Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Crown Princess Transatlantic

Crown Princess Review

Transatlantic December 2012

Just The Facts:

Ship:  Crown Princess
2012Transatlantic Cruise:  2 December through 22 December
Captain:  Andrew Procter
Cruise Director:  Lisa Ball
Ports: Venice, Civitavecchia, Livorno, Cannes, Barcelona, Lisbon, Ponta Delgada, Ft. Lauderdale, Galveston

This is my first Princess cruise since they last sailed from Texas several years ago. I am sailing with my DW (Dear Wife).  This is my 20th Princess cruise, 3rd transatlantic, and 77th overall cruise.

Ruzzini Palace Hotel - Venice
We began our trip at 6:30 am on Thursday (Nov29th) by driving to Houston to leave our auto with good friends from Alvin. After a nice Tex-Mex lunch we were dropped at the airport to fly AA to DFW airport. From DFW we boarded our American Airlines nine-hour international flight to Madrid, Spain arriving about 10:00 am on Friday.  We had a very long layover until we could board our Iberian/AA flight to Venice, but finally arrived in Venice about 7:00 pm.  We arranged transport through our hotel while en route so we were picked up by a driver at the airport who took us across the bridge to Piazzale Roma in Venice where we boarded a water taxi to take us to the Ruzzini Palace Hotel.  As tired as we were from travel, entering Venice on the Grand Canal in the early evening via water taxi is spectacular.  The lights of the Churches, Palaces, and Venetian buildings along the waterway is awe-inspiring especially for a first time visitor.  We were both quite impressed with this wonderful introduction.  We arrived at our hotel in the wonderful former 600 year old Ruzzini family palace.  The Ruzzini Place Hotel fronts on the Campo Santa Maria Formosa with a canal entry on the back side.  After dropping our bags in the room we asked for a recommendation of a nice place to eat and was sent to Al Giardinetto where we had our first wonderful Italian meal.  I had a very good penne pasta pomodora and a sea bass filleted at the table for me.  After dinner back to the hotel for some much needed sleep after an 19 hour travel day.

St. Marks Basilica - Venice
We really like our hotel, the Ruzzini Palace.  It’s located at Campo Santa Maria Formosa only a 10-15 minute walk from either St. Marks Square or the Rialto Bridge.  The hotel has a very nice breakfast buffet and our room was very nice so we really enjoyed our hotel selection.  The weather is overcast, but nice with temperatures in mid 40‘s.  This morning we were off to St. Marks Square where we found much of the square under water.  They install walkways so that you can get to the major buildings, fortunately there were not a huge amount of tourists.  We went directly to St. Mark’s Basilica.  It is very spectacular, so much gold used in the decor.  We wanted to visit Murano so when we were offered a Murano glass factory tour we took it.  We boarded a water taxi that took us to the factory where we watched a glass blower make several items, then for a tour of the showrooms where you have the opportunity to buy any variety of glassware.  We weren’t interested in any art pieces, but DW had some particular Murano glass bracelets in mind and so we purchased a few.  A water taxi returned us to the St. Marks taxi stand by 1:00 pm. Venice is ideal for walking, there are so many interesting shops and campos (squares) to be discovered. We went exploring in the Saint Marco area and stopped for a very nice pizza and coca-cola light at a pizzeria in the Campo St. Stefano.  We continued on to the famous Rialto Bridge that crosses the Grand Canal and looked at the market area on the opposite side.  Most of the market stalls close early on Saturday...these are the real markets, not tourist markets.  We began our return exploring towards St. Maria Formosa and the hotel and took a break with a bottle of local refreshment in the beautiful lounge area of Ruzinni Palace.  In the early evening we went back to St. Marks and all the water had receded.  We looked around the Piazza and then went to the famous Harry’s Bar for a Bellini, the signature drink they originated.  We then walked around and enjoyed a Peroni or wine in various bars and did some shopping until returning to the hotel for the evening.  A great day in Venice.

