Tuesday, April 9, 2019

The Cruise That Almost Wasn't

We had been happily anticipating our 10 Day Southern Caribbean Cruise, scheduled for March 27th on the Crown Princess.  We had an entire year to look forward to it.  We did do a 7 day Eastern over Thanksgiving, however, to break up the wait.   You may be wondering why I mentioned this, well, you will soon find out just how this played into our cruise story.

We booked our flights through Southwest, as we really like them.   We wanted a direct flight from St Louis, as we needed to fly in the day of the cruise.   I know, I know, this can be a problem and we don’t like to do it this way, but we both needed to work on Tuesday, so we didn’t have any other option.   Our flight was scheduled to get in at 9:30am, so we had plenty of time in case there were delays.    On the Friday before we were scheduled to leave, I was sitting in a work meeting and I received a text from Southwest that our flight was cancelled.  Due to the grounding of the 737 Max 8 planes, our plane was rerouted and our flight cancelled.   Panic immediately set in!  I looked on the app for a different flight, but nothing was showing up that would work, except going in early the day before, which meant taking another day off of work, which was going to be a real hassle.  I got on the phone with Southwest (only a 9 minute wait for call back, not bad!) and the rep was wonderful.  I explained our dilemma and he put us on a flight that left St Louis at 5:30am going through Orlando.  We would be in Orlando by 9, so if there was a problem with our connection, we could rent a car and drive to Ft. Lauderdale.   Thankfully, all flights went on schedule and we arrived in Ft Lauderdale by 11:30am.   A quick Uber to the port and we would be on the ship!

I am a list maker.  I have a Cruise Packing List stored on my computer.  After 12 cruises, I pretty much have it down to a science on what we need and what we don’t need.    I had everything packed up the day before, all ready to go. I went online and checked in for our flights, 24 hours before.    I printed our boarding passes, luggage tags and put them in the folder with our passports.  I carry this in my purse for ease.  When I pulled out both passports, the lady looked at Dan and said “hmmm, you’re not Jack”.  I looked and the second passport in my case belonged to my Dad!  Somehow, after our cruise with him over Thanksgiving, I mixed up Dad and Dan’s passport.  We had Dad’s passport and Dad had Dan’s at his house.   THANKFULLY, Dan and I both have passport cards, also, that we always take with us on our cruise.   Dan had that in his billfold (I had checked that he had it before we left) and we were good to go.   I have to admit, I had a huge knot in my stomach for quite a while, thinking of what COULD have happened.  I did double check that I had both passports packed, it just didn’t dawn on me that I had mixed them up 4 months ago.  Lesson learned and catastrophe averted!

Princess does embarkation like a well-oiled machine, in my experience.   The Port of Ft. Lauderdale is the easiest one to navigate through, in my opinion.   We rarely wait and if we do, it isn’t for very long.  Within minutes we were hearing the familiar “DONG” as they scanned our cruise card after we walked across the gang plank.   I love that sound!  It means rest, relaxation, food and fun!  We were off to drop off our carryon, put our stuff in the safe and grab lunch.   Susan and Ron (sister-in-law and brother-in-law) were already on the ship, as they did the previous 10 day route before ours, and Ron said that they had coupons for the Crown Grill for buy one, get one free for embarkation night.  We went ahead and made reservations and headed to the buffet for a light lunch…..so we would be good and hungry for supper.

Crown Grill
The Crown Grill is an upcharge restaurant on the ship that you pay $29 each to go to.   In past cruises, we have eaten there on the last night, so this was a first for us.   I have to say, I wish we had eaten in the Main Dining Room instead.   It was Prime Rib night and their prime rib is usually pretty good.   The guys ordered steaks and Susan and I ordered Lobster Tails.   You could have both, for $10 more dollars, but I decided to just swipe a bite of my husband’s steak instead.   We were both disappointed that they don’t serve Lobster Bisque any longer, as we both really enjoyed it in the past.   The soup that our waiter recommended, that he said was similar, was not very good.    My lobster cake appetizer was quite good, though, and I do recommend it.   My lobster tail was quite tasty, but not any better than the ones we ate in the Main Dining Room. In the past, they brought out several sides dishes, served family style.  We had really enjoyed that.  They also used to bring out lots of toppings for our baked potatoes.   This time, the just put a few dollops of sour cream, a few chives and some bacon bits on our potatoes.  Not that that was bad, it just wasn’t what we had in the past and what we were expecting.  All in all, I didn’t feel it was a bad meal, but I wasn’t wow’d by it, which I was in the past.  I don’t feel that it was worth the extra $30 for us to eat there.  

