Sue and Mo at Harris Beach

Sue and Mo at Harris Beach
Sue and Mo at Harris Beach

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Day 8 Home and thoughts on cruising

Actually, what I discovered on this trip is that what I love most about cruising, is, well, actually, cruising. Being on a top deck watching the seas and the skies and feeling that huge ship moving beneath me is an incredible rush, and in the entire 7 days I never tired of it. Lots of good things about a cruise, but that movement on the sea is the best part.

The daily posts listed below have some photos in them, but here is the link to all the photos from the cruise.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Day 7 Some thoughts on Princess

Our last day of the cruise was spent at sea, with time to relax in deck chairs, and enjoy the lovely gentle seas. Time to think a bit.

Mo has been on 5 cruises, and this was my 4th. Two previous trips were with Royal Caribbean and one 4 day cruise with Holland America. It is sometimes difficult to compare something like a cruise, and I think every experience is individual. For what it is worth, in most ways we were impressed with Princess. The cabin was excellent, and our steward did a great job. We knew there wouldn't be cute little animals, but chocolates and a turned down bed were fine, and if I had to choose, I would pick the huge closet over fancy towel animals.

The Anytime Dining option has some glitches, but still is a great way to go if you aren't traveling with a big group of people that you know. The food on Princess was fine and the service was excellent in our experience, but there wasn't quite the fabulous fancy thing that you expect on a cruise. We didn't opt for any of the extra charge restaurants, but that shouldn't be the only way to get great food on a cruise. Talking with a friend about this, we think it may not just be the difference between cruise lines, but an overall difference in cruise food in general.

The spa was wonderful, and my experience on this ship better than others. There are 4 pools, lots of places to hang out, and not very many children or young adult people on this trip. It was pretty quiet, actually, not a party ship at all. It seemed very classy, and mature, unlike the rock climbing wave riding midnight party glitz of the Royal Caribbean. I would still like to someday experience one of those big ships like the Independence of the Seas, but in all, Princess compared very favorably to past cruise experiences.

The only other problem seemed to be the very short times in port. Often, another ship would be in port when we arrived and there after we left. We heard tales of 12 hour port stays, and the 6 or 7 hours that we had in our ports was a real detriment to actually enjoying them. I'm not quite sure why it worked out this way, but might pay closer attention to port stays when planning another cruise. My choice won't necessarily depend on the company, but on the ports, the price, and the dates.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Day 6 Grand Turk and swimming with rays

You tube video swimming with rays

Our last port day on the cruise, Grand Turk was a surprise. We didn't have enough time to explore the island since again, we signed up for an excursion. This one was by default, since it was the only snorkel trip still available, and included petting sting rays. Hmmm. We weren't too sure of that one, but really wanted to see more fish, so thought that maybe an excursion was the way to do that. After all, we even brought our own shiny new snorkel gear for this trip!

As we boarded the excursion boat, it began to dawn on me that we were going to actually snorkel in deep water, no walking in slowly from the beach, this was going to be a jump off the boat kind of thing. Gibbs Cay is just a spit of sand in view of the island, but we weren't any where near either one when the cool snorkel dudes stopped the boat and showed us how to jump down the ladders.

At first it was a bit daunting, but with the inflatable snorkel vests and the warm water it was just fine. I loved it. The reef was lovely, and there were some fish, but still nothing like we saw in Hawaii. It was hard sometimes to keep track of locations, and once I felt trapped in an area with reef all around me and no way over it, but I found my way back eventually. A great experience.

We all got back in the boat and headed for the beach on Gibbs Cay. Our guide warned us to stay calm when the rays swam around our legs, told us they liked people and were extremely friendly. It was an experience, to say the least. We would all be looking at him holding this huge thing, when suddenly more would sidle up behind us and suddenly you would feel them around your legs. Strange, and yes, difficult to stay calm and not get a bit freaky. All in all, a great experience though, even after he did admit that yes, these were the same sting rays that had killed the croc hunter. Hmmm. I watched that stinger whip around a few times and wondered if this was really where I wanted to be, but now that it's over, I'm really glad we did it. it.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Day 5 St. Thomas and Magen's Bay

Our day in St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands was just as I imagined a day on a Caribbean beach would be. Again, the time in port was really short, but this time Mo and I had pre-reserved our excursion to Magen's Bay, listed by National Geographic as one of the top ten beaches in the world.

We disembarked and immediately boarded our open air bus to drive the steep curvy road over the island down to the beach. The air was tropical, there were lush tropical plants along the road, and the views were magnificent. Ahh. Once on the beach, we walked to the end where we found a delightful little nook with some shade and spent a couple of hours swimming, snorkeling, and sunning. It was perfect. The turquoise color of the water is the most amazing thing, although there weren't as many fish and the water wasn't as clear as it was last spring when we first snorkeled on Kauai. Still, it was great. Again, I wished for a lot more time to enjoy these ports, these islands, more time to explore them. It really was wonderful, and we soaked up every bit of sun and water and sky and white sand that we could.