Day One--Sunday--Venice--Embarkation
Bridge of Sighs - Doges Palace - Venice
We slept in this morning, missing breakfast and as it was approaching check out time we packed our bags and had them stored for us so we could see more of Venice.  We went exploring and found our alternate hotel location and approached St. Marks from a new direction so that we could see the Bridge of Sighs.  We knew the weather would be wetter and cooler today so the plan was to tour inside the Doge’s Palace.  There was no ticket line and few visitors so we enjoyed a nice long tour of all the Apartments, Assembly rooms, and Justice Halls.  We were even able to tour the prison and cross over the enclosed Bridge of Sighs where the prisoners crossed over a canal to the Doge Place justice courts.  Another advantage of the ‘off season’ as that’s normally a limited tour.  The Doge Palace is amazing with most paintings and decorative architecture from 1500’s - 1600‘s, some older since it was first built in 9th century.  We then had a very nice late lunch at Ristorante da Carletto, then picking up some last minute souvenirs.  We returned to our hotel about 3:30 pm to retrieve our bags and request a water taxi to take us to the cruise terminal.  Although expensive (€90) it is the most convenient way to travel in Venice especially if you have luggage.  The taxi picked us up at the Ruzzini Palace dock, located literally just a few feet from reception and took us around the island to the water taxi stand at the cruise terminal where Princess Cruise Line  representatives take and check your bags for you.  It could not be easier.  We were in the terminal and checked-in at 4:00 pm and on the ship in just a few minutes.  We oriented ourselves to the ship and attended boat drill, our muster station is the Wheelhouse Bar a convenient location.  Princess had arranged for the Venetian Chamber Orchestra to perform in the Theater.  It was fantastic and very appropriate.  We decided to eat at the Horizon Court buffet on Lido deck as a time saver as we were still busy orienting ourselves.  They were putting the finishing touches with decorating the ship for Christmas, they had a crew come in and do it while the ship was in Venice for two full days.  The ship really looks beautiful.  We decided to attend the second show of the Venetian Chamber Orchestra and it was just as good if not better than the first.  We then settled into our cabin and our port side balcony was perfect for our late 11:00 pm sail away from Venice.  It was great watching us sail from the harbor and past St. Marks Square and out to sea.

Day Two--Monday--at Sea
Aft decks - Crown Princess
It was a bit rough in the Adriatic over night, but still a much needed good nights sleep.  There was actually snow in the early hours.  Room Service woke me up, but I would have missed the MDR (main dining room) breakfast time if they hadn’t.  Breakfast was very good, I ordered fried eggs with bacon & potatoes.  A nice pot of hot milk as well.  This morning I arranged for our Elite member cabin benefits with our complementary mini-bar order and internet minutes. We are squared away although on a twenty day cruise we probably should have additional quantities and time.  The sky is clear, but the winds are 30 knots with gusts to 40 so still a nice roll to the seas.  We could see the island of St. Andrews off Croatia from the port side balcony mid day.  The Noon announcements by Captain Andy gave us a progress report of speed and weather.   They had Chinese food in the Cafe Caribe so I had a scallop seafood dish, chow main, and some spring rolls, I’m guessing there will be a different theme each day.  After lunch we had some much needed cabin time for rest.  It is very nice having the balcony to still be able to enjoy the sea even while resting.  Tonight is Captain’s Night so we dressed early and went to the Comedy show featuring Kelly Monteith.  He was very funny and we enjoyed seeing him again.  We went to the Princess Theater and attended the Production Show: ‘Destination Anywhere’ featuring the Crown Princess singers and dancers.  We then saw the Captain’s introduction and comments in the Piazza on the way to the Botticelli Dining Room for the special Captains Dinner.  I ordered the Rigatoni Pasta, French Onion Soup, Mushroom Stuffed Baked Chicken Breast, and Creme Brulee for dessert.  After dinner we returned to the cabin to watch the movie Brave, one of the movies we missed on the recent Disney Cruise.

Mt. Etna near the Straits of Messina, Italy
Day Three--Tuesday—at Sea
We had some very rough seas (Lumpy as Capt. Andy calls it) during the night, but it was very slight by early morning and it’s a beautiful clear day today.  I had the MDR breakfast special of a poached egg with spinach to start the day. We began passing through the straits of Messina about 9:00 am and you could clearly see the snow capped Mt. Etna and the volcanic smoke (the haze in the photo is smoke from the volcano). We had a very lazy day today with a lot of cabin time and a nice late Lido lunch.  The International Bar has gelato three scoops for $1.50 that is very good. We went to the Elite/Platinum cocktail social held daily from 5:15-7:15 in the Club Fusion lounge. They offer a discounted special cocktail or wine and very nice hors d’oeuvres that change daily.  Todays drink was a Chairman of the Board.  It was Italian night in the MDR and DW rated her pasta as excellent as was my dinner.  We turned in after dinner as we have an early day for Rome tomorrow.  The ship has been put on a noro-virus alert as they think someone brought it aboard.  Staff will be serving the food and they are instructing hand washing and other concerns.

