Sunday, July 23, 2017

Anniversary Weekend in Vancouver at the Fairmont Waterfront

 

This weekend we decided to enjoy our 22 anniversary with a little getaway to downtown Vancouver.  

We live about 40 minutes outside of the city and it is always nice to go into town but always a pain to make our way home and also dealing with driving and parking.

A week or so ago Bernie and I decided why not enjoy two nights at one of our favorite hotel brands. So we searched for two nights at the Fairmont.  They have three locations downtown and the Fairmont Waterfront was the perfect spot for us. 

We contacted them directly when we found a better price thru Kayak and they met the price and even bettered it and then suggested we try one of their Gold Rooms.  Which we ended up booking.

Gold Rooms come with some added perks of a special concierge and a lounge for you to enjoy at your leisure and breakfast is offered in the morning and canapes and honour bar in the evening. 

We received an email Friday asking when we would be checking in and we responded back 14:15 (although check in is not until 15:00).  When we got there the room was not available so we went up to the Gold Lounge and waited. After waiting for around 40 minutes we decided to just head out for a bit. 

At 16:00 we received a text that our room was ready.  This was a little disappointing since we were told check in was 15:00.  But we let it go. 

We were given a city view room that was very well appointed.  And that king size bed was to die for.

That evening we went out for a quick bite to eat and then to Yuk Yuks comedy show. We got our tickets for the show thru Tickets Tonight that offers same day tickets for half price. Their location is within the same block as the hotel.

It was so nice and convenient to just take transit everywhere and not to worry about parking or drinking and driving.


When we returned to the room in the evening a bottle of champagne and chocolate covered strawberries were waiting for us along with a lovely card congratulating us on our anniversary from the Fairmont Gold Staff.  Very nice touch.

The next morning we took our time relaxing.  Thankfully the lounge offers orange juice and espresso drinks and I was able to lounge in the room with my coffee before heading out into the public.

We had breakfast in the lounge too and the food was very good, and well presented and continually refilled.  The lounge was busy but the staff made every attempt to accommodate those arriving.  One couple walked and walked around looking for a spot.  We offered them the two spots at our table but they said they did not feel like being social.  Hmmm their loss.

We spent the day walking around downtown acting as tourist and enjoying our city.

The great thing about this hotel is it is just across the street from Canada Place and the cruise ship pier. So both made sure to head out and check out the Coral Princess that was docked on the North Side of the pier.  Sure made me want to get on.

When returning to the room we had naps and sipped champagne and savoured and reflected on our 22 years together.

A knock at the door?  Hmm who could that be.


Well it was our Room Attendants - Chris and Ann who delivered us a beautiful bouquet of flowers. Such a lovely thing.  They said they wanted to thank us for our generosity. Which suprised me as yes we did tip them but I believe that is standard - or is it.  But I know we truly appreciate all that the staff do for us everywhere.  They work so darn hard.  Plus the staff at this hotel are part of the same union we are - Unifor so we do have a brotherhood.

That evening (the actual day of our anniversary) we took the bus to our new favorite restaurant. The Pink Peppercorn.  For those of you who know Vancouver and may remember the Cannery Restaurant that use to be close to Ballantyne Pier.  Well it closed down due to the port security after 911 and the chef from there opened the Pink Peppercorn. 

It is a bit of a distance from downtown but only about a 15 minute transit ride on the #19 bus only two blocks from our hotel.  

The staff welcomed us and remembered us and gave us a lovely table.  Dinner was sharing of calamari and then for me scallops and prawns and for Bernie the halibut.  They surprised us with creme brulee for our anniversary and boy it was one of the best we have ever had. 

We were tired and when we got back to the room we quickly melted away in that luxurious bed and woke at 8 am on Sunday.

We took our time getting ready and we were up in the lounge for another great breakfast.

The staff there took care of all our needs and it was very hard to leave.  

But back to reality and work tomorrow.  

If you are looking for a great hotel in the Vancouver area I highly recommend the Fairmont Waterfront for your stay.  

Of course any Fairmont location is amazing - have never had a bad stay - but the Waterfront is a great location for any cruiser prior or post a cruise out of here.



Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Cruise Radio Interview - Royal 5 Day Caribbean


Had the pleasure to talk with Doug Parker of Cruise Radio last Fall after our Trans Atlantic and then five day Caribbean trip.

The interview has just gone live.  Here is the link to that interview

Take note that during the interview none of us were aware of what was to come with the announcement of Ocean Medallion.  

Of course in January Princess announced that Ocean Medallion is coming to Princess with the Royal Princess debuting it on January 19, 2017.  Bernie and I will be on that sailing and I will be posting all about this experience as a passenger.  

