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1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: October 2007
This was my very first cruise back in 1997. I noticed that they didn't show the port we embarked at which was Puerto Rico nor was they year available but I was determined to see St. Lucia's Marigot Bay where they filmed the ... Read More
This was my very first cruise back in 1997. I noticed that they didn't show the port we embarked at which was Puerto Rico nor was they year available but I was determined to see St. Lucia's Marigot Bay where they filmed the 1960's version of 'Dr. Dolittle' with Rex Harrison (after attending 6 yrs of vet med and dreaming of becoming a doctor since I was 5 and when the movie came out...I was about 7 and knew it would be a veterinarian because of it lol.) We drove from New Orleans to Miami to visit family before we fly to Puerto Rico to board. This went well enough but living in Vegas for a year...my first impression was that it was as gaudy as the casinos :P No matter. It was about the ports of call and although I felt like a kindergartener getting off a bus for a field trip...I was pleased by all the different places you could see in a 1 or 2 weeks on these things! As bikers, we are used to a lot of freedom so being cramped in what we called a sardine can and having to dine at the same place at a certain time didn't appeal to us. Nor having to come in from play at certain times but all in all...the trip to St. Lucia with its Pitons, Harley rentals in Guadeloupe, and the spice island of Grenada (which also had a vet med there) was worth it (we didn't care for the us virgin islands or other places...we are rain forest, hiking trails, waterfall buffs. I had a beach house anyway so laying on a beach wasn't a vacation to me at that time). I didn't cruise again until last year. Twice. Now it will be twice this year! I am gaining more knowledge on how to use the ship's facilities, book my own excursions if they are sold out or have nothing appealing, make sure we are in a large balcony at minimum, and dining alternatives (although the busy carpeting is an eye sore lol) and realizing the value of these types of vacations!!!! You can't stay at the holiday inn down the road and eat at fast food joints for these prices!! And really....although bikers will say that it is all about the journey....sometimes I'd prefer to dig the destinations :))))) All in all...I wish I did these cruises more when I was younger. I am partial to carnival because of the king bed and a bit larger rooms but would like to try other ships. I believe for the value though...I'll always be loyal to Carnival :) Looking back now that I am older and wiser now Read Less
Sail Date: February 2008
STAR PRINCESS Antarctica Cruise Feb. 19 - March 6, 2008 By Mary & Vincent Finelli We anticipated this 'trip of a life time' with eagerness, and now that it is over we are still awe inspired by this southernmost continent: ... Read More
STAR PRINCESS Antarctica Cruise Feb. 19 - March 6, 2008 By Mary & Vincent Finelli We anticipated this 'trip of a life time' with eagerness, and now that it is over we are still awe inspired by this southernmost continent: Antarctica. So little is known by many of us, that when we think COLD, it is the Arctic North Pole which first comes to mind; however, actually it is Antarctica and the South Pole where the coldest temperatures are recorded (-112 to -130 degrees F. in the winter and 41-59 degrees F. in the summer). Don't forget that the seasons are reversed in the Southern Hemisphere. Antarctica is a frozen desert with hardly any precipitation. Then why go there? Actually less than 20,000 people have visited it. But, those of us who have, can now relate the beauty of the snow covered mountains, the stunning variety of icebergs seen in "Iceberg Alley" and the various wildlife (whales [9 varieties], seals [3 types], penguins [5 varieties] and the many other birds like albatross, petrels, cormorants, etc.). Now let us go back to the beginning -- We flew American Airlines from Miami, FL on Feb. 17th. Flight #909 was set for a 8:15 pm departure and we boarded on time. Then we sat on the tarmac for two hours while baggage handlers searched for a passenger's luggage in order to remove it, since this person had opted to be paid to make a latter departure. In the waiting areas, it was obvious that AA had over booked several flights and enticed passengers to give up their seats for money plus free hotel rooms and meals etc. We left two hours late, but the time was made up in flight and we arrived on schedule in Buenos Aires, Argentina the next morning. We spent overnight with Vincent's family and embarkation was Feb. 19, 2008 at noon. EMBARKATION Embarkation was chaotic to say the least. In port were the MS Symphonia and other ships. There were no baggage carts and very few handlers to take luggage. Vincent with the help of his cousin Fabian found someone to help with the wheelchair, but there were huge potholes and we didn't get far. Out of the blue, the taxi driver from yesterday at the airport appeared: Giorgio! He came straight to us and said,"Signora! May I help you." Problem solved. When Vincent returned and heard about it he said,"nothing like tipping well." We had done pre boarding at a downtown hotel the day before and received cream colored boarding cards. Thus, we moved straight ahead to buses and the ship's gangway. It all seemed well, but we were told we still needed boarding cards which were supposed to be on the pier. After a mix up, where our passports were sent back to the pier, Jr. Asst. Purser Suzanna Romano got our boarding passes from the ship. She assured us our passports were safe with the ship's personnel. And they were, because all passports were collected, so that clearance for each country we entered was done on board in each country we visited. SHIP The Star Princess was built by Fincantieri in Monfalcone, Italy and launched in January 2002. Her length is 950.1 feet; Breadth is 118.1 feet and she has a draft 27.7 feet. Her total passenger capacity is 3,100 and she sails with a crew of 1,120. She is propelled by six diesel electric engines. Her cruising speed is 21 knots and maximum speed 23.3 knots. The Star Princess is beautiful both inside and out. We have already done a deck by deck description of this ship, published in 2005, when we first cruised on her in the Caribbean. So this review will center on the Ports and the gorgeous natural vistas offered by Antarctica. There were over 1,800 Princess Captain's Circle Members on board and Captain Bob Oliver of Harwich, England hosted four cocktail parties in order to accommodate us all. We had a fantastic Bridge Tour with Capt. Oliver and his 3rd Officer Raffaele Ansanti. We learned of the many ship's components all linked to the LIPS joystick giving terrific maneuverability to this huge 109,000 ton ship. This was soon to be appreciated as the very able Captain threaded our way among icebergs. Overall the ship's decorations are in exceptionally good taste. There is simplicity and elegance rather than neon and gaudiness. We found the ship to be in excellent condition and well kept. CABINS Our wheelchair accessible cabin #E304 on Emerald Deck 8 is centrally located near the forward elevators. It has a wide entrance which is necessary for a wheelchair. On the left is an excellent large bathroom with safety rails all around. There is a fold away seat in the 5'x5' shower. There are also two large shelves for toiletries above the single sink. There are two low dressers flanking the king size bed with the "de rigor" heavy white puff, but, for the first time, since we were travelling to the South Pole, this puff was necessary. When entering on the right there is a parking space for the wheel chair. Next, there is a triple armoire with hangers in, two sections and shelves and a private safe in the third section. There s a TV, bar and refrigerator,and a long desk/vanity with a lighted mirror and four drawers. The back wall has a huge window which was partially obstructed by a life boat. Our view was "letterbox", just as when viewing an old Vista Vision film on TV. Top and bottom are cut off, but the panoramic sweep is wonderful. We had an excellent view of the continental shelf from our cabin. Our steward was Luis and he was very efficient. Thanks. SERVICE & FOOD Service is overseen by Passenger Services Director (PSD) Claudio Mazzoni, who was extremely helpful in answering our many questions. The ship service is excellent, Asst. Purser Suzanna facilitated boarding, assessed delays and took control. How nice it feels when it seems everything is mixed up and someone can take control and ameliorate the situation. We were leery about taking this trip so far away from home with a wheel chair etc. Mary has a distinct fear of falling, since she broke her leg that way last October. However, Dr. Marguerite Bozian, our travelling companion, was the one who slipped and broke her arm. Princess' Dr. Stewart Buchanan and nurse Vina came to the rescue: they expertly cared for her and sent her home with a write up, DVD, X rays and a history of the whole matter. All of which her husband Dr. Richard Bozian termed as "not only efficient, but accurate and sensitive....the whole matter was impeccable" and a credit to Princess Cruises. Thus, we learned about the medical service on board through our friends, and it is comforting to know that the quality is excellent. Of course, it is in the dining rooms where service reaches its apex. The suave Maitre D'Hotel Daniele Saredi secured for us a table for six near the entrance to the Capri Dining Room. We don't like to disturb diners with our walker or wheel chair. We had sixteen happy evenings with our travelling companions the Drs. Bozian and the Drs. Chen. Our Waiter Emmanuel and his Asst. Waiter Ariel were spot on. The Head Waiters Silvio and Angelito always charmed us with Executive Chef Francesco La Forgia's marvelous food! We can still smell the wonderful Limoncella cake served in an artisan crafted chocolate bowl. How delicious! The best way to describe the food is to start at the beginning; each morning we were served continental breakfast in our cabin by the very prompt and efficient Elena. Her smiles and her bouncy curtsies were a delightful way to start off the day. The meal consisted of Cappuccino, hot chocolate, croissants, and brioches with fresh fruit plates and marmalades along with cereals. Excellent! At lunch we mostly dined in the Portofino Dining Room where Maitre D' Vincenzo outdid himself with excellent tables near the windows. The lunch menu was terrific. Some of the selections were Mozzarella in Carrozza , fried calamari, Monte Cristo sandwich (ham & cheese on French toast) and crispy English style fish & chips. So many choices, so many decisions. When the weather was nice, we went up to the Horizon Court Buffet or to Prego Pizza and the Trident Grill, for Hamburgers, Chicken Sandwiches, Hot Dogs or German sausages, which were served with the lightest French Fries afloat. Dinner was the best time for our group, because we all got together after going our separate ways during the day. We talked of the ports, the Antarctic scenes, the photos we took, the gigantic tabular icebergs, the wildlife and the wonderful food. Appetizers were Pate', shrimp, pineapple boats, etc.... Soups included Lobster Bisque, clam chowder, cream of wild mushrooms, clear broths with tortellini, or refreshing cold slurry style soups of pineapple or mangos --- so nice. Entrees of many types were offered, plus a pasta course. Try the Fettuccine Alfredo served in a Parmigiano Reggiano cheese bowl, or spaghetti alle vongole or primavera. The main entrees included succulent and tender beef Prime Rib; fillet Mignon; veal, lamb or pork chops; and seafood such as salmon, Chilean bass, shrimp, lobster, etc.... Desserts were many and varied pies -- lemon, apple, pecan, etc.; profiteroles; souffle`, cheese cakes and mousses -- plus a large selection of ice creams and sorbets. Our hats are off to Chef Francesco La Forgia. When he strolls through the dining room, you can't miss him-- 6'2" with a 10" chef's toque, he's easily spotted. ENTERTAINMENT Cruise Director Frank Castiglione keeps the passengers hopping with the following: Bingo, Trivia (Get some new questions, players are tired of seeing the same back-to-back and round the world cruisers walk off with all the valuable prizes [the real plastic key chains and the Princess logo luggage tags are collectors items!] and No, if you are on the ship nonstop for 76 days, it does not make you smarter than the rest of us, even a parrot could win if it heard the same questions over and over again). There are dances in the Skywalkers Night Club on Sky Deck 17and Casino tournaments. The on board Lectures by Joe May and other University Professors were very well received. The Las Vegas style entertainment each evening was lead by the following: Philippa Healey with her mix of opera and classical songs had a standing ovation, the tenor Vincent Talarico was enjoyed in concert. Maurizio, who played several nights in the Atrium, Plaza Deck, was a sensation in concert one night titled "The Duke of Verona" in the Vista Lounge. The ship has many areas for entertainment and relaxation. We had a wonderfully relaxing time, but of course, it was the itinerary which drew us so far from home. This was a never to be forgotten trip. In view of an article dated March 6, 2008, which detailed the breaking off of a 400 square kilometer ice sheet from the Wilkins Ice Shelf on the SW Antarctica Peninsula and with scientists saying that this is another indication of global warming, we feel that future generations probably will not be as lucky as we have been to enjoy the wonders of Antarctica. Perhaps, these wonders will diminish with the passing of time. ITINERARY 2-19-08 Buenos Aires, Argentina Sail away. 7:00pm 2-20-08 River Plate out to the Sea headed to the Falkland Islands. 2-21-08 At Sea 2-22-08 Stanley, Falkland Islands Arrive 7:00am Depart 7:20pm Tendering to the on shore pontoon. 2-23-08 At Sea. At 1:15pm we passed over the Antarctic Convergence Zone where the sea temperature falls rapidly due to the constant melting of Antarctic ice into the Southern Ocean. The first look outs for icebergs were put to work on the Bridge. 2-24-08 Elephant Island -- The first pieces of ice were detected on the ship's radar. This island juts out of the ocean. At 4:30am we passed latitude 60 S. and formally headed into Arctic waters. At 9:00am we sighted Elephant Island, numerous icebergs and many penguins. After cruising around the island we headed SW. 2-25-08 We set course toward the Antarctic Sound, but conditions worsened and at 8:24am we turned around and began a slow exit of the Sound and crossed the Bransfield Straight towards Admiralty Bay. This was the first of several stunning days, with the slow movement of the ship affording passengers magnificent views of icebergs and spouting whales. The sun was shining brilliantly and we approached 400 foot high icebergs. Surreal! They were so huge compared to the ones in Alaska. This was our first glimpse of Antarctica and it was spectacular! The age of an iceberg is told by how low it sits in the water. The blue ice is the oldest and most compact, the white ice is newer and has more air in it. These huge icebergs usually last about 8 years and are eroded by water and air. They turn over in the water and there is a tide line around the bergs. The seals are in the water even in the winter. During the winter, this area is 80% covered in ice and only ice breaker vessels can enter here. The famous explorer Captain Cook would pull up the smaller icebergs, called "Burgy Bits" and bring them on board as a source of fresh water. On the Port side of the ship we saw part of the ice shelf 100ft. above water and 800ft. below. There were spectacular icebergs every where, with some bigger than the ship. There were tabular perfect rectangles of pure white that looked as if they were sawed off. There were some shaped like ramps which could be used for water skiing. Our first glimpse of Antarctica revealed its pyramid shaped mountains, snow and vertical striations and the ice cap that in some places can be over 5 miles deep. We sailed through out Admiralty Bay and at 1:15pm the scientists from the Polish Artowski Research Station boarded the Star Princess and gave a short informative talk. They were invited to dinner and left soon after to return to King George Island. Their station has been operating continuously since 1977. We heard of glacial movement and the micro chemistry of their layers which trap pockets of atmosphere. At 6:32pm we passed out into the Bransfield Strait and headed south to the Neumayer channel. 2-26-08 Sunrise 5:55 am and Sunset 9:47 pm gave us an almost 16 hour day -- fantastic, like the white nights of the Baltic! This morning there was a brilliant sunrise. Humpback and orca whales were sighted spouting everywhere, easily spotted by the oil slick they leave on the water. Penguins were also seen. The orca whales work in packs much like wolves; they separate out the weaker prey and attack. Thank heaven, we did not witness them in action. The view from our cabin window is picture perfect. The on board Antarctic specialist says this is a rare clear day here. Port side lets us view the Ice Cap and the Antarctic Peninsula. It is the narrowest point of the peninsula called Paradise Harbor. The other side of the peninsula is the Weddell Sea. The water is incredibly calm and there are Burgy Bits everywhere with penguins on them and pods of whales in the Gerlach Strait (Gerlach was the first explorer to spend a winter here and with him was Armundsen the first man to go to the South Pole). At 11:20am we reached our Southernmost point of this voyage, latitude 64, which places us 3,898 nautical miles south of the equator. The eeriness and quiet of this scene is remarkable, the water is almost glass like, today. Lion Island is at the head of the Neumaier Channel. It looks like a sphinx with a black face. There is much more snow and ice here, actually, yesterday we saw snow flurries. In 1819 Anvers Island was named by a Belgian Expedition. We sailed northeasterly toward Deception Island. 2-27-08 At 7:45am we approached Deception Island and it was visible from some 10 miles away. All morning we saw minke and humpback whales and then penguin colonies on the shore. The island is actually the remains of a volcano with a caldera similar to Santorini. From here we turned away from the Antarctic and faced patches of fog where visibility was near zero. 2-28-08 We crossed the Drake Passage neared the Pilot Station at Cape Horn. The waters were exceptionally calm, unlike the last time we rounded the Horn. The pilot boat was an hour and a half late and Capt. Oliver circled patiently waiting. Fortunately, the sea was very calm, and we had an excellent view of the Chilean Flag over the weather station and the Albatross Monument dedicated to those sailors who lost their lives in these treacherous waters. There is an old tradition for sailors who round the Horn: they had their ears pierced, got a tattoo and had a drink of rum, which they shared with the sea by pouring some into the ocean. 2-29-08 Ushuaia, Argentina Arrive 6:50am Depart 4:28 pm Many passengers were happy to set foot on terra firma and do some shopping. Magellan called this Tierra del Fuego (Land of Fire). It was named that because sailors feared it due to the wildness, fierce winds and the rocky shores that literally ate up whaling ships. Today it was 58 F degrees and bright and sunny in the morning. In the afternoon we headed for the Beagle Channel. The Argentinian pilot debarked and the Chilean pilot steered the Star Princess through the Beagle Channel past the European named glaciers. We have seen these glaciers six years ago and we were amazed by how much they have receded: in some of them the ice that once arrived all the way down to the water has been replaced by waterfalls, more evidence of global warming. 3-1-08 Punta Arenas, Chile Arrive 6:48 am Depart 7:50pm This is the southernmost Chilean city which is a center for oil drilling. It has stark snow less mountains and was the turning point of our journey, for today in the rain we headed back east and then north to Uruguay. Our travel companions returned to Sotito's Restaurant where we had dined in 2002. They enjoyed it, but not as much as when we had eaten there before. 3-2-08 At Sea Smooth seas and a sunny day in the open waters of the South Atlantic. 3-3-08 At Sea Sailing Northeasterly in over cast skies. 3-4-08 At Sea Sailing Northeasterly in clear skies. 3-5-08 Montevideo, Uruguay Arrive 7:45am Depart 5:00pm 3-6-08 Buenos Aires, Argentina Arrive 6:00am Debarkation 8:30am DEBARKATION This was much smoother than embarkation. We had wheelchair assistance from our cabin to the bus only, and then we were stuck until we were moved to luggage pick up. Once more we were on our own until we managed to get a porter. Needless to say, it was not too smooth, and we were happy to see cousin Fabian again, waiting for us outside the terminal. CONCLUSION Definitely, this has been one of our best cruises ever, considering the itinerary, our traveling friends, Marguerite and Richard Bozian and Yvonne and Alan Chen, the excellent food and service, especially in the restaurants, and our return to the Star Princess. And just think that we almost canceled the booking of this cruise due to Mary's recent knee replacement surgery. We are glad we didn't! We have booked two future cruises with Princess, one on the Norwegian Cruise Line without specific dates and one in November on the new RCI ship Independence of the Seas. We have not booked a cruise for this spring or summer due to Mary's knee surgery scheduled for April 10th. However, we hope that she will recover fast, so we don't have to wait too long for the next cruise. Happy Cruising! Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: April 2008
We were very pleased with our Star Flyer experience, although we didn't sail much, mostly motored, presumably due to light winds that week. Our cabin was small, but comfortable, with sufficient storage. The ship is very attractive, ... Read More
We were very pleased with our Star Flyer experience, although we didn't sail much, mostly motored, presumably due to light winds that week. Our cabin was small, but comfortable, with sufficient storage. The ship is very attractive, and altogether different experience than the big cruise ships. The embarkation and disembarkation worked quickly and smoothly. Breakfast and lunch were expansive buffets. Breakfast included eggs cooked to order (omelets, fried eggs), grits or oatmeal, fruits, cheeses, usually some smoked salmon, croissants and pastries, toast, several types of fruit juice. Lunches included breads, cheeses, platters of cold cuts, smoked salmon, marinated herring, etc., several salads, three or four main dishes, potato and rice, and fruit plus three desserts (usually a tart, a mousse and a warm dessert such as a cobbler) Dinner was also very good, and included one choice of sorbet, salad and soup, two choices of appetizer, and four choices of main dish including a vegetarian, and three choices of dessert, all elegantly presented. I recommend that if you would like iced tea with lunch and dinner, ask for it. It was never offered, but after the first day, I realized it was available, and after asking a couple of times, the waiters remembered, and automatically served it to us every day. Our cabin steward was excellent. One day, on Tahaaa, we had a motu picnic with a barbecu and Tahitian show -, plus water sports -= very nice. the last night, a Polynesian dance and musical group presented a show on deck - amazing dancing! The weather was perfect, and Polynesian ports were truly beautiful. We were travelling with a group, so had several arranged tours. The two ship's excursions that we took were truly wonderful. We would highly recommend them!! One was the HELMET DIVE on Bara Bora. You descend 10 feet below the surface with a helmet over your head which permits you to breath normally underwater, and you can even wear your glasses (I don't snorkel due to the need for glasses, being very near-sighted)There were at least 100 varieties of fish swimming very close to us - amazing!! You have about 30 minutesof viewing time. If there are enough people for 2 groups, you laos get about 390 minutes of snorkeling time, while the other group is diving. My husband said he snorkelling was also very good. The other was the DOLPHIN WATCH with Dr. Michael Poole , who is a world famous expert on dolphins and whales. Dr. Poole is very personable and interesting. We boarded a covered boat, and within minutes of casting off, there were dolphins playing about 40 yard off the boat. Each of the passengers spent some time sitting up at the bow, and when it was our turn, there were dolphins swimming right in front of it, so they were 5-6 feet below us. Incredible!!! WE spent about 1 1/2 hours watching the dolphins swmiming and playing, then as they moved away, we cruised around the lagoon, observing the huge yachts moored there and learning about the area, and about dolphin lifestyles. Don't miss it! Papetee definitely has most of the shoppihng opportunities, either at the marketplace (open on Sundays from 5-8 am, closed the rest of the day) open during the week. The upstairs is where to buy souveneirs, and that isn't open on Sunday at all. Quite a few businesses close for a midday lunch break. One of the islands is known for it's black pearls, but you can buy them on any of the islands. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: June 2008
Our holiday began by flying from Stansted airport in Essex, England and arriving at our starting departure point of Tromso in Norway's Arctic Circle. The flight was around 3.5 hours. The date is June 3rd, 2008. And the weather looks ... Read More
