Cruise Holidays - Attheta Travel

I am proud to be certified by CLIA (Cruise Lines International Association) as an Elite Cruise Counselor. The Cruise Counselor Certification Program is CLIA's most comprehensive training which requires agents to successfully complete a number of compulsory training courses and exams, attend cruise conferences, and conduct ship inspections. Anita Thompson, Attheta Travel, dba Cruise Holidays.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Grand Princess Caribbean Cruising

November 22 – December 6, 2010
Sunday November 21 – Maija and Al arrive in Fort Lauderdale
Uneventful flight for Al and Maija from SeaTac to Dallas, and then Dallas to Ft. Lauderdale.

Dinner at Johnny V’s was extraordinary! The desk clerk at the hotel recommended it because it is directly across the street and the chef is an awarding winning chef on Food Channel.

Jan and Steve narrowly avoid the ensuing snowfall, about to descend upon the Puget Sound area, as they board their red-eye to Miami. Their plane was de-iced, as was Al and Maija’s early that morning (very early, at 6:10 am).

Monday November 22 – Embarkation at Fort Lauderdale
Jan and Steve picked up a Budget rental car at the Miami airport, which was only $68 for the day, which enabled them to pick up Al and Maija at the Riverfront Hotel. The drop off, which is a few blocks from the cruise ship terminal, was not well organized (took the guys at least 45 minutes), but it’s still well worth it. Having the car was an ideal way to pick up wine (28 bottles!) at Total Wines, and drop the girls with the luggage at the cruise terminal. Total Wines is an amazing wine outlet! The inventory is never ending.

Breakfast was wonderful on Las Olas, at. This hotel and location was a great combo…. much better than other times when we’ve departed from Fort Lauderdale. Al found the hotel on, $65 for the night.

Our Elite/Platinum access to the ship was great. Other passengers were in a very long line.

Jan and Steve’s inside cabin has two drop down singles, which made it feel too tight. They opted to have their beds split to two singles, to provide floor space in the middle.

Maija didn’t have time to get a pedicure at home, so she has an appointment at 5:15. Nice job by Tamar, with the gel treatment. A bit pricey at $75…. whatever! Maija is annoyed that a pedicure client has to complete a questionnaire, which asks for a listing of the client’s meds, health issues, etc. Way extreme for a pedi…. Maija fills out a comment card.

Tuesday November 23 – at sea
Al and Maija begin the Pilates regimen…. Oooh, we’re sore! A week later we see our ship’s fitness director, Cami, with her cigs on the beach. Gross!

Jan and Steve sleep in their “cave” (indoor cabin) until 11:00, in the sleep deprivation chamber. Well, they needed it, after that red-eye flight.

Wednesday November 24 – at sea
We hoarded four pool chairs early, but by 10:45 we had little notes on them, indicating that at 11:00 our stuff would be removed, if we didn’t occupy them. Fortunately, Al and Maija happened to show up, just as the nasty notice appeared. Lesson learned…. you really can’t hoard chairs (nor should you).

Afternoon movie in the Princess Theater was “Killer” with Ashton Kutcher, Katherine Heigl and Tom Selleck. It’s funny…. CIA, Ashton as hit man, until he falls in love with Katherine. Tom Selleck is her dad.

Thursday November 25 – Thanksgiving in Aruba
Headed to Amsterdam Manor for beach time at Eagle Beach. The taxi supervisor/driver did not want to take us there because they make more (and get kick-backs?) at Palm Beach. We insisted, which didn’t make us popular. This worked out perfectly. Amsterdam Manor is Dutch clean, welcoming, friendly, and it’s only $10 per person to have access to their pool, towels and the beach. Their beachfront restaurant is great for beer, cocktails and lunch. Thanks to Al for uncovering this choice on the web.

Friday November 26 – Willemstad, Curacao
Willemstad is the capital. Colorful colonial buildings, charming old town. Pontoon pedestrian bridge, which opens to allow large ships to pass through. It’s hot here, but not unbearable. Shopping is not noteworthy. We found just one decent T-shirt shop…. a shirt for Al, and Christmas gift for Gary E. Most of the T-shirts are tacky, too bright and lots of embroidery.