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Lisbon - Heck Why Not




If you have been following along you know we are heading to the Mediterranean in the Fall.

One of our dear friends Antonio Pimpao is retiring from Princess.  Antonio has been with Princess forever! We first met him on the Diamond many years ago at the Most Travelled Luncheon as he was the officer at our table and we hit it off.  

Since then we have sailed with him numerous times. In fact we specifically seeked out which ships he was on and jumping on board. A few times we even met him in Vancouver when he docked here.Delivering Portuguese special treats to him.

When he informed us he was retiring we were happy for him, but sad we may not see him as often. His response: "Why not come and visit me." "Why not come see me this Fall."


So we discussed it and agreed we should add a few days to our Fall trip and fly to Lisbon to spend some time with Antonio.

So after the wedding in Sardinia we are now flying Olbia to Lisbon via Rome.  

We will stay at Antonio's for five nights before flying home from Lisbon.

We are excited, neither of us has been to Lisbon!

South America Here we Come



Today Princess started their Sip and Sail program and we have been tossing out the idea of going back to South America.  

When we heard earlier this Spring that the Royal would be doing the 49 day trip, we knew we would be going back. We love the Royal Princess.

Both our cruise trips to South America have been very memorable and our land trip in January cemented it.

Today after checking prices and the added bonus of the sip and sail included we decided to book.

We ended up booking it as two legs instead of the total 49 day trip for a couple of reasons.


  • We wanted to change cabins from Valparaiso up.  So as the saying goes P.O.S.H. - Port Out, Starboard Home. We are sailing in a port side cabin down and a starboard cabin home.  This will guarantee we have shade during the hottest parts of the day. The cabins are on the same deck just opposite sides.
  • Price was a little cheaper as two legs, but not by a whole lot.
  • On board credits work out much better as two legs. Stock Credit for two sailings at $250 each leg instead of $250 for a 49 day.  Also loyalty credit for two legs instead of one.  And Future Cruise Deposit credits as well for each leg instead of two.
So even though this trip is not until February 2019 it was key to book early.  Cabin selection is minimal but still quite a bit out there.

Care to join us?


Thursday, June 15, 2017

Venice and Lucca Accommodations Booked

Now that we are settled in our new home I have been focussing on our next grand trip.

Final payment for the cruise is due soon and it looks like it is going forward so we now need to make accommodation reservations for Venice and Lucca.

I love Airbnb and I secured a great place in Lucca for three nights.  We will head here right after the cruise.  

Lucca being situated near Florence and the port of Livorno, but we have never been there.  I insisted that we spend some time here.


We needed a place that accommodate us, but possibly another couple who may join us.  Prices in Lucca are quite reasonable compared to some of the other busy cities.  So we splurged and are still paying less per night than we will be spending in Venice.  

Here is a link to our apartment.  

After three nights in Lucca we will take the train to Venice for five nights.

Again the options are endless.  Hotels are great but boy are they expensive and even though they included breakfast it was out of our price range.  So again we reserved a nice place in Venice close to an area we really enjoyed when we were there last time.  



A link to our apartment can be found here.

We didn't want to be in a busy area, like near the Rialto or Saint Marks Square we wanted more of a residential area. 

We wanted someplace near Santa Margherita where we spent some time on our last day in Venice.  Read about that great day here.  Oh and that wine store! 

Remember if you are interested in booking an Airbnb at some time, make sure to sign up and register here and you will receive a discount off your first booking for reading about it here.



Monday, May 22, 2017

Fort Lauderdale Accommodations


For our trip in 2018 we knew we wanted to fly into Fort Lauderdale a few days early.  Like we always do.

Main reason for this is the travel day is very very long from Vancouver and the three hour time change requires at least one day to get use to before boarding the ship.

Our biggest issue lately is accommodations have shot up in the past few years in Fort Lauderdale. Hotels that we use to book for around $75 to $100 US a night are now going for $250 to $350 a night.

That is crazy!  And we are not talking about fancy places either.

I know having the Oasis and Allure sailing out of Fort Lauderdale has cause a demand for hotels but outside of that I am not sure why.  Any ideas?

So when we go now we usually book further away from the pier and use Uber or rent a car for our stay.  Saving us a lot of money.

This trip our friends Barb and Craig will be in town and we decided to check out Airbnb.  


Once again we ended up getting a large apartment, close to Las Olas that can accommodate all four of us and then some for a price per day that is 2/3 the cost of one night and one room at a 3 star hotel near the pier.  



So for two night our cost is under $200!

Here is a link to our condo we reserved.  