Our holiday began by flying from Stansted airport in Essex, England and arriving at our starting departure point of Tromso in Norway's Arctic Circle. The flight was around 3.5 hours. The date is June 3rd, 2008. And the weather looks surprisingly good! We had a choice of beginning our tour from the most Northerly point, close to the Russian Border at Kirkenes, however, we began in the City of Tromso. Remember, this is Summer and above the Arctic Circle, you have the best of the sunshine, - that is 24 hours a day, the sun isn't going to set! (Don't forget, Winter tours mean the opposite, 24 hour darkness!). It's an odd feeling waiting for sunset that never happens and having the difficulty in telling yourself why you should retire to bed, after all, it is approaching 1.30am! Luckily the windows on board have shutters and the port holes have 'black-outs' but for the first night at least, this is not going to be easy! The Cruise Liner ( in this case, the MS Finnmarken) also serves as a lifeline to those people who live in such remote areas and this becomes their post-ship, their ferry and a means of moving essential provisions along the inlets and fjords. For the first night it is additionally difficult to sleep as you feel that every couple of hours, the boat is about to dock, - and it does, sometimes for no more than 15 minutes, - not completely without noise especially if you have a cabin close to the thrusters or the rope lines. But you will get used to it, I assure you. The cruise makes it's way South through inlet and passageway, fjord and achapeligos, bordered by snow peaked mountains, sapphire blue Arctic seas and persistent sunshine. The sea has a very strange calm, rippleless effect as though it's made of syrup, - I'm told, it's cold - really cold and that's how the sea is up in the Arctic. Very unusual and the majority of the passengers found it equally bizarre yet somehow weirdly hypnotic!!. As the Cruise meets different ports of call, various interesting excursions are on offer, being sold on board or you can pre-book before you go. I'd wait and purchase on board, as you really need to see where you are, as some areas may not be what you imagine and some excursions could be ruined by bad weather. No matter where you are, however, this country is beautiful from start to finish, sometimes very mountainous, sometimes extremely remote, many times - amazing, you're spoilt for choice. If you love sea and mountains then this is a cruise for you, we had some magnificently good weather with continuous blue skies. But, I was told that this wasn't the norm and the high temperatures are not to be expected. Take a couple of warm and dry waterproof garments - and please, please take your sun tan lotion. It's not easy to get hold of it and it's hell expensive. Don't be caught out, when the sun shines, it's hot!!! The cruise travels further south and passes the Arctic Circle between Ornes and Nesna. This area is very remote! Surprisingly there are some large and well established communities above the Arctic Circle, which at first seems to beg the question, why would anyone want to live here? - but they do and on reflection, I would love to as well. But I would have difficulties in 24 hour darkness I think :-). As we travel more south and reach Trondheim, the sun lies gently upon the horizon but still does not set. A permanent sunset of gold and tangerine seas for 90 minutes - what a feast for the eyes! Trondheim was a lovely city yet I do prefer the smaller towns and settlements and it seems that every place no matter how small or large, has it's own magnificent display of suspension bridges crossing the fjords, dotted beneath by canary yellow, sky blue and rust red weatherboard housing .. this is Norway! Of all the towns and villages we visited on our cruise I must highlight a few of my favorites. Tromso with it's magnificent Arctic Cathedral and Mountain backdrop, Sandnessjoen - a lovely town of weatherboard houses and a quaint typical Scandinavian 'flavor' high street. Kristiansund, just south of Trondheim is a most beautifully positioned and colorful town perched on several islands upon a deep inlet and Molde, one of the most stunning places on out tour, in my opinion anyway. This resembles Geneva or maybe Montreaux by a fjord backdrop with a Ski resort in winter and a Jazz festival during the warm summer months. A must to visit and I would always return to Molde - a five star resort. We finally after 4 days at sea, arrive in our destination town of Bergen. I truly believe that we were all shocked as the ship came up the fjord and approached Bergen in the distance. Imagine, the temperature was close to 28 Celsius, high 80's fahrenheit and the sea was shimmering with an array of colored yachts and power boats circling the ship. Along the coastline, hundreds of people sun bathing on the beaches - yeh, beaches, and the high tree lined slopes are dotted with hotels, multi colored housing, villas and a glorious mountain backdrop. You would honestly think that you were in Monte Carlo or Ventimiglia, not Bergen in Norway. They call it the 'Rainy City' and we were ever so fortunate - you won't be disappointed however, come rain or shine - or blizzard - this is a wonderful place. Full of history, full of interest and bars and restaurants galore, - this would be my true home from home for sure. Bergen - What a surprise finale... One must do, if nothing else in Bergen, take a funicular rail trip on the Floibanen, 320 meters above the town, a great trip, and you can walk back down if you wish. Of course there's the area of Bryggen, UNESCO world heritage listed, by the Wharf front and the famous and interesting Fishmarket area. Some much to do. The Cruise is operated by the Norwegian company, Hurtigruten, who know how to look after you. The staff are friendly and our thanks and compliments are made to everyone of the staff who worked so hard to ensure that our holiday was perfect. In fact, this was my Honeymoon, and I couldn't have wished for a more romantic setting. Good points: Excellent Cruise and Company, Great food and very comfortable. Most beautiful country and highly recommended to all, YOUNG AND OLD!! Negatives: Highly expensive country with a high cost of living. Examples of cost as at June 2008, on board or off the ship, very little difference... Cup of Coffee: 26 NOK (Norwegian Kronner), = £2.50, apx. US$5 A standard 40ml glass of Beer: 59 NOK, = £5.80, apx. US$11.50 A Bottle of Cote du Rhone Wine: 320 NOK = £29, apx. US$55. Take-Away Margaritta Pizza for 2: 240 NOK = £22, apx. US$42 Hotel Standard Breakfast for 1: 160 NOK = £15, apx. US$28 Two course 3 Tapas meal & Beer for 1: 350NOK = £33/ US$64 But despite this, a very worth while, once in a lifetime opportunity to see a very unspoilt part of the natural world in which we live. Before it's too late, may be?! Read Less
3 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: June 2008
Review of MS Bremen The four cruise ships of Hapag-Lloyd, the German shipping company, are well-respected in Germany but little-known in the United States. Only some of their cruises are marketed to English speakers. It's a ... Read More
Review of MS Bremen The four cruise ships of Hapag-Lloyd, the German shipping company, are well-respected in Germany but little-known in the United States. Only some of their cruises are marketed to English speakers. It's a shame. We cruised on the expedition ship MS Bremen from Nova Scotia to Greenland, leaving June 14, 2008, and disembarking in Iceland June 30. What an experience! There were some shortcomings, and while the Bremen considers itself a four-star ship, it probably falls a little short of that. Still, this was a cruise to be remembered always. The Ship. The Bremen, which features an ice-hardened hull, is nearly 20 years old. It is attractive, it looks like a ship should look, and it is well-maintained and staffed by a friendly crew, most of whom spoke good English. Getting around the ship is easy. The captain and other top officers were frequently available to talk and answer questions. The bridge is advertised as being open to passengers, although too frequently it was closed. Smoking is unfortunately allowed in some areas, though not in the main dining room. The Bremen carries up to 164 people in pleasant staterooms that are typical cruise-ship in size and decor, with typical cruise ship bathrooms. Some have balconies. Ours, No. 428, did not and I can not see why anyone would need a balcony. Our room had two chairs and a desk but no sofa. Storage space is good. The rooms readily allow noise from adjoining cabins. The ship television system was not worth much. There is one main dining room, which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, and a club/bar that serves a breakfast and lunch buffet, plus afternoon tea and a late-night snack. Dinner is one sitting. Service is good but not great. The library is small and does not offer enough to English speakers. The internet worked some times, but not other times. The daily report of news from the USA and the world was poor. The ship has a small pool, no whirlpool, but a decent exercise facility. There is a large meeting room on the top deck, with excellent views, and an outdoor stern sitting area where passengers can take drinks and food from the club. Being an expedition ship, there was little entertainment and no casino, which was just fine with the passengers. This was advertised as a bilingual cruise. All announcements and written material were in German and English. We had about two dozen English speakers aboard. A single English speaker on a cruise like this would feel very lonely. The Food. Sometimes the chief purchased food from locals along the way. One morning in a little Greenland town, we observed cod, just recently caught, being loaded onto the ship. Breakfast was very European, with heavy emphasis on sliced meats and cheeses, not something that appeals to all Americans. Eggs, bacon and pancakes were available. Lunches and dinners followed a varied menu. Dinner offerings were particularly ambitious, sometimes featuring game dishes like hare. The food was almost always good to very good, sometimes excellent. The duck breast, wild boar and venison were superb, the beef Wellington won raves. There was a surprising lack of shrimp, and veal appeared on the menu too often. Failures did occur. The halibut one night was overcooked. The prime rib was so bad it should never have left the kitchen. The chef was personable and frequently available. But hints to him that ice tea should be provided for American guests went unheeded. The Cruise. The passengers were nearly all adults over the age of 30. We embarked in Halifax, with very smooth procedures, except that luggage delivery was terribly slow. We left on time and headed for Greenland. We had an ambitious itinerary, in a difficult travel region just above and below the Arctic Circle, in a part of the world where cruises ships do not often venture. Things did not always go according to plan, but we had fabulous times. The ship sailed by ice bergs as large as office buildings. One morning we encountered whales, so the ship slowed and circled while they swam around us. High, barren mountains were often seen ashore. One highlight was a visit to a glacier, where the ship entered an uncharted inlet surrounded by ice bergs, stopped, launched the Zodiac boats, and took passengers as close to the glacier as was safe. Before returning to the ship we were dropped off on a rocky beach, walked to the top of a rise, and found to our surprise that the chef had set up a hot dog lunch with warm spiced wine. What a treat! We had interesting sociological visits to several Greenland towns. But there were frustrations. Three towns we were scheduled to visit were dropped because of weather/ice conditions. Two other towns were substituted, but it was not an equal tradeoff. We had knowledgeable lecturers aboard, but their talks did not always convey the flavor of the places and societies we were about to visit. Yet, when we talked to the lecturers ashore, they were frequently illuminating. Preparations for shore visits were lacking. We visited one town on a national holiday, which meant many businesses were closed. In another town, no one told us about the best local souvenir ship-we found out from a local resident. Museums and churches too often were closed, and reported efforts to open them failed. We were not given nearly enough time in Nuuk, the capital of Greenland. Nice restaurants were available in some of the towns for a ship-wide luncheon, but that was never done. In no town did the mayor or other civic official meet us and answer questions. Surely, in some places, that would have been possible. We had expected more Zodiac boat landings in unusual, uninhabited places, but that did not happen. Ice conditions and weather were issues. We encountered far more floating ice than expected, which hindered navigation. Some days were glorious, sunny with temperatures in the 40s and 50s. Other days were foggy and gray. The sea was rough for several days and very rough for two days, when dishes and silverware flew from dining room tables and walking in the hallways was difficult. Sickness bags were placed on hallway railings. We did not need the ship doctor, but other passengers did. He was said to be excellent. The cruise ended on schedule in Reykjavik, where we spent several delightful days on our own. Was the Trip Worthwhile? The cruise cost us about $7,500 a person, not including airfare and hotels before and after. We met interesting fellow passengers from several countries, dined and resided in fine fashion on a cruise ship for more than two weeks, learned about the Inuit culture, Greenland and Iceland first-hand, and saw parts of the world not a lot of our friends will ever see. Would we book the cruise again? That is the ultimate question of worth, and in our case, the answer is absolutely yes. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: October 2008
The Prince Albert II reigns as the best expedition ship afloat. Despite her name, she - no ship can be male - is the Queen of expedition vessels. This isn't surprising as the Prince Albert II is the latest vessel added to the ... Read More
The Prince Albert II reigns as the best expedition ship afloat. Despite her name, she - no ship can be male - is the Queen of expedition vessels. This isn't surprising as the Prince Albert II is the latest vessel added to the Silversea fleet and she provides her passengers with unrivaled Silversea excellence in an expedition setting. The ship, the refurbished World Dicoverer II holding 132 passengers, features extremely well designed, comfortable staterooms plus bathrooms stocked with terry cloth robes and Bulgari toiletries. The restaurant, outdoor grill and room service provide superb food. Finest of all, is the uncompromising Silversea service - with each and every courteous and charming staff member addressing passengers by name within 48 hours, remembering their beverage (all are free) or stateroom preferences, and fulfilling every passenger's desire within minutes - often before they asked. All this, even with a no tipping policy. The officers were equally gracious and Captain Roche made it his mission to welcome all passengers by mingling with them every day and generously giving each of them his time and attention. In essence, the services aboard the Prince Albert II were unsurpassed although she did lack one amenity, a manicurist - but then, who is expected to want a manicure while on expedition. The itinerary from Acapulco to Santiago was not the most exciting from a cultural or sociological viewpoint because most ports were located in the Peruvian and Chilean desert areas. However there were excellent opportunities to visit some extraordinary archaeological sites and to study a multitude of marine birds and mammals. As with most expeditions, almost all excursions were conducted by zodiac - and it must be noted that no ABS on any vessel were better trained and skillful in assisting passengers in and out of the zodiacs with utmost safety. There was one weakness - but it can be attributed to Silversea's first time venture into expedition travel. This was the lack of personal, hands-on research into each and every port by the expedition leaders. While a variety of superior excursions were offered, visits to some very interesting areas and events were overlooked. Fortunately, these could still be enjoyed by passengers who struck out on their own - although a local guide or on-board lecture would have greatly enhanced their experience. With regard to the lectures, briefings and debriefings - otherwise known as expedition entertainment - almost all were well presented and enlightening. As always, with Silversea, embarkation and disembarkation was beautifully managed, along with transportation and baggage handling to and from hotels and airports. In summary, the Prince Albert II raises the bar for expedition vessels and Silversea has successfully met the highest of expectations in merging adventure with luxury travel. Read Less
Sail Date: November 2008
We left Toronto and flew to Miami on American Airlines. After spending four hours in Miami, we left for Quito at 6 pm. At 8:30 we were back in Miami, for what was said to be a quick instrument repair. This turned into a change of planes, ... Read More
We left Toronto and flew to Miami on American Airlines. After spending four hours in Miami, we left for Quito at 6 pm. At 8:30 we were back in Miami, for what was said to be a quick instrument repair. This turned into a change of planes, and after luggage was transferred and reboarding was complete we were on our way to Quito again. We arrived just after 3 am, and were quickly transferred to our hotel. The Celebrity representative told us the city tour was to start at 9 in the morning, but we could decide what time we wanted to go. There were eight of us on that late flight, and we decided that we could be ready by ten o'clock. We were very glad to reach our room, which was spacious and well-appointed. Because we were Captain's Club members we were upgraded to the executive level, which offered a few extra benefits, but we were not too concerned about that at 4 am. We met in the lobby at ten the next morning, and boarded a mini bus for the tour. We had a walking tour of the old city, with some impressive churches and other buildings then met up with the rest of the group for lunch at a restaurant on the edge of an extinct volcano. From there we drove to the "Middle of the Earth" for the obligatory Equator photos! That evening we had dinner at the Theatricum Restaurant where we were entertained by a tenor while we enjoyed a meal with wine. On Sunday morning we had to have our cases outside the room by 7 am, then we had breakfast and were bussed to the airport for the flight to Baltra. The flight was uneventful and the airport was a very short distance from the port so we were on board right on time. The Xpedition doesn't dock in the Islands, so Zodiacs are used for every landing. Other reviewers have detailed the excursions so I will not repeat these, except to say that the variety and proximity of the wildlife exceeded our expectations. We usually took the high intensity options, but did not find them to be too strenuous. (We are in our middle sixties and of average fitness.) The intensity level was determined by the terrain and length of the hike, but since we stopped frequently to see wild life the distance was not an issue. After the morning excursion we usually headed up to the hot tub to relax. The first time we stopped in the bar to order cappuccinos and the waiter offered to bring them up for us. After that, each morning when we returned he greeted us with "Cappuccinos in the hot tub?" and brought them for us. Some reviewers have found dinner service to be slow. We considered it to be leisurely! Although there were no assigned seats for dinner, we formed a group of ten and the waiters set us the same table each night. We enjoyed chatting with our new friends and were often the last table to leave the dining room because the conversation was flowing so freely. The choice of food was not as varied as on a larger cruise ship, but there were three or four entrees each evening and all were well prepared. This cruise was truly all-inclusive. Excursions, tips, and wine with meals were all included. in Quito as well as on the ship. Bar drinks were also included on the ship, so apart from some small purchases from the shop, we only paid for laundry. Service was excellent and we were looked after every step of the way. We returned to the JW Marriott in Quito for one night before heading home. Our flight home was early so we left the hotel at five in the morning. This was truly the experience of a lifetime. The only thing that would stop me going again is the fact that there is still a lot of the world that I haven't seen yet. Read Less
Sail Date: December 2008
I am Phil Haggerty and my wife is Edith Goble. My E-Mail is: hagglawphx@aol.com should you wish to contact me. This was our 24th cruise, and like most of our fellow passengers, our first trip to French Polynesia. It was also Princess' ... Read More
I am Phil Haggerty and my wife is Edith Goble. My E-Mail is: hagglawphx@aol.com should you wish to contact me. This was our 24th cruise, and like most of our fellow passengers, our first trip to French Polynesia. It was also Princess' swan song for the inter-island cruise route; purportedly because of a dispute with the French authorities over higher port fees. As far as we know, only Regent Seven Seas' Paul Gaugin and the Windstar fourmasted sailing vessels will do the seven to ten (or eleven) day island tours. Getting there and aboard We let Princess do the transportation from Phoenix. They booked us on the later Air Tahiti Nui flight from LAX which left at 4:30 P.M., and with the two hour time zone difference, landed us in Papeete 8 1/2 hours later at 11:00 P.M. This small airline does a pretty good job with its passengers. The food in economy class was quite edible, and they, like all good Frenchmen, poured wine without charge. An efficient bus transfer and pretty rapid check in got us into our cabin just after midnight. The ship Tahitian Princess was one of the Renaissance ships number 1 through 7. When this cruise line folded after September 11, 2001, they were up for grabs. Oceania bought three, then Celebrity two others to form Azamara cruises. The Spanish company Pullmantur bought two, but sold them to Princess who renamed them Tahitian Princess and Island Princess. They are small, 32,227 grosstons, but neat, elegant and very conveniet to get around for the maximum 680 passenger capacity. We had sailed on Oceania's Insignia twice and Nautica once, so we were very familiar with it. Our cabin was 7046. Decks 6 and 7 are mostly standard verandah cabins. Deck 8 is for mini-suites which are about 50% larger. Deck 4 has window cabins in addition to the passenger service desk and excursion booking desk, while 3 has 15 porthole cabins. Larger suites and a few inside cabins are scattered about. Deck 5 has the Cabaret Lounge, a low-tech showroom venue, forward and the main dining room aft with shops, a lounge and the small casino in between. Deck 9 has the spa and gym (with a private spa jacuzzi)forward, the pool area midships and the buffet aft. Deck 10 has a very nice lounge area forward with another dance floor and great viewing, a jogging track around the midships, and the lovely library found on all these ships, as well as the two specialty restaurats aft. There is a small open sun deck forward on Deck 11. Where is Tahiti anyway? French Polynesia consists of 5 island groups scattered over an area the size of Western Europe; that is, about 1300 miles east to west and 1100 miles north to south. Papeete is the capital and located on the island of Tahiti. It is about 4050 miles southwest of Los Angeles, 4640 miles due west of Peru, 2640 miles due south of Hawaii, 2480 miles northeast of New Zeeland, and 3870 miles slightly northeast of Sydney. In short, it is in the middle of a very, very big ocean. The actual land mass of all 118 island is small; 1544 square miles. The city of Los Angeles is 469 square miles by way of comparison. But then, all of French Polynesia only has a population of 280,000, 70% of whom live on Tahiti. The 5 island groups include four which are volcanic uplift islands, much like Hawaii. These four are, the Society Islands which includes Tahiti, Bora Bora and most of the tourist spots; the Australs and the Gambier groups, south and east of Tahiti, and the Marquesas, about 875 miles north. The 5th group is the Tuamotu Archipelago, which are all atolls, coral reefs with small islands (motus) forming a central lagoon. The islands can have fairly high mountains, Mount Orohena on Tahiti is 7334 feet high; but the highest point on any atoll is about 10 feet. The islands are definitely French. There is some local autonomy with a legislative body, but the people vote in French national elections, elect delegates to the French National Assembly, and are totally part of France when it comes to military affairs, the justice and court systems, education, tariffs and national taxes. French is the official language, spoken by all, but sunce the 1980's the teaching of Polynesian (Tahiti variety) has been taught in the schools and is used by many in addition to French. While nominal Polynesians comprise over 75% of the population, with Chinese and Vietnamese (brought here when that country was "Tonkin" French) about 12-13% and the rest French from France; the French attitude to relaxed integration makes the amalgem of races quite interesting. We were interested when we found out that two of our guides were a fairly young French girl and man who had come here from France in the past 12 years. The weather never varies much all year long, or during the day. It is much like Hawaii, always in the 70s or 80s with high humidity. Although we were supposed to be in the rainy season, we were affected by rain only once. Sail day We got up the next day to find our luggage outside. We unpacked in a liesurely manner after breakfast and then in the afternoon took a ship's tour of Papeete and part of the island of Tahiti. We visited the museum home of James Normal Hall, one of the "Mutiny on the Bounty" authors, a lovely waterfall slightly inland and a few other sights. Our guide had moved to Tahiti from Los Angeles about 15 years ago to marry a local girl. I am not sure if she is French or Polynesian. He provided a good deal of useful information on the history and present days status of these islands. Traffic in Papeete can be quite bad. This tour was a worthwhile introduction to the islands. Huanihe This was our first stop. We anchored in a beautiful bay separating the two parts of the island, and tendered ashore. We took a local form of transportation called "Le Truck" which basically is a medium sized truck with covered wooden benches in the back. It provides transportation, and serves sometimes as a school bus all over the islands. For $5.00 we went about fifteen miles to a small local town where some of the group went to the beach, and we strolled around the residential area, admiring the school and the neat, well cared for small homes, all with open doorways framed with colorful drapes. The crime rate in French Polynesia is very low. The inhabitants are froendly and relaxed. There is not much of a tourist industry on Huahine; the population engaged mostly in agriculture and fishing. After a sea day we arrived at Rangiroa, a huge atoll in the Tuamotu Archipelago whose lagoon is about 20 miles across and 40 miles long. There are about 240 islands (motus) along with the reef as the atoll is 175 miles around. The main island where we visited is only about 500 yards wide, although it does have an airport. We came into the lagoon through a pass, accessible at the afternnon high tide, and anchored a few hundred yards off the lagoon side shore. This atoll is a divers' and snorkelers' paradise. I participated in the latter activity the next day. The water is warm and unbelievably clear, and the fish population large and varied. Edith did take a van provided by one of the dockside vendors to a Black Pearl Farm, which was mostly a store. This is really a spectacular place and well worth the trip away from the other islands. After a second, and last sea day, we arrived at Raitea. Like most of the Society Islands, it is surrounded by a coral reef which protects it from the ocean. This particular reef also encloses another island called Tahaa. The lagoon however is deep enough to allow docking at a pier so we could walk ashore into the town of Uturoa, which is the second largest city in French Polynesis, but still pretty small since the whole island only has 12,000 people. Here I did ship's drift snorkeling excursion off Tahaa in a pass between two small motus in the coral reef. One of the motus is privately owned and occupied by a Relais Chateaux Hotel with rates starting about 1100 Euros per day. We were caught in a rainstorm returning to Uturoa, but arrived without incident. Edith visited a true pearl farming operation and a vanilla farm. Black Pearls and vanilla are French Polynesia's principal exports, but fall behind tourism which provides about 25% of the cash income. Again we stayed overnight and sailed the next morning to Bora Bora arriving about noon. This is a very beautiful island, marked with two steep twin peaks. It was the "model" for Bali Hi in James Michener's "Tales of the South Pacific" and the subsequent play and movie. The U.S. Navy had occupied Bora Bora during WWII and built the airfield there. Bora Bora has a large lagoon with a number of fairly good sized motus as part of the reef. These are the sites for several five star hotels, along with one or two on the main island. They make this island the center of the high end tourist trade, and the town into which we tendered, Viatape, had some first class jewelry and artifact stores to cater to these hotel guests. We had arranged for a tour on the internet which took us the next day completely around the island in the lagoon, with stops to snorkel, feed some sting rays, and have an "island lunch" on a motu. This was a five hour excursion, and very delightful. We sailed for Moorea at5:00 P.M. arriving the next day. Moorea is very close to Tahiti, about 10 miles at the closest point. We tendered ashor and selected a peirside vendor for a FWD tour of the interior. It was marked by a trip up a hill with a magnificent view of two bays, and a trip to the local high school of agriculture, with its large, productive farm. We also visited a Polynesian "temple" whci is essentially a small square formed by a stone wall about 30 inches high. There are many of them scattered around the islands. Our guide was Polynesian, but spoke English pretty well and was friendly and informative. The price was quite reasonable also compared to a ship's tour. At 4:30 we sailed away to Tahiti, arriving at the pier in Papeete at 7:45. We skipped the entertainment that night to pack. Disembarkation Day This was a unique experience. Our flight; which had many of our fellow passengers, did not leave until 11:30 P.M. So Princess provide space in one of the specialty restaurants to store our carry on bags, and allowed us to remain as guests on the ship all day, even though we had to vacate our cabin at 8:00. This allowed us to have a liesurely breakfast and the lunch at the buffet. It turn out we ate with a couple that had embarked earlier that day for the trip to Fort Lauderdale that would arrive on January 15. We actually got off in the morning to arrange for a FWD tour through the Tourist Office; which we boarded at 2:00 after lunch. We went deep into Tahiti, between the mountains into some beautiful valleys studded with waterfalls, along a river. Most of where we were was national park, but even the privately held land was untouched. Our guide was the young French man who had come to Tahiti about 10 years prior, and after he relaxed he was entertaining. There were six of us on the tour, including one couple from France. This was a very enjoyable trip. We got back to the ship in time for dinner in the buffet, and then picked up our carry on bags and went to the Cabaret Lounge at 7:30 to await transportation to the airport. When we got there we had to wait for a while before they opened the ticket counters. The check in was fairly easy, and the security a little more relaxed than in the US, even when it came to my steel hips. There was some wait of course until we boarded at 11:30; but we arrived at LAX on time and would have made our Phoenix connection easily; except for the fact that we we bounced from our flight and had to wait another three hours. Entertainment on Board There were four "Production" shows with two singers and six singer/dancers in the Cabaret Lounge, which provide a pretty close up view. For once the sound was well contriolled and enabled us to enjoy the music more than on many prior cruises. There was also a juggler comedian, a singer comedian, and a magician comedian; all reasonably okay. There was one folkloric show by natives from Riatea which was entertaining. There was a guest lecturer fro Moorea who was very informative and entertaining as well. He had moved with his father to N+Moorea when he was 10, in 1965. Food Princess is pretty good in this department, although not quite up to Celebrity or Oceania, nor of course, Crystal. (Does anyone beat or even match Crystal?) The coffee is poor and the orange juice watered. The bakery department, headed by a young Swiss chef, was superb. There are two specialty restaurants, one Italian and one sort of a steak/chop house. They were open on alternate nights and had a $20.00 pp "cover charge". Reservations were suggested. This is in sharp contrast to Oceania, which has these restaurants open every night with no extra charge. Service and care of the ship Princess has always had a first class operation insofar as shipboard services and care of its ships are concerned, and Tahiti Princess was no exception but for the room temperature, which we felt was chilly and not subjet to thermostat control. The Master was always around the ship, often on the P.A. system, and of seemingly boundless enthusiasm for his job. That was a nice feeling. The cabin steward was quiet and efficient and our waiter, a young Italian, was very friendly, hardworking and generally efficient. We missed having the daily satellite newspaper. We received satellite CNN (mostly poitical stuff), so I know of no technical reason why we could not have had a newspaper. We missed the string quartet or trio playing classical music. Even Carnival had this as do Celebrity, Oceania and Crystal. Passengers We had only 620 passengers out of a possible 680, but a higher number of children than any cruise we could remember, even though these ships have no facilities for children, and there were no programs designed for them. There was one extended family group from Utah with 48 members, a number of them children and teen agers, but they were well behaved. In fact there were only two children who were annoying, running around the buffet area. We think the water activities available on the islands kept the children busy and happy. There were 28 nationalities among the passengers, so this was a cosmopolitan group, and also a fairly good number of young adult couples, some of whom were certainly honeymooners. All in all, it was as diverse as any cruise we have taken. Conclusion This was one of our more memorable cruises; attributable largely to the beauty and charm of the islands and the people. It is one we would want to repeat if we can locate one with a reasonable cost basis in the future. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: December 2008
