Ship/cruise reviews featured below: Crown Princess, Celebrity Solstice, Emerald Princess, Carnival Legend, Splendour of the Seas, Celebrity Summit, Tahitian Princess.
Carnival Dream - September 2011 - review completed and posted
Carnival Freedom - January 2012 - review completed and posted
Allure of the Seas - September 2012
Celebrity Reflection - February 2013
Carnival Breeze - August 2013
Carnival Sunshine - February 2014
Norwegian Getaway - September 2014
Regal Princess - February 2015
ABOVE CRUISE REVIEWS WILL BE POSTED AT WWW.FROMTHEPORTHOLE.COM
Crown Princess - Western Caribbean
Ft Lauderdale, Grand Cayman, Roatan, Cozumel, Princess Cays, Ft Lauderdale
This review will feature shore excursion highlights of the Western Caribbean itinerary and the pre/post cruise days. The ship review of the Crown Princess will follow. More in depth shore excursions from the ports of call can be found on the Ports of Call page on left hand column of this page in the near future( it is a new project under construction and consideration).
We arrived a day early (to avoid possible schedule conflicts from the snow and cold in the northeast) and stayed at LaQuinta Inn & Suites. The hotel and hotel grounds are very clean, well-kept and pleasing to the eye. There was an outdoor, heated pool and adjacent to the fenced in pool area a small garden with benches to relax and enjoy the warm sun on your face. The one thing missing from LaQuinta is an onsite bar/restaurant. They do not have any such amenities, although they do serve a decent breakfast in the lobby every morning. There are many restaurants and bars and shopping within close walking distance of the hotel, but having something onsite would be preferred. The room was very clean and the air conditioning unit was very quiet. Most of the noise came from the hallway, plumbing, and the sliding glass windows of the room overlooking the pool area. KSA tours is available for transportation needs if you want to explore or do some sightseeing. If you are not concerned with onsite amenities, I would recommend staying here for a pre/post cruise night stay.
KSA Tours provided our transportation to the Crown Princess. We left LaQuinta around 11:50am and arrived Port Everglades around Noon. We identified our luggage at the pier, entered the terminal (filling out the health questionnaire along the way), went to our designated check-in area (identified by the ships decks), stood in the short line, checked-in and were onboard and officially starting our cruise vacation all in under 10 minutes. I was very concerned about our arrival time and worried we would have a long wait, but I was pleasantly surprised at the speed and efficiency and the minimal time spent getting onboard. Our room was ready as soon as we boarded, so we dropped off our carry-on bags and headed to the lunch buffet. As embarkation was rapid and efficient, we were shocked at the chaotic, congested, and antiquated, long-lasting lifeboat drill. It was definitely not as organized and efficient as other ships and other cruise lines. More about the ship to follow.
Port Everglades had six other ships(QM2, Oasis of the Seas, Carnival Freedom, Navigator of the Seas, Eurodam, Celebrity Constellation) in port so we were privileged to be able to witness the ship dance as each ship maneuvered from its sanctuary of the pier and began its pirouette out of the close quarters of the port and headed out to sea. LOTS OF PHOTOS IN THE PHOTO ALBUMS PAGE FOUND ON THE HOME PAGE.
Our first Port of Call was Grand Cayman. We pre-booked our tour (independent of Princess) online at Boatswain's Beach (see info on Tips page). Boatswain's Beach is the newly refurbished home of the Turtle Farm that was destroyed by Hurricane Ivan in 2004. In 2004 we were in Grand Cayman 36hrs before the storm hit and you would have never known something so destructive was brewing so close. The Turtle Farm and Boatswain's Beach with it's new breeding and nesting grounds, snorkeling lagoon, predator's tank, nature trail, and lagoon area for a little R&R is a must visit for old and young. Being able to handle and hold the turtles is a joy for all ages. For those of us who previously visited the Turtle Farm prior to 2004, it is a whole new world and experience - check it out next time. Do skip any tour to the Dolphin Park that does not include the Turtle Farm or swimming with stingrays as the Dolphin Park on its own (across the street from the turtle farm) is a disappointment.
Our second Port of Call was Roatan. Carnival built the new pier and the Mahogany Bay beach area. For a relaxing day of sand and surf, Mahogany Bay offers plenty of beach chairs (even with two ships in port), water sports, bar/restaurant, and a long beach to relax and escape from the real world. The beach is a short walk from the pier or you can take the chairlift - for a fee. I was extremely impressed with the new port area along with Mahogany Bay beach area and enjoyed a thouroughly relaxing day. In the open plaza, once you disembark, there is shopping available to satisfy your souvenir needs. Also, the Gumbalimba Preservation Park tour is a fun way to spend a couple of hours as you will be able to hold a monkey and have a macaw sitting on your shoulder. Enjoy the botanical gardens, but the main attraction is the personable and playful monkeys.
Our third Port of Call was Cozumel. We decided on an all day tour taking us to Playa Del Carmen and the scenic Mayan ruins of Tulum along with a stop at Passion Beach. Tulum is built on a cliff facing the sea and offers spectacular views of the ocean and beach below and there are great views of Tulum when viewing from the beach below. As far as the ruins and the 60 structures, there was nothing awe inspiring. It's the cliffside view that is the main attraction. This was a "tease" tour as had I stayed with our group, I never would have experienced the picturesque views along the seawall as there was not enough time on this tour to see it all and enjoy the beach. With that being said, if you only visit Tulum for it's beachside overlook, you will have experienced Tulum. There are more impressive Mayan ruins to visit: Chichen Itza, Uxmal, Coben, etc. The bus ride and ferry ride are over 3 hours of your tour so it is better to witness the Mayan ruins from the port of Costa Maya. Also, the Dolphin Swim/Manatee/Sea Lion tour is a good choice. Swimming with the dolphins and feeding the manatees are not your every day events and create a life long memory. There is a caveat: cameras are not allowed at the park. The park charges $95 for their pictures if you want to purchase memories. Unfortunately, even though cameras are not allowed, there were spouses and friends taking pictures with no penalty. If you go to the park solo, you are out of luck as you cannot cheat the system. We asked Princess about this and they said they are not responsible. I understand that they are not in charge of the park and cannot control what others do illegaly, BUT Princess does offer this tour as an option and Princess screens its tours, so Princess can do something about the extortion of picture pricing and the lack of enforcement of others taking illegal pictures by demanding that the park conforms. If the park does not want to be more conscientious of price gouging then Princess should drop them from the list of tours. Very disappointed with the picture fiasco and Princess' unfriendly attitude and curt response to the issue.
Our last Port of Call was the private island of Princess Cays located on the Bahamian island of Eleuthera. There are some tours offered (expensive), but this is a great island to relax and enjoy the sand and sun, a little beach volleyball, watercycles, snorkeling and kayaks. Princess offers a barbecue lunch on the island and your Princess Card is used for gift shop purchases and bar purchases. This is a highlight of any Princess itinerary and unfortunately, as it is a tender port, there are times when the stop is cancelled as the seas are too rough.
One note on the shore tours. We book ours online months in advance. There was a particular tour we wanted to do in Cozumel, but was not offered on the Princess website so we chose Tulum instead and we were pleased with the choice. When we arrived to the Crown Princess there was a list of offered shore excursions in our cabin for each island of our cruise. I noticed that there were several tours offered that were never listed on Princess' website. We did not change any of our selections, but I thought it odd to not have all tours listed on the website, which I checked religiously every weekend. Not sure why this happened and after the response by Princess in regards to the photo gouging on the dolphin excursion, I did not bother to ask. I like to have everything handled before I arrive on the ship so I can spend more time vacationing, but if you don't find something you like online, all may not be lost as there may be more options available once you are onboard.
Crown Princess: We boarded the Crown Princess after a quick check-in process with no lines and were greeted by smiling crew members ready to help us "escape completely". The first featue that captures your eye is the stylish and intimate Piazza, a three story atrium with sweeping staircases, columns and marble that exude a touch of class in the small confines of space that becomes a destination unto itself offering many small gathering spaces to relax and unwind. It is like a small town square with magicians, jugglers, and other street entertainment randomly appearing with a goal to help you "escape completely." Stylish and intimate is the Piazza and that is how I would describe the Crown Princess. The Crown Princess entered service in June 2006 and is the older sister to Emerald Princess (2007 - review below) and Ruby Princess (2008). The triplets have become the essence of Princess and you notice the subtleness and refined decor once you are onboard. Princess has two new ships ordered for 2013 and 2014 which will be a new class of ship for Princess. The second thing that you notice is the understated decor of the ship that lends itself to a quiet, unrushed, and casual ambiance. There are painted murals throughout the ship and etched glass doors and partitions everywhere you turn which lends to the refined, elegant style of the Crown Princess without being overbearing or gaudy. Once you board the ship and you have had your first sighting of the Piazza, the smiling crew guide you on your way to a waiting elevator to take you to your deck featuring your new home for the next seven days. We graciously accepted the crew's guidance, boarded the elevator (the only time we used an elevator the whole cruise - by choice) and made our way to Cabin C623 on Caribe Deck 10. As you stroll around the Crown Princess, you notice how quiet and "empty" it is. The stylish and intimate Crown Princess features the "small ship cruising" theme throughout the mega-ship. The public rooms are small and intimate and while they may be crowded from time to time when featuring popular shows, the crowds quickly disperse and you are left with the space to yourself. With over 3,000 passengers, you would expect a cacophony of busy passenger traffic while bumping into one another in your travels, but traffic flow is exceptional allowing you to enjoy one of the many small and intimate public areas (Crooners, Vines, Explorer's Lounge,etc) without feeling cramped and claustrophobic. Promenade Deck 7 is what I call the hub/center of the ship and all feeds from here. Deck 7 has Club Fusion at the aft and the Princess Theater at the front with the Wheelhouse Bar, Crooner's, Princess Shops, Explorer's Lounge, Crown Grill, and Photo Gallery in between, There are wide passageways making navigating easy. There never seems to be a blockage even when everyone is checking out their photos. The lounges are small and intimate and the carpeted floor adds to the quiet unhurried character of the Crown Princess. The upper level of the Piazza is also at the center of Deck 7 and you can access the dining rooms, the shops, cafe, Vines, and casino from the Piazza. Highlighting the intimacy and town square style of the Piazza is the International Cafe located on the port side of Deck 5. This is a morning hot spot for specialty coffees and an assortment of pastries and desserts. The offerings change from morning through evening offering an array of choices befitting the time of day. Vines is another intimate setting on the starboard side of the Piazza offering various vintages of wine by the bottle or glass. Sushi is offered in the afternoon along with wine tastings. Other offshoots off the Piazza are the Escapes Travel Cafe, Internet Cafe, Crooner's Bar, Wheelhouse Bar and the Speakeasy Cigar Lounge. The Speakeasy is a place according to Princess: "for those passengers who would like to enjoy a cigar or pipe... smoking cigars or pipes outside of this lounge is not permitted." Oh, how I wish that were true as Princess allowed MANY daily cigar smokers to enjoy their cigars out on the open decks. For those who need to stay connected the Internet Cafe is a small sunlit room with several desks topped with computers that run very slow and at .75 cents a minute can be very frustrating just trying to print boarding passes - it took 20 minutes to finish the task of checking in and printing boarding passes. Princess does offer bundled packages that can lower your per minute rate to .55 cents or less. There is also Wi-Fi available in public spaces and cabins for your laptop, but it is best in the Piazza. The Escapes Travel Cafe, next door, looks similar to the Internet Cafe, but the computers can only be used to research future Princess cruises.
CABIN: Our cabin was the same exact number we had on sister Emerald Princess and even though we knew what to expect, we were still pleasantly surprised at the layout, utility, and comfort of our home away from home. As we entered our cabin, there is a little hallway that leads you from the door, beyond the bathroom and to your living area. There is another hallway off to the side. This hallway serves more than one purpose. It not only serves as the entry to the bathroom, but it also (and the best feature) serves as a large walk-in closet with a cupboard containing your safe and plenty of shelves located at the end of the hallway. With ample closet space (to hang clothes, shelving, and drawers) you may think space would be sacrificed elsewhere, but that is not the case. There is plenty of room in the sleeping area with a queen sized bed, nightstands, desk/table/vanity, mini-refrigerator (only stocked with soda), flat screen television (above the refrigerator and out of the way), and a huge sliding glass door that opens to a large balcony with two chairs, a table, and two chairs that convert to flat loungers. The blue glass panel of the balcony complements the calming and soothing muted, beige and peach colors of the cabin interior. The carpeting is a blend of blues and beiges with a tropical motif and the long drapes (keeping out the heat of the blazing sun) are of light colors so as not to intrude on the spacious environment of the cabin. Even though a lot of time may not be spent in the cabin, having a cabin that feels spacious and not cluttered or cramped helps enhance the cruising experience. Our luggage was available before we attended the mandatory lifeboat drill. Very fast service from Princess. We did a fast unpack so we could enjoy and tour the Crown Princess. The walk-in closet provided ample storage for our clothes and luggage, but there is even more storage space under the bed for heavy packers. A note for light packers, Princess does have laundromats on practically every deck with soap and softener for sale. A quick tip: take the all in one laundry/dryer sheets with you. They require little space in your luggage and serve their purpose well. If you have a lot of gadgets that need plugged in, there are only two outlets in the cabin located near the desk. You may want to bring an outlet strip with you if two will not satisfy your electrical needs.
DINING: The ship's intimacy continues as the Crown Princess offers three main dining rooms each with their own Italian, understated, elegant decor reflecting their name: There is the 584 seat Boticelli Dining Room offering traditional dining at 6:00pm and 8:15pm, the Michelangelo and the Da Vinci dining rooms (514 seat each) offering "anytime" dining from 5:30pm to 10:00pm. All three dining rooms offer the same menu choices. We chose traditional dining of 8:15pm allowing us a more relaxed evening without having to rush off to dinner after a day ashore or relaxing day at sea. We were able to enjoy pre-dinner cocktails, enjoy a quick preview of the Horizon Court/Cafe Caribe evening dining options, and a stroll around the ship before having to get ready for our late dining extravaganza. Our servers were Mihaela and Imre. Mihaela handled the majority of the hands-on service while Imre collected and delivered the bounty for Mihaela to properly serve. Service was always with a smile offering spot on recommendations and extremely prompt. We commented the one night as to the exceptionally fast service as Mihaela was in constant motion keeping our cravings filled, but wanting more. From the time we ordered and received our first course the time elapsed was six minutes. Amazing! We have never had such fast and accurate service anywhere, even on past cruises when we were only a table for two. The menu options varied each evening with difficult choices having to be made (unless you chose more than one to sample - which we often did). Here are some of the many menu choices we had to choose from: APPETIZERS: lobster & seafood pate, vegetable spring rolls, smoked duck breast, crabmeat quiche, sea scallops and shrimp cocktail, chicken and eggplant empanadas, eggplant parmigiana, seafood anitpasto, goat cheese souffle, crab/scallop/shrimp salad, cream chicken with sweetbreads and mushroom puff pastry (don't miss it). MAIN COURSES: pan-fried barramundi (very moist and dense), cajun spiced crawfish crockpot with black mussels and tomatoes (surprisingly good), hawaiian luau pork with apricot drippings, prime rib (medium is served very rare-fyi), texas chili, moroccan vegetable ragout with pita bread, halibut, shrimp newburg (very good) cornish game hen, beef tenderloins, pork roast with crackling (very tender and moist), vegetable fritters, cod spike with chorizo (very good), lamb shank, jerk chicken, cioppino of native fish and shellfish (delicious), scampi in hot marinara sauce, veal scaloppine (delicious, tender), beef pot roast (tender and filling), orange roughy (delicate and mild), seared diver scallops (plump, sweet, delicious), cocoa spice rubbed pork tenderloin, rack of lamb, rockfish, broiled lobster tail and king prawns (sweet and delicious), roasted pheasant (very moist and flavorful), beef wellington (fork tender and tasty), beef short ribs (fall off the bone good), broiled perch, black mussels in white wine sauce (very good and mild - a lot of mussels), roasted turkey (very moist), new york strip steak (melt in your mouth), eggplant fritters. You could also choose the alternative choices which were available each night (shrimp cocktail, salmon, chicken breast, beef filets) and the desserts were amazing with the ice cream receiving top honors as it is homemade and so creamy and rich - don't miss the pistachio ice cream. There is no wine tower on display, no sommelier, no big emphasis on wine, but don't let that fool you as the extensive wine list is filled with great choices and some previous favorites. You may buy the wine by the bottle or just the glass. If you buy the bottle and do not finish, it will be available for you the next evening or evening of your choice. There is only one area which I thought was odd and a negative and it had to do with requests. On previous cruises if you discovered a dish (appetizer, entree, or dessert) that you really enjoyed and wanted to have the same dish another night - or even every night of the week - all you had to do was ask and your request would be accomodated with advance notice. On the Crown Princess there were no accomodations granted for any food item. I gave it my best effort a couple of nights as I discovered great appetizers and wanted to have the dish again the next night or each night and the Chef would not accomodate. This is the first time I have ever experienced such requests being denied. Our dining room team was very good and even though we had no need for a maitre d', we thought it odd that none ever came to the tables throughout the cruise. If you do not like to dine in the main dining rooms or if beachware is your thing and you would like to avoid dressing in resort-wear or formal-wear, then you can enjoy a great meal (buffet style) in the Horizon Court or Cafe Caribe. No matter what time of day we chose to eat or just walk by the buffet there never seemed to be a line and the layout, although confining in appearance, handles the flow efficiently without worry of spilling your plate from bumping into a fellow passenger. We never had to worry about finding an available table and the friendly waiters were eager to take your drink order saving time otherwise spent at the vending area. Lunch was always a bounty of delicious choices that overfilled the plate and stuffed the appetite. The dinner selections, hard to believe, topped the amazing lunch choices and there was something for everyone with the seafood being the main attraction - large, plenty, cooked properly, and varied. Lunch selections are as follows: eggplant, sole filet, bok choy, shepherd's pie, beef stew, chicken parmigiana, calamari rings, squash, franks in puff pastry, fusili with chicken ragout, potato gnocchi with arugula sauce, rigatoni, veggie burrito, beef scaloppine, bbq pork ribs, chicken pot pie, london broil (tough), stir fried veal, hearts of palm, tuna salad, blueberry blintz, cheese blintz, scallops, chicken cacciatore, bbq short ribs, rock fish, roasted turkey, cheese tortellini, bowties in meat sauce, and much, much more. There is also a station for making salads, cheeses, breads, soups, and a sandwich station. The desserts are so delicious - if you have room - and don't miss the chocolate cookies - rich and moist and dessert overload. We sampled the dinner selections at the Horizon Court/Cafe Caribe just to see what was offered and the assortment was amazing and delicious. Here is a few items from the Dinner offerings: beef pot pie, meat ravioli with mushroom sauce, cheese ravioli with meat sauce, fried breaded scallops, pheasant, beef wellington, seafood medley, lobster claws, oyster gratin in half shell, cold shrimp, shrimp cocktail, beef potato curry, pork scaloppine, conish game hen, beef tenderloin, yellow snapper, and crab quiche to name a few. As we ate all of our meals in Boticelli, we did sample a few items from the dinner buffet several hours before our main dining. If you miss the buffet for lunch you can grab a quick burger at Trident's Grill offering: beefburgers, cheeseburgers, veggieburgers, chicken breasts, pork and veal bratwurst, jumbo hotdogs, beef knockwurst with sauerkraut, and/or french fries. The burgers and dogs are large and moist and all the toppings to build your burger are available. If a slice of pizza is your craving for a meal or a snack, be warned, the slices are Huge, especially as a snack. The pizza is very good and while the slices are huge, the pizza is a thin style, but still very filling. On sea days, you can enjoy lunch service in the Wheelhouse Bar and enjoy British pub foods: fish and chips, chicken curry, steak and kidney pie, scotch egg and salad (hardboiled egg wrapped in sausage and coated with breadcrumbs) and for dessert try the Sherry Trifle: almonds, berries and whipped cream all flavors deliciously balanced making you wish the lunch was not so filling in order to eat more than one dessert. I should have taken one back to the cabin and chilled in fridge for later. We tried the fish and chips and scotch egg and all were delicious and worth skipping the Horizon buffet. For a special dining experience where the number of courses and the service are as much a part of the dining experience as the food you can make a reservation for Sabatini's (serving Italian cuisine) or Crown Grill (serving chops/beef and seafood). Both come with a per person surcharge and reservations are required. We did not opt for either dining option as the meals were so deliciouis in the main dining room that we did not need to seek a meal elswhere, especially for an added fee. Overall, the food was EXCEPTIONAL and the lunch buffet and choices are the best. The dinner selections were also amazing and are the best of the best. I had a hard time trying to sample a little of everything from all the dining choices, but I had fun trying. To further enhance your dining experience Princess offers two choices (for a fee) in which you can enjoy a champagne breakfast served on your balcony or lobster dinner served on your balcony with flowers, champagne, with each course personally served while you enjoy a romantic dinner for two on your private balcony. I do not believe you will be disappointed with the food or the many dining options available on the Crown Princess.
