, "Best of Akureyri," was 7 AM. We encountered a HUGE line of passengers checking in for tours of the day and were assigned Bus 7 (of 8) for the 7:30 AM - 3:30 PM, 8-hour tour. This would leave little time after our return to the ship with 3:30 PM being "all aboard" for a 4 PM departure. First we were given a nice tour of the city of Akureyri, the second largest in Iceland, by Tristi our tour guide, a very blond, young "Viking;" his narration in English - without notes - was excellent throughout the day. What impressed me most about this city was its spotless cleanliness and complete absence of graffiti; the dominant architecture was very Scandinavian in style: Norwegian, Danish, etc. ... , and we were told that great care is taken to ensure the integrity in style of the buildings and homes, many of which are centuries old. The newer buildings were quite modern in contrast, and public facilities were everywhere: schools - elementary and high school, junior colleges & universities, sports centers - gymnasiums, swimming pools, sports fields & arenas, medical facilities - hospitals & offices, civic centers & meeting halls. The Vikings in ancient Iceland were the first to establish a parliament, as a matter of fact. Our journey then took up and across the upper end of the fjord which forms the excellent harbor of Akureyri, near the city's international airport, one of three in Iceland, then back along the opposite shore through lush farm lands with pastures dotted with many sheep, cattle and horses, first brought to this Island by the Vikings. This fjord is over 65 kilometers in length and is a calm refuge from the North Sea beyond. The highways - mostly two-lane - are excellent and we soon turned inland into a wide valley between high smooth, tree-less mountains, up and over a high pass to another such valley, similarly dominated by lush green farm lands streams and rivers. Many stacks of large "marshmallows" - mown hay wrapped in white plastic - were visible everywhere, as well as some "mint-flavored" marshmallows wrapped in light green plastic: words from our very clever guide, Tristi, who said these were treats for the Icelandic trolls who live in the hills. The first stop was at the famous Godafloss Waterfall whose photo most dominates any you might have seen of Iceland. It was here in the year 1000 that Thorgeir Thorkelsson and the Icelandic parliament decreed the island would convert to Christianity. At the Falls, Thorkelsson commemorated the event by hurling his pagan idols into the cataract. The strong, cold wind made our visit brief and we soon were back on our warm, comfortable bus. Fortunately, the partially overcast skies did not produce any rain during the day. For an early lunch (included) we stopped at a large restaurant near Lake Myvatn, a huge lake in an area of extensive volcanic activity at one time. Nearby was "Skutustadir," a group of large craters known as pseudo or rootless craters, formed when lava overflowed the lakeshore's sodden ground. Several of our tour buses were being accommodated but we had our own dining room and were seated at tables of 6. On each table was a large bowl of hot, delicious tomato soup of which we served ourselves a bowl - or two, along with slices of wonderful bread and butter. Then came to each table a platter of trout fillets - seasoned and steamed to perfection, together with a Cole slaw and small boiled potatoes, which we also served ourselves. I've never before tasted such delicious trout! Earlier our guide Tristi had mentioned that the lakes alongside which we were traveling were teaming with brown trout that made our lunch even more special. When I asked later as to the origins of the trout in these lakes, he said that no one really knew. Next we stopped at "Dimmuborgtir" which in Icelandic means "Twilight Castles," or the "Dark City" as we were told by Tristi our guide. As this former lava lake cooled and receded, weirdly shaped lava formations were left exposed in its bed. Driving on farther around Lake Myvatn, and up and over a large round, smooth mountain, we came to an active geothermal area "Namaskard" with many steam vents and boiling mud pots, reminiscent of those in Yellow Stone Park. After walking among these phenomena for a while we boarded our bus for the return trip to Akureyri and our ship. The hills here looked to me like those near the summit of Moana Kea on the Big Island of Hawaii: barren, smooth and multicolored. We were told that some of the US Astronauts had visited here years ago in preparation for their visit to the moon; I can now see why! The ride back found many passengers on our bus napping, as did I, with the warm sunshine flowing in as we traveled back toward the west. Again, the bus rides coming and going were highlights for me with their varied and interesting landscapes: such contrasts to behold. The Grand Princess was waiting at dock for our return and I think we were the last bus; shortly after our reboarding the ship pushed away at 4 PM and set sail back down the long fjord to the ocean and our day at sea today towards Reykjavik, our last port of call tomorrow in Iceland. ~~ Last Port in Iceland, Reykjavik: October 3rd ~~ We have just pulled away from the dock in Reykjavik, Iceland, and are now headed for our next port of call: Sydney, Nova Scotia, Canada, after three days at sea. Our captain announced that he is expecting rough seas as we travel west and south, especially tomorrow; there is a low pressure system which he is trying to avoid by veering farther north, near the tip of Greenland. So the next three days may be somewhat of a challenge. We have been SO LUCKY thus far with the weather and sea conditions that our good luck could not last, I guess. The low-pressure system in question is most probably the remnants of a hurricane traveling up the Atlantic coast from the Caribbean. Today's full day tour was excellent, although it started very early - 7:30 AM, as did our tour day before yesterday from Akureyri. Reykjavik is the capital city of Iceland as well as its largest city and our ship was at dock at quite a distance from its city center. Our initial journey was first to a unique geological site, the junction of the North American Tectonic Plate and the Eurasian Plate, and the gradual parting of these plates is dramatically evident from the "riff" that we saw and through which we walked: on one side, the North American Plate whose opposite edge is the San Andreas Fault in California, and the Eurasian Plate. The parting of these plates has caused a noticeable lowering on one side as they drift apart. Nearby is the ancient location of Iceland's first parliament meeting place and the current location of the (female) prime minister of Iceland. A dramatic waterfall spilling over the edge of the North American Plate created an active river into a nearby lake. The next stop on our tour was at the Gullfoss Waterfall, another HUGE waterfall over two cataracts - each formed by a different lava layer, fed by an enormous glacier - the largest ice field other that those at the poles - and containing heavily sedimented water, on its way down the river into the fjord and the ocean beyond; it had a distinctive grayish color from the glacial sediment. My earmuffs, gloves and scarf were certainly of valuable use today in the clear, cold air! Next was an active geothermal district with many steaming mud pots and vents, along with an impressive geyser that erupted with regular frequency and was most exciting to observe. Not quite an "Old Faithful" geyser, but never the less impressive. Nearby was a resort hotel and restaurant where we enjoyed our early lunch: hot broccoli soup followed by poached salmon with small boiled potatoes, a delicious rice stuffing along with Cole slaw. The salmon was WONDERFUL! Strong, flavorful coffee followed which was a fitting end of an excellent meal in the warm, comfortable dining room. Our last stop on this "Best of the Golden Circle" tour was at a new geothermal processing plant which captures the super-heated waters from deep wells, uses it to create electricity as well as transporting the hot water into the city of Reykjavik for heating. This enormous plant appeared to be quite new and the modern reception center was splendid! An impressive staircase of finely crafted woods lead to the second level, as well as twin elevators to the third level where informational videos explained geothermal energy and how it was being harnessed to provide electricity and heating for the populace of Iceland. Views into the gigantic workings of this plant were available through large glass windows; the plant is almost totally automated. Outside, the distinctive aroma of sulfur is inescapable! The return to Reykjavik included an informative city tour featuring universities, hospitals, senior citizen housing, sports facilities, libraries, theaters and other educational institutions, along with an impressive business district and spectacular churches. Everything was SO CLEAN! How dare ANYONE drop so much as a gum wrapper! The Icelanders are great readers with many published authors - some Novel prizewinners. Languages are emphasized: Icelandic (of course), English, Danish, etc. Iceland's history has experienced domination by both Norway and Denmark until their independence. The guide for our tour was an older gentleman whose extensive knowledge and polished presentation made our day a virtual learning extravaganza; he is retired from Icelandic Air and is currently involved with tourism as lecturer on cruise ships and in local educational institutions. We could NOT have been more fortunate as far as a tour guide. The Icelanders are very literate and educated people, I learned. Now we are cruising out of the long fjord into the North Atlantic towards Greenland and shortly we expect the sea motion to increase. So our next few days at sea may be a