Silversea Prince Albert II My wife and I sailed on the Silversea Prince Albert II to Antarctica December 11 to December 21st 2008. This was the trip of a lifetime for us. My wife and I are both in our mid 50's and have been on ... Read More
Silversea Prince Albert II My wife and I sailed on the Silversea Prince Albert II to Antarctica December 11 to December 21st 2008. This was the trip of a lifetime for us. My wife and I are both in our mid 50's and have been on several cruises, this was the first time on a Silver Sea vessel, I can assure you that it will not be the last. About a year ago we decided to go on an exploration cruise to the Antarctic (I have always wanted to go there) My sister is a travel agent, and she investigated a number of options and learned about the Silversea Prince Albert II, and based on the Silversea reputation we booked the Antarctic exploration cruise on the Prince Albert II. WE WERE NOT DISAPPOINTED. Rather than detail our Antarctic Voyage on the Prince Albert II, I will refer you to the Silver Sea Voyage journal at http://www.silversea.com/silversea.aspx?id=1447&page_type=journal&page_id=princealbertII voyage 7823, I will list each area of interest. CRUISE LINE Silversea Cruise line is outstanding, the pre cruise documents were beautifully packaged and presented, the transfers from B A, Argentina ie: the charter flight to and from B A, Argentina to Ushuaia were flawless. We especially liked the all inclusive concept, with all of the food, beverages, and tips included in the cost of the voyage. SHIP The Prince Albert II is an ice capable ship so she can go where others fear to tread. The accommodations, cabins, public rooms, and decks are very comfortable and well appointed by any standards, and unheard of by expedition standards. Note: unlike some of the other expedition ships that we saw while in port the Prince Albert II has plenty of exterior deck for the guests to enjoy. THE FOOD The food and beverages were outstanding, the dining room staff and kitchen staff made every meal memorable. THE CREW The ships officers and crew exuded confidence, while sailing in the very challenging environment of Antarctica. It was obvious that they made safety a priority and did everything possible to accommodate our many Zodiac / Antarctic Landings. The open bridge policy allowed many of us to become familiar with the ships operations. The ships officers often joined the guests for meals and lectures given by the expedition staff. THE EXPEDITION STAFF The expedition staff worked tirelessly to provide the guests with meaningful lectures and briefings about the Antarctic environment that we were visiting. The expedition staff planned and organized and executed our Antarctic excursions flawlessly, sometimes accommodating as many as two or three landings a day, depending on the weather conditions. NOTE: When on an expedition ship, particularly in the Arctic / Antarctic environment, flexibility is the name of the game. Be prepared to have the daily planned schedule change according to exploration opportunities and changing weather conditions. GENERAL COMMENTS This was the trip of a lifetime. We enjoyed the company of all of the other guests on board. We were very fortunate to experience the hospitality and professionalism of the Prince Albert II staff and crew on a Voyage of a lifetime to the Antarctic. We would like to thank everyone that we shared this voyage of a lifetime with including the Prince Albert II Staff, and the other Guests that we shared this experience with. Read Less
Sail Date: December 2008
EXPLORER & ANTARCTICA EXPERIENCE CRUISE - DECEMBER 15, 2008 - JANUARY 4, 2009 (VALPARAISO TO RIO) DH and I are both 50 and this was our fifth HAL cruise. We have also sailed on Princess and Norwegian. We chose HAL as 10 years prior ... Read More
EXPLORER & ANTARCTICA EXPERIENCE CRUISE - DECEMBER 15, 2008 - JANUARY 4, 2009 (VALPARAISO TO RIO) DH and I are both 50 and this was our fifth HAL cruise. We have also sailed on Princess and Norwegian. We chose HAL as 10 years prior we sailed on the old Noordam from Rio to Valparaiso on our honeymoon. We were excited to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary (New Year's Eve) by doing this itinerary again. The added bonus of Antarctica, which had always been a dream for us, made this a cruise we'll never forget. AIR - HAL arranged the air from Vancouver to Valparaiso, and Rio back to Vancouver. We were booked on Air Canada flights from Vancouver to Toronto and then Toronto to Santiago. It snowed the night before we left Vancouver which caused several flight delays. We were extremely lucky our flights were not delayed at all. We landed in sunny warm Santiago on time at 12:30 PM, a 5 hour time difference from home. We went through two separate lineups - one to pay the $132 US each reciprocity (airport) fee and then through customs. A HAL rep greeted us in the luggage claim, checked off our names and then guided us to another HAL rep to a waiting bus. Our checked luggage was put on a truck that went to the ship and was delivered directly to our stateroom. It took about an hour from landing in Santiago until we were on the bus. The drive to Valparaiso was 1.5 hours. After check-in at the terminal we bought 2 bottles of wine which were free to take on board on embarkation day. We then went through security and onto another bus which drove to the ship. We arrived too late for our embarkation picture to be taken however we were able to get one made up with a picture taken later in the cruise. We just had enough time to drop our bags in our stateroom, freshen up and grab our life jackets for the lifeboat drill. It was 1 hour before sailing - which to us was cutting it way too close! SHIP The ship was decorated throughout with colourful Christmas trees. The front office was decorated with fresh flowers and poinsettias which looked quite festive. The tree lighting ceremony took place at 7:30 PM the first night and Christmas carols were sung. There was a nativity scene on the lower promenade level atrium and a few Christmas trees with white lights which were quite pretty. The lower atrium had a mirrored wall reflecting millions of colours. The main dining room was decorated with stars hanging from the ceiling and white poinsettia garlands around the upper inside. STATEROOM Our stateroom was 3345 - just steps away from the lower promenade atrium (and right beside the self-service laundry). This was the quietest stateroom we'd ever been in and we never heard any noise from the adjoining staterooms, above, below or the laundry room at all. The stateroom was quite spacious with 2 large twins put together, a love-seat and chair. We each had our own closet space as well as a closet for coats, shoes etc. There was storage space under the bed for our luggage. We were surprised to see that we didn't have a mini refrigerator. The washroom was average size with adequate storage space for our personal toiletries. The wall-mounted hair dryer got too hot after 20 seconds. Luckily there was a portable hair dryer (in HAL bag) in one of the dresser drawers to use instead. We were somewhat disappointed that we only received one canvas HAL bag this cruise. On the Explorer cruise we took 10 years ago, we each received one HAL canvas bag, rain poncho, small Spanish dictionary, small South America guidebook, mini binoculars, journal and wooden pen. SERVICE Outstanding. Our stateroom was attended to by Agus and Ikhwan who were quite efficient and not intrusive. HAL seems to have cut their staff as they seemed to be responsible for a great many staterooms. The same also seemed to apply in the dining room. DINING - We chose second seating dining at 8 PM at a table for two. We opted for formal dining as it was a holiday cruise. DH grumbled at first at the thought of bringing a suit, shoes etc. but next time will consider renting a tux, not to mention the extra luggage space that will be saved. Our waiter was Paul and his assistant was Theodor. Our wine steward was Dino and his assistant was Joseph. All men were quite pleasant the entire cruise and never stopped smiling. The maitre'd always stopped by our table each night, called us by name and would inquire how our day and meal was (how he remembered everyone's names we don't know.) The meals were excellent and nicely prepared. We enjoyed the chilled soups whenever they were on the menus. A latte, cappuccino or hot chocolate could be ordered after dinner at no extra charge. It was disappointing to note that some men and women wore jeans on formal and smart casual evenings (obviously they hadn't read their Welcome Aboard literature which clearly stated no jeans). Anyone paying this amount of money on a cruise can at least afford a pair of dark pants don't you think. The maitre d' should have gently reminded these people to either change or suggest eating in the Lido Cafe instead, but it seemed he didn't want to rock the boat. We once skipped dinner in the dining room and went to the Lido Cafe - where anything on the menu was the same as the dining room anyway. Then you could see what you wanted to eat in advance. We ate breakfast in the dining room just once. Several times we ordered in-room dining where the meals were always delivered on the dot. At the Lido Cafe there were a number of make-to-order stations for eggs benedict, waffles, eggs, bacon, sausage. You name it they had it. Some days it was hard to decide what to have. For lunch in the Lido Cafe there was a great variety of pasta and sauces, wraps, grilled sandwiches and salads to choose from. We tried to avoid eating where people served themselves - not everyone used the hand sanitizer or used the tongs. The pool area had a few kinds of greasy pizza slices; also at the Terrace Grill you could order a hamburger, cheeseburger, chicken burger or hot dog. PHOTOS Each 8x10 picture cost $14.95 - pretty steep and the price adds up. Many photos were not bought - perhaps many more would have been bought if the price and size was reduced. Almost every night the ship's photographers were set up to do portrait or green screen photos. They were also visible on deck during scenic cruising and at the various ports. SHOPS Just a few "dam" souvenirs and the usual expensive jewelry. There were few people in the shops the entire cruise. The souvenir South America T-shirts were a bright cayenne pepper colour which we never saw anyone buying. Also for sale were light jackets with an Antarctica patch sewn on and these didn't even have a hood. CASINO This was one of the smallest casinos we'd ever seen on a cruise ship, and hardly anyone ever in it. There were penny slot machines with no one ever sitting at them. We usually enjoy the slot machine tournaments but there didn't seem to be much interest so we didn't bother. BINGO We never bothered to check this out. GYM We never bothered to check this out. SPA Did not use however DH had his hair cut for $25 and they did a nice job. ART AUCTION We never bothered to check this out (not even for the free glass of champagne LOL). LIBRARY We rented a few DVDs ($3 each) to watch in our stateroom on sea days - "Message in a Bottle" and "Pirates of the Caribbean - World's End" which was aired on TV just after we watched it of course. SHOWS The one and only show we went to in the Queen's Lounge was a comedian named Tom Sutton from Britain. He was one of the worst comedians we'd ever heard. His material was either political or quite dated - references to Bonanza and Little House on the Prairie. Some people walked out of the theatre and I wished we had done the same - we should have chosen to do our laundry instead. DRINKS We purchased a card for $56 which entitled us to 10 cocktails. The frozen (strawberry or lime) margaritas were the best and ended up being $1 cheaper than you would pay individually. MOVIES Among the movies we saw in the Wajang Theater were the "Dark Knight", "Swing Vote" and "Christmas Vacation". These movies were broadcast on TV the following day. LAUNDRY $2.00 (8 quarters) for the wash cycle and the dryers were free. We found the best time to do laundry was after dinner otherwise everyone tried to go there at the same time, usually on sea days. CRAFTS Creative Christmas Crafts class hosted by the party planner who explained that HAL had not hired a crafts person this cruise. She brought a large plastic container filled with construction paper and glue she'd gotten from the children's area! Her suggestions were to either make a wreath out of hand prints (no thanks) or a Santa to hang on our stateroom door. Some ladies walked out at this point (I wished I had) but I stayed, made a lame looking Santa that I would have been embarrassed to hang on our stateroom door. I didn't attend any future crafts sessions. PORTS We had visited each port on our previous South America cruise. The only shore excursions we took were in Punta Arenas, Falkland Islands and Rio de Janeiro. Puerto Montt The tender took about 15 minutes and docked near the Angelmo artisan market (about 30 artisan stalls). We walked about a mile to the Paseo Mall. The mall had 3 levels with a food court including KFC and Pizza Hut, and on one level there was a tiny McDonalds kiosk selling ice cream. Ladies take notice - when going to the bano (bathroom) - take your paper first from a giant roll before going into a stall as there was no paper provided inside. The mall also had a large supermarket called Full Fresh where we bought pisco in a dark Easter Island decanter and Artesano pisco sour which was already mixed. We walked back to the Angelmo artisan market selling hand-made woolen caps, scarves, jackets etc. We had bought a lot of this stuff 10 years ago so we only bought a few postcards. Punta Arenas Patagonia Experience - Otway Bay tour (we did this 10 years ago). The bus ride was about an hour and we stopped a few times to see rheas by the road side. The weather was overcast but did get a bit sunny. There was a large parking area (a few people had come in taxis), washrooms, a small cafe and a few souvenir kiosks. It was about a mile walk along roped boardwalks out to the Magellanic penguins. We saw many penguins, which marched in comical lines down to the water. A viewing platform was available to see the penguins in the ocean. A trailer back on the pier sold woolen hats, sweaters, gloves and souvenirs. I bought a woolen alpaca hat (flannel lined) with ear flaps for $5, a souvenir penguin mug and a book on Antarctica. That alpaca hat was the best $5 purchase I ever made when we cruised in Antarctica!!! We split the cost of a taxi ride into town for $10 with another couple. In the middle of town was a square with a statue of an Indian with a golden toe - if you touched it legend states you'll return again some day (and here we were!). Around the square were a number of handicraft tables. DH bought a hooded alpaca sweater and a hat. Ushuaia, Argentina Very picturesque with the snow capped mountains all around. We docked at 1 PM and the wind blew fiercely as we walked off the ship. We went through a security building then out to the town. We walked along San Martin, the main street, with several souvenir shops. We stopped at Laguna Negra, a chocolate shop which had a little cafe in the back where we enjoyed bottles of Cape Horn pale ale. Cape Horn We were out on deck at 7 AM where it was windy and overcast to witness passing the tip of South America. We thought there was supposed to be a monument with an albatross but we didn't see one. Antarctica cruising (December 23) It was quite foggy and snowing lightly (how often can you say you've been on a cruise and it snowed?). We could just make out the mountains and the ice made it quite an awesome thing to see. We saw our first penguins far off on land in the distance. People wore an odd assortment of footwear - from flip flops with socks to high heel sandals. A group of people came on board from Palmer Station to give a slide presentation of the research they do which was quite interesting. In a corner of the Crow's Nest was a "Base Camp" which was a tent recreating the Shackleton Antarctica adventure. Maps were on display of where we would be cruising in Antarctica. A TV played a DVD of the movie "Shackleton" over and over. DH and I watched the 2 hour movie one afternoon with a tango class in the background so it was hard to hear some parts of the movie. This base camp should have been set up in a small room elsewhere on the ship. Antarctica cruising (December 24) A beautiful morning with spectacular views of icebergs as we retraced the route we went the day before, which was completely different without all the fog. Many people remarked this was a surreal experience seeing this and it was so awesome to describe. We passed by the Argentina and Chile research stations. In the afternoon we went up on Lido deck aft for the "Penguin Dip" in the pool. It was cold though the pool water was warm. Waiters were ready with cups of hot chocolate as we came out of the pool. Certificates of this event were delivered to our stateroom a few days later. Antarctica cruising (December 25) We started the day by seeing Adelie penguins on an iceberg! The sky was clear and blue but cold. We stayed out on deck until 10 AM - rushed in to have our pictures taken with Santa in the Queen's Lounge - then went back out on deck. We saw the Esperanza research station belonging to Argentina. About 42 people live there with 2 school teachers, and the children are considered part of the Argentinian school system. All the dining room staff wore Santa hats and most people dressed formally for dinner. We passed by Elephant Island just before dinner - DH went outside and took pictures but we were not close enough to see any elephant seals. Sundown was 11 PM and sunrise 4 AM. Stanley, Falkland Islands We had originally planned to do OBT Sparrow Cove and were wait-listed on the Volunteer Point Penguin tour. The night before we got confirmation for Volunteer Point. We got onto the tender at 6:45 AM, and the water was so choppy we almost didn't make it to the dock. If it had been any worse they probably would have discontinued the tender process. There were 48 people on our tour and we went in groups of 4 in Land Rovers (these are shipped to the FI, but the tires are specially ordered from the UK). Our guide and driver was Neil, born in the UK and now a resident of FI. Apparently he had been waiting since 6:15 AM for us to arrive (we were an hour late), and apologized for not shaving LOL. Neil told us about the FI war of 1982 of which there were still land mines in the ground but were roped off. He said when a cruise ship is in, everyone pitches in do driving - lawyer, doctor, dentist etc. All education is free in the FI and tuition and expenses is paid if you further your education in the UK afterward. Medical and dental expenses are also free. The countryside was pretty bland, bleak and very windy. Part of the way was off-road and quite bumpy in some spots. At Volunteer Point there was a small portable with toilets and info. Bag lunches were provided consisting of a ham or cheese sandwich, bottle of water, roast chicken chips and an apple. We had 2 hours to see the penguins. Ground rules were don't run, let anything flap, talk loudly and stay outside the ring of stones which served as a perimeter for the penguins. Inside the ring of stones there were a number of baby penguins still with some of their fluff. Wardens wearing bright green fluorescent vests ensured that everyone obeyed the rules. The king penguins we saw were awesome! They just stood there and posed while we took close-up shots. Down at the beach, the water was a tropical turquoise blue and the sand a very fine white powder like talc. There were king and gentoo penguins here. This was the most incredible experience to see these animals up close. The only other place in the world to see king penguins is on South Georgia Islands. Our tour guide let us off close to the whale bone arch where we walked back to the tender. We only had 30 minutes so we went into Capstan Gift Shop, a really nice gift shop selling penguin souvenirs, cards, DVDs, glassware and all kinds of things. Buenos Aires, Argentina We were awakened at about 12:30 AM by the captain announcing over the PA of "bright star, bright star, cabin XXXX" which sounded like an emergency code of some kind. We asked our dining room waiter about this and he said a female passenger had had a heart attack and passed away that morning. It was sunny and warm. It was mandatory to take a shuttle bus from the ship to the cruise terminal as the ship was docked in an industrial area. We walked up to the Florida pedestrian mall which stretched for 6 blocks and branched off another 6 blocks. We took a taxi to the Recoleta and had lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe and then walked back to the ship. The Filipino crew show was awesome to watch - we don't know when they ever found the time to practice! Montevideo, Uruguay The cruise director announced over the PA that docking would be delayed by one hour so all tours would depart an hour later. Some people complained of this as we had only traveled about 87 miles from Buenos Aires the previous evening. The cruise director explained that the appropriate arrangements had to be made so that the husband of the deceased passenger could disembark with her body. It was overcast and a bit cool. We walked up the street where shops were just opening. Many buildings looked old and rundown, and the streets and sidewalks were uneven. DH collects stamps so at the main post office he bought a first day cover of Ano Polar Internacional canceled with a penguin stamp. The fellow who helped us apologized for dressing so casually - as it was New Year's Eve the custom around mid-day was that people threw their old calendars, day-timers and water from buildings at people below in the street!!! We later watched as a bunch of people getting on and off a bus got drenched with water. We were careful crossing the street but a few seconds later we both got wet - I just looked up, smiled and waved to the people laughing. I looked like something the cat dragged in LOL as we walked back to the ship. At a small wine store across from where the ship was docked we bought a bottle of Maria Zarranz MEtodo Champenoise Extra Brut wine from Uruguay ($25 US) which we used to bring in the New Year that night. We received a congratulatory card from the captain for our 10th anniversary. In the dining room we found New Year hats at our table. The New Year's Eve Gala Dinner included caviar and seafood cocktail and lobster. For dessert there was a chocolate tower filled with mascarpone mousse and crème de cacao and had Happy New Year 2009 in gold lettering. The maitre'd brought a small cake with a candle on it (white icing with chocolate cookie crumbs on the outside and devil's food on the inside) and he and our waiters sang a lively Filipino tune, wishing us a happy anniversary. We had the cake delivered to our stateroom. All of the public lounges were decorated with paper streamers and sparkly confetti. We went to the Queen's Lounge around 11:30 pm which was already half full at this time. We picked up blowers and noisemakers as we went in. We got a good seat off to the side, and each table had 2 balloons, black top hat and star confetti and paper ribbons. It was quite noisy with everyone blowing their horns and turning their noisemakers. Waiters made the rounds with free champagne 20 minutes before midnight. The stage had been converted to a dance floor with rails at the edge so people wouldn't fall off. Big screen monitors on each side of the lounge counted down the time to midnight. At midnight the whole lounge erupted with noise and a net of balloons was released from the ceiling. What a mess was left on the floors throughout but of course was all gone the next morning. New Year's Day We had New Year's Day brunch at the Pinnacle Grill ($30 each). We'd never eaten at a restaurant on a ship with a cover charge. There were about 25 people who came and we were offered a glass of champagne at the door. The buffet area was set up in the back and consisted of various seafood (jumbo shrimp, crab legs, herring, salmon and caviar), cold cuts and cheese, roast beef and salads. Breakfast items such as omelets were made to order. A dessert tray consisted of assorted squares, pastries and freshly dipped chocolate strawberries. White and red wines were served. DH had 5 servings of caviar. We were so stuffed we went back to our stateroom and rested for the afternoon. Went to the Dessert Extravaganza at 11:30 PM that was set up on tables around the pool. There were ice sculptures, a chocolate fountain, a few crepes stations and quite an assortment of pastries. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil We were out on deck at 5 AM as we sailed into Rio, past the Corcovado and Sugar Loaf. We chose the 8 hour Rio Extravaganza tour for both days in Rio for these reasons: (1) in case the weather didn't cooperate one day, (2) we were guaranteed seeing the Corcovado and Sugar Loaf and (3) safety - we'd read it wasn't very safe to be roaming around in Rio (even by taxi). The first day it was about 33 degrees and humid. We drove to Sugar Loaf first. We were glad we were on a tour as we bypassed everyone standing in line for tickets. The tram stopped at one level where you got off, took pictures and then went to the next level. Our tour description stated lunch at a seafood restaurant but was at a barbecue restaurant instead. A number of tour buses were already there and we sat at a table for 10. We helped ourselves to the salad bar. Platters of food were brought to the table like rice, puffy cheese puffs, fried bananas and french fries. Huge skewers of meat (lamb, beef, pork, sausage and chicken) were brought around and were sliced onto your plate with a huge knife (careful not to move LOL!!!) Dishes of vanilla soft serve ice cream with fruit cocktail were served for dessert. Corcovado. The tram ride was 20 minutes through the Tijuca Forest with lush greenery on both sides. There were chachaka trees with large yellowish hanging fruits. It was quite an amazing incline when we arrived at the station. Again we were glad we were on a tour and bypassed the crowds. We boarded a narrow elevator (only 5 people at a time) then up a few escalators (the highest in the world?). There were a few souvenir shops all selling the same little statues and souvenirs. Back at the bottom of the tram station there was a Hard Rock Cafe kiosk. DH wanted to buy a ball cap but they would not accept US dollars (he bought one later at a HRC kiosk in the terminal where the ship docked). We bought a poster of the Corcovado and Sugar Loaf signed by the photographer for $82 US. Our bus drove past the famous Copacabana and Ipanema beaches which were packed. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (disembarkation) We waited in our stateroom for our ticket (luggage) number and colour to be called for our tour. At the end of our tour, we would be dropped off at the airport. It was overcast and cooler which was a bit of a relief. Our tour bus was full and we went to the Corcovado first. It was quite windy and raining slightly when we got there. Once we got up to the top we were told the elevators weren't working as the winds were too high (felt like a hurricane). We walked up the few steps to the Corcovado. It was completely misty in some spots. Our lunch stop was at a different barbecue restaurant where the food was essentially the same as the day before but just as good. Our tour guide phoned ahead to Sugar Loaf in case the trams weren't operating. They were - it was windy with intermittent rain. We drove past the beaches again, completely deserted this time. We were dropped off at the airport around 5 PM. Everyone's luggage from the ship had been put onto trolleys but not in a totally secure area. Our flight to Miami was not until 10:15 PM but we got in the ONE lineup for international flights anyway. It took 90 minutes to get to the first security desk. An AA rep had our e-ticket printouts. Then we waited another 30 minutes to check in our luggage. We were given boarding passes for all 3 flights (Rio-Miami, Miami-Dallas Ft. Worth and DFW-Vancouver) however for the first flight to Miami we did not have seat assignments and were told to deal with the AA rep at the gate before boarding the plane. We went through security into a confusing mess of people. Half a dozen other people at our gate were also without seat assignments. We never thought to check our flight status on the Internet on the ship and we could have averted this confusion altogether. We managed to get home safely with all our luggage intact. Overall, we had an awesome vacation and would do this itinerary (especially Antarctica) again in a heartbeat. Read Less