ENTERTAINMENT: The downside, you may miss something. The only reason you may miss seeing a show is because there are so many options to choose, you may encounter scheduling conflicts, much like we did. On some nights the comedian shows were repeated so we were able to see some of our entertainment choices. Plan ahead and accordingly as there are many venues on the Crown Princesss, each featuring a different option to mix it up each night. There is something for everyone, you just may not be able to do it all. The Princess Theater is the main entertainment venue featuring three main shows along with the Welcome Aboard Show. The Welcome Aboard Show is very entertaining and a great way to start off your cruise. The three main shows featured are: "What a Swell Party" - a tongue in cheek look at the Cole Porter era, "Destination Anywhere" - a theatrical & musical journey around the world and beyond, and "Motor City" - a tribute to the great Motown artists. I would recommend that if you have another choice for the evening for the same time period, skip these shows. They seem tired and worn out and did not impress. We witnessed fellow cruisers leaving early in the show and that is rare to witness at a main production show. The singers and dancers did a fine job, but Princess has failed to provide them with a worthy production to highlight their talents. The 800 seat Princess Theater has great sightlines, but the seating is cramped with little leg room - meaning those in the middle are basically stuck until the show is over. The comedy shows, on the otherhand, should not be missed and Daryl Joyce and Tony Dara both provided great shows with Tony's show a little better. Karaoke in Club Fusion could be considered a comedy show also - all in fun. In the Adagio, Wheelhouse Bar, and Crooner's you can enjoy pre-dinner cocktails or after dinner drinks with piano music or a guitarist. Check the times as each lounge has different offerings each night. Again, the entertainment was ok and not something you would go out of your way to see. The ondeck, outdoor entertainment was provided by Elements. It was not good. It was quite irritating to be honest with all songs sounding alike and all sung completely out of tune. I am not sure how the group was even hired they were that bad. The night of the Ondeck Party, Elements was the main feature and we did not stay long because of them. I would have to say that the singing and musical portion of the Entertainment was the weakest department and Princess may want to consider revisiting their hiring agency or decision makers. All the lounges onboard the Crown Princess are cozy and intimate with dark wood interiors with soft lighting setting the tone for intimacy, refinement, calmness, and relaxation. The 262 seat Explorer's Lounge (safari themed) on Deck 7 hosts auctions, lectures, comedy shows, dancing, and more. Club Fusion (seating 366) on Deck 7 aft offers line dancing, karaoke, bingo, trivia, disco and other music related activities. Speaking of disco - Skywalker's sitting high above and aft is the late night disco venue. Crooner's (seating a mere 68) on Deck 7 is an intimate martini bar with trivia, pianist, and vocalist. The Wheelhouse Bar (nautical themed and intimately seating 107) also features vocalists. The tiny Adagio on Deck 16, located steps away from Sabatini's, offers cozy seating for 68 while listening to quiet music with piano music or guitarist. Let's not forget Movies Under the Stars featuring movies during the day and night on the big screen around the Calypso Pool. Popcorn and covered lounge chairs are offered for evening movies. The Gatsby's Casino is another entertainment option and is always willing to help you part with your extra cash. The Casino, on certain days, is scheduled as non-smoking to satisfy all passenger's needs. Also, helping you part with your extra cash are the shops onboard offering a large selection of logowear and duty free liquor. Outdoor entertainment involved the above mentioned Elements and Movies Under the Stars along with the usual trivia games, pool games, and the always present people watching. There seemed to be plenty of deck chairs available, especially if seeking just one or two; anymore than that was difficult as many chairs were "towel reserved" remaining personless for hours on end. There are several bars on the open decks to help you quench your thirst with plenty of bar servers taking your orders. We found Tradewinds to be our favorite and again graciously thank Raj, Jay R, Noel, Kay, and Dragos for enhancing our vacation and making our cruise memorable. If you want to relax outdoors in the sea air and under the gorgeous, blazing sun without the hustle and noise of the deck area you can visit the adults only Sanctuary located all the way forward on Deck 17. Here you can relax in a quiet setting under the sun, in the shade, in a cabana or "escape completely" with a massage while you immerse yourself in the calm, bliss, and recharging we call vacation. All this hands on nurturing does come with a fee and you can pay for a half day or full day rental. If you need a little golf in your life, head on up to Deck 19 (above Skywalker's) and try your putting on Princess Links or try your drive at Cyber golf on one of the two golf simulators. If Ping Pong's more your style, they have several tables available that always seemed to be in use. Burn off a few calories with a quick round of basketball for those who have energy to burn or take a jog around the track. The Crown Princess provides a schedule full of daily and nightly activities to keep you as busy and as entertained as you prefer.
DEBARKATION BLUES: Our debarkation information arrived on our last sea day. We still had one more day to go at Princess Cays so it was a bummer having to think about our cruise ending and more so being reminded with debarkation and Customs paperwork. We glanced over the material and everything looked very organized and in order in reference to our flight departure time. All good things must come to an end - including our Princess Cruise. We were to meet in the Michelangelo dining room by 8:15am. We got up a little early just to keep from being rushed. I toured the open decks one last time and checked to see which ships were in port with us. We grabbed our carry-on and headed to the dining room. Princess does not make public announcements throughout the ship allowing you a more peaceful and relaxing morning. We were not in the dining room for long when we were given approval to disembark. There was no line and we were off the ship in minutes for the last time. As we made our way off the ship we were greeted in every room by a Princess rep directing us to our luggage. There were two rooms of luggage and plenty of verbal announcements as to which room each group's luggage was waiting. We found ours quickly, the Customs line moved fast and we were outside and boarding a bus to the airport in no time. We arrived at the airport more than 3hrs before our flight's departure so we had a 20 minute wait before we could check in. As we waited we watched the security line grow, but it moved rapidly and by the time we checked in and found our spot in line, we were through security in 15 minutes. Vacation over. No bad weather to delay our return home. Five degrees, outside temp, when we got home; eighty degrees cooler than we had been experiencing. We arrived home to white stuff on the ground, only this time it was not sand. A very fast and organized debarkation process from Princess. Great job Princess for providing us a great cruise to "Escape Completely."
Celebrity Solstice - Eastern Caribbean
Ft Lauderdale, San Juan, St Thomas, St Maarten, Ft Lauderdale
This will be a review of the pre/post cruise days and a review of the ship. The itinerary will not be reviewed as St Thomas and St Maarten are reviewed in the review of the Emerald Princess. You can find information on all three islands on the "Favorites" and "Tips" pages on this website.
We arrived a day early (as usual) and stayed at the Ramada. The hotel was very clean and I would recommend staying here if you are looking for a pre or post cruise hotel for a night. As with the Comfort Inn that we stayed at in January, the air conditioning unit was very noisy and made it difficult to sleep; however, the bed and pillows were so comfortable, like being wrapped in a soft cocoon, it was very easy to reach slumberland. The hotel had an onsite restaurant and bar and a very friendly and attentive staff. If you wanted to venture outside the property, KSA Tours was available for any transportation needs. We remained at the hotel, having appetizers and drinks at the bar.
KSA Tours provided our transportation to the ship. We left the hotel around 10:15am and were at Port Everglades within 15 mintues. Our luggage was onloaded and once we confirmed we had all of our pieces with the porter, we headed inside to start our vacation. The terminal was exceptionally large and it should be as it was built for Royal Caribbean and the Oasis Class ships. Once the Allure of the Seas (hopefully our Sept 2011 cruise) enters service, the terminal will be in use Saturday and Sunday for both Oasis Class ships. As we entered the terminal we were directed to check-in. The check-in process is organized by decks corresponding to your cabin. It took us less than 5 minutes to confirm our credentials and we were on our way to the top floor. We were directed to waiting lounges where we were directed to the next section of available seats. The process was very organized and well layed out and from the time we sat down and were called to board the ship was less than half an hour.
Celebrity Solstice: As we boarded the ship we were welcomed by the Cruise Director and the customary Celebrity welcome tray of champagne and mimosas. As soon as we were onboard we were in awe of this ship. Celebrity Solstice is the first (there will be 5 ships in the class) in a new class of ships for Celebrity. It is Celebrity's largest ship to date and is NOT just a larger version of previous classes of ships in the fleet. The design, layout, ambiance, and flow are exceptional and Celebrity has hit a home run with the Celebrity Solstice. As our cabin was not yet ready we headed to Bistro on Five - one of Celebrity's specialty dining venues that serves crepes and paninis at the low surcharge of $5 per person. You can eat as much as you want and we tried several crepes and paninis while enjoying the soft, light ambiance. All the crepes sampled were light and delicious. The paninis were not impressive so stick with the crepes and try them all. This is a nice option late at night if you want a light dessert after returning from one of the production shows. Bistro on Five seems to be hidden away on deck five, but is a nice and cozy place to relax. The couple sitting next to us were on back to back cruises and this was their second week onboard and they had just discovered Bistro on Five. It would be a shame to miss this dining venue. Once we finished our "sampling" we headed to the martini bar for our martini sampler. The martini bar has an an iced countertop to keep your drinks chilled while you sample the many tasty concoctions. This was a very popular spot on the ship and was quite crowded most of the time. Located next to the martini bar was Crush which sat in an alcove with an oval shaped bar with the center filled with ice chilling bottles of vodka and caviar for tastings and samplings throughout the cruise. Once we had our huge sampler finished, we grabbed our bags and deck plans and wandered around the ship exploring all of its new and exciting venues while using a lot of battery power on our camera (over 1500 pictures in all that I whittled down to less than 900 - 400+ are on the "Photo Albums" page). I think the whole time I was exploring and snapping photos my mouth was agape in awe of this beautiful ship. If I classified the Emerald Princess as elegant and sophisticated, then the Celebrity Solstice would be classy and refined highlighted with long flowing drapes adorning the atrium and shop-lined boulevard, soft lighting, muted colors and wide passageways in all public passageways and lounges. There are glass partitions throughout the ship (inside and out) that contributes to the openness of the ship providing views into several areas from one location into another. Also, the seaviews from interior locations are some of the best as the windows are long, wide and unobstucted enhancing the light and airy openness of the ship. The ship is EXTREMELY easy to navigate and never feels crowded as passenger flow never seems to lead to any bottlenecks - BRAVO! There are plenty of sightseeing elevators to move you to your desired location with very little crowding in the elevator vestibule. The spaciousness, smooth flow, wide passageways and soothing ambiance continues outside on the open decks where you can easily navigate your way from one level to another and find a quiet spot to read a book or an open deck chair for a little sunning. There are plenty of deck chairs all waiting to be occupied with several chairs and bedding located under shaded canopies. These shaded canopies (similar in appearance to the cascading drapes inside the ship), located on Lido and Resort decks, lends a regal appearance to the Celebrity Solstice and continues the theme of classiness and refinement filled with soothing relaxation that you experience on this ship. There are two pools and two hot tubs in the pool area and always available chairs with Pool Butlers to assist. To add to the serenity onboard there are no public announcements during the day advertising that which you can read in the daily newsletter that is provided each evening in your cabin. At noon (during sea days) the captain, with great hilarity, announces the ship's position with current weather updates and arrival expectations. Immediately following this announcement the Cruise Director announces a few onboard events that are planned and after a few minutes the PA system is silent for another 24hrs.
The dining and entertainment onboard were both exceptional with many dining options and entertainment choices for your enjoyment. While we did not eat in any of the specialty restaurants (except Bistro on Five), we enjoyed all the meals in the main dining room and never received an unsatisfactory meal. I have never been able to reconcile in my mind or justify eating at the specialty restaurants (most have a $25 - $35 per person surcharge) as the meals in the main dining are so delicous that I cannot comprehend how the filet can melt in my mouth any better if I pay an extra $35 for the specialty restaurants vs the filet in the main dining room or how much sweeter the lobster will taste if I pay $35 more vs the sweet and dense lobster dinner I receive in the main dining room. Sometimes I wonder if I am just being cheap, but then I realize that the meals are so delicious and extravagant in the main dining room, there is no need to eat elsewhere. If it is my loss, then I am content to have the loss. The entertainment was fantastic throughout the ship with three main production shows offered and various vocalists and groups available in the many lounges and grand foyer for your dancing and listening pleasure.