The fishermen selling fresh catch, off their boats are worth seeing, as is the produce market, which includes “drive by” shopping for the locals! Patrons “drive by”, hardly stopping, right in front of the stands, and get loaded up with sacks of potatoes, gigantic banana leaf bunches, produce, etc. We later learned from Helena that it is customary, particularly during the Christmas season, to prepare “Hallacas” from the banana leaves. Through a cumbersome process, it becomes quite a delicacy (stuffed with various fillings), which is then ready anytime (refrigerated) guests arrive unexpectedly. Slenderizing cream was available at the local market. Although slightly tempted, Maija and Jan opted not to make this purchase.

Steve and Maija, in the old Jewish section, found a Curacao distillery’s tasting room. We sampled banana, pistachio and amaretto liqueurs. Tasty, but very sweet.

The museums have entrance fees of $6 - $10 per person. Not worth it to us for the maritime museum, synagogue, postal museum.

Recommended by a local policeman, on the street beat, we had lunch on the shore, at “The Grilling – Family Steakhouse & Seafood”. The owner/waiter tossed leftovers into the water, so we got to watch a moray eel and tarpon, right off the deck. Our lunches were excellent.

Saturday November 27 – at sea
It’s a cloudy, windy day. Not a day where we feel compelled to ensure we have four chaise lounges by the pool…. nor did anyone else.

Couples massage class for Al and Maija. Wine tasting in the afternoon for Jan and Steve.

We opted to watch “Movies under the Stars” tonight. It was a very silly movie, with Steve Carrel, called “Dinner for Schmucks”. Fun for on top, but not even worth renting.

Sunday November 28 – Grenada
Celebrity’s Millennium ship is docked right next to us. The two ships look massive, next to one another on the dock.

Sunday morning Gospel service at Evangelistic Center on Market Hill in St. George, Grenada. Wonderful beat and energy!

2 ½ hour walk (workout program, given the hills and stairs). No shopping in sight, which was perfect. No “Little Switzerland” or “Diamonds International”! We approached the fort from the backside, and encountered the locally (self ?) appointed “security officer”. The fort tunnels had gun turrets, and cannons on top. In 1983 the heads of government were executed in the fort’s plaza, before the Americans came in to overthrow the coup.

Lunch at Jenny’s French & Creole Restaurant on Grand Anse Beach – marlin sandwiches, Creole chicken, taro soup (called Calalloo soup). Since it was Sunday, local families were on the beach. The Grenadian people are warm, welcoming, polite and inclusive. We loved watching the kids frolic, under the watchful eye of their parents.

Our first truly relaxing evening on the deck, since the seas are now fairly calm. Great sunset reflection on the clouds.

Monday November 29 – Barbados
Sea Princess and a Club Med ship (out of Martinique) are in the cruise ship port with us. We opted to walk to the terminal building, but the shuttle is complimentary, and the walk on the terminal dock is not picturesque – just a big cement walkway, and you’re dodging the smelly shuttle busses. Take the shuttle, and save the walking for once you’re out of the terminal building.

We walked to the center of Bridgetown, stopping at the local fish processing and sales facility. The fish comes directly off the fishing boats, and a huge crew of expert fish handlers are busy at work, trimming and prepping the fish for sale. It was very impressive….. and very clean!

Onward to the center of town. It’s a bustling city environment, and there really isn’t much to draw you, unless you’re ready for yet another Little Switzerland or Diamonds International. On November 30, 1966 Barbados declared independence from Britain. The entire month of November is devoted to their independence celebration. The parliament buildings are decked out yellow, black and blue banners, in honor of the independence celebration.

We grabbed a cab by the marina, to return to the ship ($10 total for the four of us). Our taxi driver, a woman, was on a mission to sell us a cab ride to a west side beach, Mullins Beach, supposedly about 20 minutes to the north of the cruise ship dock. She took a long route back to the ship, which included streets with residential bungalows. It’s possible she was taking the extended route, so she could “sell” us on the concept of the beach up north. We politely declined.

The ship’s cruise director recommended “The Boatyard” for beach time, on nearby Carlisle Bay. The $12 (per person) entry fee included a shuttle back to the ship, one free drink, a beach chair with umbrella; the swimming beach was perfect – the ultimate Caribbean blue water, soft white sand beach, and very easy, gradual entry into the water. Maija had heard from a source that the south side beaches are the best. It is something to consider for the future.