Sail Date: January 2009
I spent 11 nights on an Antarctic trip below the Antarctic Circle on the Fram after booking with through Cruise Norway in NY. It was a replacement trip for a cruise canceled last year(2008)after she struck an iceberg in the Antarctic. Due ... Read More
I spent 11 nights on an Antarctic trip below the Antarctic Circle on the Fram after booking with through Cruise Norway in NY. It was a replacement trip for a cruise canceled last year(2008)after she struck an iceberg in the Antarctic. Due to some issues with Hurtigruten in NY and reading some of the reviews, I had some doubts about the trip However, the entire trip was beautifully handled from Miami to BA to Ushuaia, aboard the Fram and back again to Miami. I must admit, this was my first cruise of any kind, so I have little to compare it to, except what my friends and relatives have told and shown me about their trips on conventional cruise ships. First, the cabin. Unless you had a suite, the cabins were very small. With the beds down in sleeping position, there was about 16 inches between the beds. When they were up, you had a couch and a fairly roomy space. The bath was small, but adequate, and about the size of other cruise ships, in photos that I've seen. We had 2 closets a small desk, refrigerator and a luggage storage area. The suites were much larger and appeared to be very comfortable. We had a large window on the port side with an excellent shade for darkening the room on the very bright nights. The food was very good and highly varied. The only persons who might have a problem would be vegans, or very strict vegetarians, as much of the food included meat, cheese or fish. There were excellent varieties of salads, fresh fruits and vegetables, although the latter were usually served plain. The meals (except 3) were all buffet, so you made your own choices among many options. The three served meals were excellent and even gourmet, in style, quality and presentation. The desserts and baked goods were extremely varied and always excellent. If anything ran out, a simple request to any dining staff would result in a refill. If you dined late after a landing (or just a late riser), they would close each food line as you completed the course and wait for you to finish. As January 26th was Australian Day, the chef prepared a special meal for the Australians at a special table set up for the event. My grandson and I were invited as "honorary Aussies." The kitchen prepared Aussie meat pies, rack of lamb, mashed potatoes and peas and even the dessert was made specially prepared with Lamingtons and Pavlovas The common areas consisted of a large wall-to-wall ceiling-to-floor window lounge on Deck 7 along with a small fitness area and 2 hot tubs. There was a large sauna and locker and shower facilities on Deck 8. The restaurant was on Deck 4 which also included the reception desk, coffee shop, gift shop, Internet area and presentation rooms. Wireless was only available only in this area. The desk was staffed 24/7 and coffee, tea, hot chocolate, water and cookies & pastries were available 24/7 without charge. They had a fairly good selection of beers and wines at meals and in the lounge, although alcoholic beverages and soft drinks were an extra charge. Each member of the Crew, Dining, Housekeeping & Expedition Staff was very enthusiastic and accommodated every request possible. The landings, as many as 3 per day, were conducted in Polar Cirkel boats which are stiffer than Zodiacs and never got us wet (we had very moderate seas). The ship has a water level loading platform on Deck 2, that allows you to enter the boats with a simple step-on & step-off procedure. The Fram provided us with parkas, (really waterproof hooded shells) and boots (referred to by many as "Wellies") in all sizes. The boots were almost always dry and comfortable, once you selected the right size, though you had to be careful in your selection if you were in the last group of the day. Lastly, there was a convenient laundry room on Deck 3, where you could get the sweat and penguin poo off of your long johns and outerwear. About a buck for a wash and dryers were free. There was also service laundry, but we never used or needed it. So, despite my misgivings, I had the best trip of my entire life on a ship I was concerned about embarking upon. Perhaps my review may have been different if I were a more experienced cruiser, but I really doubt it as I spoke with more than half the passengers (very experienced travelers and cruisers) on a daily basis during and after the trip and everyone had the same opinion. Great Ship. No casino, no entertainment, 1 restaurant 249 passengers out of a possible 318, but never a dull moment. Never got more then 30 minutes in one of the three books I brought Thanks for listening and take my advice to "Go south young man/woman, Go south, on the Fram! Read Less
Sail Date: January 2009
My wife and I decided to take a 4-day Pre-Cruise to the Iguazu Falls before cruising to South America and Antarctica on January 4, 2009 through Holland America. It was an uneventful flight to Rio de Janeiro. HAL put us up at the Rio ... Read More
My wife and I decided to take a 4-day Pre-Cruise to the Iguazu Falls before cruising to South America and Antarctica on January 4, 2009 through Holland America. It was an uneventful flight to Rio de Janeiro. HAL put us up at the Rio Intercontinental Hotel for an overnight stay. The day of our arrival happened on December 31, 2008. The hotel was busy getting ready for the New Years Eve celebrations. On the bus ride from the airport we were offered tickets to purchase for the hotel's celebrations or for an evening tour of the Copacabana and Impanema beach areas. I do not recall anyone buying any. We were all too tired (some traveling over 20 hours to get here) and now we needed some rest. We were awakened at midnight by massive fireworks going off across the street from our hotel. After breakfast, 38 of us met with our two tour escorts for the excursion to the Iguazu Falls. Arriving at Foz de Iguazu, we boarded our bus and headed to the Brazilian side of the Falls and did a leisurely walking tour. We got a panoramic view of many of the 275 plus cascading falls. It was awesome and very refreshing. We were told that it would rain anytime now. The locals were predicting rain for the last few days. Our walk was perfect and the weather held out - sunny and dry - which meant the volume of water over the falls would be smaller. We boarded our bus at the end of the Brazilian trail and were taken to Hotel Cataratas, located in the National Park on the Brazilian side of the Fall, for the next two nights. The hotel was built in 1935 and is now being renovated. The rooms were very rustic but efficient. We stayed for the hotel's buffet dinner, which was excellent. Next morning, after eating a large breakfast, we headed to the Argentine side of the Falls. After a 35 minute ride to the park entrance, we boarded a Narrow Gauge train that took us to the Catwalks that led to the dramatic "Devil's Gorge". From here our senses were stretched. The roar of the falls made me realize this was nature at work and I was in awe. The heavy mist got us very wet and we knew we were very close to the Gorge. The Catwalks also took us to many smaller falls which in itself were spectacular. The excursion was truly awesome. That evening we signed up for an "Iguazu By Night Three Country Dinner Show" at the Rafael Restaurant. The specialty at this buffet was their barbecued meats. The food was great and the show was a variety of singing and dancing from Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay - a very nice ending to a spectacular two-day Iguazu Falls Excursion. That evening it did rain. In the morning, my wife and I got up very early before breakfast and went to hike the same trail we did on our first day. The water run-off was much heavier from the overnight rain and the roar of the water was louder. It also created alot more misting, covering many of the falls. Definitely not good for picture taking. Our afternoon flight back to Rio was delayed for two hours. Our escorts knew we were going to miss dinner so they made arrangements at our Hotel Intercontinental for a complimentary late buffet dinner. Early the next morning, we put out our large check-in luggages for pickup to be delivered to the Amsterdam. We headed off on a half-day tour of Rio before boarding our ship. The tour included the world famous beaches, downtown, Sugar Loaf Mountain, Flamingo Park, financial districts, St. Sebastian Cathedral, Lapa Arches, National Library, Fine Arts Museum, and the Sambadrome, site of Rio's famous Carnival parades. In a far distance, Christ the Redeemer Statue was shrouded in fog. By noon we arrived at Rio's Cruise Terminal. Check-in was a breeze taking no more than 15 minutes. Our stateroom was not ready so we headed up to the Lido Buffet. Lunch was good - great variety of pasta, salads, meats, vegetables, sandwiches, pizzas, hamburgers and hot dogs. The Lido was very clean and the staff was "Johnny-on-the-Spot" helpful and very polite. This made Lido dining very pleasant. After lunch we headed to our stateroom on the Main Deck, forward, port-side. Our stateroom showed no wear or tear. It was dust-free and immaculate. We got to meet Abdul, our stateroom attendant and his sidekick assistant, Din. They were very friendly and helpful and spoke English well. My preference was to have only a sheet on my side of the bed and my wife likes her sheet with blanket combination. They made the change right away and it was like that throughout the cruise. Abdul left my blanket in the closet thinking I may need it while cruising the Antarctic Seas. We always had a full bucket of ice and extra bath towels as well as the handmade towel animals every night. Can't get better service than that. We had early dining in the open-seating La Fontaine Dining Room. The quality and variety of food were good and so was the presentation. Dining staff was only okay. I felt our waiter and his assistant were sometimes distracted. I like to start my dinner with ice tea. Some days it was already on the table when I arrived and other days it came midway through my dinner. One evening I ordered soup; it never came. Our dinner usually took two hours. Some evening we would skip dessert in order to catch the early show. We would then get our dessert during the 11 o'clock late buffet in the Lido. The production stage shows were very good. Performers sang and danced with a lot of energy and passion. The ship's travel guide, Chris Fisher, is very informative and has all the answers you would need. At first I was bored by his monotone voice, but I got use to it because of all the pertinent information he was giving. He did a great job. The Exploration Speaker Series was also a perfect way of getting us ready for the three days of cruising the Antarctic Seas. First speaker was Robert Hofman, a Marine Mammal Scientist. Second speaker was John Splettstoesser, an Antarctica Geologist and finally Captain Patrick Toomey, who was an Ice Pilot for the Canadian Coast Guard. The three speakers spent many years in the Antarctic and gave a total of ll lectures covering their own specialty. John Splettstoesser has two mountain ranges named after him. One is located in the Ellsworth Mountains and the other at the Victoria Mountains. Each time the lectures were given, the Queen's Lounge was packed with attendees. Cruising the Antarctic: Day 1 - Cruising the South Coast of Elephant Island. Into the Antarctic Sound, high winds prevented the stopping at Esperanza Argentine Station. Passed m/v Corinthian II. At 1700 hours, while circumnavigating Paulet Island,the Amsterdam encountered "Katabatic Winds" gusting to 80 knots. We were told later by Capt. Toomey that the ship listed 12 degree. That was exciting! Passed Rosamel Island and reentered the Antarctic Sound from the Weddell Sea and headed west to Bransfield Straits to overnight to Dallmann Bay. Day 2 - Entered Dallmann Bay from the north and passed Cuverville Island. m/v Corinthian II was anchored there. We transited southbound to Errera Channel. Cruising Andvort Bay, we passed m/v Akademik Shokalskiy southbound. Southbound in Neumayer Channel. m/v Andre entered Port Lockroy as m/v National Geographic Endeavor came out. Eastbound in Bismarck Straits, then northbound in Gerlache Straits. m/v Akademik Shokalskiy headed westbound. In Paradise Harbor, m/v Marco Polo at Chilean Station Gonzalez Videla. We cruised to Almirante Brown Station Argentine. Dallmann Bay northbound while m/v National Geographic Endeavor also northbound. Amsterdam overnight cruising off west coast of Anvers Island. Day 3 - 0830 at U.S. Palmer Station to embark 14 scientists and staff. Headed southbound to Lemaire Channel. The Palmer crew gave a slide show briefing in the Queen's Lounge. To accommodate Amsterdam's large number of cruisers, they gave two briefings. Afterwards they lunched in the Lido and answered more questions from the passengers. Petermann Island was the farthest south we went (80.4 nm from the Antarctic Circle and 1,460 nm from the South Pole). We headed northbound to Cape Horn. This ended the three days cruising the Antarctica. I have been on 15 cruises. This Antarctic Itinerary was the BEST AND MOST INTERESTING, SPECTACULAR, AND SATISFYING one. The bonus was having the U.S. Palmer Station personnel coming onboard to brief us on their mission. Outstanding event. Kudos to HAL for serving hot soup on the outside decks during those three freezing days. Luckily, the weather was perfect. Another highlight was the port call to Port Stanley, Falkland Islands. We signed up with HAL to do the Bluff Cove Penguin Rookery. What a KICK! There were 8 passengers to a van and we were taken for a 45 minutes ride and transferred to a 4-wheel Drive Land Rover and rode another 25 minutes to get to the Gentoo Rookery. Dead center of this Gentoo Rookery were 6 Male King Penguins. I could distinctly see one of the Kings holding his egg on top of his feet with his tummy covering it. What a sight! Another HAL excursion was at Punta Arenas Patagonia Experience and Otway Bay. Here we saw the Magellanic penguins: five to six of them playing follow-the-leader, babies waiting to be fed and others jumping into the surf and swimming off. Awesome sight, not to be missed. Other ports-of-call on this cruise were Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Ushuaia (Tierra del Fuego) and Puerto Montt. Each city had its own highlights, which were enjoyable. Final destination was Valparaiso, Chile. Our flight home was scheduled at 2200 hours. That left us with over 14 hours before our flight time. We booked with HAL for an 8 hour Santiago City Tour. Our luggage was put out the evening before and we were to claim them later at the airport. The bus ride from Valparaiso to Santiago took 1 and 1/2 hour. We stopped at a jewelry store, rode a funicular, had a delicious salmon lunch and went to a Dominican Craft Village for some final shopping. Around 1630 we headed to the Santiago Airport. Arriving outside of the airport check-in building, we saw hundreds of our luggage sorted on carts and lined up for us to claim. We wheeled them inside to the Delta Airline check-in line and waited two hours for the counters to open. Kudos again to HAL for having our luggage ready. This made it a very smooth transition for the end of a wonderful cruise holiday. Our flights home were uneventful. I need to mention that on the Pre-Cruise Iguazu Falls, there were 12 of us who already knew each other through CruiseCritic.com on the South America "Roll Call" Board for the Amsterdam. Shark410 (Sharon) made arrangements with the Seattle Office for a Cruise Critic's "Meet & Greet" get-together at the Crow's Nest on January 10, a sea day. The ship provided coffee, tea and two kinds of cookies. 30 people attended this Meet and Greet. Attending from the ship were Hotel Manager Hans Dernson, Cruse Director Michelle Worthley, Chief Housekeeper Ali Mushochib, Environment Officer Ronald Bloeme, and Crew Purser Julie Brnsey. Thanks to the above for attending and making this an outstanding Meet & Greet. This was so successful Sharon scheduled another Meet & Greet, this time in the Sports/Piano Bar. Of the 30 attendees, 15 were interested in joining CruiseCritic.com. Thanks to Beverage Manager Guido Kollmann for making this happen. One last event to mention. The original group of 38 that did the Pre-Cruise Iguazu Falls also wanted a get-together. Sheri V. from the group asked and set up a HAL ms Amsterdam Iguazu Falls Reunion". Guido and Michelle hosted this event at the Sports/Piano Bar on January 13, 1600 hours and served hot hors d'oeuvres. Definitely a "Class Act" from the Amsterdam, and thanks to its officers and crew. In a nut shell, the Holland America Line January 4, 2009 South American Explorer and Antarctic Experience 20 Days Cruise was a wonderful and a "Great Valued" package. This cruise had it all - itinerary, food, entertainment, speaker series, ports-of-call, service and professionalism. It is "5 STAR+". Gimer. Read Less
Sail Date: January 2009
120' MotorYacht Safari Quest chartered for 8 day, 7 night extended family [meaning most of us did not know each other] cruise in Sea of Cortes, Baja California Sur, Mexico, January, 2009. Boarded at LaPaz. Disembarked at Puerto ... Read More
120' MotorYacht Safari Quest chartered for 8 day, 7 night extended family [meaning most of us did not know each other] cruise in Sea of Cortes, Baja California Sur, Mexico, January, 2009. Boarded at LaPaz. Disembarked at Puerto Escondido [near Loreto]. The yacht is a well-maintained twin-screw island of paradise. Room accommodations are well-equipped, clean and welcoming. Not particularly luxurious as some might expect on a large ship, but you don't spend time in your staterooms on this boat. Kayaks, 2 skiffs, wetsuits, snorkeling gear, water skis all provided for guests' enjoyment. Yacht is large enough for everyone to find some personal space on the upper deck equipped with lounge chairs, exercise equipment and hot tub; the bridge deck with a library and, outside, chairs looking over the stern; or the first deck with plenty of space on the bow for whale, dolphin and sea lion scouting, or at the stern with a welcoming large table and chairs. Also on the first deck is a luxurious salon with plenty of comfortable chairs, the open and very well stocked bar, and the dining room and galley. Destinations, such as Isla San Jose, Los Islotes, Isla San Francisco, Agua Verde, all offer multiple opportunities for exploration kayaking, snorkeling, hiking, swimming, exploring, and, at Agua Verde, burro excursion. The itinerary is flexible. See whales off the stern? The good captain of the yacht will turn the yacht around and idle the yacht to give everyone the opportunity to see them up close and take photos. Rough winds? Well, the yacht will just anchor in a protected cove, and the passengers will enjoy a bonfire, cocktails and hot appetizers on the beach, before returning via one of two skiffs to the yacht for dinner. Want to take a swim? Ask the captain to hook up the rope swing from the yacht's crane off the stern. If you grab it from the top deck, you are braver than me. Meals are all prepared by Executive Chef and Pastry Chef. The food is is comparable in quality, preparation and service as you would experience in a fine restaurant. Although my experience was a private party charter, I didn't know most of the people before boarding. I would not be hesitant about reserving a stateroom for my wife and me to travel with strangers on this yacht in the future. The yacht is the right size to enjoy everyone's company, but nevertheless provides personal space when that is necessary. Go on the Safari Quest and you no doubt will have a magnificent time and make new friends in your fellow passengers. By far, however, the best friends you will make will be the individual members of the crew. My personal experience was that they all were just a great bunch of responsible, [yet fun-loving, joining in the activities of the guests], individuals working seamlessly together for the ultimate enjoyment of the experience of all guests. On our charter, we had 16 passengers and 9 crew: Captain, First Mate, Engineer, Hotel Manager, Executive Chef, Pasty Chef, Naturalist who led us on shore excursions, and 2 stewards. All shared in the responsibilities of the operation of the yacht and all were just great. Now, I will note that the advertised maximum passengers for Safari Quest is 21. Unless it was all a very close-knit group of family or friends for a private charter, I've got to say I think 21 passengers might be pushing it a bit. Just my opinion. Is it pricey? Yes, no doubt about it. But if you can afford and want this type of experience, you will not be disappointed. [Don't bother if you want gambling, discos, Vegas shows, etc. that is not what this trip and this cruise line are about!] For 8 short video slideshows of our trip, go to YouTube.Com, and search either for "WJRESQ" or "SARFARI QUEST". I trust this is helpful. Read Less
Sail Date: March 2009
Pre/post-cruise. We booked our own air using frequent flyer miles, but for the first time did the Celebrity pre/post-cruise package. This was by far the most convenient arrangement and was handled beautifully. We arrived in Quito late ... Read More
