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Crown Princess Western Caribbean 2/9-16/13 Journal

Pam in CA

Captain
My friend, Pat, mentioned in an email in December that she'd love to get away from the New England winter and go somewhere warm. Since we live 3,000 miles from each other, we decided on meeting sort of half way in Houston. We found a Flash sale price for great cabins on Caribe next to each other. Booked the cruise, our flights so we'd arrive within 15 minutes of each other, and the Princess pre-cruise. All set. We could relax and look forward to our cruise.

Then, a funny thing happened: Nemo the monster storm had the Boston weathermen beyond excited with dire predictions and memories of the Blizzard of '78. Numbers were thrown out of 2-3 feet, starting Friday which is when my friend was flying out of Boston. I know I was getting anxious and couldn't imagine how she felt. Her flight was canceled but she managed to book an earlier flight; but then it got delayed and delayed. Two and a half hours while the snow was falling. Pretty much all of the flights after hers were canceled. Finally, her plane left the gate only to stay on the runway waiting to take off. I was watching the status of her flight using three different apps on my phone because I was on the way to the airport for my flight. I didn't see how she could make it and I wasn't sure I wanted to go on my own. Erica said as we neared the airport, "Should I pull off so you can double check the status of her flight before getting there and checking in?" So, we did. As soon as we parked, I checked another app called "FlightTracker" and OMG, it showed her flight at 500 feet, then 1000 feet, 1500, 2000... Yay!!! I'm good to go!

My flight was uneventful but I was very tired when I arrived in Houston. We'd booked the Princess pre-cruise hotel for the convenience and was glad we did. The instructions were to make my own way to the hotel via the train and after getting my bag, I took a minute to re-group and figure out what to do next. Which is when I spotted a Princess rep waving the Seawitch sign. Another yay!! She said, "I've been waiting for you!" and led me onto the train and to the hotel, right up to Registration. That made a huge difference.

I heard from Pat that she was on a different flight (she had to change planes in DCA) and arriving in a couple of hours. I was able to give the rep her new flight info so she was met as well.

We met for breakfast in the morning, checked out and got on the bus transfer to the ship. We were on our way. Nothing else could go wrong. It did. Just as we were ready to leave, a woman and her husband showed up at the bus. Their luggage was put on underneath and after she argued with the driver (I was towards the back and couldn't hear), they finally boarded and sat a couple rows behind me. The husband jumps up and runs to the front of the bus, the woman gets on her cell and starts complaining about being told to get on the bus, and finally says she's getting off. She kept insisting she was on the wrong bus. I said, it doesn't matter. We're all going to the same place. She then tells me that she's special because she's a journalist and shouldn't be on the bus. Ugh! All this took about 20-25 minutes. They finally get off and just about everyone on the bus was glad to see her go.

Now, we can finally get on our way. Nothing else could go wrong. Wrong! Five minutes after leaving, something drastic goes wrong on the bus. There's a snapping, clanking sound and then a grinding noise. Doesn't sound good. Thank goodness we weren't going 70mph because I think an axle broke. It could have been pretty serious. Because we were still so close to the airport, another bus was there in minutes and we were again on our way, probably 20 minutes after stopping.

Finally! We got to the pier, checked in and were in our cabins minutes later. We have cabins next to each other and our steward, Richard, was there within minutes, opening the door between our balconies. LOVE the Caribe balconies. We're right at the aft elevator, a perfect location to me.

There was an invitation to the Most Traveled lunch already in my cabin when I got there. It'll be on Monday, the second sea day. Tonight, the first sea day, is formal night. We're going to the Crown Grill for dinner.

My bed has a pillow top and there's a very thick padded mattress pad on top of that. For me, it's very comfortable and I slept like a log last night.

I noticed in the shower that there's a new shower head that's almost like a small rain shower. It doesn't adjust pulse and isn't handheld but its very nice. Somehow, the shower seemed larger to me than the Island Princess last Fall. Maybe it's me but while its compact, it's certainly big enough. I didn't measure but put my shoulder to the back wall and there was probably a foot or close to it of space to the shower curtain. Very unscientific but I don't need a bigger shower.

