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.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Customer feedback – Crown Princess

Western Caribbean Cruise – Crown Princess
Nov 13-20, 2010

Ned & Carolyn Nelson

Flights to Fort Lauderdale
Southwest flights were on time

Princess Pick up and Transfer to Embassy Suites- Ft Lauderdale Airport
Princess Rep was waiting for us in the baggage area and quickly got us to our bus. Hotel was a 10 minute drive away. A valuable service.

Embassy Suites- Ft Lauderdale
Good location as we could see the ships in the port. Hotel is aging and needs to be upgraded. Free Breakfast was fair and the crowds were huge.

Princess Transfer to Ship
Princess Rep in the lobby was very good. They have a good system of baggage control. Bus arrived at 1140 and we departed at 1150. We arrived at the port at 12 just as they were opening the doors. Much better (earlier) than the last time we did this with Princess.

You get in a line by the deck your cabin is in. Unfortunately, a whole lot of Aloha Deck folks arrived when we did. Our lines were the longest by far even with 3 check in stations. Still, the process did not take too long. There was a pretty long wait for the customary boarding picture but we were on pretty quickly. Some folks are skipping the picture; they just say no and walk around the photographer. We were in our cabin one hour after we left the hotel.

Sail away and Day 1
Departure out of Ft Lauderdale is a real treat. Lots of hoopla and interaction with the folks on the ground. Lots of excitement from the passengers. We had the 530 dinner so we had to hurry to dinner.

First night show was a disappointment. Too many announcements and not enough show

Day 2 At Sea
Very relaxing. There seems to be a lot more scheduled things to do than on other ships. We were disappointed that we had to miss some things. This is a positive.

Day 3 Grand Cayman Island
Got up pretty early to take our tour. Since this was a tendered port we met in the Theater and had an orderly flow to the pier. We took the Island Highlights and Dolphin Park Tour. Good driver and guide. The folks at the Dolphin Park were not ready for us so we sat around for 15 minutes before their mini show went on. The rest of the tour was as drive around the island with 3 stops at tourist trap stores along the road. One was at a town called Hell where you could have your picture taken and send postcards. We couldn’t because we just happened to be there on a holiday when it was closed.

Day 4 Roatan Islands, Honduras
Carnival (Princess) has built a brand new pier, welcome village, and nice beach. The gift shops in the were air-conditioned and very nice. Reports are that the Beach is very good. We were on a 20 person bus for the Scenic Drive, cruise and cultural show. Again, good driver and guide. We started with a boat drive around the harbor where sunken ships and a replica of the Black Pearl which is a Pirates of the Caribbean ship. It was fun getting close the the Crown Princess which dominates the harbor. We also visited a Garifuna Indian village and saw a short show. Carolyn and I both danced with the Indians and we hope no one took a video to put on U Tube. More stops at tourist traps to buy stuff.

Day 5 Cozumel Island, Mexico
Another stop at a new pier and gift shops. Four ships were in our area and there were two more downtown. Traffic was a problem. Our tour was to the San Gervasio Mayan Ruins and the Playa Mia Beach Resort. The ruins were interesting and the beach was very nice. They gave us a drink and let us play in the beautiful beach for an hour. The bad news is that Carolyn left her bag somewhere and we never could find it. So the rest of the stop was spent figuring out how to get back on the ship with no identification. The good news is that it wasn’t too hard. The Mexican official let us go right through to the ship and then the ship guys at the gangway took us right to the security guys who found Carolyn’s picture in their computer right away. They sent us to the purser’s desk where they made her a new ship identification card. Her driver’s license and makeup were also lost but no money and no credit cards. Both the tour driver and Princess were very understanding and helpful during our crisis.

Day 6 At Sea
Lots of time to play Trivial Pursuit and shop. We won for the second time. Now we have a Princess hat and cheap bag to show as our prizes. We drank the Champaign so there is no evidence.

Day 7 Princess Cay Island, Bahamas
A tendered port. Winds were really strong so we were surprised that they let the tenders go in. Beautiful beach area. This time we were much less crowded than our trip in 2008. Princess does a good job in getting the food and drinks in there.

Day 8 Disembark
The most pleasant surprise of the trip. This has been our most dreaded part of the cruises. Princess now prints the time you are supposed to go to your meeting area. They are very consciences about not having huge lines to wait in. We found our baggage very quickly and then did have to wait in the customs line for 20 minutes but it could have been a lot longer. We checked in with Southwest right outside the cruise port and they gave us our boarding passes and took the luggage right to the airport for $10 a bag. We took the Princess Bus to the airport because it gives you priority in getting off the ship.

