After some not too flattering reviews of the Dawn, I'm pleased to report this cruise was great!
Can't comment much about embarkation as I was with a wedding group of 12 who were escorted on the ship before 11:00 a.m. The wedding was in a lovely room onboard, with cake and champagne reception in the Wheelhouse Lounge.
Overall condition of the ship is excellent! I found it to be clean, well furnished and stocked with everything, ran smoothly (no late arrivals in ports as reported earlier), nothing out of order.
Had an inside cabin for the first time in a long time and it was quite spacious with plenty of closet and drawer space for 2 women with tons of clothes. For the amount of time spent in the cabin, I'd go back to an inside again considering the savings.
It was my first experience with "Personal Choice Dining" and I loved it. With a group our size, it worked for everyone - no hassle, no deadlines, no "you have to be at ___at ___ o'clock. Some people ate at 6:00 and some at 9:00. I dined at the Lido Buffet and foundit to be extremely well presented, huge variety, wonderful pasta dishes, bread and rolls to die for, great salad bar. The buffet entrees were plentiful and very good. We sometimes ate in the Florentine Dining Room and it was wonderful.
Room service was prompt every morning and the order was perfect - nothing missing and everything hot.
Service throughout the ship was excellent - it might have been a bit more attentive for our group as our party included 4 gorgeous girls in their 20's and the bar staff and waiters seemed to be giving us some extra attention! But, even when I was alone or with older people, service was as good as any I've ever had on any ship.
Entertainment: Great piano man in the Atrium, Vincent Laurentis, who finally stumpted me at Name That Tune with some very obscure songs and was great fun. Very talented and personable. Bayne Bacon, a singer/pianist/humorist was in the Vista Lounge and was most entertaining. A GREAT comedian, Carl Strong, should not be missed - he was fabulous! Good juggling act, and good magic show. Did not catch any of the variey shows but lounge entertainment was good throughout the ship. There was Karaoke a few times and some great singers appeared from the audience. The Country Western night on the pool deck was great fun with a good band and some fun dancing. A good band by the pool played daily. A new (to me) Jeopardy game was great fun - team play and nice prizes.
The Dawn has a nice sized pool - you can actually SWIM in it and the temperature was perfect. There's a smaller "adult" pool right above it where we played water volleyball daily for hours.
Disembarkation was smooth and even though we did not have flights that day, we were all off the ship by 9:15. Anyone with flights at 11:30 or so would be fine.
In over 25 cruises, 8 or 9 on Princess, this was definitely a great one. I could not fault one thing about the ship, the crew, the staff, the food, the service - it all worked!
There's a great spot on the Sun Deck, forward, with a tiny splash pool, where you can get some great sun away from the crowds on sea days - lots of lounge chairs, quiet and a nice place to relax and read and gaze at the sea.
So, if you're going on the Dawn soon, have a great time!
This was my 10th cruise overall and my 5th Princess cruise.
I had been to Alaska once before back in May of 1999 on the Sea Princess (a sister ship to the Dawn.) This time I did the Anchorage to Vancouver route.
I spent two days in Anchorage pre-cruise, arriving in the afternoon of 7/24. I had booked the Hotel Captain Cook on line seperately from the cruise and I received one of the prime rooms on the 18th floor of Tower 2 with both a mountain view and inlet view. The sunsets viewed from my room were amazing.
On the 25th, I took the Alaska RR from Anchorage to Talkeetna. I ended up doing a jet boat excursion on the Talkeetna, Chilitna and Little and Big Susitna rivers. This also included a slow paced nature hike on one of the river islands which was very informative.
On Monday the 26th, I took the bus transfer from Anchorage to Whittier. I am a hearty Wisconsite, so when it was drizzling and 60 in Anchorage, I thought nothing of it.......and I packed my jacket..............a big mistake!!!!!
On the way from Anchorage to Seward theweather got progressively worse....by the time I arrived in Whittier it was pouring rain, 50 degrees and gale force winds. Getting on board the ship with the uncovered gangway was an adventure in itself. Once onboard, it felt like I was home again as the Dawn was laid out almost identically to the Sea.
I met up with my friends who were arriving at all different times. The lifeboat drill was scheduled for 8:00pm - between early and late seatings. The weather had not improved one bit, in fact it might have gotten a little worse. After the drill, the Captain came on the speaker and said that because of sea and wind conditions, out 9:00pm departure from Whittier was going to be delayed until he felt we could safely depart the dock. If we were unable to depart before 3:30am, we would skip College Fjord and head straight to Glacier Bay. There were the beginings of some rumblings, but for the most part, my fellow passengers were pretty understanding.
College Fjord - I missed it! The ship left the dock between 12:30 and 1:00am.....thus we did go to College Fjord, but I slept through it! According to my friends, I did not miss much. It was very foggy and not very good picture taking weather. The last time I was in College Fjord the weather was perfect, so I didn't mind too much sleeping through it.
Glacier Bay - the weather was partly to mostly cloudy with occasional sprinkles; the closer we got to the glaciers, the colder it became. We did see some minor calving at Margerie Glacier. The Captain did turn the ship twice so all could see the glacier more than once. We then sailed out of Glacier Bay and headed on to Juneau.
Skagway - weather was a little better - cloudy and a little drizzly early in the day in Skagway. Did the Yukon Expedition and White Pass Railroad excursion. Took a bus up the highway into the Yukon - went up to Carcross, came back to Fraser and boarded the White Pass Train and went back down to Skagway. This trip took about 8 hours. I recommend everyone do it at least once. The scenery up in NW British Columbia and the Yukon is absolutely spectacular - ranging from the desolate Tormented Valley to the Mountains and emerlad lakes of the Yukon. The train ride down to Skagway is awesome. It was the second time I have done the Yukon and White Pass Railroad. 26.3 miles from the summit down to Skagway......a drop in elevation of a little more than 2000 feet.
Juneau - our group privately booked a whale watch tour with Captain Larry and Orca Enterprises. We left the offices by the dock at 9:00 and headed to Auke Bay to embark the Awesome Orca. On our way out, we say eagles and harbor seals. While we were watching the harbor seals, Captain Larry was looking for whales, so when we left we headed towards where he had spotted some signs of whales. What happened for the next 2 1/2 hours was one of the absolute highlights of my life. We came across a temporary pod of 9 humpback whales who were bubble feeding. We watched them for the rest of our allotted time - 2 1/2 hours! One time they surfaced about 30 feet from the side of our boat. Another time they surfaced abotu 20 feet from the other Orca Enterprises boat....we heard the yelling and shouting.....we all got some great pics that day. Even Captain Larry said that he does this every day and that day was an absolutely incredible one, even for him. I highly recommend Orca Enterprises and Captain Larry. The cruise ship excursion boats came and went within 15 minutes; we stayed the whole time....that is the difference! The cruise ship excursions had a set timetable; we had a time limit but could spend the time the way WE wanted to. Next time I go back to Juneau I will book with Orca Enterprises again. Ketchikan - Absolutely gorgeous weather!! Sunny and low 70's with a fresh breeze - and not a drop of rain in sight! Did no ship excursion here, but ended up doing a local tour around Ketchikan, watching the King salmon spawn and down to Saxman Totem Park. Then back to the ship to relax in the hot tubs before they got crowded.
Inside Passage cruising - another gorgeous day and the scenery is absolutely gorgeous....saw many small villages on the small islands of the Inside Passage - even saw some orcas.
Vancouver - sailed under the Lion's Gate Bridge about 6:30 - just prior to that there was a large pod of orcas playing along side the ship. What a way to end the cruise.
Some random notes on the Dawn Princess:
We did traditional late seating and our service was impeccable. We had a table of 11 and the waiter and asst. waiter were up to the challenge of us! We love to have fun and they joined right in. The Food was very good - some dishes were better than others, but the always available fettucine alfredo was as good as ever.
There were a lot of families with kids on this cruise........and for the most part they were well behaved and the parents kept them under control. There were a few that decided that hallways were for running no matter how crowded they were. And there were some that hogged attention in one of the shops - couldn't make up their mind on anything and held up the check out lines more than once. And there were some that decided the adult only pool was for them.........early in the cruise it was not a problem, but as the weather got better, there were some complaints about hte kids in there...and of course mommy and daddy wouldn't say anything, so the staff had to become involved. The instances were few and far between, but I do remember why I like to cruise during the school year when schools are in session. I like kids, I really do, I just prefer to not be around so many (estimated that there were almost 350 kids on our cruise.) Family cruising is great - but all have to learn to coexist and respect the areas on the ship that are for adults only to escape to.
This was a great cruise, made better by the fact that I was able to experience Alaska again - this time with good friends!
This review covers the above cruise and Princess Land Tour 19N that we took following disembarkation in Whittier. The trip began on May 23 and ended June 6, 2004.
Sunday May 23
We arrived in Vancouver after 11pm. First hitch of the trip.Northwest lost our luggage. The desk agent in South Bend put another person's tag on one of our three bags and we did not catch it. This lead to 24 hours of stress, but Northwest personnel were professional, tracked down the bag and let us know it was in Vancouver by noon on Monday. However it did not arrive in our room until after we sailed.
We booked our own airfare from South Bend to Vancouver at substantial savings from Princess Air.
We also booked our own Hotel. Princess wanted $220 for Sutton Place. We were able to book the Crown Plaza Hotel for $61 (77.95 with taxes and fees) on Hotwire. Like Priceline, you do not know which hotel you are reserving until you commit and pay, but the star rating of the hotel was accurate. The Crowne Plaza was a five-minute walk from the pier.
Monday May 24
A bright sunnyday with temperatures in the high 60's greets us. We spend some time walking around downtown Vancouver and had a wonderful (if somewhat expensive) late breakfast at the Wedgewood Hotel. Also did some Shopping at the Hudson Bay Company (Established in the 1600's!) and then headed to the ship. We found Vancouver to be a pretty and clean city, and hope to return for a real visit some day. However, we found little entertaining about Gastown, just a bunch of old building to us.
Embarkation was average, but not terribly organized. There were two lines, one for express check-in and one for regular check-in for each deck. I assume express check-in was for folks who had already registered on the Internet, but there was no one explaining who should get in which line. I asked one Princess representative and she replied, "just get in the shortest line." So as polite passengers we just made one line for each deck. The wait was about 45 minutes at 1pm. After the check-in desk, we had to go through customs.
Tuesday May 25 at Sea on Dawn Princess
A very pleasant day. Having sailed on the Sun Princess in 1998, we received no surprises from her sister Dawn. I will review the ship and crew here. The ship is in good shape. However, for the first time in seven cruises, we felt crowded on ship all week. I think part of the reason for this is these ships were designed for Caribbean cruising and the assumption 500 or more folks will always be on deck during the day. Even though we had remarkable good weather for the cruise, most folks spent most of their time indoors except for glacier cruising. This was also the oldest cruise in terms of passenger age we have ever been on, definitely not an outdoorsy bunch. And the shop was completely sold out.
After being on mega ships, the Dawn seems small. The main theatre is poorly designed with only two aisles, and undersized.you had to show up at the popular shows early or you might not get as seat. I also found the ship to be very warm, as did other members of my party. As far as clothing, we had great weather on the whole trip. Glacier Bay was overcast and the temperatures dipped to the 40's, but we never needed a heavy coat. Layers are the key, as are a hat and gloves or mittens. Since we had a balcony cabin, we had the luxury of returning to the room, which was nice, but not necessary. Princess ran a $499 a week special for the inside cabins, which to me would be a better value for the money we spent on the balcony. Also a nice warm-up suit can be worn almost daily on this cruise and fit in nicely while cutting down the number of clothes you need to wear.
The entertainment was solid. The production values were not flashy.stage and props looked like community theatre. But the ship singers were very good. A highlight of the cruise was comedian Jack Wilks who was hilarious. Ventriloquist Willie Tyler and Lester (The Jeffersons) also appeared on Day Six of the cruise and were entertaining.
I thought the Cruise Staff, (Director, Asst Dirs, etc) was the weakest of all the cruises we have been on. However the pursers' desk staff, wait staff, bar staff and stewards were, for the most part outstanding, very friendly and efficient without being pushy.
We selected personal choice dining for the first time. I was a bit concerned that without the week-long relationship with the waiter and assistant waiter, the service would not be as good since they probably would not see us again. But accept for one night when the waiter was downright rude, the service was exceptional. We were traveling with my parents for the first time, and we live hundreds of miles apart. So we enjoyed the quality time we spent together at a four-person table each night without having to put in the effort of meeting new people for the week. Also this was the least dressy cruise we have ever been on. Only two formal nights, with a third to a half of the men wearing tuxes, including my Dad and me. The other days and nights were very casual, with most men not even wearing sport coats to dinner.
Wednesday May 26-Ketchikan, Alaska
We were only in port until just after 2pm, which did not leave a lot of time for activities. Skies were partly cloudy with an occasional shower and a high temperature of 52 degrees.
