Sunday, October 1, 2017

Liberty of the Seas Review October 1, 2017

 
Liberty of the Seas Review  

October 1, 2017


Just The Facts

Ship:  Liberty of the Seas
Sailing:  October 1, 2017
Captain: James MacDonald
Cruise Director: Drew Devine
Ports: Galveston - Isla Roatan, Honduras - Costa Maya, Mexico - Cozumel, Mexico - Galveston
Weather:  Very nice typical Caribbean weather

This is my 23rd Royal Caribbean cruise, third time on the Liberty of the Seas, and my 131st cruise overall.  I am sailing solo.

Day One—Sunday—Embarkation

View from Diamond Lounge of Breeze sailing past
I enjoyed the leaving/arriving later scenario on the previous Galveston cruises so did so again.  There are so many VIP’s that it now actually creates more problems at embarkation…so the later arrival is a much smoother process. I left the ranch about 7:30 am and headed south to Galveston arriving at EZ Cruise parking about 12:15. Galveston was very busy today, but I was shuttled over to the Liberty of the Seas fairly quickly. I was after the initial boarding rush and zipped through security and check in and was on board about 1:00 pm. I went directly to the cabin on deck six and since I rolled my bag on board with me I began stowing away some items.  I went up to the Windjammer and got a plate of Cuban Chicken, Vegetables, and Mashed Potatoes.  Also easier to wait until 1:30 pm when cabins open so that you can get a seat in Windjammer.  After my late lunch I returned to the cabin and finished unpacking and cabin set up.  I purchase the premium Zoom internet package ($85 with discount) so watched part of the Dallas Cowboys game online until time for muster drill about 3:30 pm.  Fortunately my muster station  A1 was located in the Star Lounge just one deck below my cabin so I could sit.  After dismissal it was easy to go up stairs to deck 6 nice as all the elevators were packed as usual after drill.  Soon Wilbort, from Nicaragua, my cabin Steward for the week came by to introduce himself…I think he will be fine.  I requested ice and he soon brought a robe, some cookies, coke, and bottled water as part of the D+ goodies. About 5:00 pm I went up to The Diamond Lounge and the Viking Crown Lounge for cocktails.  We were sailing along side of the Carnival Breeze so that was nice as were the Cosmopolitan cocktails.  I ran into some friends I’d recently sailed with on the Breeze so it was fun and I probably had too many complementary cocktails but that’s kind of a first evening tradition that many guests follow.  I have 8:00 pm seating in the Michelangelo MDR on deck four.  There was one other couple at the six-top table.  I ordered the Eggplant & Artichoke Tart, French Onion Soup, and the Seafood Spaghetti (bay scallops, mussels, shrimp, peas with a lemon-chardonnay reduction) entree.  Carrot cake for dessert.  The Welcome Show with a Comedian was this evening, but after a long busy day I retired to the cabin after dinner. It was a fun first day on the Liberty of the Seas.

Day Two—Monday—at Sea
Lifeguards now on duty
Rolling seas overnight and a very restful night.  The weather is beautiful today with blue skies and scattered  clouds.  I slept very well until 9:00 am in my nice dark interior cabin then went down to the MDR for breakfast just before the 9:30 am close…barely made it and they closed at 10:00 am last year so that’s a change.  I ordered three Eggs over easy with sides of bacon, hash browns, and Pancakes…all very good.  My cabin was already cleaned when I returned and a bit later he brought four new pillows fresh from the package.  Nice.  I worked on this review and caught up on the terrible news from Las Vegas this morning.  About 1:30 pm I did a walkabout of the ship walking around deck 11 then down to deck 5 and the Promenade.  The pool areas were very busy and I noticed the new lifeguards at all four of the pools.  I was stopped by a family that recognized me from my Blog, they were complementary of my reviews and I really enjoyed their thoughts on the Liberty of the Seas as it was their first RCCL cruise.  I discovered on Facebook that I have other friends on board, but haven’t seen them as yet.  I had a late lunch in the Windjammer, they had ribs on the carving station but I had some Asian chicken, broccoli, and mashed potatoes.  They had my favorite Oatmeal and Raisin cookies so I took a supply back to the cabin.  Cabin time and watching news until preparing for cocktails about 7:00 pm in the Diamond lounge.  Not near as many people in the Lounge this evening perhaps some attending the Captains Welcome and complementary Champagne Toast on the Promenade deck.  Tonight is the Captains night dinner in the MDR and I ordered the Bay Scallops Gratin, the Artichoke filled Crepe Au Gratin and the Carved Filet of Beef Tenderloin entree.  All were very good especially the beef.  For dessert I ordered the Sky-high Lemon Meringue Pie.  Two production shows and the featured late adult comedy show was tonight, but I retired to the cabin and watched the comedians performance from the Welcome Show on Sunday.  I really enjoyed watching from my big bed with four new pillows.  It was a great relaxing sea day on the Liberty of the Seas.

Day Three—Tuesday—at Sea
Salad Station for MDR lunch
Rolling seas again overnight, but we are crossing into the Caribbean this morning so supposed to be a bit smoother today.  Nice sunshine and breezy.  I slept very well and late again.  I didn’t want to rush to the MDR for breakfast so closed my eyes and did go back to sleep.  Very restful morning.  I went to the MDR for a very nice lunch about 11:45 am.  I always enjoy the excellent Salad Bar and I ordered the pasta of the day:  Farfalle with choice of tomato or meat sauce.  My dessert, the Brazo De Mercedes, is new to me and absolutely fantastic.  I love soft desserts anyway and this is a light (soft) meringue roulade filled with crème pâtissière.  Amazing.  Time for a walkabout the ship and you can see the Yucatan coast of Mexico on our starboard side.  I also found the red dog and the brass dog, the brass dog used to be at the Windjammer entry (among other places) but is now on the Promenade deck next the Next Cruise offices.  The big Red Dog is now chained at his usual deck 6 location so can't be moved about as some crew and even guests tended to do on a whim.  They delivered some h'ordorves to the cabin (only so-so) and at 4:30 I went up to the Sky Bar and got two Diet Cokes (on my Diamond card) for the cabin for my snacks.  I did go to the Diamond lounge for some cocktails then went to the Ice Show: Encore-An Ice Spectacular with friends at 6:30 just making it in time for the reserved Diamond+ seating.  The ice show was fantastic.  Same show as last year yet so much better than on the Mariner last month.  I especially loved the ‘Carmen opera’ and ‘modern US music' segments of the show.  Time for a quick cocktail before dinner back in the Diamond Lounge and then friends joined me for dinner since I knew my table mates had other plans so I wouldn’t eat alone.  Very nice of them and dinner was good…I ordered the Crab Cake, the daily Pasta as a starter, the Braised Beef Duo, and Cherry’s Jubilee for dessert.  I again retired to the cabin after dinner.  I actually found the Fox News TV channel, good to see more options.  I reviewed plans for our first port and decided to let weather decide the schedule for tomorrow.   It was a nice easy sea day on the Liberty of the Seas.


Day Four—Wednesday—Isla Roatan,  Honduras
Beers and Lunch in Coxen Hole, Isla Roatan, Honduras
Calm seas overnight and I slept very well.  The forecast was for rain today so I decided to stay on board and slept in until 9:00ish.  It actually is a very nice partly cloudy day with only scattered clouds with a hint of rain…very nice for those going ashore.  I went to the Windjammer for breakfast and had Tex-Mex Scrambled eggs with Jalapeno and Salsa…very good actually.  Also Ham from the carving station, toast, and bacon with Orange juice.  With most off the ship I spent some time in the Solarium swimming pool.  I spoke with the lifeguard and he said they have been on duty for the past 6 months on the Liberty of the Seas.  I don’t recall seeing them on the Mariner last month but they may have been there.  About noon I left the ship and walked through the improved port area of Coxen Hole and towards old town of Coxen Hole.  I stopped at the LookOut Bar (and restaurant) to enjoy a few nice local Salva Vida beers. I ended up ordering a fresh fish platter consisting of a whole fried red snapper, peas & rice, a Caribbean slaw, and wonderful Plantains.  A great lunch. I relaxed after boarding and soon we were sailing away from Coxen Hole.  Just after sail way the Captain announced that due to the tropical storm forming just south of us we would likely be unable to make our Friday port of Cozumel.  My only real plans are for there but looks like no haircut, Woody’s Bar or medications this trip. Disappointing.  I went to the R Bar just for a change of scenery and enjoyed an aperitif before going up to the Diamond Club.  Dinner had a surprise, in addition to my order (Pasta as starter and Seafood Grill entree) the Head Waiter brought nice plate of grilled Scallops and also Hearts of Palm to the table.  They were fantastic. I ordered the Key Lime pie for dessert. I had some wonderful food today in Isla Roatan and on the Liberty of the Seas.

Day Five—Thursday—Puerto Costa Maya,  Mexico
The long cruise pier at Puerto Costa Maya
Fair seas overnight a bit rougher as we approached the port.  I slept well and was curious about the  weather so went for a very early breakfast in the Windjammer.  They had fresh salmon on carving station (I passed) and I again had the Tex-Mex eggs, bacon, potatoes, corned beef hash, and milk.  It is very humid with lots of clouds and I saw rain as well so I decided to stay on board ship today.  Back to the cabin for a nice sleep.  About 10:30 am I went up to the Solarium and got a lounger by an open window and nice view of the Costa Maya port for a few hours.  Nice ocean breeze and still very cloudy.  Many guests went ashore, but many stayed on board.  At 1:30 I went to the Windjammer for an excellent lunch: I had pork loin with applesauce from the carving station, mashed potatoes, mixed vegetables, a Pasta plate with linguine and rotini with both bolognese and tomato sauce.  I may have underestimated the pasta dishes…it was better than my primary lunch plate.  No dessert with that filling luncheon.  After lunch I got a table on Main Lido deck again by an open window and view.  The Caribbean water is beautiful today and many colors due to different types of clouds with peaks of sunshine…the afternoon weather would be great if you were in the water.  We started getting a little moisture before we sailed away so I returned to the cabin about 3:30 pm.  I’m sure the Captain is anxious to leave, the Magic has long sailed.  As we sailed the Captain gave us an update:  he will sail north at full speed for the next 6-8 hours that should keep us well ahead of Nate.  I guess we’ll have to sail in circles once we get to Texas or he may just dock a day early on Saturday for safety.  I went up to the Sky Bar to get three Cokes on my Diamond card and they were showing the ALDS baseball game on the big screen so I stayed and enjoyed that in the now nice cool sea breeze.  A lot of Astros fans on board so it was fun.  I had time for just a couple of aperitifs in the Diamond Club before dinner.  Tonight it was Italian night in the dining room. I ordered the Insalata Mista salad and added my special Hearts of Palm.  Also Pan Seared Scallops, the Lasagna del Forno (with two sauces) as a starter, and the Chicken Marsala entree.  I had the Tiramisu and excellent Sticky Bun served with Ice creme for dessert.  A nice stay-on-the-ship day on the Liberty of the Seas.