little "bumpy" to say the least! ~~ Third Day at Sea: October 6th ~~ Today is Wednesday, October 6th, our last of three days at sea after leaving Reykjavik, Iceland, two days ago. Tomorrow we are at dock in Sydney, Nova Scotia, Canada, for the day before another three days at sea on down to Fort Lauderdale and the end of this cruise. Hopefully we will NOT encounter any hurricanes on their way north along the Atlantic Coast! The seas have been rough after leaving Iceland and our Captain diverted our route westward towards the tip of Greenland to better avoid a low-pressure system to the south. Even then, Monday evening was quite rough, becoming more moderate yesterday morning. Yesterday was "moderate" with the Captain cruising at FULL SPEED throughout the day towards the Belle Isles Channel between Newfoundland and Labrador, again to avoid a second low pressure system in the Atlantic. This morning the seas are quite flat and I think our bumpy cruising is now in the past. The position of our stateroom E326 on Emerald Deck 8 has helped a lot in minimizing the sea motion: "the lower the better; the more midships the better." Last night was the second formal night with the first of FOUR Captain's Circle parties; with over 1900 Members aboard (of 2350), there are now required 4 different parties to accommodate all of us previous Princess cruisers. (We were told that there are now in excess of 10 million Captain's Circle members worldwide.) The top award on our ship went to a couple with over 100 Princess cruises and over 1200 days at sea! My measly 18 cruises and 241 days at sea only rank me at #73 on this cruise. Yesterday was also the fourth in a series of lectures, "Only Way to Cross," by John Maxtone-Graham, a noted author on maritime topics - more specifically famous ocean liners; his "standing room only" lectures and first person experiences have been outstanding! He is a very interesting and entertaining speaker. Of course, his lecture about the Titanic was a highlight of the series and the best I have heard, and his personal interviews with many of the survivors were "ones of a kind." At the rate he is selling his several books, he should be paying Princess to be aboard instead of the contrary! Day before yesterday we enjoyed a special "Pub Lunch" in the specialty dining room, 'The Painted Desert' (once named 'The Sterling Steakhouse', until Carnival took over Princess and has since tried to erase any reference to Lord Sterling, the former CEO of P&O and Princess); my menu choice was "Bangers & Mash" (sausages and mashed potatoes) along with a Bass' Light Ale; it was quite good, a nice change. Days at sea are usually very relaxing with lots of time for doing little, or nothing, and I have gotten quite a bit of reading done; Frederick Forsyth's, The Cobra, is turning out to be a very topical and excellent historical novel. References to our current President, drug wars, and spy technology are well researched, as is typical of Forsyth. I am reading it on my iPad, of course. Through our "obstructed view" window (not all that obstructed) right now I see blue, clear skies with sunshine streaming in, and smooth, flat seas. A pleasant change from the last couple of days! That's about it for these last few days at sea; internet access has been spotty until this morning, and CNN is not always available on TV, but this morning things seems to be returning to normal. ~~ A Rainy Day in Sydney: October 7th ~~ Yes, it is WET today here in Sydney, Nova Scotia, Canada, and our tour of the day, "Sailing on the Bras d'Or", a large inland sea forming the heart of Cape Breton Island, was canceled last evening by the tour operator because of today's predicted inclement weather. The tour was to have been from 7:30 AM until 1:30 PM, with the ship's departure at 2 PM, so I didn't fret that much over its cancellation. Having been here before - with better weather, and in view of the early departure of the ship, we decided to just walk into the nearby downtown area with umbrellas, etc., and look around. I found a nice, busy, warm and dry Tim Horton's Coffee Shop on Charlotte Street, the main street, and spent my "visit" with a large hot chocolate. It was such an interesting place, sitting there looking out onto the wet street, and observing the primarily local clientele inside the Shop. So, of course, I decided to have a SECOND large hot chocolate! The rain was not heavy but came in sporadic showers, with relatively dry sessions in between. After finishing my hot chocolate, the rain seemed to have let up so I made my break back to the ship, almost making it there before the rain again increased; it was only a distance of a few blocks. This afternoon our ship sails for Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and the conclusion of this 16-day cruise. The next three days at sea may at first see some rough seas as we travel from Nova Scotia across to the Maine and Boston area, where there is now a large storm in progress. With luck, our last two days at sea will be on smooth seas as we near Florida. Just as long as no eager hurricanes decide to venture northward along the Atlantic Coast. There is one more formal night aboard, the night after tomorrow, I think, so then it will be time for serious packing and preparation for leaving our cozy stateroom we have inhabited for the past couple of weeks or so. Even with the "obstructed view" our ocean view stateroom has been quite satisfactory; no need for a balcony stateroom in this weather and with this itinerary across the North Atlantic. In Fort Lauderdale we are spending one night after disembarking the Grand Princess on Monday, October 11th, at the Sheraton Fort Lauderdale Beach Hotel - hopefully warming up! - before flying back to Los Angeles on Tuesday, October 12th, via DFW and a plane change. I am looking forward to warm sunshine and sandy beaches! ~~ Final Day at Sea: October 10th ~~ The end is near! The end of our 16-day Iceland/Norway Explorers Cruise, that is. Early tomorrow morning we arrive in Fort Lauderdale's Port Everglades and our scheduled late disembarkation from the Grand Princess is at 9:30 AM - since we are not flying out until Tuesday, remaining at the Sheraton Fort Lauderdale Beach Hotel overnight. We will actually have the better part of two days in Fort Lauderdale with our early arrival and late departure on Tuesday; our American Airlines flight #1031 is not until 6:40 PM with our arrival in Los Angeles at 11 PM (via DFW). Today's weather forecast is for another beautiful and warm day at sea with temperatures up in the 70s; yesterday was almost as perfect, with smooth seas and balmy breezes - quite a change from the cold, strong winds of two days ago after leaving Sydney, Nova Scotia, and the moderate to rough seas we experienced as a result of the rain storm over Nova Scotia and Eastern Canada. Yesterday on deck it was as if another ship-load of passengers had appeared: shorts, sandals, swim suits and sun glasses replacing parkas, earmuffs, scarves, gloves and umbrellas. "What a difference a day makes..." There will be many sunburned bodies even before arriving in Florida! Last night was our final formal night accompanied by the Captain's Farewell Party (FREE drinks!) and the last of the productions shows in the Princess Theater, this one entitled "The British Invasion." There have been several such production shows presented during the cruise - all excellent - with two lead male and female singers, along with 7 female and 4 male dancers; it was really a great ensemble and the shows were fresh, new, energetic and challenging with many and varied costume changes as well as elaborate sets. This last production show was the pinnacle and surpassed anything I have yet seen aboard a cruise ship. Some shows were presented during our "bumpy" evenings and the cast is to be congratulated for carrying off the show under less than ideal conditions: the Princess Theater is at the very front of the ship. Dinner menus offered lobster tails served along with Tiger Prawns (I was served TWO EACH!), finalized with yet another delicious Princess' dessert soufflE, this one Warm Citrus with Vanilla Sauce: wonderful! Today will be a lazy day for me with packing lurking in the very near future. This afternoon at 2 PM there is a final get-together for our Cruise Critics group aboard, the "Nordic Explorers;" it has been a very active group. Today's meeting in the Skywalker's Lounge on Deck 17 will be quite different than our first meeting there on the first day at sea (rough). So there is not much more exciting news to report today from the Grand Princess; my final journal entry will most probably be on Tuesday morning from Fort Lauderdale. Until then... ~~ Fort Lauderdale: October 11th ~~ Fort Lauderdale! We have arrived in Florida, now at dock in Port Everglades along with many other cruise ships; this has become one of the busiest of cruise ports on the East Coast. It is still only a few minutes after 7 AM and the sun has not yet made an appearance. The visual quiet scene outside disguises the beehive of activity going on as 2400 passengers - on this ship, and thousands of others on other ships, clamor to disembark, collect their mountains of luggage ashore, and proceed on - most to the airports: Fort Lauderdale as well as Miami, traveling home. Since we are staying the night here before our own flight back to California tomorrow, our departure from the ship will be among the last, and hopefully accompanied by the fewest; let the "herd" go first! Our baggage was placed outside in the hallway last evening and now awaits our collection - at the appointed time - ashore in the terminal; the few remaining things we will carry along this morning, clearing our stateroom for its next occupants, due to be checking aboard around noontime for their Caribbean cruise. Lots of baggage coming and going, staterooms