We had originally reserved the First City Deluxe Tour at $75 per person. However upon reading my Frommers guide book, it became clear we could walk to all of the places on the Tour which were with-in a mile of the ship. We did this for total entrance fees of less than one tour price for the four of us. However, for the first time on any of our cruises, we found the ship tours did get access we did not at the Deer Mountain Tribal Hatchery and Eagle Center. We did get a tour of the salmon hatchery and got to see the two bonded eagles up close, but we did not get to attend the 15-minute raptor lecture with a live hawk and owl. Also at the Totem Heritage Center, guides were available to answer our questions, but only gave narrated tours to ship tour groups. You could, of course, join one of these groups if one was taking place when you were on site.
Also, while on maps it looks like the Westmark Cape Fox Lodge Funicular helps you get to the hatchery it does not. Unless you want to get to the lodge for lunch or get an elevated view of Ketchikan, don't take it. We paid the modest $2 fee to go up, just to have to walk down a steep staircase to walk back up a hill to get to the hatchery. This did however provide my traveling party with good material about the usefulness of all my pre-cruise research!
By mid morning, vendors were offering one-hour town tours for $15 at the dock. This is also a good port for fishing tours, but my group was not interested.
Thursday May 27-Juneau
A beautiful day. Partly Cloudy with temperatures in the mid-50's at noon. After much debate, we decided to book the four-hour Glacier Trek Helicopter Tour with NorthStar Trekking. The debate was over the cost. $329 per person. (We saved $26 per person by booking direct with NorthStar) Folks, this tour was worth every penny! What a thrill. The pilots were very good; the helicopters in good shape and three bladed which makes for a smoother flight, and the glacier guides were outstanding. The flight to the Mendenhall Glacier over the Juneau Icefield was awesome, and walking on the glacier was a thrill. They teach you how to walk up steep ice hills and then you are off for a two-hour hike over the glacier, up to ice walls and along crevasses and glacial rivers. At the end they hook your harness to a rope, and lower you into an ice cave. Everything inside was blue, just like the ice cave in one of the Superman movies. The cave was only about nine-feet deep, so it is not a death defying experience, just really fun. Northstar also offers a four-hour trek that on our day was climbing an 80-foot ice wall, among other things. Our group was content to watch. I highly recommend NorthStar Trekking (907) 790-4419.
We also enjoyed Juneau. Then Ben Franklin Store is a great place for reasonably priced souvenirs. There is also a unique (tiny) Russian Orthodox Church on the Hill above the city that is worth the walk. The priest will give you a complete tour and lecture in return for small donations. The icons in the church were made in Russia and are more than 100 years old. Since we have gone on many whale watches and seen many whales over the years, we did not go in Juneau. But all the companies guarantee you will see a whale, and everyone we talked with who went on a whale watch enjoyed it.
On the cruise out of Juneau Thursday night, our balcony cabin paid dividends. I spotted the distinctive spray of a whale spouting in the distance. Moments later, the whale did a complete breach and flip 90 degrees off our cabin.and continued this show for a good 10 minutes. We had never before seen a whale completely breach. We would be rewarded with this sight again while cruising out of Glacier Bay later in the cruise.
Friday May 28-Skagway
A magnificent sunny day with temperatures in the high 50's. We took the White Pass Scenic Railway trip in the morning and can only describe the trip as awesome. Quite honestly, the views on this trip were more impressive than any we saw on the Princess Midnight Sun Express Train, which we rode twice during the land tour. We highly recommend this trip and booking through the cruise line. The cruise line trains pull right up to the ship. For the direct book trains you have to walk downtown. The cruise line train only costs a few dollars more.
We were the only ship in port this day, so traffic was very light in the city. We took the city tour offered by the National Park Service in the afternoon and found it to be very interesting and informative. Plus, it's free! Also had a beer at the interesting Red Onion Saloon.
Saturday May 29-Glacier Bay
This day was mostly Cloudy to start but cleared by the end of the day. Temperature at noon was 52 degrees, with temperatures dropping to the low 40's near the glaciers.
Two Park Service Rangers and a state guide boarded the ship as we headed up Glacier Bay. One of the young ladies provided the commentary. Quite honestly she was not very good, but it was only her second ship lecture and she was sincere.
The glaciers were spectacular and quite blue under the cloudy skies. We spent a lot of time at Margerie Glacier at the end of the bay and saw some minor calving, more accurately described as ice falls. There was a huge piece ready to go, but it never fell. All in all a very enjoyable day.
Sunday May 30-College Fjord
Another brilliant sunny day. Temperature at noon: 52 degrees.
Here was the surprise. College Fjord is much more impressive than Glacier Bay. On the way in orca's could be seen through binoculars on the shoreline. (Oh yes.do not forget to bring binoculars on this trip.most of the best wildlife sightings on ship and land require binoculars.) We cruised through hundreds of otters on the way up the fjord. At one point a bald eagle flew majestically over the bow of the ship to the cheers of some passengers. College Fjord has seven glaciers along the arm the ship cruises, and they were much more active than the glaciers in Glacier Bay. On the cruise out we saw another breaching whale right off the bow. The fjord is awesome and was one of the highlights of the trip. Ecologist Dr. Bruce Bauerle gave the narration on this day. He also presented three lectures during the cruise. While he is now off the ship after a four-week stint, if you ever have a chance to hear him do not pass it up. His lectures were a highlight of the cruise. Informative and entertaining. Princess should bring him back every year.
Monday May 31-Whittier
Whittier is just past the mouth of Glacier Bay. We docked before 1am. Disembarkation was organized and quick, possibly the best we ever experienced. We boarded the Klondike Express for a two-hour high-speed ride across Prince William Sound in the rain. The trip was narrated by the captain and we did see, dolphins, otters, whales and many different fishing boats.
We then boarded a bus for a two-hour ride to the Copper River Princess Lodge. On the way we stopped in Valdez for lunch, at two waterfalls and a glacier. When you arrive at the lodge, the staff lines up and applauds your arrival.
The lodge is gorgeous and peaceful. It overlooks the Wrangle-St. Elias national park and some spectacular mountains. The service was outstanding as was the food in the restaurant, your only eating option at the lodge.
There is a free shuttle that takes you to "Downtown Copper Center", a few buildings including a restaurant that other tour members said sold great pie and chocolate chip cookies. The shuttle also takes you to the National Parks Service Visitor Center where there are some friendly and informative guides and a well done free move about the park and Alaska.
Tuesday June 1-Copper River
A day of leisure. We went to the Visitor Center and in the afternoon took the white-water rafting Trip with the River Wrangellers on the Lutina River. 16 miles of great, safe fun that included bald eagle and moose sightings. My wife enjoyed it so much we took another trip at Denali.
Wednesday June 2-Fairbanks
We headed to Fairbanks by motorcoach Wednesday morning. It rained most of the day. The road parallels the Alaska Pipeline and at one point we stopped at the pipeline to get a closer look. We also stopped at two roadhouses along the way for snacks and lunch. The trip takes about eight hours and we arrived at the Princess Fairbanks Lodge a little after 4 pm. We were quite honestly not impressed with Fairbanks. We ended up walking to the Fred Meyer supermarket nearby and bought salads, French bread and beer for an in-room dinner that turned out to be delightful.
We found the Fairbanks Lodge staff to be indifferent. They lost our luggage for five hours IN THE HOTEL, before finally finding it in the basement after 9pm.
Thursday June 3-Train to Denali/Denali National Park
We took the bus to the train depot early Thursday morning. We boarded what turned out to be Holland America train cars at 8:15 am for the 4 1/2 hour ride to Denali. The Holland America cars have seats in the upper deck that all face in one direction and no tables. We had breakfast downstairs in the restaurant portion that was decent. The ride is interesting with mountains coming into view in the last hour.
After checking into the Denali Princess Lodge we hopped on the bus for our upgraded Tundra Wilderness Tour. YOU MUST UPGRADE FROM THE NATURAL HISTORY TOUR TO THE TUNDRA WILDERNESS TOUR. You should do this with your travel agent before you leave. The history tour turns around after an hour and a half. The tundra tour heads four hours into the park. On our tour, we saw, Dall sheep, grizzly bears, caribou, fox, porcupine, eagles and moose.all but the sheep after the history tour turnaround. The upgrade only costs $39 per person and is more than worth it.
Friday June 3-Denali-Trip to Mount McKinley
In the morning on Friday, we took the Nenana Gorge Whitewater rafting trip and again had a great time. The water temperature was 39 degrees but they put you in dry suits so you never feel it. We they took a pleasant bus ride to the Mt. McKinley Lodge. Did I mention that since the trip to Fairbanks, it had been sunny and pleasant every day? We began seeing both of McKinley's peaks in Denali on Thursday. Today when we arrived at the lodge the view was spectacular. Not a cloud in the sky. Even though we were 43 miles from the mountain, the tallest peak in North America dominated the horizon. What a thrill. Other than taking the free nature walk on one of the trails around the lodge with a state naturalist guide (free) we just relaxed, since there was no need to take a flight seeing trip to see peaks we could see with the naked eye. We ate all our meals in the bar in the lodge and all were very good. We recommend the fried halibut! By the way, one of the nature trails was closed because a very protective moose cow had just given birth to twin calves.
Saturday June 5-Mt. McKinley-Anchorage
After a pleasant morning and afternoon of leisure, we took the one-hour ride to Talkeetna to board the train for the ride to Anchorage. The train was more than an hour late, so Princess provided us with a ride to walk around the small town the show "Northern Exposure" was based on. This time we boarded Princess train cars with seats around tables on the top viewing deck. The ride was uneventful (we did see one moose). After all the mountains we had seen during the previous two weeks, nothing stood out on this trip. We did enjoy having dinner in the restaurant car, musing on how much less pressured travel must have been during the hey day of the train. The food was decent but nothing special, the most mundane meal we had eaten on the trip to this point.
We arrived at the Cook Hotel in anchorage after 9pm only to discover the staff at the Mt. McKinley Princess had lost one of our large bags. The outfitters desk staff at the Cook Hotel was terrific, the staff at Mt. McKinley less so. They kept telling us we checked in with three bags so they loaded three bags belonging to us on the truck for Anchorage. This is correct. We were not allowed our baggage on our trip to Denali, only a carry-on. Our bags were shipped ahead to Mt. McKinley. I asked for any extra bag tag at Mt. McKinley for an additional bag, and they said no problem. So we tagged and left the carry-on outside our room as instructed. The carry-on made it to anchorage. One large bag did not. Mt. McKinley told us they had no idea where the additional bag was and to file a report.
Constant calls to Mt. McKinley continued to elicit the response, we checked in three bags and they checked out three bags, not much encouragement for a couple out about $2000 in clothing. We called each day the week back from the trip, no news and no idea where the bag could be. Finally on Thursday June 10, we got a call the bag had been located in Ketchikan and turned over to Federal Express. We finally received the bag here in South Bend today June 14. We have yet to receive any kind of formal apology from Princess.
Word of advice. Take a marker and write in large letters your last name on the outside of all your bags. My parents have done this, and while our bags were lost three times on this trip despite each having three ID tags, our parents bags showed up every time, sometimes in our room!
The Captain Cook is a very nice hotel. All we did was sleep there and head to the airport at 6:30 am Sunday morning for a very uneventful trip home.
We had a wonderful time on this trip and recommend Alaska to everyone. Feel free to e-mail me with any questions at [email protected] I hope this review provides some helpful advice to future Alaska cruisers.
Jack in South Bend
Great cruise overall! This was my first cruise with the Princess Line. At the airport, we were met by a Princess Representative, walked to the baggage area, then dragged our own bags out to the curb. Not nice if you are traveling with an older person like I was. Embarkation however, was smooth and easy and the luggage was in the cabin quickly.
There are no trays at the Horizon Court and it is a little awkward to get to your table in one piece. I also noticed that there were few waiters to help you with your tray and refill the coffee, tea, etc. To be fair, the ship was quite full. I also got the impression that many of the wait staff was new to cruising or to the ship.
The Wheelhouse Bar bands are great! Chip Romero (the Magician) was incredibly good---how does he do that! Chip has a ton of talent. Catch his shows- they are a must see! Sarge (the Comedian) was so funny and I laughed so hard I could hardly breathe! Buy his CD --it will cheer you when you get home!
Great itinerary-San Juan,St. Thomas-- been there and enjoyed that. I loved Grenada, and St. Kitts. Spices and beautiful scenery! Isla Margarita was very pretty with little beaches off the pier. The town was about 45 minutes away by taxi and we were pulling out at 1:00Pm so I walked around the beaches with a friend and had a very nice time. Aruba was colorful and fun.
The Dawn Princess had a nice crew and very friendly efficient staff. Yes I would go again with Princess! As soon as possible!