Lunch yesterday in the buffet was delicious. They had a curried tuna salad with veggies that was outstanding. I would have gone back for more but because our bus was so late, we had a very late lunch and the buffet was changing over to snack time, so no more tuna salad. I'd rank it right up there with the chicken salad in the International Cafe. I also had sea scallops with tartar sauce and a salad. Everything was yummy.

We went for pre-dinner drinks in Crooners since the Platinum/Elite lounge wasn't set up the first night. I had a Texas Tea which seemed to combine every alcohol type ever invented. Pretty powerful. There was a choice of four drink "specials" for $5.99.

Since we both were barely keeping out eyes open, we headed to the buffet for dinner. Another delicious meal. They had the Thai egg rolls with hoisin sauce that I love, big shrimp with either cocktail sauce or tartar sauce, and crab cakes. The roast was tri-tips. They also had BBQ chicken wings, a chicken dish, short ribs, grilled slices of ham, etc. I had the egg rolls, shrimp, crab cakes and a salad. Too stuffed for dessert. If it's like this every night, I'd be perfectly happy going to the buffet for dinner.

I tried staying up last night but finally gave up at 10pm. Didn't wake up until 7am.

Monday, February 11th

Today was an interesting day. Discovered that for the second cruise in a row, my stockholder credit hadn't been applied to my booking and onboard folio. Something is seriously wrong with this department. My fax was dated December 21 so they had plenty of time to process and apply. Fortunately, I had a copy of my fax so they're sending it in to Corporate but it'll take several days and they "hope" it'll be credited before disembarkation.

The Most Traveled Lunch was delicious. We had poached lobster tail with shrimp and scallops, a choice of Chilean sea bass filet or beef tenderloin, and limoncello flavored sponge cake. The Human Resources Director was seated at our table. Beautiful young woman originally from Guyana and now living in Barbados. She handles all of the personnel issues, training, etc. interesting job. She'll be on the new Royal until November so hopefully, I'll get to meet her again. My chances of the MTL on that cruise are between 0 and none, though.

We went up to Skywalkers for the Platinum/Elite lounge and learned something new that I didn't know before or maybe never paid attention. And that is that the $7.95 drinks have two ounces of alcohol in the drink. The cheaper drinks have one. Not sure if this is true so take it with a grain of salt.

We went up to the Horizon Court for dinner only to find it closed. The Cafe Caribe was open but with a very limited selection. It really was bad. I learned that the HC is open in the evening only on port days. Otherwise, your option is the Cafe Caribe. Very disappointing to have only a pre-made salad and very few options for each course. This, too, might have been mentioned before but I wasn't paying attention. Good thing the next three days are port days.

Apparently, some people ran into the journalist who was on our bus from the Marriott in Houston and caused so much trouble. I'm dying to get the scoop.

My thoughts are with those poor Carnival passengers adrift at sea. I can't believe this has happened a second time. My wicked side is telling me, "One less ship in Belize and Cozumel." I'm terrible. But I truly hope those people are OK.
 

Pam in CA

Captain
Tuesday, February 12

Today didn't start off very well. My own stupid fault. I had a can of soda next to the bed and during the night, I accidentally knocked it over. I was still mostly asleep but ran to the bathroom, grabbed some tissues and mopped it up. All without turning on the light... Which would have awakened me. So, when I got up in the morning, I discovered that I'd screwed up the cabin power and had none. Interestingly, the TV is on a separate circuit and the safe could be opened. Hope that's true on Carnival ships as well. :p Anyway, I poked my head out and my steward was right there. He checked it out and reported it. Five minutes later, he had snagged an electrician who removed the lamp, which was still dripping soda, and dried everything out there. He reset the circuit breaker so I had power and took the lamp away to be replaced. All this took maybe 20 minutes. My steward, Richard, is getting a very nice tip at the end of the cruise.

Had a lovely day at Mahogany Bay. We disembarked at about 10am and made our way to the chair lift. We were on the beach by 10:15 or so. There were tons of loungers, many in the shade. We hadn't worn bathing suits and just lounged, reading. Someone came by with menus and I ordered a cheese quesadilla and a soda for $11. They take US$ cash or credit cards. They had nachos which looked good, sandwiches and wraps, hamburgers and hot dogs. Figured we could get most of these on the ship which is why we ordered the quesadillas. We could have happily split it. At around 1pm, we got back on the chairlift to go back to the port/shopping area. It's all Diamond International stores which I understand has a financial interest in the port area.

