Canada & Colonial America Cruise 2011 October 14 -â€" 26 Greetings from the Crown Princess: Friday, October 14th
We are now comfortably ensconced in our beautiful category AB Mini-Suite D317 on the Dolphin Deck 9, a substantial 3-category upgrade from the category AE mini-suite guarantee for which we paid. It is almost amidships, which is highly desirable in case of rough seas, which is a definite possibility during the next 12 days to Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Our two days here in Quebec City have been very interesting and the intermittent rain drizzles have only mildly interfered with our activities. Today's "major rain" failed to materialize -â€" thankfully -â€" and dragging our suitcases the one block from our Hotel Le Germain-Dominion could not have been more convenient and rain-free. An excellent choice for an elegant "boutique" hotel and an outstanding location so near the cruise terminal; we could actually see parts of the Crown Princess from hotel windows. Our ship remains in port tonight, leaving tomorrow afternoon at 5 PM. Hopefully our Sail Away will be rain-free also.
Today we again lunched at a very small but very good Bistro du Cap, near the hotel; yesterday we had crepes -â€" ham & cheese -â€" and a glass of pinot grigio for me, of course. Today we both had an open-face ham and cheese (and toasted) sandwich, with salad and DELICIOUS soup, with another glass of pinot grigio for me. Not cheap, but NOTHING in Quebec City is: a very expensive city.
Tonight we will probably have dinner in the Botticelli Restaurant aboard ship, and POSSIBLY go back off-ship, but POSSIBLY not. Depends on whether or not it is raining.
Tomorrow we have an all-day tour, a repetition of the same tour taken 5 years ago on our last visit to Quebec City: Montmorency Falls, Sainte-Anne-de-BeauprÃ© Basilica and a wonderful French lunch on the Isle of Orleans in middle of the St. Lawrence River. Anyone not having yet visited Quebec City is missing a most unique experience: the MOST European city in North America.
It is still quite early here as we approach the dock at Sydney, Nova Scotia, for today's visit. Our scheduled tour begins at 7:30 AM so it will be a full day. Included are the Bras D'Or Lakes, the small town of Baddeck with a visit to the Alexander Graham Bell Museum, and the Scottish Highland Village. Hopefully the weather will be such that we can enjoy these sites without rain.
Yesterday was our first (of three) days at sea and the ride was very smooth -â€" to start with -â€" as we cruised down the St. Lawrence River, but became a little bumpy as we traversed the Gulf of St. Lawrence. So far today, it has been quite pleasant as we now cruise up the Sydney River towards our dock.
The three days spent in Quebec City were just wonderful! As commented before, the Htel Le Germain-Dominion was an excellent choice -â€" both in its elegance and in its location, so very near the Cruise Terminal. On Friday it was a simple matter to drag our luggage over to the Terminal under clear skies; we were all checked in shortly after noontime, then returning ashore to continue our touring of this magnificent city. Quebec City is indisputably the MOST European city in North America. We again enjoyed lunch at the Bistro du Cap, the charming little place near our hotel.
Our ship's tour on Saturday was a repeat from our last visit here in 2005 and included the Montmorency Falls -â€" higher than those of Niagara, the Basilica of St. Anne and a wonderful drive around the Isle d'Orleans (in the middle of the St. Lawrence River) where we enjoyed an excellent lunch. Returning to the City we visited the Chateau Frontenac, the Parliament Building, the Plains of Abraham -â€" historic war battle site, and then a repeat of the ancient Old City below the funicular and the "upper city." Of course, we had independently roamed around many of these cobble-stoned streets on our own.
So I will attempt to make up -â€" and keep up -â€" with our very port-intensive cruise as we proceed around New England and on down to Florida. It is almost time to get ready for the day's tour.
It has begun to rain again but we are now back aboard the Crown Princess, safe and dry, having returned from our tour about an hour ago. Although VERY cool and crisp today, it was dry for our visit to the Highland Village and the lengthy walk down the hill amongst historic structures -â€" homes, schools, churches, stores, blacksmith shops, etc. - housing artifacts and antiques, staffed by local citizens appropriately dressed in period costume. This has been the second or third time I have visited this beautiful and interesting "living museum," overlooking the expanse of the Bras d'Or Lakes.