AnyTime Dining
We always pick Anytime Dining, as opposed to Traditional Seating Dining, as we like to eat early (5:15-5:30), so that we can get a good seat for the shows that start at 7:15.   This works out well for us.   Dan and I don’t like to sit at a big table with people that we don’t know.  I would eat in the buffet over having to do that.   Maybe because I’m in sales and I talk to people all day for a living, I just don’t want to do it on a cruise.   Susan and Ron had found a waiter (Jonathon and his assistant waiter Elmer) that they liked at the end of their last cruise, so we asked for them each night that we ate in there.   They were polite, efficient and fun.   They didn’t have a 4 top table empty, so they put us in a 6 top by the window.    It seemed like the same people were sitting at the same tables around us most nights.   One evening we did have something funny happen.   A hostess that we had not seen before walked up with 2 people and sat them down with us, after we had already ordered and were eating our appetizers.  The look of confusion on all of our faces must have been apparent, because she stopped as she walked away and asked if there was a problem.   We said “no, no problem” and welcomed our tablemates.   They smiled and nodded at us when we introduced ourselves and then we realized that they didn’t speak English.    They said that they were from Bejing and nodded “no” when we asked if they spoke English.  They did understand us a bit, so we communicated by pointing, nodding and smiling.   The lady pointed to my husband and to his sister, sitting on either side of me, indicating that she could tell that they were related.  Susan put up 6 fingers to tell her that there were 6 siblings and she laughed, so she did understand that.    We had steak and lobster that evening and Jonathon brought out an extra lobster tail for Dan and for Ron.   I didn’t waste any time in snagging it for myself, LOL    Somehow, while I was talking, Dan told Jonathon that I didn’t want dessert and to bring me a plate with the words NOTHING written on it when he brought out desserts.   He complied and everyone had a good laugh, even our Chinese tablemates and they even took a picture of the plate.   Jonathon did bring me out my Love Boat Dream, that I ordered every single night we were in there, so all was good!   Overall, the food was good, everything was cooked the way that we ordered it and it was served in a timely manner.   Our waiters were friendly and prompt.   No complaints from us!

Horizon Court/Café Caribe
We ate breakfast about half of the time up in the HC.  I would get my coffee in the IC, though, and bring it up with me.  The food in the buffet was good, not great.   Dan ate lunch in there most days and he said that every time he went, he found something up there that he was happy with.  We ate supper up there two nights (Mexican night and German night).  Everyone enjoyed the food on Mexican night German night, I brought in a hot dog from the grill, so I was happy, LOL    The only complaint that I have is it was hard to find a table at lunch time.  Many times we had to walk around a few times before a table was available.  A little more seating in this venue would be great.

Salty Dog Grill
I consider myself a hot dog connoisseur (yes, I’m serious!) and I have to say that their hot dogs are A+++!   I ate one every single day for lunch and twice for dinner.   Okay, I admit it, some days at lunch I ate 2.   They are just that good.    Dan had cheeseburgers there several times and he said that they were always very good.   He had thought about ordering an Ernesto burger, but didn’t want to wait the 20 minutes that it takes to cook.   We like that the food is served in baskets as opposed to plates, as it made carrying them around easier.