Headed back to the ship and read for a couple of hours. It was very hot on my balcony and in my cabin. The A/C has had a hard time keeping up but that's because I want to be able to see outside and the sun was beating in directly. It's currently 75-degrees in my cabin which for me is comfortable. I don't have the thermostat set at the lowest.

We headed up to Skywalkers and sail away. Several people joined us so we had a really nice time drinking mojitos (not very strong) and chatting for a couple of hours. We headed to the buffet for a salad for dinner, the others headed to the dining room. Last night's Patter for today said that the Horizon Court would close at 5:30 tonight. I double checked it. The Patter was wrong. It lied. :) The HC was open but not very busy. There were very few people up there. By 7:15, there were perhaps four tables, which surprised me.

All-in-all, a really nice day and I have my night table lamp back up and running. Tomorrow is Belize where we have a private tour set up with Coral Breeze to swim/snorkel at Caye Caulker with sharks and sting rays. Should be "interesting."
 

Pam in CA

Captain
Thursday, February 14

Yesterday was Belize, a tender port. I'd been there years ago... I'm guessing 15 years. Boy, has it changed! It used to be that you'd get off the tender and go through a covered hallway with shops/stalls. It has lots of stores, Diamonds International, etc. Very different and more like St. Maarten.

It was another beautiful day. We had booked an independent tour with Coral Breeze, scheduled for 10am. It's a very long tender ride, probably 15-20 minutes and that's after they fill the tender which, because it's a local boat that seats more than the ship's tender. They run every 15 minutes so it can take up to 15 minutes to load the tender. We went down to the tender at about 9:10am and even though they were issuing tender tickets, we walked directly down. There was no line, no one waiting. We were ushered onto the tender and it left just a few minutes later. We were at the pier at terminal 2 at 9:45am. The tour guide was outside the port area waiting for us.

We met ours quickly and he led us to the Coral Breeze business office around the corner: an almost empty shop with a table and chair. This is where they check you in and you make your final payment. We were told to hang around for a few minutes until everyone was there, about 10-15 minutes. They handed out fins to each of us going snorkeling and we were on our way to the waterfront.

Keep in mind as you read this that it was a beautiful day and we enjoyed ourselves. There were two boats. One was a small, open boat and they called two parties of four each to get on the boat. It had no shade other than a little awning over where the captain was at the wheel. These people were exposed to the sun the entire tour and at least a couple had towels over their heads to protect them from the sun as they headed back to Belize City. The other boat was a bit larger but was like a small tender. Very basic with a covered area at the front and an awning over the back section. Benches with cushions lined the sides and back.

We took off for Caye Caulker at a high rate of speed. Those in the front were severely jarred and bounced around. Those in the center were fully exposed to sun and those in the back had a smoother ride and partial sun. It took about 45 minutes of high speed bouncing to get to Caye Caulker. We stopped along the way in a mangrove while a guide talked about the mangroves and Eco system. When we tied up at the pier, several people who were going stay there and not snorkel got off. We were given masks and told to put on a life vest around our middle to use as a flotation device. The life vests used this way were very uncomfortable for me and kept sliding up under my arms, hampering me. I thought I'd tightened it but obviously not. Finally, off we went to the reef.

(To be continued)
 

Pam in CA

Captain
Once we arrived at the reef, people started getting into the water. It was not a snorkeling boat. The only ways in were either jumping off the side of the boat or getting onto what was probably an 18"x18" square next to the engines. We were in the front of the boat and thus among the last off which meant we had to catch up with everyone else. It was rough for snorkeling, the water was very choppy and there was a strong current so it was much harder than I'd expected. Because it was choppy, I kept getting water in my breathing tube because waves would come over me.

We saw lots of coral, few fish and no sharks although I understand people on other tours saw the sharks. We snorkeled for about an hour before going back to the boat. There was a ladder into the water that you climbed back up to that small platform. Easy for the young and agile, not to easy for us older folks who aren't what we used to be. We moved a little way and then anchored to see the sting rays. There were lots of them and several people got into the water to swim with them. Having swum with sting rays before and not wanting to tackle getting in and out again, I opted to stay on the boat, look and take pictures.