Being a past Princess passenger (Caribbean Princess-November 2004) we took advantage of a last minute special on the Dawn Princess. Using frequent fliers we arrived in Anchorage on the 19th. The Fairfield Inn & Suites Anchorage Midtown was our pre-cruise stay. This hotel is new so the rooms and public areas were in excellent shape. Noticed a lot of people using the laundry facilities which would be nice if you have been in Alaska for a few days. Continental breakfast was very nice. While this hotel is not located close to a lot of restaurants, we did find a convenience store to walk to.
Embarkation Day: Took the hotel shuttle back to the airport to board the Princess buses to Whittier. On the way we stopped at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, our bus had an extra 30 minutes before we had to be at the Whittier Tunnel so the bus stopped here. The Whittier Tunnel is one way and used by both the cars, buses, and trains. Once you come out of the tunnel the Dawn is setting at the Marina. Embarkation went very quickly and we were on board by1:30pm. After lunch at the Horizon court, we walked thru the little town of Whittier. While the town is small, there are a few small shops and restaurants. Back on board, we were on deck when the Princess train came thru the tunnel with the passengers that had taken the land portion. The train looked like a lot of fun and all week I didn't talk to anyone that did not enjoy their land portion.
Ship/Crew/Food/Spa: The Dawn is in excellent condition. While the Princess Theater and Vista Lounge did get crowded, if you got there 10 minutes before show time you could find two empty seats together. We had Personal Choice dining, so we ate in the Florentine Dining Room and found the food and wait staff to both be excellent. A few mornings and lunch we ate in the Horizon court, which again, food and wait service was excellent. The Pizzeria was located off the atrium on Deck 8, we never did eat here, but I loved the set-up inside the ship and you sat at tables. The spa had the normal exercise equipment and classes, but we walked the Promenade Deck for exercise since there was always beautiful scenery and I don't recall it ever getting dark. I did win a spa treatment and that was scheduled for our only sea day. Our inside room was located on the Dolphin Deck, one deck above the Promenade, so it was always easy to get outside to look at the scenery. Our room steward did a wonderful job all week not only with the room but keeping us up to date on whales, sea lions, and sea otters.
Entertainment: The nightly shows in the Princess Theater were very good. Some were repeated the next evening and I heard several people say they went both times. There was also jugglers, magicians, and my favorite the Ventriloquist. The on board naturalist gave several presentations in various locations on the ship, and I truly enjoyed her presentations on Alaska and the narration she gave while we were in the Fjords and Glacier Bay. The day we were in Juneau Libby Riddles gave a presentation on her victory in the Iditarod and gave an excellent presentation on the sport. Princess does limit the amount of activities when the Park Rangers are on board but there still was plenty to do.
Ports: We had beautiful weather in every port. When we were in the Fjords the naturalist pointed out the wonderful reflections in the water, and now that I have my pictures back I can really appreciate the wonderful weather. While there was no calving in Glacier Bay, I stilled enjoyed the wonderful views from the top of the ship. In fact, this is the only picture we purchased from the ship. In Skagway, we visited the Mushers Camp. I would recommend this trip to anyone wanting to learn more about the Iditarod and see what these dogs are capable of, a wonderful morning. The afternoon in Skagway was spent walking around town and thru the little park close to the ship. In Juneau we took the Goldmine Tour (Thane Mine). Being from a mining area this was a good opportunity to learn more about the mining industry. Shopping in Juneau looked about the same as Skagway except you are on the waterfront in Juneau. In Ketchikan we did the Totem Pole (Totem Bight) and city tour. Shopping was a little more scenic especially around Ketchigan Creek. Since we had an extra day in Vancouver, we scheduled a 5 hour city tour. The 2010 Winter Olympics will be in Vancouver, they are already building a second convention center right next to Canada Place where the ship docks. My favorite stops on the tour were Stanley Park, Grouse Mountain, and the Capilano Suspension Bridge. The tour drops off at the airport or any downtown hotel. The Vancouver Marriott downtown was our last overnight stay and then it was back to the midwest and the hot, humid weather.
Alaska makes a truly magnificent cruise destination. Whenever you walk out on deck, there's scenery of some type be it Fjords, Glaciers, snow covered mountains, or small villages. The ship speed is slow enough so you can enjoy the voyage and not feel like the ship is hurrying to make up time to get to the next port. The long day light hours also gives you lots of time to spend on deck. While I loved all my Caribbean cruises, Alaska has become my favorite cruise destination.
Dawn Princess Review (New Years sailing) w/comparisons to other cruise lines
We have finally returned from our much awaited Dawn Princess New Year's Cruise. We were a party of 6. My husband and I, late twenties, my best friend and her husband early thirties and my parents, in their sixties. It was the first time on Princess for all of us, having sailed RCL, Celebrity, Carnival, Norwegian and other now defunct cruise lines. I have never had a bad cruise, but I have found them to be (as I'd like to call it) different degrees of wonderful. I found my Princess and Norwegian cruises to be on the lower scale of wonderful and my Celebrity, RCL and Carnival cruises to be on the higher scale of wonderful. This was my ninth cruise. People always ask what my favorite cruise line is. I honestly don't have one. I think there is value in sailing a variety of lines. They each have their strengths and weaknesses but they all offer a good cruise. I am also asked to compare cruise lines, so I ranked the various lines by category. Of course this is onlymy opinion, take it for what it is worth. 
Embarkation- I thought embarkation was best on Princess. We arrived to the terminal about 11:00 am. There were already about 100 people on line. They started letting us about 20-30 minutes later. The entire embarkation process took only about 20 minutes. Definitely faster than other lines I have sailed. I seem to remember filling out endless forms before being allowed to board, but on Princess I essentially gave my credit card info, showed ID, received my card and was aboard. Snaps to them for the way they handled embarkation.
1-Princess 2-RCL/Celebrity 3-Carnival/Norwegian
Food- (Dining Room and Buffet) I was most disappointed here. Don't get me wrong the food was good, I had just heard so many raves about how much better the food was on Princess than other lines, that I was expecting far more. I just didn't find that to be the case. Princess food at best was equal to Carnival and RCL and beneath Celebrity.
1- Celebrity 2- RCL/Princess/Carnival 3- Norwegian
I did like Personal Choice Dining. (I had also had this on Norwegian) Personally, I think it is great to be able to choose your dinner time every night. If you return from port late, no need to rush to dinner, you can go at any time. This was definitely a Princess plus. If you ate before 6:30-7 there was no line, however, after those times there was often a wait to get a table. Sometimes it was about 30 minutes or so. There were times when I missed dining with other people as we pretty much ate with the group that we traveled with. However, I was still very satisfied with Personal Choice.
Princess pizza is OUTSTANDING. I prefer it to all the other cruise lines. I went out of my way to try and have pizza daily. As far as the buffets are concerned, I felt Carnival had the best variety followed by RCL. There seemed to be much more of a selection than I found on Princess. I also think Carnival has better hamburgers/hot dogs. A note about the beverage selection, I found Princess to be very disappointing in this area. There was only Orange/Grapefruit juice available for breakfast and tea and water at other meals. I knew this beforehand so we packed 2 dozen Tropicana Twisters. Still, this was a definite negative IMO. We normally drink Kool-Aid, Fruit Punch, Lemonade etc with meals so we missed the availability of nonalcoholic beverages.
Sterling Steakhouse- I'm probably going to get flamed for what I'm about to say next. That's fine! I'm entitled to my opinion. (Donning flame retardant suit) This is probably the first specialty dining restaurant I've passed on in years. We had planned to go until we arrived on board. I didn't realize that the Sterling Steakhouse was inside the casual eating-Horizon Court buffet. You actually paid to eat a few tables away from those dining in the buffet. It wasn't even walled or portioned off. They just sectioned the Sterling section off using a rope and a sign. One of the first nights on board I actually wondered into that section by accident while I was looking for a table. Aside from the addition of a candle, I saw NO difference between the ambiance of the buffet and the supposed 5 star dining experience of the Sterling Steakhouse. Granted, the food may have been extraordinary. I just couldn't see paying for a more upscale dining experience while eating next to a family in their swimsuits and wraps. We were so disappointed we didn't even book.
Overall Service aboard the Dawn was good. I feel Celebrity still offers the best service (as far as mainstream lines are concerned). On Princess we had a few outstanding service experiences, such as the manager who left the Horizon Court and searched for 15 minutes in several other galleys to find some Green tea for me. There were also some "miss" experiences like when one of our table members wanted to order a second dinner item from the menu. He requested to see the menu again to determine what he wanted. The waitress refused and said there is already one of every item on this table. She told him to choose from what he saw.
Activities -I found Princess to be lacking in this area. We found ourselves thinking that had we not sailed together we would have been bored at times. At first I thought maybe it was just the age differential, but my parents (very active seniors) were often bored along with us. The shows left much to be desired; the game room (not card room) was small and had a limited selection. Fortunately we had brought a few board games with us and found others in the card room. (The card room was well equipped) We had board game nights daily to entertain ourselves once the ship died. The night life is also very slow. We were typically up until 2-3 am most nights. The ship was nearly empty after midnight, so was the club with the exception of a few die-hards. I knew Princess was going to be a little slower in that department, I had done my research prior to setting sail. However, it is important to mention for other active types who might be reading this. This is not the "Fun Ship". In fairness to Princess, some of it could just be our sailing. Games and activities are only as exciting as the people and personalities who take part in them. The shows were usually packed but some of the other activities had low attendance. They had most of the typical cruise activities "Love and Marriage" "Pool Olympics", I even took a dance class. It was okay, something to do, it just wasn't memorable fun. Oh yeah, the ventriloquist act was very good and so was the calypso band by the pool.
One advantage that I did think Princess had was in the number of classes offered. I saw so many classes for Ceramics, Photography, Computers, from Photoshop to basic Microsoft Office software. I can't remember being aboard any other ship that offered such a wide variety of classes.
It's hard to compare cabins in some respects. The last cruise on RCL Serenade of the Seas we had a balcony suite. This time we had an inside cabin. Obvious differences exist between the two that cannot be attributed to the cruise line. I can say that the showers were definitely larger on the Dawn. However, they had those, yucky, cloth, stick-to-you shower curtains whereas RCL has doors. The storage advantage goes to the Dawn Princess also. We had more drawers/cabinets than ever. There were smaller TV's on Princess, a huge disappointment to for my husband who likes to watch football on a big screen. (Note there is also no "sports lounge" area on this ship. My husband had to beg the night club to change the channel to football.) As far as cabin décor is concerned, I preferred the RCL and Celebrity to Princess and Carnival and Norwegian.
1-RCL/Celebrity 2-Princess/Carnival 3- Norwegian
Spas/Pools/Hot tubs- Princess did have the edge in this area. I loved the freshwater pools, didn't miss the salt at all. They were also open longer. I liked the fact that they didn't close at 10:00pm. I think as far as appearance is concerned RCL's Solarium pools/hot tubs are the most attractive.
1-Princess 2-RCL/Celebrity 3-Carnival/Norwegian
This probably doesn't matter to most people. It does to me. Maybe because one of my hobbies is interior decorating, I don't know. Prior to our sailing on the Dawn I read a review that described the Dawn Princess as lacking the "Wow factor". I see exactly what the reviewer meant. The public spaces were nice, clean, well maintained but there was no "wow factor". On previous ships I would take 50-80 shots of rooms around the ship, sculpture etc. This time I took about 15 shots. I'm partial to the contemporary, elegantly styled Celebrity ships. RCL's newer ships are definitely a close second. Carnival may be bright and sometimes gaudy, but at least their wild combinations provide a little interest.
1-Celebrity 2-RCL 3-Carnival 4-Norwegian/Princess
Fitness facilities- Satisfactory. My husband and I are health club regulars. We found that they had all the gym basics but we weren't nearly as pleased with the variety of the equipment as we were on RCL and Carnival. They did have Yoga, Pilates and Spin classes, however, many booked up for the entire sailing early on.
1-RCL 2-Carnival 3-Celebrity/Princess/Norwegian
Disembarkation- We were maybe the third or fourth color called and we didn't debark until around 10:30. I think that was the latest we had ever debarked. It went off without any hassles though. Some of our luggage wasn't with our color grouping but we found it without too much trouble. The hassle began when it came time to get a cab (no fault of Princess). Apparently 9 ships were in port that day. It was an awful mess. We waited nearly two hours to get a cab, because there were so few relative to the number of cruisers debarking. I found myself wishing we had either taken an excursion that day or waited onboard until the last color was called. The parking lot was a nightmare.
Ports of Call
Curacao- This was my second time visiting this port. We had planned to go horseback riding out at Christoffel National Park. I called prior to the cruise to see whether the park was opened on Sunday and I was told it was. However, I did not specify whether the stables were open on Sunday's, they weren't. Fortunately we called before we paid the $80 dollars the cab driver wanted to take us there. When we found it was closed, we took a city tour ($15pp). After the 2 hour tour we browsed around in some of the shops. A great number of them closed early because it was Sunday. I don't know how much control Princess has over the times we dock, but I felt sorry for the first time Curacao visitors. Many of the shops were closed, we found a limited number of things to do within walking distance of the ship.