The Crown Princess
A beautiful ship in excellent condition. We did have a 30 minute unexplained power failure while docked in Roatan. The good news is that everything came back on by the time we left. It was no inconvenience to us with a balcony, but sure was to those in an inside room.

Ft Lauderdale Airport
With 7 huge ships in port there is no secret why the airport is a mess. Long lines await everyone. Since we had checked our bags all we had to do is go through security. The line was exceptionally long but they did their best to get us through. Despite all the lines etc we were at our gate 2 hours after they called our color to disembark on the ship. Good job Princess.

Food (Dining Room)
Food was very good. We ate dinner in the DeVinci dining room every night. One reason was the very enjoyable company of the three other couples at our table. We all had a fun time telling cruise and family stories. Our waiters were really good too.

We also ate 3 breakfasts and two lunches here. Again, good food and good servers.

Food (other venues on board)
The Horizon Buffet is the most popular place on the ship. The breakfast buffet was good and the staff was exceptionally helpful in finding us a place to sit. This has been a problem on other ships we have been on but the Crown staff did a great job.

The International Café had a great reputation but it was always so crowded that we left.

Pizza and hamburgers are exceptional. One of our tablemates thinks that Princess has the best pizza in the world. It was darn good.

Room Service
Room Service was good and quick. We used it on days when we had morning tours.

Cabin and Cabin Care
Our BC Balcony cabin was cozy but certainly adequate. We were mid ship so we didn’t feel the motion as much as some of our shipmates. The mattress, duvet and pillows were really good.

Internet Service
We used our laptop which was slow and expensive. Internet Café was really crowded most of the time especially on the last day.

Cell Phone Service
Worked great. I had called Verizon and set up International coverage. Everything worked very simply and with a clear connection. Can’t wait to see our bill. I am expecting $2.49 a minute which is way cheaper than the ship’s phone which is $8.99/minute.

We played Trivial Pursuit and won two times with some new friends. Carolyn is a real master at this game and we were really happy that they play it 3 or 4 times a day. There is always a good crowd too.

The pool and Movies under the Stars were always packed.

Carolyn did make me attend one dance class which was really fun. All the guys were dreading it but the staff really made it fun.

The Singer and Dancers were really good. The comedian was just good and the rest were marginal at best. The Theater was always packed at the beginning of the shows and if the folks didn’t like it they walked out. We were surprised at how few waiters were available for drinks. Very few people drank in the theater which was much different from other cruises.

New to us was the Outlet Mall shopping. The crowds were huge buying stuff that they didn’t need or want. It was a frenzy in there. There were two of them during the cruise and we were amazed at the crowds. Most of the stuff in the other stores seemed very expensive.

Pictures were as expensive as ever and hard to find. I think we would have bought more if we could have found ours. Princess has got to something to improve this part of the cruise.

I finally got to play Bingo and we lost. Not sure I need to play again.

Carolyn actually won $20 playing the slots which was exciting. Princess has a complicated system of paying and collecting your winnings but we think we figured it out.

Staff and Service
Probably the best we have had on our cruises. Not as pushy as the other ships

Not bad. Still have long lines and waits.

Transfer to Airport
You still have to wait too long for your Princess bus to fill up but they do give you priority in getting off the ship if you use their bus

Ft Lauderdale Airport Departure
See above. Huge crowds, long lines, full flights are the norm on arrival and departure dates.

Insurance- Travel Guard
Yea..We didn’t have to use it.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Crown Princess in the Caribbean

Images and comments provided by Ned and Carolyn Nelson.  The pictures were taken during a November cruise aboard the Crown Princess to the Western Caribbean -- a 7 night cruise.

 Crown Princess in Routan

 Carnival Valor and Crown Princess in Cozumel

 Lobster and Prawns -- dinner on the Crown Princess

 Carolyn at Princess Cays

Ft Lauderdale Harbor

 Crown Princess anchored off Princess Cays

 Routan Pier and the new Welcome village (shops)

 Alure and Oasis out at sea just off of FLL

Oasis of the Seas departing FL

 Crown Princess Tender stations

 Carolyn with the Celebrity Equinox in the background approaching Cozumel

 Carolyn at the Mayan Ruins in Cozumel

 Ned and Crown Princess in the Grand Caymen Islands

View of "The Rocks" off the harbor at Ft Lauderdale -- great place to watch ships

Friday, November 12, 2010

Princess Cruises Honors Veterans Day with Military Onboard Credit Program

Active Personnel and Veterans Eligible for Shipboard Credit

SANTA CLARITA, Calif. (November 11, 2010) – In recognition of Veterans Day, Princess Cruises is promoting the line’s military onboard credit program for active and retired military personnel. The credit, which ranges from $50 to $250 per stateroom depending on the length of the cruise, is available to members of the United States and Canadian armed forces with appropriate service identification.