We then traveled along the shores of the Bras d'Or Lakes, at one point crossing one of its arms on a cable-drawn auto ferry, until we reached the small village of Baddeck, home of Alexander Graham Bell and a museum in his honor -â€" which we did NOT visit on this particular tour. Our lunch was in a large convention hall at the Inverary Inn Resort where we had lunched also on our previous visit in 2005. The food was plentiful and delicious -â€" especially the seafood chowder and peanut butter cookies for dessert. One entrÃ©e was salmon in a tasty sauce, the other being roast chicken pieces, but the real "star" was the chowder on such a cold and windy day.
After a brief stop in the village of Baddeck with time given to walk around the shops -â€" many already "Closed for the Season," it was time to return to the warmth of our bus and begin our return trip to Sydney and our ship. Leaving Baddeck we drove along the "old road" right at the water's edge, passing the Alexander Graham Bell Museum, and viewing some of the sailboats common on these lakes; the air blowing off the lake waters, although dry, was FRIGID! A light drizzle had begun to fall.
Arrival back at the cruise terminal and our ship was right on schedule at 2:30 PM with our ship's departure scheduled for 4 PM. Evidently there are a few late-arrival tour buses because it is now after 4 PM and we are still at dock. With the rain and strong winds I fully expect a bit of a "bumpy" ride tonight on our way to Halifax for tomorrow's visit there.
Last night was the first (of two) formal nights and was the occasion for the Captain's Welcome Party in the Atrium with Princess' traditional Champagne Waterfall and complimentary champagne for all. Surprisingly there was a majority of gentlemen either in tuxedos or dark business suits, along with ladies in their finest and fanciest dresses. Our Captain is Andy Proctor, from Scotland, who has been Captain of this Crown Princess since its introduction into the fleet a few years ago. So evidently, he was our captain last August when we were aboard the Crown Princess on the British Isles cruise; I did not remember his name from then, however.
Well, we still haven't yet left the dock; the Captain just came on the PA to explain the delay and to warn us of the strong winds and high seas expected as we make our way around Cape Breton and on down to Halifax. Goody! I guess this is one advantage of the huge ships: better stability. And the location of our mini-suite amidships on Dolphin Deck 9 should be to our advantage also.
So that is it for today; tomorrow's tour out of Halifax is again back up north to the Annapolis Valley and wine tasting at vineyards there. Many of their wines are surprisingly good.
We are again underway having departed Halifax just a few minutes ago, a few minutes after 4 PM local time (one hour earlier than EDT). Even with our extended weather-related delay last evening leaving Sydney -â€" over two hours -â€" our arrival this morning and today's schedule was almost back to normal; the captain really stoked the boilers last night and we were CRUISING!
Today's tour was to the Annapolis Valley, about an hour north of Halifax, where we visited two fine wineries: Grand Pre Winery and Gasperau Vineyards, both offering excellent wines.
The first, Grand Pre Winery, we had been to in 2005 on an NCL cruise; now there are 15 wineries in this area near the Bay of Fundy which the French Acadians settled in the 17th century and reclaimed land using an ingenious system of dikes before being expelled by the British when they refused to pledge allegiance to the Crown. You might recall the poem Evangeline by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, based on this inhumane tragedy. The Acadians were then scattered up and down the 13 colonies - sometimes with families split apart, many winding up in Louisiana where they became known as "Cajuns" - a mispronunciation of "Acadians."
A very informative lady, a family member of the Swiss Stutz owners, gave excellent descriptions of the 6 different wines featured: 3 white and 3 red. They were all very, very good and I purchased two bottles despite their rather expensive price.
We then drove through the charming village of Wolfville, home of the University of Acadia, to the second winery in the Gasperau Valley. Here our wine tasting -â€" again by an informative young lady -â€" was conducted as we strolled among the vineyards where grapes were waiting to be harvested -â€" some today! This was a most unique type of wine tasting and the day's weather cooperated with clear skies and only cool temperatures.