Barbados- We hired a cab in this port. We wanted to go to Harrison's caves and tour the East Cost/Bathesheba/Soup Bowl area. Initially cab drivers cave us a variety of prices ranging from $75 per cab to $120 per cab. So, by all means don't accept the first price offered. We really enjoyed this port. Harrison's caves were very nice. It got a little crowded as we were leaving, so try and beat the ship tours. The East Coast area was absolutely beautiful. Afterwards we found some great art stores. Specifically, the Pelican Centre/Complex. If you are an art/sculpture collector, this is a great place for you.
Dominica - This was our only ship tour. It was awesome. We saw several whales and schools of dolphins. I got some incredible shots. It was definitely well worth the money. Afterwards we walked around and explored some of the downtown areas shops.
St Thomas- We arranged our own Kayak tour through Virgin Island Ecotours. $50pp The ship offered the same exact tour for $80 pp. Ironically, we were on the tour with many people who had booked directly with the ship. It was awesome also. We kayaked through the lagoon (a protected marine sanctuary) about a mile and then most of the group went snorkeling for about an hour. Finally we made the return trip. I don't snorkel but my husband and friends were very pleased with the variety of marine life they saw.
Overall it was a great cruise. For us it got off to a very bad start. We didn't find out about the engine problems until after we paid for this cruise. Even still, I wasn't particularly worried because we knew the ship was going into drydock. We thought the problems would be resolved by our sailing. I don't know if it was or not, what I do know is that our itinerary was still severely impacted, just as those before the drydock. We weren't very concerned when they cancelled Princess Cays, however, Venezuela was one of the primary reasons for selecting this itinerary over the Celebrity Horizon. Also key was Dominica. When they shortened our port time there we were unable to do the 7 hour Boiling Lake hike that had we planned. That was also a deal breaker for us.
I tried to talk to other passengers to get different perspectives of how their cruises were going. I got very mixed reviews. There were some repeat Princess passengers that were very disappointed and said never again on Princess. Then there were others who encouraged us to try one of the newer Princess ships before we really made up our minds. As far as our group was concerned, the majority said this was their first and last cruise on Princess. Although everybody had a nice time, their interests were better matched to other lines. Personally, Princess wouldn't be my first or second choice, but I might sail them again if I there was great itinerary or price.
Please let me say from the start that this was our sixth or seventh cruise (we have cruised previously with Royal Caribbean, Carnival, and Celebrity), however, this was our first cruise aboard Princess Cruise Lines.
My husband and I traveled from the East Coast to begin our trip with a 3-day pre-cruise stay in Long Beach, CA, which is about 15 minutes from Princess' San Pedro port. We arrived in San Pedro at 11:30 AM thinking that we would avoid the embarkation rush. Much to our surprise we were greeted with long lines. We were told that the ship was late in getting in, and we were encountering the disembarkation crowd together with those of us embarking. In addition, there was a wedding on board and so there were 60 additional people that required special security screenings.
As a result of all of the activity, we did not get on board until almost 2 PM. In all fairness, if the ship had not docked later than scheduled, I think that the boarding process would have been more efficient and much faster.
About the Ship
The Dawn Princess is one of the fleet'ssmaller ships used to transit the canal. The ship is about 7 years old, but was well maintained. The Grand Atrium was beautiful, very bright and airy with specialty shops, bars, and restaurants. The artwork on the ship enhanced the overall environment.
We were surprised by an upgrade from our balcony stateroom to a suite thanks to our travel agent. Needless to say, my husband and I were in awe. The suite had two televisions, a walk-in closet, marble bathroom with a Jacuzzi tub and glass enclosed shower. The balcony had a table and chairs plus two lounge chairs. After this experience, it's going to be difficult to go back to a regular stateroom.
The ship had 3 main pools, one of which was for adults only. The main pool had a unique wave system that allowed you to swim against the current. The gym offered state-of-the-art equipment, and required passengers to sign up for the use of the treadmills. However, it seemed that after 9 AM that most treadmills were free. The gym also offered aerobic classes at an additional fee.
The ship had laundry rooms on almost all of the floors. However, each room had only two washers and two dryers together with an ironing board and iron. This posed a problem since they always seemed to be in use, I found myself dragging my laundry bag from floor to floor trying to find a machine that wasn't in use. Also, they did offer laundry detergent, bleach, and fabric softener for $1.00 each packet/small box.
Tip: On a 16-day cruise, you do find yourself needing to do laundry so plan on bringing your own detergent/bleach/fabric softener either in a small bottle or tablet form. Not only does it save money, but also the machine "ate" my money a few times, and I had to call the Purser's office for assistance.
The passengers were diverse, however; the average age seemed to be about 65+, with a few honeymoon couples, younger couples (under 35), and singles. We were told that on longer cruises, the age group does tend to be older. The accommodations for disabled passengers were good, as many used wheelchairs, walkers, canes, etc.
Princess offers Personal Choice diningâ together with their traditional (early or late seating) dining option. Personal Choice allows you to dine at anytime. Since we usually have dinner around 7 PM, we choose this time to dine. We sat at a table for two at each sitting although not at the same table each night. The only drawback is that we didn't have the same waiter each evening. Also, some evenings we had to wait in line for sometimes 20 minutes or more before we were seated. This was probably due to the fact that there were a limited number of tables for two, and it seemed to be a popular dining option.
Overall, the food was fair to good. There was only one meal that my husband did not like because it arrived only lukewarm. The portions tended to be not overly generous, but more in line with the dietary standards of portion control. They also offered healthy choice options, which contained less fat, salt, and sugar, and were lower in calories and carbohydrates, as well as vegetarian meals. The desserts were usually very good, and the presentation was excellent.
We ate both breakfast and lunch at the buffet on the Lido deck. The food was plentiful, but lacked variety. A better option would be a deli offering soup and sandwiches rather than the meat and potatoes, plus vegetables offered in addition to a few salads. In addition, I found that foods like pancakes, French toast, and waffles were cold, even under the heating lamps. There was also hot dogs, hamburgers, etc., at the poolside grill, which was a good option. Pizza was also available at the Italian café which also served a few pasta dishes.
Princess also offers alternative dining options in the form of specialty restaurants. On the Dawn Princess the dining this option was the Sterling Steakhouse, which had a $20 or $25 per person cover charge. We walked around the ship trying to locate the steakhouse, and found that it was actually a part of the dining room where we ate both our breakfast and lunch buffets. The only exception is that the tables had tablecloths and china/glassware. On Celebrity ships the same type of dining option is available, but the dining room itself is a separate, elegantly appointed room with musicians playing softly in the background. We were disappointed that the venue was not repeated on Princess.
My husband purchased the special offer/promotion for soda, which included an insulated, Coke or Diet Coke tumbler with a lid that allowed you unlimited refills throughout the cruise for a one-time charge of $35.00. If you're a big soda drinker then it probably is a worthwhile investment since I think that cans of soda cost about $2 each. Also, they featured Hagen-Dazs ice cream which ranged in price from about $2-$4.50. This is the first cruise line that we experienced that charged for ice cream. As part of my feedback to the cruise lines, I suggested that they refrain from charging from ice cream, and offer a more generic brand and that they also serve frozen yogurt. I'm lactose intolerant, and could not eat the ice cream.
The entertainment offered the standard variety of Broadway musicals, comedians, magicians, etc., which seemed to be pretty good. They also showed several good movies that I had missed when they first came out.
Tip: You needed to get to the theatre at least 30 minutes prior to the showing of a movie or show in order to get a seat. I came late one afternoon, and ended up sitting on the steps.
Ports of Call
This was our first time in Acapulco, Aruba, Costa Rica, and the Panama Canal. We had been to Ocho Rios in the past. We took a ½ day city tour in Acapulco. The tour bus was air-conditioned, and comfortable. Our tour guide was also very informative and friendly. In Aruba we shared a taxi with about 6 other people. The driver took us around the island, and made a few stops along the way. The cost was $30 for both of us, which was a considerable saving from the ship's ½ day tour. We did the same in Ocho Rios.
In Costa Rica we took the Rainforest Aerial Tram tour, which was profiled on the Discovery Channel. It was truly scenic, but if you're afraid of heights you may want to think twice. The price was about $120 per person, but well worth it for such a unique experience.
The transit of the Canal was awesome! I was up a 4 AM taking in all of the sights and sounds in preparation for the transit. A representative from the Canal boards the ship and gives passengers a detailed description of what is happening, and what we are seeing. Since the suites on the Princess are on the back of the ship, we didn't have to leave our deck to have a close-up view of the locks. I would recommend that if anyone were considering a full-transit versus a partial transit that you opt for the full transit, if you have the time.
After leaving the Canal we docked at the Port of Caldera, which we were told contained shopping booths inside of the building. Since I thought I would only be shopping, I didn't bring my camera-big mistake! Inside of the building were shopping booths, but also locals dressed in native costumes, including performers, in addition to a fireworks show. Unfortunately, it was raining, so the fireworks weren't as effective. If the cruise director had told us that there was going to be entertainment, I'm sure that many more people would have been prepared with their cameras. My husband told me that a good photographer never goes out without his/her camera. Oops!
As I wrap-up this review, I wanted to share with you that my husband and I rated this cruise/vacation as one of the best we have ever taken. Cruising the Panama Canal is an experience not to be missed, and we will never forget it!
Note the first 7 days of this review (which is actually my trip journal) covers the land portion of our trip to Alaska; the cruise begins about halfway into the report.
Day 1 - Monday, August 16th 2004
Plane flight from Chicago to Anchorage was bumpy on many occasions. We are really seeing some cool scenery now from the plane flying over Canada. On our left you can see St. Elias and we will be flying over Prince William Sound. The captain says if it¡¦s clear then they¡¦ll point out more scenery as we get closer. John is taking pictures, and I think it¡¦s going to be the first of hundreds of pictures of mountains and glaciers we¡¦ll be taking. This was one long-ass plane trip though, 6.5 hours from Chicago and before that a 5-hour layover there, and 3 hours from Fort Lauderdale to Chicago. I got only about 5 hours sleep last night as I kept waking up, too excited to sleep! It was great to have my friend Aggie pick us up at the airport and have lunch with her to catch up on old times.