being cleaned and readied, ... A busy morning for the ship's crew. Around 8 AM we will go down to the Botticelli Dining Room on Deck 6 for breakfast and then to the Vista Lounge (for Elite and Platinum Captain's Circle Members) just above on Deck 7 to await our 9:30 AM call for disembarkation. By that time the great majority of passengers should have already departed. In the Vista Lounge there will be juices, coffee, tea, Danish pastries, yogurt, etc., for our pleasure whilst waiting. It is nice to be Elite! "Noblesse Oblige." This will probably be my final email for this cruise since the Sheraton Fort Lauderdale Beach Hotel may or may not have internet access available; we shall see. This has been quite a different cruise experience for me, the 16 days with many (8 total) at sea, the Trans Atlantic crossing, and the spectacular sights of new places: Iceland, Faroe Island and the Shetland Islands. I am not ready to do this again, at least for quite a while, but it was a great experience. Now it is time to go home and stay there for a while! ~~ Sheraton Fort Lauderdale Beach Hotel - WOW! October 11th ~~ That's all I can say about our 10th floor room in the Sheraton Fort Lauderdale Beach Hotel: WOW! Without delay we were checked into our room on arrival at around 10:15 AM and have late checkout tomorrow at 4 PM, so that gives almost two full days to enjoy Fort Lauderdale. Ours is a corner room on the 10th floor, with the beach and Atlantic Ocean in full view to the east and Port Everglades - with a full view of the Grand Princess at dock - to the south. Floor to ceiling windows give a virtual panoramic view! It is really breathtaking! As I may have mentioned, this room is being paid for with my Starwood's Preferred Guest "Starpoints" (7000) which I earn by using my SPG American Express card; these points can also be transferred to any of my airline frequent flyer programs. How can I loose? This hotel has recently been substantially remodeled and the appointments in our large room are quite modern: flat panel TV, wireless internet access, Starbuck's coffee service, wonderful air-conditioning, and ultra modern furnishings - desk with chair, large overstuffed chair and ottoman, credenza and HUGE pristine bathroom. Not bad for free! I think my choice of accommodation in Fort Lauderdale was a good one! http://www.starwoodgp.com/gsp/connections/home.do?CNURL=https%3A%2F%2Flogin.globalsuite.net%2FIndex&PID=664&CNTD=no&TP=&RT= More later... ~~ Adios, Fort Lauderdale! October 12th ~~ As the sun begins to rise in the east, beautifully visible through the large, floor-to-ceiling windows here in Room 1080 at the Sheraton Fort Lauderdale Beach Hotel, the final day of our journey is at hand with our American Airlines flight back to Los Angeles this evening at 6:40 PM, arriving at 11 PM. The Hotel is granting us late check-out until 4 PM which is just about the right time to leave for the nearby Fort Lauderdale Airport, so all has worked out splendidly! This Hotel has been a delightful treat: the spectacular views from our windows, the spacious modernly furnished room, the exquisitely comfortable beds, and the convenient wireless internet - have all contributed to a pleasant visit, and for FREE! Yesterday afternoon while enjoying a Margarita at the Beach Bar & Grill, I happened to look out just in time to see the Grand Princess edge past the buildings, out to sea, turning slowly to the south on its way to the Caribbean; apparently it sailed around 5 PM. It was a beautiful sight: brilliant white ship against the blue and turquoise waters of the Atlantic Ocean in the fading light of the day. "Bon Voyage!" Last evening we walked up Seabreeze Boulevard a few blocks to Bubba Gump's Seafood Restaurant for dinner, adding yet another location of this chain to my growing list of those visited: Lahaina, Maui; Long Beach, CA; Cancun, Mexico; Victoria Peak, Hong Kong. The original location is in Monterrey, CA, yet for me to visit. Today we are going to take a local Water Taxi around the area's inland waterways which should give a nice overview of Fort Lauderdale's substantial waterfronts: residential and commercial. With the current overcast skies, perhaps it will not be as hot as it was yesterday. Just so long as the rain stays away. So this is AT LAST my final email to you for this trip that started all those weeks ago on September 22nd with our flights from Los Angeles to London; it has been a long one, and it is now time to go home. ~Ron Read Less
Sail Date September 2010
I waited a long time to try cruising and so pleased that MSC targeted the Australains last year. We became a number of 1700 Aussies or so out of more than 2200 passengers...or numbers something like that! MSC were testing the waters so to ... Read More
I waited a long time to try cruising and so pleased that MSC targeted the Australains last year. We became a number of 1700 Aussies or so out of more than 2200 passengers...or numbers something like that! MSC were testing the waters so to speak. They provided welcoming service, that didnt disappear throughout the 18 nights. We were entertained by young italians, teaching us sushi making, ice carving, cards, italian lessons, book club, games, dancing and lots of laughter. Our spacious cabin was with a huge porthole but no balcony. I like the fresh air so plan on a balcony next time. Not complaining but it was our first cruise and you learn these things. We were also in the middle of the ship and so movement and rocking was negligiable, even when we safely avoid the hurricane and detoured away from The Bahamas. Bonus, we had fun in Boston USA instead. It is a multi cultural ships. Yes you do hear messages many times over in 5 languages... but if I didnt speak Italian on an Italian ship, I am grateful they communicate to me in my language..as would be the other nationalites on board. I am not Italian... I'm a Maltese / Australian. I appreciated the European class, and flavours of the world. If I wanted what I had at home, I could stay at home. Travelling on such a large ship gave me a peaceful experience... I could be as busy or as relaxed as I choose. Or as we choose... I did have my husband along. We were never bored, never felt like we were on top of everyone else (except at the buffet...and we quickly worked out that no one misses out as there is more than enough food), we never tired of each other and we were stimulated by everything around us. On board, you have choices of the library in arm chairs or taking the book away to your cabin or deck chair (sun or shade). Bars galore, all with different ambiances. Restaurants or buffets with tasty variety... fresh, raw cooked or fried, gelati bar is a must... variety for everyone. In fact one could eat for 20 hours a day. On our holiday I lost 8 kgs, but the choices my husband made at meal times gained him 8kg... so it is what you make of it! One thing I like about cruising is that you set your own time for anything you want to do. You can make friends with other passengers or not.. The best thing is that MSC gives you the option. I also appreciated being cleaned up after, no cleaning, no cooking, no washing... the hardest task is reading the daily newsletter to see tomorrow's port, excursion choices, weather, activities and deciding what to wear. I would recommend and have this company to others. We are getting deals of two for one in Australia if you book in advance. Really great value for money. I can only wish they bring their ships down under so we don't have the excessive airfare that goes with it Read Less
Sail Date September 2010
Princess Transatlantic London - New York City September 3-17 2010 CABIN I chose a balcony cabin for several reasons; I want a window, it is nice to let some fresh air in the cabin, I like to spend time on the balcony. To make a long story ... Read More
Princess Transatlantic London - New York City September 3-17 2010 CABIN I chose a balcony cabin for several reasons; I want a window, it is nice to let some fresh air in the cabin, I like to spend time on the balcony. To make a long story short, whenever I read on the cc roll call about the rate going down, I would call Princess & be put back in queue for an upgrade. In other words if I went from a B to a BA category and a less expensive price was mentioned on cc, I would call Princess and request to be put back to a B category. Eventually the price paid for the cruise was $3K; the original price was $7K. Below is the dining guide available from the front desk gratis. Venue Time Location Morning DaVinci Dining Room 7:30am-9:30am Deck 6, midship Horizon Court 6:00am-11:30am Deck 15, aft Cafe Caribe Pastries/Bev4:00am-10:00am Deck 15, aft International Cafe 6:00am-11:30am Deck 5, midship Afternoon DaVinci Dining Room Noon-1:30pm (Lunch) Deck 6, midship 3:30pm-4:30pm (Tea) Horizon Court 11:30am-3:30pm (Lunch) 3:30pm-5:30pm (Light Snack) Trident Grill 11:30am-11:00pm Deck 15, forward Pizzeria 11:30am-11:00pm Deck 15, midship Scoops Ice Cream Bar 11:30am-11:00pm Deck 15, midship with complimentary soft serve International Cafe 6:00am-11:00pm Deck 5, midship Vines 11:00am-11:00pm Deck 5, midship Evening **Michelangelo (anytime dining) 5:30pm-10:00pm Deck 5, midship DaVinci (anytime dining) 5:30pm-10:00pm Deck 6, midship Botticlli (Traditional dining) 6:00pm (1st seating) Deck 6, aft 8:15pm (2nd seating) Sabatini's-reservation's only 6:00pm-11:00pm Deck 16, aft Crown Grill-reservation's only 6:00pm-11:00pm Deck 7, midship International Cafe 6:00am-11:00pm Deck 5, midship Vines 11:00am-11:00pm Deck 5, midship Cafe Caribe 5:30pm-11pm (dinner buffet) Deck 5, midship 11pm-4am (Bistro) Trident Grill 11:30am-11:00pm Deck 15, forward Pizzeria 11:30am-11:00pm Deck 15 midship Scoops Ice Cream bar 11:30am-11:00pm Deck 15, midship ** Michelangelo and DaVinci are used for reservations only and non-reservations . EMBARKATION: This was