Again, we were presented with 6 excellent wines -â€" some from the same cold weather grapes as the first winery, but this time alternated with chunks of delicious local cheeses. An "Ice Wine" was also presented and explained and which turned out to be a delicious, albeit very sweet "after dinner wine." Again I purchased 2 more bottles of their wines, one a dry red similar to a pinot noir. The remainder of our cruise will certainly not be void of good wines to drink!
Our tour also included lunch at a local restaurant, the Tempest, in Wolfville, which featured an outstanding lobster roll, delicious potato salad, a small salad, and a sinfully good dessert, an apple tart laced with maple sauce and a dollop of vanilla ice cream. Yum, yum! The accompanying large glass of chardonnay was extra at a price of about $10 Canadian.
The last stop was at a lookout point in Wolfville from which effects of the low tide could be observed; the Bay of Fundy has one of the largest tidal actions in the world, the difference being 50 to 70 feet between high and low tide. At low tide there are vast areas that exhibit the red clay bottom of waterways that are absolutely full at high tide. Most interesting.
Before departing Wolfville for our return to Halifax there was a brief stop at a local produce market for a taste of their apple cider and an opportunity to purchase some of their magnificent apples. On my first visit to the area in 1998 on another NCL cruise, we had stopped at this exact market and I have never forgotten the large yellow apple (with red stripes) I bought at that time and relished during the hour-long bus ride back to Halifax. I repeated my purchase during this visit and again enjoyed a wonderful apple on the bus.
This very fertile area of the Grand Pre is famous for the wonderful apples grown here; orchards can be seen in almost every direction. Thanks to the Acadians for their reclamation and development of this excellent farming region from the flooding of the Bay of Fundy tidal action. Tragically the British unceremoniously deported them from their home of 200 years.
We are now in transit towards our port-of-call tomorrow: Bar Harbor, Maine. Our wonderful Canadian visit has now concluded.
Princess Cruises' frequent cruiser/ loyalty program is called the Captain's Circle with membership levels: Blue, Gold, Platinum and Elite, based on a member's number of cruises and days at sea. Both Jim and I are at the Elite level with 21 cruises and 284 days for me; Jim has one less 7-day cruise.
Twice now we have been honored among the "40 Most-Traveled" aboard a cruise with a special Captain's Lunch or Party, but not this time. With so many Captain's Circle members on this cruise, we didn't make the "cut." In fact it was necessary to hold four separate Captain's Circle Parties to accommodate all those members aboard.
Our Captain's Circle Party was at 7:15 PM until 8 PM on October 20th, the evening after leaving Boston. At each Party, those with the highest numbers of cruises and sea days are individually honored -â€" usually with a bottle of champagne, and then there is a drawing among the rest of us to receive bottles of champagne. The last name drawn at our Party was Jim's! The first time either of us has ever "won" a bottle of champagne! It was shared with those at our dining table on the last formal night, October 23rd.
Right now at almost 5 PM EDT we are preparing to depart Pier 90 on the Hudson River in New York City, our sail-away scheduled for 5 PM. Tomorrow will be a much-anticipated and welcome day at sea after our whirl-wind series of ports-of-call this past week. Day after tomorrow will be our final port-of-call in Charleston, South Carolina; then another day at sea before reaching our terminus, Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
After the extremely rough night of high swells and high winds during the night, our arrival yesterday morning in Newport, Rhode Island, was relatively calm and the lateness of our shore excursion (12:45 PM) gave an opportunity to recover some of the lost sleep from the night before.
Newport is a lovely small but historic village, once playground for the very rich and famous, who built extravagant "cottages" - huge, elaborate and magnificent mansions. It was a tour of two of these millionaire mansions that we enjoyed yesterday afternoon.
The first mansion to be visited was The Breakers, built by Cornelius Vanderbilt in the late 1800s, and probably the most spectacular of all the mansions in Newport. The allocated hour and a half fled by quickly as we were permitted to enter and view almost every one of the rooms, both first and second floors. Besides the beauty and extravagance of the building itself and the splendid interiors, the collection of vintage furnishings -â€" furniture, draperies, dishes, etc. - was well worthy of the finest museum.