Day 2 - Tuesday,August 17, 2004
This is really a lie since it¡¦s been 2 whole days in Alaska and we have been having such a good time we have not kept up this diary at all. That¡¦s a good thing! It¡¦s actually the morning of Day 4 but I¡¦m going to go back and pretend like I was doing this all along. So¡Kwe arrived last night after a wonderful flight in with a beautiful view of the mountains. Got our car and checked into our hotel using our Visa points certificates, all with no problems. I was a little nervous/skeptical about this but it all worked out great. The rental car guy even commented that it was a good deal, and I had to tell him we had to spend a lot of money to get this free car rental :-). The Marriott hotel at the Anchorage airport was a beautiful hotel, with all the wood/log interior that is so common up here. There was a separate building in the middle of the complex with a workout room, a sauna, a heated pool and a spa. I went there first thing after coffee and swam 50 laps. This was all at about 6am as I am still not used to the time difference. Anyhow we have our complementary breakfast which was great, and head off in our car to the great unknown. Today¡¦s Anchorage Daily News headline was ¡§Smoke Pours Into Region¡¨ and I thought my worst fears had come true as I had been following the wildfire activity up here for quite some time, fearing the worst but hoping for the best. And it was quite a smoky and hazy drive up towards the Denali area leaving Anchorage. In the distance at times we could just make out the outline of what we are sure were spectacular mountain ranges. Nevertheless we determined to make the best of it, and the fact that the weather was beautifully sunny and warm we were definitely grateful for. We decided we would make this a leisurely drive and stop wherever we felt like, which was only about an hour out of Anchorage at Thunderbird Falls. We stopped at a marked hiking site with signs telling you which way to walk; it was about an hour¡¦s walk (uphill both ways) to some waterfalls in the middle of the woods. At the entrance you could read about the place and if you were going to make the hike then you put your $5 into an envelope and into a box at the entranceway! It was a lovely hike and reminded us a lot of hiking to the falls in New Hampshire with Robin & Steve. We also exited at the town of Eagle River and drove up the mountain a little bit. We finally arrive at Denali, check into our hotel at Denali River Cabins. This is a cute, rustic like place with the cabins right on the Nenana River. Unfortunately it¡¦s also right next to the highway so you do hear the river quite well but only when there are no cars going by. Nevertheless it is comfortable and quite fine for our purposes. We drive up the hill to the Overlook bar and grill and have a couple cocktails and decide to go back down the hill for a dinner at a self-serve BBQ salmon place which we rate as a C. I had 2 cocktails before dinner which proved to be a big mistake as still not having my internal clock reset and mixing alcohol makes Michelle quite loopy. We got back to the room, I laid on the bed fully dressed and that was the last thing I remembered! John spends an hour or so at the restaurant/bar across the street talking to locals. I have a feeling me going to bed and John socializing is going to be an ongoing theme in this narrative¡K
Day 3 - Wednesday, August 18, 2004
Denali National Park! What can we say but WOW. Turned out to be another gorgeous weather day with the sun shining. Only about 30% of visitors to Denali Park see ¡§The Great One¡¨ being Mt. McKinley, the highest mountain in North America. Yes, we did, and what a sight it was. I had, in advance, bought and paid for the longest bus tour into the park (12 hours) and even John said it was worth every penny. We made many rest and scenic stops along the way into the heart of the park, saw our share of wildlife, which is a hit-or-miss thing so we were very, very lucky to have had all this success. I was a little pessimistic what with the smoky conditions and the iffy weather up here that we would have a good day here so we were thrilled with our luck. At our first rest stop, 3 Dall Sheep had come very close to the rest stop; the park ranger was keeping people away and everyone was snapping their cameras like crazy, talking in hushed voices, unable to believe our luck! Usually you see these Dall Sheep as little white specks up on the cliffs on the sides of the mountains in the distance, so much so that they are nicknamed ¡§Dall Dots¡¨. We have fabulous pictures of these beautiful animals. We also had good luck seeing some other animals in the not too distant scenery: A big grizzly bear on his own foraging for berries, several caribou, ptarmigan (the state bird), a couple of mooses, a mother and baby grizzly bear running fast across the plain in the distance, so we did see every wild animal you usually see in the park, with the exception of a wolf which is a rare sighting. We were also lucky in this, as many people visit the park not seeing all this wildlife, maybe just 1 or 2 animals and we did talk to people afterwards who were unlucky. We were in a school bus like vehicle with about 50-60 people and driving through and on the sides of mountain ranges 90 miles into the park to the Kantishna Roadhouse area. Had I known we would be in this big school bus on practically a single lane on dirt roads cut out of the sides of the mountains with huge cliffs looking down, I¡¦m really not sure I would have booked this trip! I told John this was the ultimate Space Mountain ride. Of course this is the only way to get in or out of the park but it definitely took my breath away on more than one occasion, I can tell you. We finally made it safely to the roadhouse which is an Athabascan (native Alaskan Indian) owned complex deep in the heart of the park. They have these beautiful wooden log buildings and we were served a really nice soup and sandwich lunch. Then we had time to roam around on our own, and John and I took a nature trail hike along the creek. Then we were to meet up at 2pm to have our choice of either a sled dog demonstration or gold planning. I did the dogs and John did the gold and got 3 specks which he is quite proud of. The dog demonstration was good but you didn¡¦t get to pet the dogs as I have read you can do at other places; very interesting though. We left there and had a nice ride back, with perhaps not as many stops, as the mountain was not visible as it was now clouded in (its usual state). We arrived back at the hotel around 7:30pm after having awoken to meet the bus at 6:10am that morning, so a very long day. We had a nice dinner at the restaurant across the street, my first official Alaska salmon which was very good. I went to bed not long afterwards and you guessed it, John went back across the street for a beer and to talk to locals!
Day 4 - Thursday, August 19, 2004
Today we headed up to Fairbanks, and here our worst fears did come true. The plan was to go on a rafting trip in the morning before leaving the Denali area but we had heard that even on the mild ¡§floating¡¨ trips you will get wet and on all the trips they give you dry suits to wear. John pointed out that at 50 degrees in the morning, this might not be the most enjoyable activity and I had to agree. So we decided to drive a little bit and if we saw a rafting company after the weather warmed up, then we would stop. However this didn¡¦t happen, and after we were on the road for about 45 minutes north of Denali we started to notice and smell significant smoke which was from the wildfires. It got worse and worse the closer we got to Fairbanks. On the way, there were several pullouts from the highway where they indicated a photo opportunity, and you could see nothing but smoke. We knew the cancellation policy was such that we would lose our money if we didn¡¦t show up at the inn so we decided to go and try to just stay for one night. Unfortunately they weren¡¦t having that and we were faced with losing the second night¡¦s money unless they could fill the room. Anyway we decided to try to make the best of a bad situation and since we didn¡¦t come to Fairbanks for the scenery anyway, we went ahead and got on the 2pm Riverboat Discovery cruise, a touristy thing akin to the Jungle Queen. It¡¦s a huge paddle wheel type boat that goes down the Chena River for 3.5 hours. While on the boat they gave us a demonstration of a little Piper airplane that took off on the side of the river on a runway about 200 feet long; many people have such little planes here since the distance between towns is so great. It was also interesting to see the beautiful log homes on the sides of the river. We then arrived at a little replica of an Indian village where there were several demonstrations such as dog sled dogs, salmon smoking, and native buildings and crafts, with speakers telling about each activity. After this we shopped a little in the gift shop and went to eat dinner at Pike¡¦s Landing overlooking the river, our most expensive dinner so far which was very nice but perhaps not quite worth the inflated prices. John had local salmon and prawns and I had halibut. After this we headed back to the inn where we relaxed for the rest of the evening.
Day 5 - Friday, August 20, 2004
Well we have coughed and gagged our way through another smoky day in Fairbanks. But By God we didn¡¦t have to forfeit a night¡¦s lodging fº. So stupid or not, here we stayed. The news said this is the worst they have had all summer and if you don¡¦t have to be outside you shouldn¡¦t be. So, we spent most of the day outside. Why? Because we are tourists and we¡¦re gonna see the sights come what may! We certainly did see a lot today despite it all: Alyeska Pipeline & Visitor Center, Gold Dredge #8 where John conned me into panning for gold (can you say staged?), then because we still had time left over we even visited the Large Animal Research Station at U of Alaska for a very interesting hour-long tour of their Musk Ox and Caribou farm. Oh yes and we also stopped briefly at the satellite tracking data and acquisition center that John found on the map (that¡¦s what happens when you vacation with an engineer). Unfortunately they did not let us through but we did get to read about it. The first two stops can be read about on the internet, but I will say the pipeline was very neat to see and read about, and the gold dredge was as well. You might even say it was a very educational day! We determined to find a cheap but good place for dinner and did so downtown, and had the best burger I¡¦ve had in a long time. Back early to the inn, and we requested brown bag breakfast so we can get the heck out of dodge at first light. Tomorrow¡¦s goal is to get back to Anchorage in time to spend a few hours at the downtown Saturday flea market where they have a lot of locally made goods for sale.
Day 6 ¡V Saturday, August 21, 2004
After breakfast at the B&B in Fairbanks we headed out around 8:15am. We decided to not worry about getting back to Anchorage in time for the Saturday market so we could just take our time getting back. A man at breakfast told us about the town of Talketna where he said you could see people staging to climb Mt. McKinley, and we had also read that it was one of the best places to take flights up to see the mountain. However when we got close, we were down the road about 10 miles and it turned into a slow gravel road. Because of that and the fact that it was very cloudy out, we decided to turn back and head for Anchorage. Before that though, we saw a sign that said Troublesome Creek which indicated a place to hike. When we stopped we saw that it showed a 10-minute hike, and this was just great as we really needed to stretch our legs. There were also the usual bear warnings on the sign but we didn¡¦t think anything of it. Well we didn¡¦t see a bear but we sure saw recent evidence of one in the form of very fresh bear doo-doo, in several places along the path. (We have lovely close-up photos of it too, replete with identifiable berry seeds and requisite flies, yum!) It was beginning to freak me out actually; if not for the fact we knew there were a few other people on the path I would have been totally freaked. Plus there were all kinds of warnings to dispose of any food properly and John had brought a beef jerky type thing with him to eat. Of course I was imagining every bear in the area getting a whiff of that yummy beef jerky¡Kanyway we got to the creek safely and to our surprise it was full of salmon swimming upstream, not too successfully as they were finished spawning and actually in the process of dying. But it was very cool to see this as more than something you see on TV on National Geographic. We then understood why the bears were in the area too. The rest of the ride to town was pretty uneventful, but we were glad that it was a much clearer day this day than the day we drove out of town as we were able to see all the beautiful mountains that surround the town. We did actually arrive in time for the Saturday market downtown and walked around for a couple of hours. Although we didn¡¦t buy anything we did have a great dinner there of deep fried halibut and corn fritters with honey butter, very yummy and fattening! We found our Lake Hood Inn which funnily enough was just down the street from the Marriott where we stayed the first night. Very different though, as it¡¦s a kind of homey, B&B type place. John loves it as it¡¦s right on the lake where all the float planes land and take off, and on our 2nd floor patio are headphones you can put on to hear the pilots. The weather is still very unusually hot; the locals say they are normally having their first frost around this time of year. We are counting ourselves very lucky at having this weather as it normally can be rainy this time of year too. We heard later that this is the hottest and driest year on record. Right now it is 9:00pm and we just got back from a walk around the lake and it¡¦s still light out, the sun hasn¡¦t gone down yet! I think I¡¦m starting to finally adjust.
Day 7 ¡V Sunday, August 22, 2004
Shades of Sebring -- at 7:30am we awoke to the sounds of floatplanes loudly taking off and landing outside our door! I made coffee and let John sleep in, as he seems to be coming down with a cold. I went for a nice walk and to the Visitor¡¦s Center where I managed to find more things I needed to buy fº. I took some Danish and stuff in our backpack and off we went to explore Anchorage. We first went to Lynn Ary Park and had our breakfast overlooking Knik Arm, then hiked a bit along the coastal trail. Some bicyclers told us they almost ran into a large moose a mile or so down the trail in the park! We then decided to visit Earthquake Park in the same area and hiked there a bit. These parks surrounding the city are so beautiful; I told John I want to live here! Of course that¡¦s easy to say when it¡¦s 75 degrees and sunny. Next we decided to go to the Ship Creek Salmon Viewing Area where we took pictures of many men wading in the creek trying to catch the last salmon of the season going upstream to spawn (Silver Salmon). It was neat to see them fishing in a beautifully clear creek almost in the middle of downtown Anchorage. We visited the Ulu Factory, then went to the Sourdough Mining Company for a late lunch which was a place that sounded much better than it was. However, it had a nice big gift shop adjacent, and a beautiful paved path through the woods parallel to a creek which we walked. Gassed up the car, then came back to prepare for an early day tomorrow as we need to re-pack for our cruise and prior to the cruise we have booked a small boat wildlife cruise of Prince William Sound. We have really enjoyed our stay at Lake Hood Inn, even with the sound of the float planes, and would highly recommend it. Of course John loves it because he has something to do all the time and a constant source of entertainment, and I like it because it has a full-service kitchen upstairs and it¡¦s a nice homey style atmosphere where they have thought of all the little details.
Day 8 ¡V Monday, August 23, 2004
A whole week has gone by already! But I prefer to think of it as we still have more than a whole week left :-). On our way to cruise today, but a slight glitch along the way, our only one really. We returned the rental car, then made our way to the train station next door at the airport, and it appeared to be closed. We were scheduled for a 10am train and when nothing opened after 9am frantically started to make some calls only to find out we were supposed to be at the train station downtown, not at the airport! So we ran with our luggage, grabbed a cab and said ¡§Step on it!¡¨ (I always wanted to do that.) We barely arrived in time and finally got on the train with not a minute to spare. They checked our baggage straight through to our cruise ship which was nice since we had a day cruise scheduled for Prince William Sound. The train ride was very scenic with mountains on the left and coastline on the right, took about 2 hours. Then we got on a Major Marine Tour which took us close up through some ice to the face of a couple of glaciers; we were also able to see some sea otters and a beautiful bald eagle quite close up in a tall tree. The guide originally told us we had only a half full boat but at the last minute another tour boat broke down and we ended up bringing aboard about 60 Japanese tourists. I think the guide forgot they were there, as during his commentary he mentioned the Aleutian Islands being invaded by Japan, kind of funny! Then whenever we would turn off the engines and everyone was quiet so as not to scare off the sea otters, the Japanese interpreter would without fail choose that moment to get on the PA and announce something earsplitting in Japanese. It was a fun and interesting tour though. John told me to note the different kinds of glaciers we saw: Piedmont, Tidewater and Terminal Moraine, and that the ridges along the mountains prove global warming started 10,000 years ago (engineers!). Finally, we board our cruise ship the Dawn Princess around 7pm; we have a nice dinner with some rather strangely silent dinner companions and back to the room where I conk out and John watches the stars.