Day Six—Friday—at Sea
Sky Bar on Liberty of the Seas
A bit of rolling seas last night and I slept very well.  This was originally going to be our port day in Cozumel, but due to Tropical Storm Nate moving north on our tail we had to cancel and keep sailing north to stay ahead of Nate…may still catch us when it becomes a hurricane tomorrow.  I was up early enough to go to the MDR for a very nice breakfast, I ordered the Eggs Benedict with sides of hash browns and bacon.  I also had Pancakes and hot milk….very nice.  Not too busy on outer decks this morning I think most guests are relaxing.  The Captain gave us an update on TS Nate at his noon announcements.  We were able to get 300 miles north of the center by sailing at full speed last night, but today Nate will be moving faster than the Liberty and will begin closing on us.  I had a Pepperoni slice from Sorrento’s for lunch and got cookies for later in the cabin. The Captain has found some sun and has slowed to a crawl as we head north.  The Carnival Breeze has now joined us and sailing parallel so we may be out of risk from TS Nate.  Many guests now enjoying the outer deck although they have closed most of the slides and sports…all pools open.  I had a very late lunch in the Windjammer: Tex-Mex BBQ Chicken, mixed Vegetables, Mashed potatoes, and Spaghetti in spicy tomato creme sauce.  Spent time watching baseball and working on some projects the rest of the afternoon until I went down at 5:00 pm to get some Coke and ended up with two slices of Pizza from Sorrento's.  Pizza Day.  Tonight is the feature show Saturday Night Fever in the Platinum Theater.  This is a big theatrical production with great sets and costumes not just song and dance routines.  The large cast of singers and dancers are very good and this is a show not to be missed if you have not seen it.  I have seen it so time for aperitifs before dinner in the Diamond Lounge.  For dinner I ordered the Three-cheese Tortellini (pasta as starter), and both the Lobster and Prime Rib entrees with the Grand Manier Soufflé for dessert.  This was Quest night and also a late comedy show as well.  There was a lot of activity on board.  A nice sea day although I would have preferred our port call in Cozumel.

Day Seven--Saturday--at Sea
Fair seas overnight and I slept very well…until 9:30 am in fact on this mostly overcast day. This is college football Saturday so that is the plan today.  I wore my Oklahoma Sooners football Hawaiian shirt to the Windjammer for another nice breakfast of scambled eggs, bacon, ham, and more.  OU has the early 11:00 am game today and I'm very disappointed that they still show European soccer on board on Saturday and not American football.  Probably would not have shown OU anyway as it’s on Fox this week, but to not show the ESPN or ABC broadcast games is wrong.  I could not get the televised game streaming probably not enough bandwidth and it was cloudy.  I was able to live stream both the Radio and Stat feeds.  That was pretty good considering OU was upset.  Disney Cruise Line has great college football Saturdays in their lounge, but Disney own ESPN and ABC and broadcast ALL the games. When the Captain made his final noon report he said it will be cloudy the rest of the day but the now Hurricane Nate is east of us heading towards NOLA and we are currently just south of Galveston.  He said we will go in a little early tomorrow morning docking about 6:30 am.  We did had a mix of rain and sun in the afternoon.  I had a very late light lunch and scored some more Raisin Oatmeal cookies.  Soon it was off to say farewell to friends made in the Diamond lounge and final Cosmopolitans for the cruise.  Final dinner tonight was good, I ordered the Conchiglioni Pasta (as a starter), Shrimp Gyoza (Japanese shrimp dumplings, bok choy, oyster mushrooms, shittake mushrooms, & ponzu sauce),   and the Grilled Pork Chop entree with Strawberry Kiwi Pavlova for dessert.  I retired after dinner to do some packing and watch some football.  It was a busy and great final day on the Liberty of the Seas.

Debarkation—Sunday—Galveston
Smooth seas overnight and we were docked well ahead of the Captain’s time stated yesterday.  Even though we were early, Customs opened later.  It was a mess.  Over an hour in line from ship to final US Customs.  At least we no longer need a Customs Declaration Form, just your ID.  I took the EZ Cruise shuttle to the car and I was on my way about 9:50 am. (Galveston Raceway gas price $2.25) and off the island about 10:00 am. I took I-45 to the Beltway, to 290, to Highway 6 to Bosque County.  Home at the ranch about 3:15 pm..

Cabin
I have cabin 6221 an interior cabin forward on deck six on starboard side.  The room is a standard size interior with: key pad safe, hair dryer, refrigerator (empty), small couch, full chair at vanity/desk, nice sliding shower door, and good lighting. Another great feature was the flat screen TV that could be adjusted to view from anywhere in the room.  Very well designed.  The air conditioning & water pressure worked well, but I’m glad I brought my personal cabin fan for circulation.

Crew
Overall very good. My cabin steward Wilbort, from Nicaragua was very adequate I always had ice and clean cabin.  My MDR wait team, waiter Vasti from India and her assistant Joel from the Philippines, were very good.  The three bartenders in the Diamond Lounge were fantastic.

Food
My assigned 8:00 pm dining room was the Michelangelo Dining Room, deck four the mid level of the 3 level restaurant. Only one very nice couple and myself for the week.  The bread and appetizers were good, the entrees were from fair to very good depending on item.  The Windjammer is the buffet  area and the quality of food was good.   Room service now charges a fee for cabin delivery other than continental breakfast.  Johnny Rockets Soda Shop is a good alternative for lunch or afternoon snack…not near as good as Carnivals free Guy’s Burgers. Lunch in the Sapphire Dining Room has the same menu each day with one special item that does change daily. I believe breakfasts were the best meals.  There are several ice crème and yogurt machines on Lido deck.  The Cookies on this ship are outstanding my favorite was Oatmeal raisin.

Highlights of the Cruise
Diamond Lounge and Friends in Diamond Lounge
Ice Show
Fresh red snapper lunch in Coxen Hole Honduras


Thank you for reading.  As an older/experienced cruiser my activities will be much different from a newer cruiser as I will be doing fewer things on board simply because of the 'been there done that' factor. There is a variety of Activities, Shows, and Entertainment on board ship, but frankly I don't have the energy as I once did...Priorities do change over time. I do still love to cruise!!




Friday, September 1, 2017

Mariner of the Seas - Asia Repositioning Cruise

 Mariner of the Seas - Asia Repositioning Cruise
September 1, 2017

Just the Facts:
Ship: Royal Caribbean Mariner of the Seas
Captain: Claus Anderson
Cruise Director:  Ken
Ports:    Shanghai China - Okinawa Japan - Hong Kong, China - Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam - Singapore, Malaysia

This is my 22nd Royal Caribbean cruise, the third time to sail the Mariner of the Seas, and 130th cruise overall.  I am cruising as a solo.  I have never cruised in Asian waters so this a unique cruise for me and I am looking forward to the experience.

Tuesday-Wednesday / Travel / August 29-30, 2017

Pudong area of Shanghai - largest city in the world
I left the ranch at a very early 3:15 am for the Waco Airport and my 4:50 am boarding time on the commuter plane to DFW.  We had some problems and were delayed but I was in plenty of time for my 10:30 am fifteen hour direct flight from DFW to Shanghai China.  American Airlines is using a nice new Boeing 787 aircraft on this route.  Surviving a long flight is getting harder for me to do, but they had an updated entertainment system and wifi available.  First inflight meal was Chinese food complete with chopsticks so the new Asia experience begins right away.  As tired as I was I really couldn’t sleep on the flight although I tried. After three movies, wifi time, and 15 hours of flight we finally landed in Shanghai.  I did the 144 hour Visa that allows you 144 hours of transit in country.  No fee but pretty detailed paperwork requested (hotel, proof of ticket/transport leaving country, etc.).  There were several Mariner passengers on my flight and the airport gave us the wrong immigration forms, but soon all were on their way I assume…I got through among the first processed.  Once through immigration you then collect your bags and your finished.  As a solo I intended to get a taxi share, but made a fair deal with driving service ($52) for private transport for the 45 minute drive to the city center.  I arrived at the Shanghai Marriott City Center about 5:00 pm and checked in strait away.  It felt very good to get an opportunity to relax for the first time what seemed days.  I have a very nice room and took advantage.  After a quick walk around the immediate area, booking a tour, and a nice beer…I cleaned up and finally hit the bed for a much needed sleep.

Thursday / Shanghai China / August 31st / Day 0
My friend at Confucius Temple
I was up early and went to breakfast in the International Bistro where they have an amazing buffet style breakfast with many serving stations.  I wasn't brave enough to do the noodle station that was popular with locals and had wonderful made to order eggs from the egg station, bacon, ham, roasted pumpkin, and more.  Fresh fruits and juices were very nice.  Sweet breads, rolls, and toast were good too.  Interesting discovery that neither Facebook nor the Google sites work in China.  Firewall.  Yes still a Communist country.  I was in the lobby at 9:00 am and met my tour for the day.  Only six in the group in van and all were very nice people, 4 of 6 on the Mariner cruise tomorrow.  Our first stop was Yuyuan Gardens…they were very interesting and I enjoyed them much more than I thought I would.  I guess I was expecting flowers or something similar, but these were five centuries old Chinese tranquil gardens with water, trees, reflection locations, and old temples and buildings.  The gardens themselves and the entire Yuyuan bazaar and Concession area is built in the style of traditional Chinese architecture.  Yes for the first time I feel I am really in China.  Next stop is the Confucius Temple first established during the classic Yuan Dynasty and popular Shanghai location due to the worldwide popularity of the ancient Chinese philosopher.  Next stop was at the Bund,  the colonial-era promenade along the Huangpu River. Very stunning views of old and new Shanghai, including buildings such as the Bund's Old Customs House and iconic skyscrapers like the Oriental Pearl TV Tower, Shanghai Financial Tower, Jinmao Tower, and Shanghai Tower.  Amazing area especially in the evening.  After a visit to a Jade shop at the Bund we then had lunch in a local Chinese restaurant and were served family style sampling seven dishes.  It was very interesting, the lazy-susan in center of the table made it easy to share the variety of dishes. The next site was the Jade Buddha Temple, a sacred 19th-century structure built during the Qing Dynasty.  They have numerous golden Buddha shrines but famous for its two exquisite Jade Buddha statues from Myanmar.  There were many Buddhist monks about at this site and areas were you light incense or send money to your ancestors in another life by burning paper money.  Very different and interesting to learn about  Buddhist culture.  I also took a break here and had my first bottle of Chinese Coca-Cola…very good (only .75).  We then drove through the People’s Square, a garden-like square and the French Concession District, once the center of colonial life and now a hip area on our way to the Silk Museum.  At the silk museum we saw live silk worms eating Mulberry and learned about how they make silk during their short life span. It was very educational.  We had a short break at a coffee shop, where I had a proper Diet Coke with ice, before being returned to our hotels.  I was back at the Marriott about 5:00 pm.  After refreshing I considered a return to the Bund for a river cruise to see the city lights, but decided on an easy evening.  I had dinner at one of several restaurants in the hotel: the Man Ho Chinese Restaurant.  I ordered three dishes (I learned that today): A nice Scallop specialty, Sweet & sour pork, and Vegetables in soup.  It was a nice relaxing dinner.  After reviewing the news about the floods back home in Texas on TV I retired early.  It was a great day in Shanghai.