We shared the catch of the day for lunch, mahi mahi. Very good, and for the first time on shore, the fries were good. The guys wanted to sample the local beer, Banks, but since “The Boatyard” is sponsored by Carib (and Mount Gay Rum), it’s the only Caribbean beer available at this bar. Al and Steve settled for Carb, quite contentedly.

On the beach, the guys were enamored with the destroyed catamaran, “Heat Wave”, a victim of Hurricane Thomas (maybe?). Perhaps, more so, they were enamored with the cruise ship staff (girls!) in their bikinis.

Tonight’s cocktail hour was especially fun…. first video of Mira crawling came to us! You go girl!

Tuesday November 30 – St. Vincent
We dock at Kingstown’s cruise ship terminal (SE side of the island). At 8:30 we met our expedition guides, Emmas and Harvey, right on the same dock (very convenient). We were supposed to be touring with Wayne, the owner of Baleine Tours, but he was ill with the flu. There were about 20 Princess Ship passengers on the excursion, at $80 per person. It was the first time we’ve been entirely with a group mostly our age or younger. A very nice group of people. Debbie & Heath from Kansas City, MO, Jo-Ann DiGeronimo and her husband, Nunzio (born in Sicily) from Florida (New York transplants).

The boat was notably seaworthy, about 35’ in length, with three 300 hp Yamaha outboards. It was a soft, comfortable ride, even when Harvey opened it up. Emmas was very fastidious; he was constantly tidying up and washing off the black sand.

The guys provided an informative dialogue of the west side coastline and harbors. Although, they were a bit hard to understand with their Caribbean accents. Fort Charlotte and Wallilabou Bay are spots where “Pirates of the Caribbean” was filmed. The bat cave at Buccament Bay was interesting. It’s possible to take a boat through the cave, but not a boat of our size, especially with the wave action we were experiencing.

We cruised quite a distance to the north, and saw the volcano, La Soufriere (which is 1 mile across the top of the crater); it has a considerable cloud cover hovering on top. La Soufriere erupted in 1902, killing about 2,000 people because they had no warning signals in those days. It became active again in 1979, which resulted in 12 days of small eruptions. Fortunately, this time no lives were lost. Emmas and Harvey pointed out lava flows #1 through #4, as we headed north of Richmond (the last town, where the road ends) and to Larikai Bay. No dolphin sightings, perhaps a bit rough.

Lunch was delivered to our shore stop, at Mt. Wynne Bay, by a restaurateur from town. The choice was chicken or fish of the day. We all opted for the fish, which was red fish. It came with Caribbean rice (seasoned rice, with peas), a corn cake, sweet potato, hunk of taro root, and plantain. The fish was tasty, as was the corn “cake”. The “disha”, which we later learned was taro, was rather tasteless. It was also not a very appetizing color – sort of a bluish-white “cake”.

Harvey then took us to the bay around the point, for snorkeling (masks and snorkels provided). This was among the finest coral snorkeling experiences ever. Amazing fan coral, bright yellow tube coral, and an impressive variety of fish. The “shelf” started very close into shore, so one didn’t need to venture far to see an exotic display.

Wednesday December 1 – St. Kitts
We’re docked at the cruise ship dock at Basseterre, with the Emerald Princess alongside. A beautiful five mast sailing ship (sailing out of Barbados on 7-10 day cruises), Royal Clipper, was anchored in South Friar’s Bay. Our destination for the day is Shipwreck Beach (located on South Friar’s Bay), a short taxi ride, which was only $12 + tip (each way) for the four of us. As we have experienced on other islands, the taxi driver wanted us to go to Turtle Beach or Cocklshell Beach (at the far west end of St. Kitts), rather than Shipwreck Beach. We learned that this is because those destinations generate double the fare.

The water was incredibly clear, and azure blue. We paid a $10 (per person) beach access fee, which included beach chairs, and grass umbrellas. The setting was perfect, just steps from the water. That was good because the sand was very hot! The snorkeling here wouldn’t be anywhere near as great as yesterday at St. Vincent, but if we had our own snorkel gear it would be a fun place to just putt around, which a lot of people were doing.