perhaps the smoothest boarding I have been on and I have only been on about 6 cruises. As said below in Day 1. FOOD: We actually found the food to be ok. Ok as far as I am concerned for I am used to hospital cafeteria food. The thing that spoiled it was that on Wed. 9/15/10 we ate at a specialty restaurant "Crown Grill" where the steak was not tender & the knives were not sharp. You figure that for the $25 you would get more. Weather: Most of the weather listed below was taken around 5am from the Captain's Log on channel 47. . Ports missed: . The Captain can't be held responsible for missed ports due to weather conditions. These are the risks we take as passengers. . Princess Theater: Fiesta deck 6 bow & Promenade deck 7 bow This theater is used for shows and other events where large audiences are expected; like the mandatory muster drill. . What to do: . There were plenty of activities in the Platter as well as those planned for our group of nearly 200 in the CC Roll Call. Pre-Cruise 8/31/10 - Tue to 9/1/10 - Wed; Boston - Reykjavik - London . I flew to London on Icelandic Air business class. I got to the hotel about 3pm London time. The hotel is located right above Victoria Station. Breakfast and supper are included; my room was way in the back; the room was definitely not worth the price. The people on the other hand were very friendly. . Pre-Cruise 9/2/10 - Thu; London - sunny 60's . I took a HoHo bus in the morning of London & in the afternoon went to Stonehenge. . Day 1 - London 9/3/10 - Friday; Cloud Cover; Pressure 1021 HPA; Temp 64.4F; Wind E 4; . I checked out of the hotel then went for breakfast & back to my room to pack. I ended up taking a cab from the hotel to the bus station (about 3 pounds) because I did not have the brains to pack light. At the terminal a porter helped me (for a fee of course) with my luggage & took them to the truck. Then I went to gate 2 where I was herded to a bus. The ride from London to Southampton was uneventful. We got to the terminal about 1330 & 1 hour later I was aboard the Crown Princess. This was the fastest boarding I have witnessed. When I got to my room I found one of my luggages outside the door waiting for me. My stateroom steward was Sonia. I asked her about the robe & slippers I requested; she said she would have to speak to her supervisor as those are reserved for suite passengers. The request I made online several weeks ago. As I unpacking my suitcase, the second one came. So before the mandatory drill I have my entire luggage unpacked. I went to the front desk, asked if they would deliver the reminders to the cc group & also made 10 invites to the ships officers. Then the necessary drill; but the Crown Princess handles it different. Rather than take you to the boats, you go not wearing your life jacket but carrying it to an inside room & you listen to a recorded lecture about how to use a life jacket. The recording was talking about safety aboard the ship & I was thinking "what happened to the drill." In the Michelangelo Dining Room I was scheduled for 5:30 pm dining table 258. We have 2 people from MD, 3 from NH, & 1 from Boston. For an appetizer I had shrimp cocktail which turned out to be smaller than what I was used to. I also had fruit, salad wedge which seemed to be cabbage, and steak. At dinner the question arose of eating in the specialty restaurants. One person said that the problem with that is that you are given too much to eat so he doubts he will try it this cruise. It was a nice enjoyable meal; too late to make the 7pm show so I opted for the 8:30pm. I purchased a coffee card which does not have an expiration date. However if you buy a $59 coke card there is one; go figure. The show featured the Crown Princess Dancers, The Crown Princess Orchestra, and comedian Kelly Montieth - he was very funny. Also featured was Cruise Director Sam Hawkins-Thomas (better known as Sam). I spoke to her after the show; she said she will be at the 1st M&G. About 9:30pm I headed for the Horizon Terrace on Lido 15 aft. The food is laid out buffet style & included lobster claws, scallops, & pate with lobster and seafood. . Day 2 - Falmouth 9/4/10 - Sat; Wind SE 3; Overcast; Pressure 1018.5 HPA; Temp 65.3F . I got up @ 6:30am & headed for breakfast in the DaVinci Dining Room. The front desk & passenger info both said breakfast at DaVinci opens at 7am but the Maitre D said 7:30. While waiting for DaVinci to open I got some quarters for the washer and soap. At DaVinci I ended up sitting with two couples who were very interesting. It is nice to be waited on, however waiting until 7:30am is not my cup of tea but then again I am on vacation! Next I went to the Lotus Spa but they did not have anything that interested me; maybe later. Then I walked up to the fitness center; you can work out, watch TV on the equipment you are using plus the view from the fitness center is breath taking as it is above the bow. Then I meandered down to the Cafe Caribe for my 2nd breakfast of scrambled eggs with mushrooms, lox, and pate with lobster and seafood. One gentleman said jokingly if we had finished it last night we would not be eating it today! I was going to try DaVinci for lunch but was told this is open for dinner only. So I went to the Michelangelo Dining Room & sat with 5 people who would be my dinner companions for this voyage. Then I gathered my papers and went to Skywalkers for the M&G @ 3 pm. People showed up earlier than 3pm & a lot were rather late because of tender problems. It seems the dock the Crown Princess usually docks at was busy so we had to tender. This created a problem because while several tenders could be used to transport people, there was only room to dock 1 tender. In addition one could not walk the pier but had to be bused. One couple I had lunch with said they went ashore and others told them they had been waiting 1 hour for a bus, so they turned around & took the tender back. The M&G started on time but the ones that said they would be there early did not show up due to tender problems. Cruise Director Sam showed up. Momsturn & Dancelovers both arrived late but still got to sell the group buttons and give out the name tags. So all in all, it turned out to be a nice event. For supper I ate in Michelangelo again & had a nice & leisurely dinner. Entertainment was 'Motor City' performed by the Crown Princess Dancers & Orchestra; hosted by Cruise Director Sam. It was a fantastic event. After the entertainment I went to the International Cafe for chicken salad, shrimp, & hot cocoa. I had noticed various food items on display earlier but did not purchase any as I thought they had to be purchased. Someone at supper said that the food is free; and with the coffee ticket I purchased the hot cocoa was free. . Day 3 - Dublin 9/5/10 - Sun; Wind SE 5; Overcast with rain; Pressure 1013.5 HPA; Temp 59.9F . I went down to the International Cafe only to realize I left my medication & pens in my cabin; medication in case we did not return on time & had to take a plane to Belfast. There were 3 tours, the Round and Round, Hokie Pokie, and Up and Down; all the same tour. I was on the Up and Down with 11 other people. After touring Dublin we went in the countryside where we visited Powerscourt House and Gardens, onto the village for Laragh for lunch at the Lynham's Hotel Pub where I had beef stew with beer & it was excellent. We continued on into Glendalough where we had a tour of the monastery. The tour was to take us to the mountains, however as the weather was foggy, overcast, and drizzle, the tour guide decided against going as we would not be able to see anything. The tour took us to two lakes by the monastery but no one wanted to leave the 15 passenger van. Ireland is a beautiful and historic country. At supper in the Michelangelo Dining Room the Captain announced that we would not stop in Belfast as the forecast was for gale force winds in the Irish Sea. Instead we would spend the night in Dublin & leave for Iceland @ noon tomorrow. In the Princess Theater 3 of my 5 dinner companions and I saw tonight's entertainment starring comedy vocalist Diane Cousins hosted by Cruise Director Sam; the audience gave her a standing ovation. Afterwards I stopped at the International Cafe for chicken salad, shrimp & hot cocoa. . Day 4 - Dublin to Reykjavik 9/6/10 - Mon; Wind SE 6; Overcast with rain; Pressure 1001.1 HPA; Temp 59.9F . At 7am the Captain announced that the Harbormaster would not allow the River Pilot to board this ship sail due to weather conditions thus we could not sail. The Captain said that he agreed with this decision adding that leaving port was now out of his hands; he said we are now scheduled to leave at 7pm. I went for breakfast then met a cc couple and went for a 2nd breakfast. At lunch I ate with Mr. & Mrs. RubberCityRebel & GoBucks. I was having supper in Michelangelo & towards the end of the meal the ship moved. At first people could not believe it then when they realized the ship was moving, a round of applause. Entertainment in the Princess Theater was Variety Showtime with juggler Jaz Danion, a Parisian Comedy hosted by Cruise Director Sam. Next I stopped in Vines for some free seafood. After that I went to the casino & spent about $7 on the slots; last of the big spenders. When I got back to my cabin there was a note that passports are to be given to the front desk between 3-5pm tomorrow. . Day 5 - Dublin to Reykjavik 9/7/10 - Tue; cloudy; rough seas 7.5 - 12 ft; winds - force 9 (gale); in the 50's; I got up at 6:30am, went to the front desk, gave them my passport and received a receipt; we are to collect them Thu 9/9. Then I went to the Cafe Caribe for breakfast. I ate with a man from Chicago, a retired insurance salesman, he retired at 55. I went to the 2nd M&G in Skywalkers; the Captain showed up & had a question & answer session. It turned out to be a nice meeting. After