We were motivated to book this cruise on the Regal Princess after receiving an email touting it as a “Culinary Cruise” (www.princess.com/ships-and-experience/special-events/caribbean-culinary-cruise/). The cruise would feature celebrity chefs Brad Kilgore, Scott Linquist and Norman Love. Special events were offered (live cooking demonstrations, custom shore excursions, exclusive onboard events) and special recipes featured throughout the ship’s restaurants and bars. In addition, this itinerary would provide an opportunity to SCUBA dive in two of our favorite ports: Cozumel and Grand Cayman. This was our our third cruise on the Regal Princess.
PORTS OF CALL
Port Everglades, FL; Princess Cays, Bahamas; Falmouth, Jamaica; Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands; Cozumel, Mexico; Port Everglades, FL
ABOUT THE REVIEW
Other reviews give extensive information on the ship, cabins, food etc. Our reviews are not like that; they are primarily a journal of what we did in the various ports, including web links to tourist information sites and maps. In general, we prefer DIY port tours, private tours with other Cruise Critic roll call members, or shared public tours. However, we will take a Princess tour when the logistics or cost make that a better option. Tour operator contact information is included in each port review.
This cruise was primarily a dining experience rather than an itinerary experience, so this review goes into detail about the eating opportunities that we enjoyed on board. Because food would be a focus, we were a little concerned by some negative reviews we read recently about the food (in particular, the pizza) on Princess. However, we selected “Anytime Dining” and, with all the various alternative dining options, we never ended up going to the MDR at all and only made it to the Horizon Court buffet at lunch on the last sea day! Instead we thoroughly enjoyed Alfredo’s Pizzeria on three occasions and spent lots of time in specialty restaurants and events. We went to the Crown Grill, Sabatini’s Trattoria, the Chef’s Table Lumiere and the Wine Maker’s Dinner. We also attended the Princess Grapevine Wine Tasting, the Super Tuscan Wine Tasting and the special Onboard Food Tour. We took a special shore excursion in Falmouth with Brad Kilgore and attended (or watched on our stateroom TV) three of the complimentary events with the celebrity chefs.
The Princess is in the process of equipping some ships with their new Medallion technology and the Regal was a test bed. The trial has not been going well since only a fraction of the ship’s cabins were Medallion enabled. Because of this, upon inquiry prior to the cruise, we were able to get a small refund from Princess in the form of On Board Credit. However, a current ship-wide benefit of the technology is an amazing improvement in wi-fi and internet speeds. Access was as fast as we get at home which is an astonishing leap from past cruises. Additionally, Platinum and Elite Captain’s Circle members had unlimited free connect time.
John and I (Carolyn) are retired Mississippi State University professors in our late sixties, who currently reside in central North Carolina. Both of us are natives of New Orleans and, as such, are interested in good food (and wine!) and good times. Our preferred souvenir is a small regional or national flag. On this itinerary, I would not need to acquire any flags.
We enjoy both cruises and land tours; often our trips combine the two. We have cruised to or toured all seven continents, primarily in the Americas and Europe. On our trips, we prefer nature and wildlife tours that involve snorkeling, SCUBA diving or hiking. In particular, we will hike for miles to see waterfalls, volcanoes, caves or other interesting geologic features. We also enjoy lighthouses, forts, castles and anything else we can legally climb up on for a good view.
We are Elite members of Princess' Captain's Circle loyalty program, with over 50 cruises on Princess; that includes four on Princess' largest ships (Royal and Regal Princesses) and seven on the smallest (Tahitian/Ocean and Pacific Princesses). We have also sailed with Celebrity, Holland America, Royal Caribbean, Costa, Viking River and Commodore.
REVIEW OF THE CRUISE
Saturday, 02/10/18 RDU to FLL
We flew non-stop to FLL on Delta using SkyMiles and stayed at the SpringHill Suites Fort Lauderdale Airport & Cruise Port (www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/flldb-springhill-suites-fort-lauderdale-airport-and-cruise-port/) using Marriott Rewards points. There are a lot of hotels nearby and a few restaurants within walking distance. This is a nice place to stay, with a free breakfast buffet, free shuttle to/from the airport and a $10 pp shuttle service to Port Everglades. Be sure to call the hotel when you land to get on their airport shuttle waiting list; it took 45 minutes to get on the shuttle since we could not fit on the first one. Also don’t expect very early check-in. We arrived at 12:30 p.m. but could not get into a room until 2:30 p.m. Note that they can really only guarantee a 4:00 p.m. check-in so we did get in somewhat early.
For dinner, we chose a local chain, Mr. M’s Sandwich Shops (www.mrmssubs.com), which is less than a half-mile from the hotel. We called ahead and everything was ready by the time it took to walk there (about 15 minutes). We took our food back to the room to enjoy with a simple red wine we had brought along. The sandwich ingredients were nice and fresh but the bread was just ordinary and the potato salad was a little bland. Still, it was a nice change from fast food joints and typical chain restaurants.