Friday / Shanghai China / Embarkation / September 1st / Day 1

Communist Party Monument in Peoples Square
I slept well, but was up early although I did get 8 hours (8pm-4:00am) sleep.  I updated my review (although I can not upload it) and communicated with home since it was afternoon there.  I packed then I went for another very nice buffet breakfast in the International Bistro about 7:30 am and it was already busy.  About 8:30 I took a walk to Peoples Square just a few blocks from the hotel.  This was the former location of the Shanghai Race track, but when the Communists took control in 1949 they closed the track and built some governmental buildings and a very nice urban park area in it’s place.  Also the location of a new modern theater, an underground transportation hub, and the famous Shanghai Museum.  It is now considered the center of Shanghai…now the largest city in the world.  About 11:30 am I checked out of the hotel applying all the Chinese Yuan (money) I had only saving enough for the taxi (104Y or $16) to the port.  I enjoyed the hotel and service very much.  The taxi to the cruise pier took about 40 minutes so arrival time was good just behind the initial rush.  There was multiple security checks and visa inspections including examining passports twice.  I have never shown my documents and ID so many times in my years traveling. Some was government repetition, some ship security, but I was always moving along from station to station. Last stop is final Chinese immigration were you give them a card you received at entry.  Then walk on to the ship.  About a 45 minute process using the VIP lanes.  I proceeded to my cabin to drop my carry-on bag and backpack, but ended up resting for a while before heading up to the Windjammer for lunch.  I then began setting up and customizing my cabin for the cruise.  I love the location as I have a aft corner balcony on deck 8.  It’s a bit of a walk to the elevators but the balcony makes up for that inconvenience.  I went to boat drill and sat with the folks who couldn’t stand on outer decks…they do not have readers to take or verify attendance as most do now.  Due to heavy river traffic sail away is delayed until 7:30 tonight so a change of plans from my private balcony sail away party with the complementary beers delivered to my cabin as a D+ benefit.  I was heading for cocktail at the Diamond lounge but popped into the Concierges Lounge on deck nine first, my thinking was I could get a proper Cosmopolitan.  Yes they were pretty much serving proper and custom cocktails, not just from the Happy Hour list.  I met interesting guests so a happy time until 8:00 pm dinner.  I’m at a 6-top table with three other solo cruisers in the Top Hat & Tails dining room (MDR) and it seems like a good fit.  Dinner was much better than the lunch today.  I ordered Escargots Bourguignonne; the Strawberry, Kiwi, and Pineapple Medley; and the Mojo-Marinated Grilled Pork Chop entree.  For dessert a Carrot Cake and Vanilla ice creme.  Service was a bit off, not bad, just different.  The head waiter admitted that previous cruises had been all Chinese guests and this cruise was the first International guests for a large number of the wait staff.  Our table waiters were both Chinese and probably among those he referenced.  Very nice and accommodating but had to ask for bread, accompaniments, ice in tea, etc.  It was an enjoyable meal though and I soon retired to the cabin for needed sleep.  A nice first day on the Mariner of the Seas.

Saturday / Day at Sea / September 2nd / Day 2
Very calm seas as we sailed down the Yangtze River last night, but it was rocking once we reached the East China Sea in the morning hours.  Captain says some influence of a typhoon out to sea.  I went to the MDR for a very enjoyable breakfast early then spent the rest of the day updating this review and spending time on the balcony.  Nice chairs and large table on balcony so I can work on the computer or have a drink or meal out there enjoying the sea air and view.  Note photo that there always a combination of sea and shade so perfect.  I did eat lunch in the Windjammer but brought dessert back to eat.  I got some Chinese Coca-Cola Light and watched the sun set from the balcony too.  Very nice.  It was now time for cocktails in the Concierges Lounge  and thy have been very nice.  The feature show in the theater tonight was Gallery of Dreams as well as other entertainment throughout the ship including the Captain's champagne toast just before dinner.  Same four guests at dinner tonight and the servers did a much better job serving tonight including bread and tea readily available.  For dinner I ordered the Bay Scallop Gratin, Royal Shrimp Cocktail, and the Carved Filet of Beef Tenderloin.  All were very good.  After dinner I retired to rest before an early meet time for a private excursion tomorrow.  It was a nice first sea day on the Mariner of the Seas.

Sunday  /  Okinawa, Japan  /  September 3rd / Day 3
Shuri Castle Throne Room
Choppy seas until we neared Okinawa.  I woke very early so I ‘live’ streamed the University of Oklahoma’s opening football game that began at 4:30 am local time.  I was able to watch most of the entire first half of the game.  Excellent win for the Sooners and pleased I could watch from the South China Sea. I had early room service breakfast as I needed to meet my excursion group at 6:50 am. We have 20 in the group organized by a nice Aussie and we were among the first off the ship.  Our bus was late arriving, but we finally got away to our first stop the Japanese Navy Underground Headquarters.  Here there is a museum and a series of tunnels that was used during the Battle of Okinawa.  Very interesting exhibit and the unique thing is that my uncle Bill was here during the battle.  Same uncle who got the bridge tour on the Voyager of the Seas a few years ago when he began to open up about his Navy WW2 service (radar man on bridge). I took a photo of the American fleet display and will pass along several photos to him as we are lucky enough to still have him at the age of 97.  Here the tour operator exchanged buses so we now have a larger and nicer bus.  Next stop was the Shikinaen Garden but the heat of the day made the walk around more difficult for many.  Not impressed with the Gardens but I did get a Coca-cola from vending machine. The next stop is the featured historical and tourist site on the island with a world heritage designation: Shurijo CastleShuri Castle is a Ryukyuan gusuku and between 1429 and 1879, it was the palace of the Ryukyu Kingdom.  I visited the exhibits, displays, and impressive throne room.  There was a lot of walking but I enjoyed my visit here.  Final stop was the Okinawa Prefectural Museum, a modern art gallery and exhibit hall, I actually spent most of our hour time in the tea room enjoying a Orion beer.  I may note that there are few buildings in Naha that predate 1945.  The bus dropped us off in the Tsuboya district at Kokusai Street for shopping or eating.  I did find Lucky’s, a small restaurant that features one of Okinawa’s new unique dishes: Okinawa Tacos and Tacorice.  I ordered three tacos customized with avocado and lime (like home) and a nice cold Orion beer. Excellent…best part of the day by far.  We were back at the ship between 3:30 and our 4:00 pm sail away.  It was shower and rest once on board.  I almost skipped going to dinner, but another wake up shower, and I was off to find my new regular friends at the Concierges Lounge.  We had two new guests join us for dinner and it was lively.  Tonight I ordered the Gourmet Meatballs, Jalapeno Potato Soup, BLT Salad, and the Grilled NY Strip Steak.  It was a good dinner.  The feature show in the theater was vocalist Conner Bogart, but I retired by 10:30 to the cabin.  It was a most interesting day in Okinawa and the Mariner of the Seas.

Monday / Day at Sea / September 4th / Day 4
Smoother seas overnight and I slept very well although still waking early.  I did some internet work and went out on the balcony as we sailed so very close to the northern tip of Taiwan about 7:30 am.  Then it was to the MDR for a nice proper breakfast, this morning I had Eggs Benedict.  I attended the Cruise Critic meet & greet at 10:00 and won a water bottle and highlighter in the raffle.  I enjoyed two very nice hot teas as I have a bit of a sore throat this morning.  I’m going for an alcohol free day today and I did bring my Mexican antibiotics.  So the plan is just rest today.  A bit warm and humid on the balcony today so...I went up to the Windjammer for some lunch and once I returned I watched a show on Netflix then closed my eyes for a nap about 3:30 pm.  I didn’t wake until 3:30 am so a very looooooong restful nap.  It was a successful rest & recovery day on the Mariner of the Seas.

Tuesday / Hong Kong / September 5th / Day 5
Fantastic views of Hong Kong from Victoria Peak
Smooth seas overnight and I was up very early and hungry.  I went up to the Windjammer about 7:00 am for the first time. They have a wide variety of breakfast selections.  I had a small amount of various items including: steak & eggs, bacon, Canadian bacon, ham, fruit, and more.  Then prepare for the day and watch us sail into Hong Kong harbor from the balcony.  It is a cloudy and humid day.  We have a later arrival time of 10:00 am and are docking next to my one of my favorite ships: the Voyager of the Seas.  I booked a Highlights Tour with a private group so we only had 9 guests and a nice bus for the day.  We were off about 11:00 am and after passing through the Cross Harbor Tunnel from Kowloon to Hong Kong island we were on our way to our first stop, a Sampan ride in Aberdeen Harbor, the harbor used to be a fishing village, but now the location of floating city and huge floating restaurant.  Next was the obligatory stop in the Jade & Pearl market area, but a good place for a ‘happy room’ (WC) visit.  We then drove to the Stanley Market area passing through the more exclusive areas a bit removed from the city bustle.  Originally just a small market for the British residents it has become a large open-air market, but I made my way to the waterfront that has a variety of restaurants and I really enjoyed Cali-Mex where I had Tacos then a very nice beer.  We passed the lovely Repulse Bay and saw the beaches, exclusive clubs, and residences on our way to Victoria Peak.  This was my favorite site and most popular for most visitors to Hong Kong.  Victoria Peak offers wonderful viewing areas of the numerous skyscrapers of the city of Hong Kong and harbors.  A not to be missed site on a tour of Hong Kong.  We took the Peak Tram, a funicular rail, down the mountain and that was an experience as well. We met our bus then passing though the prime financial district of Hong Kong on our way to the harbor where we took the Star Ferry back to Kowloon.  This was a short, but very nice ferry ride between the two parts of the city with great views of the harbor and huge high rise towers.  Walking to the bus we visit the Clock Tower and see the Cultural Center, Time Ball Tower, and historic Peninsula Hotel. Final stop of the day is the Ladies Market a series of stalls along a narrow alleyway with a variety of goods for sale.  I spent my time watching the locals in the park.  With apartments so small children need a place to play so most neighborhoods have small communal parks.  We were delivered back to the ship about 6:40 pm.  It was a great tour with good people and hit the sites I wanted to see... so a great touring day in Hong Kong.  I had enough rest yesterday that I felt good and prepared for dinner strait away even having time for two Cosmopolitans in the Concierges Lounge.  We had five at dinner tonight, including our Scottish friend who joined the cruise in Okinawa.  Our waiters have improved each night and are now wonderful.  Tonight I ordered: the Pasta Carbonara as a starter, Boston Lettuce Salad, and the Baked Sea Bass entree.  The service was better than the food tonight.  They had a special MoTown performance in the theater, but I retired early.  It was a wonderful busy day in Hong Kong.