lunch I saw the movie Robin Hood. After supper at Michelangelo we went to Spotlight Showtime starring comedy vocalist Diane Cousins. Then I went to Cafe Caribe for a 9pm snack. Tonight we move clocks back 1 hour tonight. . Day 6 - Reykjavik 9/8/10 - Wed; cloudy rough seas 7.5 - 12 ft; winds 47 knots (50 mph) force 7 (near gale); . I had breakfast in DaVinci with a couple from CA & a couple from TX. Then I went to Cafe Caribe for my 2nd breakfast & ate w/ a woman who talked a great deal and was very interesting. She talked about her vertigo; seemed to be bragging, said she has a walker for that. I was going to tell her that if she thinks she has problems just look at other people but I kept quiet. I met the 3 stooges I have supper with; we went to Adagio for lunch but there were no tables, so we went to DaVinci. The Captain announced all afternoon that landing in Reykjavik might be a problem due to weather; to make a long story short the port was cancelled. I would like to see Reykjavik & hope to return for a visit. The Captain also said that this time of year can be difficult navigating in these waters. From what I hear, Greenland & New Foundland might be a problem also. After dinner in Michelangelo we went to Spotlight Showtime starring singer Claude Eric; the audience gave him a standing ovation. Next I stopped in the Casino to observe other losing their money. A stop at the International Cafe for chicken salad, shrimp, & hot cocoa provided me 9pm nutrition. The waiter gave me the cocoa as he remembered me from other nights; tonight though I forgot my coffee card. I saw the weather on CNN; it showed a hurricane in the islands and several rain areas that might affect us towards the end of the cruise (my opinion). . Day 7 - Reykjavik - Qaqortoq (Greenland) 9/9/10 - Thu; overcast; moderate seas 4 - 7.5 ft; winds 29 knots force 7 near gale; . I went down to the front desk, gave them thank you notes for the Captain & Cruise Director. At 9am I went to the Wheelhouse Bar to retrieve my passport; then I went to the future cruise desk to look at future cruises. I ate lunch with 2 other cc couples; 1 from Toronto & 1 from Vancouver. At 2:30pm in the Princess Theater the Back-up Plan with Jennifer Lopez & Alex O'Loughlin. Supper in Michelangelo followed by Comedy Showtime starring comedian Tom Biscoe hosted by Cruise Director Sam. I have developed a sore throat so had tea, shrimp, & chicken salad at International Cafe. This time I remembered to bring my coffee card. We move the clocks back 1 hour again. . Day 8 - at sea headed for Qaqortoq (Greenland) 9/10/10 - Fri; 43 degrees; mostly sunny; moderate seas 4-7.5 ft; winds force7 . I had breakfast then went to deck 15 & looked around the Horizon Court & Cafe Caribe & the Pizza & Ice Cream Bar & Lotus Spa. I went back to the cabin because of my sore throat. After a nap, I went for lunch, had pea soup, tuna melt, & tea & sat with a couple from Southampton married 62 years. Later, after her husband left lunch, she confided that she is worried about him as she has seen his memory lapse in the past month. The Captain announced that we are in a fjord & we saw ice bergs, whales, & seals. One of the advantages of being on the Riviera deck is that I can walk to the rear of the ship to the Pool. I'm glad I took some warm clothing. As we were cruising in a fjord, the ice bergs were on the port side, & my cabin was on the port side, I spent most of the afternoon in my cabin taking pictures. Supper at Michelangelo followed by Destination Anywhere in the Princess Theater starring the Crown Princess Dancers hosted by Cruise Director Sam. After the performance I went to the Casino & had a nice chat with cc member BermudaMom. Then to the Cafe Caribe on deck 15 for a 9pm snack but I did not like the offerings so I to went back to International Cafe on deck 5 for shrimp, tea, & hot chocolate. . Day 9 - Qaqortoq (Greenland) 9/11/10 - Sat; sunny; slight seas 1 - 5.4 ft; winds 41.4 2.3 kts. . The ship was tendered at 7am; I met Joy Caballero for the Tour Great Greenland Tannery Tour in the Vines Bar. She arranged with the front desk for us to disembark on the same tender by giving the front desk all the members in the tour. Sure enough our group of 19 was on the 2nd tender. At arrival in port, we were met by the tour leader, turns out this was a tour run by the Tourist Office & we toured a fur factory; it was a walking tour that lasted 1 hour. The tour cost 11 Euros; I gave the office 20 & only wanted 5 back as the rest would have been in change. There was a long line and eventually I got to pay; it would have been very easy not to pay for the tour & frankly easier. After the tour I walked around town (if you want to call it that - the ship of 3000 has more passengers than the town has citizens). Then I went back to the ship and had lunch with people I had eaten with before; Paul, Joan, Mary, & the couple from Southampton. I saw the movie Date Night at 2:30pm in the Princess Theater. After supper in Michelangelo we saw Destination Anywhere, the same performance as last night. Tonight I did not feel like a 9pm snack. I purchased some Nyquil which probably does not agree with Coumadin but what the heck. Now I think I will get some nasal spray. It was choppy when I went to sleep, winds were force 7, then force 8. The calm seas we have in Qaqortoq picked up to rough seas. . Day 10 - Qaqortoq (Greenland) to St. John's 9/12/10 - Sun; pc; 46.6 degrees; NW force 7 near gale; seas rough 7.5 - 12 ft.; . These were the 5am readings & seas calmed down during the night, but not the wind. I had breakfast at DaVinci with 2 couples; one of which is in R716 & gave me antihistamine; can't see that it is doing any good & it may conflict with my Coumadin. After breakfast went to the front desk & asked if it would be possible to get a board free of charge for our cc group. They said yes. Then I went to the 10am lecture "Scholarship @ Sea: Maritime History Lecture." Lunch at noon in DaVinci then at 2:30m I saw the movie "Prince of Persia." After supper in Michelangelo the International Crew Show starring the Crown Princess crew. . Day 11 - Qaqortoq (Greenland) to St. John's 9/13/10 - Mon; overcast; 47.8 degrees; NE force 2; slight seas 1 - 5.4 ft.; . After breakfast at DaVinci, I went down to Deck 5, midship where the cc message board was located (see 9/12/10) & wrote some events. The board was a welcome gift (if you will) but it was too late. Then I went to the 10am lecture Scholarship @ Sea "Maritime History Lecture" The Modern Struwwelpeter. After lunch we saw the movie Invictus. At supper @ Michelangelo a dinner companion mentioned that the cleanliness in the spa, gym, locker room leave a lot to be desired; he expected more from a ship built in 2006 then the 8:15pm performance of Shake, Rattle & Roll featuring the Crown Princess Dancers & the Crown Princess Orchestra hosted by Cruise Director Sam. . Day 12 - St. John's Newfoundland 9/14/10 - Tues; pc; 52.2 degrees; NE force 4 - 14.1 kts; slight seas 1-5.4 ft.; . BarbinMich (Barbara Moorehouse) organized a van tour with Larry for $55 (US) from 8am - 1pm; the meeting area was the International Cafe on Deck 5, the number of participants 6; BarbinMich, GoVals & friend, Molokaihuakai, and Paul8. We saw Signal Hill, Cape Spear (most easterly point of land in the Western world, Petty Harbour, & Quidi Vidi Lake. Morgan123 organized a tour for $60 that included more however; all the important parts of St John's were seen. I ate at the DaVinci with 1 couple, 1 person from Scotland & 1 from NJ. At 2:30pm we saw the afternoon movie "The Bounty Hunter" in the Princess Theater. After supper in Michelangelo we saw a repeat performance of Shake, Rattle & Roll followed by the Hypnotic Showtime starring hypnotist David Night. . Day 13 - St. John's to NYC 9/15/10 - Wed; pc; 65.5 degrees; wind West Force 5 - fresh breeze; seas moderate 4 - 7.5 ft; . I had breakfast then headed for greeting card making at 9am with Santa it was a lot of fun. I later learned that she was disappointed as she took supplies for the # of people that said they would attend but there were only 3 Tuesday and 6 today, this was not scheduled. At 10:30am I left for the Wheelhouse Bar where we were to leave @ 11am for the cabin crawl. We saw a penthouse suite which is awesome. The bath is divided in 1/2; a large toilet in one half & a shower & bath in the other. A queen size bed with a TV and in the living room a TV/VCR & couch. After lunch I went to the 1:30pm lecture Tales for Travelers in the Princess Lounge which put me to sleep. Supper tonight was in the Crown Grill accompanied by the 3 musketeers. George last night said the food at the CG was a step above the M but I did not think the food was that great. Then again I am used to hospital food; nothing fancy, just plain & simple, the ole KISS principle. After supper we went to the Princess Theater for tonight's entertainment of What a Swell Party with the Crown Princess Dancers. Tonight I packed & have more do tomorrow. . Day 14 - St. John's to NYC 9/16/10 - Thu; pc; 61.7 degrees; moderate seas 4.7.5 ft; wind NW Force 7 near gale; . I had breakfast in DaVinci then went to reception to get a copy of my account then headed down to future cruises & made a reservation for May 4, 2011 cruise from Fort Lauderdale to San Francisco; this cruise will replace the NCL Miami - Barcelona I have already booked. I realized later that the NCL cruise might be a future cruise; I will have to check this when I get home. The thing with Princess is that I am one person occupying a 2 person cabin. As such, Princess will credit me with 2 cruises. Several years ago I took a Princess cruise which credited me with 1 cruise; about 18 months Princess changed their policy & now you are credited 2 cruises. So this cruise equals a total of 3 cruises I have taken. One more cruise & I will be Platinum & 5 cruises after that I will be Elite. After the future cruises I went to Skywalkers where I read a few chapters of Harry Bosch. After lunch I went to my cabin & finalized packing my 2 bags; they are to be put outside the cabin door at 5pm. I gave Sonia my Stateroom Steward $20 & put another $20 in an envelope for Ghana our waitress. After a leisurely supper I saw the 9pm show Farewell Showtime starring Claude Eric. I went to the Casino & cashed out my account receiving $2.21; last of the big gamblers. Then I stopped by International Cafe for Shrimp, Hot Chocolate, & Chicken salad. Next I went to my cabin and finalized packing. We arrive in NYC about 5am tomorrow. I am to go to DaVinci @ 8:45am to meet the train group. . Day 15 - NYC; pc . We arrived in NYC about 5am. I took the Princess bus to Penn Station then Amtrak to South Station in Boston for $49. You can't beat that. It was a great end to a wonderful cruise.   Read Less