And again if you are interested in trying Airbnb in the future here is a coupon you can register that will save you some $$$ off your first booking.


Mediterranean Planning Update



view from our apartment

So in the middle of selling the condo, finding a new place, packing and still working I am getting things booked for our Mediterranean trip.

But research and booking are the best part of my days.  

Our next step is to book accommodations for the three cities. 

First one that is needed is Barcelona.

Bernie and I chatted and discussed what type of accommodations we wanted.  Apartment thru Airbnb (or other booking site) or a hotel for four nights.

Both have positives and negatives.  

Hotels are easy, well run, centrally located.  Usually include breakfast and daily cleaning.  The ability to get answers to questions from front desk staff can be very helpful.

Apartments are easy to book, and you can pick your location from the many booking sites.  The place is much larger and is in a residential area so it feels great to be part of the community.  The ability to buy a few groceries and make some of our meals saves a ton, especially in an expensive city like Barcelona.  The host normally offers tons of advice about recommendations. And best of all it feels like home and not sterile like hotels.

Negatives for Hotels are that they are small, impersonal and often expensive.  Also they can be noisy as you hear all the guest coming and going at all hours and hotels are often in busy areas.


Negatives for Apartments are that to get to initially requires a bit more planning (we normally take trains or transit but a taxi helps) and coordinating arrival with host. You need to do more research to ensure you are in a good area that suits your needs.  Do you want more residential or more nightlife.  Are stores, transit, sites nearby?  

So in the end we settled on an Airbnb not far from the port in a residential area that is walkable to the metro and to the Gothic quarter.  Here is a link to our apartment.  

I contacted our host Pierre to see about checking in earlier - like around 1500 and he responded back very quickly and said that that was possible but no earlier as there were guests leaving the day we arrive and they need time to clean.  

You also have the ability to see reviews from past guests and they say a lot and obviously people have been very happy with Pierre and his apartment.


If you have never used Airbnb I encourage you to try it. Airbnb has provided me with a coupon code to hand out for a discount off your first booking.  Click on this link and set it up and it is there for you once you make your first booking.  

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Mediterranean Booked

We didn't know what our plans would be for the Fall of 2017 but we did know we had a wedding to go to in Sardinia, Italy.  Great friends Franco and Laura are finally getting married and we were honoured to be included in their celebration.

So as we do, we started working at seeing how we could fit a cruise into the planning.  

In the end we decided to book the Royal prior to the wedding that starts in Barcelona and ends in Civitavecchia.



This works great!  We get to spend some time in Barcelona prior to the cruise.  

Also when we get off we have time to explore Italy before heading to Sardinia.

Our current plan is to travel by train to Lucca.  I have been wanting to explore this area of Tuscany since we first decided to come to Italy and now we will spend a few nights there.

After Lucca we will travel by train to Venice for five nights to explore and enjoy fully.

A short flight to Sardinia from Venice for the wedding!  Boy I can't wait.  And every time we get more details about the wedding we just get more excited.

After the wedding we initially were just going to fly home but Antonio (Executive Housekeeper on Princess) is finally retiring this summer and he wants us to visit him.  Where does he live?  Portugal!  So well what is a girl to do?  But go to Portugal for a few days.

With Princess' easy air we secured good flights with reputable airlines for a decent price.  

Now the countdown begins.  But first we have to move.  Yes we sold our condo in record time at a record price!  We have been busy selling stuff, donating more stuff and getting ready for the move early next month.

Peter's 14 Night Caribbean Cruise on Caribbean Princess


14 day Caribbean Cruise from Fort Lauderdale on Caribbean Princess starting 11th March 2017

This was the first time we have booked a back to back cruise, but it was a good option for a 2 week Caribbean itinerary at our favoured holiday time of mid to late March.

We got off to a great start by being upgraded to Club Class on our British Airways flight from London Heathrow to Miami. It was not luck, as we had pushed for this upgrade following some appalling customer service from BA’s customer service centre related to our flights to Los Angeles last year. Although the service in Club Class was great, we would not recommend BA to anybody flying economy, as their service levels have dropped significantly in recent years. Virgin Atlantic, in our opinion, is a much better option.

The journey through border control at Miami was the quickest we had experienced and the new automated machines were very efficient. Being British, we still had to line up to get a final check from a Border Officer. It would have been nice to get a smile and a greeting from the Officer, but this guy was not in the best of moods. On a previous visit an Officer told us that they had received training from the Disney Corporation on how to engage with visitors to the US. He was smiley, friendly and chatty, but still efficient. That programme has obviously been dumped, because this time the Officer had no people skills at all.