Sunday, 02/11/18 Ft. Lauderdale, Florida: All Aboard 3:30pm
We had reserved a spot on the 10:45 a.m. shuttle to the port. Unbeknownst to us, the hotel uses a really poor shuttle service for the port transfer (www.yelp.com/biz/fort-lauderdale-shuttles-fort-lauderdale-2). Despite people's reservations (and complaints), the shuttle agents kept filling the shuttles with people sailing on RCI’s “Allure of the Seas” and ignoring those sailing on Princess or Carnival. Many people gave up and called taxis or Ubers. The Carnival passengers were able to fit on the last “Allure” shuttle but there was no shuttle for the Princess passengers until 45 minutes after our scheduled pick-up time. The result was that our 10:45 p.m. shuttle arrived at the ship at noon. In the big scheme of things, this was no big deal except we wanted to get on board early in order to be on the list for the special dinners and culinary cruise events. It’s not like this company did not know there would be this many people expecting a ride to the port at certain times; they were just unprepared for the situation. They also kept telling us that we would be leaving in a few minutes. Frustrating way to start a cruise!
By the time we arrived at the cruise terminal, the crowds had dissipated and we could walk right through security, to a check-in station and onto the ship. In less than 15 minutes, we were dropping our hand luggage off in our balcony cabin, which was starboard aft on the Aloha deck. John called the “Dine Line” to make reservations for dinner tonight at Sabatini's and to get on the list for the Chef’s Table Lumiere and the Wine Maker’s Dinner. After that, I called Room Service to exchange some items in our complimentary mini-bar setup.
There was a flier in our cabin that listed the special events that would be held in conjunction with the culinary cruise but there were very few details (e.g., time, price, description) provided. It said to contact the Passenger Services Desk (PSD) to get more information so we headed down there. When we arrived, we found out that the PSD staff had just been informed that this was supposed to be a culinary cruise and they would be meeting later that afternoon to figure out exactly what that was going to mean. Way to plan Princess! Fortunately, we were helped by a wonderful Customer Service Agent, Anastasia Onykii, who promised to contact us with full details as soon as they were available. Later, when she tried to contact us with more information, the phones were not working so she could not leave a message. Instead, she had a hand-written note delivered to our cabin and informed the other PSD staff that we would be calling so they would be able to help us in case she was not there. That’s excellent service!
It eventually transpired that there would be four complimentary culinary cruise events: an interview with Chefs Kilgore and Linquist, a cooking demo with Kilgore and Linquist, a chocolate demo with Love, and a mixology lesson with the ship’s bartenders. There were also three fee events: special entrees by Kilgore and Linquist in the Crown Grill (February 15 only, $5 pp if you wanted the special in addition to one of the regular entrees), a Norman Love Wine and Chocolate Pairing ($39 pp) and an Onboard Food Tour ($20 pp). We had learned from the PSD that we had to call the Dine Line to get on the list for the later two fee events, so John called and asked for the Onboard Food Tour and also made a reservation for the Crown Grill on the 15th.
After our initial talk with Anastasia about the culinary events, it was time to reward ourselves with lunch at Alfredo’s. Not all Princess ships have this marvelous sit-down pizzeria and that is a shame. It is a gem of a restaurant! We could always get a nice table and prime service at Alfredo’s. The appetizers and the two pasta dishes are wonderful but we would go simply for the great thin-crust pizzas. There are various interesting combinations on the menu but this voyage they would not make pizzas to order. No Alfredo’s is one of the hardest letdowns after a cruise.
After lunch, it was back to the cabin where we met our Filipino Cabin Steward, Florante. We asked him to put a top sheet on the bed when he made up our stateroom that evening and to make sure we had an adequate supply of bar soap (we don’t care for the body wash gel supplied in the shower). Surprisingly, I had to ask Florante twice during the cruise to leave more soap and also to bring more toilet paper and laundry bags. He also did not replace the beach towels that we used ashore in Grand Cayman. I hope this was not a sign that Princess is cutting back on housekeeping staff. In the past, our cabin stewards have made sure that the bathroom was well-stocked with bar soap and an extra roll of toilet paper, and that our laundry bags and beach towels were replaced as they were used up. On the plus side, Florante went looking for our two bags and brought them to the cabin quickly so that we could unpack. He also kept the ice bucket full.
We went to the passenger safety drill at 3:00 p.m.; our muster station was the Wheelhouse Bar. There is a new recorded safety message (with a bit of humor!) and passengers no longer need to drag their life vests to the drill. This made the drill shorter than in the past. After the drill, we went to the upper decks for the sail away. We were sorry to see that there were only a few residents of the apartments on the north side of the channel cheering and waving us “Bon Voyage!”; at one time there were numerous flags and even air horn salutes as ships exited the port.