Sail Date September 2010
First of all, Holland America cruises are usually fantastic. We booked this cruise for the itinerary and were not disappointed. We began in Amsterdam and it was the "Sail In 2010" on our embarkation day - the final of a race? ... Read More
First of all, Holland America cruises are usually fantastic. We booked this cruise for the itinerary and were not disappointed. We began in Amsterdam and it was the "Sail In 2010" on our embarkation day - the final of a race? of tall ships. We were taken to a temporary facility as the tall ships were parading around our usual dock. The line to get into the tent went pretty quickly. Once inside we were given a number and told to wait until it was called. After a considerable period of time, I noticed that the numbers being given out were four numbers lower than we had been given. People who had just arrived were being called up to the check-in counter and we just kept waiting. I finally asked the lady with the tickets if I could exchange for a lower number (which she had) and was told no and to wait my turn to check-in and, I might add, she was not very pleasant. Well, we waited for a very long time, a little over two hours. I became very nervous as there were way too many people in a small space for my comfort. Elderly people were standing for too long and seating spaces had been exhausted. I did not feel safe - if a fire had broken out, it would have been disastrous! I wish I had taken pictures... Our first port was Edinburgh, Scotland and we saw the International Tattoo in the courtyard of the castle in Edinburgh. It poured down rain, but we were prepared. It would have been better to have better weather, but oh well, we can't change that! It was a fantastic performance! The other stops were the Kirkwall in the Orkney Islands, Torshavn in the Faroe Islands, Reykjavik in Iceland, cruising Prins Christian Sound and visiting Qaqortoq in Greenland, St. Anthony and St. John's Newfoundland and Sydney and Halifax in New Brunswick. We disembarked in New York. My comment about HAL's organizational skills started with embarkation. For most of the ship tours, we met in the theatre. They would call a tour and all the people would line up for the little circular labels we all love and cherish. I can't understand why, if they know how many people are on tours, they couldn't have a better way of calling the groups. Two people to hand out a label to many busloads of passengers just doesn't make sense. It was chaos with a little organization. What would it take to assign tour tickets in advance by the number of people on a bus? I hate the cattle truck feeling! We took a tour in Iceland that was the worst we have ever had. The guide seemed sick, did not exhibit good personal hygiene and did not have a good command of the language. She would say "on your left" which mostly meant right. She told us about all kinds of beautiful things, then would say, "but you're not going to see that today". When we got to the Blue Lagoon to sight see, she told us we could put our feet in the water. Guess what? We almost got evicted by the security. When we got back into Reykjavik, she let us off in town and told us where we could catch the shuttle - even marked it on our map. Guess what? We would still be there if it wasn't for some helpful passengers who asked in a tourist office and came back for us. Wow! This was my worst tour ever and I almost forgot, I caught her cold four days later. I am still remembering her! We loved Newfoundland and had an especially fantastic tour guide in St. John's. Then we got caught in the Hurricane Earl path and had to miss both Sydney and Halifax in Nova Scotia. The captain and cruise director were fantastic in that they provided us with TV updates - Hurricane Watch 2010. I have never had so much information and it was wonderful and very educational. HAL provided us with free internet to let all know at home where we were and that we were not in danger. We sailed into a quiet bay off Portland, Maine's coast and hid until it was safe for us to sail into New York. I felt that my safety and that of my fellow passengers was the driving force behind the decisions. What a great job on their parts. The downside of the ship is that there is not enough seating. The lido restaurant is always crowded. I would grab a place to sit and my husband would get his food, then I would go while he saved my place. We did not eat lunch or dinner together for 18 days. You ask why not use the dining room? The breakfast hour of operation are not long enough and lunch takes way too long. Our dinner table mates ate there and it took almost two hours. My vacation time is too valuable for that! Around the pool they have cabanas which you have to pay for and are used by the spa for treatments. We would have had plenty of room to move around the pool without those darn cabanas! They were on a section of deck 11 too. By the way, they weren't used too much - wasted space in my book. Well, when we were ready to get off the ship, we took a tour of New York so we wouldn't have to wait at the airport forever. Again HAL needs to rethink their organizational skills. Why do they ask for our debarkation information if they aren't going to use it? Lime Green 1 is called over the loudspeaker. We proceed to terminal, go through customs, get our luggage and run for our bus. We're not elderly and got right on the first bus. There were quite a lot of people lined up for our bus, but it could only hold so many. There were a lot of buses and no organization whatsoever regarding where these people were to go. When our bus was full, they were on their own and people had lined up at the other buses also. You'd think they could offer those prized circular labels to us by what bus we were on. It was up to the driver and tour guide to ask what airport we were departing from. Our tour guide was beyond fantastic and I saw more of New York than I've ever before. We were the last to get dropped off at the airport with a tight departure time, I might add. The guide had our driver move the bus and then came back inside to make sure we had gotten checked in OK and wished us a safe trip home. Wow, I was shocked. We've been to New York many times and not had such a great experience. I need to mention that we had fantastic speakers for this cruise. There was a gentleman from Iceland, his wife and son who gave us the most wonderful talks about Iceland, Greenland, volcanoes. He shared his pictures and I'm not exaggerating, he was the most interesting lecturer I have ever experienced. He also gave commentary wherever we sailed. Our port travel guide was also fantastic. He gave us tons of information regarding our ports - not the usual "guaranteed stores", but real information. He was obviously an experienced travel guide and had lots of pictures he had taken in every port. He was funny, knowledgeable and very well versed. I really appreciated his information and knowledge. HAL also has a computer lab/education program at sea. I took a course in computer safety and it was fantastic. I maintain both Macs and PCs at my business and received tons of information that was both personally and professionally useful. It is a great program and kudos to HAL for this service. On the whole, we loved the itinerary and are very thankful Hurricane Earl passed us by even though we missed two ports. It was a wonderful experience. I just wish HAL would work on their organizational skills! Read Less
Sail Date August 2010
Our six week holiday began in NYC after a 24 hr flight from Sydney. Phase I included 3 days in NYC and the Transatlantic on QM2. Phase II was driving around the UK for 8 days and then Phase III was on the Crown princess for 26 days around ... Read More