DINING: There are 10 dining options on the Celebrity Solstice and no two are alike. The main dining room featuring traditional and anytime dining is the Grand Epernay. Dining in the Grand Epernay is included in your cruise fare and is a wonderful dining experience each night with a staff always in smiles, enjoying a laugh with guests, and concerned to ensure your total satisfaction with all aspects of the dining experience and the personal service they provide you. The Grand Epernay is an elegant, airy, and bright two deck restaurant located at the aft of the ship on decks 3 and 4. Both ends of the dining room create their own personality as one end is occupied by the grand staircase entrance and the other end of the dining room showcases the amazing two story wine tower (pictures on "Photo Albums" page). Don't forget to look up at the large chandelier accented with silver balls or bubbles. Most large ships feature two dining rooms to accomodate all the passengers. The Celebrity Solstice has just one to acommodate 2800 passengers and at no time did the dining room seem crowded or noisily chaotic. Traditional dining (assigned tables, assigned time) is served at 6pm and 8:30pm. Celebrity Select (anytime dining) is served any time from 6:30pm to 9:00pm on the upper level. We ate in the Grand Epernay each night as not only was the food wonderful, but our servers Zavier and Kurt made us look forward to their company each night. Our sommelier, Aurel, was not only knowledgeable and experienced, but had a wonderful personality. Our menu options were varied each night making it difficult to choose so we relied on the recommendations of our waiters. The following list will give you an idea of the cuisine offered and the choices we made: APPETIZERS: shrimp cocktail(very good), escargot(plump and delicious), crab louis, goat cheese tart, salmon roulade, beef carpaccio, buffalo style frog legs, cod fritters(very good), spinach turnover(we ordered this every night), shellfish and saffron risotto, chicken liver parfait, oysters rockefeller(the best), steak tartare, wild mushroom vol-au-vent (very good). ENTREES: spaghetti carbonara, herb crusted merluza(a Spanish white fish that was mild and dense and a nice surprise), coq au vin, lamb shank, prime rib, penne poulet aux truffles, bbq chilean sea bass, vegetable paella(ok), quail delight(with wild rice and black truffle stuffing with braised cabbage, smoked bacon and wild mushrooms - so delicious), rack of lamb, sauteed sage gnocchi, grilled wahoo, seafood risotto(seafood was great, but risotto is difficult to perfect and I can only imagine how difficult while preparing hundreds of meals, it was too pasty and mushy), chicken wellington(delicious), pork medallions with dijon mustard sauce, sirloin steak with asparagus, four cheese penne pasta, tuna steak(I am now a fan of tuna steak), veal cordon bleu(fantastic), filet mignon, new york strip steak with rigatoni, lemon sole, turkey parmiggiano(a nice surprise in taste and density), cajun blackened ribeye steak, braised beef short rib lasagna, pork chops, lobster melange(the lobster was sweet and creamy and no butter necessary, it was served with jumbo tiger shrimp and scallops), cornish game hen, eggplant ratatouille, seafood fettuccine(seafood was delicious), blackened drum fish(ok), chicken saltimbocca, and braised beef short ribs(tender and very filling). As you can see, the menu is varied with many choices and cuisine styles. If dressing up, not even in dockers and a polo, is not your thing every night or once in a while, you could dine at the open buffet style Oceanview Cafe located on deck 14 aft. The Oceanview Cafe is not a typical buffet design. It is not one long serving line set up against the wall in which you have to wait to make it to the area you want. The Oceanview Cafe is set up with a dozen different serving island stations throughout the room that creates good traffic flow, short lines, and accessibility. The cafe is in full swing for lunch service, but I noticed for dinner, many of the stations were not in use and the options limited. This may be the one shortfall on this ship as most ships serve a huge dinner buffet for their guests. This limited selection may be intentional to attempt to direct passengers to the main dining room or one of the specialty restaurants. One nice touch is that there are no trays. I know trays can hold all of your dinnerware, but the plates were very large to accomodate a sampling from every station and the absence of trays gave this very bright and open dining experience a touch of class not normally realized in a buffet/cafeteria style setting. Not only is the Oceanview Cafe bright and open, but it has the best unobstructed seaviews I have seen (although I have not been on every cruise ship) with large, long, wide windows on either side to offer unimpeded views of the outside scenery to remind you that you are having a dining experience you don't get at home. The first thing you notice after sanitizing your hands is the bar just before entering the main food setting. A nice touch and one that was well utilized. You also notice no lines and very little crowding even though there can be a lot of fellow passengers moving about making their choices. Besides the ever present beverage station, you will find: the CARVERY(ham, leg of lamb, beef, pork-delicious), CHEF'S CORNER, SOUP & SALAD, FROMAGERY, ANITPASTO, GARDEN FRESH SALAD, SOUP & SALAD, PASTA KITCHEN(all the toppings you need for your fresh made pasta dishes - olive, artichokes, corn, peppers, onions, spinach, mushrooms, peas, tomatoes,shrimp, celery, chicken, ham, and several sauces), PIZZERIA(pepperoni, cheese, veggie, garlic chicken,etc - all were served as huge slices perfectly baked and filling), MEXICAN SPICE(tacos, tortillas, refried beans, chili con carne, beef fajitas, chicken fajitas and several toppings), INDIAN CURRIES(veggie curry, beef curry, fish curry), BBQ GRILL(minute steak, baked potato, bratwurst, grilled chicken breast, zucchini), SIZZLING STIR FRY(vietnamese pork ball with lemon grass, teriyaki salmon steak), SWEET STREET & ICE CREAM, plus fresh fruits and breads. These are just a sampling of the offerings at these stations one day at lunch. As mentioned before not all stations were available for dinner time dining, but a sushi island is offered for dinner. If you need another option for lunch besides the Grand Epernay and Oceanview Cafe you can dine at the AquaSpa Cafe located deck 12 forward or the Mast Grill located on deck 14 forward. The AquaSpa Cafe serves light, healthy choices of salads, veggies and sandwiches. We did not eat here, but did check out the selections which all looked delicious and I am sure we would have over eaten, defeating the healthy aspect of the dining venue. We did eat at the Mast Grill several times and very much enjoyed its offerings: coleslaw(very good), potato salad, nachos, cheese sauce(very weak), chili, hamburgers(very large, juicy and tender), hot dogs(again large, juicy, and filling), sausage, turkey and veggie burgers, chicken wings, fries(excellent), onion rings, and all the toppings for your nachos, burgers, and hotdogs. Various cookies are offered for dessert and because they are sitting out in the sun, they are much better than the same ones offered in Oceanview Cafe. Another dining option that has previously been mentioned: Bistro on Five. At any time and for a $5 surcharge per person, you can order a breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert crepes(delicious), paninis(ok), soups and salads. Across from Bistro on Five is Cafe al Bacio and Gelateria. This is an upscale coffeehouse that also serves pastries and gelato. We are not coffee drinkers so we passed on Cafe al Bacio, but we did sample the gelato. There is a charge for the gelato, $3, and it is definitely not worth the price. The free ice cream in the Oceanview Cafe is much better. There is also a fee for the coffee at Cafe al Bacio. For those passengers living in AquaSpa category cabins, there is Blu, which is not considered a specialty restaurant. It is a private dining room just for the guests in the AquaSpa cabins. The menu is similar to the one in the Grand Epernay with fewer selections and cuisine that is less rich. Suite passengers may eat here if there is space available for a $5 per person gratuity. Rounding out the dining options are the specialty restaurants located on deck 5 aft: Tuscan Grille is an Italian steakhouse with a per person surcharge of $30 per person. The Tuscan Grille has the best views as it is located at the very aft of deck 5. Silk Harvest features various cuisine from Japan, China, Vietnam, Thailand, and India. The surcharge is $25 per person. Murano features Continental cuisine with a touch of French emphasizing multi course meals. The surcharge for Murano is $35 per person. As I mentioned, we did not dine at any of the specialty restaurants as we were too impressed with the meals in the Grand Epernay and did not see any reason to pay for food that we were already enjoying. As always there is 24hr room service to cover your food cravings at any time of day or night.
ENTERTAINMENT: Much like the various dining options, there are numerous entertainment options and venues to choose from. Solstice Theater is the ship's main show lounge. There are no tables, but there are drink holders in the armrest. The 1100 seat theater is spacious with plenty of leg room and passages with incredible sight lines. There are three main shows held in the Solstice Theater during a seven day cruise and all three are fantastic with the last show featured rated as spectacular and not to be missed: PULSE was the first main show of our seven day cruise and featured "music that drives the world to dance". The four main vocalists were great all week as they all sang in tune, had great harmony together, and no one tried to out sing the other. The only weakness in the show was the "mime" or lost guy. If you see the show you will know what I mean, but it was very distracting and unnecessary. The second show, GHOST LIGHT, was a walk down memory lane of Broadway favorites of the past and the present. Again, the performers and vocalists were very good. The third main production show was SOLSTICE and was a circus style show with acrobats and aerialists best viewed from the upper deck of the theater. If you can only see one show, this is the one to see. I was very surprised that the theater was never full for any of the shows. I am not sure if it is a scheduling situation or if the anytime dining has an effect. We had late seating so most nights our show was at 10:45pm, but on two occassions our show was the earlier of the two and the theater was still not crowded. Well, it was the loss of those absent passengers as the shows were thoroughly entertaining. Along with the three main production shows, there was the welcome aboard show, farewell show, comedians, impressionists, and a juggler. The Captain's welcome aboard show is not to be missed if Captain Dimitris Kafetzis is the Master of the ship. He is very funny and entertaining and his Noon updates are just as entertaining. Comedian/Impressionist James Stephens III is superb and is the other show that I highly recommend during your cruise. Celebrity Central features late night comedian shows. The Quasar Dance Club is the ships so called disco. The Passport Bar is a nightclub with a casual setting. Michael's Club is a cigar and brandy club with a dark, masculine decor. The Grand Foyer with its long cascading drapes, accented lighting, dance floor, and three-deck staircase can also be considered an entertainment venue as it became the setting many times during the cruise for passersby to stop, sit and listen to a string quartet, A Capella group, vocalists, guitarist, or a pianist. When you hear your favorite you can join in on the dance floor or sit in a comfy chair and enjoy the music. The Ensemble Lounge is the perfect setting for a pre-dinner drink listening to a string quartet or vocalist. Guitarist/Vocalist Martin Andales is exceptional and we enjoyed his sets in either the Grand Foyer or in the Ensemble Lounge before dinner. There is Crush and the Martini Bar serving over 100 varieties of vodka on a chilly, frosted bar. Galleria Tastings is spirit sampling. Cellar Masters offers wine tastings throughout the day. The A Capella group I Tones pop up several times a day throughout the ship and are exceptional and should not be missed, even if for just one set. The Sky Observation Lounge on deck 15 forward features a large dance floor with a live band and a decor of sheer curtains with floor to ceiling windows and large comfy couches and chairs. Also onboard and open while at sea is Fortunes Casino. The Art Gallery is located on deck 5. If shopping is considered entertainment, then Shops on the Boulevard and Galleria Boutiques feature 18 different options on two different decks. There is very little logo wear as all the shops are very high end and exclusive. It is the first time I can recall on a cruise that the shops were not crowded or bustling with activity inside and out. You can still attend BINGO, trivia contests, art auctions, guest lectures, the casino, take dance lessons, play basketball, ping pong, bocce ball, and practice your putting on real grass. The Lawn Club is the place for a picnic on the grass, bocce ball or croquet on the grass or just walking barefoot in the grass. There is over half an acre of real, live, growing grass covering the top deck with sail shaped canopies providing shade in some areas. It is an amazing feature to have a lawn on a ship. When your on a ship and you admire the sea from one side of the ship to the other side, your view is often filled with deck chairs, railings, tables, and masses of people - not on this ship. You have a view that you cannot realize on any other ship (that is not part of the Solstice class). It is amazing to look out at the ocean and see beautiful green grass in your sights and sea beyond with clean sight lines as there are no railings to block the view. Instead you have beautiful, clear and unobstructed glass panels alond the side of the ship providing an unimpeded scenery view. The Lawn Club is the home of the Corning Glass Museum Hot Glass Show and I think it is the best entertainment on the ship - and it is free. There are two shows a day/night and we only missed two shows. We knew we were not going to drive to Corning, NY to see one of these shows. We know it will be over a year before we are back on a Solstice class ship and the shows are so amazing we were hooked and addicted. There are three glass blowers and each one creates a piece of glass art during the show and in the two hour shows you usually get to see four pieces made(depending how intricate the piece). Had we only gone to one show, like a lot of people, we would have missed out on the amazing talent and technique of the artists. They never made the same piece twice and each piece was so different that it required different techniques that could not be performed and demonstrated in one show. We saw some beautiful pieces of glass art created and were amazed with each piece. The Coast Guard does not allow gas ovens, so Corning Glass created and made electric ovens that would operate properly to achieve the desired results. Not only should you see the Hot Glass Show, you should see more than one. The pool area is alive with entertainment during the cruise with steel drums, guitarist, or rock for your listening pleasure. There is also pool volleyball and one day during the cruise its officers vs passengers in pool volleyball with the captain joining in. As you laze away your sea day in the hot sun the staff appear with a surprise - cool,refreshing tropcial fruit sorbet served to all the sun worshippers. This touch is just as welcome as the cold towels and beverages available when returning to the ship after a long day ashore. The wide variety of entertainment venues and choices compliment nicely with an itinerary of many sea days on the Celebrity Solstice.
GOING GREEN: You can call the Celebrity Solstice a green ship as she has over 200 solar panels located throughout the ship that can operate over 7,000 LED lights. While the ship is not 100% solar efficient, every little offset helps. Other environmentally friendly features include window tinting, hull design, lighting, and more advanced recycling methods making the Celebrity Solstice up to 40% more efficient than the rest of the Celebrity fleet. There is a silicon coating covering the underwater portion of the hull that reduces friction and reduces fuel consumption. The coating also inhibits marine growth and concurrently prevents the paint from breaking down into the ocean and is free of toxic substances that are harmful to marine life.
CABIN: Our cabin was 7305 and entering the cabin was unusual as the door opened out instead of in as most cabins we have experienced. Also, all cabin doors/entrances are recessed so the passageways remain easily navigable. Having the door open out provided a wider entryway giving you more room as you entered the cabin - once you got used to the door, we never did. As we entered our cabin the first thing we noticed was the lightness and brightness of the cabin with a straight-on view of our balcony. The end of our bed is curved which seems to streamline and modernize the whole room allowing easy mobility vs walking into the a corner of the bed as you pass through. The walls and carpeting were light colors of cream and beige with blond woods accenting the vanity/desk, closet, and above bed storage. There was enough space to prevent two people from bouncing off one another. We headed right for the balcony as it appeared very roomy and open through the sheer curtains. Our cabin was the very last one on deck 7 on the port side(there are lots of cabins on the stern facing aft). As you notice from the profile of the ship, this is not a smooth sided ship, but rather many indententations and outcroppings. Our cabin was flush with the one next to us, but because of the ship's design, the end of our balcony angled out a bit. This allowed you to look down the side of the ship without sticking your head over the side. It also made for a bigger balcony. The cabin/balcony is considered partially obstructed as you cannot look straight down into the ocean. The extended deck 5 obstructs the view. When sitting in your chair you can't see straight down so this was no big deal. There were two chairs and a round table and plenty of room to adjust the chair to recline and kick back and relax. Also, having the balcony stick out just a little did give us some air flow keeping the little alcove from being so stuffy. Back inside we noticed all the available storage space as we were unpacking. Plenty of underbed storage and drawer space and shelves. Just a note on the cabin design: Celebrity enlisted the help of five women (a frequent cruiser, a travel agent, a travel writer, a hotelier, and a prospective cruiser) over a four month period to improve the cabin design. The result was cabins that are 15% bigger than on other Celebrity ships, redesigned bathrooms, cabin palettes in natural colors, better cabin sight lines, and creative storage to name a few. The outcome is very noticeable and a great success. The closet is located next to the side of the bed and when the two sliding doors are closed, the cabin does not feel smaller, but looks very complete as the light colored doors blend in nicely with the decor. The area the five ladies missed is utilizing the closet. When you open one side for access, the door does not completely slide out of the way so you only have partial access to the open area. As the closet is close to the side of the bed and night stand, it is difficult to utilize the one partially opened side. Great idea, just not user friendly. As far as the bathroom design - a great improvement. First, you no longer have to fight with the shower curtain that attaches to your body when showering as there is usually not enough room to get out of your own way. The shower has a curved door that not only allows more room in the shower, but also makes the shower seem more open and roomier. Second, the mirror never fogged which allows more versatility for two people getting ready for dinner. Third, there is a foot rest in the shower and no doubt one of the ladies' recommendations ideal for leg shaving. Also, the sink is not your typical sink as the bowl is raised and sits higher than the counter top. It took a couple of days to adapt to the design, but the design added to the upscale motif. There is also a flat panel screen television, which frees up space, that you can pull out at an angle to watch a late night movie in bed. The television also has a computer function with a wireless keyboard. The computer function with the wireless keyboard was cumbersome at best. The television menu was also slow in response to inputs and did not seem user friendly. The one nice new feature is that any photo that is taken of you by the ship's photographers can be viewed on the television and if you want to avoid lines, you can even purchase the photos from the television menu screen. On a packing note: for those of us who like to pack light, note that there are no public laundromats onboard. Unless you want to pay the high fee to have the ship launder your clothing, you may consider a few extra pieces of clothing to cover the week. No matter how much you pack, there is plenty of room and storage space in the cabin for all of your needs.
Our itinerary was the Eastern Caribbean and those on the same itinerary the previous week on various ships had to alter course to the Western Caribbean because of Hurricane Earl. We thought we may miss out on San Juan, St Thomas, and St Maarten because of Hurricane Gaston, but Gaston had nothing for us. We had a little rain in San Juan, but after that we had very hot and humid weather the rest of the week. The only effect from Gaston was that the depression was sucking up all of the airflow which created a breezeless cruise, even on sea days. I can't complain because in a few months we will be bundled up and probably shoveling snow. The sea days were calm with the last sea day having seas as smooth as glass which created a nice view from the Lawn Club. As the ship was not affected by Hurricane Earl the previous week as it was sailing the Western Caribbean, it was the first time we noticed, or a point was made, that there were a lot of back to back cruisers(cruisers remaining onboard for the next cruise sailing the Eastern and the Western Caribbean), lucky they did not have back to back cruises of the Western Caribbean. This is a popular ship and a great ship and I can see why so many people are booking back to back two week cruises on the Celebrity Solstice. Booking a cruise during hurricane season can often mean itinerary changes. When planning your cruise itinerary you should also plan on a ship you will like in case your itinerary does change and you end up with more sea days than planned. We planned this cruise more for the ship than the itinerary and the lively, uncrowded Celebrity Solstice does not disappoint.