And the spacious, meticulously landscaped lawns and gardens were truly awesome. The name "Breakers" was totally appropriate after viewing the spectacular surf crashing just beyond the yard's edge.
Words fail to describe the opulence and extreme elegance of this "cottage."
The second mansion was Marble House, another Vanderbilt family "cottage." Its name results from being constructed of imported marble -â€" outside and inside. The exterior marble and columns are all white but two of the interior rooms were a pale gold marble, and another in a pink marble. The cost was undoubtedly astronomical. Of course, in both mansions there are gigantic parlors with a "Gone With the Winds" staircase winding up to the second floor mezzanine. It was hard NOT to imagine these as movie sets and not real homes. One room in the Marble House, called the "Gold Room," had walls and ceiling ENTIRELY gilded with 24 carat gold. Nothing was too good for these pampered millionaires and their families.
Now these and other mansions are part of a National Trust - Conservancy and are maintained partly by the income from tours such as the one we took. Catherine's Palace and Peter the Great's Peterhof are the only comparisons I can offer.
On our way back from the mansions, the route of travel passed by the International Tennis Hall of Fame, and we were able to get the bus driver to let us off for a quick visit to this esteemed "Mecca" of the tennis world. There was available a tour of the spacious facilities but our limited time permitted only a visit to the gift shops and a few purchases. Then it was a 15-minute walk back down to the tender dock and on back to the ship. All in all, it was a most interesting and productive afternoon in Newport, Rhode Island.
Today's activities in New York City will be described in tomorrow's email; tomorrow will be a relaxing day with only a wine tasting in the afternoon and our second -â€" and final -â€" formal night of the cruise. Then the tuxedo can again be packed away for another day.
We are now SMOOTHLY cruising on calm seas on our way down the Atlantic Coast towards Charleston, South Carolina, our last port of call tomorrow, Monday, October 24th. It is SO nice this morning to have a break in our normal routine of rushing around to get down to the Princess Theater to check-in for our tour of the day. Having an occasional sea day - such as today - is a welcome relief and cause for a lazy, relaxed morning. This afternoon at 3 PM we have another wine tasting -â€" complimentary for us Elite members -â€" and tonight is our second and last formal evening. Then the tuxedo gets packed away for a while.
Yesterday we were in New York City for the day and it could NOT have been a more perfect day, beginning quite early around 5 AM as we sailed beneath the Verrazano Straights suspension bridge, marking the entrance to New York Harbor. Shortly afterward the Statue of Liberty came into view -â€" on ship's port side, requiring us to dress warmly and go up to the top deck to see her, all aglow in lights with her crown and torch shining brightly in the pre-dawn darkness. It was a MOST impressive sight!
Then I returned to our starboard-side stateroom from which the view of the skyline of lower Manhattan, with the new World Center Tower -â€" already more than half-completed at 86 levels -â€" was awash in lights, a beacon shining brilliantly from the construction cranes on top. Its completion is scheduled for 2013 at a height of 1776 feet and 103 stories; the downed World Trade Center towers were 110 stories in height.
Farther up the Empire State Building came into view with its top tower also aglow in colored lights and I watched as the lights were extinguished as the dawn neared. The entire skyline, silhouetted by the pink skies of the approaching sunrise was truly a sight to behold.
The Crown Princess docked at Pier 90 around 7 AM alongside a German cruise ship, the AIDA aura, with its hideously painted bow with large red lips and bulging eyeballs farther back -â€" what kind of sick mind came up with THAT? Also at dock was the MSC Poseia, and the NCL Norwegian Jewel was approaching dock just behind us.
Meeting our tour group in the Princess Theater at 7:30 AM we then proceeded ashore to our waiting bus for the 6-hour tour I had selected, "New York, New York." Our tour guide was Darrell, a very TALL black man, who turned out to be one of the BEST tour guides we have so far encountered. His wealth of information, crisply and clearly offered as we drove all around the Island was interlaced with his quick and acerbic humor; he could also be a stand-up comedian!