International Café
I went to the IC early most days for coffee.  Some days we ate breakfast there, some days I took my coffee up to the buffet.  Dan enjoys the breakfast sandwiches there, along with the banana walnut bread.   My only complaint at the IC is what they DON’T serve any longer.   I kept going down, looking at the desserts to see if this is the day that one of my 3 favorite desserts were being served.   I was disappointed for several days in a row.  Finally, I asked a lady when they were going to have the peanut butter pudding with the chocolate on it and she shook her head and said “discontinued”.  Then I asked about the tiramisu….”discontinued”.   Then I asked about the chocolate/vanilla layered dessert…you guessed it….”discontinued”!   These were my 3 favorite desserts from there.   I have to say that the desserts that they did have, just seemed blah to me, so I only had one, that I didn’t even finish.   I was quite disappointed.  Dan and Sue were both happy to see that the pistachio pudding was on the menu several different days.   They both imbibed, to make sure that the powers-that-be knew that it was a good menu selection.   I still enjoyed my coffee, but I have to admit that my love flame for the IC definitely dwindled a tad bit!  My hubby, however, enjoyed several of the new desserts that he tried.  We both really like their sandwiches and he loves the shrimp salad that they offer.

Production Shows
The last 2 cruises (Royal Princess and Regal Princess) that we had completed had excellent production shows.   We were really looking forward to the shows on this one, because they were produced by the same person.   I have to say that I didn’t enjoy either of the production shows(Encore and Magic to Do) on this cruise near as much as the past 2 cruises.   They weren’t bad, but they weren’t really good either.   They had good moments, but not really any great moments.   The singers were good, but not great.   The dancers seemed to be slightly off on most of their dances.   Not bad, but not good, either.   Average, I would say.    Neither of the 2 production shows were something that I would have went back the next night to watch for a second time, while I would have the ones on our last 2 cruises.

Other Entertainment
We saw the comedy show by Troy Thirdgill.  He was excellent.   Very funny show.   I would see him!  He did 2 different shows on our cruise, before departing the ship.  We really loved the ventriloquist/singer/variety show performed by Michael Minor.  He had 2 shows and we attended both.  He could do really good impressions, without moving his mouth, and it seemed like the puppet was actually talking.   Very entertaining.   We attended a performance by Stephanie Hodgdon, who was singing a rock tribute to the Kings & Queens of Rock and Roll.   I really enjoyed her performance of Dreams, by Fleetwood Mac.   She totally nailed Bette Midler’s The Rose.   I felt that those songs were in her wheelhouse and I would have preferred more of those type of songs.  She did a good job on the rock songs, but I don’t think that Helter Skelter was really the best choice for the Princess Cruise Crowd.  Overall, she was good.  Not great, but good.   We also attended two shows by Gary Lovini, who was a violinist.  He was very talented and entertaining.  I would watch him again.    I did enjoy the Sweet Soul Music Show and the Blame it On the Boogie Show by the Princess Singers and Dancers and I felt that they did a pretty good job on that, but those were songs that I really, really like, so that might have something to do with it.

Cruise Staff
Our Cabin Stewart was very good.  I told Dan it was like he was a little stealth ninja, sneaking into the room every time we left to tidy it up!  He always seemed to get in there and do his job.  He kept our ice bucket filled and our towels refreshed, so no complaints from me.   He was friendly, but I really didn’t see him much!

The Cruise Director, Peter Tredgett ,did a great job.   I can’t say that I remember any Cruise Director’s from past cruises, but I will remember Peter.  We enjoyed him and we seemed to see him about the ship.  I did have a bit of personal interaction with him, as I won an Instagram Contest that they had.   Peter had asked us to take selfies around the ship, post them on Instagram and #crownprincess.  I posted several pictures and was surprised to have a voicemail from Peter on the last day that they especially liked my selfie with the wait staff from formal night and the one from the disco party and that I was the winner and would receive something in my cabin later that day.  We were both excited, as were Susan and Ron, as we contemplated what the prize would be!  A free cruise?  A Princess Gift Card?  No, it was better than that!  It was a stuffed Stanley Bear, LOL    All kidding aside (I wasn’t really expecting a cruise, I figured it would be a bottle of bubbly, which I have won before), the bear is very cute!

I did have the opportunity to be in need of assistance from Passenger Services, and they did a fine job.  I will discuss that in a bit!

All of the other staff we encountered were friendly and helpful.  It did seem like there were less bar staff working around the pools, taking orders and delivering drinks.   But, the ones I did see were friendly. 