Click link to read article about shipboard credit.
Princess Cruises

What to Pack for a Cruise

“What should I pack?” is one of the most frequently asked questions among first-time cruise vacationers who aren’t sure what to expect on board. Experienced cruisers know that while there is no standard answer to this question, there are some general guidelines. What you should pack depends on the formality of the cruise line and ship you choose, as well as where you are going.

First, consider the ship. On a luxury or premium cruise line, the dress code during the day is likely to be resort wear – casual shorts and shirts, or Capri pants and sundresses for women. In the evening, the dress code changes to long pants (no jeans) and collared shirts for men, with silky pants and coordinated tops or dresses for women. These cruises are also likely to have multiple formal nights, when you’ll see everything from suits and cocktail dresses to tuxedos and glittering ball gowns. However, some high-end cruise lines have changed to more casual dress codes, welcoming shorts and t-shirts much of the time. A cruise consultant can help you understand all the nuances of your ship’s dress code.

If you selected a more casual cruise line, including those that cater to families, the dress code is probably more relaxed. Shorts and t-shirts, even swimwear with a cover-up, are likely to be acceptable anywhere on board before six in the evening (each cruise line varies). After that, jeans or khaki pants with polo-style shirts for men, and casual dresses or pants outfits for women abound. Kids can usually wear jeans and any clean shirt for dinner. Still, you’ll find that many people love dressing up for the evening – you would fit in well in a beaded cocktail dress or a dark suit and tie.

In addition, consider where you’ll be sailing and what you plan to do on shore. Will you need sturdy walking shoes? Are you visiting a place where it may be considered offensive to show too much skin? Will you need a sweater or jacket for cool nights? Again, a professional cruise consultant can help.

One more general rule is to pack less than you think you will need. No one will notice if you repeat an outfit. And, you’ll want to leave room in your luggage for new favorite clothing items that you may pick up along the way.

Friday, November 5, 2010

El Dorado Royale Resort, in Riveria Maya, Mexico.

While we continue to focus on cruise vacations, we offer land-based vacations as well. Therefore, it’s important that we visit some all-inclusive resorts.

This year, the annual convention for Cruise Holidays was held on the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico – about 30 miles south of Cancun. El Dorado Royale is a large resort that targets adults – not a child friendly environment. It’s “all inclusive” with plenty of restaurants and bars on the property.

We had a great time at the resort and felt safe.  When traveling in Mexico, we believe safety is important...   The hotel has many resturants, bars, and swimming pools.  Due to our schedule, we didn't have an opportunity to explore many venues. We look forward to an opportunity to another visit.  Meanwhile, we can recommend this resort to our friends and clients.    One cavet: still not sure if the water is safe to drink, but the hotel provides bottled water in the rooms.

Please send us an email if you have questions about this lovely resort on a beach in the Caribbean Sea.
Other pictures of the hotel are posted on our Picasa Web page.   You can see pictures of other trips by visiting our Gallery page.

Link for the resort: El Dorado Royale Resort


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Alaska photos - Golden Princess

These pictures were taken on a cruise to Alaska by Robert & Judy from Oklahoma City.  They agreed to let us share the photos with our readers.  We don't have their comments, but it seems as if they enjoyed the roundtrip cruise from Seattle.  We know they visited, Skagway, Juneau, Ketchikan, Victoria BC, and spent a day cruising the Glacier Bay National Park.

Our thanks to Judy, Robert, Marye, and Charles!


Customer Feedback: Canada & England on the Caribbean Princess

We did a one week family vacation of 14 people on the Caribbean Princess. We flew overnight to JFK and took a cab to the ship in Brooklyn. We had directions from the internet and we and the cab driver still could not find the cruise terminal due to a lack of street signs in Brooklyn. Our family members were staying a the Marriott in Times Square. The bellman at the entrance went through several cabs before finding cabs that knew how to get them to the Princess Terminal.

We boarded the ship with over 3500 of our newest friends. The ship was completely full. We were assigned "Any Time Dining" which we could not correct before getting on the ship. So, we had to stand in line for one hour to fix that. The Maître d reluctantly gave us two tables in the non fixed seating room. The ship was just packed.