This spot is known for its population of monkeys and mongoose. We brought cut up bananas and apples from the ship (ordered extra bananas from morning room service), which Maija was immediately anxious to share with the furry beasts. The monkeys came running, nearly rioting to gain access to the treats. A couple of employees offered stern words of caution about getting too close to monkeys because they can become agitated and aggressive. That became readily apparent! However, it was fun to watch them, including a couple of baby monkeys, which were hovering together, under foliage. Later we saw the mongoose, as they feasted on leftover burgers and fries, which provided a delectable mongoose smorgasbord, placed there just for them. The monkeys don’t interfere, since they are vegetarians.

Our funky beach restaurant served the best conch fritters we’ve ever had, with a wonderful accompanying dip. “Goat water” was one of today’s specials. Typically that would be a thick stew made of – what else – goat meat! However, “The Shipwreck’s” version featured mutton; it still sounded a little too heavy in the heat. Maija and Al enjoyed fabulous fish tacos, and the best Caribbean rice we’ve tasted so far! Jan and Steve’s fresh cut French fries were also the finest we’ve had thus far on this trip…. Yummy!

Maija enjoyed the shells, washing up on the beach. It was a good beach for walking, in both directions.

At the end of the day, we all opted to get off the ship again, and headed for the free WiFi hotspot in the terminal’s bar/casino. We’ve had difficulty getting our emails to download using the ship’s server; it can be a time consuming process. We boarded just in time, as the passenger “all aboard” was 4:30.

Thursday December 2 – St. Thomas
After an expeditious one-hour jaunt into town… specifically to the “Jewels” store, which specializes in David Yurman (where Jan and Maija got new gems!), we headed to Coki Beach on the north end of the island. The taxis are pre- dominantly pick-up truck frames, with ~ 16 passenger open bench seating. $4 per person to go into town from the cruise ship dock, and $9 per person from town to Coki Beach. The island is very hilly and lush, with windy roads. Vehicles travel on the left hand side of the road, which is kind of odd, since this is a U.S. territory.

We had beach chairs right in front of Jahshae’s Bar and Grill. Reggae Christmas music played all day. Jingle Bells, 12 Days of Christmas, Joy to the World – all pretty funny, in Reggae style. This beach has the most perfect Caribbean blue water we’ve seen thus far! Beyond the small island to the north (which we were facing) lie the British Virgin Islands. If we’re to become true conch fritter connoisseurs, we must sample them wherever we go, of course. Jahshae’s were 5 for $15. Different than yesterday at The Shipwreck in St. Kitts, but very good, with a sweeter dipping sauce. The jerk chicken wraps ($10) were very good. Not too spicy, but with a unique blend of seasonings. Our beach waitress, who was darling, recommended the wraps; it was a good choice.

Hanging out on this beach was idyllic, and we were sorry that this was a day we had to be back on the ship by 3:30. The temperature was perfect. We didn’t want to leave Coki Beach. It would have been fun to rent snorkel gear for $5 and putt around in the clear, azure waters. Roger, the friendly fellow, who handed out punch samples, said the snorkeling is quite decent. We just ran out of time.

Friday December 3 – Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
Today’s plan is to stroll through the old town, known as “Zona Colonial”. It is a UNESCO designated World Heritage Site, situated on the Ozama River. This district dates back to the 1500s. It was the first settlement made by Christopher Columbus and the Spanish explorers in the New World. Columbus’s mate, Rodrigo de Triana, was the one who was up on the mast, and first sighted Hispaniola. There is a statue commemorating this occurrence in Santo Domingo.

The Dominican Republic shares the island of Hispaniola with neighboring Haiti. Haiti actually ruled the Dominican Republic, for a period, until 1844.