Because we were through customs a lot quicker than normal, we had to wait a while for our driver, who had been organised by our Travel Agent. All was forgiven though when he lead us to our ride, which turned out to be a stretch Limo. The journey to our hotel was quick and easy. We stayed at the Ocean Sky Hotel & Resort on Galt Ocean Drive about 20 minutes from Port Everglades. Our TA gets a good rate here and we have stayed a few times. 

It is perfect for a one night stop before we sail and is right on the beach. It does cater for quite a few Spring Break groups, but that is always going to be the case when you stay at this time of the year. As long as you request a room away from the pool area, the party noise that can occur is rarely a problem. Food is reasonably good if you don’t want anything too fancy and we opted for a couple of chicken wraps with fries before turning in for the night. One thing that has changed this year is that the 15% gratuity is now added automatically. In previous visits we left our own tip.

Embarkation:
Our driver picked us up at 11am and we were at Port Everglades about 20 minutes later. For the first time since our very first cruise in 2011, our ship was docked at Pier 2. 

Just inside the entrance, turn left and we were there. No traffic, no queue, no delay. There was no queue either for the preferred check-in line and we walked straight up to a free agent and received our cruise cards. We were sitting in the preferred boarding waiting area by about 11.30am.

Although we thought we would be on the ship in record time, that was not to be. We waited until around 12.45pm before boarding commenced. We later found out from a passenger that was in transit that a surprise inspection from customs was the reason. All the crew had to get off the ship and be checked. While this was happening, there was no one to prepare the ship for us, hence the delay while they tried to get everything ready.

Once on board we headed for the Main Dining Room for lunch and a refreshing drink.

Ship in General:
We had read reports that the Caribbean Princess was looking in bad shape. It was due to go into dry dock for a major refit at the end of this cruise. All I can say is that some people must be really fussy. The ship did not look any different to the last time we sailed on her a few years ago. 

The ship is not pristine, but she is over 12 years old and is looking remarkably fine for that age. The public areas are all still smart and classy looking and the cabin was as good as we always expect. There were a few smells in some areas at the aft of the ship, but I have experienced those on a few ships and think that maybe that is where the sewage tanks might be located. Nothing, however, would have given me cause to say the ship was in a poor state, that simply is not true.

Cabin:
We went for a guaranteed balcony cabin of grade BE or above. We were allocated a category BB on the Starboard side (Aloha 623) and we were very happy with it. It was located midway between the Mid and Aft staircases.

Our Steward was Ruel from the Philippines. He was very efficient and looked after us well, always remembering our names. Robes were provided promptly and any request dealt with quickly.

We did not realise that the Caribbean Princess had not yet been equipped with the new Princess beds. We had not asked for a Mattress Topper and found the bed too hard for us. We called Ruel out before retiring for the night and he added the topper there and then.

Dining/Food:
We had a good experience on our cruise last year by organising a set table for 2 at a set time, even though we were on Anytime Dining. The Head Waiter did this for us as a favour, as it was our 30th Wedding Anniversary. 

Because we liked getting to know our waiters, we decided to opt for Traditional Dining this time and requested a table for 2. We always know that this was not guaranteed, but when we were told we had been placed on a table of 10, we were not happy. Both my wife and I have hearing disabilities and when we share, we always say no more than a table for 6. Anything above 6 and we cannot hear what people are saying and feel isolated from the other diners. 

We saw the Maitre’D and changed to Anytime Dining, but what annoyed us was that the Maitre’D told us that Princess had advised the ship that we would accept a table of ANY size. So, our request for a table of 2 had never been passed on even though I clearly requested it in the Cruise Personalizer.

Anytime Dining worked out fine. Because of the time difference, eating early suited us and most times we arrived at the Island Dining Room between 5.30pm and 5.45pm. We asked for a table for 2 each night, but were happy to share a table for 6 if there was a wait. 

Of the 14 nights I think we shared only 2 or 3 times. In the end the greeter on the door and the Head Waiter recognised us and just showed us to a table for 2 without us asking. On the final night there was not a table for us, but the Head Waiter rang the Coral Dining Room and got us a table for 2 there.

The food throughout the cruise was excellent. Again, I read posts from people saying the food was awful. What planet are these people on? I did not like some dishes, but there was always something nice to eat. One thing that we noticed had changed since our last cruise was the layout of the menu. Instead of having a section for Appetisers, then Soup & Salad, then Main Courses, Soup & Salad was included in the Appetisers section. This meant that, without thinking about it, we skipped a course that we would normally order. It resulted in me not putting as much weight on as I normally do, so I cannot complain.