Wednesday / Day at Sea / September 6th / Day 6
Ice Under the Big Top
Smooth seas overnight and I had a nice sleep but woke very early…as seems to be the norm this trip.  We turned our clock back again so this is our third time zone, Indochina time, on this cruise and 12 hours off Texas time.  I stayed up and updated this review then went to breakfast in the MDR at 7:30 am.  They served huevos rancheros, but nothing like we would serve in Texas.  I had ordered pancakes as a reserve so a good breakfast.  I attended a short Bridge tour at 10:30 am that was for D+ guests, but I have had an extensive bridge tour, as mentioned previously, on the Voyager and it is basically the same bridge and equipment on both ships.  I went to the Windjammer for lunch then to the studio for the afternoon ice show: Ice Under the Big Top.  It was a very good show and the ice show is not to be missed if sailing on any Royal Caribbean ship.  I went to the Concierges Lounge when it opened at 4:30 to exchange the beer in my cabin for Coca-cola and actually had a wee snack as well sense the appetizers and h'orderves all looked so nice.  Once back at my cabin I decided to ‘take the night off’ and skip the C&A party and dinner especially since it's formal night. I had snacks, cokes, candy, cookies, and a selection of movies from Netflix.  Very relaxing evening and the sunset was nice as well. An advantage of all my cruise experience is that I do not have to do anything and not feel as though I am missing something on a cruise. (make sense?) It was a great relaxing sea day on the Mariner of the Seas.

Thursday / Day at Sea / September 7th / Day 7
View from deck 10 elevator lobby
Smoothest seas so far overnight and I slept very well.  I was up early enough to update review and begin uploading photos then down to the MDR and breakfast at 7:30 am.  It was Chocolates on the specialty menu so I just had a nice basic Egg breakfast with bacon, sausage, toast, potatoes, fruit plate, and hot milk.  I have enjoyed the service in the MDR for breakfast.  I moved out on the balcony about 9:45 and enjoyed a coke and the sea breeze.  I received an invitation for lunch for the D+ guests at noon today.  Dining with an Officer it is called and held in the Top Hat & Tails Dining Room.  It was a very good lunch, I ordered the Seafood appetizer, the Filet of Beef Steak, and Fruit with Ice Creme for dessert.  Senior officers came by greeted the all the tables.  The afternoon on the balcony was fantastic…cool with the breeze and as clear as we have had so far this cruise.  One of the feature production shows was tonight in the theater:  Center Stage featuring the Mariner of the Seas production singers and dancers.  They also had a special Ice Skating show for Crown & Anchor members this afternoon.  I went to the Concierges Lounge for Cosmopolitans and visit with cruise friends.  Then to dinner in the MDR, I ordered the Minestrone Soup, Lasagna Al Forno (as a starter) and the Aged Manhattan Strip Steak as an entree.  I was also served an special order Chinese dish of Angle Pasta and vegetables.  One of my favorite dinners.  An early wake up tomorrow so I retired after dinner.  It was a very nice sea day on the mariner of the Seas.

Friday / Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam / September 8th / Day 8
City Hall & Ho Chi Minh statue
Again I ordered room service as a wake-up call as I meet a private tour group at 7:00 am.  It went very smooth and all in the group were off the ship among the first, but we had to do the long 10+ minute walk to the port gates to meet our tour.  The group of fifteen were on the nice bus and on our way to Ho Chi Minh City at 7:30 am.  It’s about an 80+ minute drive to the city but went quickly especially since the bus had wifi.  Our first stop was at the famous Rex Hotel located along one of the main squares at the City Hall. (photo right)  We went up to the rooftop bar for iced coffee (I had a nice Coca-Cola) and enjoy the view.  The City Hall was built by the French in 1902-1908 in the French Colonial Style and has a unique history.  Driving in the city one is amazed at the number of scooters and motorbikes…much more than seen in China.  We then drove through Cholon, HCMC’s Chinatown, passing the huge Binh Tay Market…guides are smart NOT to let tourist wander there.  We did stop at the Thien Hau Temple first built in 1760 to the goddess Mazu. The roof is decorated with small delicately fashioned porcelain figurines expressing themes from Chinese religion and legends (see my photo album).  I purchased incense to hang and burn in the alter area.  Very interesting temple and more personable than the large ones in Shanghai.  Next stop was for lunch at Pho 2000 known locally as the place President Clinton stopped for lunch.  Our guide was the guide for Chelsey that day.  Pho is a very traditional Vietnamese dish basically a noddle soup with vegetables and beef or chicken with spices.  They also serve spring rolls and choice of beer or soda.  A fast, easy, and very good lunch.  We then went across the street to the Ben Thanh Market a great spot for souvenirs, food, jewelry, crafts, and more. We then drove through the high end shopping areas, hotels, and restaurants to the War Remnants Museum located in the former United States Information Agency building.  The name was originally the Exhibition House for US and Puppet Crimes, but has been changed several times to the current name.  A large display of war ordinance and exhibits of the war are featured as well as propaganda.  We than drove to Reunification Palace passing along the way the former residences of both General William Westmoreland and Ambassador Henry Lodge during the war years.  The palace was built in the 1960’s on the site of the former French colonial palace and it surrounded by beautiful parks and grounds.  It is open as a museum but we only visited the grounds.  We stopped at a Lacquerware facility but only a happy room visit for me.  Last stops were the Notre Dame of Saigon and the Central Post Office located across the street from each other.  Both built by the French, the Cathedral from 1863-1880 and the Post Office between 1886-1891.  Beautiful architecture at each and both historic buildings in HCMC.  We were then off on our 90 minute drive back to the port but we stopped and the guide bought everyone a beer or soda midway back.  Of all the tours I have experienced in 130 cruises this one was in the top five if not the best.  Transportation, all the sites, all admissions, lunch with beer, coke at hotel, extra beer, and guiding services. Cost $36 US.  It was an excellent tour at a value price.  If you travel to Vietnam-contact Zoom Travel at dungzoom@gmail.com.  Upon arrival back at the ship and cleaning up I went up to the Diamond Lounge on deck 14 for the first time.  They had the usual Diamond guest set up and it was very nice.  I ate on deck 4 of the MDR with a friend this evening and it was nice company and a good meal. Didn’t seem to be as many at dinner probably due to a late sailing.  I ordered the Royal Seafood Salad, Three Cheese Tortelloni (as a starter), and the Slow-Roasted Prime Rib as an entree.  All very good this evening.  I retired after dinner.  It was a fantastic and busy day in Ho Chi Minh City today.

Saturday / Day at Sea / September 9th / Day 9
Balcony Time
Smooth Seas over night and best sleep of cruise, I actually slept until 8:00 am that was actually 9:00 am with the final time change…we are on Singapore time.  We are catching some weather this rainy morning and that helped the sleep.  I decided to skip breakfast and updated my review and actually watched part of the Oklahoma State football game live (Friday night broadcast).  I considered the steak house for the premium lunch special ($19) offered today, but went to the MDR for lunch at opening @ 11:30 am.  I had a wonderful salad that they make custom for you and ordered the Gnocchi and a Steak Sandwich.  With dessert it was a very filling lunch.  The weather cleared for the afternoon so I was able to wash and hang out my ‘excursion’ shirt. Fantastic short sleeved travel shirt that is ideal for summer travel. I did remember to pick up my passport about 4:00 pm then I went to the Concierges Lounge for Snacks and Coca-cola at 4:30 and took them to my balcony for a great afternoon treat.  Perfect weather to sit on the balcony on this last afternoon of sailing…perhaps one of the best balcony days in a long while…not even the call of free cocktails motivated me to move.  I did go to the Concierges Lounge once dark for a cocktail and say farewell to the regulars…then to dinner.  For I ordered the Broiled Sea Scallops (2), French Onion Soup, and the NY Strip Steak from the everyday menu.  Key Lime Pie and Apple Strudel for dessert.  The Scallops and Key Lime Pie were good, the rest just so so.  After dinner farewells I retired to the cabin to pack.  I have decided to do the self debarkation so I will take my bags as I leave the ship in the morning.  It was a very nice final day on the Mariner of the Seas.

Sunday / Singapore / Debarkation / September 10th
MerLion in Singapore
I was up early, finished packing, then went down at 6:30 am for a nice final breakfast in the MDR.  I was able to watch most of the first half of the Oklahoma vs. Ohio State football game too. I did do self debarkation so went down to deck four about 8:15 am and was off the ship in about 30 minutes.  I took a private car (S$58) to the Historic Fullerton Hotel as it was the faster and easier thing to do.  The great news was that I was able to check in and get a room strait away.  I did book a ‘Heritage Room’ so that may have helped.  Wonderful huge room with a balcony on the river.  Great internet too, but unfortunately I was unable to stream the rest of the football game live due to U.S. copyright and I’m using foreign internet server.  I was able to follow in real time on Game Tracker and it was exciting for OU fans.  After the game about 11:00 am I went for a walk among the historical sites in the vicinity of the Fullerton Hotel (originally the Post Office) including the Old Parliament House, Victoria Theater and Concert Hall, and national Gallery (former City Hall & Supreme Court).  Most were built in the 1920’s by British interests. Singapore has too seasons: Hot season and rainy & hot season with an average humidity of 90-95%…steamy.  Also true about being strict about smoking & chewing gum…no gum sold in Singapore. I booked an after noon tour through TourEast and was picked up about 1:45 for a 2:00 pm tour. It was a type of orientation tour Singapore.  We met in Chinatown and our first stop was at the Merlion, half lion and half sea serpent…the symbol of Singapore.  Next stop was at the Thian Hock Keng Chinese Temple a very interesting Temple with shrines to Mazu and Confucius.  Next stop was an hour at the UNESCO National Botanical Gardens an old (1859) and historic Garden dating back to the development of the rubber trade.  I had a nice sandwich while there.  Next stop was Little India and it being a Sunday it was packed.  Mostly men as they work as laborers and come to Indian market on Sundays.  Fruits stands, groceries, barbershops, and restaurants, doing booming business. To be honest that’s as close to Indian as I want to experience.  I was returned to the hotel by 5:30 and cleaned up for the evening. I did an evening cruise on the river and harbor…amazing views of skyscrapers and area from the water.  I then went down to Boat Quay where individual merchants used to have their business…all now quaint restaurants and bars along the river.  I went to a place called Harry’s Bar for a Kronenbourg 1664.  The bartender spend five years as a bartender on cruise ships and made me a nice Singapore Sling.  Small world.  I returned to the beautiful Fullerton Hotel for the rest of the evening and rest.  While I was showering, the maid came in for turn down service:  mat on floor with slippers, water bottle and glass on bed table, TV remote in holder by bed, and a little bear with orchid on pillow.  Sweet.  A very educational day in Singapore.