Our first (of 4) stops was at Rockefeller Center where we were given tickets and an hour and a half to go up to the observation decks, "The Top of the Rock," the first at level 69 and the top-most at level 70; VERY fast elevators soared us to level 67 in seconds and escalators carried us further up to level 69, AFTER having passed through a very intensive security check -â€" quite understandable in view of the horrors of 10 years ago. The day was spectacularly clear and views from the Top were breath taking! Down to the Empire State Building with the new World Center Tower behind, and up to the expanse of Central Park, lined with posh apartment buildings. Darrell, our guide, had shared much information about some of these buildings -â€" the Dakota, for one, and who lived there, or had lived there; on and on his flow of facts came in a steady stream, allowing no lapse in listening to him.
Again reboarding our bus we continued with a serpentine route, down and around the many famous streets of Manhattan: Park Avenue, Broadway, 42nd Street, Times Square, 57th Street (CBS), ... We passed Macy's Department Store, Bergdorfs, Tiffanys, ... I don't think we missed a single sight of tourist interest. We passed the Times Square location of ABC's "Good Morning America," with which I am so familiar, saw the huge globe that falls on New Year's Eve, saw many of the marquees of current Broadway plays, ... Down, down we traveled to Columbus Circle, then on into Greenich Village, Tribeca, Chinatown, and finally to our lunch stop on South Street at Pier 17, "The Seaport."
With Google Earth I had previously "visited" this neighborhood and had already selected my choice for dining (not included in tour): The Heartland Brewery, just across the street from the Pier and the THOUSANDS of tourists dropped there by probably EVERY tour bus in Manhattan! Our table was outside and back far enough not to be bothered by the swarms of tourists. Our menu selections were for their delicious barbecue pulled pork and brisket, mine with sweet potato fries and cornbread and Jim's with baked beans and cornbread; I also chose one of their own brewery products, "Red Rooster Ale," which was very good, albeit a little heavy for my personal taste.
After lunch and a brief walk along Pier 17 from which there was a great view of the Brooklyn Bridge going over the East River from Lower Manhattan. We reboarded our bus and then proceeded to the site of the World Trade Center disaster where we were given a sufficient amount of time to observe -â€" as well as possible -â€" the ongoing reconstruction from large windows; construction is NOT directly on the site of the two downed towers, but in the surrounding area where 5 other buildings came down, or were damaged, as well. Back on the bus we were driven by a point from which we could just barely see the 9/11 Memorial, a 90-foot waterfall -â€" from street level down, surrounded by a grove of trees.
Our route of travel passed by Wall Street and the current and enlarging group of protesters, making the street traffic very congested in addition to the street congestion from the World Trade Center construction projects; it was a pleasure to be inside the bus with someone else driving! Being Saturday, the usual traffic was less than on a weekday, but in this area it was VERY congested.
The last stop of our tour was at the very tip of Manhattan Island, at Battery Park, from which great views of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island are possible. Then it was back on the bus for our 3:30 PM return to Pier 90 and the Crown Princess, well ahead of the 4:30 PM "all aboard" and 5 PM sail-away. It was a very FULL day, a MOST interesting day, and a THOROUGHLY complete visit to Manhattan -â€" thanks to our excellent guide, Darrell; he got a sizable tip from us, at least! Many other old cronies probably stiffed him, failing to tip at all! But these are the same slugs of society who continually complain about everything; I try to avoid them like the plague.
So that is it until after tomorrow's visit in Charleston, South Carolina, where our tour is "Historic Charleston and the Magnolia Gardens." Luckily the weather will be warming the farther south we cruise.
The evening of our next-to-last day at sea was also our last formal night but, unlike past cruises, there was no Captain's Farewell Party -â€" with free drinks -â€" preceding dinner. More of Carnival's cost-cutting, I conclude. The Captain's Welcome Party has also now been combined with the Champagne Waterfall event -â€" more Carnival cost-cutting. I often yearn for those "BC" years on Princess cruises: "Before Carnival."
Since Jim's birthday is October 29th, the date on which we would be flying home from Washington DC, he decided to do a "turn around" by presenting to those at our dining table with HIS birthday cake! Of course, it was enjoyed by all of us, especially our waiter, assistant waiter, and room steward who also received a healthy slice of the huge, delicious cake Jim had ordered.