Day 9 ¡V Tuesday, August 24, 2004
I have died and gone to heaven. Last night I asked for breakfast to be delivered this morning, and it was! Also when we got back to our room last night, the bed was turned down, we had chocolates on our pillows, and my nightie was arranged into a flower! Yes, this is the way I need to live, forever. Sadly though, we are rudely awakened at 5:45am by the PA system over which the park ranger begins describing the sights in College Fjord. We soon forgive him when we open the balcony doors to a stunning view of snow capped mountains and glaciers all around us. This day is the most beautiful weather, and the ranger says several times the views just don¡¦t get any better than this. We have been so blessed with all the beautiful weather so far, which is very unusual for these parts. We have a small breakfast and coffee in our room, then walk around the Promenade Deck three times which is 1 mile. Then we decide to have another meal at the breakfast buffet before it ends at 11am! Then we find deck chairs on an aft deck outside and have a mini-nap with the cool air and sun shining on us, and mountains all around. It just doesn¡¦t get any better! We explore the ship, play ping-pong and get ready early for our first formal night. We have fun trying to take our own formal pictures. We had a very friendly table for dinner tonight and have good conversation about nursing and politics and lots of other things. Although the couple to the right of us, while friendly enough, keep their sunglasses on all through dinner, hmmm. We think they¡¦re spies. We still haven¡¦t seen a show on the ship, but cruise ships generally aren¡¦t really known for their extremely high quality of entertainment anyway so I don¡¦t feel we¡¦re missing much. While dinner is great, none of us at the table are very happy at the end about the waiter trying to sell us on a wine-tasting activity for $25. It¡¦s a shame they are obligated to do it, as it seemed a bit tacky. I don¡¦t mind these types of things being available at an extra charge, but I don¡¦t feel there¡¦s any need to try to sell them, especially at the end of a lovely formal dinner.
Day 10 ¡V Wednesday, August 25, 2004
Had a bit of a sleep-in today, awakened by our room service coffee and fruit being delivered, gotta love it :-). Today we cruised all the way into Glacier Bay, another nice day, some sun and clouds but no rain. It was neat seeing the tender bring the National Park Service rangers aboard and we got good pics of it from our balcony window. They pull alongside while cruising at the same speed and come aboard by ladder, looks like a James Bond move. We saw 2 humpback whales today, and 2 seals on an ice floe, also some sea otters. We spied the humpback whales spouting in the distance and watched them spout 3 times, then the last dive down we saw the tail come up out of the water¡Kvery cool! It was awesome scenery, but unfortunately the big glacier (Marjorie Glacier) did not calve while we were there for approximately one hour. That was a little disappointing, but we did see a glacier calve just a little bit on our day trip a couple days ago. In the middle of the day it was quite cold so we came back to the room, and I called for room service to bring us a lunch of hot soup, tea and sandwiches. It arrived in 20 minutes¡Kthis is the life for me. We discovered our cell phones have not been working in the area, and we have not been able to access email either. I can¡¦t honestly say I¡¦m sorry for either! It¡¦s quite nice to relax and be totally out of touch with your everyday life, it kind of makes it more truly a vacation. Tonight we saw a comic juggler who was pretty good and then ate in the formal dining room; John had snails (yuck) and I had turbot (fish) which was very good. We also did another 3 laps around the ship today.
Day 11 ¡V Thursday, August 26, 2004
Well our weather luck finally gave out. Today started out extremely foggy and only got worse from there. We¡¦re docked at our first port of Ketchikan and have a helicopter trip and glacier landing scheduled for 8:05am but when we arrived we found it had been cancelled. We were on the fence about this trip anyway, since we had 2 other small plane excursions planned, so we weren¡¦t too crushed that it didn¡¦t happen. We had them reschedule us for a trolley tour of the town which was just okay, then we shopped for a while. It was drizzling and foggy all day. We also had an excursion scheduled for the afternoon and we were hoping the weather would clear up since it was a bicycle trip 15 miles down a mountain. These excursions go rain or shine, and go we did, in the cold, wet rain all the way down the freakin hill! It really woke us up, that¡¦s for sure. Afterwards I decided I had earned a nice souvenir and so we went back to a jewelry shop where I had seen some gold in quartz earrings but didn¡¦t want to spend that much money on. The stone is mined in Alaska, and they are made by an Alaskan jeweler. So I got them and love them. It¡¦ll be a nice souvenir of our trip. Of course we have also bought loads of other souvenirs for all the relatives. After our bicycle experience, we trudged our way in wet sloshy shoes and clothes all the way back to the ship (about our 3rd trip of the day) and we were wiped out. I never had such a nice hot shower in my whole life. We had a couple of cocktails and checked out the menu at the buffet and decided to try eating at the pizzeria. It was very good and since we were so tired it was nice not to dress up and have to make conversation with a lot of other people, and I¡¦m glad we had the chance to try something different. Afterwards straight back to the room as our feet hurt, our backs hurt and we were just plain exhausted.
Day 12 ¡V Friday, August 27, 2004
We wake up to find ourselves in Juneau, the Alaska state capital. The day is starting out rainy again but not quite as foggy. Unfortunately we met our tour on the pier, and he told us it had been cancelled due to the weather. So we decided to walk into town ourselves and see if we could book an independent tour of Mendenhall Glacier. We found a town and glacier tour leaving in 45 minutes and did some shopping until then. (I¡¦m now doubly glad I bought the earrings I wanted since we are saving so much money not taking the expensive excursions we were booked for!) Sadly it was still cold and drizzling and our tour bus windows were totally fogged up; we all had to keep wiping them with paper towels the driver handed out! It was also very foggy and we couldn¡¦t see what looked like beautiful mountains all around the town. On the way we stopped to see a creek chock full of salmon, the last of the season heading upstream to spawn. It stopped raining exactly long enough for our hour-long stay at Mendenhall; it¡¦s a beautiful glacier that you get to be very close to and is the only glacier accessible by road in Alaska. We had a beautiful hike, and saw two bald eagles way up in a tree which are very plentiful in this area. So, while we didn¡¦t get our floatplane/salmon bake trip, we were able to see this glacier which we wouldn¡¦t have had time for otherwise. On the way back we had a better view since the driver had gone out to purchase defogging stuff for our windows which was fortunate since it rained the whole way back to the ship. I did 3 laps around the promenade deck again, in the hope I can in some small way make up for all this food I am eating! We happened to pass a fudge shop on the way back to the ship, and of course I had to stop for some ¡§samples.¡¨ Speaking of food, tonight is Alaskan king crab legs in the main dining room, so I made a reservation for a table for 2. John¡¦s stomach was feeling a little out of whack today and he didn¡¦t feel like being at a table full of people, and we didn¡¦t like what the buffet was serving. We had a very nice dinner tonight with our best waitress yet, Gisela. We will ask for her tomorrow night as well. John had Alaskan king crab and I had salmon, and we both had a wonderful chocolate cake with cherry filling, delicious! Before dinner we saw the comedy magician show which was pretty good, and stopped at the casino to make our donation :-).
Day 13 ¡V Saturday, August 28, 2004
We woke up to a sunny day today! We watched all the float planes land as we made our way through the harbor. We had breakfast delivered (of course :-) ) and watched them tie up the ship. We were so excited we were finally getting a plane ride, on our last possible day! We were late getting into Ketchikan but we were the only cruise ship in town this day which was nice. The tour lady said they had 5 ships at one time yesterday. We later found out the reason we were late is because during the night there were extremely high seas, but we both slept right through it, luckily. Anyway about 8 of us set out to the floatplane office where they asked us our weight and assigned us our plane and pilot. And off we went to our bear-watching adventure. The flight was awesome with beautiful views, we took off from the water and it was a sunny day, a little cloudy but no fog. After about a 20-minute flight we landed kinda in the middle of nowhere on a little lake and disembarked. Then we were taken in a minibus about 5 minutes away and then we all walked 5 minutes through the woods to a wooden viewing platform overlooking a big stream chock full of salmon trying to make their way upstream. The ranger said there were thousands of salmon in the stream. I¡¦m sad to report, though, that we did not see one single bear. She even took us to another location after about 45 minutes but no bear there either. Well that¡¦s why they call it wildlife I guess. So, disappointing but still a great day and a beautiful plane ride. We then were going to find some supposedly very good fish and chips at the little dock store but they were closed so we went on board ship for a quick buffet lunch, then made our way back into town for a little shopping and a final chance to spend some money which of course we managed to do. Tonight is our second and last formal night so we get all gussied up and have dinner with our favorite waitress and some nice people at the table; tonight is lobster tail which John has, and I had Beef Wellington, both very good. Then we went to see the dance show in the theatre (Rythms of the City) which was pretty good, then went to see the champagne water fall in the atrium. We finally made it to 12 midnight, yay!
Day 14 ¡V Sunday, August 29, 2004
A day at sea, and our last day of cruising. The seas are 4-8 feet, and John and I both take Dramamine and Bonine as soon as waking up as it looks to be a bit of a rough ride today. Just as I was typing this John was sitting on the bed looking out at the water and yelled ¡§porpoises!¡¨ I jumped up and right next to the ship were 8-10 porpoises racing alongside the ship, all leaping way up high out of the water! We do both love our balcony room, it¡¦s so worth the extra money, for this route anyway. We had a few sightings of porpoises along this route today. We also always enjoyed watching the ship come into port and ¡§park¡¨ at the dock and tie up and untie and leave too. It was also very neat watching them take the pilots and park rangers on and off board while the ship was moving; we always tried to watch that if we could. Anyway today we kind of slept in as it was a day at sea, and rainy besides, so it was very relaxing. I think we mostly ate and wandered around the ship. Later in the afternoon began the sad task of packing our bags, as they need to be put outside our room this evening.
Day 15 ¡V Monday, August 30, 2004
A pretty painless departure from the ship, our number gets called relatively early, and we are off around 9am. We made a good decision to rent a car for a day, as we stopped at baggage storage and they wanted $5 per bag per day or something like that. So we have our own transportation and immediately head off to Stanley Park in Vancouver. It¡¦s a nice sunny day and we got a bunch of coupons from Budget so we decided to use one at the horse drawn trolley ride through the park which was nice. Then back in the car and up to Capilano Suspension Bridge. This we thought was pretty pricey to walk across a bridge but turns out they had a bunch of stuff to do on the other side. On the way over I didn¡¦t dare to look down! I just hung onto the back of John and looked straight ahead. On the other side they had miniature walkways way up in the trees which was cool, and we went on a short guided nature hike through the woods. Our next stop was nearby, at Grouse Mountain. Here we took a tram ride up to the top of the mountain, saw a short lumberjack show and walked around a bit. We also had a ride down and up on a ski lift. It was a gorgeous view of the city. By this time it was late in the afternoon and we decided to try to find our hotel which we did with not much trouble, not far from the airport. This was another Scorecard hotel which was great, a very nice room with all the amenities, and we also got room service breakfast with the deal. Our last room service breakfast :-(.
Day 16 ¡V Tuesday, August 31, 2004
Last day of vacation if you can call it that. It¡¦s a day spent traveling, and a much better day of traveling than the first day. The first flight is only 4 hours as compared to 6.5 hours, and the plane is half empty so there¡¦s plenty of room. They¡¦re also showing a movie which makes the time go by. I asked John his favorite things from the whole vacation, and he says the floatplane trip and bus trip into Denali. I say I really enjoyed our stay at Lake Hood in Anchorage and the day we spent just walking along the coastal trails in the city parks. We decide we liked both parts of the trip, but maybe the car/land part a little better than the cruise, as it seemed more relaxing and we had more freedom to do whatever we felt like when we felt like it. We both would definitely love to visit Alaska again, it¡¦s a beautiful place.
I have the cruise bug this year! After thoroughly enjoying my Mediterranean cruise on Celebrity in May, I decided to go on another one for my fall vacation. My friend Carolyn mentioned she was going on a Southern Caribbean cruise and I thought, what a great idea. I love the idea of "moving" into a room and unpacking only once. It also reduces the extra planning since most things are already taken care of (where to go, where to eat, where to stay, etc), with the exception of what do to in the ports.
After researching the various itineraries between Celebrity, Princess, Norwegian, and Royal Caribbean, I picked Princess. Tony and I have sailed the Caribbean a few times, but haven't been to all the islands. Princess had an itinerary that included 3 ports we had yet to visit. A travel agent told me that Princess is a great line, almost up to par with Celebrity. Celebrity has spoiled me with their wonderful food, service, and style. With Princess and their "Personal Choice Dining" I liked the idea of dining whenever we wanted to instead of the traditional dining hours. Iliked the idea of a relaxed vacation.
I booked our cruise through Cruises Only, the fourth time using this company, after searching with different companies. Rudy was quite helpful. I booked a "guaranteed" room and would know our room (Dolphin deck) a couple of weeks prior to sailing (D746). I booked our own airline tickets and reserved a hotel via Priceline.com. I also contacted a few tourist offices for information and brochures: Grenada, St. Kitts, and the US Virgin Islands.
I was pleased to learn that Princess allows passengers to bring wine and champagne (but no alcoholic beverages) on board. Our plan was to purchase 2-3 bottles while in San Juan and pick up a bottle or two while at the various ports to enjoy in our room. I wish all cruise companies would allow this feature. I am sure it would avoid passengers from smuggling bottles in their suitcases. Besides, cruise ships make plenty of money selling their alcoholic beverages.