Day Four--Wednesday—Civitavecchia, Italy
St. Peters Basilica - Vatican
We booked the ‘Rome on you own, by Train’ excursion so we ordered an early room service as our meet time was 7:45 am.  They have a nice Egg McMuffin style breakfast Sandwich that’s perfect.  We have visited rome previously so the goal was to go to places we may have seen, but didn’t have adequate time to enjoy previously.    We were shuttled to a special train at the port (not the train station) that took us to St. Petro station located near the Vatican in Rome where we were on our own for the day.  We went first to Saint Peter’s Basilica, then walked around ‘old town’ Rome.  We main sites we visited: Piazza Navona, the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, and the Vatican again on the way back to the train station.  It was a LOT of walking, but there is so much to see and do in Rome.  We returned to the ship just before sail away and went to the Elite Lounge for a Mojito. I was dead tired so it was cabin time for the rest of the evening.  We ordered room service and the club sandwich is really outstanding-imagine a BLT with an additional layer of turkey.  Very pleased with room service so far on the trip.

One of the villages of Cinque Terra - Italy
Day Five--Thursday—Livorno, Italy
We met even earlier this morning for our excursion 7:00 am, but we do have a long journey.  We did the same for breakfast as room service is a good wake up call.  The weather was cool, but sunny.  Our excursion was to Cinque Terre, an eight hour tour to a series of remote villages, on the Italian Riviera now an Italian National Park and UNESCO heritage site.  We visited the villages of Manarola, Vernazza, and Monterosso.  We used the local train as transport between villages as there are no roads along this remote coastal area (in season I believe this part of the tour is by boat).  The villages are very picturesque and built into the steep cliffs on the sea.  We had lunch in Monterosso in a nice cafe before returning to the ship.  While traveling north on the bus we were able to see Pisa, the marble quarries of Carerra, and the snow capped Appian mountains.  BTW-from Monterosso you could see the Alps on the main continent.  DW had room service for dinner, but I went to the MDR for a nice meal.  The waiters are serving the bread and butter as part of the noro situation, I wonder if they change out the menus as those are being handled by various guests.

Day Six--Friday--Cannes, France
A little early for the Film Festival
It was great to sleep in this morning as we had no organized tour planned.  It was overcast and cool, but fine for touring the town.  We tendered into the city about 10:00 am and walked along the Harbor Quay into town.  We stopped at the location of the Cannes Film Festival for some ‘red carpet’ photos then to the famous Hotel Carlton the premier hotel along the Cote d’ Zur.  This is where Prince Rainer first met Grace Kelly.  We then walked through the old town area looking at shops along the way.  We really wanted to eat crepes and we really lucked-out finding a great place, Le Creperie, in the old town area.  We were the only english speakers there so it was a place for locals and the crepes were great.  We each had a crepe and shared a pitcher of wine and a dessert crepe. After lunch we did some people watching and visited the various shops.  A very pleasant day in Cannes.  We returned to the ship about 4:00 pm and went to the Elite lounge in Fusions where the special drink was a Cosmopolitan and the hors d’oeuvres were Shrimp...very nice.  We attended the production show: Whyte, two brothers who performed 50’s music.  We went to the MDR for dinner and it was very good, I had the Pumpkin & Squash Soup, an excellent Pasta, Veal Cordon Blu, and Bananas Foster for dessert.

Day Seven--Saturday--Barcelona, Spain
La Sagrada Familia - Barcelona
Very lumpy seas overnight (gusts of 70 knot winds), but it was a beautiful day in Barcelona, best weather of the cruise so far.  We again had a light room service breakfast as we prepared for the day. We have been to Barcelona before so we had a specific plan, we left the ship through the very nice cruise terminal and shared a taxi to La Sagrada Familia.  We spent a couple of hours here at this unique Antonio Gaudi (1852-1926) designed basilica.  We then walked the ten blocks to Passeig de Gracia a grand boulevard leading to Plaza Catalonia with famous named designer shops, Gaudi designed lamps & benches, chic restaurants, and more.  We had only gone one block we came across a secondary location of Txapella the Tapas restaurant we had planned to stop at for lunch, but we stopped at this location as it was perfect timing for a break.  We shared a pitcher of Sangria and had some outstanding tapas, a perfect Barcelona lunch.  Another block and we were at La Batillo the famous Gaudi designed house that we toured on our previous trip to Barcelona.  Soon we were at Catalonia Plaza, the heart of the city and we enjoyed a gelato and people watched.  Crossing the square you reach the beginning of Las Ramblas the famous pedestrian avenue leading from Catalonia Plaza to the harbor.  We strolled the Ramblas all the way down to the huge statue of Columbus at the end and at the harbor stopping to get a few souvenirs along the way.  From here we took the port shuttle (€2.50) back to the ship arriving an hour before sailing.  The ship arranged for a Flamenco Show by local Jose De La Vega that was very interesting.  We sailed about 5:00 pm and it was finally warm enough for a balcony sail away.  For dinner we went to the Lido, where staff served the items from the buffet due to the noro concern.  They had Turkey at the carving station and the vegetables were nice.  After dinner it was movie time in the cabin. 