Because we were on a back to back cruise (8 day and 6 day), the Silver & Gold Wine Package was not on offer (that is only for cruises of 10 days or more). However, we had booked our back to back as a single 14 day cruise, so I asked the waiter if I could get the package. He checked with a more senior colleague and he said yes. He said they do not promote it, but will offer it if someone asks. So I purchased the 10 bottle Silver Package and saved myself a significant amount in wine charges.  To learn more about the wine card click here.

As well as eating in the Main Dining Room, we also eat in the Crown Grill twice and both food and service were fantastic.

Entertainment:
As usual, there were a lot of daytime activities but they were not for us. We just relaxed most days and read our books. One thing we particularly avoided was a Sexy Legs Competition by the pool. We always tell friends how classy we find cruising and that is certainly not classy. Still, all we did was avoid it, so it did not really affect us. The evening entertainment was not really us, although the dance troupe in the Princess Theatre was the best we had seen and the production shows were enjoyable. Mostly we turned in early and read our books and fell asleep. This relaxing lark is so tiring.

The Cruise Director, David Clarke, was good fun. We had seen him as a Deputy Cruise Director on a previous ship and he is a bit of a cheeky chappie. They seem to have done away with the role of Deputy Cruise Director and David did all the Wake Shows on his own. There is now an Entertainment Director, but I am not sure what they do, as I did not see him anywhere apart from at the Champagne waterfall on formal night.

Itinerary:
2 Sea days – We left Port Everglades with the sun shining and great weather. The next 2 days at sea were quite calm but windy. Temperatures were in the high 70s and we managed to find a sheltered spot on deck to read our books. We are still annoyed by people reserving sun loungers for hours at a time. We obey the rules where others do not and I just hope for the day when deck attendants start moving towels and books and sunglasses and bags that have been unattended for more than 20 minutes. Rant over.




Curacao – We decided just to have a walk around the town as it is such a pretty port. The pontoon bridge was opened and closed a few times which was interesting and we took the free ferry once, just to see what it was like. We had coffee on the riverfront and took in the view. A great start to our itinerary.



Aruba – We had been here in 2012 and had such a lovely day on Eagle Beach that we decided to go and do it all again. This time, because of Vickie’s blog, we took the bus rather than a taxi. It was a 5 minute walk from the pier to the bus station. We had already got some information from the tour desk at the port about what ticket to get and what bus we needed. We got 2 return tickets for USD 5 each and were given 2 credit card sized plastic cards. The bus was waiting to go at the station and on we got. The cards get scanned and given back to you. We asked the driver to tell us when we got near the stop for Amsterdam Manor Beach Resort and he did. When we got there, most of the chairs under umbrellas were reserved for guests, but they had two spare near the beach bar. The cost was USD 15 each for the day, which was more than I was expecting to pay. We did not want to risk walking further and failing to get chairs with an umbrella, so we said OK. The beach was stunning and the water lovely and clear. 

We had lunch at Passions on the Beach and the Coconut Shrimp was great. We recognised the waiter from 2012 and had a chat. He said we should come back more often, I have to agree. We caught the bus back with no problem as the stop is just outside the resort.




Bonaire – We missed out on snorkelling last time were here because our tour was cancelled. This time I had done some research and had booked with Woodwind for a 4 hour snorkel trip. The directions were to walk along the waterfront until you saw a casino sign. We waited there with a group of others until someone came to take our names and direct is to the boat. I thought it was strange that no one asked us for any money. We had not paid even a deposit that that point. I now know why. They are so good that nobody would consider refusing to pay. We started off with a slow sail out to Klein Bonaire, during which time there was a safety briefing and an offer of drinks. 





They had the usual masks and fins, but also offered prescription masks for those with glasses, full face masks for those who need them and full UV protection lycra body suits to prevent you getting sunburn while in the water. They also had a photographer that would swim with you to take photos of you and all the marine life you saw. A USB stick with all the photos of the day was offered for USD 40, but there was no hard sell. We were split into small groups and each had a leader who pointed out the marine life to us while we were in the water. We had 2 x 1 hour sessions in the water at 2 different sites. We saw 3 Turtles up close and countless other colourful fish and coral. On the way back we were given a home cooked hot meal of Chicken and Noodles and more drinks. It was only as we neared the dock that we were asked for our payment. The 4 hour trip was USD 65 each and well worth it.