Pre/post-cruise. We booked our own air using frequent flyer miles, but for the first time did the Celebrity pre/post-cruise package. This was by far the most convenient arrangement and was handled beautifully. We arrived in Quito late after delays in Atlanta and it was a welcome relief to see the "X" sign and be whisked from customs to our hotel. The JW Marriott was first rate and we only wish we had more time to enjoy it... Note: Captain's Club members are eligible for Executive Lounge privileges which are a significant perk. (We had read about this and requested it at check-in) The Lounge has snacks, a full breakfast, and free internet. Plus the friendliest and most efficient staff imaginable. After breakfast there, we departed at 9 am for our city tour. We saw Quito highlights and had lunch at the Crater restaurant (take pics as soon as possible before the fog rolls in). After a brief turn around, we went out for a lovely evening at Theatro restaurant and were entertained by a tenor. During the pre-stay we me the first of many wonderful people we would be travelling with. We had to have our suitcases outside of our room at 5 am to be inspected before being taken to ship. (One suggestion would be to check the bags the night before.) We did leave bag with warmer clothes which we hadn't needed at the hotel. Left early to be taken to airport. Great not to have to hassle with luggage. We made one stop en route to Balta to pick up some people. TAME was a delight to fly - not sure if the white table cloth service was because our flight was a Celebrity charter. The post-cruise stay was a bit rushed; we didn't get to hotel until after 4 PM and left at 5 PM for shopping. Did like the open air market and bought some things there and at airport. Had a lovely dinner at the hotel before a very early departure the next morning. We did take altitude meds and had no problems while in Quito. Embarkation. Term hardly seems to apply. No lines involved. We were met at Balta airport taken by bus to the landing where there were the most photographed seal lions sunning on benches. We boarded zodiacs for first time, were oriented by naturalist, and disembarked onto Xpedition. While we were enjoying welcome fruit punches, we were checked in and found that we had been upgraded. We were escorted to room and had a little while to rest before formal orientation and preview of day's excursions. Our bags had been misplaced and we had our first pleasant interaction with the guest relations staff - truly there to help. Our bags were located onboard in time for first excursion. The Ship. So much attention has been paid to the wonders of the excursions, that less has been said about the Xpedition itself. It is a lovely ship. With the emphasis on ship - you are clearly on a ship and not a floating hotel. There definitely is the feel of being at sea and the movement to go with it. We had started taking bonine and had no ill effects. The Discovery Lounge is a pleasant, comfortable room where we were briefed each day and the source of espresso, cappuccino and imaginative and standard drinks. The Beagle Grill was not open during our sailing; its menu was served in the MDR. The MDR was never crowded and had comfortable seating where people lingered. An upper deck had chaises and a hot tub (which unfortunately was out of service for part of the trip and not very hot when it was working.) There was no pool. We were given a tour of the galley and could have toured the bridge. The overall condition of the ship was spotless and sparkling. While the live music was nice, the piped in music seemed at odds with the ambiance. The ship has a recycling program but guests could benefit from more instruction on how to recycle their water bottles. When I asked, I was showed where to place the bottles. Our cabin. We had been upgraded to stateroom 411. We had originally booked the least expensive stateroom reasoning that we would seldom be in our cabin. However, we enjoyed having a window instead of the porthole. May have had nicer robes, etc but this was not a consideration. Don't know if we would have felt less movement on 3rd rather than 4th deck or further back. Did hear anchor but this turned out not to be a problem and not sure any cabin escaped it. The cabin seemed larger than expected and had an enormous amount of storage space - given the weight restrictions on luggage, don't see how it would ever be filled but nice to have. The TV was pretty much a waste of space and seldom used; the refrigerator which was stocked with bottled water and soft drinks was a big help. The beds were unusually comfortable and no egg crate was required. The bathroom was larger than most ships and had a shower door instead of curtain. The furnishings were attractive and room kept immaculate which was hard given all our activity and inevitable tracking of sand and mud. The staff. In spite of some language gaps, this was the friendliest and most accommodating bunch of people you will ever meet. There is really a sense of community and the desire for everyone to have the best experience possible. I was particularly taken with how helpful the Guest Relations staff was (this had not been my experience on other Celebrity ships) and the computer person had amazing patience and a most pleasant manner. Since the internet service was understandably spotty, she was accosted constantly and kept her good humor. (I was just delighted to have computer access at all.) Our stateroom attendant was never intrusive and giggled at and encouraged my attempts at Spanish. While there was open seating and we had no regular server, some waiters seemed to learn who wanted champagne or cappuccino. The service was more informal than on other cruises and not perfect, but was warm and obliging. The cruise director, a naturalist himself, was a constant presence from early morning to night and always on top of the complicated logistics of the excursions. There was an excellent masseuse on board. The naturalists are in a class by themselves. It became apparent that they were the main asset of the ship. The quality of the small group excursions which they led was unparalleled. All were knowledgeable and provided an excellent experience while they ranged in personality with some being more outgoing than others. They are a wonderful resource and would provide help as needed on excursions. Don't be afraid to ask. The food. I hadn't expected much in the food department and was pleasantly surprised. The food is lighter than the more European menus on other Celebrity ship and was a nice change. While not everything was great, there was a good variety and something enjoyable at every meal. The fresh fruit is outstanding; I particularly enjoyed the papaya at breakfast every morning. There was excellent cerviche for lunch every day along with themed offerings. For dinner our choice was usually the local fish. We liked the Galapagos lobster but others did not. I particularly recommend the whole red snapper served at lunch and the tuna appetizer at the bar b-que on deck. There was shrimp galore. The menu did include Celebrity's chilled soups including an excellent Gazpacho; there were breadsticks; waffles were made every other am, and there were even soufflEs for dessert twice. I enjoyed trying the Ecuadorian dishes. There was a hot sauce made daily which enlivened the made to order omelettes. While I believe there was an alternate menu, this was never mentioned and I never needed it. Wine was served generously and after dinner drinks if requested. There are shorter meal hours than on regular cruises. Room service is at some times the only food available. Snacks were provided after excursions and during briefings. Activities. The cruise is clearly about the excursions, but I was surprised to see that there were other activities offered as well. For us at least, it was impossible to do everything. There was a wine and cheese tasting, various cocktail parties every day, star gazing, lectures, a film, a not to be missed King Neptune's party, a culinary demonstration, open discussion with naturalists, a Galapagos trivia contest to name some. I have been told that there was dancing but have no first hand knowledge; excursions start early and are tiring. Almost everyone attended the daily briefings and slide shows which preceded dinner. I was surprised that they were announcements of activities and could have done without them. (except perhaps for the one before PM excursions which served as a wake-up call for those of us napping.) Excursions. Amazing. I didn't meet anyone who wished they hadn't gone on one. We chose low/medium intensity which does not mean low impact! We saw more than we ever dreamed. The main difference in excursion levels in my opinion is that low/medium have more time on zodiacs and high more time on land. If someone enjoys hiking, that is an option, but it is not necessary in order to see everything. In fact, some "low" intensity excursions saw more wild life. Actually I feel that "low" is somewhat misleading or at best a comparative term. There was only one excursion other than zodiac rides (a beach walk to see Flamingoes) which I considered truly low intensity. Most low/medium excursions involved shorter walks on lava rock which was still difficult for some. I fell once as did others and also twisted my ankle getting off of a zodiac during one of the easier landings. Fortunately, neither mishap was a problem. Walking sticks were a big help. It is impossible to catalogue all that we saw - for starters, turtles mating (more than once), seal lion pups nursing (more than once), Kicker rock at sunrise, an island covered with iguanas, countless blue footed boobies, penguins, flamingoes in flight, striking landscapes, beautiful beaches. The only species I hadn't seen was sharks and they appeared just before we disembarked. I had never snorkeled before and my first time out saw a turtle and a school of yellow tail; later had a face to face encounter with a seal lion. Those who did advanced snorkeling were enthusiastic about it. Unfortunately, two snorkeling activities were cancelled due to high winds and rough seas. These conditions led to some exciting zodiac rides. I was impressed with how well the naturalists worked together to get us back when the tides were high - this involved some less than graceful hauling of passengers onto the zodiacs. The progress of the excursions and conditions are monitored by the ship and instructions relayed to naturalists. One of our landings was cancelled just before we attempted it; luckily, we had already seen an incredible amount via zodiac. Safety is always paramount. While there is water onboard, it seems like an ice pack (and first aid kit) might be worthy additions. General Comments This was not a perfect cruise; the significant point is that the imperfections did not matter. The experience transcended a broken hot tub or at times spotty service. I was very impressed with my fellow travelers; they were the very antithesis of "chair hogs" or entitled cruisers. Instead people seemed to feel privileged to be onboard. In fact, there was very much a communal feeling with everyone helping each other out even offering to exchange deck chairs so we could sit together, sharing binoculars, pointing out wild life, etc. The passengers were a very diverse mix of ages and nationalities. Most had travelled extensively. Although I'm not a fan of open seating, there was always someone interesting to sit with. By the time we were leaving we had met and had pleasant interactions with nearly everyone onboard. The charter flight back was fun as was the final dinner at the hotel. We enjoyed meeting the other two CCers onboard. I feel that the trip experience was enhanced by insights gleaned from the postings of previous cruisers. I understand now why the mega thread has been going for 5 years. We are all aware that we have shared a very precious experience. Read Less
Sail Date: March 2009
In March and April 2009 we spent 14 days on the Pacific Princess sailing across the Caribbean, down the East coast of South America, and up the Amazon River for 900 miles to Manaus, Brazil. We then backtracked for an additional 14 days to ... Read More
In March and April 2009 we spent 14 days on the Pacific Princess sailing across the Caribbean, down the East coast of South America, and up the Amazon River for 900 miles to Manaus, Brazil. We then backtracked for an additional 14 days to Ft Lauderdale, Florida. We got a great rate by purchasing a round trip cruise from Ft Lauderdale. The round trip was cheaper than going one-way to Manaus, flying back to Ft Lauderdale, and staying somewhere in Florida for 14 nights (we travel all the time, so if we were not on the ship we would be staying somewhere else). We are keen bird watchers and beach glass collectors. We selected this trip as a way of getting to some remote places we had not gone birding before. At 780 passengers, the Pacific Princess is smaller than other cruise ships we have been on, but actually not much different in terms of room size and ship layout, just fewer stairs to climb. We joined the private Spa and really enjoyed the enormous therapeutic hot tub and deck area in the front of the ship - all Non-Smoking!!! Our first stop was at St. Barth's (17.893N 62.864W) on March 30. We walked over to Shell Beach (17.893S 62.849W). Shell Beach is not too big and not too small, but has heaps of shells and beach glass - mostly whites, browns, and greens, but we did find a nice yellowish piece. We met two small lads from South Africa and had a quick chat with them. They were looking for Conch shells, but when we told them about beach glass, they began picking up pieces and bringing them back to us. The water was warm and beautiful. Many cruise passengers went swimming or snorkeling here. Near Shell Beach we saw an Antillean Crested Hummingbird, some Bananaquits, a Gray Kingbird, Greater Antillean Bullfinch, Pearly-eyed Thrasher, and several Zenaida Doves. From our balcony we could see Audubon Shearwaters, Brown Boobys, Brown Noddys, Magnificent Frigatebirds, and Royal Terns. With our spotting scope we could see five White-tailed Tropicbirds flying around a rock outcropping in the bay. NOTE: If you put the above Lat. Long. into Google Earth you can see the location I am describing. Usually, there are many pictures of the area. In Dominica on March 31 the Pacific Princess had a slight accident. While they were putting out the 4-inch lines to tie the ship to the dock, one of the lines fell into the water and somehow got caught in the propeller. Local divers spent the rest of the day cutting 120 ft of line away from the propeller. We had arranged to go bird watching with Bertrand Jno Baptiste, a.k.a. Dr Birdy, (drbirdy2@cwdom.dm). Bertrand is a supervisor in the Forestry Division and knows where to find the birds. Bertrand drove us up into the mountains to the Syndicate Nature Trail area (15.473N 61.355W). It was a nice day for birding. We saw all 4-hummingbird species on the island including the Blue-headed Hummingbird. We had good looks at a flock of Red-necked Parrots, and saw one of the much larger Imperial Parrots flying. Bertrand looked really hard to find us a Red-legged Thrush by a creek. All together, we saw 44 bird species today and heaps of interesting plants. The Pacific Princess made an unscheduled layover in Dominica tonight. On April Fools Day (April 1) we walked to the Roseau Botanical Garden (15.301S 61.381W). We enjoyed seeing all the little schoolgirls walking through the garden for PE Class with their teachers. They were all very well behaved and wearing uniforms (each class had their own hair ribbon). We took a long walk up a very steep hill to the Overlook, where the Cross you could see from the ship is located. The view from the top was gorgeous! While at the top, we noticed a yellow allamanda plant with a huge Plumeria Moth (Pseudosphinx tetrio Linnaeus) caterpillar on it. We saw 22 bird species on our unscheduled stay in Dominica including a Black-faced Grassquit, Caribbean Elaenia, Lesser Antillean Flycatcher, Nutmeg Mannikins, and a Scaly-breasted Thrasher. About 6pm three marine mechanic divers from Miami arrived by private jet to inspect the propeller. We could watch them from our balcony as they sat up their computer system for video taping the propeller and communicating with the diver in the water. About 9pm the Captain announced they had approval to proceed. We left about 10:30pm. We arrived in St. Lucia early on April 2. Due to the extra day in Dominica, we missed our bird guide Lyndon John (lynjohn1@yahoo.com). We went out to the tourism stand and got a private tour to a farm on Balata Rd in Castries (13.995S 60.983W); a.k.a. Lushan Country Life (www.lushancountrylife.com). Our guide at the farm could recognize most of the birds by their sound. We got good looks at a Black-whiskered Vireo, Green-throated Carib hummingbird, Lesser Antillean Saltator, and Mangrove Cuckoo. A pair of St. Lucia Pewees were perched outside a hut where they served local snacks. It ended up being a nice day as we got to see some local cultural, taste a lot of local fruits, saw 25 bird species, and added a couple of new birds to our life list. Due to the mishap in Dominica, the ship had to by-pass the island of Tobago. We arrived at Isle Royale, a.k.a. Devil's Island (5.283N 52.583W), in French Guiana about Noon on April 4. Fortunately, the ocean was calm today. Last year when we got here the Captain decided to keep on going due to rough seas (we were told that happens about half the times they try to come here). We got a tender boat to shore and walked a wet path around the lush NE end of the island. We saw some of the abandoned and dilapidated buildings that used to support the penal colony on an adjacent island. There were a surprising number of local people vacationing on the island, including teenagers, for a place with only one hotel/restaurant. We saw several South American birds including the Purple Honeycreeper, Blue-gray Tanager, McConnell's Flycatcher, Swallow-Tanager, White-necked Thrush, White-throated Kingbird, and Wing-barred Seedeater. There were heaps of Peacocks and Ring-necked Pheasants, along with many very large guinea pigs. We saw 11 bird species today. We had lots of sea and river days on this cruise. Too pass the time we joined the private Spa on deck 15 forward, so we could use the salt-water hot tub (they put in Dead Sea salt and other minerals). But, the hot tub is very hard on swimsuits. My wife wore out the two swimsuits she brought in the first 2 weeks of the trip and had to buy another swimsuit from the ship's store. The salt and chlorine in the pool seems to cause the fabric to stretch and dissolve. Only 16 people can join the Spa, but we were the only people there most of the time. The best part is that it is Smoke Free! Since it is located in the front of the ship, you get a great forward view - really helpful on the Amazon River. The Amazon River is so wide and powerful it is hard to tell where it starts and the Atlantic Ocean ends. The Captain said 100 miles from shore the water is still river water (no salt). The first thing you notice after entering the Amazon River is all the large mats of grass floating down stream. The locals say that as long as the river has big mats of grass floating down to the ocean, the river is still raising. Traveling up the Amazon on April 6 we saw 14 bird species from the ship including a King Vulture, Large-billed Tern, Lesser Kiskadee, Southern Lapwing, Wattled Jacana, and Yellow-billed Tern. The spotting scope was very handy here. We left our camera, binoculars and spotting scope on the balcony overnight covered with a towel. If you left them in the air-conditioned room they would fog-up when you took them outside. We spent 2 days getting to our first stop in Brazil. On the way we got our first (and last) Amazon Thunderstorm - a real downpour. We arrive in Santarem (pronounced San-ta-Rim) (2.414S 54.738W) on April 7. We took the shore excursion to see the Meeting of the Waters; i.e., where the Tapajos and Amazon Rivers meet. The Amazon is very muddy water and the Tapajos is dark blue. The rivers swirl around for several miles before the Amazon finally swallows up the Tapajos. You can see this sort of thing every time the ship passes one the 1100 tributaries of the Amazon - many of the tributaries are much larger that the Mississippi River. The shore trip continued to a backwater area that floods each year. The farmers here build their houses on stilts to try to stay above the water - sometimes they don't succeed. It was interesting to see gardens growing in canoes, and water buffalos foraging in flooded fields - they can eat grass with their head and most of their body submerged in water. We also stopped to fish for Piranhas with bloody meat. We didn't catch anything, but the fish got our bait twice. This area was full of locals in small canoes fishing. We saw a lot of birds on this trip including several Lesser Kiskadees (a smaller and duller version of the Great Kiskadees), a Rufescent Tiger-Heron, 3 Wattled Jacana (beautiful brown birds with yellow wings when they jump up in the air), Yellow-billed Terns, and spectacular Yellow-headed Caracaras. In the afternoon we walked to the floating fish market on the edge of the river. It is hard to believe everyone here doesn't die from eating fresh fish that has been left out in the sun and heat all day. We saw 29 bird species today including the Snail Kite, Oriole Blackbird, Orange-fronted Yellow-Finch, and Fork-tailed Flycatcher. On April 8 we heard Holler Monkeys along the riverbank; they sounded really loud and close. Later we stopped at a remote village called Boca da Valeria (2.454S 56.451W). Calling it a village is a stretch, but they did have a school and church. People come in by boat from miles around on cruise day to sell stuff and "guide" the tourists. We got an 18-year-old boy to guide us up the valley leading out of town. He didn't speak English but we made do. He did find a poison shiny green frog for us. We found several new bird species including a Rufous-breasted Hermit (hummingbird), a Forest Elaenia, and a Rusty-backed Spinetail. The river was full of large Ringed Kingfishers, and we saw one Amazon Kingfisher. We bought a necklace made out of "Cheeseburgers" (nuts) - later we realized it had a green bird feather on the end (it was probably a dyed chicken feather - anyhow, that is our story and we are sticking to it). The men of the area were giving one-hour canoe trip for $5 per person. We went out with 2 men and 2 little boys in a flat bottom boat with something that looks like a weed eater for a motor and propeller. We ended up giving the boys the stash of candy we had brought from the ship, i.e. the chocolate they give us each night. They liked it all but the dark chocolate - one boy spit it out and got a hand full of river water to wash his mouth out with. We saw many birds including an Agami Heron, Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture (looks like a turkey vulture but with a yellow head), Red-crested Cardinal (called a Brazilian Cardinal in Maui and an Argentinean Cardinal in Argentina), a Rufescent Tiger-Heron, and Sharp-tailed Ibis. The highlight (or maybe the low point of the outing) was while we were paddling thru some trees and cattails we almost hit a hornet's nest head on. My wife briefly considered going overboard, but didn't. We saw 28 bird species today. On April 9 we reached Manaus (pronounced Ma- nouce), the Capital of the Amazon (3.139S 60.027W). The waterfront was densely packed with boats of all sizes. In the afternoon we took an expensive ($200 per person) shore trip down the river to the Amazon Village Resort (3.135S 60.482W). After some snacks, the resort had a staged walk thru the jungle. An older lady had a heat stroke and barely made it back to the resort. The resort had a fabulous dinner buffet - wonderful baked fish, fried cheese, chicken hearts (my wife thought they were fried too hard) and very ripe watermelon and papaya. This was the best part of the shore trip. After dark we went Cayman hunting in long canoes for a couple of hours. They caught a small Cayman, but we didn't think it was worth the time spent. We got back to the ship at Midnight. Passengers that were flying back to the U.S. on the Princess charter flight had to leave the ship at 4am on April 10 for their 6am flight. A couple we met on the cruise had arranged their own flight back to the U.S. They ended up spending all night at the airport so they could catch a 4am flight. We were really glad we had booked a round trip cruise! New embarking passengers started showing up around 8am, long before the rooms were ready. Some passengers had to stand out in the rain for a while before they could get on the ship. By afternoon, everyone was in their cabin. We wanted to wash clothes this morning, but the laundry mat didn't open at the scheduled time. After complaining to the front desk, they got someone to unlock the door. The story we got was someone wanted to conserve water since they have trouble converting the river water to drinking water here. We thought about walking into town in the afternoon, but it looked like rain, so we went to the Spa instead. There are no roads thru the Amazon - everything and everyone moves by boat. They have floating gas stations, hospitals, busses, and cattle yards. Their passenger boats don't have seats or beds; they use hammocks for sitting and sleeping, but they do provide meals. It was pretty interesting to watch from our balcony as laborers loaded and unloaded the intercity boats docked across the floating pier from our ship. We saw them carrying 150 lbs of onions on their back or 4 cases of empty beer bottles. Once we saw them take 1500 cases of empty beer bottles off of a boat that is their equivalent of our tractor-trailers. The dock here has to float because the river was already 65 ft above the normal low levels of October at the end of the Dry Season. This kind of fluctuation happens every year. They were expecting the river to keep rising for another 2 months (till June). On Saturday morning April 11 we walked to some parks in town (3.129S 60.024W) and stopped at the Opera House. There was a surprising number of birds around town including mobs of Kiskadees, Flycatchers, and Blue-gray Tanagers. At one point my wife was under attack by a Blue-tailed Emerald (hummingbird) that thought she was getting too close to her nest. Later we found the nest and actually saw the baby. We also saw a Buff-throated Saltator, Grassland Sparrow, Long-billed Gnatwren, and Yellow-browed Sparrow. We saw 33 bird species today. The town was jammed with people and vendors today (it might be that way everyday). We maneuvered by dead reckoning across town to the fish market. Sometimes we had to take detours to get around mobs of shoppers. Crossing the streets was a thrill - our strategy was to get lots of people between us and the oncoming traffic, and run when the local people couldn't contain them selves any longer and burst into the street. It wasn't pretty, but it worked. On Easter Sunday April 12 we were back to Boca da Valeria about Noon. Our Room Steward told us he collects the clothes that passengers throw away, has the ship's laundry wash them, and gives them to the local people in Boca. We donated some clothes to his pile. There were lots more local folks and kids in the village today than the first time we stopped here. We had two guides today, both young women with several children. Unfortunately, it had rained a lot and the trail up the valley was too muddy to walk. We bought some necklaces and a carved wooden bird plaque. We looked around for someone to take us on a boat trip. We picked out the best dress man. Unfortunately, he had a narrow canoe that was pretty wobbly, but there was no turning back because the boat driver didn't speak English. All he could saw was "Hello!", which he used whenever he wanted us to see a bird or Iguana. Our guide took us on a 30-minute track to his house - my wife was sure the canoe would capsize at any moment (but miraculously it didn't). At the house we were met by 2 boys (6 and 8 yrs old). I managed to get out of the front seat of the canoe, but my wife didn't fair so well - she partially fell into the river when she tried to use a board she saw by the river for support as she moved forward in the canoe. The guide got her back into the canoe and we dried off the binoculars (the binoculars were fine). The guide's wife put some salve on the scrapes on her leg. The boys were amazed by how close things looked using the binoculars. They couldn't speak English, but they motioned with their hands that the binoculars made things look closer. The family also had 2 young girls aged 2 and 4 yrs old. All the kids were well behaved; especially considering how isolated they were with no yard or TV. We saw 33 bird species today including Amazon Kingfishers, Cocoi Heron, and a Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle high in a tree that the guide had to work hard to get us to see. We also saw a Black-collared Hawk, Buff-necked Ibis, Comb Ducks, Crimson-crested Woodpecker, Least Grebe, Lesser Kiskadee, lots of Lesser Yellow-headed Vultures, a Limpkin, Red-crested Cardinal, Rufescent Tiger-Heron, Savanna Hawk, Sharp-tailed Ibis, some Short-tailed Parrots, Southern Caracara, Toco Toucan, and Yellow-rumped Cacique. Wattled Jacanas darted around the 5 ft diameter lily pad field. Back at the ship, we went to soak in the hot salty water at the Spa. On April 13 we were back in Santarem. We skipped the tours and walked into town by ourselves. The Main Street was partially flooded by rains since we were last here. It was hot and humid. We saw 31 bird species around the dock area including some Brown-chested Martins, Buff-breasted Wrens, Chestnut-capped Blackbirds, a Chimango Caracara, mobs of Lesser Yellow-headed Vultures, a Tepui Wrens, a White-collared Kite, some White-ringed Flycatchers, some White-thighed Swallows, and a White-throated Kingbird. We were dead tired when we got back to the ship. On our last day in Brazil (April 14) we crossed the Equator and passed thru the mouth of the Amazon River. We spent the day at the Spa, till an afternoon rainsquall hit. My wife started getting free Internet today after Princess changed their policy on how to count back-to-back cruises that are booked as one cruise. She is now a Platinum member of the Captain's Circle and gets $100 of free Internet on each cruise. The change seemingly affected lots of people on this cruise since 305 people booked a round trip cruise instead of a one-way cruise. We stopped eating in the Dining Room. It was OK coming down and we liked all the people, but half our group left in Manaus. Now we eat dinner in the Buffet with a couple from Nevada that was at our table before. The food is the same going back as we had coming down, which was not that good. By going to the buffet you could make your selection based upon appearance, which still did not always mean acceptable taste. They need new receipts, or a new chef, or something! We are usually asleep by 8:30pm. We don't go to the shows or clubs on the ship. Sometimes we stay up to see a movie we have heard about like Australia or Slumdog. We get up when it gets sunny out - normally 5am. This cruise is unusual in that they didn't change time as we traveled - we have been on Eastern time the whole trip even thought we have been up to 2 hours ahead of Eastern in some places - no problem. We try to go walking early in the morning. The top deck is too windy most of the time, so we walk around the hall on our floor - 9 times around is 2 miles. It is OK in the morning before the Stewards are in the hall with their carts. You had to walk fast past some rooms because they reeked of smoke. On April 15 we were back into the Atlantic, but so far ahead of schedule we just sat at 4 degrees north of the Equator most of the day. We spent the time watching Momma Mia on TV - the music sound track plays continuously in the Buffet area. The TV in the rooms has a channel that shows the ship's location and gives the lat. & long. It often didn't work very good. Sometimes it would show us going up the wrong river, or cruising thru dry land far away from the river, or would just stop working at all for hours. In Santarem, for example, we got very different lat. & longs. at the same dock going up and down