Conde Pantonal is a lengthy pedestrian only shopping street. We started at Isabel la Catolica, where our cab dropped us off ($15 each way for the four of us). The plaza in front of Cathedral of Santa Maria la Menor (the first cathedral in the Americas) is a gathering place, and great for people watching. We particularly enjoyed the kids, of all ages, in their school uniforms. Opposite the cathedral is a high-end cigar shop, Caoba Cigars. It’s a must for cigar aficionados. It was interesting to watch the guy hand making them; he crafts 300 a day. Each cigar has five different leaves, and ultimately the cigars are wrapped with specially imported leaves from Connecticut. This shop brands their cigars under two different names. We also sampled a very tasty coconut liqueur. A couple of vendors were offering the typical Venezuelan “cachapas”, which are a tamale-like pancake of corn, filled with cheese. They looked very good.

The original inhabitants were the Taino (thai-ee-no) people. Much of the local artwork replicates the aboriginal gods (such as Diosa Luna, Goddess of the Moon – she is the one with the semi-circle head) and petro glyphs. A common art form is one of prints on canvas, depicting either Taino symbols or scenes from local life. Many are crafted by Haitian people. They are remarkably reasonable, ranging from $10 - $30, and very colorful. Jan and Maija both bought one.

We had a lovely outdoor lunch at Diam’s Café-Lounge (C/ Conde No. 60). Their website is Their indoor seating is very Euro, with sleek furnishings, mirrored chandeliers and dark surfaces. The four of us shared a wonderful appetizer medley, which included baguettes with tomatoes, and with Serrano ham, curried chicken on skewers, and what we thought to be yet another version of conch fritters. All very tasty. Then we ordered two plates of paella with seafood. Maija shared some of her seafood with the resident blue-eyed, white kitty. A duo of local musicians serenaded us, fortunately from an acceptable distance. They handed their metal instrument, which looked and sounded like scratching on a cylindrical grater, to the guard at the art academy, and he played along with them. This instrument is called a charrasca. The sound it makes even sounds like that…. Not so pleasant!

San Souci Pier presents quite a navigational challenge for the captain. It’s like threading a needle to maneuver back out to the Caribbean Sea. We watched from our balcony, with amazement.

Sunday December 5 – Relaxing on Princess Cays
During the cruise we steamed a total of distance of 3602 nautical miles. (1 nautical mile = 1.15 statute miles)

Monday, December 13, 2010

Cruise Report -- Oosterdam, Mexican Rivera

Seven day cruise to the Mexican Riveria aboard the Oosterdam.
December 4  - December 12, 2010
Garry Thompson

Day 1
We had an easy flight to San Diego from Oklahoma City. Our itinerary included a 90 minute layover in Las Vegas – just enough time for an early lunch and watch people gamble in the terminal. We didn’t experience any security delays or issues at the airport in OKC. However, we did have an “over-achiever” flight attendant on the leg to San Diego: she wouldn’t let Anita sit in the exit row seat until Anita proved she could lift her own bag into the overhead storage. The flight attendant would not let me put the bag in the overhead. In all the years I have flown, I have never encountered that requirement. Guess next time Anita should bring a smaller bag – or not expect to sit in the exit row.

As we approached the airport, we could see the Oosterdam in the harbor – just a few miles from the airport. A quick $10 taxi ride took us to the ship at the B street pier. San Diego is building a much needed cruise ship pier. Now, the cruise lines are using an old warehouse. No escalator here – use the stairs or wait for a crowded elevator.

The harbor is full of commercial and leisure boats. Across the bay from San Diego is a large navy base. There were two aircraft carriers docked within our view, along with several smaller ships. We couldn’t see any names on the ships, just large numbers.

The Oosterdam is a clean ship, but is seven years old and is starting to show its age. It doesn’t have a large atrium – unlike most cruise ships, we had a “closed in” feeling as we toured the main public areas. As expected, we had a mature group of traveling companions. However, there were a few younger families on board the ship, traveling with children.

We were pleased to find a promenade deck that went entirely around the ship. Three laps around the deck equals a mile and we were able to finish our exercise before the muster drill. After looking at the menus and prepared food in the buffet, we realize that we really need to exercise on this trip.

We didn’t take – or wear – our life jackets to the mandatory muster drill. Instead of sitting in one of the public venues for the drill, we gathered on the promenade deck (without life jackets), beneath our assigned life boat. Fortunately, it was a cool day and the sun was setting. In all of our cruise experience, this was only the second cruise where we were herded into tight groups and listened to the safety instructions. This was NOT a good experience: Holland America could learn a lot from their sister companies. This is one area where Princess Cruises excels.