It wasn't until I got back to the ship and uploaded my photos that I discovered that somehow my camera's setting reverted to a high ISO and all my St Thomas photos were extremely overexposed. Ahh, well, forgive me for the weird photos. There are plenty of good ones on the internet, however, just go to google and search for images of Magen's Bay. The color is real!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Day 4 visiting St. Maarten

Our visit to Phillpsburg was interesting, and if I go back to the Caribbean, and to this island in particular, I hope that I can get around a bit more and see it in a different way. We were on the Dutch side of the island, and I saw nothing particularly Dutch, or particularly Caribbean either. Because I got hooked on the shopping thing by the cruise shopping director, we spent our day in port running around trying to find all the shops that honored our free coupons, and shopping isn't one of Mo's favorite things to do, but she was a good sport. We discovered Diamonds International, and Tanzanite International, among a gazillion others. We learned that shopping for extreme luxuries, aka "bling" is the big thing to do when cruising the Caribbean.

Maybe not. I bought the silly coupon book for 25 bucks, thinking I would get a discount on my spa treatment, but then the fine print said "port days only" and I certainly wasn't going to stay on the ship on a port day. Live and learn, I guess. We did manage to get a color changing bag from Del Sol, and a water wallet from DI, but really didn't find much of interest in that whole day of running around Old St. Maarten. Next time I will take a taxi to the French side and check out the local market.

The beach was white and lovely and very crowded, and the water was all churned up by the storms. Two beach chairs and an umbrella came with a bucket of beer for 20 bucks so we declined that one and instead opted for conch fritters and pina coladas at the barefoot bar on the beach. It's a bit difficult to feel what the West Indies might be like when the town is filled with more than 10,000 tourists from the ships. I have heard that there are some really lovely things to explore on St Maarten, but this particular cruise had a very short port time, really not enough time at all. I'll pay attention to that as well if I ever get a chance to return here.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Day 3 at sea

After our lovely day at Princess Cays, we went back to the ship, enjoying a great meal in the Michelangelo dining room, and going to the Princess Theater for a great show. As night fell, however, the seas got really rough, and our sleep was serenaded by huge groaning sounds below our cabin. The ship rocked and rolled and groaned all night and into the next day. All day Tuesday the skies were stormy and we watched waves that were classified as "rough seas" according to the ship log on the tv in our cabin. In fact, the seas were so rough that all the water sloshed out of the swimming pools and they closed them down. The photo on the left here shows what a fully booked cruise ship can look like on a rough sea day. Not a soul in sight! Everyone was inside, enjoying spa treatments, shopping, eating, and casino fun. We had most of the outside decks completely to ourselves.

By evening, when it didn't get any better,they canceled the show that involved dancing by the Princess Dancers and substituted a comedy show instead. Turned out great, actually, because the comedian was hysterical. It felt great to laugh so hard that my cheeks hurt. He was truly funny, and without being one bit dirty either. It was so much fun.

As any cruiser knows, it takes almost the entire length of the cruise just to find your way around the ship. On this day we discovered that the hallway outside our stateroom led to one of our favorite little places to hang out on the ship, the International Cafe on the edge of the central part of the ship called the Piazza. Our cabin was on deck 5, toward midship, and that turned out to be really handy. Lots of activity centers around this area, and the spiral staircases wind up 2 more floors to the Promenade deck 7 where there are more shops and bars and restaurants.

This little cafe, however, was a nice place to be, especially since the seas outside were so rough. I'm glad I finally decided to put on my patch. Last night I tried half and this morning I added the second half. Now I don't have to fight that seasick thing all the time. I had a great cappuccino, a pretty one with lovely swirls in the foam, and some kind of delectable chocolate dessert. Across from our little table, the chefs did some demonstrations of ice and vegetable carving. Hmmm, so when I get home I will create cute monkeys from pineapples? Maybe not. LOL.

We spent a few minutes on the internet, which isn't cheap on board, and not always a reliable connection. They have packages, and I settled for one that gave me 100 minutes for 55 bucks, but it was amazing how fast that went. Not sure it is really worth it, but having my own laptop was much nicer than trying to use the Internet Cafe across the piazza which was almost always very busy.