DEBARKATION: This day is never enjoyable as it is time to leave the ship for good and end your vacation. Some cruise lines do a very good job of making the day less hectic and chaotic and Celebrity made debarkation a breeze. Based on our late day flight out, we were in group 30 and were to meet in the Solstice Theater with a departure time of 9:40am. We arrived at the lounge before 9:00am and were released thirty minutes early. We were off the ship five minutes later and within ten minutes we were outside the terminal with luggage in tow. Before we left for our cruise, we contacted KSA Tours to arrange a pick up to take us to Flamingo Gardens. In the arrangement we also requested a pick up time of 4:00pm at Flamingo Gardens to take us to the airport. After we left the terminal we walked past the waiting buses to a van for KSA Tours. Our van was 5 minutes away. We were taken to Flamingo Gardens and our luggage was stored by KSA tours. We had 7 hours to leisurely explore Flamingo Gardens. We were at the gardens in January on a ship's tour and even though it was almost two hours at the gardens it felt rushed. With seven hours we had plenty of time to retrace our steps and see the animals at different times of the day going about their everyday life. All the animals at the park could not live in the wild as they are recovering from injuries (or healed) or were raised from birth in captivity. Once through the garden is not enough to enjoy this family friendly lush, tropical garden. The day was hot and humid and the humidity level was increased from all the tropical plants covering the grounds. The two noticeable differences from January and September is that the flamingos are not as bright pink in September and the peacocks have lost their beautiful tail feathers and have yet to fully grow back in September. I would highly recommend spending your day at Flamingo Gardens if you have a late day flight. At 4:00pm KSA Tours was on site with our luggage ready to take us to the airport. The late flight allowed us to extend our vacation a little longer with a relaxing day in a beautiful garden. Debarkation is getting better and better every year, but it still remains the official ending of your cruise vacation. Cannot wait to revisit the Celebrity Solstice or one of its sisters.
Emerald Princess - Eastern Caribbean
Ft Lauderdale, Princess Cays, St. Maarten, St. Thomas, Grand Turk, Ft. Lauderdale
This review will be in two segments. The first segment will be a review of the itinerary. The second segment will be a review of the Emerald Princess.
We arrived Ft. Lauderdale a day early to enjoy a leisurely beginning to our trip without the worry of making connections and the ship on time the day of sailing. We stayed at the Comfort Inn on Sterling Road. A long walk awaited us upon leaving the airport with luggage in tow as we tried to find the shuttle to the hotel. The van was not marked conspicuously as it had little signs on the window and was not placarded like a race car with logos and names similar to the other hotel shuttles. Once we found the van, it was a short ride to the hotel and check-in was quick. The Comfort Inn is a two story hotel with few amenities. There is a pool (which needed skimmed), a small bar (everyone was gathered around this tiny room watching the football playoffs), and a small grill. The nearest restaurant was Taco Bell, which was next to the Comfort Inn driveway. The hotel would provide a shuttle service if you planned on venturing far. The room was nice, but merely a place to spend the night. There is a shopping plaza within walking distance, but not a must-do on your list. The bed and pillows were EXTREMELY comfortable and much better than on the ship. Unfortunately, the hotel was noisy. The sidewalk outside our room was noisy from cleaning carts and luggage wheels clicking along the path. Inside the room the air conditioning unit was extremely noisy. It did not seem to matter what temperature setting was chosen as the a/c would loudly rumble and only be quiet/off for less than 5 minutes before rumbling back to life. Because of the noise and few amenities I thought the room was overpriced for just a place to sleep for the night; however, I thought it was a great price when I booked.
Embarkation - We left the Comfort Inn at 9:45am and arrived at the cruise terminal around 10:00am. We were allowed to enter the terminal at that time and when we passed security we were handed a number. As we arrived early, we were group #1 and we would be the first group to board the ship. We were informed it would be a long wait - and it was. We did not board until 12 Noon and that boarding time is standard procedure. In that 2 hour time, the room filled up quickly and as organized as it was in the early morning, it seemed quite frenzied and chaotic by Noon. Once our group was called it was a quick check-in as lines had not begun to form and we were onboard within 15 minutes. There were two items that seemed peculiar: The first being that we could not board until Noon. Most of the time when we cruise there are a lot of passengers already onboard by Noon. The second peculiar item was that our cabin was available when we boarded. Usually cabins are not available until 1pm or 1:30pm. Not boarding until the rooms are available may be the method behind the madness, but I think they need to start boarding earlier to alleviete the commotion and chaos in the terminal. I do not know how long the wait time was for the later groups once boarding commenced, but I recommend arriving as early as possible. Once we found our cabin and dropped off our carry-on luggage we went to the Horizon Court for lunch and then spent the next couple of hours touring the ship and taking pictures. We were fortunate that we had 75 degree weather even though it was overcast. The cruise departing a week earlier endured 45 degree weather with passengers covered in jackets. There were only 5 ships docked at Port Everglades on this day and after the lifeboat drill was over it was time to go to the Sun deck for the sail-away party and to watch the ship ballet. Port Everglades is not a straight long pier like Miami where the ships maneuver sideways and then head down the long channel and out to sea. Port Everglades is a bay with ships docked in a J shape and with ships docked on the other side of the J shape. This creates some fancy maneuvering as ships move sideways, backwards, and in circles all seemingly timed and choreographed as more than one ship may be on the move at any one moment. It all depends on the size of the ship and what other ship it may be blocking as to the type of "show" you are going to see. As there were only 5 ships in port, it wasn't as amazing as I have seen at other times when multiple ships were moving and spinning at the same time and you watched with held breath and camera ready in case there was any contact. The Celebrity Solstice was out to sea by the time our life boat drill ended so the ships were leaving one at a time and the "ballet" was not as anticipated.
Princess Cays - This is Princess Cruise Line's private island and part of the Bahama chain located at the southern part of the island of Eleuthera. This is a beautiful island with access from the Emerald Princess by tender. The tender service was very organized and efficient. When you were ready to go ashore, you gathered at the Michelangelo Dining Room and received your tender ticket when entering. There were 4 tenders operating and it was not a long wait until your ticket number was announced. The ride was a little rough as the ocean was not at all calm and I was glad the island stop was not cancelled. I am not sure how rough the water has to be to cancel the island stop, but the ride was manageable. The beach was long, wide, and expansive. There was more than enough room on the island for all passengers with room to spare. There is no need to congregate at the dock where the tenders drop you off. There are facilites on both sides of the inlet. When you arrive, there are gift shops that greet you with a large assortment of souvenirs. For your convenience the gift shops only accept your cruise card. There are other little shops operated by the locals. These local vendors take cash only. The beach awaits with its many lounges, sports, and watersports equipment. There are 3 bars for your convenience and they all accept your cruise card. There is a bar-be-que lunch buffet served for all passengers on the island starting at 11:30am. The food and the service was very good and there was no need to head back to the ship for food or drink. As there is so much space on Princess Cays you never feel crowded and the island exudes a relaxing, leisurely, lazy, enjoyable atmosphere. The weather was hot with a nice breeze that made it feel cooler than it was. The water, unlike the air temperature, was cold and one passenger was heard complaining by saying, "Welcome to the Caribbean. I could have walked out my backdoor for this". Remember, the Bahamas are not the Caribbean. They are an island chain surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida. The Caribbean is further south and once in the Caribbean the temperature will reflect this part of the globe. At the end of the day, there is a long line to re-board the tenders as everyone seems to soak in every last minute not wanting to leave. Even though the line can be long, it moves very quickly. Princess Cays is one of the nicest cruise line owned private islands and should not be missed by remaining onboard the ship.
St. Maarten/St. Martin - A morning to sleep in as our arrival in St. Maarten was at 10am and we made the fashionably late appearance as all other ships arrived before us. This was the busiest port during our cruise. There were 5 ships in port: Emerald Princess, AIDAvita, Celebrity Solstice, Oasis of the Seas, and Carnival Dream unloading over 15,000 cruise passengers on the island. Realizing the overwhelming number of tourists is enough to make you re-think going ashore, but we were on a mission and we were not going to be deterred. It was a mostly overcast day with a couple of sprinkles, but when the sun was out it was scorching and wonderful. We went ashore and after taking many pictures of all the ships (especially Oasis of the Seas) we made our way to Philipsburg, the capital on the Dutch side. It is a very easy walk from the pier with paved sidewalk, good signage, and a nice wide boardwalk along the beach which improves each time we visit. You can also take a water taxi from the pier to downtown Philipsburg. Our mission today was to search, find, and purchase all the Antilles Spice Clipper coconut jam on the island. We even packed bubble wrap for this much anticipated mission. The last time we were here we purchased just one jar as taste testing was not an option. When we returned home and tried the coconut jam we were disappointed we did not buy more. We discovered that it is not even available for shipment to the U.S. when we logged on to their website. Our mission took us to Front St. and Back St. in Philipsburg in search of this delectable treat. We searched high and low, in and out of every store, back and forth and were greeted with " I have never heard of coconut jam", "try Lord and Hunter", "try the Shipwreck Shop," and after 3 hours of searching, sweating, sampling rums, taking pictures, enjoying the scenery, enjoying not being at work, and enjoying not shoveling snow, we admitted defeat. We rested at our favorite restaurant along the boardwalk -- Barefoot Restaurant -- and enjoyed conch fritters and coconut shrimp and a cold banana/coconut colada. Once rested we headed back to the Guavaberry store and bought two bottles of Vanilla, Guavaberry Liqueur. Do not miss visiting this store and sampling the many fine guavaberry rum variations. I would not consider Philipsburg a large town with lots of space, but it really did not feel or seem crowded considering the number of ships in port. Perhaps, we were in a coconut jam zone and did not notice, but the streets were not packed. We spent the rest of the afternoon along the boardwalk enjoying the beach. This is the first cruise we did not book any tours on any of the islands. We just wanted to relax at a nearby beach, visit a few shops for souvenirs, and recharge the internal batteries and we accomplished our lofty goals. When visiting St. Maarten you will find a wide variety of excursions available for your day trip(there were 24 tours offered). We have not been disappointed with any of our past excursions on St. Maarten. Even our rain-shortened snorkeling/beach venture on our last visit turned into a memorable, fun day. St. Maarten is a beautiful island and you will have many options for a day of sightseeing.
St. Thomas - The Emerald Princess docked at the Crown Bay Pier - yuck. I think it is much more convenient when the ship docks at the West Indian Company Pier. This is more well-known as most pictures of St. Thomas that depict cruise ships are photographed here with all of the ships lined up in a row. It is also conveniently located next to Havensight Mall, the new yacht harbor, and within walking distance of Charlotte Amalie - the main focal point and shopping district of the USVI. Crown Bay is the newer facility and is located in a quaint little harbor with many sail boats anchored near the ship. It is actually amazing that the ship does not wipe out any of the anchored sail boats as it makes its 180 degree turn exiting the pier. We were greeted with another beautiful day in the Caribbean with lots of sun and temps in the low 80's. Getting around the island is reasonably cheap and if you are not on a tour, a taxi ride to Charlotte Amalie is $4 per person. We had an early 7am arrival in St. Thomas and as we did not have any shore excursions planned, we were not waiting at the gangway to be the first group to go ashore. We enjoyed a relaxing morning on our balcony and once we felt the warm sunshine hit our face, we made our way to shore to soak in more of the golden rays that are so absent in the cold winter of the northeast. We took a taxi to Emerald Beach for a morning of sun and relaxation. Emerald Beach is situated between Crown Bay and the island's airport. The beach was beautiful with leaning palm trees creating the perfect picture postcard for even novice photographers(I have one posted on the book page). The beach is wide and long and very roomy with a bar and restaurant for your drinking and dining pleasure. We relaxed and enjoyed the bright sun. There are a lot of inviting chaise lounge chairs available for relaxing as you enter the beach area; unfortunately there is a catch. After you have relaxed and "worn out your welcome" someone with a clipboard walks up to you and informs you that there is a price for the use of the chair in the sun, but if you move the chair back from the beach, the price is lower. The price for comfort is outrageous and I don't know how they enforce the fee as many people remained on the chairs. I dismissed the extortionist informing him I was not interested in paying and remained on my chair. After another 45 minutes I lost my nerve and decided not to push the issue so we left. We had a 3:30pm departure and we wanted to visit Charlotte Amalie so we took a cab to town. As our cab arrived the streets of Charlotte Amalie I looked over at Havensight and the West Indian Pier and could not believe the sight - not one cruise ship in port. This is the first time I have ever been to St. Thomas and not seen the pier packed with ships, and this is the first time I was ever in St. Thomas when there was only one cruise ship in port. Walking the streets in Charlotte Amalie and visiting the local vendors was so enjoyable as the streets were not crowded with traffic (human and auto). We stopped at one of our favorite local stands and ordered a strawberry/mango smoothie and strolled along the streets visiting many of our favorite shops. Even though we did not participate in any tours(there were 33 offered), there are many beautiful beaches to visit (Magen's Bay the most famous), several snorkeling adventures, and the island tours are very historical with many sightseeing spots to stop and take great photographs. St. Thomas is also very popular for its duty free shopping with great deals on jewelry and liquor. As with St. Maarten, you will not be able to do everything in one day, so pick one tour and know you will have to visit these islands again to see and do all you want.
Grand Turk - Arrival in Grand Turk was at 1pm. It is a long cruise from St. Thomas to Grand Turk so we had a lunch time arrival. There is space for two ships at the pier and Carnival Glory arrived a couple of hours before us. This is the first time I have been in Grand Turk when two ships were visiting. There is plenty of room to accomodate all the passengers as the beach is long, the port area is expansive, and Margaritaville absorbs a lot of the crowd. It was another hot day with lots of sunshine, which seems typical on Grand Turk. When walking down the pier and heading for the center of the port facility, the traffic gravitates to the left to Governor's Beach and Margaritaville. If you turn to the right and head toward the shore excursion pier, you will discover a beach smaller in size, but just as nice. One thing to note: if you decide to stake your claim at the smaller beach, you may want your water shoes if you plan on cooling off in the inviting water. Once you leave the sandy beach and enter the water, the bottom is very rocky and the waves much rougher than the more popular Governor's Beach. Your cruise ship creates a buffer and this results in calmer water on Governor's Beach. On either beach, there are plenty of chaise lounges and palm trees for shade. The port/plaza is wide and open with shops and local vendors selling Grand Turk souvenirs. Margaritaville does fill up fast and becomes crowded quickly. There is a shallow, meandering, lagoon pool at Margaritaville that is inviting, cooling, and not overcrowded(at least not crowded in the pool). The bar area is the most crowded area with tables and chairs along the large pool area. There are two arched bridges over the pool so you can wander and check out the activity. On one end of the pool a Flowrider has been added, much like the ones found on Royal Caribbean cruise ships. It was a busy area and I noticed that the teaching method is different than Royal Caribbean. Royal Caribbean starts you on the surfboard at the bottom of the Flowrider at the point that the water is jetting up the incline. It makes for an unbalanced attempt for enjoyment as the water shoots you up the incline. On Grand Turk they start you at the top and they have you jump into the surf laying flat on the board. This gives you the momentum to ride the rushing water and learn to balance. Next, they then have you ride the surfboard on your knees knowing that most people are not going to maintain balance on their feet their first time. It was fun to watch and those taking their chance were having fun, too. There was definitely some "hang time". If you want to avoid the crowd and are looking for a quiet walk along the beach in the hot sun, you can do that away from the cruise terminal and within site of your cruise ship. When entering the Grand Turk Cruise Center most people, as I mentioned, head towards the left to Margaritaville and Governor's Beach. If you go the the right and walk past the shore excursion pier you will discover an empty beautiful beach. The beach is not as wide as my last visit and I would imagine the last hurricane and beach erosion has taken its toll and as this is off the beaten path it has not been maintained. Along your walk you will notice A LOT of conch shells washed up on the beach. On this visit, I noticed a lot more people scouring the sand and surf for the conch shells. I am not sure that it is legal to remove them, nonetheless there were many in search of these shells. Have your camera ready as these washed up shells create some great photo ops with the water washing in around them. I usually take over 100 pictures of the shells in the sand at different angles and different points of view in hopes of capturing one or two perfect shots. I usually end up thinking of what I should have done differently once I review the pictures and I then start taking notes for my next trip. You can continue your walk around Boaby Rock Point for more great views of the beach and the multi-hued water. The water was very cold, but refreshing as the sun was blistering hot and it was nice to cool off for a few minutes in the cold water. Grand Turk, much like Princess Cays, is located in the Atlantic so don't expect the water to be bath temperature warm during the winter months. The beach and Margaritaville are not the only attractions on Grand Turk as Grand Turk offers activities away from the cruise center(25 on this cruise) with some great snorkeling adventures, fishing trips, and island tours. Grand Turk is almost like visiting a private island so it has become a highlight of any itinerary in the Eastern Caribbean.