MUTS   When we first started cruising, we LOVED MUTS.  We had said that we wouldn’t want to cruise on a ship without it.   Now, we hardly use it.   Whoever decides the lineup/schedule needs to rethink what they are doing.  On sea day they did have a movie at 10am, but at 12:30 or so they played a concert.   In the past, they would play another movie.  The next thing was usually a concert again.  This is prime sun time.  They should be playing movies.  Then sometime between 3 and 3:30 they would start a movie.  Usually it was a decent movie.  But, who can sit there until 5:30 to watch a movie?  Most people need to go and start getting ready for dinner, especially on formal night.  It would have been better to play the movie around 1 and then play concerts late afternoon, where people aren’t really watching it any way.  They did have some good movies playing, but WHY do they need to keep playing Mama Mia!!  Then, to add insult to injury they played Mama Mia 2!!   Seriously, stop it!  It’s played on there for YEARS.  Stop it!  The movies in the evenings looked like they were well attended.  The weather was perfect for it, too.

Aruba.   We had never been to Aruba and had wanted to cruise there for several years.  We love the B & C of the ABC Islands (Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao), so we figured we would love Aruba, too.   It was warm and beautiful.  We booked a snorkeling excursion through a company we found on Trip Advisor, Aruba Watersports Center, and they did a great job.  They were friendly and helpful.    The snorkeling was better in Bonaire, but I was very happy with Aruba Watersports.  If you want a strong rum punch, they make some good ones!  Woo baby!     After snorkeling, we went back to the ship to drop off of stuff and grab a bit of lunch.  We then walked into town to do a little shopping.  The shopping there was pretty good.  When it was time to head back to the ship, I put my hand in my pocket and realized that I had lost my cruise card.  I have never done this before.  I have to admit I panicked a bit, LOL.  To complicate matters, I didn’t have ANY ID with me.  Every other time I carried my passport card, but this time I ran out without it.   When I got up to the first security checkpoint, I didn’t have ANYTHING to show them.  I told them my story and they looked on the ship manifest and they let me in.  My dear husband, was standing behind me telling the lady that he didn’t know me and I looked shady.   I had to repeat this again when I got to the ships security check point.  They asked me my info and cabin number and they cross checked it with the photo that they had taken of me.  They let me on the ship and told me to go to Passenger Services to get a replacement card.  Yeah!  I wasn’t stranded in Aruba!  But, I guess if you have to get stuck somewhere, it might as well be Aruba!  Passenger Services was friendly and they made me a replacement card quickly.   Another crisis averted.

Bonaire.  We had been to Bonaire last year and LOVED it.  The snorkeling was wonderful.  I booked a private excursion with Woodwind, as we had used them last year.  A few weeks before we sailed, I received an email from Woodwind that they “had to take their boat out of the water and will not be doing any trips March 31st”.  When I asked for a recommendation, they recommended Sea Cow.  I tried to book them independently, but they had already contracted with Princess for that day.  So, I went on Princess’s site and booked it.   I highly recommend the Sea Cow folks.  They were friendly, knowledgeable, and I would definitely use them again.  The snorkeling in Bonaire was better than in Aruba.  I also think we saw more fish and a bigger variety of species than we did last year.   I did have a bit of a mishap, about half way through, I got stung by a jellyfish!  I had no idea what had happened, just that my leg was burning pretty badly and it hurt.  Two people that were behind me in the water were stung, also.  Then, I saw a few of them around me.  I told our guide and she said not to worry about it and that she would pour some vinegar on it when we got to the boat.  It hurt, but it makes a good story now! LOL  By the next day, the marks were no longer visible.

Grenada.  We had also been in Grenada last year, so we decided to just do a beach day.   We found a nice beach and rented 4 chairs.    It was a nice relaxing day, no complaints! 