Monday / Travel / September 11th
I was up at 5:00 am and met my driver at 6:00 am for the trip to Singapore airport.  I like the early flights as customs and immigration was very easy with fewer people.  I was boarding my 4 hour Hong Kong flight by 7:40 am without a problem.  My first time to fly on Cathy Pacific a very nice airline.  Hong Kong airport was a smooth transit as well and I boarded my 14 hour American Airlines flight to DFW about 2:00 pm.  After several movies, three meals, and a very sore bottom we arrived in Dallas/Fort Worth about 4:30 pm still on Monday with the 12 time zone change.  My Waco flight is at 5:35 so it will be very tight.  I had to retrieve our bags, go through customs, recheck bags, go through security again, then terminal change to catch the flight.  I made it…everyone was boarded and I was last on the airplane but I made it and arrived in Waco by 6:30 pm.  Unfortunately one bag did not make it to Waco from DFW.  Nineteen air hours and about 24+ hours in travel time, but overall very pleased with the long travel day.

Cabins - Crew
I had cabin 8690 an aft facing balcony cabin located on deck 8 on port side corner.  No aft elevators on Voyager class ships so a hike to the mid elevators, but the great aft view from the balcony makes this cabin worthwhile. Typical Royal Caribbean room plan. It’s fine for two people, spacious for one with small couch, button type safe, two electrical outlets on counter/dresser, Telephone on side table, Chair at Dresser, Hair dryer in drawer, and a small flat screen TV.  There is an empty refrigerator and as a D+ guest I had Cookies and four Heineken beers on embarkation. The bed and bedding were great. Good shower pressure and water temperature too. The ships crew I encountered were very friendly. My cabin steward was great, the cabin was always clean. The cabin came with a kettle that I’m sure the British and apparently Chinese appreciate.  I actually asked to have it removed for more space.

Dining / Food / Bars
I thought the Windjammer on Lido deck was only average and not as good as I have experienced in the past. The MDR food and service became better as the cruise progressed.  LOVED the Concierges Lounge and Diamond lounge.  Room service charges ($7.95) now for anything beyond a continental breakfast…too much for a solo traveler.

General
IMHO I don’t think the overall quality standards on this ship are up to usual Royal Caribbean standards.  Perhaps because it was based in China? I know they were transitioning to International guests with menus, signage, and more.  Hopefully a dry dock scheduled for her soon.  That said I really enjoyed this cruise very much...primarily due to the ports and something NEW and different for this old cruiser.