2 Sea days – The sail back to Port Everglades was much the same as the trip out, but perhaps a little less windy.

Port Everglades Turnaround Day – It was great not having to pack and leave our cabin. We usually have room service breakfast, so it was strange that we could not order this for today, but we went out after the initial rush had died down and eat on the aft terrace outside CafĂ© Caribe. It was nice to wander around an almost empty ship until we had to report to the Princess Theatre at 10.45am to be escorted ashore. We were given in transit cards and asked to fill out a customs declaration, Neither of these things were actually needed. All that happened was that we were dinged off the ship, sat in a holding room for 15 minutes and then we walked past a customs official who looked at our passports for 1 second then we were dinged back on the ship and that was it. I think we were back on by 11.45am. The sailaway was much more relaxing than usual as we did not have to attend Muster Drill and all of our stuff was already unpacked and in our cabin. The weather again was hot and sunny.

1 Sea day – The sea was calm and the weather hot and sunny. What more can you ask for?



Roatan, Honduras – We were not due to arrive until 10am, so we sat on our balcony and had breakfast as we sailed down the coast of Roatan towards Mahogany Bay at Coxon Hole. The sea view was stunning. We backed into Mahogany Bay to join a Carnival Ship that was already docked. 

The purpose built resort looked nice in the morning sunshine, but we had booked an independent tour online with Victor Boddon and so made our way out of the Port area. The instructions were to walk out of the security perimeter and over a hill, where the independent tour operators would be waiting. We were not concerned because there were quite a lot of people walking the same route and they had coned off a path from the main road. As soon as we got over the hill we saw the buses and tour staff. The first person we met asked who we were looking for and then directed us to the Victor Bodden representative. 

We were then escorted to a minibus which had around 20 seats and took the last 2 seats available. The tour guide introduced herself and she seemed to be fun and chatty. The bus was air conditioned and quite comfortable. Although we seemed to be full, we waited for 20 to 30 minutes before eventually setting off.

The tour we booked was the Fun-n-Sun Tour, which was USD 30 each. It was sold as “a 5-hour sightseeing/cultural tour with stops along the way providing for some great photo opportunities”. “Along the tour, we will have a 45 minute stop to see the Monkeys/Parrots at Victor's Monkey Business. At the end of the sightseeing tour, you will enjoy 2 hours at West Bay Beach” with “a reserved beach chair”. There was only 1 stop along the way, up on a hill with not particularly good views and a lot of vendor shacks offering souvenirs. Victor’s Monkey Business is basically a mini zoo, where you are escorted into various cages and get Monkeys, Sloths and Parrots put on you by guides. It was not our thing at all, as we prefer seeing animals in the wild and not caged. This place is also the head office for Victor Bodden Tours and we paid our tour fee in cash (no cards accepted). 

When we returned to the bus, we had a shock, because more people had been added to our tour. The fold away seats in the centre aisle were folded down and we were now packed in with no space and it was uncomfortable. I believe this was a cynical act that was only done after we had paid. We were then dropped off at Bananarama Beach resort and were shown to our beach chairs. These were in a long line of about 20 beach chairs side by side with no space in between and very little shade. The resort was noisy and busy and, again, it was not our thing. We were not comfortable and not enjoying ourselves. The tour guide had said that she would show us where we could get some good food at prices lower than in the resort. However, when we tried to find her she was nowhere to be found. At every stop we made, including this one, she disappeared. 

We ended up eating in the resort, which was OK at best. To top it all, I left my baseball cap on the chair when we had finished and when I went back for it, it had gone. Our waiter had also disappeared and no one else seemed to want to help me. The cap was one I got from our Anniversary trip to Hawaii last year, so is not easily replaced. Due to the delay in trying to find my cap, we were the last people back on the bus and our seats had been taken by another couple. We had to sit in the centre aisle fold down seats. The seat backs were broken so we were almost lying down. We could not see any of the scenery on the 1 hour journey back to the port and my back was aching the whole way. As well as disappearing at all the stops, the tour guide told us very little about Roatan. Instead she seemed to be a local practitioner of herbal medicine and spent most of the time handing round plants and telling us that this one cures cancer and this one cures diabetes. That is definitely not what we signed up for. 

Based on our experience with Victor Bodden, I would not be able to recommend them to any other cruisers.

Belize City – We knew this was a tender port and we dropped anchor in the bay around 6.15am. We were up early because we had booked a Princess tour and had to be at the Theatre by 7am. We grabbed some breakfast and made it to the rendezvous point just before 7. We were directed to a seat in the Theatre, but by the time we got there our line was already moving to go to the tender. 




The tenders are not the usual ones from the ship, but are larger catamarans hired from local operators. The journey to the quayside took about 20 minutes and there we were directed to our tour guide. We were lead through a complex of shops and bars and onto a coach. 