Tonight we had dinner at Sabatini's ($25 pp), which has a new menu since our last Princess cruise in March. The new menu (www.princess.com/downloads/pdf/ships-and-experience/food-and-dining/sabatinis-trattoria/sabatinis-trattoria-main-menu.pdf) was created in collaboration with Chef Angelo Auriana and emphasizes Northern Italian dishes. The meal starts with an aperitivo of Tuscan-style bread with a roasted pepper and tomato sauce and slices of prosciutto. Next is an antipasto course; I had the marinated lamb skewers and John chose the chickpea fritters with seafood. The soup or salad course is no contest: the Grana Padano Fondue is fantastic and we both had that. That is followed by a choice of five interesting flavored pasta options (or plain pasta with tomato, seafood arrabbiata or carbonara sauce for the less adventurous). This was a hard choice but John settled on the Tortelloni (mint-flavored pasta stuffed with lamb in a cheese and pepper sauce) and I tried the Picagge (marjoram-flavored long pasta with seafood and artichoke pesto). Next up was the main course: Roman Seafood al Cartoccio (cooked in a paper bag) with potatoes and artichokes for John and Breaded Veal Wallet (stuffed with sun-dried tomatoes and provolone) with roasted potatoes and artichokes for me. All of the dishes we had eaten so far were excellent (especially the Tortelloni!) but the pièce de résistance was the “Rocher,” a Chocolate Journey created by Master Chocolatier Norman Love. The menu description doesn’t do this spectacular dessert justice. It starts with a small ball of hazelnut ice cream in a chocolate shell, surrounded by chocolate ganache and another chocolate shell. This delectable chocolate sphere is topped with a chocolate curl and sits in a fish bowl on top of more chocolate and candied hazelnuts. This is not a light dessert to follow so many courses but John and I could not resist finishing our servings.
Usually the first night’s entertainment is a “Welcome Aboard Showtime.” However, tonight it was the production show, “Bravo.” We still have not seen this show but we did not feel like waiting around for the 10 p.m. performance.
Monday, 02/12/18 Princess Cays, Bahamas: 9:00am – 4:30pm (Last Tender)
This morning we anchored off Princess Cays, Princess' private beach on Eleuthera Island, Bahamas. We have been to Princess Cays many times and decided to repeat the 6.4-mile round-trip hike to Lighthouse Beach that we made on our last visit. For those who might want to undertake this DIY tour, a good map and description are included on pages 14 and 15 of “Tom’s Princess Cays Cruise Port Guide: Eleuthera Bahamas - 2015 Revision” (www.tomsportguides.com/uploads/5/8/5/4/58547429/princesscays-01-20-2015.pdf).
We caught the first tender ashore so we could avoid hiking during the hottest part of the day. The exit from the Princess Cays compound is via the gate behind the First Aid Station. It is necessary to show both a cruise card and a government-issued ID to leave and re-enter the compound. Just past the gate are a number of stalls where the local residents are selling various souvenirs. We continued east down the paved road to the main paved north-south road, which is marked by a colorful wishing well and a sign saying “Welcome to Princess Cays”. Here we turned right and walked south, passing a lagoon, until we reached a very rugged dirt/gravel road heading off to the left. By this point, we had walked for about 15 minutes.
After another 15 minutes or so following that road, we reached another rough dirt/gravel road running north-south. Here we turned right; there is a “Lighthouse Beach” sign just after the turn. Last time we were here, we heard multitudes of orange and black Bahamian Land Crabs skittering around in the underbrush as we walked along; there seemed to be far fewer today. About 20 minutes from the beach sign are two ponds on either side of the road and information signs with photos of the birds that might be spotted there.
Within another 10 minutes, we reached the Caribbean beach side of Lighthouse Point. Up until now, we had not seen anyone else; however, there was an entrepreneurial local setting up a grill, getting ready to offer food and drink to those who made it this far. We enjoyed the gorgeous beach views, then walked as far around the point as we could from the Caribbean side; there are a couple of photogenic sea caves there.
We retraced our steps and took a trail up the dunes to the lighthouse, which is rather dilapidated, and walked on top of the bluffs out to the point. From this vantage point, we could see the three small (inaccessible) islands extending south from the point. We only saw two other couples relaxing on the beach here. After we finished exploring the top of the bluffs, we climbed down to the sea caves on the Atlantic side, then walked away from the bluffs for a distance north along the Atlantic beach. There was an interesting wreck of a colorful boat that was embedded bow-first in the sand.
Finally, we returned to the road around the base of the bluffs and headed back the way we came. When we reached the Caribbean beach, the Princess ATV tour had just arrived. As we walked back to Princess Cays, we were passed by the returning ATV tour. Later we spotted a small squashed snake (probably a Bahamian Brown Racer), undoubtedly a victim of the ATVs. Once we were back on the main paved north-south road, we encountered a group of bikers from a Princess tour heading south.
All told, we walked for about 3 hours; our Garmin registered 7.86 miles. We did not think sandals would be appropriate for this hike; we wore running shoes. It is important to take water (at least a liter per person) and to use good sun protection (hat, sunscreen). It is also a good idea to leave a note in your cabin indicating where you are going. We don’t find Princess’ beach barbecue especially interesting, so we tendered back to the ship and had beer and pizza at Alfredo’s.
One of the complimentary culinary events, an interview with Chefs Kilgore and Linquist, was held during the late afternoon in Princess Live! We watched this later on the stateroom TV.