Ft. Lauderdale - Debarkation day. We had a 4pm flight out of Ft. Lauderdale so we decided we needed to kill some time so we booked a tour for our going home day. We booked an airboat Everglades tour with a stop at Flamingo Gardens - a Botanical Gardens and Wildlife Sanctuary. This was our second airboat Everglades tour and, unfortunately, this time the wildlife was quite shy. It was an overcast day and the alligators were not to be seen. On our last visit, there were alligators and other wildlife at every stop we made in the Everglades. We did see a lot of dead fish as the cold temperatures the area experienced the week before was too much for some of the wildlife to handle. Flamingo Gardens was very nice and I would recommend visiting if you have time before your flight. Ft. Lauderdale airport is small with few interests to occupy the time and they do enforce the rule of NOT being able to check in until 3 or 4 hours(depending on your airline) before your flight, so plan accordingly if you have a late flight. Flamingo Gardens lives up to its name with a friendly flock of bright, pink flamingos that will chatter and walk up to you stretching their long necks and putting on a performance. As a matter of fact, all the birds at Flamingo Gardens are not intimidated. Along with the flamingos, the walk-in "free-flight" aviary (there are birds flying around so watch where you walk and don't look up), and the birds of prey attraction are must sees. It is an easy walk around the park with good signage to help you find each section - the free map also helps. There is a tram ride that takes you on a tour of the one section of the park pointing out the local plants and providing a brief history of the area. Our tour guide bragged about the chili dogs as he claims the ones at Flamingo Gardens are the best. It was a little too early for me to try a chili dog so I cannot comment other than they looked good. Flamingo Gardens is approx 22 miles from the airport. The next time I have a late flight I think I will go directly here and spend the day. We arrived at the airport just 3 hours before our flight and by the time we grabbed our luggage and went inside the terminal we were able to check in. Once checked in, the vacation was officially over and we were headed home to snow and cold - at least we escaped winter for a week!
Emerald Princess - The first thing that comes to mind is Wow! This is a beautiful ship that is very sophisticated and elegant in style and decor with hand painted murals and etched glass that elicits an atmosphere of refinement. The decor continues with the cabins which are decorated in soft and muted shades that are soothing and relaxing. We had a balcony cabin on Caribe deck. Caribe and Dolphin have balconies that extend further than the other typical balconies on this ship. Dolphin deck is above the life boats, so the balconies extend over the life boats. Caribe deck does not extend quite so far, but does extend further than the decks above. The only problem with the balconies on Caribe and Dolphin is that you can look into the balconies below as the balconies on these 2 decks are "stepped out". All balconies above Caribe are flush so you cannot peer into your neighbors balcony below, but you can still look into the balconies on Caribe and Dolphin below. Because of this privacy issue I made up my mind to never book one of these balconied cabins; however, we were upgraded to one of these and it was the best upgrade yet. I don't think I will ever book a standard balcony again unless it is the same as the ones on Princess's Caribe deck and Dolphin deck. Not only could you stretch your legs on these extended balconies, you could capture a breeze and remain cool. All other balconies I have experienced are stuffy (and I am sure the ones above our deck were cramped and stuffy) as the air does not flow through as all the balconies are flush with each other. This balcony had 4 chairs and a table and room left over. If sailing on Princess, check the deck plans for your particular ship you are planning on booking and choose one of these balcony cabins or choose the next lower level of balcony if there is a free upgrade promotion. Once in the cabin and on the balcony, we never thought about the privacy issue from above. There is privacy directly under the balcony above, but once our cruise began we never worried about the fact we could be watched. Along with the roomy balcony, the cabin was also roomy and laid out a little differently than other cabins on different lines. As you walk into your cabin, there is a wall that separates the main living area from the bathroom and in between the wall and bathroom is an alcove that serves as a walk-in closet. This was very nice and made the cabin seem more private, roomier, and more elegant.
The Emerald Princess is a sister to the Caribbean Princess, Crown Princess, and Ruby Princess at 113,000grt and 3,000+ passengers and is strategically designed to minimize crowding. Traffic flow on the Emerald Princess is very smooth with very little congestion.The ships decor and the lack of congestion results in a very reserved and quiet ship. The colors of the ship are tasteful and very comforting. Most of the lounges are in contrast to this and are very dark and you wished for a glimmer of light. Carpeting covers most of the floors and this little nuance makes the ship seem quieter as the noise level of feet walking and tramping along the corridors is non existent. The layout of the ship allows easy access to many of the ship's venues with some of the lounges open from many points which seem to invite you in for a short stay. The Explorer's Lounge is along the Promenade and you can enjoy an art auction or a comedian or magician from the bar at the entrance of the lounge, or you can enjoy the show from one of the many tables and chairs outside the lounge. Naturally, you can enter the lounge and have a seat at one of the many tables and chairs inside, but if you are passing by, the layout beckons and welcomes you to stop and listen for a few minutes before you continue on your way. It is not like areas on other ships where you go inside the lounge and once everyone is inside the entertainment begins and you feel like you are intruding if you pass by and stick your head in. On the Emerald Princess the lounges are very inviting and welcoming and are a nice design feature. Along the Promenade you will also find the photo gallery which is very roomy and wide and never seemed crowded like most ships as hundreds of passengers scour the many photos in search of their own. The Wheelhouse bar is located on Promenade forward and is a nice venue to enjoy music and dancing in the evening. The focal point of the ship is The Piazza on Plaza deck encompassing the surrounding 3 deck high atrium which includes Vines wine bar, a Cafe, onboard shops, a cigar bar, and Crooners Lounge and Bar on Promenade level. Crooners is an open inviting lounge and bar where you can enjoy music and pre-dinner or pre-show cocktails. The Piazza also has an International Cafe that is open 24hrs and offers various "snacks" for a small fee.The Piazza area is a nice area to relax and people watch and while you are there you may be in for a treat. At any moment a magician, juggler, singer, or comedian may show up unannounced and perform a few mintues for you. It is a nice unexpected, surprising touch and very enjoyable. Outside the Piazza atrium on Promenade there is a wraparound teak deck which beckons you to stroll completely (360 degrees) around the ship enjoying the sea views. There are only a few chairs located sporadically around the deck and no chaise lounges jutting out into your path. This deck is meant for strolling and the lack of deck chairs reflects this. For more room to "chill out", the open decks offer enough space for you to sit back and relax and soak in the sun, or if you prefer, shade is available. There are four large open deck areas with four pools and nine hot tubs and the passengers are spread out over the open decks. On some cruise ships, the area above and around the main pool is very crowded, but this is not the case on Emerald Princess. On the aft of Lido deck, the Horizon Terrace is a small area with a bar and pool that does fill up fast on sea days as this is an adults area on the ship. If you can wait until about 4 O'clock or even 5 O'clock, the area starts to clear out and you can find a table or chair at the bar and enjoy a relaxing and quiet moment with a nice sea view. If you require seclusion while enjoying the great outdoors, you can enjoy your balcony or you have a quiet oasis (Princess calls it a "pocket of tranquility") at your service on Deck 17 called the Sanctuary. The Sanctuary is adults-only and overlooks the bow and is partially covered with a canopy. You can enjoy a cabana and a massage or you can relax on one of the luxurious, thick, cushioned chairs while listening to music and enjoying a fruit smoothie, fresh lemonade, and heathy snacks(it is part of the spa) for a small charge. The Sanctuary is available for a fee of $10/person for half a day and $20/person for a whole day. Discounts are offered for the length of the voyage. If you do not require the services of the Sanctuary, you can find a quiet corner on any of the open decks and don't forget, you can enjoy the daily feature on the huge video screen on Sun deck.
Entertainment onboard the Emerald Princess comes in many forms and venues allowing everyone to find something they enjoy. There were daily champagne art auctions - if that is entertainment - along with the popular bingo and trivia games. On Princess you can experience "Movies Under the Stars" with features played during the day and evening. In the evening the chairs are outfitted with thick comfy cushions and popcorn is served as you enjoy your movie under the stars. Gatsby's Casino is located on Fiesta deck and did not seem cluttered or cramped. Adagio on Sun deck aft is located next to Sabatini's and you can enjoy a cocktail and piano music and other various entertainment features. Club Fusion located on Promenade aft had a jam pack nightly line up from karaoke, country & western dancing, newlywed not so newlywed game, ballroom dancing, trivia, and disco. Late night and late, late night options meant Skywalkers Nightclub located high above the ship on Sky deck 18 and is positioned atop the ship behind the funnel. On earlier versions, this nightclub was positioned on the very aft of the ship with entrance by a moving walkway. The main production show features were located in the Princess Theater located on Promenade and Fiesta forward. The Princess Theater has great sightlines with no poles blocking your view. The down side is that the theater is cramped. The seats are small and compact and you will definitely be bumping the person in the chair next to you. Think airplane seats and no leg room. Also, once seated there is very little room to pass through the seats and quite often the bar waiters pass drinks down the row. The theater fills up fast so arrive early. As far as the production shows featured here, well, I am sure I am in the minority, but if they are not the worst production shows on the high seas, then they are in the top 3. I was extremely disappointed and I think this is the only below par area on the ship and the only below par area for Princess. The first featured show was "Motor City" and a tribute to the music of Motown. It was painful to watch and listen. Most cruise lines and cruise ships pay homage to Motown in one of their production shows and they are all much, much, much, better than the one on Emerald Princess. Perhaps the same show on other Princess ships is better so I will only make this comment: if your production show features the vocalists of Adam Bastien, Vanessa Dunleavy, Nic Novac, and/or Genevieve Leclerc(this will be listed in your Princess Patter) avoid the shows entirely. There are so many more enjoyable venues that will entertain you. The male vocalists miss their notes, are off key, and have little range. The female vocalists are not much better. The costumes and choreography are not enough to distract you from the bad vocals.The uplifting song "You are the sunshine of my life" was dark and depressing. We decided not to base our review on just one performance so we gave them another chance and attended their second show titled "I Got The Music" a celebration of famous and infamous pop icons. We should have gone to see the comedian as we had planned. This show was not much better than the first. The tribute to Britney Spears made you wince and the tribute to Cher was just as bad. I will say; however, the Neil Diamond tribute was not bad. The comedians and magicians were top notch and I would make sure not to miss those shows. There are a lot of evening entertainment choices and unfortunately they are scheduled against one another. Princess has two dining rooms that are anytime dining and one that is traditional dining. The conflicting show times may be a result of the popular anytime dining. One of the comedian's show was repeated the next night so all was not lost by attending the main production show. Princess has a funny comedian (Kevin Hughes) who lives onboard. Do not miss his shows that feature marriage advice. Kevin sometimes gets off track and his brain starts to overload with ideas and jokes, but he gets back on track and provides a memorable routine. Phil Tag was our other comedian, who flew in to meet the ship in St. Thomas, and he was also funny and provided two different shows. James Michael was billed as the bad boy of magic and his routine is out of the ordinary and his magic is just as amazing. Make sure you see one of his shows. As you walk past Explorers Lounge, you will definitely stop to watch his show when he is performing
Dining onboard is extraordinary throughout the ship. On Lido deck the Horizon Court serves delicious choices for lunch and dinner. I don't believe there was a repeat any day for lunch and several times one of the choices was so delicious I hoped to see it again on another day. There are sandwich choices each day along with soups, salads, and a dozen different main entrees. I saw and tasted many dishes I have never seen before and common dishes were prepared in new styles. The chicken dishes were varied and extremely moist in all preparations(breaded, bar-b-que, stewed, gingered). We had lasagne, short ribs, calamari, calamari steaks, shrimp, beef and broccoli teriyaki, scallops, a carved meat station, a different fish each day, coq au vin, turkey scaloppine, beef pot roast, stuffed pork, pork ribs, pork steaks, lamb, and the list goes on. I know some of those dishes don't sound so special, but once you took a bite... I wish I had wrote down each day what was being served because it was amazing. There are plenty of staff to make sure the tables are cleared and your dish is taken away as soon as you look away. As soon as you sit down someone is asking you if you would like iced tea, water, milk, or juice. There is an entrance and an exit for the buffet, but the layout can create log jams and can be confining as you meander through the selections and various stations. It was manageable, but sometimes frustrating. On Lido deck near Neptune's Reef and Pool you will find the grill serving hamburgers, hot dogs, etc. The food was fine, but nothing special. It is a grill, after all. At the other end of Neptune's Reef and Pool closer to Horizon Court you will find the Pizza and Ice Cream Bar. The pizza is served thin and the slices are huge. The pizza is not something you will rave about, but it is a great snack. There is rarely a line at the pizza bar and it is not because the pizza is unpopular. The pizza is served mouth burning hot and is always fresh and available so there is no long wait. The line moves very quickly. Next to the pizza bar is the ice cream bar. On Princess the ice cream is not self serve. The same smiling lady is available every day to serve your selection. Cones and dishes are free, shakes are about $4. The ice cream is smooth, sweet, and very creamy. It also melts quickly in the hot air and hot sun. The Wheelhouse bar served lunch and brunch on a couple of occasions - watch your Princess Patter for service. There are 3 dining rooms on Princess. You can enjoy lunch daily in one of the dining rooms if you want to skip the buffet. For evening dining the Michelangelo and Da Vinci dining rooms are available for anytime dining from 5:30pm to 10pm. The Botticelli Dining Room is reserved for traditional dining (early seating 6pm and late seating 8:15pm). We had late seating at table 62 - a table for two. This was not an initmate or secluded table for two as there were 3 other tables for two next to ours and in close proximity. The dining selections and meals in the dining room were also outstanding and there were some new twists on old standbys. I received a copy of each night's menu so I can make your mouth water with some of our choices. Most nights we ate fish or seafood and it was always moist and flavorful. Along with soups and appetizers, each night you had a choice of two pasta dishes. You also had a choice of alternatives that were available every night in case you could not find something that interested you (seared salmon, chicken breast, beef filet medallions, and cheeses and fruits). Here are some of the entree choices: pan-fried barramundi (perch), crawfish crockpot with black mussels, Hawaiian Luau pork, prime rib, Texas chili, braised lamb shank, roasted cod spiked with chorizo and portobello mushrooms, jerked chicken and rice, skirt steak fajitas, halibut with Swiss chard, shrimp newburg with shellfish cream, cornish game hen, roast pork, flambeed scampi with hot and fiery marinara sauce, veal scaloppine, griddled seabass, seared scallops, cocoa spice rubbed pork tenderloin, rack of lamb, veal ravioli in creamy porcini mushroom sauce, filet of rockfish, broiled lobster tail and king prawns, roasted pheasant, beef wellington, black mussels, roasted turkey, and New York strip steak and the list goes on. All meals were very delicious with wonderful presentation. Our waiters were attentive, cordial, and congenial. We looked forward to each night's dining in the Botticelli as dining was an event and not just a place to satisfy your appetite. Most cruise lines have an executive chef that designs the menu for the enitre fleet. On Princess, each ship has its own executive chef who is responsible for the menu. This allows the chef more liberties with the menu creation and can be tailored to the cruising region or personal requests. Sabatini's and Crown Grill are the two specialty restaurants onboard. We did not eat at either of the specialty restaurants as the main dining room served wonderful and tasty creations. The couple next to us did eat at the Crown Grill one night and canceled their second reservation as they were disappointed with the food quality. The Crown Grill is located on the Promenade and next to Explorers Lounge so we passed the area several times a day and the Crown Grill never once looked booked to capacity. Along with a lot of food consumption on a cruise, there is also a lot of alcohol consumption. There are at least 10 bars onboard (and I am sure I missed one or two) and plenty of staff at the bars, in the lounges, and on the open decks to make sure you are quenched. The drinks onboard were amazingly good, different, and not outrageous in price. A specialty cocktail was $6.75 and a rum and coke was $4.75. The specialty drinks were very good and different from other cruises: mucho mango(Bacardi, coconut rum and mango nectar) buddy's bushwacker(absolut, brogans, kahlua, amaretto, coconut milk, pineapple juice), dirty banana(cruzan gold, kahlua, tia maria, fresh banana, chocolate, cream), loco coco(coconut rum, coconut milk, pineapple juice, sugar syrup). Some of the recipes, from Princess, are listed on the Happy Hour page.
As the Emerald Princess carries over 3,000 passengers we never once felt like the ship was crowded. Princess has done a great job with traffic flow, relieving bottle necks and strategically placing the different lounges throughout the ship. There is a different atmosphere and pace onboard when compared to Carnival and Royal Caribbean. You never felt rushed and the ship was very laid back and relaxing. As soon as you board the Emerald Princess you are immediately aware of the ambiance and style and know that this is going be a whole new experience and one that you will want to repeat.
Carnival Legend - Western Caribbean
This is a comprehensive review of the itinerary and ship. The daily itinerary and tours and experiences will be reviewed first in chronological order. The ship review will follow at the end.