The tour guide was a lady called Lynette, but she said we should call her Lynn. We had booked the tour to the Mayan ruins at Xunantunich. Lynn said if we wanted to pronounce it, just say Tuna Sandwich and it would be close enough. The journey was 2 hours and Lynn talked the whole way, giving us fascinating insights into Belize. The scenery was wonderful once we were out of the city and at no time did the journey seem a chore. We learned that the locals eat Green Iguanas and that they call the dish Bamboo Chicken. When it came to choose our group name for the tour, it was easy. We were the Bamboo Chickens. We got off the bus and were taken to a hand cranked ferry across a river, which was a pleasant experience even in the 80 degree heat. We were then taken in some minibuses to the site of the ruins and lead around by 3 local guides. They gave us all the history of the site and answered any questions. 



The ruins were great to look at and we then were led up to the top of the highest pyramid, 350 feet up. There are no guard rails on the way up or at the top, so if you suffer from vertigo, this climb is not for you. The views from the top across Belize and over to Guatemala are stunning. Once we were back down, we took the reverse journey back to the bus and headed off to a local restaurant for a meal. The food is Chicken (not Iguana) with rice and beans cooked in coconut milk. It was nicer than I thought it would be and they had various fiery hot sauces to add to the flavour. They had samples of Cashew Nut Wine to try and a shop and some stalls. There was no dessert and drinks were not included, but sodas were on sale for USD 1 per bottle. We then headed back to port and Lynn only chatted for a few minutes before giving us all time for a snooze. 

This tour was great and I thoroughly recommend it. It cost USD 99 each via Princess, but I found it cheaper online and Princess refunded me the difference plus 10% as an on board credit. It ended up costing us around USD 72 each and was one of the best tours we have ever done. One thing about Belize is that vendors do not appear to haggle. I saw a hat that I wanted in a few places and no one was prepared to negotiate on the price. It was more than I wanted to pay so I left it.




Cozumel – Another sunny day greeted us and we headed ashore to find a taxi. We had booked to spend the day at Nachi Cocom because they limit the amount of people allowed in each day and it seemed to be a quieter resort. We had tried to link up online with another couple to split the taxi fare, but we had no takers. The taxi area was quite busy, but there were no couples going our way, so we got in a taxi on our own. I photographed the taxi price poster and our driver agreed that the cost was USD 18, but we paid him USD 20. He told us to leave at least an hour for the return journey as the traffic could be bad with 5 ships in port. We got to the resort and were instructed to hold some sombreros while our photo was taken before we were allowed in. We thought it was something to do with entry, but in the end we found out when we left that they were trying to sell us the photos. We did not buy them. After paying our balance (we had paid a deposit online) we were shown to our beach chairs under a thatched umbrella. It was lovely, about 15 yards from the sea with nothing in front of us and clear blue water. There was a nice gap of around 5 yards between each umbrella. Our waiter introduced himself and asked if we wanted drinks. I got a Corona and Jacky got a Pina Colada. For the first couple of hours the waiter came round frequently and replenished our drinks. He then seemed to stop coming over. When he did, I asked for another beer on 2 occasions and it did not arrive. Eventually I just went to the bar and picked one up. Our lunch order was taken and they said it would take 20 minutes. In the end it took around 45 minutes. The food was nice, but because it all came at once, some of it was nearly cold when we came to eat it. It would have been better had it been served course by course. We told our waiter that we wanted to get a taxi at 3pm. He said to come and find him 10 minutes before. When the time came we could not find him and so we packed up and went to the gate. He was outside organising taxis for everyone. There was a family of 4 waiting for a Taxi and so we asked if they wanted to share a cab and split the cost. We asked the waiter if he knew the cost and he said no. I looked at the price list I had photographed and it seemed that it would cost USD 23 for all of us. When the driver arrived, we all got in and I said it’s going to be 23 Dollars right? He did not say anything and just drove off with us in the taxi. I kept saying it is 23 Dollars isn’t it? About 5 minutes into the journey he showed me his mobile phone screen where he had typed USD 36. I said no that cannot be right, because we could have got separate taxis for that price. When we got back to the taxi rank at the port, he pointed out the price list and the price was listed as USD 36 for 6 or more people. I had missed this column off when I photographed the sign. I was not happy, because I clearly said we thought the price was USD 23 when we got in the taxi and he drove off knowing that. I complained to the dispatcher at the port, but he was not interested. In the end the other family had to go to catch their ship so we split the fare and we got no benefit by sharing. 

It left a bad taste in my mouth. We felt the same way when we visited Ensenada, so Mexico is certainly not a favoured destination for us. I think we are likely to stay on the ship if we visit Mexico again.

Last Sea day – The weather was rough on the way back. The ship was rocking and the wind was strong. It did not affect us too much and we read on our balcony instead of up on deck.