This evening was Italian Night in the dining rooms but we had a reservation at the Crown Grill ($29 pp). Often when we dine here, we are seated near a window. Tonight, however, our table was adjacent to a low railing separating the restaurant from the Wheelhouse Bar, so it was quite noisy and hard to make conversation. Thankfully, it quieted down after the second fixed-seating dinner started. Alas, the Pan-Seared Pacific Scallops appetizer is no longer on the menu (www.princess.com/downloads/pdf/Onboard_Experience/Crown-Grill-Menu-Sample.pdf), so John made do with the spiny lobster cake and I had the black tiger prawn. We both followed that with the Black and Blue Onion Soup. We each had the same main course: the Sterling Silver Beef Chop, Blackened with Mushrooms and Onions, which seemed to be a thicker cut than in the past and all the better for it. A nice touch at this restaurant is the selection of specialty salts: Hawaiian Black, Smoked Applewood and Himalayan Mountain Pink. Those salts are a wonderful accompaniment to the steaks and we both asked for a small spoonful of each. After all that, we still had room for the Crown Dependence, mini portions all four desserts: Molten Dutch Chocolate Fudge Obsession, Lemon Meringue Pudding Tart Cake, Seven Layer S’mores Stack and Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Bar (another of Norman Love’s Chocolate Journeys). As usual, all the food at the Crown Grill was outstanding!
Tonight’s entertainment included a comic (Carlos Oscar) in the Princess Theater and improv comedy by the Vancouver Theater Sports in the Vista Lounge. Although those both sounded like fun, we decide to digest and rest up from our hike.
Tuesday, 02/13/18 At Sea (Mardi Gras)
Our usual sea day pattern is this: wake up, shower and get dressed, find a nice spot to read while the steward makes up our cabin, eat lunch (Alfredo's), read and enjoy a drink on our balcony, go to a show, eat dinner, read in the cabin/balcony, go to sleep. Occasionally we will add a walk, lecture, movie or some other activity to our busy day. Today we slept in a bit before starting our strenuous regimen.
Instead of Alfredo’s, we had a special treat today: the luncheon for the “Most Traveled” (top 40 in number of days) passengers. Each couple had a photo taken with Captain Fabrizio Maresca as a gift. This turned out to be the only time we would meet the Captain; as opposed to more gregarious captains we have had in the past, he did not seem to spend much time on the decks mingling with guests and made very few announcements.
The lunch was held in Sabatini's, where we got to sit with the Chief Electro-Technical Officer. As usual the food was exceptional and the wine kept flowing. The opening salvo was a baked goat cheese souffle with truffle basil pesto. Before we saw the menu, John and I had both been thinking that we would choose the fish main course option. Those thoughts flew out the window (porthole?) when we saw that the meat option was veal osso buco. Anyone who has read my past cruise reviews knows that we are osso buco fanatics and eat it at every opportunity; this was an outstanding version. The finale was the heart-shaped Love Boat Temptation—white chocolate and peach Melba mousse with a raspberry rose center—plus a selection of the Chef’s petit fours and cappuccino.
In the mid-afternoon, we headed to the Princess Theater for a cooking demonstration by guest Chefs Kilgore and Linquist. Kilgore prepared a dish with sea scallops and Linquist made duck breasts with green rice. A copy of the recipes was handed out. As usual, they claimed that anyone could make these dishes at home. That’s right—all you need is someone to cut up everything for you, ready to toss into the pan. Still, both of the dishes looked delicious and I wondered whether those would be the special ones they would prepare at the Crown Grill on the 15th. We would never find out because we were chosen for the Wine Maker’s Dinner that night and canceled our reservation at the Grill.
The cooking demonstration conflicted with the Maitre d’ Wine Club ($25 pp). Even though this wine tasting includes canapés to pair with the wine and would end with a special Norman Love confection, we have not been overly impressed with this event in the past. We were glad we decided to choose the cooking demo instead.
Even later in the afternoon, we had the special Onboard Food Tour ($20 pp). This was sort of a restaurant crawl where we could hobnob with Chefs Kilgore and Linquist. The tour started in the Crown Grill, where we tried small portions of all four of the appetizers served there. The next stop was at the Ocean Terrace Seafood Bar, where we were served ahi tuna poke, salmon sashimi, yellowtail nigiri sushi, two sushi rolls pieces and egg salad. Then we went downstairs to Sabatini’s, where we sampled five of the dishes: the marinated lamb skewer, the lamb-filled Tortelloni, the beet Risotto, the soft polenta with mushrooms and the chicken scallopine. The final stop was at Vines Wine Bar, where we tasted three wines paired with Norman Love chocolates. Some of the participants did not want all their chocolates (!?!?), so we got some extras to take back to the cabin. This was a very fun and moderately-filling event—definitely worth the price!