We were assigned to “Open Seating” for dinner and joined two couples at their table. Since the other two couples were traveling together, we felt as if we were intruding on a private dinner party. However, the other guests tried to make us feel welcome to join their conversation. One of the two couples at our table told us they had cruised more than 80 times… Wow!

We skipped the shows and had an early evening. Guess I am getting old… Let the “younger crowd” enjoy the nightlife. Joke; remember this is a Holland America ship!

Day 2 – at sea
Slept in, enjoyed the gentle rocking of the ship at sea. The bridge reported moderate seas, but the lack of ship movement indicated a calm sea. Just what I like! Our cabin is on deck 5 and coffee/breakfast was on deck 9. After a light breakfast, we went for our two mile walk around the promenade deck. The warm air and very little wind made for an enjoyable walk. During that time, we passed two different pods of dolphins. The first pod contained more than 40 dolphins. The second pod (passed 30 minutes later) was a much smaller group.

We spent the afternoon on our balcony, reading – a great afternoon. I might have gotten too much sun. Hope not, we have another day at sea before landfall on Tuesday.

Day 3 – at sea
Today, we should have slowed for several hours of whale watching in a bay alongside Baja Calafornia. However, heavy fog denied us that opportunity. We continued South – heading for Mazatlan. During this southward journey, we did see four whales. We believe these were Gray Whales, but they were too far from the ship to identify. All we could see was the spout and the back/tail for the whales where they dove for deeper water. Anyway, it was exciting!

After a light breakfast, we took our two mile walk around the promenade deck. Then Anita visited the on board shops – again. Not sure what she expected to find that was different, but she tried – and enjoyed trying.

For lunch, we were back on the Lido deck, having hamburgers and listening to MoTown music from the 60s. It was nice! We spent the afternoon in our cabin and on our balcony reading. Yes, we enjoyed the day!

For the past two days, we have tried to see the afternoon movie in the theater – they are first run movies, but we were unable to find a seat. The theater is very small, less than 40 comfortable chairs and other passengers tend to grab/hoard seats. That’s a bummer!

Day 4 – Mazatlan
Overnight, we changed our watches to a different time zone – moved an hour ahead to Mountain Time. Morning found us docked in Mazatlan. However, this is a working port with lots of cargo containers. From the upper levels of the ship, we could see the beach and the town. We took the shuttle to the pier welcome center and visited a few of the shops. Since we have been there before, we decided not to leave the dock area. There were a couple of bars near the welcome center so we had a Corona and listened to music – and watched the world go by. I did see something I had never seen before (thankfully) a leather belt (modeled after a gun holster) that held a bottle of Tequila salt, lime, and 6 shot glasses. I wonder how many of those belts they sell on spring break? Today was a nice day to enjoy the ship while most of our fellow travelers were off on tours.

Day 5– Puerto Vallarta
For this port, the ship docked a few miles north of the main square in a harbor area that was full of fishing and pleasure boats. Across the street from the pier was a Sam’s Club and a Super Walmart! We got off the ship and left the dock area for a walk. We did find a couple of market areas, but couldn’t find anything we couldn’t live without. No, didn’t see a Tequila belt! Another nice day to go back early and enjoy the comforts of the ship. Since Puerto Vallarta is in different time zone than Mazatlan, we were told to keep our watches on “ships time” and ignore the local clocks.

Docked in the harbor, was another cruise ship: The Silver Cloud from the Silver Sea Cruise Line, a luxury cruise line. This sighting was a first for me. Looking at the ship (without any reference material), I believe it can carry about 400 passengers.

Day 6 – Cabo San Lucas
When we arrived in the bay for our tender stop in Cabo, we found the SapphirePrincess already at anchor in the harbor. Cabo does not have a dock for large ships and the cruise ships must tender passengers to shore. Our ship dropped anchor about 500 yards from Los Arcos, the famous arch in the rocks on the point. We tried to take pictures of the arch, but the sun was on the wrong side.