the river. My lat. & longs. are based on being there and using Google Earth. We arrived back at Devil's Island on April 16 about 6am. It looked stormy and dark. We were on the first tender boat to shore. A few minutes later it started raining - we waited it out under a porch awning. Apparently there had been torrential rains here since we last visited. Several of the old stonewalls had partially collapsed. We wandered around the building complex looking at birds and made our way over to the hotel just before it started raining hard. My wife had a cup of real French coffee. We met some friends (Bill & Nancy) from the ship and walked over to where a band of monkeys hang out. Nancy had brought some bananas from the buffet with her to feed the monkeys. There was a dominant male that got a large part of the bananas, but amongst the smaller monkeys we noticed a female with a very small baby hanging on her back. Later we went to the "beach" by the warden's swimming hole. The beach was about 20 ft long and covered with shell and beach glass (mostly from old wine bottles). My wife picked up a couple lbs of beach glass - some pieces were so rounded they looked more like pebbles than beach glass. Last time we were here it must have been high tide because we didn't even see the "beach". We saw 30 bird species for the day including a Golden-headed Manakin, Purple Honeycreeper, Red-billed Toucan, and Chestnut-bellied Seed-Finch. At 2pm the Captain came on the PA system and told us there was an electrical problem with the propulsion system. A few hours later they had it fixed and we were off - just in time to see hundreds of Royal and Common Terns dive-bombing a school of fish. We arrived in Tobago (11.181N 60.737W) early on April 18. We met our bird guide David Rooks (rookstobago@yahoo.com) and his niece Gaby at the dock. David is getting pretty old and feeble. Earlier in his career he had been the bird guide for the Rothschild's and Prince Phillip - which got him a lunch with Queen Elizabeth. He was mentioned in a National Geographic article about Tobago in Feb 2008. We headed out in David's car. Our first stop was at a marsh (11.178N 60.804W) just outside town. David said Global Warming had messed up the seasons. This year they had just finished a wet "dry season", and were now into a dry "wet season". Not a lot of birds, but we did see a White-fringed Antwren, Pale-vented Pigeon, and Red-crowned Woodpecker. When we got thru the marsh we ended up at a beach where we saw hundreds of sea birds, including Bridled Terns. Our next stop was at the Tropical Gardens & Nature Reserve - a fancy name for a house with lots of bird feeders. Boy did they have birds and hummingbirds! - "if you feed them, they will come". The birds were spectacular, including a Bare-eyed Thrush (with a huge yellow eye), a Barred Antshrike (looked like a Zebra with alternating black and white stripes), a pair of White-lined Tanagers (all black except for a small white line), and mobs of hummingbirds whizzing around with exotic names like Black-throated Mango, Copper-rumped Hummingbird, Rufous-breasted Hermit, White-necked Jacobin, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, and Ruby-topaz Hummingbird - the most spectacular hummingbird we have ever seen. Our final stop was at Eleanor Alefounder's Wildlife Sanctuary (11.194N 60.791W). Eleanor had a 400-acre coconut plantation in a mountain valley. When she died she left the plantation to her birds, and her money to a Fund to feed her birds. David brings birders her to see courting Blue-backed Manakins. The males do a dance to attract a female. The males were too busy dancing to respond to David's whistles, but we did see a male and female fly off to a tree. Along the hike thru the valley we had a great view of a Blue-crowned Motmot (with balls on the end of its tail), a Palm Tanager, and a couple dozen Rufous-vented Chachalaca (from the turkey family). We saw 42 bird species today. On April 19 we arrived at St Lucia (14.014N 60.994W). Our birding guide Toussaint Adams (toussaintadams@yahoo.com), a.k.a. Adam, from the Forestry Division was waiting for us at the dock. We headed off for the Cul de Sac Wetland (13.990N 60.996W) where a Roseate Spoonbill had showed-up last year after a storm. It looked much whiter than any Spoonbill we had ever seen. We headed across the island in search of birds endemic to St Lucia. After several stops we found the extremely rare White-breasted Thrasher (only 600 left) and later a St. Lucia Black Finch (all black with pink legs). Adam took us up into the Quelisse Forest Reserve (13.925N 60.915W) where we saw some Black-whiskered Vireos, a Lesser Antillean Flycatcher, several St. Lucia Orioles, and a few St. Lucia Warblers. We saw 8 St. Lucia Parrots flying over the forest. Under a Mango tree we found a freshly eaten mango lying on the road, and up in the tree sat a St. Lucia Parrot. We drove to the south end of the island (13.711N 60.954W) to see Red-billed Tropicbirds; unfortunately, it started raining hard. When we got to the overlook where you can normally see the Tropicbirds, we couldn't even see the ocean, much less Tropicbirds. Part way down the mountain it stopped raining, so Adam turned around and headed back to the overlook. Even though there was still a light rain, it was clear enough that I could see 2 Red-billed Tropicbirds flying over the ocean. Driving back to the port, we got behind a car that was driving erratic. Finally, the car turned off our road. Soon afterwards, we found the last endemic for the day; actually, three Mangrove Cuckoos. We saw 49 birds today! On April 20 Bertrand Jno Baptiste, a.k.a. Dr Birdy, (drbirdy2@cwdom.dm) met us at the port in Dominica. We headed north to a cobblestone beach (15.356N 61.394W) were we found heaps of great colored beach glass. This place must have been a dump many years ago to generate this volume of high quality beach glass. My wife was self-actualizing as she filled up her pockets. We made a big loop thru central World Heritage area, stopping at Emerald Pool (15.398N 61.312W) where we saw a Jaco (Red-necked Parrot). Later we went for an impromptu walk in the rain forest while it was raining looking for Ruddy Quail-Doves - we didn't see any, but my water resistant watch got so wet the crystal clouded up with water drops and never recovered. We drove over to the Atlantic coast looking for Black Swifts. We didn't see any close enough to count. We stopped at some nice beach properties. One house had a piece of driftwood for the front door handle, and was enclosed with a rock wall lined with Irish Moss. We also stopped at the Jungle Bay Resort - it is very remote but has great hardwood floors. The road back to Roseau was steep and winding. The final segment of the road was lined for a few miles with multicolored wild Impatients. Wow!!! Without trying too hard today, we saw 42 bird species for the day. We arrived at St Bart on April 21. We walked over to the Shell Beach overlook. It was a lot dryer this time and hot. We spent 2.5 hrs looking for beach glass at Shell Beach. We ended up with about 10 lbs, including a beach glass "ring". The sun was so hot we drank 3 bottles of water. We spent the afternoon watching White-tailed Tropicbirds and a lone Red-billed Tropicbird flying around their nesting rocks off shore. We arrived back to Ft Lauderdale April 24, 2009. We enjoyed the sights and sounds of the Amazon. The birding trips we arranged with private guides were superb and a great value. Our balcony cabin and the private Spa were a plus for enjoying this trip. Princess still needs to address the issue of smoking in rooms and on balconies that adversely affects other people's enjoyment of the trip. Birding Summary: We saw 198 birds on the 28-day cruise. Date Observed Species Island 03/30/09 13 St Barts Location Species Seen 03/31/09 44 Dominica Boca da Valeria 45 04/01/09 22 Dominica Devil's Island 34 04/02/09 26 St Lucia Manaus 44 04/03/09 2 At Sea Dominica 53 04/04/09 13 Devil's Island Amazon river 14 04/06/09 16 Amazon River Santarem 41 04/07/09 30 Santarem St Barts 17 04/08/09 28 Boca da Valeria St Lucia 52 04/09/09 28 Manaus Tobago 41 04/10/09 3 Manaus Total 198 04/11/09 25 Manaus 04/12/09 33 Boca da Valeria Photo Species 73 04/13/09 31 Santarem Species seen w Guides 89 04/16/09 29 Devil's Island 04/18/09 44 Tobago Amazon 85 04/19/09 49 St Lucia DI & Tobago 71 04/20/09 42 Dominica Caribbean 80 04/21/09 15 St Barts 04/22/09 2 At Sea E-mail us if you would like a file on the birds we saw each day. Carl & Wilma Ball carlball@yahoo.com Read Less
Sail Date: April 2009
This was my second cruise on Pride of America, but it was a first for my sister and mom.  I began planning the trip from east Tennessee to Hawaii in January 2009, and the cruise was in April.  I had arranged to fly to Houston, then ... Read More
This was my second cruise on Pride of America, but it was a first for my sister and mom.  I began planning the trip from east Tennessee to Hawaii in January 2009, and the cruise was in April.  I had arranged to fly to Houston, then non-stop to Honolulu, only to discover at 3:00 am (the morning of the flight AND cruise), that our flight had been cancelled due to Houston airport being closed because of bad storms!  Fortunately, Continental Airlines made other arrangements for us, using Delta.  If there is a next time, I will make plans to arrive a day early to Honolulu. I had called the cruise line and found out that they did not provide a "lei" greeting, so I had made arrangements with "VIP tours" not only for a "lei" greeting, but also for transportation to the port. The lei was $16.00 each, and the transport was $6.00 each.  At the port, we were able to check in using the "Lattitudes" line, as I had cruised with NCL before, and had my card.  There was no wait in this line. We took our bags to our room, and ate at the Aloha cafe.  Afterward, we settled into our room, and went to bed promtly at 7:00pm (it was 1:00 am eastern time!).  The room was nice and clean. We had a wonderful room steward named Catalina.  She always took very good care of us and our rooms. The room had hangers and plently of drawer space for the three of us. There was a safe, and a small fridge full of drinks you can purchase.  We took them all out and put our drinks in (much cheaper if you bring or buy your own off of the ship). Read Less
Sail Date: May 2009
It has always been our dream to travel on the Cunard ships , and this year we finally got our chance .  We booked the "Mediterranean Delights " voyage for 11 days out of Southampton on May 14 . We flew into Heathrow at 8.30 a.m. ... Read More
It has always been our dream to travel on the Cunard ships , and this year we finally got our chance .  We booked the "Mediterranean Delights " voyage for 11 days out of Southampton on May 14 . We flew into Heathrow at 8.30 a.m. and were met by a Cunard representative at the airport . Our luggage was taken from us , and we didn't see it again until we were in our cabin . Nice touch ! A motorcoach took us to Southampton , about a 2 hour transfer . I had to laugh when the busdriver announced that he was due for his teabreak and had to stop for a while  . It took me right back to the year I spent in England way back when . After all , we were only half an hour away from the ship , but that's the Brits for you , and I love them anyway ! In Southampton check-in was a breeze ! From the time we arrived to our first step on the ship it took about half an hour . We had done our pre-registration on line , so everything was easy as pie . According to Cunard , the QM2 is the most magnificent oceanliner in the world , and we were not disappointed . The ship itself is just beautiful . The first day was at sea , and I used my time to explore she ship top to bottom . The murals just took my breath away ! Every corner oozed class and sophistication .  All public areas were beautiful and inviting . Our cabin was on Deck 12 , right behind the bridge . I guess cabins are always small compared to regular hotel rooms , but we had all the space we needed . Plenty of drawers and closet space , roomy balcony . We didn't spend much time in there anyway , mostly to change , shower , and sleep , and that very well . The beds were the most comfortable I had ever slept in . It was great that there was a way to see bridge operations through the observation window . On other ships you never got the chance to take a peek at the inside of the bridge . We were assigned to the  Britannia Club ,  so we could pretty much go for dinner whenever we wanted . Food and service were impeccable . We usually had lunch on Deck 7 at the buffets . Most of the time we had to wander a little for a table , but never had trouble finding one . The desserts just about did me in , they were so delicious I just could not resist . I also noticed that a lot of care was being directed towards passengers with disabilities or any kind of mobility problems , and there were quite a few . Being middle-aged ourselves , we quite enjoyed not being surrounded by a hoard of screaming teenagers . The average age of passengers is quite high , a plus in our eyes . On the whole voyage we never saw more that a couple of kids .  After supper we would be in the Queen's Room without fail , because we like to dance . The music was great for dancing , the bands were very accomplished . I could have done without the one singer they had a couple of times , his voice was a bit like fingernails on a chalkboard .  They also have a dance pro couple , who did beautiful presentations . They also gave lessons every day in the ballroom .  I have to admit that we never made it into the theatre  , we were having too much fun dancing . I heard from others that the shows were very good .  The shore excursions we took were very nice . There were plenty of choices for all activity levels . You could do a 10 hour walking tour of Rome like we did , or just a city tour of Barcelona by bus . All people who had booked tours were taken off the ship in groups to buses which were already at the pier by the time the ship docked . We had excellent guides every time who really knew their stuff . Disembarkation was very well organized . You could have breakfast at your leisure and just wait  , until you group was called up to leave the ship . The night before you got colour-coded labels for your luggage , and while you had your morning coffee the different colours were called on to leave .  In total , it was a fantastic experience . If I want to mention anything negative at all , be warned about the cash machine near the theatre . We decided to get some British Pounds for a cab before we left the ship to get to the airport , and ended up with one 5-Pound note , the rest were single US $ , which didn't help at all . Thankfully , the cab driver accepted our Euros after some grumbling .  Other than that , it was perfect . We will definitely go back . Read Less
Sail Date: June 2009
We just completed our second HAL cruise, the southbound glacier explorer seven night cruise on the Statedam in Alaska.  We booked our cruise online via SmartCruiser.com.  This is our third cruise that we have booked through them and we ... Read More
We just completed our second HAL cruise, the southbound glacier explorer seven night cruise on the Statedam in Alaska.  We booked our cruise online via SmartCruiser.com.  This is our third cruise that we have booked through them and we have found them to be the lowest price around.  Agents have been very helpful and there have never been any problems with the cruise.  I recommend them.  This was our seventh cruise overall and second HAL cruise, having done a 12 day Mediterranean cruise in 2008 on the Zuiderdam.  We did three days pre cruise on our own.  Here is my review of the each individual part of the cruise, along with a review of the ports. Pre Cruise land package:  We elected to book this on our own, even though it mirrored the HAL package.  I compared the two and HAL was about $1000 more.  About the only difference I saw was some of the luggage handling.  We flew direct into Anchorage and stayed at the Comfort Inn Ship Creek.  We called for the complimentary shuttle, and had to wait quite a while because they only have one and it kept getting filled up before they got to us.  This turned out to be the one and only problem we had the entire vacation.  We booked this hotel because it was next door to the train station, but it was also on the banks of Ship Creek, a local salmon fishing stream.  We walked the shore for a while and saw lots of fishermen fly-fishing.  The hotel is just below the main city area, and I grabbed the shuttle up the hill where he let me off at a nice microbrewery.  It was about 10 PM, but they were open and I got a great pizza and munched on it while walking back to the hotel.  It is clean, has a free breakfast, and competitively priced (expensive, like all hotels in Anchorage in the summer). The next morning we walked next door, with our luggage, to the train station.  I had pre-purchased two tickets on the McKinley Explorer, the same train that HAL uses.  Everyone else on there had booked the land package through HAL, and all were on our cruise.  The car, one of two, was not even half full.  It was a wonderful ride up with a great tour guide who was a local high school teacher.  We saw bear and moose, got some great pictures, and had a nice lunch in the dinning car.  We arrived in Denali at the scheduled time. Everyone else on the train was staying in Glitter Gulch at the McKinley Chalet.  We did not want to stay near all of the hustle bustle, and elected to stay at the McKinley Village Lodge, the only property outside of Glitter Gulch.  It is 8 miles south at mile marker 231.  A completely new main building (front desk, restaurant, gift shop) just opened in May, and all of the guest rooms were remodeled and upgraded.  I had to book my own transportation from the train station in Denali to the hotel, and that cost me $18 per person.  But they met me at the train and we never saw our luggage.  They removed it from the train and it was in our room when we got to the hotel.  However, this is the 50th anniversary of Alaska statehood, and the rooms at Denali were on a special rate.  The second night only cost $50, a savings of over $200.  I don't think HAL passed this savings along at all.  So we only paid a net total of $160 per night, including tax.  This more than offset the cost of the transportation, and I did not have to handle my luggage at all.  Our room at the hotel was great; it was in the rear of the building next to the main lodge overlooking the Nanna River.  It was very scenic and we walked the river each night.  On the opposite shore a fellow guest saw a mother moose and her twin calves one evening.  The hotel offered free scheduled shuttle service to Glitter Gulch and we went back the first night and shopped some before returning around 6 PM.  We had the hotel shuttle take us two miles south to the 229 Restaurant, at mile marker 229.  I won't say much about it, except that it is run by one of the best know chefs in Alaska and is probably one of the best meals I have ever had.  Google it and read the reviews.  It is not to be missed and you will be amazed to find an upscale, absolutely wonderful restaurant of this caliber in this remote location. We booked the Tundra Wilderness Tour into the park and the next morning the bus picked us up at the hotel.  We made a second stop at the McKinley Chalet and more people boarded and then we went on the 8 hour tour into the park.  Great tour.   We saw caribou, moose, bear, golden eagle, Dall sheep and had a fantastic encounter with a wolf that walked next to the bus carrying his dinner in his mouth for about 15 minutes.  After taking us back to the hotel, we rested and checked our email on the free WiFi they have in the hotel lobby.  Then we caught another shuttle that took us to the Cabin Nite Dinner Theater.  At the conclusion we exited the theater and got right on our bus to return to the hotel.  How easy can that be? Our cruise was set to sail from Seward at 8 PM.  Because of timing you have to take the bus back.  The train does not leave Denali until mid day and you can not get to Seward in time to make embarkation the same day.  The bus is actually faster than the train and it stops twice, so the trip is broken up.  We booked seats on the Park Connection Bus, a large motorcoach with a bathroom, again just like HAL.  The bus picked us up at the hotel at 8 AM and we stopped a few hours later at the lovely Talkeetna Resort for about 30 minutes.  A few hours later we were in Anchorage where they deposited us at the Anchorage Muesum.  We had tickets for admission and a 90 minute layover, allowing us to walk around downtown and have lunch.  We decided to go back to the same microbrewery and have the same pizza again.  We spent about 45 minutes in the museum and then reboarded the bus for the trip to Seward.  We stopped once on the way at a rest stop/overlook and made one quick stop at a resort property in Seward before the bus stopped directly at the cruise terminal in front of the Statedam.  All of our fellow passengers already had tickets on their luggage, thanks to HAL.  We stayed on board and the bus took us about 30 yards to the luggage check in  where we got our bags and dropped them off to be tagged with our name and cabin number and then walked back over to passenger check in (a big tent really).  We breezed through check in and were on board about 20 minutes after leaving the bus.  It was about 6:00 PM. Before I begin my individual reviews of the ship and its services, I should note that when we boarded it was under code red.  This situation created the one instance that I was disappointed in HAL.  As we were headed to the spa to sign up for the thermal lounger package, we passed through the Lido and I saw plastic wrap around all of the serving areas.  I looked at my wife and said, "we are under code red."  I noticed a HAL employee and as we passed by I asked her if the ship was under code red.  She looked at me in shock and acted speechless.  She quickened her pace and tried to get away but did mumble "yes".  I then asked her how long they had been under code red and she glanced over her shoulder as she literally ran away and said she did not have any details.  I thought this was odd.  We went on to the spa and of course the thermal loungers were closed.  We asked the spa manager the same question and he volunteered that the ship had gone code red the first day at sea the previous sailing.  Later on, to our amazement, we discovered that the first HAL employee we encountered was the Cruise Director.  Obviously, she was just as informed as the spa manager and merely wanted to avoid talking to me about it.  The only other negative comment I will make is that this was without a doubt the worst Cruise Director we have ever encountered.  Her favorite word was "woo hoo" and she used it as often as possible.  She would have been right at home on a Carnival ship at Spring Break.  HAL can do better then this buffoon.  The code red did not cause us any problems and it was lifted after three days. Dining:  No complaints.  Food was consistently well prepared and tasty.  We had two dinners (on formal nights) in the Pinnacle Grill.  We had all of our other dinners in the dining room.  We had lunch on shore or in the Lido and split breakfast between room service and the Lido.  Not having trays in the Lido, a big topic on the message boards, proved to be pretty much a non issue.  We had open seating and always had a table for two.  We never had reservations, and dined around 7 PM each night and never waited for a table but one time, which took about 10 minutes to get seated.  Service in the dining room was prompt and speedy, and we got our glasses refilled regularly. I will note that last year in the Pinnacle Grill my wife asked for and received a lobster tail with her surf and turf.  This trip they had lobster on the menu but the surf and turf was a prawns and steak combo.  She asked for the lobster instead and they told us it would cost $10 extra (they considered it ordering a second entrEe).  A little chintzy if you ask me. So I ordered a filet and she got the lobster and I just cut my steak in half and gave it to her. Public Rooms:  Ship is in good shape.  Some wear and tear and it is due for a dry dock next Spring, but no real issues.  Some areas looked great, like the Exploration Lounge.  Other more worn.  I noticed some large stains on the carpets in some places for instance.  But nothing that would take away from the enjoyment of the cruise. Cabins:  Typical HAL.  I think the room was even larger than the Verandah that we had on the Zuiderdam, a Vista class ship.  The two chairs on the balcony were miss matched and on one the webbing on the seat was split from the frame and falling apart.  By the third day I was starting to fall through.  I asked my cabin steward to replace it and a few hours later he brought me one of the deck chairs as a replacement.  We brought Lysol and sprayed down the room surfaces as a precaution, given the code red status.  Entertainment:  OK.  I am not a big fan of the onboard singers and dancers.  After one show I think I have seen about all they have to offer.  The other three shows included a comedian/violinist, a comedian/juggler and a ventriloquist.  All were pretty entertaining. Spa and Fitness:  Standard HAL.  We did sign up for one lecture and the times published in the daily program were different than the sign up sheet.  We went to the desk at the spa and asked about it and were told that we should follow the sign up sheet.  Of course, when we got there that afternoon, we discovered they had flipped the two lectures to reflect what was in the daily program so the one we signed up for was actually given that morning.  What irritated me was that the sign up sheet had only ten people (including my wife and myself) and included cabin numbers, so they could have easily called and left us a message to clarify the time.  But they didn't want to go to the trouble I guess. Enrichment:  My wife did a few programs and found them dumbed down to the lowest level, which made them boring for her.  I think she stayed through the entire program anyway (one cooking and one on designing cards) Service:  No complaints.  Everyone was friendly and polite, especially the dining room staff. Value for the money:  OK.  I booked outside cabin, then upgraded to lowest verandah, and got upgraded three levels to a BA. Ports of call: College Fjord:  Nice three hour sailing in the fjord.  It was sunny and the glaciers were pretty, but not the towering walls of ice my wife expected.  That came the next day. Glacier National Park:  About seven hours of sailing around and looking at a half dozen glaciers.  Very cool.  Spent about 90 minutes parked in front of the Marjorie Glacier waiting for the big one to drop, which it finally did.  About ten tons of ice, five stories high crashing into the fjord, 400 yards in front of our verandah.  What a sight. Haines:  I thought the city looked pretty boring.  I understand some of the wildlife excursions were nice.  We wanted to see Skagway and also take a helicopter to a glacier, so we book a ship's excursion.  We took a ferry to Skagway and did the helicopter ride with Temsco to the Meade glacier.  Spent about 45 minutes on the ice with a guide.  We elected to take the 4 PM ferry as opposed to the 2 PM ferry back to the ship and spent a few extra hours walking around Skagway.  Skagway was my wife's favorite port and shopping experience.  Everything was well handled and we enjoyed the day. Juneau:  Took the ship's excursion combo Mendenhall Glacier and whale watching with Allen Marine.  The whale watching was nice.  The boat is two levels, with a large outside viewing area.  It is a jet powered catamaran that allows it to be very maneuverable.  In spite of what you read, the large boats are really just as good as the small ones.  None of them can get within 100 yards of the whales anyway, by law.  The large ones are more stable and have nice restrooms, a galley, and lots of indoor seating with large windows which my wife appreciated.  I stayed on deck most of the time and it was never crowded.  I never had to jostle for a good view to take pictures.  They also provided free binoculars and a souvenir book.  We saw plenty of hump backs, a large gathering of sea lions and lots of bald eagles.  At one location we were treated to two lunge feedings right next to the boat by two large hump backs.  We then took the bus to the glacier, and spent about an hour and 20 minutes there, hiking and looking around the visitor center.  Back at the docks we reboarded the ship for a late lunch and then got off again and took the tram up to the top of Mount Roberts, where we hiked one of the shorter trails, finally getting to tramp through some snow in June! Ketchikan:  My favorite port.  It is more of a fishing village than anything else.  We booked a float plane to the Misty Fjord's National Monument on our own through Island Wings.  All I can tell you is, if you only go on one excursion this should be it.  I would gladly do this again, and almost did it a second time when I found out she had room in the place for the next outing following ours.  The scenery is breath taking and Michelle, the owner and pilot, is the only float plane that not only lands on the water but taxis over to shore and allows you to get off.  We spent about 45 minutes on land.  Michelle is very gracious and grabbed our cameras and started posing us for pictures (obviously she has done this a few times before).  Just do it, you will not regret it. Vancouver:  We did self disembarkation and carried our own bags off the ship about 7:30 and were through customs by 8:15.  I called High End Limos and they sent a Lincoln Navigator over in about 10 minutes.  We had the driver take us around the city and show us the sites for about 2 hours (Gastown, Stanley Park, Granville Island, Lions Gate Bridge).  We had him stop whenever we wanted to so we could get out and take pictures or investigate the area.  Of course stores were closed since it was Sunday morning.  Cost was $65 per hour, Canadian, plus taxes and tip.  I think I paid $165 Canadian, but we wanted to see the city.  We got to the airport around 10:30 for a 2 PM flight and needed every bit of the time.  It was packed, with several ships in port.  We had priority access on American, and it still took us about 2 ½ hours to get through airline check in, US Customs, and security.  We did have time to grab lunch and then had about a 30 minute wait to board. Final comments:  We have been cruising since the mid 1980's and over the years it has become more of a mass market activity.  I don't think the levels of customer service have eroded over the years.  Other than the super expensive cruise lines, most of the elegance is gone from cruising and frankly I miss it.  I think I only saw three other men in tuxedos on formal nights, and at least half of the men didn't even bother to wear a tie, let alone a jacket.  I don't particularly enjoy a formal dinner in the Pinnacle Grill sitting across from some guy on formal night with no jacket, no tie, and no socks.  There was one guy that enjoyed lounging by the pool and then wearing his HAL robe over his trunks into the Lido for lunch.  With crocs on his feet.  Lovely.  Overall our fellow passengers were more refined on the Med cruise last year.  But nothing to be done about it and I don't blame HAL.  This was still a very enjoyable cruise and one I would recommend to anyone that hasn't been to Alaska. 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Sail Date: June 2009