Tonight was the first of two formal nights on this cruise; as Elite Captain’s Circle members, we received complimentary hors oeuvres delivered to our cabin. Now that chocolate-covered strawberries are no longer included, the choices are pretty pathetic. After eating these, we decided to stop requesting the hors oeuvres in the future. After our big lunch, the food tour, the hors oeuvres and our bonus chocolates, we decided that dinner was superfluous. We also passed on the Captain's Champagne Waterfall and went to the Princess Theater early to get good seats for the first show. The production show, “Born to Dance” is a medley of numbers by famous choreographers such as Agnes de Mille, Jerome Robbins and Bob Fosse. This was a new show for us and, for a change, all four of the featured singers were very good. The cast deserved and got a standing ovation.
Wednesday, 02/14/18 Falmouth, Jamaica: 8:00am – 4:30pm (St. Valentine’s Day)
John and I have been to Jamaica several times before and visited Dunn's River Falls and the Coyaba Botanical Gardens. Previously we docked in Montego Bay or Ocho Rios; this was the first time we had called at Falmouth. Today we were taking one of the two special culinary shore excursions (the other was in Cozumel). Both of these tours sold out well in advance of sailing, so we were glad we had booked it (using OBC) when it first became available. We also noticed that the price increased for new bookings made closer to sailing.
The Regal Princess docked at the purpose-built cruise ship terminal, which can accommodate two large ships; the other ship in port was the Allure of the Seas. The open-air terminal area is much like similar facilities at Mahogany Bay in Roatan, Costa Maya on mainland Mexico or Puerta Maya in Cozumel. It is a sanitized experience for visiting cruisers, with all the familiar shopping experiences (Diamonds International!), watering holes (Margaritaville!) and fast-food outlets (Dairy Queen!). Visitors walk through the shops and stalls to the tour departure area at the guarded entrance. There appeared to be a number of tours with local operators that could be booked at the dock.
We don’t generally take ship’s tours and our “Jerk Cooking & Rum Tasting with Guest Chef Brad Kilgore” ($99.95 pp) underscored why. The first sign of trouble was that we waited on the bus 30 minutes past the tour’s scheduled start time for Kilgore and his entourage of family, Princess photographers and videographers to show up. Then we continued waiting another 15 minutes for a woman who had missed the ship in Port Everglades and had to check in with the ship before she could make it over to the bus.
Finally we were off on a scenic drive from the port to the Good Hope Estate (chukka.com/destination-gallery/good-hope/#!). We decided that the roads here are even worse than in Dominica (our previous record holder); our tour guide Shashania said we were getting a “Jamaican massage.” She tried to teach us some of the Jamaican patois (yah mon, irie, tank yuh) and coax us to sing Bob Marley and Harry Belafonte numbers. When we arrived at the Estate’s Georgian-style Great House, we did not receive “a refreshing lemongrass beverage,” as promised in the tour description. The house is on a hill with fine views of the surrounding countryside and mountains. Our other guide, Crystal, handled the tour of the Great House, which was built in 1755. A few years after the wife of the original owner died (she is buried under the ground floor), the house was sold to John Tharp. Tharp bought several of the neighboring estates and developed a large sugar plantation with a sugar factory, waterwheel, boiling house, kiln, hospital, church, school—a real town; many of these buildings still remain.
After the tour of the Great House, we drove downhill to the former Trading House, where we tasted three Appleton Estate rums: Signature Blend (17 aged rums), Reserve Blend (20 aged rums) and Rare Blend (12 year old rums). We enjoy sipping the Rare Blend at home and thought we might pick up a bottle here. However, it was much more expensive at the gift shop that it is in North Carolina.
Chukka Caribbean Adventures has turned much of the plantation into an outdoor adventure park offering such activities as zip-lines and tubing on the Martha Brae River. While the photographers and videographers were busy with Chef Kilgore, we had time to watch some people zipping through the trees near the river. After that, we visited the small Aviary, which has an iguana and tropical birds (nice macaws). There is also a noted potter (David Pinto) at the site but we did not visit his workshop.
Back on the bus, we continued down to the banks of the river, the site of the former sugar factory. Under Chukka’s management, this is now the Adventure Falls area, featuring water slides, pools and bars. Here we would have a demonstration of Jamaican jerk-style cooking by a local chef (with additional commentary from Brad Kilgore), followed by lunch. Apparently, the local chef had not been informed that Kilgore would be commenting, so there was considerable discussion about what was supposed to take place and arranging of microphones before the videographing could begin. Meanwhile, the tour participants got to hang around like a bunch of unpaid extras. Finally the show got on the road and the local chef cut up and seasoned a chicken. The gist of the demonstration was that authentic Jamaican jerk cooking requires commercially-prepared seasoning mixes and sauces (available in the gift shop!). Except for allspice and Scotch bonnet hot peppers, there was little mention of what else might be in the seasoning mixes and sauces.