HiGHLIGHTS OF THE CRUISE

Ho Chi Minh City private tour
Experience of Shanghai (hotel, the City, tour, food)
Mariner of the Seas Concierges Lounge
Hong Kong and private tour
Fullerton Hotel in Singapore
Balcony Time




 ~~~  click photos to enlarge  /  click links for more information  ~~~


Monday, June 5, 2017

Europe 2017 Post-Cruise Review

Throne Room - Rosenborg Castle - Copenhagen Denmark

Europe Post Cruise Review - June 2017
Copenhagen Denmark & Brugge Belgium


Friday / Copenhagen Denmark / June 2nd  / Debarkation

The Little Mermaid - Copenhagen
Debarkation from the Regal Princess was very smooth and we were at our hotel The AC Bella Sky by 10:00 am.  The hotel is a full service modern unique styled high-rise hotel located outside the old town area and decorated in Danish Modern design. Due to a Festival this weekend there were few rooms available near the old town. Our rooms were not available when we arrived so we checked our bags, bought a Copenhagen Card, and were off to the Metro Station just a short walk from the hotel.  We were in downtown Copenhagen about 10:30 am.  We walked over to the Nyhavn originally a busy commercial port where ships from all over the world would dock. The area was historically packed with sailors, ladies of pleasure, pubs and alehouses. Today the beautiful old houses have been renovated and classy restaurants dominate the old port. No. 9, Nyhavn, is the oldest house in the area dating back to 1681. The design of the house has not been altered since that time. The famous Danish fairytale writer, Hans Christian Andersen, used to live in no. 20. This is where he wrote the fairy-tales 'The Tinderbox', 'Little Claus and Big Claus', and 'The Princess and the Pea'. He also lived twenty years in no. 67 and two years in no. 18.  We had sit down and enjoyed a beer and a coke to make plans for the day.  Since the location and timing was right to witness the Changing of the Royal Guard at noon we walked over to Amalienborg Palace…a must for anyone with a taste for royal history and the life of Denmark’s royal family who still resides inside the palace.  After we watched the changing of the guard we made the long walk to see The Little Mermaid.  Unveiled on 23 August 1913, The sculpture is made of bronze and granite and was inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale about a mermaid who gives up everything to be united with a young, handsome prince on land.  A very busy site with tourists, but as we’re on our own we can stay and travel at our own pace.  We returned to Amalienborg Palace to visit the Museum with nice displays of the Royal Family.  We then returned to the Nyhavn for lunch at Nyhavns Færgekro located at No. 5 along the docks.  I had the Danish Smorgasbord platter with Salmon, Herring, Roast Beef, Chicken Salad, Shrimp, and more.  It was very good.  We then walked over to Gammel Strand were we took a Grand Canal Tour on an open top canal boat.  We saw: The Opera, Amalienborg palace, The Old Stock Exchange, Christianshavn, Our Saviours Church, The Sixtus Battery, The Black Diamond library, and of course, the Little Mermaid from the waterside. Plus some very interesting neighborhoods on the hour long tour.  After the tour we walked over to the Strøget: Copenhagen's largest shopping area centered in the heart of the city. Strøget is one of Europe's longest pedestrian streets with a wealth of shops.  From here we returned to the Metro Station for the ride to Bella Station and our hotel.  We then got our room and bags and retired for some much needed rest.  A great day in Copenhagen.


Saturday / Copenhagen Denmark / June 3rd  / Post Cruise Day 2

Tivoli Gardens entry
Our hotel room is interesting, DW says it’s like a prison cell, not really that bad, it is basic but has all the amenities.  We walked to the Metro and were soon in Copenhagen eating a Danish (Spandauer) at Taffel Bay.  Our first visit was to Rosenborg Castle featuring 400 years of splendor, royal art treasures and the Danish Crown Jewels and Royal Regalia. Rosenborg Castle was built by one of the most famous Scandinavian kings, Christian IV, in the early 17th century. Among the main attractions is the Knights’ Hall with the coronation thrones and three life-size silver lions standing guard. Tapestries on the walls commemorate battles between Denmark and Sweden. The interiors are well-preserved and all original.  The crowns of the Danish kings and queens are kept in special vaults and are embellished with table-cut stones, enamel and gold ornamentation. We sat on a bench in the lovely park before heading towards the 17th century Round Tower and joined the Strøget as mentioned yesterday one of Europe's longest pedestrian streets with a wealth of shops, from budget-friendly chains to some of the world's most expensive brands. The stretch is 1.1 kilometers long and runs from City Hall Square (Rådhuspladsen) to Kongens Nytorv.  We were certainly entertained as there was a parade on the Strøget featuring countries from South America doing local dances as the parade…pretty much as they do during Festival in Latin America.  We finally made our way to Christiansborg Palace, located on the tiny island of Slotsholmen, and contains the Danish Parliament (Folketinget), the Supreme Court, and the Ministry of State.  We toured the part of the palace used by the Royal Family for various functions and events. The Royal Reception Rooms include The Tower Room and The Oval Throne Room where foreign ambassadors to Denmark are received by the Queen. The Throne Room gives access to the balcony where the Danish monarchs are proclaimed. The Great Hall is the most imposing room in the palace. This is where you will find the Queen's tapestries (contemporary pieces featuring Danish history).  We wanted to end the day at Tivoli Gardens amusement park in Copenhagen…a must for all visitors. Tivoli Gardens was founded in 1843 and has become a national treasure and an international attraction. Fairy tale writer Hans Christian Andersen visited many times, as did Walt Disney and many other celebrities, who all fell in love with the gardens. First we enjoyed a nice meal at Grøften, a restaurant with a long 131-year tradition and one of Tivoli's oldest and most venerable establishments.  We walked the park taking in all the interesting and unique sites and amusements.  We had ice creme cones from the century old Vaffelbageriet, rated as one of the ten best ice creme parlors in the world by National Geographic Traveller (and others).  I tried a licorice flavor since that is very Danish and a scoop of berry (including Ligonberry)…the berry was best.  We treated ourselves to a taxi back to the hotel as I was ‘walked-out’ by this time.  We enjoyed a few cocktails in the SkyClub on the 23rd floor of the hotel and enjoyed the views of the Copenhagen area and Baltic Sea.  It was a great day of site-seeing in Copenhagen.

Sunday / Travel / Brugge, Belgum / June 4th / Post Cruise Day 3

Madonna of Brugge
We have a 5:25am boarding time for our flight so we were up about 3:00 am and in lobby by 4:00 for our taxi to the airport.  Being that early checking our bag and security was fairly easy and soon we were eating a Danish at the famous Copenhagen bakery Lagkagehuset's airport location when it opened at 4:30 am.  Yes fresh!  Soon we were on our hour and a half hour flight to Amsterdam and no passport control this time at Schiphol and our short connection flight to Brussels was easy.  We arranged for a car service transfer to Brugge and after retrieving our luggage the driver was at the meeting location at the designated time with my name on his iPhone and easy to find.  His car was parked very close and we were off to Brugge arriving at 11:30 am.  We are staying at the Navarra Hotel...this charming hotel is in a 1600’s era building and only a 5-minute walk from the town center Markt. Our rooms were not ready so we took a walk to the main square then to Cambrinus my favorite establishment from our previous trip for a light lunch and first two Belgium beers including a Tripel Karmeliet, one of my favorite beers from last trip. Then we went to see Michelangelo's "Madonna of Brugge". Yes the one from the movie 'Monuments Men'.  This 500 year old piece looks beautiful and is the obvious pride of Brugge.  We have already had a long day so we returned to the hotel to check-in and rest.  DW hit the bed immediately and I unpacked and settled in while setting up internet.  Then a nap and rest.  DW was done for the day but I went out for a walk around town.  It is much nicer once half the tourists have left town, Brugge is primarily a day-trip place for tourists staying in Brussels or Amsterdam, on bus tours, or on cruise ships docked in Zeebrugge.   I too retired early after a long long day.

Monday  / Brugge, Belgum / June 5th / Post Cruise Day 4
Our view from breakfast table this morning
The sun does not rise as early here as in Scandinavia so we slept very well.  We did get out about 8:30am in order to take photographs before tourists arrive.  Got some good photos from the most popular locations.  We then had breakfast on Markt Square awaiting the opening of the 12th century Basilica of the Holy Blood at 10:00 am.. The Basilica and museum were both beautiful and historical and we learned that the iconic Relic of the Holy Blood itself would be displayed from 11:30am-noon today so we returned for that.  An amazing experience.  Between the two visits we took a nice boat ride along the canals in Brugge.  You can get a good perspective and really see the 14th-15th-16th-17th century buildings and homes built along the canals that had access to the sea at that time.  Brugge was such an important and rich merchant city at that time and to be able to have such an important Christian Relic, the dominating and towering Belfry of Brugge, and the first Michelangelo outside of Italy shows it’s dominance during that period.  We are lucky that so much has been preserved for us today.  We stopped at a grocery and had a midday break at the hotel.  We had a afternoon walk and visited some of the lesser known areas of the old town.  There are fewer tourists in the city today than yesterday so that has helped.  We had drinks in the nice Hotel Garden then went to dinner at a new hot restaurant called Bones.  There were as many more locals than tourists as it’s new to Brugge and the concept is: Ribs.  Yes a rib joint in Belgium.  They did have a bottle of Texas BBQ sauce on each table as well as a large bottle of Merlot wine.  DW ordered a Large Salad with Goat Cheese and I had a full rack the Sweet Ribs served with Slaw and Baked Potato.   When I finished that they brought me a full rack of the Spicy Ribs. It's 'all you can eat'.  The recommended beer, Tongerlo blond, was also very good.  It was a great meal and a touch of home although certainly with a Belgium style.  We went to a gelato shop (Fred's) for dessert and ate our cones on the Markt Square enjoying the view and people watching.  Just a short walk back to the hotel to retire for the evening.  Another great day in Brugge.

Tuesday  / Bruge, Belgum / June 6th / Post Cruise Day 5
Rozenhoedkall
We had rain overnight and we slept very well.  Light rain off and on in early morning so we adjusted our plans for the day and walked over to the Jan Van Eyck for breakfast.  We had spotted this pretty place on our walk yesterday.  We ate inside and had wonderful omelettes, bread, coca cola, and hot milk. Great breakfast and huge omelettes. We walked down to Burg Square and visited the beautiful City Hall Museum and Chambers…they were very interesting.  We picked up some gifts at one of the many chocolate shoppes in town and stopped at a local market for some snacks then returned to the hotel for the afternoon since it’s chilly & very breezy today.  We have seen most of the major tourist or historical sites so we are good having some down time updating this review and since we are just across the English Channel from Great Britain we are getting numerous English speaking stations on television.  The weather improved in the evening and we went on a walk and enjoyed some of the residential areas and canals near our hotel location.  We also did the local ‘fast food’ thing and had Belgium Fries at a local frites location.  BTW-they have a Frite Museum here in Brugge based just on the local delicacy.  I had another nice beer in the hotel bar: Westmalle Trappist Triple before turning in for the evening.

Wednesday  / Bruge, Belgum / June 7th / Post Cruise Day 6
Chateau of Loppem
We slept well and the weather is still breezy but not as chilly this morning.  We have a tour of Flanders today scheduled with Quasimodo Tours and they picked us up at the hotel about 9:00 am.  We only had one other couple from Australia with us on the tour so the van was quite comfortable.  Our tour was through the beautiful countryside and we passed through several villages including the beautiful Village of Lissewege, drives along the numerous canals including the Stinker and Blinker, and numerous sites.  First stop was at the moated Castle of Tilleghem, then we went to the very historic Chateau of Loppem with it’s collection of art and historic artifacts.  Lunch was next at the original location of the former site of the Monastery Ter Most.  The monastery was destroyed long ago during the 16th century, but the most amazing thing was the huge surviving tithe Barn originally built in 1220 and the oldest Gothic building in Belgium.  This was a huge wooden/stone barn that has survived and is stilled used today.  We drove to old Flemish community of Damme and saw the Shellemolen Damme windmill, the old medieval town square, and the old Cathedral.  Our final stop was at the Fort Lapin Brewery where we sampled Belgium beers and our guide gave us Belgium chocolates.  It was a great day in the Flanders countryside and we were dropped off at our hotel about 5:15 pm.   It was Jazz night at our hotel with live music at the bar, but we didn’t stay long as I wanted to visit Le Trappiste a 4.9 rated bar (highest I have seen), where they have a very wide selection of beers at a fair price.  It’s located in a medieval era cellar and even had a beer that DW enjoyed: a peach flavored beer.  I had the Triple Karmellite beer.  For dinner we decided to return to Bones as it was on the way back to he hotel and easy.  Again a very good meal.  We did some pre-packing and settled after a long final day in Brugge and Flanders.

Thursday  / Travel / June 8th / Post Cruise Day 7
Brussels Atomium
We were up early to finish packing and meet out driver to the Brussels airport at 6:30am. We had a new driver and he was late arriving (7:00) but we were finally off…it went well but there was huge traffic on the airport road as we approached Brussels so he went to the outer loop and it was also bad.  He began a cross city and neighborhood route that was even worse IMHO.  We were in 8:00ish city traffic that included local commuters, delivery vans, school buses, pedestrians, and we even had to follow a bike for a while.  It made me anxious as we were already behind schedule.  We did drive by the Atomium and the Japanese Garden Tower before finally arriving at the airport.  We again wondered why the driver drove through the parking garage and not the drop off area, but it did turn out to be the easiest way to enter since the airport was under heightened security with military and police at the entries.  It was now 9:00 am but Delta had ample staff at baggage check-in as well as a pre-security check.  We then went through regular security followed by passport control.  It went smoothly…100% better than Amsterdam.  We made it to the gate where they were already boarding our flight where we had one more security check and finally our boarding check.  Fortunately the flight was only half full so we were able to each get two seats and soon we were off at the scheduled 10:25 time.  Again the entertainment system did not work on this flight, but you could use your iPhone to access the Delta entertainment system and movies.  We arrived in Houston by way of Atlanta about 6:00 pm Texas Time.  We drove to Huntsville for the night and Tex-Mex food and arrived home at the ranch on Friday.