Our six week holiday began in NYC after a 24 hr flight from Sydney. Phase I included 3 days in NYC and the Transatlantic on QM2. Phase II was driving around the UK for 8 days and then Phase III was on the Crown princess for 26 days around the UK then Iceland, Greenland and back to NYC. On that basis I was really looking forward to cruising with 'royalty' and after 3 very hectic days in NYC, it was so exciting to see the Queen at Red Hook. I couldn't wait to get onboard Having experienced the QV in her maiden year, my expectations were that the QM2 would be just as grand and elegant and be above the rest in all aspects, as only Cunard can do. Well, I think most of my expectations were met but not all EMBARKATION I think Cunard needs new computers or something because the processing at the desk is plain slow. Otherwise, it was smooth getting onboard and our luggage was there very quickly. Only unpacking 1 of my 2 cases, we were able to have lunch in Horizon Court without a mass of people and found a seat on the Promenade deck to watch the helicopters and SWAT guys walk past every few mins!! Muster was easy - although they sent us to the wrong location - we just covered the numbers on our vest in case they told us to move on!! STATEROOM Having gone guarantee on a very low inside category cabin(this would be a very expensive trip) we were very pleasantly surprised to have been upgraded to an Atrium View Inside cabin - so much better than what I was expecting. Certainly not as nice as our previous balcony on the QV but then... it was only 6 nights and just to have a window with some light was better than no window at all. Just to be on the QM2 was a privilege for me DINING We had a lovely table for 6 under the large picture in the Brittania Dining - great for watching everyone come in and out on formal nights!! The food was good but not as good as I expected. It seemed to me that the food was no more superior than that on Princess or HAL - it was more or less the same - not bad but not brilliant. The service was fine, no problems. One day we had fish and ships in the Golden Lion Pub and as usual in a hurry to get to the next lecture. Whilst the beer and cider came quickly, the food did not and I mistakenly forgot to say NO SALT on the chips, which meant I rejected them and asked for more without salt. What a mistake - they took nearly 30 mins to come by which time I was so annoyed and had to run off to the next venue, that we just left without them - lunch was one small piece of fish. Not that I was going to starve but I was looking forward to some 'plain food' ENTERTAINMENT This is QM2's strength. On a non stop transatlantic, one expects to be kept entertained right through and this they did well, we thought. Our biggest dilemma was how to be in 2 places at the same time in order to take it all in. The RADA actors were excellent. We saw The Importance of being Earnest and Othello, so to the speaker who was an ex airline pilot, telling us about the history and workings of modern aircraft. I never wanted to miss his lectures - they were so informative and entertaining. The John Cleese interviews were not that interesting for us and really hard to get a good seat, given that we were always somewhere else just beforehand!! The Celia? interviews were somewhat more intimate, being in the Planetarium - a smaller venue and more enjoyable. We could then stay around there for the planetarium film - although getting the tickets was quite problematic, again given that we were always somewhere else when they became available! DISEMBARKATION It was smooth and painless - we were off before we knew it and so ended Phase 1 I would do another Transatlantic in a flash, in fact I will contemplate a return to the QM2 after our expensive QE trip in Jan 2011 BUT not too soon. We love Cunard despite the far too many formal nights and its at times lapses in service and ordinary food. Till next time Bon Voyage to all who sail on her Read Less
Sail Date August 2010
We chose to combine two HAL cruises, both leaving from Amsterdam: one through the Baltic and the other to the North Atlantic and across the Atlantic to Canada with NYC as the final destination. We have traveled on HAL several times; last ... Read More
We chose to combine two HAL cruises, both leaving from Amsterdam: one through the Baltic and the other to the North Atlantic and across the Atlantic to Canada with NYC as the final destination. We have traveled on HAL several times; last year we did the Eurodam transatlantic crossing from the States to Copenhagen and enjoyed it very much. We arranged our airfare through HAL. With some small exceptions, we found the whole trip to be a wonderful experience with great destinations. TRAVEL: We arrived in Amsterdam at 6:30 AM and were met at the airport by a HAL representative. We waited a short time and were taken by bus to the terminal about 8:30, where two other cruises were completing their disembarkation. We knew that the train station wasn't far, but we were really tired and chose to wait the "short time" until we could begin boarding. This was a BAD start to the trip, as we waited for six hours in complete chaos. There were no separate areas for passengers who'd logged in and those who hadn't, the sound system was nearly unintelligible, and boarding passengers and disembarking passengers were all milling around in the same area. Eventually some sandwiches, cookies and coffee were brought out. And yes, eventually, with a great deal of pushing, shoving, noise, and utter confusion we boarded the ship. (This fiasco was repeated when we disembarked and re-embarked in Amsterdam for the second half of the cruise. Very poorly handled by the cruise line.) The sailaway out of Amsterdam was spectacular ... we were escorted by local sailors along the canal, through the lock and into the twilight with pretty countryside views in every direction. FOOD: We thought the food was very good. Not every single item was outstanding, but come on! The staff is serving 2,000 people three times a day, so give them some slack. We ate in the dining room almost every night, most days having breakfast and lunch in the Lido. We did not have any meals in the specialty restaurants. STAFF: Overall, quite good. Our cabin stewards were excellent and after a couple of days without ice, we never had a complaint again. They were very good at anticipating our schedule and almost always had our room spotless by the time we returned. The dining room staff was not as consistent; some waiters were better than others and some had some language issues. We chose the "as you like it" dining option and never waited more than a couple of minutes for a table. The maitre d' was outstanding. Jason, the cruise director, was the best we've seen and did a wonderful job. The Lido wait staff, again, were perhaps not as friendly across the board. We did have some issues with the front desk, who seemed to be very pleasant but not especially knowledgeable (lack of supervision? lack of training?). This did not dramatically detract from our cruise. We attended most of Ian's talks on the various ports and found him to be knowledgeable and generally helpful. Although not technically a staff member, Jon, the Icelandic guest lecturer, was really outstanding. His lectures drew a larger audience than the ship's entertainment and were extremely interesting and informative. ENTERTAINMENT: We don't expect much from ships' entertainments so we are not disappointed. We realize that it's impossible for all cruise ships to provide top-quality shows and entertainers. DESTINATIONS: We chose this cruise for the varied destinations and we were certainly not disappointed. The Baltic cities (Stockholm, Tallinn, Helsinki and Copenhagen) are just beautiful and wonderful stops. We loved the canals and buildings. The Vasa museum in Stockholm and a harbor cruise in Helsinki were particularly noteworthy. St. Petersburg was grand, as expected, but very crowded and very hot. (Remember the heat wave of summer 2010?) We expected the crowds but were still a little taken aback. We booked two tours through the ship for St. P and they were handled efficiently, with an excellent guide. On the second half of the cruise, our first stop was Edinburgh. There were several festivals going on and while the city was crowded, we felt fortunate to be there with so much activity. Great city. We overnighted in South Queensferry and went ashore the next morning to explore this small and delightful spot. Next stop, Kirkwall in the Orkney Islands, was unexpectedly enjoyable. With another couple, we discovered a local tour company with an excellent driver/guide who gave us a terrific long tour of the island(s) with so much history. On to the Faroe Islands, again unexpectedly interesting and enjoyable. We hopped a local bus that was going out into the countryside and after returning to Torshavn we wandered that pleasant place. Iceland, what a place! Thanks to the lectures of Jon (noted above) we were somewhat prepared but still amazed at what's going on in Iceland: volcanoes, thermal springs, glaciers, rushing rivers, lava beds, craters, lush green meadows with LOTS of horses. AND the only spot on the planet were tectonic plates are pushing apart and one can see it above ground. We discovered a local tour company when we exited the ship, and their tour was excellent. On to Greenland, where we spent a day cruising the Prinsensund fjords. It was foggy and slightly misty but fabulous nonetheless. Icebergs abounded. We didn't see whales, but oh, well. The next day we visited the town of Qartatoq on the southwest coast of Greenland. It's inaccessible by land and a most interesting stop. Crossing the Atlantic (one day at sea), we landed at St. Anthony, Newfoundland, which frankly is not much of a stop. Its claim to fame is that 40 KM or so to the north, the Vikings supposedly landed about 1000 years ago and built some sod houses. Unless one booked a ship's tour to that site, there was no way to judge. There were no cabs, no buses, no tours from the town. Most of the ship's passengers ended up in the Dollar Store (no kidding) as the most interesting place to visit in town. St. John's, Newfoundland, by contrast, was a busy and delightful stop. Local volunteers met passengers off the ships and were full of information and welcome. There are several nice churches, interesting shops, picturesque views from the hilly and winding streets. Definitely a walking town if you don't mind hills. Our next two scheduled stops were Sydney and Halifax, Nova Scotia. Both stops were canceled due to the path of Hurricane Earl. Instead, the decision was made to head straight for Cape Cod Bay, where we spent the next three days going around in circles. We did not have an effects of the hurricane, and we applaud the crew for keeping us up to date even if we were a little bit bored. We arrived on time in NYC and disembarked without any problems or incidents. Overall, a fabulous cruise with a few minor glitches. Read Less
Sail Date August 2010