Lunch consisted of delicious jerk chicken accompanied by traditional dishes like rice and red peas (kidney beans), fried plantains, escovitch (fried tilapia topped with bell peppers, carrots and onions in a peppery vinegar-based dressing), stew peas (a bean-vegetable dish) and callaloo (steamed leafy greens). “Jerk” in Jamaica means “spicy” but this must have been a toned-down version for delicate tourist mouths. The “decadent Caribbean dessert” promised in the tour description turned out to be a tiny square of banana bread. Oh well, we didn’t want to eat a lot at lunch today anyway. After lunch, the tour participants got to hang around some more while Kilgore was being immortalized by the photographers and videographers. After complaining to Crystal about not getting to see more of the plantation grounds while that was going on, John and I were allowed to walk (under her supervision) across the bridge over the river to inspect the sugar factory’s old waterwheel. Crystal even told us a bit more of the history of the factory and the plantation before we had to return to the bus for the drive back to the ship. Overall, this was an OK tour that fell short of our expectations (and the tour description). But the food was quite good.
In contrast to the tour, tonight’s dinner was a real highlight of the cruise: the Chef’s Table. On the Regal and Royal Princesses, this dinner is bumped up a notch to Chef’s Table Lumiere ($115 pp, $100 pp without wine). This meal is prepared by the Executive Chef and is held in the Allegro Dining Room in a space cordoned off by a shimmering curtain of light. I suspect we like this a lot because it was our seventh time!
Tonight's group of 12 gathered at the Bellini Bar at 6:45 p.m. We walked to the entrance of the Concerto Dining Room, where we were greeted by the Maitre d', Ignazio D’Agostino, and helped into white jackets or lab coats. Then we were escorted into the Galley, where we scrubbed our hands thoroughly. It was near the end of first seating dinner, so the Galley was not so busy as it has been when the Chef’s Table was held earlier in the evening on other cruises. We were introduced to the Executive Chef, Florin Dragan; he and Ignazio pointed out all the food preparation areas and explained how everything was organized to work smoothly. After that, we were moved to a table in an out-of-the-way corner, which was decorated with a beautiful ice sculpture and carved vegetables. There we were served Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Champagne and five special appetizers prepared by the Executive Chef. After enjoying those, we were escorted to the special table in the Allegro Dining Room. The large round table has a lighted blown-glass centerpiece that looks somewhat like a large white agave; above the table is an elaborate chandelier. Before being seated, a group photo and a photo of each couple/group were taken with the Maitre d' and Executive Chef.
While the dinner is in progress, two layers of lighted curtains enclose the table to create a private dining area. The first course was a risotto with tiger prawns and mushrooms served with an Italian Pinot Grigio, Danzante. Next was an orange and ginger sorbet palate-cleanser splashed with Grey Goose Vodka. The main course was a unique surf and turf of a lobster tail, phyllo-rolled crab leg, a pork medallion and a beef medallion, accompanied by a warm artichoke salad and roasted potatoes. The beef was cooked perfectly to order but the pork was rather dry. This course was served with Oberon, a rich Merlot from the Napa Valley. That was followed by a cheese course with pears. The over-the-top desert of a chocolate praline timbale with hazelnut mousse was served with Errazuriz White, a dessert wine from Chile. Those with any appetite left were presented with a tray of the Chef’s homemade gourmandises (chocolate-covered strawberries, chocolate truffles, marzipan, macarons and other cookies) accompanied by limoncello and coffee/tea.
Needless to say, this six-course meal and accompanying wines were outstanding and served with appropriate pomp and ceremony. After the meal, we received copies of the 50th Anniversary Edition of Princess' cookbook (Courses, a Culinary Journey), the photos and a souvenir menu; each lady was presented with a long-stemmed red rose. Wow! Great meal!
No mention was made of Mardi Gras yesterday but today was St. Valentines’ Day and appropriate decorations were scattered around the ship. Elaborate cakes at the entrance to each dining room continued the theme. There were Valentine’s Day get-togethers for singles and honeymooners and a Valentine’s Day Marriage Match Game Show.
Thursday, 02/15/18 Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands: 7:00am – 3:30pm (Last Tender)
We have called at Grand Cayman many times on cruises but have never visited Hell or the Turtle Farm. We have snorkeled at Stingray City twice and also dived there. We have snorkeled and dived a number of other sites as well. In fact, it was snorkeling at Cheeseburger Reef, above a coral canyon filled with tarpon, that made John want to become a certified diver so that he could be down there with the fish. Also in port today were Carnival's Dream, Glory and Sensation, plus the Celebrity Equinox and the MSC Opera.
Today we had scheduled a 2-tank dive with Neptune's Divers (www.neptunesdivers.com). This was the fourth time we have dived with this boutique operation and we have been completely satisfied each time. Arriving by cruise ship limits the time available for dives but Neptune's Divers is flexible and able to accommodate our schedule.
We met the co-owner, Casey, at Calico Jack's Beach Bar (US$5 pp taxi ride) at Sea Grape Beach for a short drive to the dive boat. Neptune's Divers never takes more than five divers on a trip and this time we had only two other divers, who were staying on the island. Casey or her assistant Richie carefully explained our dive plans with expected bottom times and routes explicitly outlined. They set up all gear and made sure we were comfortable both entering and exiting the water. We had the usual fruit and water during our surface interval.