Monday, May 22, 2017

Regal Princess Baltic Cruise Review



 Regal Princess Baltic Cruise Review
May 22, 2017
Just the Facts:
Ship: Regal Princess (2014)
Captain: Tim Stringer
Hotel Director: Richard Harry
Cruise Director:  Kelly Rose
Ports: Copenhagen - Oslo - Warnemunde - Tallin - St. Petersburg - Helsinki - Stockholm - Copenhagen

This is my 22nd Princess cruise, the first time on the Regal Princess, and 129th cruise overall.  I am cruising with the dear wife (DW) and this is also her first cruise on the Regal.  I have never cruised the Baltic so this a certainly a cruise I am looking forward to experiencing.

Sunday-Monday / Travel /  Embarkation / May 21-22, 2017 / Day 0

KLM Airlines
We left Carnival Breeze about 8:30 am on Sunday and made our way to George Bush airport in Houston arriving about 11:00 am after parking our car at FastParkRelax remote lot.  Since we were arriving early both the KLM check-in and TSA Security was a breeze and we could relax and use the Airport wifi until boarding of our KLM flight about 2:30 pm.  First time to fly on KLM and there is more leg room and good food, but the entertainment system was not functioning and nine hours is a long time to endure a long overnight flight.  We were just happy to get off in Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport at 7:00 am local time, but the worst was yet to come.  Our short KLM flight to Copenhagen boarded at 9:20 am plenty of time we thought…but no…we had a two hour wait standing in line for Passport Control.  In addition to being stressful standing for two hours after a nine hour flight we began to wonder if we would even miss the connection.  We made it but just barely, I know I will never fly through Amsterdam Schiphol again…never.  Arrival in Copenhagen was better and the baggage was easy.  We had Princess transfers so we checked our bags with Princess and didn’t have to deal with them.  The bus from the airport to cruise terminal took about 45 minutes, but we did drive through town and saw some sites along the way.  That and the nice weather began to lift our spirits…we were certainly not in Texas any longer.  There is a seven hour time difference from Texas to Denmark. Overall it was almost exactly 24-hours in travel time from the Port of Galveston to the Port of Copenhagen. 

Monday / Embarkation - Copenhagen / May 22nd / Day 1
First Baltic Sunset
We arrived at the Regal Princess about 1:00 pm. and security was not difficult.  We finally got to skip a long line with our Elite status on Princess as we were immediately checked-in and proceeded to board the ship.  There is a WOW factor…the Lobby or Piazza area look great.  We went to our balcony cabin on deck nine and DW settled down for a needed nap and I went up the the Horizon Court on Lido for a nice salad then a nap.  Preparations for muster drill started about 4:00 pm so we soon took our Life Jackets to our muster station and listened to the instructions.  Our bags also arrived just before safety drill…yea.  The Horizon opens for dinner at 5:30 so we went up to eat about 6:00, DW had a great Salad and I had a very nice Pasta.  After dessert we found the Cloud Nine Bar, this is the specialty designed bar for Elite and Suite guests.  Great h’orderves as usual and I ordered a Mojito ($5.75).  This is a much better space than having this daily Elite event in another space or lounge.  DW found a nice new nautical top to purchase in the shops while I listened to a great Jazz group in the Piazza.  We returned to the cabin and watched us sail away from Copenhagen and it felt good to shower off all that travel and get into relaxing clean clothes as we sailing into the sunset and enter the Baltic sea.  The day got better as it went along…a nice first day on the beautiful Regal Princess.

Tuesday / Oslo / May 23rd / Day 2
Regal Princess & Akershus Fortress
Smooth seas overnight and we both slept very well.  We had room service delivered about 8:30 am and we ate our breakfast as we sailed up the Oslo Fiord on this bright sunny and somewhat chilly morning.  We were docked by 10:00 am below Akershus Castle. This is our second visit to Oslo so we are enjoying our morning and allowing it to warm up a bit before debarking and it did became a beautiful Spring day.  I had lunch in the Horizon Grill: Lamb with mint jelly, Brest of young hen from carving station, Mashed Potatoes, Meatballs in tomato sauce, and more.  We left the ship about 1:00 pm ready for our lovely day in Oslo.  The primary cruise ship pier is well within walking distance of the city center, but I was a bit lazy and we did the Hop-on Hop-off train.  My plan was to get to the Royal Palace, one of the highest points in the city then walk down hill the rest of the day.  The train did get us fairly close.  Palace tours of the interior do not begin until June, but we enjoyed the beautiful grounds, wonderful views, and the Changing of the Guard.  As we were on the backside of the palace and looking through the back gate we noticed a limo pull into the main entry (yes into the interior entry) from the back doors.  Unusual we thought but as we determined later as we walked down from the palace they were picking up King Harald as his motorcade then passed us as we approached Karl Johans Gate.  We spent time on the beautiful boulevard and park enjoying ice creme and the weather.  As we headed back by Oslo University we noticed the motorcade and some activity so we got luckily into the inner photographer station and only waited a few minutes and King Harald V appeared.  Hello King of Norway…nice  to see you.  Following our visit with the King we took the HoHo train around to Acker Brygge the location of the former old docks and now restored as trendy boutiques, shoppes, restaurants, and businesses. The area was packed with locals enjoying the exceptionally nice weather. I enjoyed several Ringnes beers and DW an Elderflower Spritzer at Lekter’n a famous very Norwegian Bar & Restaurant.  It was good beer and a great people watching experience.  After beers we walked along the docks, visited City Hall, enjoyed a Crepe, and returned to the cruise terminal arriving back on the ship after 6:00 pm.    I went to the Horizon Grill about 8:00 and they have an excellent dinner set up including wine service…very nice.  I attended the Norwegian Folk Show in the Princess Theater at 9:00 pm it was nice…I’m pretty familiar with the costumes since I live in a Norwegian community.  Amazing that it is still daylight at 10:00 pm…we are so far north and approaching long days…beautiful late views, we got to see a sailboat race across the harbor from our balcony side we don’t sail away until 11:00 pm.  It was a wonderful day in Oslo.

Wednesday / Day at Sea / May 24th / Day 3
Østbroen Bridge
Again very calm seas over night and another good nights sleep. We again had room service for breakfast.  Princess is one of few cruise lines that serves a nice warm breakfast sandwich option for mornings, most are just a continental breakfast.  I also had melon and citrus as well as hot milk.  It’s another sunny day and we are enjoying a relaxing morning with wonderful views from the balcony on this sea day. We went to lunch about 1:30 in the Horizon Court…they have really altered the menu to offer a large variety of Asian foods since half the guests are Asian.  Interesting.  I worked on airport transfers for the end of the cruise and got those arranged, but used a lot of my internet time.  I’m still on the original 250 minutes allotted to the Elite guests for now.  At least the internet is working very well this week.  With the hourly system guests do log out when not online.   We also had an easy afternoon but I did a walk about ship and guests were sitting in the sun on Lido Deck and there were activities all over the ship.  We went to dinner in the Concerto Dining Room…very classy room with wonderful place settings and table cloths…we actually had a table for two at a window.  Tonight I ordered: Shrimp Cocktail, Spaghetti Carbonara, Yorkshire Pudding: Roast Beef with Horseradish-Carrots-Peas-Potatoes, and two desserts: Ice Creme selection and Vanilla Creme Brûlée.  We retired to the cabin after dinner and about 10:00 pm we sailed under the famous Østbroen Bridge. It was very cool as the ship’s horns played the theme to the Love Boat as we passed under…got a kiss from my sweetie too.  It was a very nice relaxing sea day on the Regal Princess.

Thursday  /  Warnemunde, Germany  /  May 25th / Day 4
Schwerin Castle - great excursion
Calm seas and another good nights sleep. We had an early room service breakfast as we needed to meet our excursion at 7:30 am.  We booked the Regal Princess’ Schwerin Castle, Lake Schwerin Cruise & Rostock excursion and were on the bus and on our way by 8:00 am. We had an hour+ drive to the town of Schwerin located in a forested area with several lakes and a historic castle in the Mecklenburg area of northern Germany.  Our first stop was for a photo op of Schwerin Castle from above the beautiful park area, after which we enjoyed a 30-minute boat ride on Lake Schwerin, Germany's third-largest lake with unique views around Schwerin Castle.  Leaving the boat we had a walking tour of the city of Schwerin, the old market square, and Schelfstadt district, popular for its very old half-timbered houses.  We then boarded a trolley train for a short tour of other areas of Schwerin.  Finally it was time to visit the very unique Schwerin Castle itself.  We enjoyed a guided tour of the former living, social, and ceremonial rooms...now used by the palace museum to exhibit pictures, sculptures, furniture, weapons, medals, jewelry and other objects d'art. We saw the grand living quarters and the ceremonial rooms including the ancestral portrait gallery and the beautiful throne room.  After the tour we had lunch at a local restaurant along the lake shore adjacent to the castle.  It was a nice meal and following we boarded our buses for the drive to Rostock.  We had a tour of Rostock then stopped for an inside visit to St. Mary's Church, the most famous of Rostock's seven medieval churches. Constructed in the 13th century, St. Mary's features an exquisite, working astrological clock that is today maintained by the mathematics faculty of the University of Rostock.  We arrived back at the ship about 5:00 pm.  After a brief cabin visit we went down to the Club 6 Lounge as it was both Shrimp Fountain day and Cosmopolitan cocktail day for the Elite guests.  We did take advantage of both until the 7:00 pm last call.  We went down to the International Grill for a dessert and cookies, our first visit there, but DW discovered some perfect vegetarian snacks there so we will return.  While on deck five we visited the Gelato Shop and I enjoyed a nice sampling of gelato while listening to Prestige the wonderful jazz group performing in the Piazza.  No need for dinner tonight so we retired to the cabin to relax from such a busy excursion day.  We turned our clocks forward one hour tonight and will be the same as the next four ports.  It was a great day in Germany and the Regal Princess.

Friday / Day at Sea / May 26th / Day 5
Regal Princess Piazza
Smooth seas overnight and I slept very well, almost too well, I didn’t get up until after 10:00 am.  We did play the special Sleep Music available on the interactive TV system for the first time so that may have had a part in the nice sleep.  We have a special luncheon at noon so I had some fruit and a cookie for breakfast.  The luncheon was for the Elite passengers with the most days traveled and I was very happy that I received the invitation. We met at Sabatini’s on deck five and everyone had their photo taken with the Captain as we entered. We had individual printed menus and place cards…very classy.  As a starter I ordered the Symphony of Seafood: Cured Salmon, Ahi Tuna Poke, & Lobster Medallions.  My entree was Sterling Beef Chateaubriand with Napoleon Vegetables, the other choice was Pan Seared Halibut.  DW had the Freshly-made Leek and Potato Ravioli,  For dessert we had Love Boat Temptation:  White chocolate and peach melba mousse, raspberry rose center and sable breton.  They also served a selection of Petit Fours.  My food was outstanding and prepared perfectly.  DW did some shopping and I returned to the cabin with the mementoes of the luncheon and to do the paperwork for our debarkation transfer.  This afternoon we watched the recent movie The Accountant with Ben Affleck, a great movie.  One that would never be shown at the Cliftex back in Bosque County.  DW watched another movie, Jackie, and I did a walkabout the ship.  It was a beautiful day of Baltic sunshine and guests were enjoying it on Lido deck.  Also a lot of activities in the Piazza and Theater today.   It was formal night on the Regal Princess but we chose to eat at the Horizon Court that was set very nicely with placemats and long stemmed glasses for dinner.  I had a basic, but wonderful meal.  They had Strip Sirloin Beef at the carving station that I had sliced into thick steaks then additionally grilled to perfection on the grill behind the station…excellent.  I had sides of Mashed Potatoes and Mixed vegetable and an additional steak for dessert.  We met the Captain and staff at lunch so didn’t participate in any of the formal night functions, but retired to the cabin for another movie: The Infiltrator with Brian Cranston.  It was a great relaxing movie and food day on the Regal Princess.

Saturday / Tallinn, Estonia / May 27th / Day 6
Old Town Square Tallinn from Pharmacy