I'm a frequent traveler and this was my first cruising experience. The cabin I had was one with two twin beds and a window. I was very pleasantly surprised at the view and the size of the room. There was plenty of storage space for ... Read More
I'm a frequent traveler and this was my first cruising experience. The cabin I had was one with two twin beds and a window. I was very pleasantly surprised at the view and the size of the room. There was plenty of storage space for me and my friend which included a closet and cleverly placed drawers and cabinets. The shower and the rest of the bathroom area was a little small, but could be navigated without too much irritation. I was amazed at how well our room was kept clean by the maids/room attendants and they made frequent visits to all cabins to replace towels, soap, and sheets. The only drawback of the cabin is it had extremely limited climate control. We could never get the cabin cool enough. It was like the temperature was controled by the ship with each cabin having a limited window for altering it. My room was often stuffy. This type of temperature control seems to be a new wave in hotels and such as I've seen this set up elsewhere. I hate it. If I'm paying for the room, I want to control how cold it gets. If I can't make the room cold and adjust it to make it warm, I don't have climate control. The food in the dining room (My Fair Lady) at dinner was good and there was generally a good selection of special or gourmet type foods. For casual dining (Windjammer Cafe), there was an area that provided all meals buffet style and there was a fairly good selection for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. My only issue was that it was too crowded at meal times. There was also a grill (Chops Grille) restaurant that could be eaten in for a fee and I never tried it out. In all the food areas, I was very surprised at the friendliness and professionalism of the staff. I also tried out the room service for breakfast and late night cookie snacks and they were very prompt and very tasty. The evening shows in the theatre were well done and included performances by the original Drifters and scenes from Broadway musicals and movie music moments. The only drawback was there was never enough seating for cruisers and people were often left searching for seats. Some of the problem was due to people saving seats for multiple individuals. On sea days, it seemed as if most of the cruisers were around the pools and it was heavily crowded. There was limited room in small pools and no pool chairs to be found. Some of the problem (once again) was due to cruisers saving seats for multiple individuals. On the night the cruisers were to meet the captain in one of the lounges, it was overly crowded (yet again) and the area felt like a sardine can. There weren't any seats which were partly due to people saving seats for multiple individuals. There was a very nice spa with super nice attendants. The services for a fee were great and in a relaxing atmosphere. The time slots went quickly so I had to book as soon as I got on the ship. I found that people could also keep an eye out for deals on days the ship was in a port. I've always wanted to cruise to have the experience and I'm glad I did it. However, I am the type of traveler who travels to see historic and cultural sites or shows and restaurants and wants to have an itinerary of places to visit during a day. I travel to experience another part of the world. Because of this, I found days at sea extremely boring and somewhat sad I spent so much money on what I can do at home-relax, sleep, swim, and eat. It's true the ship has activities, but I'm not much into scrapbooking class, bingo, shuffleboard, learning to fold animal towels, gambling and the like. The best part for me was checking out the Grand Cayman excursion as I had a chance to go to the beach and see the area. Very nice and only half a day was available. Surprisingly, Cozumel was most of the day. It was fine if you like checking out another culture (I do), but the shopping off the ship stunk (despite what was promoted on the ship) and was heavily pushed by pushy salesmen. Both of these ports offered excursions which gave more activities, but they were for a fee and I was not interested in purchasing what appeared to be overpriced. I was right when I went on my own in Grand Cayman and had a good time at a fraction of the price. Cozumel was a bit more difficult to explore on your own as it was crowded and not as easy to navigate without a guide. I also found the crowds on the ship to be annoying. I don't go on vacation to fight for what I paid for from a pool chair to a show seat. The ship space was nice on days in port and then would work back up into a crowd at sea. I also didn't like that the initial rate didn't include a lot of hidden fees like tips, certain beverages (Example-Sodas are charged on the ship so be sure and get a soda package before you go as it will save you a fortune.), alcohol, lattes, spa treatments, shore excursions, etc. They may offer the initial fee deals, but they DO get their money back. The end of the trip did not leave me wanting to take another cruise, but schedule short destination trips to places in the Caribbean. If I could offer any final advice, don't cruise if your ideal vacation is to see new places and experience new geographic locations. The bulk of cruising is aimed at lounging around. For me, the only thing that would draw me back to a cruise would be an impressive port list with very limited days at sea. I would also hope for less people fighting for their place in various ship decks. Read Less
Sail Date: June 2009
Up close and personal with unique creatures in a unique landscape this cruise to the Galapagos exceeded our highest expectations. And after all we had read and heard, our expectations were high indeed. But Celebrity just did everything ... Read More
Up close and personal with unique creatures in a unique landscape this cruise to the Galapagos exceeded our highest expectations. And after all we had read and heard, our expectations were high indeed. But Celebrity just did everything right: the personal pick-up at the airport in Quito, the accommodations at the magnificent Quito Marriott Hotel, the guided tour of the city and surrounding countryside, the chartered flight to Baltra, Galapagos. And then the week-long cruise in those "enchanted islands" what an experience! First of all, the Xpedition is a wonderful small ship, with about 90 passengers and 60 crew, including eight very knowledgeable naturalists/guides. Almost the whole crew were Ecuadorian, and some were from the Galapagos. Our stateroom was in the least expensive category, but was quite comfortable. Public rooms aboard ship were lovely. There was a spa and exercise area, but few people used it, for reasons that will become obvious. This is not a cruise for relaxing. There was a shore excursion the first afternoon we arrived, and after that there were two a day. You could choose your level of "intensity" low, moderate, high but we tended to choose the excursion based on what we were likely to see. Although we are in our mid-sixties and not particularly fit, even the high-intensity excursions were manageable. Here's how the days went: in the morning a shore or snorkeling excursion by Zodiac, always accompanied by a naturalist; then back to the ship for lunch and a siesta, during which time the ship moved to the next anchorage; an afternoon shore excursion; a daily briefing about the next day's activities by the chief naturalist and Cruise Director (on our cruise the excellent and charming Karina Lopez); then dinner in the elegant dining room. There was a talented musician aboard and a few organized evening activities, but most of us were ready for bed after such an active day. And every day was memorable. We had of course heard of the various animals that are unique to the Galapagos: blue-footed boobies, flightless cormorants, Galapagos penguins, marine and land iguanas, Galapagos sea lions and fur seals, giant tortoises, to name a few. The Xpedition itinerary was planned so well that we got to see all of these, and more. Besides the interesting volcanic landscapes, what was so special was that the animals have no fear of humans. For example, when we visited a breeding colony of waved albatrosses, we literally had to watch out that we not step on any of the birds, they were that close. Sometimes we had to shoo a sea lion or an iguana out of our path. On one snorkeling expedition, a young sea lion circled me a few times, then put his face just a few inches away from mine and blew bubbles. On another, we watched a sea turtle feeding so close to us that it nearly drifted into us. Of course, it was forbidden to touch anything, and we didn't but we certainly could have. Even a Galapagos Hawk landed just a few feet away from a group of us. No fear at all. And if we had stood still, I think some Darwin's Finches would have landed on our heads or shoulders. It was a nature-lover's dream. Service aboard ship was impeccable. The naturalists were not only knowledgeable, they were very attuned to the needs and abilities of the passengers, and were always on the watch for something special to point out. The stateroom attendants, restaurant staff, baristas, Zodiac drivers all were excellent. (I should point out that this was an all-inclusive cruise, no tipping required.) We found the food to be a little below Celebrity's big-ship standards, but the use of local seafood and fruit made for some excellent meals. Ninety-seven per cent of the land of the Galapagos belongs to the Galapagos National Park, and Celebrity is cooperating with the Ecuadorian government to preserve the quality of this fragile and threatened archipelago. I can't imagine a better way to experience this really unique place than the Celebrity Xpedition. Read Less
Sail Date: June 2009
My husband and I did the Mediterranean/Greek Isles cruise on the Brilliance of the Seas, leaving out of Barcelona on June 3.  He is 31, I am 25; we have done 3 previous cruises together, one of which was on RCCL.  We returned because we ... Read More
My husband and I did the Mediterranean/Greek Isles cruise on the Brilliance of the Seas, leaving out of Barcelona on June 3.  He is 31, I am 25; we have done 3 previous cruises together, one of which was on RCCL.  We returned because we liked the quality of service with RCCL and enjoyed their selection of onboard activities.  Plus, when Carnival cancelled their 2009 Mediterranean itinerary, this was the next best itinerary we could find for the price.  We admittedly chose this cruise more for the ports than the ship/cruise line. Embarkation and Rooms: We stayed in Barcelona for 2 nights before the cruise began.  We had the hotel concierge call us a cab, and we were at the pier in no time.  Porters were quick to take our bags, and the line inside took us maybe 20 minutes to get through.  I believe we arrived at the port around 1pm, and we were on board by 1:30pm.  Very smooth process.  The only thing I would note is that they took our passports away for the week.  Because Turkey is not part of the EU, Greek customs required RCCL to present all of our passports when we left Turkey and arrived in Athens.  Kind of threw us off (every traveler knows not to go without a passport!) but we had no problem getting them back after the Athens stop. We stayed in a balcony cabin on deck 7.  The room was your typical cruise ship accommodations.  The only complaint I had was that the shower had a curtain, not a sliding door (as we've seen on other ships).  This was super annoying, since the curtain would stick to you throughout your entire shower.  The location on deck 7 is nice because you can get to the Centrum activities easily, but there is not a lot of noise on this deck. Entertainment: Our cruise director was Kieran, he was great.  Very funny and friendly guy.  We also saw him out and about at many of the ports, which was nice.  Brilliance had your typical production shows...we did not attend all of them, but the ones we saw were pretty good.  There was a Beatles cover band one night that everyone LOVED, as well as a very good magician.  There were 2-3 stage performers that we thought were just so-so; they did musical and comedy routines that were definitely geared towards the older people in our audience.  Though we were admittedly in the minority as far as age range goes, we were hoping for some of the more fun and risquE comedians we've seen on other ships. The Pacifica Theater was a good spot for the shows, not a bad seat in the house.  We visited the Schooner Bar quite a bit for the live music, and the Colony Club was good for the karaoke-type events, though there were a lot of obstructed views there.  We enjoyed the sports bar—lots of TVs, plus the bartender there really knew how to make a strong drink!  The Champagne Bar is great—visit them after 6pm for free appetizers. The one thing about onboard activities that we didn't like—most of the entertainment was done by 11pm.  Really the only thing open late was the Starquest Disco, which was quickly taken over by the small group of teenagers on board.  Not much for the 20-something set after hours. Other Amenities: We took advantage of both the 24-hour mini golf, and the rock climbing wall—good fun!  The pools were always quite crowded, with all the seats claimed no later than 9am.  Get up early if you want a fighting chance.  We tended to stay in the Solarium pool area...quieter, less sun (good for those of us not working on a tan), and the bar isn't as busy as the main pool bar.  Also, it's adults only, so no screaming and yelling. Food: Overall we enjoyed our dining experience.  RCCL did an EXCELLENT job with the seating arrangements.  We were at an 8-person table at the later dining time (9pm).  Honestly, we were afraid we would be the only young couple at the table, but we were paired with 3 others nearly our age, as well as a wonderful middle-age couple from the UK.  We had fun with them all week.  Our waiters, Worawit and Miro, were great, some of the best we've had on a cruise.  Wit was especially helpful with his hints on the ports, we often got better information from him than from the Cruise Compass! The food itself was good, though there is a difference from our past cruises.  They seemed to rely on pasta dishes a lot more than usual, and of course there was no lobster or filet mignon.  All the food was good quality, we just felt that the selection was not as great. The Windjammer was typical buffet fare, nothing special to note.  Be aware that the food at the Latte-tudes Coffee Bar is FREE.  A lot of people assumed there was a charge there (because the coffee is not free), but we were happy to figure out that we were free to eat all the brownies and cookies we wanted. PORTS: Barcelona: We arrived here on June 1 and stayed at the Hotel Banys Orientals for 2 nights pre-cruise.  We booked this on our own, not through RCCL.  We had an excellent experience with Banys.  The price is amazing (99 euro/night), the staff is friendly, and the location can't be beat in the Barri Gotic.  I would much rather stay here than La Rambla, which I thought was overrated anyway.  I highly recommend using the tourist bus to help you get around to many of the sights.  It runs frequently and on time.  In 2.5 days we were able to see all of the major highlights that we wanted.  Must sees include: Sagrada Familia, Parc Guell, Picasso Museum, Barcelona Cathedral, beaches at Barceloneta, and the FC Barcelona Stadium.  If you want great tapas, try Cal Pep (best meal I've had in a long time), or Taller de Tapas. One recommendation: if you plan to spend extra time in Barcelona, I'd do it before the trip.  We were so exhausted by the end of the cruise, I don't think we could have done half of what we did in Barcelona by that point.  We actually ate with a couple who cancelled their post-cruise stay in Barcelona because they were just too tired to do it. Villefranche: We did not schedule an excursion for this port.  We got tickets for an early tender (hint: when they are giving out tender tickets, if you want a low number, get in line at least 30-45 minutes before they start handing them out).  We took the easy walk to the train station, and bought tickets to Nice (only a 10 minute train ride).  Nice was beautiful, definitely a beachy resort town.  We explored the shopping areas and the Promenade d'Anglais, and made a stop at Castle Hill.  There is a great food/craft market near the Castle Hill end of the promenade—we ate lunch at a great little restaurant in the middle of it.  Overall this was a really relaxing day, bring your bathing suit if you visit Nice.  You can also take the train to Monte Carlo (20 minutes) or Cannes, though I believe Cannes was further away. When we finished in Nice, we did get about 2 hours in Villefranche, which is a very quaint little fishing village.  It's good to give yourself some time to explore it and get lost in the winding streets. Florence: One of my favorite ports.  We booked the "Florence on your own" tour for this excursion.  Essentially this is just a bus taking you the 90 minutes from Livorno to Florence, and they bring you back at the end of the day.  We started off with a bang as our bus driver plowed into the car in front of us on the Italian highway...yikes!  We were delayed about an hour waiting for another bus, but we were given extra time at the end of the day to make up for it.  Well handled.  We were dropped off at the Basilica of Santa Croce and given about 6 hours on our own.  My husband and I visited all the major sights, and I highly recommend climbing to the top of the Duomo—amazing!  A long climb but worth it.  We didn't have time to go into the Galleria d'Accademia to see the David, or the Uffizi gallery...you will need to spend your day doing just those things if you really want to see them, in my opinion.  We did have a great lunch at Antico Fattore, the pasta and wine were amazing. A note about the "on your own" tours: they are pricy (usually at least $80 a person) but we felt they were very much worth it.  We always got more time in town than our friends who took trains in, because we didn't have to waste time finding the station, and at the end of the day, we didn't have to leave early in fear of missing a train.  A good deal if you want to maximize time and not worry about missing the boat. Rome: We did "Rome on your own" this day.  No bus crashes on the 90 minute drive in, thank goodness.  We were dropped off near St. Peter's; my husband and I immediately took a cab over to the Roman Forum to begin our whirlwind day.  We got a 3-site ticket at the Forum to see it, Palatine Hill, and the Colosseum.  DEFINITELY buy this ticket at the Forum, there was no line at all, whereas the line at the Colosseum was massive.  We visited all three sights, then walked towards the Trevi Fountain.  Stopped there, had some pizza, and threw in our coins (we will be back!).  Made a stop at the Piazza Navona before heading back towards the Vatican, crossing the Ponte Sant'Angelo (gorgeous).  We made a beeline for the Vatican Museum so that we could see the Sistine Chapel, which is absolutely a MUST see.  Breathtaking.  Afterwards we walked around St. Peter's Square, but we weren't left with enough time to go into St. Peter's.  This was truly a crazy, fast-paced day, but you can see both sides of Rome if you really hustle.  We had a lot of fun though we were quite exhausted at the end. Santorini: We didn't book an excursion here.  First off, Santorini is gorgeous.  Take your time here, and take in the scenery.  We took the cable car up to Fira and explored some of the shopping areas for a while.  We then took a city bus (quite reliable, and cheap) over to Perissa, and stopped at the black sand beaches (warning: black sand is hot!).  This was a nice relaxing way to start the day.  We thought about taking the bus to Oia as well—we would have had time, but barely, so we just decided to head back to Fira for some relaxation.  We had a long, leisurely lunch at a rooftop restaurant, sampling all the classic Greek fare: souvlaki, Greek salad, saganaki, Greek wine, baklava.  We ended the day by watching the sunset over the caldera.  What a beautiful place! Kusadasi: We booked the Ancient Glories tour for this port.  The tour began quite early, and took us to the ruins of Ephesus, Miletus, Magnesia, and Didyma.  Beware: Turkey is HOT!  Nearly 100 degrees this day.  Bring water and dress cool if you are taking any of the tours.  The tour guide was very informative, which was great because we got a lot more out of the ruins by hearing about their history.  A buffet was also served at a Turkish restaurant near Didyma, which was excellent—lots of local fare and fresh fish.  The tour ended back in Kusadasi at a rug shop.  It was interesting to see how the rugs were made, but it was a little annoying to have to sit through their sales pitch—ah well.  We explored the Grand Bazaar for a while before heading back to the ship at the end of the day.  Lots of deals to be had at the bazaar, especially if you're into clothes, bags, watches, etc. Mykonos: No excursions for us this day.  We kept hearing how great the beaches were in Mykonos, so we decided to find them on our own—everyone said they were so easy to walk to.  This was not so!  We, along with many other confused-looking passengers, ended up giving up our search for the beaches after an hour of walking, trying to figure out the Mykonos buses, etc.  Very frustrating.  RCCL should either run buses to the beaches (they are on the other side of the island from the ship), or they should provide a better map to tell you how to get there.  But, this did not ruin our day.  We walked around town, which was great because the winding streets are so beautiful.  Had lunch at a little cafe, and explored the windmills near town.  Mykonos is definitely a relaxation destination. Athens:  Our plans were initially foiled by the Greek Tour Guides Union strike—all tours were cancelled for the day.  RCCL let all of us know this the day before we arrived in Athens, which was a sea day.  This was very poorly handled by RCCL.  We were told the day before that all tours were cancelled, but RCCL would be running a shuttle into the city if you just wanted to be dropped off in Athens.  If you wanted a ticket for the shuttle, it was $25, non refundable, and they went on sale that afternoon at the excursion desk.  We were also told that seats were limited.  So, of course everyone rushes to the desk that afternoon and buys the tickets.  Well, that night at the show, the cruise director tells us "a little secret": the train station is not a long walk from the ship, and train tickets to Athens are only 1-2 Euro.  Imagine how upset we all were!  RCCL clearly needed to make their money back from the cancelled tours, so they sent everyone into a panic over the shuttle tickets, and never said a word about the train.  (I'm sure Kieran was given a talking to about informing us later on, poor guy.)  In general, we found that RCCL staff were very reluctant to give out any information about a port that was non-excursion related.  We understand that they need to make their money, but we know many passengers were frustrated, not just by the Athens incident, but also because simple questions they had about other ports (where a train was, etc.) were skirted by RCCL employees in an effort to boost excursion sales.  Tsk tsk. Anyway, on to Athens.  My husband and I took the shuttle into town, and were dropped off near Hadrian's Arch.  We walked up to the Acropolis first—this was probably the hottest day of our cruise, so yet again, pack water and dress lightly for this city.  The Acropolis and Agora were close by each other and definitely worth the hike.  We also walked over to the old Olympic stadium, through the Botanical Gardens, and over to Syntagma Square to view the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  Had a great Greek lunch in the Plaka district as well.  All the major sights in Athens are fairly close together, so we had no problem exploring on our own this day. Naples: We booked the Pompeii and Mt. Vesuvius tour for today.  We had not heard great things about Naples itself (other than the pizza), so we were okay with forgoing a trek into the city.  The Pompeii tour was good, though a bit shorter than we had hoped.  It would have been nice if we had some time on our own in the ruins, rather than just being guided the whole time.  Mt. Vesuvius was amazing though.  We were driven most of the way up the mountain, then given time to climb on our own to the peak.  The volcanic crater is very cool, and the views of Naples and the Mediterranean were great once the clouds lifted.  This is definitely worth it, especially if you enjoy hiking!  If you do this tour, be aware that you'll get quite dirty climbing up the mountain, there is volcanic ash all over the place and my shoes/pants were never the same! Overall this was an excellent cruise for two people who had never been to Europe.  We knew that we wouldn't be able to spend tons of time in each place, so we spent a lot of time before the trip planning out exactly what we wanted to see.  It's important to do this, or else you will just be overwhelmed by all that you can do in one day.  This is definitely not a relaxation vacation—we were exhausted by the end, and slept our way through most of the sea days.  But if you want a cruise with amazing ports, this is it. Read Less
Sail Date: June 2009
Land of the Midnight Sun  st1\:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) } /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Table Normal"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; ... Read More