Richie led the first dive and Casey led the second. The first site was Big Dipper, with some great swim-throughs and canyons. The second site, Bolero, is a shallow reef dive with lobsters and lots of fish; John even saw a turtle. After the dives, Casey was kind enough to drive us back to George Town and save us the hassle and expense of another taxi ride. [Note: Our two-tank dive, including BCD and reg rental, cost US$140 pp.]
Being soaking wet and covered with sand, we had no burning desire to shop in George Town. We tendered back to the ship for the usual routine–-clean up, snack, rest, get ready for dinner. We only had a light lunch at Alfredo's because we had another special dinner reservation tonight.
Later in the afternoon, the Princess Grapevine wine tasting was held in the Symphony Dining Room. As Elite Captain's Circle members, John and I received complimentary invitations; otherwise, it is $9.50 pp. At one time this was a much more serious event, with a nice brochure containing a tasting flavors wheel and a table of suggested wine pairings, a tasting notes sheet with the names of the wines and even a souvenir cordial glass. Now the Maitre d’ and a couple of headwaiters still speak to the wines but that’s about as far as the education aspect goes. Today we had four California wines and one from South Africa: Hogue Cellars Gewurztraminer and Genesis Merlot, Sanctuary Wines Chardonnay, Rex Goliath Winery Moscato and Protea Wines Red Blend (Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot).
Before dinner, we went to the Captain's Circle Cocktail Party; this was one of two parties just for Platinum (875) and Elite (491) members. I think this is the first time that the Captain did not attend the party. The most traveled passengers had 1,020 days; second place was 1,009 days and third place was 719 days. We again failed to win the drawing for any of the three bottles of sparkling wine.
Tonight was the second of two formal nights and the traditional lobster was served in the main dining rooms. We had a better option, though, the Wine Maker’s Dinner. The menu for this dinner was the same as on two previous cruises but it was still excellent. The four-course dinner was held in the attractive Wine Cellar section of the Symphony dining room. We began with an unctuous white bean veloute with chorizo followed by Asiago stuffed gnocchi. These were served with a nice Sicilian white (Donnafugata Anthilia). The main course was a rich Tournedos Rossini paired with a California Petite Sirah (Spellbound). The decadent dessert was a “Napoleon of Three Mousses”: chocolate, coffee and Cointreau mousses separated by sheets of filo.
Friday, 02/16/18 Island Of Cozumel, Mexico: 10:00am – 9:30pm
This was a typical day for Cozumel (cozumel.travel/en/): we were docked at Puerta Maya with the Carnival Dream, RCI’s Allure and Liberty of the Seas were at the International Pier, and the Norwegian Getaway and MSC Opera were closer to the downtown area.
We have called at Cozumel many times on cruises and stayed on the island several times as well. Except for taking a tour to Tulum and going cavern diving in the Bat Cave and Dos Ojos cenotes, we have always snorkeled or dived on our port calls here. Although we were tempted by the special “Mexican Taco Tour with Guest Chef Scott Linquist,” the diving here is just too good to pass up.
After our long-time dive master retired, he recommended Scuba Life Cozumel (www.scubalifecozumel.com) to us. This was our third dive trip with them and they were again fabulous! Juan Pablo and Carlos now have a small shop in the new marina (a very easy 20-30 minute walk from Puerta Maya) where their boat is docked and still provide outstanding boutique service. Because of the ship’s late arrival time, we had originally booked a two-tank afternoon dive. However, it turned out that we were the only divers booked for today, so Juan Pablo contacted us to see whether we wanted to leave earlier; we settled on 11:30 a.m.
We were able to get down to the dive shop at 11:10 a.m. and Louis, who would be our dive master today, was already waiting there. After taking care of the paperwork, we were on the boat and headed out of the marina by 11:30. At each dive site, Louis carefully explained our dive plan and went over the safety concepts as expected. Also as usual, Marcelo was an excellent boat driver and helped us gear up and especially helped us exit the water. He also provided delicious fresh fruit on our surface interval. Our first dive was at Santa Rosa Wall and the second spanned the Yucab and Tormentos dive sites. Cozumel is a great place to dive: on our two dives we saw four spotted eagle rays, a nurse shark, lobster, amazing pinnacles and swim throughs, and lots of colorful reef fish. [Note: Our two-tank dive, including BCD and reg rental, cost US$95 pp.]
After all the delicious fruit on the dive boat, we only had a soft-serve ice cream cone back on the ship. We wanted to save plenty of room for tonight’s dinner at Sabatini's. For the antipasto, John had the smoked scamorza cheese with fried zucchini and yellow squash; I had the Piemontesi (roasted peppers, capers and marinated anchovies). Those were followed by the wonderful cheese soup and the Tortelloni for me; John had the soup and the buckwheat pappardelle with braised beef cheek. For his entree, John chose the Breaded Veal Wallet and I had the chicken scallopini with lemoncello and rosemary sauce. Although the chicken was very good, it was a thick piece of breast and I think thinner slices would have tasted better. It was really hard to pass up the Rocher but we decided to try the Specialita dello Chef, small versions of the four desserts: Rocher, Tiramisu, Panna Cotta and Zabaglione. Another fantastic meal!