Dominica.   Last year we were supposed to go to Dominica, but they changed the port to Martinique, due to the hurricane damage.   After speaking to a guy in Grenada about a great place to snorkel in Dominica, so I went online to try and book something for the next day, but I couldn’t find anything.  So, we decided to file that info away until next time and just explore a bit.  Susan and Ron went on an excursion through Princess and Dan and I headed into town to explore and shop.   The port where we docked had a lot of construction materials around and not really any shopping.  The Regal was parked at the other dock and there was shopping down there.   It was about a 30 minute walk, so we decided to go walk out breakfast off.  It was an easy walk and there were sidewalks most of the way.  When we got to the “town” area, we looked for shopping, but we seemed to be in a not-so-great area, so we headed back to the area around the Regal.   There were lots of vendors set up shop there and we found a shirt  for hubby and a dress for myself, so we hopped on a shuttle ($2/each) and went back to our ship.   When we were sailing away from port, the Regal played the theme from The Love Boat to us.   Everyone loved it.  That was one of my favorite things when we sailed on the Regal and the Royal.

Sea Day.  We had 2 sea days at the beginning of the cruise and I wouldn’t even mention this third one, but it was rather exciting, so I will.   We were sitting in the IC having coffee/breakfast and Dan looked out and said “a whale”!  We all looked out just in time to see a whale jump, again!  We watched for a while and saw it jump several times.  It could have been a couple whales, but we only saw one up in the air at a time.  It was only about 100 yards from the ship and it was like he was showing off for us.  We had a perfect view from the 5th deck.  Susan went up to deck 7 to watch for more whales and we went about our day.   Dan and I ate lunch on our balcony and while we were sitting there, we saw several whales jumping in the horizon.  Several, as in approx. 30 different jumps.   It was such a pleasant surprise, as we weren’t expecting it at all.

St. Thomas    We have been to St. Thomas several times and decided to just take a taxi to Megan’s Bay to swim.  We should have brought our snorkel masks, but we didn’t.  We had a great day on the beach and swimming, though.  We had a few turtles that entertained us for a while, also.  A taxi is $8 per person, each way and the admission to the beach was $5.00   It was a very nice beach day.

Princess Cays.  Many times I elect to stay on the boat at Princess Cays, as I enjoy the boat with less people.   Dan decided to stay on the boat, but I went in with Susan and Ron.  We waited until 10:30 and there was no wait for a tender ashore.   We did take our snorkel equipment and we found chairs at the far end.  The water was clear and beautiful and we had a wonderful beach day.  While on the each, we saw what looked like a rainbow circling the sun.  I had never seen that before and it seemed like 50 people were staring at the sun taking pictures.  I took one, but it didn’t do it justice.  I took the ferry back to the boat and ate a late lunch and then just relaxed on the balcony and read.

Chair Hogs.   I was so pleasantly surprised on this voyage!  I did not see hardly anyone reserving chairs.  You could go out at any time and find a fairly decent place to sit, even around MUTS.  Everyone I encountered was being super polite and they were picking up their towels when they were leaving and they weren’t leaving a book/bag on a chair and walking away for hours at a time, like we have seen in the past.  It was refreshing to see!

Disembarkation.   Usually we do walk off, as we need to head to the airport early and hop a flight.   This time, our flights weren’t leaving until 3:15 pm, so we elected to stay on the ship as long as we could, LOL   We had a 9:45 disembarkation time.  We had a nice breakfast in the Horizon Court and  then sat in the IC and then Michaelango until 9:45.    It went very smoothly, we didn’t have to wait long and customs was a breeze!  We were outside, hailing our Uber in no time.   For 4 people, with luggage, to get from the port to the airport it was $28 and change.   Not bad.   Flights home were uneventful and now we are at home ready to work off the 6 pounds (me) and 8 pounds (hubby) that we gained.  It was worth it!

All in all, it was a great cruise.  We had a bit of adventure with the passport, lost cruise card/lack of ID, jellyfish sting, but that just adds to the story!  We have noticed several penny pinching things, but nothing too drastic, yet!  We love Princess and will continue to support them, but hope that they don’t keep cutting out things here and there.  We’ve heard that they hired a company to help them increase their profit margin, which is a good thing, unless it brings down the overall quality of the product.   It was a wonderful 10 days and I wish that we were repeating it again soon!


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