Using the recommendation in Beginner's Guide to Cruising, we left a day early. This allowed us to take advantage of cheaper airfare as we were not locked in to certain flight times in order to meet the ship. We had a late morning flight on Delta with a connection in Atlanta and arrived Tampa around 4:30pm. The savings in airfare more than made up for the one night stay at the airport Marriott. Leaving a day early also resulted in a relaxing day of travel (as relaxing as flying can be) as there was no stress of making connections to ensure making the ship on time. Once luggage is claimed in baggage, take the elevator to the main floor and take a short walk to the Marriott. Check-in was swift and in five minutes we were in our hotel room and looking at a great view of an inviting pool. Five minutes later we were enjoying a dip in that cool pool escaping the hot sun and the confines of an airplane. Our flight from Atlanta to Tampa was not full and the Boeing 757 was not cramped and offered in-flight interactive TV to pass the time. Delta served free snacks (even peanuts) and free soda on all of our flights. A nice touch. After we cooled off in the pool and relaxed and dried off in an inviting chair, we headed to CK's, the revolving restaurant at the top of the Marriott. The view was almost on the same level as the Tampa control tower. As we made the 360 degree revolution we dined on calamari and specialty martinis. This pre-cruise arrangement was so convenient and economical, I wish there were more cruise options out of Tampa. When sailing out of Tampa, flying in a day early and staying at the airport Marriott will become standard for us.
The next morning (Sunday) we slept in late. We do not eat breakfast, but the Marriott did have a restaurant on the main level that served breakfast. We checked out using the television. We had no charges, so this was easy and when we reached the lobby and the front desk, we confirmed our check out and headed back to baggage claim at 10:30am. We met the Carnival rep and went outside to the waiting area for the first bus to the port. The bus arrived a little before 12noon and once all the luggage was loaded we were on our way to the port. We arrived 15 minutes later. Time must have been on our side as the streets had little traffic and as we approached an intersection the traffic lights turned green so we drove through town without having to stop. Even though we were the first bus, there was a line of passengers unloading at the curb. Tampa is a convenient drive to port so with those arriving on their own and those using taxi service, the tiny drop off area quickly filled. Once our luggage was unloaded we were allowed off the bus to confirm our bags and have them whisked away by a porter. As I mentioned, there is not a lot of room outside the terminal and one of our fellow cruisers stepped back and toppled over one of the porter's empty baggage cart. She was ok, but PLEASE be careful and Remember there is no need to rush. Everyone will get onboard, the ship will not run out of food, and the buffet will still be open when you arrive. There was a long line to check in, but I am not sure how fast the line moved as we were VIP and bypassed the long line. Cabins were not available until 1:30pm, so we hauled our carry-on up to Lido deck and had a panini from the deli and then we grabbed the camera and toured the ship, taking pictures along the way and learning the layout. Once cabins were available, we dropped off our carry-on and checked out our balcony. Our luggage arrived soon after so we unpacked and found that there was more than enough closet space and drawers. I predict we would have had enough space for a 30 day cruise. The shower was even roomy and unlike some cruises, we were not fighting the shower curtain for room when showering. At 3:30pm we attended the life boat drill and stood shoulder to shoulder and back to front in breezeless humid air. The drill did not take long, but in the heat and humidity it felt like an eternity. The ship was underway around 4:00pm and we dropped off our life jacket in the cabin and headed for Lido and Spa decks for the sail away party. It is a long slow leisurely sail out of Tampa until you arrive "out to sea". We had to momentarily stop on our way for the Coast Guard to arrive to remove a passenger who needed medical attention. Once we were back underway, we enjoyed the scenery as we all waited for the much anticipated passage under the Sunshine Skyway Bridge ( constructed of steel cables and concrete stretching across Tampa Bay with a span of 5.5 miles). It is only a 15 second thrill, but no matter how many times this ship sails on her weekly itinerary, you swear it is not going to clear the bridge. There is only 5 feet of clearance and the illusion is the mast and winged funnel are going to be crushed. Have your camera ready and have it set so you can take repeated shots in quick succession to ensure at least one good shot that will create the illusion the ship is much taller and will not fit. This short-lived thrill is one more reason we always book late dining so we do not have to be off to dinner at 6pm when the ship is setting sail from most ports. After "clearance" we enjoyed cocktails and live music in the Lobby bar. Later in the evening we attended the event of dinner in Truffles dining room at a quiet table for two and were overwhelmed by the food quality, choice and presentation. At 10:30pm we attended the Welcome Aboard show. The traditional spoon game was played and no matter how many times you see it, it is always hilarious as the passengers are never the same and the reactions are priceless. Part of the show was the comedy act of Thomas Brown and is highly recommended. Very funny.
Monday was a sea day. My favorite itineraries start and end with a sea day and this cruise does just that. On this relaxing sea day sleeping in was in order. There was a bright blue sky with sizzling sunshine all day with very, very calm seas. As we went up on deck late, we were not confident of finding a deck chair. We were very surprised to discover that there were more than enough chaise lounge chairs spread about the more than ample open deck space. Carnival Valor met up with us on our way to Grand Cayman and we were side by side in close proximity the rest of the afternoon. It is the first time we have had a cruise ship following so close to us on a sea day. Usually it takes a large zoom to bring in another ship on the horizon. This was formal night and the Captain's Welcome Aboard Reception. The band played a variety of music as we were served cocktails to enjoy the party. Once the reception was over it was off to our "formal night dinner". The lobster tail was tender, succulent, and sweet. Butter was not necessary for this delectable delight. The dinner dining room food on Carnival keeps getting better and better and we are always impressed that they find new ways to improve quality and choice. Once the dinner indulgence was over we waddled to Follies lounge to be entertained by the Vegas style show of Jazz Hot. The show was hot! The lead singers were in tune and in sync and it was the first time that when belting out a song, they did not sound like they were screeching. We enjoyed the comedy of Thomas Brown the previous evening so we were not going to miss his adult midnight show. He was recording his own act as he was refining his show, but it was very funny and the audience really enjoyed the show. We will definitely make sure to attend the next time he performs.
Tuesday we arrived in Grand Cayman and we were joined by Carnival Valor (who cruised with us yesterday) and Carnival Destiny. As we had a morning snorkel excursion and we were informed to allow 45 minutes for tendering, we were up early. Tendering was a very smooth process. We did not have to congregate in a lounge and then go to the tender as a group. It was as if we were docked and you could just walk down to the available tenders. Our excursion was Stingray City and Rum Point Beach break. It had been many years since we went to Stingray City and we were looking forward to this adventure. We boarded a bus to meet our waiting boat that would take us to the sandbar. We had about a 30 minute sail and we were luckily one of the first boats to arrive at the sandbar so we had all the stingrays to ourselves for awhile. These creatures are amazing. They come in all sizes and do look menacing as they swim up to your leg and turn sideways and glide on by. Our guide had us lift one up and then placed its wings on our back for a stingray back massage. Not only did this feel great, it was much cheaper than any massage found onboard at the spa. We then had our obligatory kiss with the friendly, loving ray that ensures 7 years of good luck. Now, I am not sure when the 7 years of good luck kicks in, but it did not start while we were on our cruise as we missed/lost $1,000 BINGO by one number, we lost on the scratch offs, we did not win the free cruise raffle, and our comment card was not drawn for the monthly free cruise raffle. We were with the frolicking sting rays for over an hour. By the time we left the multi-blue hued water, it was bubbling with visitors as there were 9 boats in the sandbar area all vying for the attention of the amicable stingrays. Timing is everything and the early morning tour offered us the luxury of "one on one" time with these graceful creatures in knee deep water. Next it was a sail to Rum Point beach. Our boat was packed for this tour, but Rum Point beach had more than enough sand, beach, and chairs to accomodate all of us. There was a bar and restaurant available, but not included in the price. A warning: prices for drinks and food are in Cayman currency, so a $7.50 drink or food item is really $10.70. Be prepared. It is a pricey little island, but if you are hungry or thirsty, it is the only game on the beach. The sun was hot and the water was cool and inviting and Rum Point was a very nice, relaxing, lazy way to spend the afternoon. In the distance you could see the winged funnels of all 3 Carnival ships in port and you could also see a rain storm in that area; all while we were enjoying the sun and fun miles away. It was a slow ride back and there is nothing wrong with that as it is vacation, but there was no air moving, no sea breeze and the ride became a little overwhelming with the heat and stale air and some passengers were feeling the affects by the time we reached land. Once we reboarded the bus and headed back to the pier, it was time for shopping, although there was not much time left before we had to reboard the ship. Grand Cayman has a lot of shopping to offer near the pier and several blocks into town, but we did not take advantage of any shopping as it was late afternoon and the streets were jam packed (mayhem, I called it) and we really were not looking for anything in particular. We have, in the past, found some great bargains in town and if you have time and patience this is a great place to shop and find some of those out of the way places that offer great products and great service. We took our tender back to the ship and had a small, late lunch at the grill and then enjoyed the sailaway. For some reason, and I do not know the particulars, the Carnival Destiny had to move and perform a slow 360 degree turn for us to leave and the Carnival Valor even adjusted position all while they were tendering passengers as they were not ready to leave. It was a well choreographed show with one photo captured that appears the Carnival Destiny is going to ram us in the side. We ended the evening with dinner and a 2 mile walk around the ship (8 laps around Spa deck - deck 10).
Wednesday we arrived in Cozumel. No tendering here, however all shore tours were required to gather in the lounge. No tours were called or dispatched, just one general release of everyone in the lounge. I do not know the rationale, but it was a very unorganized and chaotic process to leave the ship. Tendering the day before worked with everyone just walking down to the tender when ready, you would think that that would be the easy process as we were docked and could just walk right off the ship with no line. Oh, well. We were on the Deluxe Sail, Snorkel Beach Break excursion. Again the water was as many color blues and shades as you could want and most inviting. We boarded a catamaran near the ship for a 30 minute ride to our snorkeling site. The catamaran was the Fury. The crew was wonderful and took care of your every need. We have yet to be impressed with Cozumel snorkeling. Everything you read and hear is all about the greatness of snorkeling when visiting Cozumel, however every time we have snorkeled (and never the same place) we have been disappointed. We are obviously missing something and we use this as a great excuse to return to Cozumel - as if you need an excuse to vacation or go snorkeling. The beach break was another fantastic, relaxing day with wonderful views, a nice big beach with more than enough space for everyone. The bar was open on the catamaran for your free drinks, but if you reboarded you had to drink it onboard - no problem. There was a buffet lunch being served for $9.00. There were inviting hammocks and cabanas for your relaxation and napping needs along with all the beach chairs lined up on the beach. Just before we left, the dark, menacing cloud that had been maturing in the background started to intensify and thunder and lightning made its appearance. We left about 5 minutes early and sailed back to the ship under hot, sunny skies leaving the storm behind. Once we arrived at the pier we headed to our cabin to drop off our heavy towels and snorkel gear and had a quick lunch on Lido and then we went back ashore to meander along the streets and shops near the pier. We experienced a light 3 minute shower. I am sure the storm followed us, but died out. It did remain overcast for the rest of the day, but not a problem. The pier and surrounding shopping area have recovered nicely since the hurricane damage that devastated Cozumel a few years ago. The only clue that something drastic happened was the barren trees around the port area. Otherwise, Cozumel is just as nice as ever. We enjoyed another great sailaway from Cozumel.
Thursday was a day in Belize. As this was also a tender port and we had an early morning excursion we were up early. I am not a fan of getting up early for anything, especially vacation, but the early morning tours allow more afternoon time for exploring or shopping and the heat of the day has not yet occured so our tours (especially water activities) are not shortened by storm activity. Getting up early today allowed us to witness a beautiful red sunrise as we followed the lit up Carnival Valor into our anchoring spot. We had to meet in the lounge for our tour. Once our tour was called we were led to the tender station and awaiting us was the catamaran that was taking us on our snorkeling trip. This was so convenient compared to tendering ashore and then taking the tour past the ship and out to sea. We were on the Barrier Reef Snorkel at Turneffe with Beach Break. So far in Belize we have experienced great snorkeling and this time was no different. A lot of colorful coral and colorful fish to keep you mesmerized the entire time in the water. The water was calm and warm and the visibility great so we were able to take a lot of great photos. We followed the guides along the reef and we all spread out so no one was running into each other with flailing flippers and arms. We snorkeled over an hour and were disappointed to have to end the snorkeling adventure as there was so much to see and this being a week day, what better way to spend a workday-----snorkeling in Belize. Once we boarded, the drinks were flowing and we headed to our beach break. This was another large expanse with a lot of room for lounging, volleyball, and cooling off in the water under the hot sun. This beach was a man made expansion of a small natural beach and the sand was packed and hard, but it was a beach and it was a great way to finish the excursion, just like the previous two in Grand Cayman and Cozumel. We sailed back to the ship and were given the option to reboard the ship or head to the pier. We headed for the pier - we let our catamaran be our tender again. The pier was busy with passengers as the layout is a little tight and there were 3 ships visiting (I have never been to Belize when there was more than one ship) so the stores were busy and the sidewalks crowded. We were able to make 3 purchases native to Belize: We purchased a wooden zericote bowl (multi colored wooden bowl - one piece), One Barrel rum ( a nice nutty, smokey taste), and Rainforest Rumcake (better than the ever popular Tortuga Rumcake). All purchases we were looking forward to making and we were not disappointed. We tendered back to the ship and had a late lunch before we left for Roatan. Arriving and departing Belize involves a circuitous route and if you have late dining, you can enjoy this scenic route on deck as you pass a couple of small, palm tree covered cays.
Friday we arrived Roatan. We were able to dock today. The pier and surrounding port center sit on beautiful coral in crystal clear water that can be best seen from the top of the ship. It tempts you to just jump in and swim along the pier. We were on another snorkeling adventure with a catamaran sail and lunch. We took a bus to meet the catamaran. The catamaran left from what is to be a new pier facility that Carnival is building that will accomodate 2 ships and will be ready in November; in time for the busy cruise season. Work is ongoing and it appears that at least one dock will be ready to receive ships in November, but I cannot envisage the other dock being ready in two months time. What do I know, I am on vacation. We sailed on the catamaran for about an hour and then made a 180 degree turn and headed back toward our starting point. During our relaxing one hour sail, we had choppy water and everyone was getting anxious to snorkel. Once everyone realized we were going to be snorkeling near our starting point, a little disappointment was expressed as we could have avoided the rough water. The one hour sail was part of the excursion and was even a highlight in the description. I think everyone was just disappointed that the snorkeling site was so close to the new piers being built. The snorkeling was great. The water at the site was much calmer and the water was almost current free and little effort was needed to swim. The guides separated us into 3 groups. The guides kept us close and explained and pointed out a lot of underwater sites. The coral and fish were plenty and the water warm and clear. The only problem was the fact that we were bunched together for the snorkeling, but we were able to see a lot and the guides made sure we did not miss anything. Once we reboarded the catamaran, lunch was served and we remained anchored so we could leisurely enjoy lunch and drinks and sun. Once we returned to port, we had little time to explore as we had to be back on board by 2:15pm for a 3:00pm departure. I would like to see an itinerary adjustment so there is more time to explore Roatan, but this is another excuse to have go back and do more exploring.
Saturday was our last day and it was a sea day. Today we planned on booking a tour for Tampa as we have a late flight home. Unfortunately, we discovered that there are no tours offered for Tampa. Carnival offers a program called Luggage Express. For $20.00 a person, this program allows you to check your bags all the way home from the ship. Once you leave your bags outside your cabin on the last night, you do not have to touch or see them again until you arrive at your final destination airport. The cutoff for this is 10pm Thursday night. We did not sign up for this as the planned tour would take care of our luggage, but there are no tours. A quandary that will not be resolved until Sunday. We were disappointed as we had planned on a nice day in Tampa, sans luggage, instead of sitting at the airport all day. Oh, well. We joined the cruise director for the debarkation talk. You just never know when something may change and each ship of each cruise line handles things a little differently. Earlier in the week we signed up for the Susan G Koman walk on deck for a cure for breast cancer. For a $10 donation, you received a t-shirt and walked 4 laps around Spa deck in awareness to help fight breast cancer. Everyone gathered at 1pm with our cruise director and easily made the one mile walk. Pink lemonade and water were available after the walk. While we were laying out on deck, we enjoyed an ice carving demonstration. It is always amazing what they can create in a short period of time. Four days later, I would still be looking at the block of ice not knowing where to start. After 4 days I guess the place to start would be to find a mop and clean up the mess. For fun, I took a private tour of the galley. Very fascinating. I asked about the grand gala buffet and like most cruise lines now, Carnival no longer offers this gastronomical event. There is so much food wasted, that most cruise lines have eliminated this. It was great for picture taking, but I was never hungry enough to participate in the feasting of all the food. We discussed all the food wasted on the ship and I inquired about the leftovers and if the food is sent to the crew for them to eat and the answer was "no". Only the leftover desserts are allowed to be given to the crew and in the crew galley. The rest of the food is discarded by law. What a waste. The other waste is all the tables on Lido deck with plates piled high with food from those whose eyes were bigger than their stomachs or who wanted to attempt to eat their moneys worth. The last day is always a little depressing as the cruise is coming to an end, but we had great weather and calm seas the whole cruise, not just today, and we made the most of today and soaked up the sun and relaxed.