This ship goes to five ports and your first sea day is the last day of the cruise. Our first port, Newport, Rhode Island was a tender port. It rained really bad. It was especially delightful standing in a slow moving two block tender line in a driving rainstorm to get back on the ship. We got soaked!! The captain could have had the courtesy to run more tenders.

Boston, the next port brought more rain. The shuttle was $16 round trip (must be the new shuttle rate) for a short drive into town. We took public transport and cabs. Did the Freedom Walk which was very interesting.

Our next port Bar Harbor, Maine gave us sunshine. The town was elbow to elbow people with 3500+ passengers in town. Nice place though.

St. Johns, New Brunswick was next. Nice weather again. Took a 5 hour cab tour. Got to see the tide action in the Bay of Fundy. Watched a river go backwards up stream with rapids etc.

Halifax, Nova Scotia our last port had dense fog could not see anything. We walked around town and the fog turned to heavy rain. Got soaked again.

For the Captains Circle, they had a 30 minute cocktail party for the most traveled. We did not go. We did get the most traveled award at the Circle party and a nice bottle of Champagne.

I think that Princess is lowering their standards and Carnival Corp is fitting them in just above Carnival Cruise line ships and below Holland America. It is too bad for they were once a great cruise line. The food was not up to the old Princess standards nor was the service. The crew did not seem happy. We talked to some crew members we knew from the past. The crew was generally not pleased with the ship. It was a mob scene every place you went. Slow elevators, elbow to elbow people, etc.

That ship is just too damned big and Princess is buying two more that are bigger!!!!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Starting Your Cruise in San Juan

Considering a cruise of the Eastern or Southern Caribbean? Consider starting from San Juan, Puerto Rico. Celebrity Cruises, Cunard Line, Holland American Line, Princess Cruises, Royal Caribbean and more sail from the Port of San Juan. Because San Juan is closer to the islands of the Caribbean than ports in the southern U.S., you should be able to spend a greater portion of your cruise enjoying destinations such as the ABC Islands (Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao), the Virgin Islands and the Turks and Caicos islands.

The cruise ship docks are within walking distance to the heart of Old San Juan, which dates back to the 16th century. The walled old city is beautifully preserved, with cobblestone streets, historic forts, and distinctive galleries and shops. Ponce de Leon, the first governor of the island, is buried in the Cathedral of San Juan.

There’s much more to see and do outside the walls of the old city – so much that you may wish to arrive a few days before your ship departs or stay a few days after it returns. While there is plenty of Americana (think chain restaurants) in and around San Juan, the culture also reflects the traditions of the indigenous Taino people, along with European and African influences. A good place to start is either the Museo de Arte or the Museo de Arte Conptemporaneo, which exhibit works by the artists of Puerto Rico.

If you’re more inclined toward fresh air pursuits, visit El Yunque, the only rainforest designated as a U.S. National Forest. There are marked walking trails, lined with ferns and flowers, some of which lead to lovely waterfalls.

If you’re feeling lucky, many of the large hotels in town have glittering casinos. Or, visit the home of one of Puerto Rico’s signature products – The Bacardi Rum Factory. A ferry will take you across the bay to Catano, where you’ll find the distillery set in gorgeously landscaped grounds. You can take a tour or simply enjoy some Bacardi-inspired drinks in an open-air pavilion.

San Juan also offers golf, beaches, terrific dining and plenty of other diversions for visitors. To select a cruise that will allow you to spend some time in San Juan, talk with your personal cruise expert.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Customer Feedback: Oceania – Lisbon to Rome

Hi, Anita! The trip was great!! We had not seen any of the ports before, so it was a real adventure. Glad we didn't have a tour at each place, we would have been too tired. The heat bothered Steve more than it did me this time (unusual!), but all in all it was great weather. Oceania was very good. The crowd was PERFECT for us. Met some great people, but no pool hairy chest contests! We also loved no ship photos; no in-room announcements; any-time dining (they handled this VERY well), and the lack of power chairs & wheel chairs. Out biggest complaint was that the ship docked so far from the tourist area sometimes requiring us to walk a mile or more to catch a shuttle some shop provided. The ship did not have any way of getting us past dock security all the way back to the ship except the tour buses or the town shuttle that tended to take you to a shopping area somewhere and dump you. Even the taxis could not go back in to the commercial docking area where the ship was. We seemed to be the only ones complaining, am surprised more with limps and canes didn't think this was a bit much. We are fairly fit, but have never experienced so much required walking just to get to the tourist areas. I see that Azamara is advertising their "free" ship shuttles to the ports now.

Well, all in all, it was a great trip.