Because of the US State Department's travel warning to Caracas, Venezuela, Princess changed the itinerary to delete that port and add Isla Margarita, an island off the Venezuelan coast. I had hoped for another day at sea. Just like my last cruise, I checked out the Cruise Critic (CC) web site for other passengers. CC is a great web site with tons of cruise information and a discussion board. Like the last one, I met several people going on the same cruise. I made plans for a get together on board at 9:30pm the day we sailed, as well as dinner and drink the night before with Fred and Lois. November 1, 2003 Saturday: Our day started very, very early in the morning. Our flight from Dulles International was at 7am, so we had to get up around 4:00am. I didn't particularly care for the early wake up call, but I wanted as much time as possible in San Juan and figured we could nap on the airplane. Fortunately it was a direct flight. We arrived in San Juan on a rainy day. We had a good flight, but I couldn't sleep on board. I never can! We didn't wait too long for our luggage, took a taxi to Condado to our hotel, the Radisson Ambassador http://www.radisson.com/sanjuanpr_ambassador. I had reserved a room via Priceline for $85 plus tax.
We paid $20 for the taxi ride, which included our tip. I was surprised that Ashford Avenue consisted of 2 lanes. I expected it to be a wide boulevard. Our hotel, just a block off the beach, was pretty nice. The area reminded me of Miami. And the views reminded me of Waikiki with all the high-rise buildings. The lobby was noisy as we could hear the casino machines being worked like crazy. I wondered if there were any big winners. Check-in was a little slow, but the man at the desk was very friendly. He also gave us a concierge room, but no access to the amenities with the concierge room. Our room was large and comfortable with nice views facing west. Looking to the right we could see the ocean. The only complaint of the room was the poor lighting.
We had asked about a place for lunch and the man at the desk suggested pizza at Danny's International, just a block west of the hotel. The pizza was excellent! We had one with eggplant and roasted garlic. I had a glass of red wine while Tony tried the local beer. It was raining at the time and many popped in wait out the rain or have lunch.
Nearby was a small grocery store where we purchased some wine for the cruise. It was nice to have this store near our hotel. Also nearby is a Walgreen's where we picked up a few items we needed
After lunch, we took the local bus (B21) to Old San Juan (OSJ). It rained off and on, but not too heavy. It was humid and our days averaged 88 degrees. We shopped a little and found a small restaurant with a bar. Alberto, the owner, made us a couple of local drinks and we chatted with him for about an hour. I was bitten in the legs by mosquitos and Alberto gave me some Off, which was a little too late.
We had dinner plans with Fred and Lois at the Tropical restaurant. It was only a 5-7 minute walk from our hotel. We showered and later had complimentary rum drinks in one of the hotel bars. The bar tender told us all about the local rums. We planned to purchase a bottle and smuggle it on board for the cruise.
It was a nice evening for walking to the restaurant. We met Fred and Lois at 7:30pm and had an excellent dinner with them. The food was great (I had their pork tenderloin with congri (black beans and rice) and yuca (a root vegetable). Tony had a skirt steak, while Fred had veal and Lois had a steak. Everything was very good. The prices were reasonable too. The restaurants web site, http://www.tropicalrestaurant.com/index.html, shows the menu, which has a variety of Cuban and Puerto Rican dishes. After dinner, we took a taxi to their hotel (the Wyndham) and enjoyed drinks at the Fiesta bar while listening to salsa. The place was packed with dancers. It was quite dark and very loud. Mike and Patty, also from CC, were supposed to join us, but they never showed up.
Sunday, 2 November 2003: Embarkation - pretty smooth. There was no express check-in line anymore. We were on board within 20 minutes. We could have gotten on board if we had been in another line. The couple ahead of us asked a hundred questions!
Tony had purchased rum at the store near our hotel and put it in his carry on bag. Security didn't take it away. We found the security people didn't take any away unless they were packed in liquor boxes.
We had our photo taken, and then boarded the ship. There were Princess representatives located throughout the ship to direct people to their room. I missed that glass of champagne what I received on Celebrity in May. It's a lovely ship and it didn't look its age. Our room, D746, had a large window, king bed, tiny bathroom, refrigerator, tv. The room was very comfortable. It was a little smaller than the Celebrity Mille (I compared this cruise quite often to the Millie). Our room was port side, and the second to the last room aft. We did a lot of walking to/from our room walking through the La Scala pizzeria and the casino.
Raul was our room steward. He was a quiet man, but excellent. I would ask for wine glasses for the room and he ensured we had some for the wine we brought on board.
After dropping off our bags, we headed to the Horizon court for lunch. I wasn't impressed with the food there, but it was okay. Some of the selections were good, such as the Weiner schnitzel. I found the breakfast foods to be lathered in oil.
We walked around checking out the bars and lounges and getting familiar with the deck plans of the ship. I walked into the Florentine restaurant (5th level) to see about making dinner reservations for the evening. No one was around. I heard a voice, "Are you Monica?" I turned around and it was Mike and Patty. He recognized me from my photo that I had posted on line. We chatted a few minutes, with them before making our dinner reservations at the purser's desk. After, Tony and I decided to go into OSJ. Our taxi driver had pointed out the local bus stop across the street from the pier gate. It was convenient for us and we preferred the .25-cent ride rather than a taxi. I also told Mike and Patty about the cheap ride to OSJ.
We wandered around OSJ and stopped under some shelter as it poured. It didn't last long and we were on our way again to walk around the area. We ran into Mike and Patty who told us about the Pueblo grocery store. I had been looking for it so I could buy another bottle of wine for the room and to check out the local foods. Mike and Patty went off to shop and Tony and I shopped in Marshall's for gym shorts for Tony. He never used them on the trip. We never stepped foot in the gym.
Across the street was the Pueblo grocery store, so we went in to buy the wine. There was Mike and Patty filling their carts with dinks. We all went back to the ship together. Tony's luggage had already arrived, but not mine. I asked Raul for a bottle opener since mine was packed away. We had drinks while Tony unpacked. My suitcase finally arrived so that I could unpack before dinner.
Dinner was at 6:30pm. We chose PC dining where we made our dinner reservations rather than dining the traditional method. Our waiters were Marvin and Dragon, table 88. I had selected M&D based on a few positive comments on CC stating they received excellent service from them. Not so for us! We were disappointed in Marvin who seemed to have an attitude. Dragon was the friendly one (and should be promoted about Marvin) and had to deal with Marvin who was pretty demanding with him. And they are cousins, from Grenada. When we first met them, I mentioned how popular they were on CC. We weren't sure why Marvin acted the way he did. Our dinner mates consisted of Fred and Lois, Mike and Patty and Matt and Kat (who joined us the second night). It was a great group of people.
We had plans to meet everyone from CC at the Riviera pool bar at 9:30pm. Not everyone from CC showed up, except for our group as well as Tina and Rob. We never dined with Tina and Rob, but ran into them throughout the cruise. The bar was busy serving drinks while the band on deck played the night away.
After watching the ship leave port at 11pm, Patty and I headed to the La Scala Pizzeria for a bite to eat. We weren't satisfied with our meals (Sail Away Dinner: seafood turnover in a lobster sauce - mine had 1 shrimp and 1 calamari ring) and were hungry. A few others joined us and we all enjoyed the pizza. The selection choices were limited: Hawaiian, pepperoni, Margarita, and choose your own toppings. Service was prompt and the pizzas were delicious!
Monday, 3 November 2003: St Thomas. Tony and I have been to St Thomas several times, so we decided to head to Magen's Bay with Mike and Patty. It was a sunny day and we enjoyed our time on the beach. We got there by 9am to avoid the crowds. Three ships were in port that day, so we knew the beach would soon be crowded. It's a beautiful beach with soft sand and clear waters. Tony and Mike rented two floats to lounge on while in the water. We could have stayed there all day.
After a few hours, we taxied back to town and window-shopped. Mike's goal was to purchase a t-shirt from a bar. No luck there. Back on the ship we relaxed by the pool while the ship set sail for St. Kitts.
Our first formal night, we had our pictures taken before dinner. Around the atrium, there were 3 set ups for picture taking. The line at the steps of the atrium was long, so we had our photos taken at the other locations. A variety of drinks were served at the Captain's welcome cocktail event. Waiters walked around serving drinks and appetizers.
Shortly after, I noticed there was no line at the one photo place next to the atrium, so I suggested to Mike, Patty, Matt, and Kat that we have our pictures taken. The photographer was in the middle of taking photos, so we walked behind him to the waiting point at the stairs. When he was done, he motioned us to move in. An older man, who was standing behind the photographer (and in the WRONG place), started barking at us for "cutting in line." I immediately and politely said, "Please go ahead." He wasn't satisfied with that and argued with us. Mike charged in stating, "We've all been there [standing in the wrong line]." The old man, which I called him Walter the rest of the cruise, stated, "I don't think you have!" I told him again to go ahead of us, but he was determined to spoil his own evening. He finally walked up with his wife to the photo spot and kept saying rude things to us. He finally just walked away angry and without any photos taken. Tony said, "He sure showed us!" (I saw him once later in the cruise and he had that same "I'm so mad - I hate everyone!" look.
Dinner was the "Captain's Welcome Dinner." I enjoyed the smoked supreme of duck with wild greens and a Cassis vinaigrette, followed by a Veloute of asparagus soup, Caesar salad, and bowtie pasta in a creamy sauce of veal, morel mushrooms, green peas and parmesan cheese. I also ordered a beef tenderloin to taste, but it came out over cooked for me, so Tony ate it since his was very well done.
Evening entertainment in the Vista lounge consisted of Paul Edison, "The voices of Tom Jones, Sinatra, Niel Diamond, Elvis." He was very good! We also had drinks in the Magnum's bar. I enjoyed their Cosmopolitans, and so did Patty.
Tuesday, 4 November 2003: St Kitts. The mountaintops of St Kitts were covered with clouds. I was amazed at the absolutely flat Caribbean ocean. Not a single ripple. The island is lush with tropical plants and flowers. Our group of 8 hired a van to take us around the island ($16.50 per person). We drove to a few places, including the impressive Brimstone fortress, a batik factory set in a tropical setting, and the point in the ocean where the Atlantic and Caribbean waters meet. Along the way we passed small villages, the ruins of sugar cane factories, and goats along side the road. Signs were posted everywhere to "Prepare now" for the next disaster - hurricanes.
In town we were dropped off at the Circus, the center of town where slave trading was once held. We found a small bar and everyone enjoyed the local beer. I peeked in a few shops, but didn't purchase anything. At one liquor store, we tried some rum. Very tasty.
Back on the ship, as most afternoons were the same, we enjoyed the Riviera pool deck and pizza for lunch.
Dinner this night was pretty good: French night. We enjoyed the escargots and Patè de Foie de Strasbourg. Onion soup was offered, but I opted for the chilled Vichyssoise. I make it better at home. Tony had the sirloin steak (which was always available) while I had the pork loin in a calvados sauce. The pork was slightly overdone. Of course, I had to have the raspberry crème brulee! Delicious!
The evening entertainment was Words and Music, an intimate cabaret. It was pretty good, but it's not Tony's cup of tea.
Wednesday, 5 November 2003: Grenada. Our ship docked in the bay, so everyone had to tender in to the port. Marvin arranged for us to travel around the island with his father, Big Joe, for $15 per person. We met him at the pier and we hopped in a van. There was no air conditioning but it was cool enough as we headed into the mountains. We started at the spice market in town. There were many vendors selling baskets filled with assorted spices: Cumin, nutmeg, ginger, saffron, cinnamon sticks, etc. Many vendors approached us throughout the day trying to see their spices. I must have said, "No thank you, we already bought some spices" a few dozen times.
We stopped at one point at a little shop for great views of the mountains and the town of Saint George in the distance. A man at the shop showed us some of their spices, including nutmeg. He explained the process from picking the fruit to the many uses of the nutmeg.
Our next stop was Annandale falls. There were more vendors with their spices. Several women were colorfully dressed with fruits adorning their heads - like Carmen Maranda. Some young men tried to get money from the tourists in exchange for diving off the high rocks into the water.
Big Joe took us to Fort Frederick where we had great views of the town and our ship. The police officer at the fort walked us through the place explaining the history of the fort. It was a very hot afternoon, so I found some shade.
Our last stop was at a small resort south of Saint George. A lovely area, we swam at the beach at the Flamboyant hotel. It's a hotel on the side of a hill (lots of stairs) with a pool, bar area, restaurant, located on a quiet beach at the far end of Grand Anse beach. The views are spectacular as one can see the entire Grande Anse beach and town in the distance. I think this was everyone's favorite day trip. It was my favorite island. For $15/person plus tip for the tour and an afternoon at a beautiful beach, it was great bargain.
Since we knew it would be a full day of sightseeing, I had changed our dinner reservations to 8pm. Joe had picked us up in the afternoon, dropped us off at the port, and we walked around town for a short while. Getting hungry, we headed to the ship, via tender, to have lunch.