We then returned to Caye Caulker and lunch, arriving at about 1:30pm. Restroom and then to the restaurant. We had opted to pre-pay for an included lunch. There were five entree and four beverage options. Among the entrees were a local chicken stew, a chicken burrito, a hamburger and fries, a grilled cheese and fries and one other dish I forget. Beverages were Coke, Diet Coke, Sprite or water. We opted for the chicken burrito. It was large but mostly shredded cabbage and a little shredded chicken. Very bland with no spices or flavoring. The burrito was very thick. We wound up just eating the inside of the burrito.

Back on the boat at 2:30pm for the ride back to Belize City. We stopped along the way to go through the "divide" (the island was split in two in the early 60's by hurricane Hattie) and to see the Turpin, very large fish, arriving back at the dock at about 3:30. By the time we actually got off and back to the pier area, it was 3:45pm. Last tender was at 4:30pm so not a lot of time for shopping. Lots of knock-off bags, dresses, t-shirts, hats, jewelry, etc.

Would I do this tour again? No. Could I recommend it? I'd say a reserved "Yes" because I don't know or think a Princess tour would have been any better. A number of the issues were out of the tour's control. The boat was full but not as stuffed as I've experienced on cruise line snorkel tours. The boat wasn't what I expected but it was adequate... and fast. The crew were terrific. Pat and I had trouble keeping up in the water and a guide was with us the whole time, making sure we were OK, guiding us on where to go, etc. We had a lot of help getting back on the boat after snorkeling. I am much better if I have control when boarding or disembarking anything. I like to hold on to something solid rather than be hauled up or over by others. The guides on this tour respected that and said, "Just let us know when you're ready." I was 90% up but needed help standing at the top. They were great and I was in control and up seconds later.

(To be continued)
 

Pam in CA

Captain
Today was Cozumel and another gorgeous day, sunny, hot and less humid. I ordered breakfast room service delivered at 9:00am. Had apple juice, melon, cottage cheese and tea which were delicious. We disembarked the ship at about 11:00am and it took over 15 minutes to get past the shops in the port area and to the street. We were meeting friends for lunch at Pancho's Backyard; they've been on a Royal Caribbean family cruise and will be on our Royal Princess cruise in October.

Pancho's Backyard is quite different from what it used to be. It's almost flat whereas years ago, it was terraced with good-sized steps down. We had a really nice visit with Frank and Helena as well as a good lunch. We shared a cab back to the ships. The port areas are so built up with shops and restaurants that you really don't need to leave the port area.

Spent some time on my balcony this afternoon and just after 5:00, we headed to Crooners for a pre-dinner drink. It's formal night and there was a Captain's Circle party for just Platinum/Elite. We didn't want to be anywhere near it. We then headed up to the buffet where I had pork scallopini that was delicious, a pile of shrimp and cocktail sauce, and a salad. They had a lot of other interesting food but that was more than enough for me.

We got our luggage tags this morning and discovered that the tour to the Houston Space Center with drop-off at the airport price included the transfer. Since we'd pre-booked and paid for a transfer, we were double charged. Turned out to be an easy fix. Took our transfer tickets to the Shore Excursion Desk and they immediately credited it.

Tomorrow is packing and our last night. It's gone by so fast! Another reason not to do just seven days. :) We might order a chef's salad room service for dinner tomorrow night. We shall see.
 

Pam in CA

Captain
Friday, February 15

I use super lightweight packing cubes which make packing and unpacking quicker and easier. I had three cubes packed before breakfast and after breakfast, organized the rest of my "stuff."

Spent some time on my balcony but as the morning wore on, it got colder and colder as we headed north to Houston. Packed another cube and relaxed for the rest of the day. Pat and I went up to the Adagio Lounge for a drink. It was very quiet and the piano player wasn't there. The Adagio is one of my favorite bar/lounges. We then headed down to Pat's cabin where we ordered room service for dinner. We both ordered a chef's salad which was huge. Way too much but fresh and delicious. I asked for tuna added to the salad and Pat asked for avocado. Both salads came as requested within 20 minutes.

After dinner, I headed to my cabin next door and finished packing. My bag was outside my door by 8pm.
 