Our final day at sea is here! Tomorrow morning we again join those on land and this great 12-day cruise from Quebec City to Sydney and Halifax, Nova Scotia; to Bar Harbor, Maine; to Boston; to Newport, Rhode Island; to New York City, and lastly to Charleston, South Carolina, will have come to an end. The seas are rather smooth and the blue skies are only partly clouded with prospects for another warm day as we approach Florida.
Yesterday in Charleston turned out to be a beautiful, warm day and this first visit for me was filled with new sights and new information. It is a historical and old city, filled with ante bellum homes that have been carefully maintained and preserved. Popular tourist attractions are carriage rides around the town, pulled by mules, but our full day tour did not include such.
The main attraction in our tour was the Magnolia Plantation, a fair distance from Charleston, along the Ashley River -â€" one of the two rivers that create the "peninsula" on which the City lies, the other being the Cooper River. Fort Sumter occupies a prominent position at the entrance to the large and busy harbor of Charleston.
Our tour buses brought us to the Plantation along the Ashley River Road, a two-lane highway, appropriately running along the Ashley River. Originally comprising 2000 acres, reconstruction after the War Between the States (the preferred name here) necessitated the sale of all but 500 acres, the present size.
Covered by thick groves of ancient oak trees, draped with Spanish moss, and dotted with numerous "lakes" or bogs -â€" once sites of a thriving rice production, the Plantation also hosts a plethora of camellia bushes, azalea bushes, and other beautiful flowering plants. Some of the lakes, covered with green vegetation, are home to alligators some of which were visible sunning themselves on constructed wooden "benches" in the lake.
Our first activity was a 45-minute tram ride all around the property along paths covered by over-hanging branches laced with Spanish moss. This was followed by an extensive tour of the Plantation house -â€" the third such in its location, the others having been burned -â€" some in the War, some otherwise. Filled with antique furnishings and family memorabilia of the Drayton Family, the most stunning exhibits were the hand-stitched quilts adorning the several beds: beautiful! Then came an enjoyable "nature walk" along the River bank and amid the many ponds; fortunately, no alligators were sighted during the walk.
Lunch was provided and served at tables beneath the spreading branches of the oak trees, near a pasture where small horses were grazing and attracting the tourists' attention. Along with a delicious chicken salad served on a large croissant, potato salad and Cole slaw, a pickle, and a chocolate chip cookie, topped off the box lunch. Then it was time to say goodbye to this magnificent relic of the Old South.
Our return to the City of Charleston was followed by an extensive tour of the city streets, a main highlight being a drive around and through the Citadel, the famous military university steeped in history where some of the 2000 cadets were observed striding around the campus, busy with classes on this Monday morning. Then came the many, many beautiful old homes with their columned porticos, all meticulously maintained according to City codes.
A stop near a park on the southern-most point of the peninsula provided a short walk along the waterfront with Fort Sumter in view out in the harbor, and more ante bellum homes lining the street behind the park. No home over 100 years in age can be destroyed and remodeling or refurbishment must be done with the approval of an architectural board.
Our guide for the day was Martha, a true lady of the South and dedicated lover of the City of Charleston; her soft southern accent, her obvious affection for the city, and her vast knowledge its past and current history made this tour one of the best we have experienced. My first time in Charleston was indeed memorable.
Our departure late yesterday afternoon at 6 PM was blessed with a spectacular sunset, viewed from Sun Deck 17 during the Sail Away; our exit brought us right alongside Fort Sumter, still guarding the entrance to the harbor of Charleston, the site of the first shots of the "War Between the States."
Today is a relaxed one with the only special activity being our Champagne Balcony Breakfast, due to arrive and be served at 10 AM; Patric, of Travel Travel, has again gifted us with this very enjoyable, delicious and elegant treat. Fortunately, our balcony is today warm enough for completely pleasurable dining.
This will be my last email from the ship because also today is that most UN-enjoyable task of packing for tomorrow's disembarkation; we will immediately go to the airport by taxi for our 12:40 PM flight to Washington DC for three nights before returning home. Read Less