Before our afternoon tour, we went into town to look around. Lots of bars, cafes, and trinket shops… Didn’t buy anything except a Corona and a bottle of water. Yes, the water was for Anita… At noon, we met our tour guide. We spent the afternoon on the beach at a nice hotel. Lunch and drinks were included in the cost of the tour. It was a nice way to spend the afternoon.

Day 7 – At sea
During the night, we regained the hour that we had lost due to the time change as we left San Diego. This extra hour allowed us to sleep in during this last day at sea. We watched a movie and had a late breakfast. After our meal, we did our six laps around the promenade deck. On this day, the seas were “rough.” No whale watching today. Spent the afternoon packing our bags for the trip home.

Day 8 San Diego
The ship arrived in San Diego about 7AM and we left for the airport before 10AM. We were allowed to choose our departure time and remain in our cabins until our group was called. Our breakfast in the dining room was disappointing – not to the level of other last meals on a cruise ship. Not a good way to end a cruise…

We took a taxi to the airport. The fare for two (including tip) was $12. Much cheaper and quicker than taking a transfer with the cruise line. The airport was like a zoo! I suspect much of the extra passenger traffic was due to the Christmas season. Once we got checked in, we discovered that many flights had been cancelled or delayed. The weather problem was caused by a major storm in the Chicago area. Our flight was thru Phoenix and we were home before 9PM.

Other thoughts about the ship
During the first 48 hours aboard ship, every drink and plate was filled/handled by the crew. This effort was to diminish the risk of norovirus. Per the crew, the risk of contamination is higher during the first 48 hours aboard ship. We really appreciate this effort.

All the steps on the stairways seem narrow -- more so than we remember on any other ship. We needed to be careful going up/down the stairs. Since we don’t use the elevators aboard ship, this is a new, uncomfortable, experience for us.

On 3 nights, we had dinner in the main dining room – the table service was very slow. Each night, we had different table mates and a different waiter. Therefore, I don't believe the slow delivery was caused our table mates or our waiters. The quality and presentation of the food was good, but I was very disappointed in the length of time required to deliver each dinner course.
One night, we ate at the Pinnacle Grill. The food was very good and the service was excellent. However, the steaks were too large. I cannot imagine how much food they must throw away each night. It was a great experience, but we don’t eat that much anymore.

Two of the nights, we are at the Canaletto restaurant – the Italian restaurant onboard the ship. There is no extra charge for this restaurant and the food is delicious and the service approaches that in the Pinnacle Grill. Normally, I am not a fan of Italian restaurants, but I really enjoyed the food – and the overall experience.

Anita & Garry Thompson

Thursday, December 2, 2010

North American Cruise Ports Make Improvements

Did you know that cruise ships depart not only from Miami, Los Angeles, and Vancouver, but from Baltimore, Cape Canaveral, Tampa, Mobile, Quebec City, San Francisco and Seattle, among other North American cities? The development of home ports for leisure cruise ships along the Atlantic, Gulf and Pacific coasts has given cruise lovers more options for points of departure, ships and itineraries than ever before. And, these ports continue to develop and improve, adding new facilities and features.

San Diego is expanding its cruise ship capacity by building a new cruise ship terminal on Broadway Pier, which is near completion. The all-glass façade gives the 52,000-square-foot facility an open, airy feel. The building will be LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) certified, which means it is designed to use less water and energy and to produce fewer pollutants. This will be the second cruise ship terminal in San Diego, which also has a terminal at the B Street Pier.

Charleston, S.C., recently approved the construction of a new cruise ship terminal that will replace the existing terminal. The number of cruise ships docking in Charleston nearly doubled from 2008 to 2010, and the new terminal will help accommodate the increase in cruise ship traffic. The new terminal is part of a larger plan to redevelop the waterfront in the Charleston’s downtown tourist district.

With more than 47 million potential cruise passengers living in a 500-mile radius, New Orleans has invested more than $400 million in new port facilities during the past 10 years. The Julia Street Cruise Terminal is adjacent to the RiverWalk Shopping Mall, a convenient place for passengers to browse or to pick up anything they forgot to pack. Before or after their cruises, vacationers can also hop on the trolley line to visit the French Quarter, the Aquarium of the Americas or the IMAX Theater.

To explore your options for sailing from these or other North American ports, talk with your personal cruise expert.