Sunday we arrived Tampa and had to leave the ship one last time. We were off the ship around 8:30am and within 10 minutes we found our luggage (all in one row for the very first time) and were out of the terminal. Now the quandary begins. We do not want to go to the airport this early as we will not be able to check our bags 10 hours before our departure. We wanted to go to the Florida Aquarium again, and we wanted to visit the plaza near the pier all without hauling our luggage. As we left the terminal we made a slight left and just past the phone booths is a tour office. We were able to store our luggage for $7, sign up for the shuttle to the airport for $20 ( a taxi is $25 ) - the last shuttle leaves at 3:30pm, and we purchased discounted tickets for the Florida Aquarium, which is across the street. The aquarium opens at 9:30am so we had 30 minutes to spend walking around which we did at Channelside (the plaza next to the ship). We spent 2 hours at the aquarium. This is a highlight when in Tampa. Kids get so excited at all the sea life to experience - adults get excited, too. You can pet stingrays. You can watch feeding shows. There is a touch tank with starfish and anemones and other sealife. I always enjoy going here. The early morning is a good time to go as it was not that crowded. We had our tickets stamped so we could return later. We headed back to Channelside for lunch. Channelside is an open plaza with chairs and tables and palm trees in the center and the circular plaza is surrounded by two levels of restuarants, bars, movie theaters, bowling alley, etc. It is a great place to relax and spend some time before going to the airport and a nice way to extend your vacation, if only for a few more hours. We had lunch at Bennigans and had a wonderful Monte Cristo sandwich that was deep fried and dusted with powdered sugar. This meal is enough for two people, but after expanding your stomach for seven days on the ship, it can be handled by one person and I did handle it with fries and a couple of rum and cokes. I recommend Bennigans and the Monte Cristo sandwich. We went back to the aquarium for one more walk around and the place was extremely busy. Around 3pm we claimed our luggage and headed for the airport and headed home. It was a long day as we arrived home a little after midnight. We will avoid such a late flight in the future, but will allow enough time in Tampa to visit the aquarium again.
The Carnival Legend is the third in the series of Spirit-class ships for Carnival. The ship is 88,500 tons carrying 2,124 passengers with 80% of the outside cabins having a balcony. The ship's theme and decor is based on legends and is obvious throughout the ship. When you board the ship on the first day, you enter the Legends Lobby and nine deck atrium (Colossus Atrium) with a large mural of the Colossus of Rhodes. The first thing you notice is that this is not your typical Carnival ship. The bright, multi-colored neon lighting and ornate fixtures are missing. Instead, you find muted lighting, dark colors, cool colors, a rich tone and yacht-like presence-only much larger than a yacht. It is a very calming and soothing ambiance and very elegant. Our balcony cabin provided enough room for two and was not cramped. There was more than enough closet space and the bathroom and shower were even spacious for a cruise ship. The venting was very good in the bathroom and after a shower there were no steamed mirrors. The balcony contained 2 chairs and a table and makes for a nice retreat. There were 2600 passengers on our cruise and 600+ were children. We could not tell that there were that many children onboard.
Dining was available 24hrs a day from the Lido buffet, to the dining room, room service and pizzeria. I still think Royal Caribbean has Carnival beat when it comes to the Lido lunch buffet, but Carnival comes out ahead for dining in the main dining room. Lunch time selections on the Lido buffet included an Asian station, taste of the nation ( a different choice each day), a deli serving paninis, a rotisserie with fresh carved meat and other side choices, the salad bar, the grill serving burgers, chicken, hot dogs, etc, and the dessert station. The deli was not as good as other Carnival ships, the food at the rotisserie station was warm to cold with the meat fatty and tough, and the taste of the nations was not impressive. On the other hand, the meals in Truffles (the main dining room) were exceptional. The soups were the best I have ever had on a cruise and the chef was complimented several times for this. The soups were more than just broth and a scant piece of meat and trace of vegetable. They were filled with meat and vegetable and pasta on every spoon - think chunky. They were definitely something to look forward to each night. The appetizers were varied as well as the main courses. The seafood was always sweet and juicy and the beef was fork tender. We enjoyed the dining so much we never sampled the Lido dinner offerings. The supper club (Golden Fleece) located inside the funnel of the ship offers alternative dining for a fee and offers prime choices of beef and lobster tail and shrimp. We were satisfied with the main dining room so we did not venture here either. Carnival offers traditional assigned seat dining at 6pm and 8:15pm. For those who want to dine anytime and eat in the main dining room, Carnival also offers this option on the upper level of Truffles. We opted for late seating at 8:15pm. As we were a table for two, service was fast and there was not much time between courses. We often asked for a 15 minute delay once we were finished and before dessert was served so we could not only relax a few minutes and make room for the scrumptious warm chocolate melting cake, but also to enjoy "show time" as provided by the dining teams with song and dance. There was one item that was not up to par and that was the rolls served at dinner. Carnival makes them fresh daily onboard, however they do not taste like they are made fresh as most of the time they were hard and dry. Here are some of the highlights from the week's menus: STARTERS - beef and barley soup, shrimp cocktail, cured salmon and candied tomato, strawberry bisque, stuffed white mushrooms, minestrone milanese, sushi, french onion soup, prosciutto ruffles, smoked duck, potato soup, tom ka gai ( chicken soup with coconut and lemongrass ), sliced tenderloin and noodle salad marinated in peanut dressing, fried shrimp, wild mushroom soup, asparagus vichyssoise, grilled oysters, escargots, corn chowder, bing cherry soup, lobster bisque. MAIN COURSES - Pan seared fillet of tilapia, broiled fillet of snapper, spaghetti carbonara, supreme of duck, grilled perch, lobster tail (sweet and succulent), prime rib, penne mariscos (most seafood ever), grilled fillet of salmon, jerked pork loin, beef stroganoff, farfalle with roast turkey, seafood newburg (again, a lot of seafood), lamb, veal parmigiana, penne tossed in tomato cream with vodka, filet mignon, grouper fillet, chateaubriand with bearnaise sauce, cornish game hen. A lot of choices for all tastes. As cruise lines become more health conscious and attempt to eliminate the norovirus outbreaks, they have installed hand sanitizing stations throughout the dining areas. On most cruise ships, someone is standing with the sanitizer ensuring that you receive a small spot of gel to sanitize your hands. There were many sanitizing stations on the ship, but no one was encouraging their use. On one cruise we were on, you could not walk into a dining area without someone making sure you received sanitizer. The layout of the Unicorn Lido cafe is not the most user friendly and there are many different entrances as the buffet area is located in many sections. Because of the layout and the many entrances could be the reason that no one is encouraging the use of the sanitizers, but it is no excuse. Once passengers get used to the idea that they are going to have to use it, then there is little enforcement needed the rest of the cruise as it becomes the norm. In Cozumel we were docked next to the Carnival Imagination. Next to their gangway was a hand sanitizing station. Our ship never had one located at the gangway. Passengers in line for our ship were stepping over to use the sanitizer from the Carnival Imagination. What does that tell you? Carnival needs to do a better job on the Carnival Legend of utilizing the stations instead of just letting them be an obstacle to walk around. As far as dress codes in the main dining room, Carnival has re-branded dining attire with new names and definitions - CRUISE CASUAL - jeans are allowed, but no cut-offs. Shorts are allowed, but they are called dress shorts with the word "long" noted. Capri pants are ok for the ladies. Here is what is not permitted as printed in the Carnival Caper - gym shorts, basketball shorts, flip flops, bathing attire, cut-off jeans, and sleeveless shirts for men. Unfortunately, there were many, many feet dressed in flip flops, even on formal night. CRUISE ELEGANT - here suits or tuxes are not listed first, but recommended. For men: dress slacks, dress shirts. Sports coats are suggested. For women: cocktail dresses, pantsuits, elegant skirts and blouses. Not permitted: shorts, t-shirts, flip-flops, bathing suit attire, jeans, cut-off jeans, sleeveless shirts for men, sportswear, and baseball hats. It is a sad statement that baseball hats need to be listed, but on every cruise they are worn in the main dining room. What is up with this lack of etiquette? This cruise was no different with hats (no attire definition should include hats and baseball hats are not listed as unacceptable for Cruise Casual) and jeans and flip-flops. There are places to eat where this attire is acceptable. Please have some respect and dress according to your dining preference.
Entertainment onboard was varied with the highlight in the three deck high Follies lounge. The Vegas shows were phenomenal. The first show offered was Jazz Hot. The second was the Big Easy and was performed for the fifth time as this was a new show. Both shows were fantastic and the main singers were not trying to out-sing one another. They were in tune, they did not sound like they were screeching and they were very strong vocally. Along with Follies, there was Medusa's Lair - dance club, Satchmo's Club, Billie's piano bar, Atlantis Lounge and Odyssey Lounge for pre-dinner cocktails, and the Firebird lounge located under Follies. There were comedy acts, karaoke, disco, hypnotist, and jugglers. The daily Lido deck entertainment/singers were not up to the standard set by the rest of the venues on the ship and am not sure how some of them were even hired, but there were a lot of areas to enjoy and these acts could be avoided.
There are three pools available along with the 71 ft twisting waterslide to cool off. There are more than enough deck chairs and deck space for those days at sea when everyone gathers outside to soak up the sun. Carnival brags about the amount of nonsmoking spaces offered, however smoking limitations are not enforced. Smoking was everywhere on the open decks, even in areas that were off limits. Cigar smoking was even allowed on the open decks. IF YOU ARE A NONSMOKER AND DO NOT ENJOY THE SMOKE FROM CIGARS AND CIGARETTES, THE CARNIVAL LEGEND MAY NOT BE FOR YOU. This ship really needs to get this under control and practice what it preaches. It was very disappointing. As far as flow throughout the ship, there was never any congestion other than the Lido cafe. Traffic flowed smoothly after main shows, even when everyone was reviewing their photos you could easily move along, and the open deck space was very easy to navigate no matter how many people were sunning or dining at the tables.
As far as the children's and youth services onboard, I cannot comment as we were not traveling with children; however, there were 600+ children onboard and you would not know it. The spa and fitness center was visited only for pictures, but it was certainly inviting. I opted for the stingray back massage in Grand Cayman.
This Spirit class of ships are my favorite. They are the perfect size: not too small, not too large. There is an intimate feeling to the ship and the ships decor is understated compared to other Carnival ships. It is a quiet and relaxed atmosphere and evokes the impression you are cruising on a yacht, albeit a huge yacht. I can't wait to sail on the Carnival Spirit as that is the only ship of the Spirit Class left to cruise and I am sure I will be back to cruise on the other three. The itinerary was great, the weather was perfect with calm seas every day of the cruise, and the dining and entertainment were impressive. Overall, it was an excellent cruise. There are always a few minor issues and you cannot let that spoil or influence your whole vacation. Carnival is always a great value for your vacation and I have not been dissatisfied with any Carnival vacation.
Splendour of the Seas - Greek Isles
We left Philly at 6:30pm and arrived Venice around 9:30am aboard USAirways. This plane was the most cramped and claustrophibic flight I have experienced. It did not help that the passenger in front of me reclined the entire flight in my lap. I will not fly USAirways to Europe again. Our connecting layover in Philadelphia allowed for the standard "Philly delay". We had plenty of time to explore and relax before leaving for Venice. We arrived in Venice a day before our cruise so we would not have to worry about making it to the ship on time as it was so far to travel. We wanted to be able to explore Venice and be rested for our cruise after the long flight and time difference. We gathered our luggage and immediately saw the hotel rep who was waiting for us outside baggage claim. They took us to the hotel and we checked in. It was around 11am and our room was not ready until 2pm. We left our things with our luggage and took off exploring. We discovered it was very expensive as 1 Euro = $1.50 and no one accepted US currency. I did not exchange for Euros as the next day we would be on the ship. We walked and walked and window browsed and finally found a place to eat that accepted credit cards. We each had pasta and iced tea and the meal was $69.00 us. That was the end of eating for us. Well, we did have a gelato - very good AND they accepted good old US dollars. We did not take the mandatory gondola ride as they were very expensive!!!!!! 80-120 euro or $120-$180. The water canal water was dirty and neither of us considered this as romantic as Venice is portrayed or famous for. That is just a personal observation. It was an adventure as it was a very long walk from the hotel to see the Rialto, but we arrived a day early to explore and we did just that. The Murano glass art work is AMAZING!!! I would have liked to buy everything, but we took a lot of pictures of the glass work before we were informed that it was not permitted. We went back to the hotel and were in bed by 6pm and we crashed hard. So much for hardcore adventurers. We stayed at the Hotel Carlton and Grand Canal. It was a very nice hotel. Not near the Rialto or St. Marks square, but was easily accessible and I would not hesitate to stay there again. Probably will if we sail out of Venice in the future.
The next morning was relaxed and leisurely and after brunch - no charge (yeah) we were off to the ship. Embarkation took 10 minutes at the most and we were on the ship exploring. Very efficient and easy and again leisurly and relaxed. The Splendour of the Seas is a medium sized ship and was perfect for our itinerary. Our first day was a sea day so we were able to relax and catch up on sleep and try and adjust to the time difference - 6 hrs in Venice and 7 hours in Greece. There were 400 Americans on this cruise and only 100 on the last cruise.
Athens was our first port of call and it was a lovely 93 degrees with beautiful deep, dark, blue skies. The main tour for us was visiting the Acropolis and the Parthenon. Of all the places we want to go in our life time to visit - this was on the list and a cruise was the perfect way to do it. Touring the city you experience modern day culture and in the next moment you are being amazed at the unearthed sites of ancient Athens where old meets new and ancient Athens is surrounded by the modern day Athens. I cannot imagine being here in 2004 when Athens hosted the summer olympics. It must have been a nightmare as traffic (human and machine) converged on the same area at the same time. The modern day Olympic stadium (1896) looks perfect and useable (it was used for the 2004 Olympics in Athens) and the fact that almost anywhere you look in Athens you can see the Acropolis and other ancient ruins among modern day life is amazing. The highlight of our cruise was the Acropolis. I am glad I no longer use a camera that requires rolls of film as every angle you view the Parthenon is breathtaking and a moment to capture many times on camera. Because of the beautiful blue skies, the back drop for the Acropolis and the Parthenon was set like a postcard. A picture perfect day. We eventually converted some cash to Euros on board the ship as we realized the small local shops would be selling items in Euros only. Not a bad move on our part as a bottle of refreshing fluids in the torrid heat was going to be priced in euros only.
Our next island was Mykonos and we went to the island of Delos(pronounced Thelos) to visit the ancient ruins. This was an amazing island with an equally amazing history. All of our tour guides were history majors (I believe) or in some capacity involved in archeology and they were so knowledgeable. Actually it was information overload. I thought I would have no problem remembering the highlights, but it was too much information and I am at a loss for information. A tape recorder is a must if you are concerned with recalling all the historical facts and legends upon returning home. The greek mythology lore and the stories the guides wove with myth, legend, and fact; was mesmerizing. The last stop of this wonderful tour of Delos is the museum. The museum is a treasure trove of artifacts and a tribute to the craftmanship of the ancient inhabitants. Another island that made your jaw drop open in amazement. When we returned from Delos, we walked around the cobblestone narrow streets of Mykonos for a leisurely afternoon before heading back to the ship. A wonderful, charming town with narrow streets and friendly people. The white-washed buildings with blue shutters and blue roofs make you feel like you're in a living painting.
Our next stop was ancient Olympia and the site of the original Olympic games and the compound area. Another fantastic and amazing tour of ruins again with information overload, but extremely engrossing and awe inspiring. All school students should spend two weeks absorbing and touring Greece as part of their history curriculum. Most of the area lies in ruins, but the ruins are massive and to imagine what this area looked like in its thriving era is overwhelming. There is a wonderful overlay book made for ancient Olympia. Each section is devoted to a specific area with photographs of the area as it looks today. The previous page is a clear overlay that depicts the area or building as it was. When you lay the page over the current view the two are incorporated to give you the image as it appeared in all its glory. This was an inexpensive souvenir and one I am glad I purchased. Walking through the tunnel to the Olympic field was an exhilarating experience to imagine what it must have been like for these athletes to enter the ground of 40,000 onlookers as they prepared to compete in an exalted event. The track appears on the other side of the tunnel surrounded by the hillside where spectators enjoyed the competition. This whole area is a vast complex and there are many group tours being conducted at the same time and the only thing that would have made it better is if you could have walked through the tunnel and onto the field alone. It was still awesome. Some tourists ran, walked, or sprinted the length of the field. The track was not oval back in 776 BC, it was down and back;. I did not run the field although I though about it. I guess the combination of being tired, HOT, somewhat parched, and preoccupied in trying to take all this in and imagine what is must have been like - well I passed on the opportunity. I did not regret my decision, but now sitting in my home I wonder if I should have taken a jog. Oh, well. There is also a museum here and it is another amazing collection of artifacts worth exploring and capturing with a camera and video camera. After our tour we purchased some cinammon and clove liquour that is made on the island for our personal collection.
Our next stop was the island of Corfu. We toured the Achillean Palace - the homage to the seven muses. We toured the ancient town and I have to tell you that Corfu is our favorite town. It has extremely clean, wide cobble-stoned streets with quaint shops on all sides. This was a nice leisurely day and a great place to walk and explore. As we shared our story with a fellow passenger, we discovered and received confirmation to our impression as to how expensive it is to visit Venice/Europe. Our fellow passenger shared with us that they were going to stay three extra days in Venice after the cruise, but it was so expensive that they found out it was cheaper to book the next seven day cruise on our ship. So they were on a 14 day vacation. Amazing! If we had that much time available we could have explored that option. This was another beautiful hot day with blue skies and no threat of rain in the forecast. Greece had not received any rain since May 3. In one of those quaint shops we stopped in we found a lovely girl offering samples of a local drink made with koumkouts (kumquats). Very delicious. We added this liquour to our collection also.