All in all, it was a nice day,with time to actually relax a bit and explore the ship. The Crown Princess is huge, and has many levels, and we discovered, many steps and hidden nooks. It isn't quite as straightforward as the RC ships we have been on in the past. In order to really get around, you have to be willing to do a lot of climbing. Especially when my favorite place on board was usually the very top of the ship on the Sun Deck number 19 I think. It was fine for us, but we thought about people we know who might not like all that stair climbing.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Day 2 Princess Cays

Princess has their very own private beach here on this island in the Bahamas. The water really is truly turquoise and crystal clear. Amazing. We anchored at 9 am and were on the beach before 10 for a perfect clear day, 80 degrees or so and gorgeous.

I can't believe I actually bought this thing, but it really did the trick. A perfect, icy pina colada that stayed cold for at least a couple of hours on the hot beach. It was great down time, and I didn't even get a sunburn.

Perfect water, perfect sand, perfect weather. My first Caribbean beach day was perfect.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Day 1 Cruising the Caribbean

Mo and I decided that waiting around at my house in Jamestown wasn’t much different than waiting around in San Francisco so we left home around noon for the bay area. The weather was nice in California, sunny and partly cloudy with no smog anywhere thanks to the lovely rain from the day before. We traveled west on 120, our usual route to SF and then crossed the San Mateo bridge. Mo thought it would be fun to have dinner at very well known Italian restaurant she and her friends would visit back in the days when she lived in Montara. Bertolucci's has been around since 1928.

We managed to find the restaurant, found the hotel park and fly lot, checked in, and then decided to go to the City for some entertainment. Strybing Arboretum is one of my favorite places, so we headed for Golden Gate Park.

The sun was nice, and walking in the park was a fairly popular thing to do on this Saturday afternoon, even though the air was still a bit chilly. The tulip trees are in bloom right now, and some camellias, but most of the gardens were fairly subdued at this time of year. Sadly, I didn’t take the camera, so no photos of all the loveliness.

We headed back through town to our restaurant for an early dinner. The food was really wonderful, and the ambiance of the restaurant was old school in a way, but totally casual as well. You could tell that many of the diners were people who came often. Interesting that even in this very fine restaurant, people were still dressed casually in jeans and such. Mo had some sole with a great dill sauce and I had osso bucco, both with polenta,which neither of us had tried before and both of us really liked. I’ll have to find a recipe and make some.

We took our leftovers, which eventually died a sad death in our stateroom fridge, and parked the car, deciding again that waiting at the airport wasn’t much different than waiting in the parking lot, took the 7 pm shuttle and only had 4hours to wait for boarding. It all gets a bit convoluted for these red-eye flights. Where do you wait? When do you drive there? So we took little naps hidden in the corner on the floor of the gate area, I knitted a bit on my shawl rather than my sweater, and finally boarded at 11:30 or so. Amazingly I slept through the entire flight, only waking up just as the plane was beginning to descend into Miami. Ahh. Plane pillow, cozy socks, no bra, and Ambien. LOL

Miami was another long wait, arriving at 8am and having to wait for the shuttle to Fort Lauderdale at 11. The shuttle service was with Princess, and was definitely a bit convoluted. They didn’t have enough shuttles,there were too many Carnival shuttles getting in the way, and we ended up with people going to two different ships on the same bus, which was crazy. We finally were dropped off at pier 2, where the huge ship awaited. Huge it is, and even though we have been on huge ships before, this one looks pretty impressive sitting there at the pier.

Boarding was amazingly efficient and simple, again a good check mark for Princess, and our stateroom was ready when we got there. This is the largest stateroom so far, even though it was just a simple outside view room, no balcony or anything, but there was lots of room, a huge closet, a nice bathroom, and a ton of storage. We didn’t have to do that thing with shoving the suitcase under the bed which is often the case on these ships.
We toured the ship a bit, searched out the Lido deck and the lunch buffet in the Horizon café and waited for our sailing time at 5. The food was fine, not particularly fancy,but adequate, and everything on the ship was really nice. The ship itself isn’t quite as dramatic in the Atrium area as our Royal Caribbean ship was, but it was still lovely. Probably a bit more classy, with lots of dark wood, and lovely art everywhere. The service was excellent throughout the cruise; in spite of some of the reviews I read saying it wasn’t that great, I was impressed.

Fort Lauderdale is a huge cruise port, and there were 5 big ships leaving on this Sunday evening,heading for various parts of the Caribbean. The parade of ships was fun, and people in their condos along the water stand in their balconies and wave at the ships leaving port. Thinking about how many people were on the sea that evening was impressive, considering there are about3000 to 5000 people on each one of them. It’s really interesting to think of what a huge industry this cruising thing has become, with so many people and cities almost completely dependent on these ships and people coming into their ports.

We had a nice supper in the dining room, appreciating our Anytime Dining option since we didn’t have to make small talk with a bunch of strangers, went to the evening show in the Princess theater, before we settled in to our cabin and looked forward to the coming days with a lot of anticipation.