Dinner was Italian night. The shrimp, squid and mussels appetizer was very good. Tony had the baked eggplant parmigiana. The veal chops were excellent and probably the best meal on the ship, with the exception of the Sterling Steakhouse. The chop was thickly cut and very tender. For dessert, I enjoyed the Limoncello sorbet and amaretto cookies.
We took in the late show (10:30pm) and saw Chip Romero who was a magician. He put on a good show, but once in a while one could easily figure out the "magic."
Thursday, 6 November 2003: Princess should have skipped Isla Margarita and had another day at sea. We were originally supposed to go to Caracas, but because of their political unrest, Princess chose Isla Margarita instead. Some of us also read in a newspaper on line that money was being laundered through the island for the alQueida. I certainly didn't want any of my American money going to them! Thank goodness it was a short stop (7am to 12:45pm). It was $50 taxi ride to get to the main town, so we went to the beach near the ship. We paid $5 for a lounge chair. I'm sure for the port area, this was one way of making money. Apparently ships rarely sail to Isla Margarita. Next to the pier were vendors selling a variety of things, including a variety of rum and liquors. Tony purchased a bottle of rum, which tasted more of a brandy. It was quite strong!
The ship left at 12:45pm. The pool deck was crowded as everyone enjoyed the afternoon sun at sea. We had lunch in the Horizon court. Again, I wasn't satisfied with the food selections.
After dinner, Chef's dinner (smoked wild salmon, delicious king crab leg; rack of lamb), we went to the Vista lounge to watch "C'est Magnifique," a French musical revue. The dancers wore very colorful and fancy costumes. The best part of the night was the Island night deck party on the Riviera deck. We danced the night away listening to Tidal Wave and Domino. There were also games with prizes. We laughed hysterically at what I called "musical men" instead of musical chairs. About a dozen men lined up back to back, while women circled around them. When the music stopped, the women had to grab a man. Down to 1 man and 2 women, the music played. Just as it stopped, both women grabbed each other! Now, if anyone needs an icebreaker at a party, try this game.
Friday, 7 November 2003: Aruba. I normally don't book a shore excursion with the cruise ship. I find them to be too expensive, especially since one can plan their own tours in advance and share the expenses with one to three other couples. Tony wanted to do the Atlantis submarine tour. After checking on line, I discovered the prices were the same, so I pre-booked this tour with Princess.
After breakfast in the dining room where Tony enjoyed the eggs benedict, we met Fred and Lois and the rest of the tour group at 9:50am in the terminal. On board a small boat, we headed out past the airport to an area where we waited for the submarine to emerge. It was a small submarine, holding 48 passengers. We were a group of 36. Our dive lasted 40 minutes and we saw a variety of fish. Also, two ships had been sunk a few years previously. I spotted a tire, to which Tony said, "That's a tire for an airplane." It was a neat ride, though I was a little nervous being underwater.
Back on the ship, we changed into our bathing suits, met Fred and Lois at the terminal, and walked into town. Aruba has changed quite a bit since the last time we were there (1997?). There were many shops, restaurants, and casinos. Lois and I bought black carrying bags for $5. We saw them everywhere. After purchasing some bottled water, we took a taxi to Palm beach to Moomba hotel to enjoy the afternoon there. Right on the beach was a restaurant with a thatched roof. We were hungry, so we had lunch - Mexican chicken wraps. Talk about Island Time! It was the slowest service ever! The sandwiches were very good, as well as the tropical drinks.
Mike, Patty, Tina, and Rob joined us at the beach. The water was warm and the sun extremely hot. The trade winds can be deceiving: It can cool the body, but the sun, being so close to the equator, can quickly burn. I was in the water for a short while, laid in the sun for ½ hour, and then moved into the shade. Later, all eight of us crammed into a taxi van and headed back to the port. Our ship departed at 5pm.
Dinner this evening was the Captain's Gala Dinner and our second formal night. We had more pictures taken; then we went with Fred and Lois to the Captain's cocktail party. The Captain was introduced, and then he introduced some of his staff. We departed before it ended since we had reservations. Lobster tails flowed freely at dinner. They were a little overcooked, but very tasty. Tony had the beef Wellington, which he said was very good.
The show this evening was a comedy show with Mike Wilson. He was excellent! He had everyone in stitches. Two older couples were targeted because the two men sat next to each other instead of next to their wives on a couch. They took the jokes quite well. At one point, while the comedian wasn't looking, they switched seats: The men moved to the middle of the couch with the wives on either end. That caught the comedian by surprise, but he loved it.
At 11:30pm, the Maitre d'Hotel Nicol Furlan hosted a Champagne Waterfall, consisting of over 600 classes stacked like a Christmas tree. They must have used over 100 bottles of champagne to fill those glasses. Champagne and sweets were served while we listened to music and watched people dancing. The atrium area was very hot because of all the people there.
Saturday, 8 November 2003: Day at Sea. This was a lounge-all-day-and-do-nothing-day. I was glad for this day at sea and wish I had picked a cruise with one at the beginning of the cruise.
We found many people had been hogging up the pool lounge chairs all week that our group decided to meet at 9am at the pool deck to claim our chairs for the day. However, unlike the hoggers, we used them all day and didn't disappear for hours.
While Tony held fort with the lounge chairs, the rest of the group headed to the Vista lounge for a culinary demonstration, then a tour of the galley. The galley was spotless. It would have been interesting to see the cooks in action.
Wanting to have one last pizza on board, I went to La Scala pizzeria to order take out, but was told I had to order it from my room. So, after calling in my order and waiting for the pizza to be delivered, I packed my suitcase. My pizza arrived, so I carried it to the pool deck to enjoy. Tony had a burger at the grill, which he said was very good.
In the afternoon, we watched a pool game: Flip, flop and fly. Guys would take turns strutting around the pool and lap dancing on the female judges before jumping (some were belly flops) into the pool. One judge always scored much lower than the other and the audience booed and hissed at her. In the end, three of the guys grabbed her and tossed her into the pool. She was a good sport.
Before dinner, Tony packed his suitcase. We joined the group at 6:30pm at the Sterling Steakhouse. Fred bought a bottle of red wine for the table and even made a toast to me for organizing our get together with the group. Thanks so much Fred! The appetizers were very good: spinach and artichoke dip with chips, chili, bloomin' onion. The steaks were excellent. I had the 10 oz fillet mignon, while Tony dove into the 20 oz porterhouse steak. Mike had to order another steak as his was overcooked. Service was excellent and the best we encountered on the ship. We didn't mind missing dining at Marvin's table on our last night.
We enjoyed the variety show with the comedian and juggler, but the comedian wasn't as funny as the other nights. After the show, we noticed a large group of people outside on the promenade deck. In the distance we could see the lights of Puerto Rico.
Saying our goodbyes to some of the group, we changed in to our clothes for the next day and placed our suitcases outside our room. It was requested we do this before dinner, but that was too early!
Later, we met Fred and Lois at the Atrium lounge to listen to some music and have one last drink. We met the juggler and chatted with him for a few minutes. He works on board for 5 weeks in a row, and then takes a month off.
Sunday, 9 November 2003: Early wake up call. We had to be at the Vista lounge by 7am to get our customs card stamped. We walked down 1 flight of stairs to find a very, very long line of people. Looking for the end of the line, we noticed it was "wrapped around the ship" twice! After 10 minutes in line and hearing others had waited 45 minutes already and probably had another 30 minutes to go, we decided cut out and have breakfast and deal customs later. There should have been Princess employees to keep things calm, but no one was to be found. I heard later that people were arguing and even cutting in line to avoid the long wait.
At the Venetian dining room, the host took us to a table for 6 and there was Mike and Patty! Tony and I enjoyed one last serving of lox and bagels. One couple apparently ordered a double batch of the lox everyday.
Back to the Vista lounge, the line had dissipated. We walked right in and out in just minutes. Next was the long wait for our group (green 2) to be called. We finally got off the ship at 10:30am. No one even said "Thank you" when people disembarked the ship. Princess Cruises definitely needs to improve on their disembarkation process and their customer service. What a headache! What a mess!
The next headache was finding our luggage amongst hundreds and hundreds of them. Mike and Patty were waiting for us so we could take a taxi together to the Caribe Hilton (http://www.caribehilton.com/ - $65/night via priceline.com). They had plenty of time before their flight. After about 10 minutes of searching, we gathered our luggage and grabbed a taxi to the hotel. We were able to get a room without having to wait till the afternoon. However, it was a smoking room, so Tony turned on the air conditioning to see if that would help.
The four of us headed to OSJ via taxi and shopped around a bit. Later, Mike and Patty went off to the hotel to get their luggage and head to the airport, while Tony and I found a place for lunch - La Bombonera (259 Calle San Francisco). This is a very old restaurant serving good Puerto Rican food. It had the atmosphere of a diner with busy waiters.
Instead of taking a taxi back to the hotel, we took a walk along the water. It was about a 40 minute walk, but enjoyable as we needed some exercise after all that eating on board. The skies were dark with clouds and the wind was blowing a rainstorm towards the island. The waves were pretty high. Near the hotel was a small convenience store where we picked up a large bottle of water. The bottled water in the room cost $7! Back in our room, the air conditioning had not improved the smell of the room, so I talked to a woman at the front desk, who arranged another room for us. Room 823 was much better with a great view of the Condado area.
I wanted to explore the grounds of the resort, so we headed outdoors. There is a lovely infinity pool, a small beach area, and two bars. Also on the grounds was a human size chess table set. Peacocks roamed the grounds and near the guests for bits of food. We had drinks at the bar. I ordered a pina colada, which apparently was invented at this same hotel. I was very disappointed with it. I have a bartender friend who once told me, "Never buy a frozen drink unless you know the bartender. Most bartenders hardly add any alcohol." This was true with this drink. The bartender asked how I liked the drink and I said, "Did you put any rum in?" He added another shot. I switched to a drink called the Hangover. Now that was good!
Back in the room, we relaxed for a while and showered before dinner. I had asked at the Concierge's desk if there was a good local restaurant nearby. I was given directions but wasn't sure if she was correct. She stated it was off the main street near the hotel and a 10-minute walk, the same path we took home from OSJ. We didn't see any restaurants along the way except for KFC. We decided to walk to the restaurant, all along wondering where she meant. After about 10 minutes and starting to sweat from the humidity, we turned back. The hotel has 4 restaurants, so we checked out the menus. All were expensive, especially Morton's. We decided on the restaurant Madrid. The food was excellent! I had their Asopao de Mariscos, a delicious seafood rice soup. Tony had their veal chop. My soup was so filling, I asked for another bowl for Tony to have some. Service was excellent. Luis took good care of us.
We retired early, as it was a long day.
Monday: We woke up to another cloudy day in San Juan. After checking out, we shared a taxi with three others to the airport. It was a quick 20-minute ride as we were going against traffic. At the airport, we had to go through the agriculture check-in area. A woman checked us in without having to go through the x-ray machines. There was another one inside. The line was quite long inside and I missed having the self-service check-in like at Dulles. While waiting, I noticed a small suitcase and shopping back sitting on the side of the line. After about 10 minutes, no one had claimed it. I kept an eye on them, but still no one picked them up. Finally, when an airport employee walked by, I told him about the luggage. He called security. I got out of line to head to the restroom and when I returned, the luggage was gone. I looked to see if anyone in line had them and no one did. I suppose security took them away. Better to be safe than sorry.
We had to change flights in Miami. It's been years since I've been in that airport. We had lunch consisting of Cuban sandwiches (we split one) and beef empanadas. They were delicious! And for airport food, it was reasonably priced. We finally got to Dulles in the late afternoon. We drove home, and then picked up the truck to drive to Den's house, where Lucy had spent the week. She was very happy to see us.
Home again. I love to travel and hate it when I have to get on an airplane to fly home, but it always feels great to be home again: my own bed, pillow, and the comforts of home.
We really enjoyed our cruise and had fun with our cruise mates: Fred and Lois, Mike and Patty, Matt and Kat, and Tina and Rob. Thanks everyone for a memorable cruise!
We enjoyed all the islands (but we could have skipped Isla Margarita), especially Grenada with the beautiful Grand Anse beach and Magen's Bay on St Thomas. We had great weather every day, though it was humid.
I am not sure I'll travel again with Princess. I compared frequently with my Millennium Celebrity cruise. We weren't excited about the food and the service varied among the employees. The food in the dining room was good, but I can't say very good to excellent, with the exception of the veal chop, the steaks (excellent 10 oz fillet mignon perfectly cooked to order) in the Sterling Steakhouse, and the French night appetizers. The buffets in the Horizon court were a disappointment. I found a lot of the food greasy or saturated in oil and I thought the lunch buffets had too much of a variety, but understand we missed a couple of theme buffets such as the Italian buffet.
The entertainment on board was good. We loved the comedian. I didn't see any of the shows on the Millie, so I can't compare or say how good they were.
I think for our next cruise, we'll head to Alaska or the Mediterranean or.
PS: I plan to add my photos and hotel/restaurant information on my web site: http://www.luvtotravel.homestead.com/home.html