Smooth seas overnight and we again had a nice sleep.  We were already docked in Tallinn when room service breakfast was delivered about 8:30 am.  Forecast was for rain, but it as a nice sunny day as we left the ship to meet our private tour.  We had a small group of 16 on a nice full size bus so it was easy touring.  This was a combination two hour bus tour and two hour walking tour. The bus tour passed by the new New Tallinn area with lovey squares and modern building, the 1980 Olympic Yacht Park, and a stop at Kadriorg Park and Kadriorg Palace founded by Peter the Great (the palace's main hall is one of the best examples of Baroque architecture in all of Northern Europe). We had an additional stop at the UNESCO recognized Song Festival Ground, this concert arena can accommodate 30,000 singers on its vast stage and is home to Song Festival, an Estonian tradition since 1869. The walking portion of the tour began at Toompea Hill (Upper Old Town) and Toompea Castle, the current home of Estonia's Parliament. Then a quick visit into the historic Russian Alexander Nevsky Cathedral that serves as the dominating landmark in Palace Square. This cathedral serves as a living relic of the Russian Empire, and a strong testament to the influence of years under the rule of Russian Tsars in Estonia.  Next we visited the overlook of the lower and modern city of Tallinn.  Last stop in the upper old town was at Gothic St. Mary's Cathedral. Simply called the "Dome Church" by the locals, St. Mary's Cathedral is the city's oldest church and an architectural landmark that has played a prominent role in Tallinn's history. We then walked through the Uhike Jalg gate down to the Old Town (lower) of Tallinn to St. Nicholas Church (1230-1275) then to the beautiful Old Town Square and old City Hall.  The square is dominated by old buildings from Gothic to Medieval with various businesses, restaurants, and more.  We did visit the oldest continuous pharmacy in Europe and visit some shops.  The highlight was lunch in an old restaurant Liisu Juures severing genuine traditional Estonian food and beer (recommended-would never of found it on our own).  I ordered Saku Original (local beer) and Mylgikapsad Keedukartuliiga (Sauerkraut Mulgi style with boiled potatoes) and DW ordered Potato Pancakes with Loganberry.  After lunch we walked the streets of Old Town seeing the smallest house, the old walls, St. Olaf’s Kirke, and Stout Margaret’s Tower. We then walked back to the Cruise Terminal arriving back about 4:30 pm.  We planned an easy evening after all the walking today and big plans for tomorrow, so we just had a light snack from the International Cafe retired early.  It was a great day in Tallinn Estonia.


Sunday / St. Petersburg, Russia / May 28th / Day 7
Grand Cascade - Peterhof Palace
We had a very early room service delivery that served as our wake up call for a very busy day. Fortunately it’s a sunny day although cold with temps from 45°-55°.  There are six large cruise ships docked this morning.  We left the cabin about 7:00 am and it took 45 minutes to clear Russian passport control so we met our private tour about 8:00 am the designated time.  It was 8:15 am when the stragglers arrived but soon our group of 14 tourists plus driver Sergi and our guide Catherine were off.  We drove downtown to view monuments and stop at a very nice souvenir store for a WC break, but actually we were delaying time until the time to board a nice Hyrofoil boat to Peterhof Palace.  After a 30+ min ride we arrived at the Lower Park of Peterhof Palace.  We walked the grounds of the Versailles of the North admiring the many fountains and Gold statuary. Afterward we ate lunch (Vodka, Salad, Borscht, Chicken & Rice, and Apple Cake Dessert) that was served banquet style in a nice Russian Palace styled facility specifically for tour groups.  We then drove about 45 minutes to the town of Pushkin  to visit Catherine’s Palace.  This is perhaps the most beautiful of all the former Royal Russian Palaces in the St. Petersburg area.  Room after room of beautiful  salons most trimmed with gold and the feature salon being the Amber Room filled with Amber and Gold decor.  There were just so many tourists that it took away from overall enjoyment of it all, but Catherine’s Palace is beautiful.  We returned to St. Petersburg and drove down the main avenue passing the Leningrad Siege Memorials, the Theater, Department Stores, and more before returning to the sea port about 7:15 pm.  We were very tired and kept it simple going to the Horizon Court where I had a nice plate of Fried Scallops before retiring.  It was a good first day in St.Petersburg.

Monday / St. Petersburg, Russia / May 29th / Day 8
Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood
Again we ordered room service as a wake-up, but we were up and around earlier as we actually meet our tour earlier than yesterday @ 7:30 am.  Again there are six large cruise ships in port. We left the cabin about 6:50 am and Russian Passport Control goes much faster on second day in port so we had time to look at souvenirs (TIP: prices are really much better at the port than in the City) and I did get a Russian Hat.  Our nice group of 14 were all early so with our guide and driver we were off to the City of Petersburg.  First stop was an hour long River Boat Ride, I thought it would be touristy, but it really is the best way to see all the Palaces built along the river and I enjoyed it.  We visited Yusupov Palace it belonged to the House of Yusupov, an immensely wealthy family of Russian nobles, known for their philanthropy and art collections.  The building was also the site of Grigori Rasputin's murder in the early morning of December 17, 1916.  Next we visited a beautiful and interesting Subway Station and then took a break at a McDonald’s (always a great Coca-Cola).  Next site was the world famous Hermitage Museum and Royal Winter Palace.  Supposedly closed on Monday it was full of tourist groups, but it did go fairly smooth through the numerous grand halls of the Winter Palace and exhibition rooms of adjoining Palaces.  It is a huge building and complex with many wonders and the #1 must see in St. Petersburg.  Lunch was next at Legran a very nice Russian restaurant located in a cellar downtown. We had a very nice Mixed Slaw Salad, Mushroom Soup, and Beef Stroganoff.  Much nicer lunch than yesterday.  We did a speed tour to get in all the sites needed after lunch and next was the one I personally liked best: Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood.  This church was built on the site where Emperor Alexander II was fatally wounded in March 1881.The church was built between 1883 and 1907. The construction was funded by the imperial family and is a colorful iconic Russian Church that harkens back to medieval Russian architecture in the spirit of romantic nationalism.  It has been beautifully restored inside from damages during the War and Soviet era.  Next we visited St Isaac’s Cathedral, the largest of all St. Petersburg churches, again with beautiful religious icons.  Our final stop was Saints Peter & Paul Cathedral located at Peter & Paul Fortress, This fortress location was the founding location of St.Petersburg and the first church.  The smaller but old Cathedral is the final resting place of all the Romanoff Czars and families from Peter the Great to the last: Nicholas II who was killed by the Bolsheviks in 1917.  We were delivered to the sea port just after 5:00 pm in time for our 5:30 boarding call.  The two day Deluxe Tour by local  SPB Tours was excellent and a better value than the Princess ship tour with a smaller group.  Our guide Catherine was very knowledgeable, very attractive, and her English was very good, I felt as though we were listening to Melania Trump for two days.  Perhaps a little scatterbrained, but it added to her charm.  We went strait to Club 6 for some much needed cocktails and snacks…they had guacamole & various cheeses.  We skipped dinner and retired to the cabin after such a busy and tiring day.  St. Petersburg was a wonderful experience that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Tuesday / Helsinki, Finland / May 30th / Day 9
Helsini Waterfront & Market Square
Smooth seas every night of the cruise and a good nights sleep although I was up in the night updating review and on the internet just as I would be at home because of bandwidth speeds.  BTW-the sun was coming up about 3:45 am…amazing this far north.  We were docked in Helsinki when I awoke the second time about 8:00 am so I went to the MDR for the first proper breakfast.  I ordered a Banana, Blueberry pancakes, and Two Eggs with Ham, Bacon, and Hash Browns.  We did not have plans for Helsinki although I had “HoHo?” on Calendar so when we stepped off the ship about 10:00 am and saw the HoHo bus we did their tour of the City.  We saw: the Sibelius Monument, Olympic Stadium, Finlandia Hall, and the retail center including the huge Stockman’s Department Store.  We got off and walked a portion of the Esplanade to the Market Square along the waterfront where they have stalls selling fresh fish, fruits, sweaters, souvenirs, and more.  I bought a mixed fruit basket of Cherries, Strawberries, Raspberries, and Blueberries.  We walked by the Uspenski Cathedral then by the Presidential Palace to Senate Square.  We walked up the many steps to the Cathedral and were there as noon services began.  We caught the HoHo bus at Senate Square for the return to the Regal Princess arriving back before 2:00 pm.  It was a nice quick tour of Helsinki and we beat the masses back as we have a very early sailing today.  We had a nice late lunch in the Horizon Court, I had Virginia Baked Ham from the carving station, Salad, and Mashed Potatoes & Vegetables.  We then enjoyed much needed rest in the cabin. We did watch the movie Allied starring Brad Pitt, they have a nice selection of current and classic movies available in the cabin.  About 8:00 pm, I went up to the Horizon Court for a nice dinner:  Pork Tenderloin With Remoulade Sauce, Beef Steaks, Mashed Potatoes, and Vegetables…then retired to the cabin.  It was a very nice day in Helsinki and on the Regal Princess.

Wednesday / Stockholm, Sweden / May 31st  / Day 10
Royal Swedish Guard
Smooth Seas over night and we moved our clocks forward one hour back to Central Europe Time.  We were sailing into Stockholm when we opened the balcony drapes this morning.  I had time to go up to the Horizon Court for a light breakfast before our excursion meet time this morning.  DW had room service as usual.  Our Princess excursion today was: The Royal Palace and Gamla Stan walking tour.  We left the ship at 9:15 stopping for a photo op at a nice city overlook and arrived at the Royal Palace at it’s 10:00 am opening time.  The Palace is one of the largest in Europe with over 600 rooms and the King and Queen were in residence.  We toured several staterooms, chambers, and more.  Not as opulent as many in Europe, but a very nice tour of a stately palace.  Gamla Stan is the original old town area with the oldest city square with original medieval structures.  We had some free time for some shopping and a Swedish beer, then found a great spot back at the palace to watch the changing of the guard.  The guard ride in on horseback including a mounted band.  Very impressive. Soon we boarded our bus back to the ship as we have an early sail away at 1:30 pm and upon arrival went strait up to the Horizon Court for a very nice lunch.  It was really busy as all the tours were arriving back at the same time today.  We spent the afternoon watching us sail away from Stockholm, with a Love Boat salute, and through the beautiful Stockholm Archipelago with thousands of islands.  Twenty-four thousand to be exact.  We were in Club 6 having cocktails at 7:00 pm when we past the final channel buoy so it took five hours to sail through the archipelago…it was a quite an experience…glad we could experience it in full daylight…sort of combination of sailing the inside passage of Alaska and the coast of Maine or Nova Scotia.  Tonight is Italian night in the MDR so we went to Concerto Dining Room where I ordered the Melanzane Parmigiana and Spaghetti & Meatballs.  It was a very good dinner. We also viewed perhaps the best movie of the cruise: Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge (excellent).  It was a great busy day in Stockholm and on the Regal Princess.

Thursday / Day at Sea / June 1st  / Day 11
Østbroen Bridge at Sunset
Smooth seas overnight and we slept very well.  I went to Horizon Court for a nice breakfast.  Found the fried eggs and love the Danish bacon.  We began the packing process and watched movies this morning.  Very sunny day so decks were busy on this last cruise day.  We went to lunch again in Horizon and I had Turkey from the carving station and Mashed Potatoes.  They have had Bread Pudding several times this cruise and that’s what I had for dessert.  Movies and finished packing this afternoon, then put the bags out in passageway for pickup before dinner as requested.  Trifecta on Horizon Court for meals today as we went again for dinner this evening and the Minute Steaks were very good.  Our bags were gone when we returned to the cabin so the cruise almost over.  We did pass under the Beltway Bridge again about 9:50 pm and I got another trifecta with a photo of the bridge, sundown, and a warship also passing.  Since this was a very port intensive cruise we really didn’t attend the Production shows this cruise. We really didn’t do many of the daily activities offered each day either, but the time seemed to pass so fast over the 11 days.  We were always busy doing our ‘thing’ or watching movies and relaxing from a lot of site seeing and walking done in the eight busy days in port.  We really enjoyed this cruise and it will probably be in my top three of all time enjoyable cruises.  It was a relaxing final day on the Regal Princess.

Friday / Copenhagen Denmark / June 2nd  / Debarkation
Smooth seas overnight and we were docked about 5:00 am in Copenhagen.  We were up about 6:30 am and finished our small bag packing and I had a quick breakfast in the Horizon Court.  Your to leave cabins by 8:00 am and we were out about 8:15 for our designated meet location of the Casino for our 9:15 am designated departure time. Our tags (White-2) are actually the last color on debark schedule so guests leave early and I suspect most are on airport shuttles or tours the end up at the airport…so off very early.  We actually waited in Club 6 as it was more comfortable and they called our group a bit early.  We walked down to deck 4 and were ‘clicked’ off strait away without huge lines.  We walked to the White-2 luggage and our bags were the first in White-1 actually but right in front of us…easy.  We then rolled them the the Taxi line and only waited a few minutes for a taxi…it was very well organized.  The taxi had us at our hotel by 10:00 am for our two day Copenhagen visit.  Very smooth debarkation.

Cabins - Crew
We had cabin D616 a balcony cabin located on deck 9 towards aft on port side.  Good location between mid and aft elevators. Typical Princess room plan with dressing area and long clothes hanging area next to bath area. It’s fine for two people with small couch, button type safe, one electrical outlet on counter/dresser, Telephone on desk, Chair at Dresser, Hair dryer in drawer, and large flat screen TV with the interactive features.  There is an empty refrigerator and as an Elite guest I had a bar set up. The bed and bedding were great. Great shower pressure and water temperature too. Wonderful large flat screen TV mounted opposite bed was perfect for watching movies.  The only disappointments for us were the bath towels: cheap motel quality, and bath robes (very old and shabby).    I acquired some alternative towels. The ships crew we encountered were very friendly, they themselves can make the cruise more enjoyable for the guest. Luis, our cabin steward, was good, the cabin was always clean and ice container filled.

Dining / Food / Bars
We relied on the Horizon Court on Lido deck for most dinners and many lunches, the food was good and there was a varied selection.  The MDR was very good the limited times we did go for dinner.  The International Cafe and Gelato Shop were very good.  Our favorite bar was the Club 6, but we really didn’t go to many this cruise.

HiGHLIGHTS OF THE CRUISE

St. Petersburg Two-Day Deluxe Tour of the numerous sites
Schwerin Castle tour in Germany
Tallinn Day and tours.
Oslo Day with beautiful Weather
Club 6 lounge for Elite guests
Horizon Court