Our last port of call was Split Croatia and ancient Solona. We explored more ancient ruins - I thought I would be tired of old stones by now, but there was too much history and interesting tour guides to create boredom as each ancient site we visited was different from the previous. We strolled the ancient town of Trogir. Another cobble-stoned street with many differing avenues to stroll and explore We visited a church with the most amazing stone carvings - inside and out. We were allowed to climb to the top of the bell tower for an amazing view of the city which I did. Getting to the first open landing involved climbing a stone spiral staircase with room for one. As it was a spiral case you could not make out either end or make out any light. I finally made it out into the daylight - wondering how I would make it back down. After more climbing - not in such tight quarters -I climbed to the last level that required ginger footed placement as the steps were rickety and at an incline that made it precarious. I pushed on and when I reached the top and placed my feet on a narrow lip to take pictures I was rewarded with a beautiful view overlooking the rooftops of the city and the surrounding seascape. I did ring the bell once I reached the top - after ensuring I had a firm hold on something.
The next day we arrived in Venice very early. We were greeted with rain, however I do not know if any of this rain reached Greece. We were glad that we chose to stay a day in Venice on the front end of our trip as opposed to the back end. Not long after we returned from Venice, Venice expereinced the worst flooding they have experienced in 20 years.
I would do this trip - this specific cruise - all over again. Getting there (flying) is no longer half the fun. As this was an international flight we did not have to pay for soda, food, or luggage. We also did not have to pay a fuel surcharge on our cruise as we booked 16 months in advance.
The Splendour of the Seas was the second in the series of Ships of Light and debuted in 1996. The ship was designed specifically for cruises/itineraries that are outside of the Caribbean and this ship fit perfectly. It is 69,130-grt carrying 1,804 passengers. The ship has plenty of amenities to suit ones taste. It is not the megaliner of today, but with so much to explore ashore, time spent onboard is minimal so a ship with all the latest and greatest activities is not necessary. The extra passengers that come with the jumbo ships just makes these small visited ports of call overcrowded.
The Splendour has so much glass that a beautiful sea view or land view is possible almost anywhere you are on the ship. It boasts over two acres of glass. It certainly warrants the title of Ship of Light. The seven deck atrium is airy and light and subdued and relaxing as it should be. Some ship's atriums exhibit the sensation of rush hour, but not here. The two level dining room and the Windjammer cafe both offered wonderful views through their windowed walls. The solarium has a retractable glass roof and offered another quiet sanctuary to rest and relax. The solarium also has a Greek theme with columns and statues, which was quite appropriate for our itinerary. The two deck 42nd Street theater has wonderful views and great sitelines. To add to the relaxed, sedate atmosphere are the live plants aboard. I did not count them, but when the ship first debuted, it was touted that there were 1,800 plants onboard.
We had a great dining room team and a very friendly crew. The food was nothing spectacular. Every evening there were two pasta dishes, one salmon dish, one herbed chicken dish and then two-three other differing choices. So if red sauce, salmon, and herbed chicken are not a craving then the menu was sparse. Maybe it was appropriate for the European clientele, but for me it was not their finest cuisine.
Celebrity Summit - Eastern Caribbean
After arriving in San Juan and grabbing our luggage, we waited about 15 minutes and boarded a bus to the ship. We arrived at the terminal and we were through check-in in five minutes. Amazing! Very impressive and smooth. As we boarded the ship we were greeted with champagne and friendly smiles. A great start that set the tone for the cruise.
Day one was St Maarten. We booked a Tintemarre snorkeling tour. We boarded a catamaran and the fun began. The snorkeling was not impressive, but the crew more than made up for it in food, drinks, music and a fun atmosphere. I can't say the whole island is bad for snorkeling - jus this spot. We were near the end of the runway on the catamaran when the rain started. It became a white out and we heard the engines of an incoming plane throttle up as it made a go around. We never saw the plane as the whole area suddenly became a dark mass of clouds and rain. We were to go to a beach but it was raining so hard we stayed on the catamaran and since it was raining, the crew kept pouring champagne and various other concoctions. A beautiful island and a great time had by all. We walked the boardwalk from the ship into Philipsburg. We sampled local food at one of the many eateries along the beach. We strolled through the shops and sampled local guavaberry rum and honey - delicious. The coconut jam sweetened with sugar cane we sampled and took home was just a tease as we wished we had bought a barrel it is so good. The beach and ocean were always in view walking along the street. If all towns had such a view! A very nice leisurely afternoon spent meandering the streets and shops.
Day two was Dominica. We took a tour up the Indian River on a little, wobbly boat. The river tour was nice, even though the rain kept visibility low. The hour and a half ride to get the Indian River on bumpy, pot-hole infested roads was not worth the river ride. One inch of top coat on all roads would make a huge difference. Dominica, as always, was very lush and vibrant AND it rained here, but with such a dense tropical island it is always raining. That's why they have 365 rivers, one for each day of the year.
Day three was Grenada - the spice island. A great recovery from the total island devastation from Hurricane Ivan a couple of years ago. The rain in the morning broke and the sky cleared to a beautiful, hot Caribbean day. We visited a rum distillery and were sampling rum by 10am. Only on vacation can you get away with drinking so early in the day - although it is "5 o'clock somewhere". After purchasing a few bottles for our personal collection we were off to Grand Anse beach. Great views of the town surrounding the harbour and very nice beach. We enjoyed our $5 lounge chair with the waves lapping around our feet - very beautiful. After returning to the ship for lunch, we walked into the town and strolled along the harbour. It was a very hot day so we stopped at a little store and purchased a couple colas and sat on a bench and soaked in the view.
Day four was Bonaire. A beautiful, clean Dutch influenced island. The water in port was a beautiful blue and as the ship slowly docked against the wind and currents, we had a beautiful view of the coast, the clean town, and multi-hued blue colored water. We boarded a junket and sailed over to the island Kleine for some drift snorkeling. Snorkeling was great here with many fish and coral with clear visibility and vibrant colors. We did not have time to tour the island and see the salt mines or pink flamingos, but were told it was very nice. We did have time to tour the town and boardwalk. A small, quaint peaceful town that was very clean and colorful.
Day five was Aruba. We were on another snorkeling tour that was great - as Aruba snorkeling has always been. The water was too rough to enjoy the German shipwreck as the waves bounced you around and into the structure, but have done this in the past. We ended the snorkeling tour with a beach bar-b-que. The beaches were just as nice as on previous visits and the sand baby powder soft. I forgot how much I missed Aruba. In the afternoon we walked around the town and again enjoyed the dutch influence and beatuful architecture.
Day 6 was a sea day and was spent soaking up the rays and relaxing.
Day 7 back in San Juan to go home.
The Summit is a beautiful ship. The ship was very elegant and this was much better than our last Celebrity cruise when I was scratching my head as to what all the hype was about with Celebrity. The entertainment in the lounge with the vegas style shows was not spectacular, but not horrible. The food was great with so many choices and selections it was hard to decide. The staff was very attentive and friendly. For those who do not want to eat in the dining room and just eat in shorts or beach clothes for dinner, there is always the option of the Lido deck buffet when cruising. On this cruise, you had to make a reservation to eat there for dinner and then you had to dress in pants and polo with a $2 charge. I thought this was odd, but it appeared that Celebrity really wants you to eat in the dining room and enjoy the dining experience. There are not a lot of public announcements so it is a very peaceful, laid back cruise. Debarkation was also smooth. You waited in your designated area based on your luggage tag and they only make an announcement in the area of waiting when it is time for that group to leave - not over the whole ship. Very nice.
Tahitian Princess - South Pacific
This trip could start out as a long day of flying as Tahiti is an 8 hour flight from LAX. Air Tahiti Nui makes sure you have an enjoyable flight on their A340. The crew greets you with smiles, flowers, champagne, and other beverages. The seats are not cramped, but very roomy. The crew is in constant motion as they continuously are serving water, champagne, and other beverages throughout the flight. The meals were delicious and of very good quality for airline meals. The flight arrives late at night in Tahiti. Customs is the slowest part of the arrival process. Once you make it to the bus, you are quickly on your way to the ship. After arriving at the pier, Princess quickly processes your embarkation and you are on the ship within minutes.
Day one was Tahiti. The weather was hot even though it was overcast. It did not ruin the day, but without blue skies, the pictures taken did not look like postcards. A visit to the James Norman Hall Museum is not only historical and fascinating, but also a setting for wonderful sea views. Point Venus marks the point where Captain Cook first landed on this black sand beach that is marked with a lighthouse. Tahiti is not really a beach destination as the beaches are black sand and hot on bare feet. There are other islands in the South Pacific suited more for beaching. A visit to Arahoho Blowhole demonstrates the power of the sea. As water and waves rush in, the explosion can be dramatic as people have been swept off the rocks and out to sea. Use zoom on your camera and don't be tempted to approach too closely. The island tour continued to Faarumai Valley where we took a short trek through trees on a winding path that opened to a view of a beautiful waterfall. The cameras were in use by everyone.
Day two was Huahine. There was so much to do on this island, it was hard to decide so we checked and rechecked the schedule and booked a snorkel tour and an island tour. Both amazing! First we toured the island. A visit to the vanilla plantation was amazing, The smell in the air was similar to being on Grenada where you can smell the spices floating on the breeze. We went to the Belvedere which is a lookout point for Maroe Bay and offers stunning views of the lagoon, bay, and cruise ship. We visited the village of Faie to see the sacred blue-eyed eels. These little "monsters" are hand fed by the guide and they look quite menacing with the glowing blue eyes as they frolic in the shallow water jumping for hand fed niblets of food. A visit to Marae provides a historical discovery of the sacrificial stones that were reserved for the worship of gods and other important events. Archaeological excavation here has revealed some of the earliest traces of settlement in the Society Islands. Our afternoon tour was a snorkeling adventure. It was not at any special named area, we just sailed to a nearby reef (which surrounds all the islands). The coral is very shallow in the Society Islands. The water is crystal clear and you can see the coral and fish from the surface. Once you put your head underwater, it is like going from black and white to color. The colors are so vibrant and clean and clear. You do not need an expensive underwater camera to bring home beautiful pictures of the sea life. The colors are so vibrant and the water so clear, you never want to get out of the water. I have not traveled all over the world and experienced all there is available, but so far this area of the world has provided the most beautiful snorkeling to date.
Day three was a sea day as we headed for Raratonga. This was a nice relaxing day.
Day four was Rarotonga of the Cook Islands. We scheduled the Circle Island Tour as we drove the coastal road of the island. This turned out to be an overcast day, but the beaches and island were very lush and inviting. The island is surrounded by a lagoon which extends several hundred yards to the reef. The reef fronts the shore to the north of the island making the lagoon unsuitable for swimming and watersports. There are only 2 bus routes - clockwise and counterclockwise. Bus drivers pick up anyone they see and drop them off when the passenger wishes. Land ownership here belongs to the families. You cannot buy land. You can lease the land for 60 years. Afterwards it reverts back to the family owners - including any improvements made to the land. As this was an island tour, there was not a lot of adventure, but the island is just as nice as any of the others and is well worth exploring again. Our driver did stop the bus to chop off a bunch of bananas for us. I am not sure if it was the banana or the moment, but it was the best banana I have eaten.
Day five was another sea day as we headed for Raiatea.
Day six was Raiatea/Tahaa. We decided to tour Tahaa. We visited another Vanilla Plantation. This was much larger and more of an in depth history of the processing of vanilla. Once vanilla is planted, it is a 9 month to 1 year wait until the flower can be hand fertilized/pollinated. It is another 9 months for vanilla beans to mature. It is then another 4-5 months for the beans to dry. It is approximately 3 years from the time the vanilla is planted to the time when vanilla is produced. A long and labor intensive process. The next stop was a pearl farm. Pearl farms are second to tourism on the island. Pearls are produced by the black lipped oyster. This is a very expensive business to undertake. First you need to buy 250,000 six month old oysters at $1.50 each. They can only be shipped by boat and it takes 24 hours for them to arrive with a loss rate of 30% during shipping. Then the oysters are drilled and hung on rope once they mature. Each one is then opened 1 inch to have a nucleus inserted. The technician trained in this field is paid $5 upfront for each oyster - there is a 40% rejection rate. After a total of 7-9 years only 2-3% produce a pearl. A very expensive business for such a small percentage. All the islands that we visited not only are surrounded by reefs, but they all have the bluest water with many colors of blue in layers. It is hard to imagine without being there, but the camera was working overtime to capture these magnificent colors from every angle on every island.
Day seven and eight were spent on Bora Bora. The first day was a scenic tour of the island. There were many scenic overlooks to enjoy all the views. Stops included Mama Ruta's where we saw a traditional pareo demonstration. It is amazing how many different options there are to wear a pareo. It was impossible to remember them all immediately after we left. A video camera to film the demonstration is wise. We were served fresh fruits and coconut and drinks on this hot day. We also stopped at the famous Bloody Marys. Even though there is a very long list of the famous who have visited the establishment, none were present while we were there. The lagoon surrounding Bora Bora is 3 times larger than its land mass. As the ship arrives to the island, the famous huts/bungalows start to appear on the horizon and as the ship glides closer, you can see the island dotted with them over the clear water. Our second day was a two stop snorkeling adventure. The first stop was at a shallow site that allowed us to swim with sting rays and black tip reef sharks. This was much better than Sting Ray city in Grand Cayman. It was less crowded, more open sea, and the sharks and rays seemed to perform a dance in the water as the camera tried to capture every movement. Both are very graceful and agile and move effortlessly in the water among all the bodies standing and floating in their habitat. From here we went to a deeper section of the lagoon and again we were greeted with bright colorful coral and fish that seemed to be waiting for our arrival to show off their best features. In 2001 the lagoon discolored and the coral bleached as a result of El Nino. Although the entire Pacific was affected, Bora Bora was vulnerable as it has only one pass into its lagoon. The water is now sparkling and clean, but the damage to the coral is irreversible. As devastating as El Nino was to the lagoon, we still encountered some of the best snorkling to date.
Day nine was Moorea. We opted for a Motu beach barbeque away from the island. We were transported along Opunohu Bay and enjoyed the water and scenery and the many vibrant blue hues to the water on our way to our private beach party. We had a beach landing and it was off to snorkeling in the bay. Again we were awarded with spectacular corals and fish and sting rays. After lunch, we relaxed in the sun on the beach and cooled off in the clear waters. The water temperature on all of our islands was very warm. There was no shock as you entered the water and then adjustment to the temperature. It was actually very warm and inviting and still refreshing. A very relaxing day and relaxing way to end our vacation.
Day ten we are back in Tahiti. As our plane does not leave until 11:30pm in the evening, we had full use of the ship during the day, except our cabins. There is a lounge to store any carry ons and the spa is open to allow you to shower before leaving the ship that night. A very nice touch. As the next group of passengers will be arriving that night, the ship is still yours with only a few extra guests that flew in a day early. Today was a relaxing day to stroll the harbor and visit the huge open market for any last minute gifts. I cannot wait to return, however Princess will no longer be sailing year round in the South Pacific as their contract has ended and the French government is making it too difficult to base a ship year round.
The Tahitian Princess is a small 30,277 grt ship carrying 680 passengers. This ship and size is a perfect fit for the Society Islands. Tendering is common for most islands and having a smaller ship helps avoid the "crowding" affect that occurs with the mega-liners. This ship was formerly the R4 of Renaissance Cruises. The ship does not have the amenities of the larger ships, but it makes up for this in decor, ambiance, and personal attention. The ship has a very subdued, relaxing, elegant personality. The dark-colored wood finishes, inviting furniture and rich appointments make this an intimate and regal vessel. The Lobby/ Purser's Lounge is the focal point as the grand staircase with wrought iron railings is reminiscent of the Titanic. It is probably the most photographed area of the ship as many portraits are photographed on this staircase. The Club Bar at the entrance of the dining room is a rich and classy setting for cocktails. The ship's library has a fireplace and painted murals on the ceilings and inviting plush furniture that hugs you as you sit down to relax and enjoy your favorite book. The outside cabin we had for 10 days was a little cramped and made maneuvering tight when two people tried to get ready for dinner at the same time. By the way, the hair dryer, well, bring your own. The evening dinner was a special treat and the dining room staff were friendly and ensured your every want and need was handled effortlessly. The selections were varied and the quality was superb. There was a nice wine list and we discovered a new wine to purchase when we arrived home to add to our favorite list. The spa offers a private deck that you can use (for a fee) for privacy and relax in peace and quiet. The main show lounge resembles more lounge than theater so seating is primarily one level and views can be obstructed by a fellow passenger's head. Most days are spent ashore, but there are plenty of activities to remain occupied on this quaint ship. On this particular cruise we discovered from conversing with the crew that they were informed to make their preference of Princess ships for future transfers as the ship would not be sailing year round in the Society Islands and would be renamed as the Ocean Princess. As you can imagine, the few passengers who were aware of this were buying everything with the name Tahitian Princess. I can't wait to sail again, no matter the ship's name and I cannot wait to cruise this same itinerary again. The crew of the Tahitian Princess always greeted you with a smile and were cordial and very friendly. You were treated like family. Small ship cruising on Princess has a lot to offer and you never feel like you are missing out on anything.