Debark Tour, Everglades Airboat ride & Flamingo Gardens – We had our final day breakfast in the Palm Dining Room and then headed to the Theatre for our debark tour. There was a longer delay that we have experienced before going through customs, because they fingerprinted and eye scanned everyone. That has never happened before when we have disembarked at Port Everglades. It was only a short delay and we were out and on to our coach. 





Bill, the tour guide, is a senior citizen and he told us all about living in Florida. I think he is a frustrated stand-up comic, because his delivery was very dry and witty. He kept us entertained through the whole trip. Our first stop was for the Airboat ride. We had our photo taken and this was given to us later at no extra charge. 



The boat ride was quite exhilarating, but the wildlife was not playing ball today and we only saw 1 Alligator and 1 Iguana. We were then directed into a seated area to watch an Alligator Handling Show. This would have been interesting had the centre pain of glass between the seats and the show not been shattered. Although it was still in place you could not see through it, so most of the audience, including us, could not see what was going on. We then got back on the coach and headed to Flamingo Gardens. When we arrived, we were lead straight to a trolleybus tour of the gardens. Take my advice, and if they attempt to place you in one of the few seats that face backwards, asked to be moved. Trying to crane your neck around to see what the driver is pointing out is not at all comfortable. Once we got off we were able to walk round and buy some food and a snack. 

We were then taken to Miami Airport to catch our flight home. Overall, it was a nice way to spend some time instead of sitting for hours at the airport. Although Bill was entertaining, he did make one mistake. He dropped us off at the far end of the terminal and we all had to walk all the way to the other side to check in. Maybe he had a senior moment and forgot where he was.

The food choices at Concourse E were limited, so the Information desk advised us to go over to the American Airlines Terminal where there was more choice. We ended up eating at TGI Friday’s, where the food and service were both good.

Our flight home on British Airways was awful. We had experienced luxury in Club Class on the way out and were treated like Cattle in Economy on the way back. We have never experienced such a surly and miserable set of cabin staff in all our years travelling. One Stewardess tried to crush an oversize cabin bag in on top of our modest backpacks before I stopped her damaging our bags. 

Jacky’s seat headrest was broken, so we had to move seats after take off. Finally, I asked for orange juice with my meal and was given half a small glass. When the coffee came round I asked for another orange juice and was given a dirty look. It never arrived. I asked again when they cleared the trays and was given the same response. It also never came. Luckily they came round with a tray of water and juice mid-way across the Atlantic for everyone, otherwise I could have passed out with dehydration. We have told our Travel Agent that we will only fly with BA again if there is no other alternative.

Conclusion:
We had a fantastic cruise and the few problems we had here and there did not spoil our holiday. We loved going back to the Caribbean after a few years break and will definitely look to return sometime soon. The Princess staff were again wonderful and made it easy for us to unwind and relax. We are booked for a Norwegian Fjords cruise on the Crown in July and are counting down the days.

Peter & Jacky Rayner

Friday, April 21, 2017

New Specialty Restaurant Menus on Caribbean Princess

Salty Dog Menu


Treat yourself to "The Ernesto" burger, created by acclaimed chef Ernesto Uchimura, and named the #1 burger at sea by Cruise Critic. Or try one of our other 100% handmade Gourmet Burgers, including our Princess Burger or Triple Smoked Burger. The Salty Dog Grill also offers new Street Tacos—a Princess first—featuring a choice of grilled chipotle-lime chicken or roasted sweet potato-green chile. And don’t miss the Classic Hot Dogs, plus loaded fries in tempting varieties including chili cheese and bacon & cheese.




Steamers Menu

$12 Cover Charge



Steamers: "Our new family-style seafood restaurant offers dinner served by wait staff for a nominal fee. Choose from Black & Blue Mussels or Classic Clams “Steamers” or the Broiled Platter which includes scallops, shrimp and crab-stuffed flounder. All come with generous sides and dipping sauces as well as starters and dessert. At lunchtime, help yourself to a buffet that includes Gourmet and Ramen Bowls with regionally inspired broths—all at no charge. And join us for breakfast, also at no charge, for specialty egg dishes like omelets, fried eggs and eggs Benedict".




Planks Menu

$12 Cover Charge




Planks BBQ: "Drop by for a classic American-style dinner, served by wait staff for a nominal fee. Our casual BBQ restaurant gives you a choice of "Planks" loaded with four meats, chili, coleslaw and seasoned fries along with starters and decadent dessert. Planks BBQ also serves a buffet-style lunch at no charge, with signature soup and freshly tossed salad, as well as regionally inspired fork-and-knife sandwiches. Buffet-style breakfasts, also at no charge, include savory breakfast bowls customized for you".