Pam in CA

Captain
Saturday, February 16

We had booked a transfer to IAH with a tour of the Houston Space Center and were scheduled to go to the Casino by 8:30am. We got there at 8:20am to hear that disembarkation was running late due to very slow Immigration processing. We disembarked uneventfully just after 9:00am and made our way to the tour bus. Unfortunately, some people can't tell time and since we were on the 2nd bus, we had to wait for the stragglers. Well after 10:00, we were still sitting there as people kept coming. I have no idea how it can take people an hour longer to go through the same line we did. We finally left at almost 10:15, leaving a couple behind. They supposedly were delayed by Customs and I can only think that they had to have tried to bring something major into the US. Anyway, this meant that we arrived at the Space Center late and were a bit short-changed as we had to leave by 1:00pm to get four people to the airport who had a 3:03pm flight. Pat and I managed to get the tram tour to the Gene Kranz building and the old mission control room. I was fortunate to have been given a private tour of the Shuttle Columbia in December 1985 as it was being assembled for it's January launch. My husband and I got to go up to the top, right to the crew entrance and look down to see the whole ship. We were also allowed to go into the launch control room. So the space program and NASA is of particular interest to me. I really appreciated being able to go to the Houston Space Center and see an Apollo rocket up close.

We arrived at IAH at about 2:00pm and by the time we checked in, sent off our luggage and had lunch, it was about 3:30pm. Pat's flight to Boston was at 5:10pm and mine to Orange County was at 5:45pm so we didn't have to wait very long to board. Both our flights arrived at their destination early. :)

All-in-all, a really nice, relaxing cruise. Pat still works and wanted R&R from work and the winter and I've got a port-intensive cruise coming up in a couple of months so we didn't feel the need to do a lot.
 

PEB

Captain
Staff member
Thanks Pam for posting the information on your cruise. Princess so far is my favorite cruise line. I have cruised the area you cruised in several times, not really my type of place to cruise, to warm for me, but I am glad you posted and that you got to meet up with your friend. I'm also glad you had a nice time and got some R&R.
 

Pam in CA

Captain
I swore never to cruise the Caribbean again as I've been there, done that so many times but it was equidistant between the two of us and warm. We had perfect weather. Didn't see a single raindrop.
 

vegascruzer

Deckhand
Pam, thank you for such an informative review of your cruise. You mentioned that you found a great Flash sale price for that cruise. I have signed up for Princess special offers and receive a number of e-mails and brochures about sales, but never receive any flash sales. My uncle receives quite a few flash sales, but they all appear to be targeted. What is the secret?
 

Pam in CA

Captain
Pam, thank you for such an informative review of your cruise. You mentioned that you found a great Flash sale price for that cruise. I have signed up for Princess special offers and receive a number of e-mails and brochures about sales, but never receive any flash sales. My uncle receives quite a few flash sales, but they all appear to be targeted. What is the secret?
My travel agent. :) However, if it's past final payment and the promo says "For new bookings only," it's a flash sale. Also, if it's past final payment and prices are reduced, chances are it's a flash sale.

There are a few negatives to a flash sale. One is that it has to be paid in full immediately. Another is that you cannot get cruiseline insurance other than medical coverage. You can't get "cancel for any reason" or even a covered reason such as medical or flight cancellation unless you purchase independent insurance. And, you cannot change the booking. It's like going to a store and buying a "final sale" item.
 

vegascruzer

Deckhand
Thank you Pam. We usually plan our cruises well ahead of time, but occasionally feel the need to go on a spur of the moment cruise. Something within one or two months. The only problem is that many cruises are sold out by that time, at least for a balcony. We usually book through Princess, but maybe we should look for a travel agent to help us in those situations. Do you use an online travel agent or one that you can call and get personal attention?
 

Pam in CA

Captain
I uploaded my photos earlier today of my Crown Western Caribbean cruise if you're interested. https://picasaweb.google.com/101474003611782249767/CrownFeb2013?feat=directlink

There are at least two TAs who I know and have used that discount cruises. Some people have good luck with AAA or Costco. I prefer to use a small or independent TA who is responsive either by email or phone. They don't have a lot of overhead or employees as they do pretty much everything themselves with an assistant. I've used large agencies and it seemed like "my" agent was the flavor of the month. They often work under quotas and burn out quickly. Booking a cruise within a month or so of the cruise, you'll probably pay very close to the Princess fare. :(
 
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