Land of the Midnight Sun  st1\:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) } /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Table Normal"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt; mso-para-margin:0in; mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:10.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-ansi-language:#0400; mso-fareast-language:#0400; mso-bidi-language:#0400;} This was my first cruise on one of the smaller Princess ships. I've been on all the other sizes, the Dawn, Sea, Coral, Island, Golden, Grand, Emerald, and Diamond. I flew from SFO to Heathrow (London) on Virgin Atlantic and it was a great flight, on time and good food. I got my air through Princess so I let them deal with any flight problems if there are any. I took the Princess transfer to Dover and arrived at the ship at around 3:00pm. Getting on the ship was a breeze! Since there are only 675 passengers on the ship I felt like I was the only one there getting on the ship. The staff at the port were great, very friendly helpful. The Tahitian Princess is one of 3 of Princesses small ships and it is completely different from any of the bigger ships. It has what the industry calls the "small ship feel" which is completely different from any other Princess ship I have been on. For most of the 18 days on board the ship it felt like there were only 50 other passengers total. There were almost no lines to anything, it was very calm and quiet almost anywhere you went on the ship and it takes almost no time to get anywhere on the ship. Since they bought it from Radisson the dEcor throughout the ship is a lot more like a small upscale hotel with dark rose wood paneling, wrought iron and brass railings, crown molding and everything is noticeably smaller. The ceiling heights are lower, giving the ship a much more intimate feeling. Most everything was clean and shiny. I had an inside cabin on the 7th floor and it was clean and well maintained and the cabin steward was great. The public rooms are great and the ship is extremely easy to navigate and it only takes a minute or two to get anywhere on the ship. Since this is a much smaller ship there is no giant theater to watch the usual nightly shows in. What they have is a lounge called the Cabaret Lounge in the front of the ship. It has both a stage and dance floor. The stage is rather small with enough room for the band with a little left over. So for the nightly entertainment the various performers would spill out onto the dance floor and give us an up close and personal show. The production shows felt quiet different since they were out on the floor right in front of you dancing away. Again the ceiling height is low which adds to the sense of intimacy. The entertainment was great with one exception and that was the hypnotist. I've seen this sort of act on another Princess cruise and I think they are terrible. The production shows were the usual variety; we also had some great singers, comedians, a piano player and a great violin player. I used the internet cafe almost everyday and at times I had to wait for a terminal, since there were a few days where we didn't have a satellite signal when the internet came back up everyone wanted to use it. The ship is going into dry-dock in November and the name will be changed to the Ocean Princess since it no longer is just sailing around the South Pacific. It's itinerary is all over the world, so if your up for an adventure this is the ship for you. The Food Since I have food allergies I eat both breakfast and lunch at the Panorama Buffet everyday.  For breakfast I usually have fruit and hot cereal of which there is always an abundant supply of fruit, my favorite being the papaya of which you may have to ask for, sometimes they had it out, sometimes not.  For lunch I made a huge salad of which there was always a great selection of veggies to choose from.  I like to put cranberry sauce on my salad and the Panorama Buffet staff always made sure I had some everyday. One thing I have found on cruise ships is that you can ask for almost any food item and the staff will get it for you, they almost never say no! One of the great things about this style princess ship is that the Panaram Buffet is in the back of the ship with plenty of inside seating as well as on the back you can sit outside on the deck overlooking the the ocean while eating.  As long as it wasn't raining or too cold I ate out there for every breakfast, lunch and snack for the whole cruise, it's wonderful and scenic. For dinner I had the second seating in the main restaurant. This way I don't have to rush to dinner and have the same waiter and table mates each night.  All the dinners were great every night. I order a special salad, sautEed vegetables and a yam for each night, while choosing between the various fish, lamb and chicken items.   For dessert I either had a bowl of berries, or they made me an Apple Tart Tatin. Like I said if you ask they will make it for you. The head waiter was exceptional and since there were less people on the ship the service was always fast and efficient. The Service I found the staff to be very helpful, it seemed every time I turned around there was someone with a name badge asking if they could get me something. Everyone from the Passenger Services Desk to the Deck Crew was willing to go the extra mile to help. My cabin steward had my cabin clean and well stocked all the time and she was always around most every time I was going to or leaving my cabin. The crew seems a lot happier, calmer and more personable than on the bigger ships. Lotus Spa and Gym I hit the gym almost every afternoon - I lift weights rather than do cardio so there were no real problems waiting for the machines. The equipment was enough for me to do maintenance workouts. I was there at 4-5pm and there was never any waiting for equipment. Everything was clean and worked! The locker rooms are very well done and they include a steam room. The one thing I miss on this small ship is the wrap around Promenade deck where you can walk 3 times around and it's a mile. On this ship the walking track was up on the 10th floor and it took 16 times around to get in a mile. Excursions and Ports I booked tours through Princess for peace of mind regarding schedules and getting back to the ship on time. If it's a Princess tour, they'll wait for you if it's late getting back to the ship. We were always right on schedule, arriving spot on time at every port. We tendered a few ports and it was a breeze, no waiting in line. We were given assembly times for our pre-booked tours and they were orderly and we got off the ship without too much delay. All in all the process was organized and smooth. We had mostly sunny weather at each port which was great! Since this was an 18 day cruise we had a number of great ports all in Norway except one in Russia. They were as follows; Stavanger which was sunny and beautiful, a great city to walk and enjoy the sights. Flaam which has a great sail in thought the Fjord, the weather was great, I rented a bike from the local tourist bureau and rode up the valley following the train, lot's of great waterfalls, rivers, beautiful houses and the bike was a great way to get around. Tromso also has a great sail in through the Fjord, the weather started out cloudy and then cleared in the afternoon. I walk over the main bridge and rode up the cable car which gives you a fantastic view of the entire area. The sail out was amazing, sunny and warm. Magdalennfjord (scenic viewing) is on the island of Spitzbergen which is 600 miles south of the North Pole! I must have seen at least 15 huge glaciers, absolutely amazing. Ny Alesund is a small international research town complete with Polar Bears and arctic fox (we didn't see any wild life except for a reindeer, although they do have signs warning you of the Polar Bear danger). Since this is such a small place there were no excursions, everyone just walked around the small community. There was a museum, a post office and a souvenir shop. The weather was a bit of everything, some snow flurries, some sun and some low clouds, the temperature was around 35 degrees. You really felt like you were out in the middle of nowhere! Honningsvag is a small fishing village at the top of Norway. One of the most striking thing about the area is that there are no trees anywhere because during the winter there is no sun so the trees can't grow there. I went on a Bird Safari which was great. We boarded a boat and went out amongst the small islands in the area where thousands of birds call home. It was a great narrated tour, it was as if we were in an open air zoo with an amazing amount of nesting, flying, swimming birds. Murmansk (Russia) The best part of this port was the sail in, we passed a number of Russian naval ships, submarines, an aircraft carrier and some nuclear powered ice breakers. The Russians like to feel important so they make the immigration process a big deal. First we had to hand in our passports, then retrieve them when we were getting off the ship and have an immigration official look at our passport and then look at us to see if pour pictures matched, then when we returned to the ship they would look at our picture again and look at us to see if we matched. Fortunaltly the officials doing the looking were attractive women so I didn't mind at all (of course I'm single so I enjoyed smiling at the women in charge and one of them smiled back, the other kept her frown going the whole time). The city itself is a typical gray depressing Russian city. Most of the buildings were built in the 50's and 60's when communism ruled. The tour guide said most of the huge apartment buildings were temporary and would be replaced in 20 years. Now it's 40 to 50 years later and the buildings are falling apart. It was like we were in a time warp from the 60's. Gravdal is a beautiful area. I took an excursion that took us to a few of the other islands and various fishing villages. This place had some of the most beautiful scenery of the whole cruise. One of our stops was voted the most beautiful place in the world by Newsweek magazine, it was amazing. Trondheim has a great sail in and the city is easily walkable and beautiful as well. I walked around the city with another couple enjoying the typical Norwegian buildings and colors. There is a great church that you can climb up a zillion stairs and get to the base of the steeple for some great views of the entire city. The weather was great, sunny and warm! Geiranger has the best sail in of all. We had completely clear skies and warm temps the whole day. On the sail in the captain slowed the ship and we enjoyed at least 100 magnificent waterfalls because of the late thaw the area was having. At the 7 sisters waterfall the captain spun the shin around so everyone had a great view no matter where you were on the ship. The town was great, lot's of people enjoying the great weather. I found my way up to the Fjord center and asked an employee there about hiking up the hill for a better view of the area. I'd seen on the internet some amazing photos of people at the top of the Fjord looking down at the water. I was directed to a great trail right off the road and up I went finally getting to an over look that was breathtaking. Again the weather was warm and sunny, picture perfect! The sail out was great as well. Bergen was warm and cloudy most of the day. It's a great city to walk and take in the sights. The fish market is great with lot's going on and some great food to be had as well. Since it was a Sunday there was a lot of live music going on in the main pedestrian walkway. Disembarkation On the mornings of disembarkation I usually get up eat breakfast and find a nice lounge chair either on top deck if it's nice or down on the promenade deck and wait there for my time disembark. Princesses new disembarkation procedure works beautifully. I was off the ship and on my way back to Heathrow in about 5 minutes. Of course it helps when there are only one forth the amount of passengers getting off the ship. Summary As with all other Princess cruises that I have been on, this one was equally enjoyable, you know what you're going to get on a Princess cruise. The staff is always helpful and friendly, the ships are always clean and nice, the food is always great, the atmosphere is always casual and relaxed, the entertainment is always professional and varied, everything is usually always on time and the price is always competitive. I always feel well taken care of on a Princess cruise. I'm already planning my next few cruises (South Pacific in September on the Star Princess and the Caribbean on the Grand Princess in January) and yes I will definitely cruise with Princess again. Read Less
Sail Date: July 2009
Hello!  My husband and I just completed the 7 day cruise on Carnival Victory Sunday, July 5th.  I specifically picked this ship for it's itinerary; stopping at 6 islands in 7 days: St. Thomas, Barbados, Dominica; St. Lucia, Antigua, ... Read More
Hello!  My husband and I just completed the 7 day cruise on Carnival Victory Sunday, July 5th.  I specifically picked this ship for it's itinerary; stopping at 6 islands in 7 days: St. Thomas, Barbados, Dominica; St. Lucia, Antigua, and St. Kitts.  If you count San Juan we actually visited 7 islands.   While we are exhausted, we loved the cruise and the ship and have nothing but praise for our cabin steward Noel and dining room head server Victoria and Budi.  In fact, one morning as I had gone for coffee and had my hands full, one of the maintenance staff saw me, stopped what he was doing and literally ran over to open the door for me.  He did not have to do that but it was appreciated.  I wish I had gotten his name.   Our cabin was on deck 10 - 1038.  The only issue that we had was that the kids club was directly over our cabin and it sounded like the ceiling was going to fall in at night!  Fortunately the noise did die down around midnight.  Also, our first cruise with Carnival was on the Miracle and our room was a bit larger than Victory; but beyond that the room was comfortable, clean, and the beds are great.  It is tempting to buy their sleep system!   The ship has 2 dining rooms; the Atlantic and the Pacific.  They are very close to each other but getting to the Pacific (which was our assigned dining room) was very confusing.  From the front of the ship; you needed to go down to either deck 4 or 5 - go behind the Casino and then down to the 3rd deck.  You cannot just go to the 3rd deck from the front of the ship.  Ladies - do remember your sweaters or shawls as the dining room and Casino can get chilly.We went early so that we could experience Old San Juan.  We stayed at the Sheraton and were able to walk across the street to the cruise terminal.  We were onboard by 1230. Embarkation and debarkation are a breeze. Even the airport was straightforward - we had been warned about the USDA check but that took us maybe 5 minutes - maybe it was because we were an early flight out and got there before the rush of the late flights.Old San Juan was nice - we saw the fortress along the coast which is impressive itself but all along the coast are colonies of feral cats; hundreds of them.  We never got to the beach or the castle or traditional San Juan food but we enjoyed our visit all the same. Read Less
Sail Date: July 2009
My fiance and I just returned from the July 5th-11th cruise out of Tampa.  Our main goal was to escape the reality of our professional lives during this robust economic boom (kidding of course).  We are in our early thirties and live in ... Read More
My fiance and I just returned from the July 5th-11th cruise out of Tampa.  Our main goal was to escape the reality of our professional lives during this robust economic boom (kidding of course).  We are in our early thirties and live in Tampa, so it was an easy decision to leave out of the Tampa port.  We decided on the seven day cruise because we both needed to get away for at least a week.  Our decision to cruise was made last minute and we got one of the few remaining cabins on the ship.  Being prone to motion sickness and never having cruised before I was a bit nervous.  On to the cruise:Embarkation: Pretty easy to get on the ship.  Didn't take longer than 45 minutes or so to get out of the cab and be on the ship.  We arrived around noon and were eating lunch by 1:15pm.Alcohol: After much studying via the internet I took the risk and packed alcohol for the week in our "checked" bag.  Didn't have an issue at all.  Economy sucks and they know most people probably sneak something on.  We still spent plenty on the ship so Carnival made their money.  My advice is the bring vodka in Sprite bottles, whiskey in iced tea bottles, etc.  You get my point.  For further discussion just use Google like I did and all the tricks of the trade will be revealed to you.  On a related note, you are legally allowed to bring 1 bottle of wine per person on to the ship.  They charge you a corking fee at dinner ($10), but it's better than buying the overpriced bottle from them.  The drinks are not cheap.Ship:  I didn't have anything to compare it to, but I thought the ship was very clean and very nice.Staff:  We can't say enough about how overly nice all the staff were.  We got to know many of them over the course of our week and they treated us like royalty.  Sandy the bartender knew me by name after the 2nd day.  Your cabin steward will do anything you ask of them.  We didn't abuse them on room service, unnatural requests, etc.  They all work very hard and to many it is a way to send money back home to their families.Food:  Food was good, not great, but was always hot and fresh.  Be prepared to put on at least 5 lbs.  If you don't, it means you didn't enjoy yourself enough.Ports:Grand Cayman:  Have to do Stingray City.  It is a once in a lifetime opportunity to swim with the stingrays.  Before the trip, I had a fear of the ugly creatures, but that quickly changed once I learned more about them and spent an hour in the water playing with them.  Sign up with Moby Dick Tours.  Very reliable, very knowledgable and 1/2 the price Carnival will charge you for the same excursion.  We used outside excursion companies when available.  It is the same companies Carnival uses at a fraction of the cost.  Cozumel:  We rented a Jeep for $50 and drove to Mr. Sanchos beach bar.  It was a nice semi-private beach bar where we drank the margaritas and ate some quality Mexican food.  They have small vendors there who want your money and are ready to barter.  I picked up a couple of Cuban cigars that looking back at it, I probably overpaid for.  After Mr. Sanchos, we drove around the back side of the island and headed back to the ship.  Make sure you pick up some Tequila at one of the duty free shops before you get back on the ship.  They carry special brands down there that are not sold in USA.  Belize:  We paid $100 a piece and did the cave tubing/zip lining experience through Extreme Excursions.  Belize is kind of dirty and not the safest country.  I wasn't too worried at the site of police on the side of the roads with machine guns, but I think my fiance was a little scared.  It takes about 45 minutes to get to the cave tubing camp.  Cave tubing was okay, but the zip lining was very good.  We have been before in other countries but this experience was far superior.Honduras: By far our favorite.  Only 2 ships a week come to the island, so the locals are very appreciate of your visit.  I should have waited and bought my Cuban cigars there had I known the prices were better.  Go to Tabayana Beach.  The only way to book this excursion was through Carnival ($35), but well worth it.  Unbelievable snorkling (make sure you swim way out there) directly off the beach.  All in all, we had a great time.  Vacation, like life, is what you make of it.  Sure, we could have complained about certain things that happened to us on the trip, but anything we expreienced was far superior than spending a week in the office trying to make a buck.  Are we going to cruise again? You betcha........probably try to get some friends to go with us next time.  Listed below are some observations from our cruise.  I consider myslef a normal guy so feel free to use them or not.......If you don't have kids, use the adult pool at the back of the ship.The pool is a saltwater pool.Bring Dramamine or get the patch from your doctor (saw alot of those)Casinos don't serve free drinks while you are gambling???????Go to the shows....pretty decent.....and FREEIf you have the time, eat breakfast in the dining room.Have to order the Chocolate Lava Cake for dessert.Do self debarkation.....we were off the ship and at my house in 20 minutes from the time we left our cabin.Unless you drink a ton of soda, no need for the Soda Card.Gym is pretty decent.Jen the cruise director can be annoying at times.Don't book your room in 4120 unless you want to be kept up until 3am by Billy's Piano BarENJOY YOURSELF! Read Less
Sail Date: July 2009
Let me start by saying a big thank you to Royal Caribbean for allowing my wife and I to change our cruise date to July 5th 2009 from May 10th.  Swine flu caused the May 10th sailing to be re-routed to Oregon, Washington, and Canada.  ... Read More
Let me start by saying a big thank you to Royal Caribbean for allowing my wife and I to change our cruise date to July 5th 2009 from May 10th.  Swine flu caused the May 10th sailing to be re-routed to Oregon, Washington, and Canada.  I'm sure these are beautiful locations but that's not my idea of a vacation.  I was not forced to pay the cancellation and rebooking fees.  I only had to pay the difference in the cost of the cruising dates which equaled $300.  I got $150 back in onboard credit because I chose a balcony room.  The ship returned to it's normal Mexican Riviera route at the end of June so July brought good hot weather and three beautiful locations.Embarkation:  Day one can usually tell you how your vacation is going to go.  Sooooo.... Embarkation in San Pedro wasn't as bad as I thought it would be.  My ride pulled up to the curb right outside the registration building.  The courteous porters took our bags and we entered the building to register.  We showed all of our papers, passports, and pre-printed sail passes.  We only had a couple short forms to fill out (swine flu form and some other one).  We got out Sea Pass cards and were onboard in less than 10 minutes.  I was surprised at how well this was organized.  Keep in mind that this ship holds over 3000 people.  We arrived just as the crowd was picking up so I guess we were lucky enough to beat the rush.  I didn't hear anybody complaining about their embarking so I'm rating this perfect.  I immediately went to the Guest Relations once onboard so I could start my Sea Pass account.  I always use "cash" accounts so I can limit my onboard spending.  The last time I used my credit card I went way overboard on the spending.  The people at the desk were pretty friendly and helpful.  They also mentioned that I would be able to use my $150 starting the next day.  I was expecting them to be a little more grouchy (like people at customer service in stores) but they were extremely nice.  My wife and I went to the Windjammer Cafe (the buffet) to eat since the rooms weren't ready yet.  The food was pretty good.  But I've had better buffet food with Carnival CL.  Side note: breakfast was great every day in the Windjammer.  Food for lunch sometimes was a little undercooked.  We only ate dinner there once and it was okay.  Nothing to get excited about though.  Speaking of food...Food:  Again, the breakfast in the Windjammer cafe was great.  This buffet and Jade are connected and really just feel like one big buffet.  I'm a hamburger or hotdog guy when it comes to lunch.  The problem was that they always seemed to be undercooked.  Not good when I'm hungry.  The pastries weren't too bad.  My wife and I only tried one specialty restaurant.  That was Johnny Rockets. Cost $4.95 and $2.50 more for sodas.  Excellent burgers and fries were served.  My wife enjoyed the onion rings.  I didn't like that we had to pay extra for the sodas here but at least they were large sodas.  I got up and danced with the waiters as they danced for us.  Not bad.  We wanted to try Portifino's or Chop's grill but we could not find the time because of all the things we did on this ship.  We will next time.  The dinners in the main dining room (Rhapsody in Blue level) were okay.  Most nights the dinners were great but there was a couple nights I had the waiter return my food for something else.  Sorry, I'm picky (especially after I've paid a lot for something).  Our waiter Remy was awesome.  His assitant waiter was very nice as well.  They occasionally worked in the WindJammer as well and they always greeted us and remembered who we were.  That's a feat in itself with so many people on this ship.  I liked how they always recommended several meals and told us what to expect for the next day.  Deserts were excellent but my wife ate mine most nights.Ship Appearance:  Overall this ship is huge.  I know you've probably heard this multiple times but really, you have to see it up close to realize how gigantic it is.  When you're inside, it doesn't feel too large though because of the way it is layed out.  Everthing is well organized and easy to remember how to get to.  Maps are located all over the ship so you won't get lost unless you can't read a map.  The promenade is beautiful.  It's about as long as a city block with stores on either side and lots of decorations.  Expect to see a couple parades here and to participate in several celebrations here.  The pool deck is just beautiful.  There are so many jacuzzis that you never feel crowded.  The pools are large enough to accomodate a lot of people as well.  The adults only area felt more crowded than the public areas so we stayed in the public pools.  The movie theater was kind of small but comfy.  There isn't a movie in there that you won't see in your own stateroom anyhow so I didn't really see what the point of it was.  The showroom theater aka the Savoy theater was fairly big.  There were only a few bad seats in the house (mainly ones with poles in front of them).  Great acoustics as well.  The sports deck was awesome.  Inline skating, rock climbing, basketball, golf, ping pong, and a few other sports were offered.  I got plenty of exercise here.  Studio B (the ice skating rink) was nice looking.  Fun music was played here as you got to ice skate around.  The Lotus Lounge looked like the perfect karaoke bar.  Very comfy as well.  One more place I'd like to suggest you see is the gym.  It is huge for a cruise ship.  I'm sure there will be no waiting for machines because there are so many.  There are a lot of other locations on this ship but I only wanted to mentioned the ones I visited.  I liked the color schemes on the ship and the ship seemed to be in good upkeep.  Suggestion: go all way to the front of the ship at night and sit down at least once at night.  It's a beautiful view.  Not many ships allow passengers to go all the way to the front.Entertainment:  The shows were great.  My suggestions:1) The ice show: You've probably already heard about how good it is but you have to see it to really understand just how good it is.  It's emotional, magestic, and funny all in one.  You feel like you're in the show.2) Love and marriage: This is basically like the Newlywed game.  But the three couples they picked for this show were the most popular people onboard once the show was over.  The cruise director Ken (who was on loan from the Oasis of the Seas) is simply hilarious. 3) The Quest: Let me start by saying this show is NOT for children but it is the most hilarious competition for adults that you will ever see.  I cannot tell you all about it because you have to see it for yourself but believe me... you'll be glad you went.4) Tribute: We were fortunate enough to see a group called tribute sing Temptaion songs.  They were spectacular.5) All other shows in the Savoy:  I mean the ones by the RC singers and dancers were okay.  Almost like Vegas shows.  Not bad at all.Disembarking:  This process is well organized.  If you want to get off quickly, take your own bags.  We had too many so this was not an option.  But still, we had plenty of time to eat breakfast and then depart when they called our group down.  Going though customs was a breeze.  Finding our bags wasn't hard either.  Always a plus.Overall:  This was a very fun ship to be on.  Really, even if we never left the ship I would have enjoyed this cruise.  This ship has so much to do that you would really have to be a boring person to not enjoy yourself.  I mean that.  Ken Rush, the cruise director, and his team made sure you were having plenty of fun throughout the day and the night were even more fun.  As far as the ports went, I've never been to funner places in my life.  Will I go again.... definitely.  I'm already planning for next year but we're trying to decide between waiting for the Oasis of the Seas or just cruising on the Mariner again.  You'll find out our choice soon enough.  Enjoy folks! 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