We were very excited to have the opportunity to go on the Inaugural sailing of the NCL Epic. Because of school, we normally are not available to do a Transatlantic, so we were thrilled about doing this trip in June. We were lucky enough to ... Read More
We were very excited to have the opportunity to go on the Inaugural sailing of the NCL Epic. Because of school, we normally are not available to do a Transatlantic, so we were thrilled about doing this trip in June. We were lucky enough to get a Courtyard Villa that had been cancelled by someone else, so even more excitement at checking out the Courtyard area. I will start by saying that this was the best assemblage of entertainment talent on any mainstream U. S. cruise ship in modern times. We pre-booked to see the Blue Man group in the Epic Theater, which was very entertaining. My husband had seen them in Las Vegas, but for the rest of us, it was a new experience. I was not sure what to expect, but the comedy and percussion were great! My 17 and 13 year old sons were really laughing hard at the antics of these guys! We also pre-booked the Cirque Dreams Dinner Show. We have seen several Cirque shows and have always been mesmerized and this one did not disappoint. It is a much more intimate venue than you usually get at their shows and you really feel right in the middle of it all. There is a story about a movie production that is comical, but there are also numerous performers doing acrobatic and twirling routines. Very different and enjoyable, although the food itself was not the most delicious thing we ate on board! We attended the opening show for Legends, which currently has an Elvis, a Madonna, and a Tina Turner. All were very good, with the lady who impersonates Madonna being especially saucy and a very good likeness of the Material Girl. The five dancers who performed with all three performers were absolutely incredible. I don't know how they managed to keep up their incredible energy during the entire performance, just beyond belief! The musical talent was extraordinary from Bernie Martini playing piano in the Shakers Martini Bar to Slam Allen and his blues band in Fat Cats. Bernie Martini is a talented, personable, poised, young man who did standards like Mac the Knife and Unchained Melody, but also performed Elton John (complete with zany glasses) and the Eagles. The bar was packed from 8 - midnight while he played each night. The very talented Ronald Brown played easy listening tunes in the Epic Club during lunch, but we heard him with Slam Allen during a set and he really was unbelievable at playing jazz and blues. This gentleman is an absolute master at the piano and I could only feel sorry for anyone having to play after he finished! Slam Allen is the real deal; he was playing all kinds of blues with his band and having a great time interacting with the audience in this great club that makes you feel like you are in the French Quarter. We spoke with him and found out he is from NY, but he sure sounded like he was from New Orleans! There were two gentlemen performing in the Maltings Bar at various times, both playing guitar who sounded great as well. I did not get their names as I only passed through to go shopping while they were performing. The water slides were fantastic, although the Transatlantic crossing was a bit chilly to enjoy them. When this ship hits the Caribbean, then the water slides will get a real workout! Although my 13 year old and his friends were undeterred by the chilly temperatures and winds. They would slide and then get in the hot tubs to warm up. I had to try them out on the last two days, even though my DH thought I was crazy. Oh well, I took my robe with me to warm up with afterwards (you won't need to do that in the Caribbean!) The ice bar was quite an unusual and fun experience. I would book this the first night before it gets filled up, so you can have a good choice of times. You are given a poncho and gloves, so wear warm footwear as there are no boots given. I did not know that ahead of time and was wearing my open-toe espadrilles from dinner--chilly toes by the end of the 45 minutes! While there is a charge for this, it includes 2 vodka-based drinks or 2 non-alcoholic drinks, so it was a really good deal (especially after seeing the price in Copenhagen last year!) The NCL photographer will come take pictures, so if you are worried about your camera lens getting frozen, there is a plan B. There are many restaurants on board to choose from, so everyone can find a favorite. We love Le Bistro, so we knew we had to dine at the larger one on board the Epic. Everything was delicious, especially my family's favorite: the escargot. There was a new duck dish with duck breast and a big duck leg confit style, yum! We also dined in Cagney's, which had wonderful food, as always. The service there was a little slow, but the Food and Beverage Manager told us he was on top of that with the Maitre'd there, so I fully expect that to be rectified before it hits the Caribbean. The most spectacular idea for dining is the other side of Cagney's called Moderno Churrascuria, which is a Brazilian-style steakhouse. NCL even brought in pasadores from Brazil to bring the skewers of meat around to the tables! You do not order in this restaurant, just belly up to the enormous double-sided salad bar, then flip your card to green so that the pasadores begin bringing skewer after skewer of different kinds of meat. There was garlic beef, chicken wrapped in bacon, chicken legs, fillet, lamb chops, sirloin tip roast, chorizo, and Portuguese sausage. The Italian restaurant was La Cucina and the view of the bow of the ship and the ocean was worth the visit alone. The chopped salad, pizza, and Chicken Parmigiana were scrumptious. We do not normally dine in the Chinese restaurants as we have so many good ones at home, but heard many people saying how much they enjoyed the food. As we were in a CV, we could dine in the Epic Club for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The breakfast was very relaxing and they still have the fabulous Crab Cakes Benedict! For lunch, there was a great menu including sandwiches, burgers, steak, chicken breast, and pasta. I absolutely adore the Ahi Tuna burger they serve and ate it almost every day it was so fantastic (marinated, with sesame seeds and wasabi shredded veggies and ginger). The mixed berry dessert was served with a perfect almond lace cookie! We only did dinner in there one night, but it was very good. My DH was impressed with the menu and the service was impeccable. My 13 year old had the greatest time in the Teen Club with Remix, Erin, and the rest of the staff. They had lots of great music, foozball, air hockey, Nintendo Wii and Playstation. They had a Twilight themed dance in the Bliss Ultra Lounge one evening complete with smoke machines, which both of my sons loved. The youngest said it was the best time he had ever had on a cruise, which was high praise as it was his 8th cruise! We had a great time exploring the Epic with her many restaurants and bars, plus bowling and water slides. I think this fantastic ship has a wonderful future ahead of her! Read Less
Sail Date July 2010
This was the first of two crossings as we came back a few weeks later - in the same cabin- therefore this review covers both trips. The embarkation was excellent - the accommodation pleasant and spacious,the cabin steward most attentive ... Read More
This was the first of two crossings as we came back a few weeks later - in the same cabin- therefore this review covers both trips. The embarkation was excellent - the accommodation pleasant and spacious,the cabin steward most attentive and the food seemingly non -stop and very good. Getting off in Southampton was a breeze - getting off in New York was a challenge not Cunard's fault however but the US Custom's service. My frame of reference was the QE2 in the 1970's and at that time the food was atrocious and the service impeccable - you never saw a vacuum cleaner. Now the food is good and the staff hard working and at all hours and yes you do see vacuum cleaners. My only real complaint was the beverage staff - from the grumpy wine stewardess on the east bound trip, and the hard of hearing wine steward at the first table who needed three requests before an order could be placed, to the difficulty in getting a drink after dinner - when being an older woman alone was a definite defect - hence the "cloak of invisibility". I wasn't the only one who remarked on the deficiencies and language barriers were also sometimes a problem. That said on the return trip the wine steward we had - after the table was changed, most efficiently - was amazing and a delight. The putting out of tables with "stuff" for sale was a bit of a mystery - on one hand you had Hermes on the other what could only be described as a souk but people were shopping. The souvenirs could benefit from come customer research as good quality ones were a bit tricky to find - however the Harrods merchandise was a total mystery as why would one want that on this Cunard liner. The service staff were excellent and all was done quickly and with attention to customer service - as been mentioned other places the purser's office staff were somewhat more interested in each other than passengers but that hasn't changed since my time on the QE2 I would say. My biggest concern was the internet service - not particularly cheap and using Internet Explorer 5 as their search engine - the manager was in direct contrast to the pathetic time it took to get on line and was courteous and most helpful. The entertainment was varied and the speakers very interesting. After three weeks in Europe and Britain the trip westward was very relaxing and in all I have been singing the praises of this ship ever since arriving home. Read Less
Sail Date July 2010

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