Saturday, 02/17/18 At Sea
Alas, this was also the last day of the cruise; tomorrow we would be disembarking and flying back to North Carolina. Before we had to start packing, however, we still had a couple of special events.
First was one of two events with Master Chocolatier Norman Love. This was a Chocolate Demo at 10 a.m. in the Princess Theater. Love showed how to make his Chocolate Hazelnut Bar with Citrus Cream (www.princess.com/images/ships-and-experience/food-and-dining/chocolate-journeys/photo-gallery/desserts/hazelnut-bar-lrg.jpg). Again, a copy of the recipe was handed out. Love was more realistic about what home cooks could accomplish and suggested alternatives for some of the more esoteric ingredients. The traditional Galley Tour followed the demonstration and Love would be available to sign copies of his cookbook. We skipped the tour.
The second event with Love was the “Norman Love Wine & Chocolate Pairing” ($39 pp) at 1 p.m. in Sabatini’s. This sounded really good but it conflicted with the “Super Tuscan Wine Tasting” at 11:30 a.m. in the Allegro dining room.
“Super Tuscan” is a marketing term coined in the 1970s by wine producers in Tuscany who did not want to make traditional Chianti but also did not want to be forced to call their wines “vino da tavola” (table wine) if they didn't make Chianti. These wines may be any grape variety or mixture of varieties; often varieties typical of Bordeaux (e.g., Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot) are used. As we entered the dining room, we were presented with a glass of Villa Sandi Prosecco (from Treviso, not Tuscany). Each of the Tuscan wines would be paired with a small sample of a complementary food. The Marchesi de Frescobaldi 2010 Pietra Regia dell'Ammiraglia, Morellino di Scansano Riserva DOCG (Morellino, a local nickname for Sangiovese) was paired with slices of duck breast with a tart berry sauce. The Tenuta Argentiera 2014 Argentiera Bolgheri Superiore DOC (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc) was served with chicken and polenta. The Marchesi Antinori 2014 Guado al Tasso Bolgheri Superiore DOC (Petit Verdot, Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon) was paired with mushroom lasagna. Bistecca Toscana was served with Marchesi de Frescobaldi 2012 Castelgiocondo Lamaione Toscana IGT (Merlot). Finally, a lollipop lamb chop was paired with Marchesi de Frescobald 2010 25th Anniversary Ornellaia Bolgheri Superiore IGT (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot). The opportunity to taste these outstanding (and expensive) wines was worth the $40 pp cost of the tasting.
We had read on Cruise Critic that the Regal Princess served raw oysters in the Horizon Court at lunch on the last sea day. We decided to check it out and found the large display of oysters, mussels and shrimp. Many of the oysters looked dried-out and the moister-looking ones that we tried did not have much taste. The same could be said for the mussels and shrimp, which did not seem to have been seasoned at all, only steamed. What a disappointment and waste of good seafood! There was also a “Celebration of Chocolate” going on at the same time in the Horizon Court. Most of the items were cakes and did not interest us.
After the wine pairing and the sample from the seafood buffet, we decided to start cutting back by having a light dinner tonight at Alfredo’s. We each chose the “Mare e Monti” antipasto and the veal Agnolotti; we also shared a Pizza Capricciosa.
This evening we made it to the Princess Theater for an all-new performance by the comic, Carlos Oscar. He was very funny and made us sorry we had missed his performance earlier in the cruise.
Sunday, 02/18/18 Ft. Lauderdale, Florida: Arrive 7:00am
Because delays we have had disembarking from previous cruises due to medical emergencies and other problems, we had requested the earliest independent (not self-assist) departure time of 7:20 a.m. When we arrived at the Vista Lounge (the waiting area for Platinum, Elite, Suite and Club Class guests) shortly before 8 a.m., we were amazed that the disembarkation was running 30 minutes ahead of schedule. After eating a couple of pastries in the lounge, we sadly left the ship.
Most of the bags in our color group were already gone, so we had no problem locating our two items in the terminal. We headed over to Customs and Immigration, keeping an eye out for the Global Entry (www.cbp.gov/travel/trusted-traveler-programs/global-entry) line that lets us bypass the general screening line. The Global Entry line was not open yet, so we were sent to the line for passengers in wheelchairs. Just as we reached the head of that line, the Global Entry station opened.
As we left the terminal, there were people selling tickets for shuttles to the airport; the fare to FLL was $11 pp. However, we knew that a taxi would cost less for two people and there was no problem getting one for the 15-minute ride to FLL ($17 with tip). Our non-stop flight to RDU was uneventful and we were back home by mid-afternoon.
This cruise was a wonderful opportunity to SCUBA dive in two excellent locations and included a number of fun culinary experiences. After this cruise on one of Princess’ largest ships, our next cruise will be on one of the smallest, the Pacific Princess, in May. Large or small we always have a wonderful time aboard a Princess ship! Read Less