Rock of Gibtraltar
Day Eight--Sunday--at Sea
Seas were fair overnight and the weather is again very nice.  We had a casual morning and then a more formal enjoyable lunch in the MDR.  We explored more of the ship and passengers are enjoying all four swimming pools and the improved weather.  We passed through the straits of Gibraltar late this afternoon.  The ‘Rock of Gibtraltar’ was clearly in view on the starboard side of the ship as we passed as were the Atlas Mountains of Africa on the port side.  First time to have sailed through in day light.  We continued our casual day until we went to the Elite Lounge for the specials of the day: Margaritas.  They also had Guacamole that was surprisingly good.  We attended the production show:  Motor City with the Crown Princess singers and dancers.  It was a good show and we had seats on the front row.  They have a full complement of 10 dancers, many cruise lines have cut the number, I believe there are 6-7 in orchestra.  After the show it was time for dinner in the MDR, I ordered the Asparagus appetizer, Mixed Green Salad, a very nice Pasta, the Beef Tips, and Ice Creme for dessert.  We set our clocks back one hour for the first time tonight.

Day Nine--Monday--Lisbon, Portugal
Belem Tower - Lisbon Portugal
Smooth seas overnight as we now sail the Atlantic.  I had a nice MDR breakfast as I was up earlier probably because of time change. We also arrived in Lisbon earlier than the scheduled 12:00 noon time.  It was a beautiful day perfect for our highlights of Lisbon tour.  We first stopped at the oldest area, the Alfama Quarter, a Moorish section and walked some of the very narrow streets (certainly not the best area of the city).  We then drove through the Baixa area with large old town squares and Rossio Square the heart of the city.  We drove through Edwardo VII Park and saw the gardens and views of lower Lisbon.  We then drove across the 25th of April Bridge (pretty much identical of the Golden Gate and built by the same contractor) to the Christ the King statue on the opposite bank of the Rio Tejo.  The statue is supposed to be a bookend to the Christ statue in Rio de Janeiro.  From here we had a great view of our cruise ship and the City of Lisbon.  We crossed back across the bridge to visit the Belem area and the monuments. We stopped at the Jeronimos Monastery built in the 16th century with the money from Vasco de Gama’s India voyages.  Then to the Belem Tower Fortress also built in the 16th Century and perhaps the symbol of Lisbon.  Here we had time to visit a nearby cafe and sample a Pasteis de Nata de Belem, a creamy custard cup and specialty to the area and some of the local Vino Verde wine.  Last stop was the Monument to the Discoveries commemorating Portugal's great seafarers.  After returning to the ship we had a hamburger and fries then each took a slice of pizza up to the balcony to enjoy the wonderful weather and view.  We are docked below the bridge and Christ statue on opposite shore.  Both were beautifully lighted as we sailed away after dark.  We decided to skip the MDR, but I made a dessert run to the Lido as we enjoyed cabin time.

Day Ten--Tuesday--at Sea
Mermaids Tail Bar on Lido Deck
Seas were smooth most of the night then we hit some high seas that continued through the morning on this cloudy day.  The ship is really rocking this morning.  I went up to the Lido for the first time for breakfast and it was very busy, I suspect because the MDR closes early @ 9:00 am.  Staff is serving due to the continued noro situation.  The are doubling up on the movies shown in both the Princess Theater and Explorers Lounge plus you have new movies on cabin TV.  DW had a Quiche and I the Gelato for a late lunch in the International Cafe, the Quiche was very good.  We did some afternoon shopping and they are offering 10% off on liquor when purchasing two or more bottles plus an additional 10% off if you are an Elite member.  We ran into Captain Andy while out and about this afternoon, always good seeing him again.  We had a light dinner in the Lido Horizon Court then watched the new Batman movie in the Cabin.  A good rest day.

Day Eleven--Wednesday--Ponta Delgada, Azores Islands (Portugal)
Volcanic Lakes - Azores
Fair seas overnight and we arrived in Ponta Delgada about 9:15 am almost an hour early.  It was a beautiful day with sunshine.  After our light room service breakfast we left the ship and arranged for a taxi tour of a part of the island.  We went to the Highlands area where the caldeira of an extinct volcano holds two lakes- one green and one blue separated by a narrow isthmus of lava.  A beautiful location with lots of pine forest.  On the drive there we past many lush green pastures and dairy herds so we were anxious to try the local cheeses.  We returned to the city and stopped at the new small shopping mall as it was mid day and the smaller shops are closed for lunch.  After a bit we walked down to the old town with its narrow cobblestone streets and many shops, stores, and restaurants.  We found a small local place, Casa De Pastos Tavares, to eat and it had primarily the local foods we wanted to sample. First we were brought a basket of fresh bread and a plate of local cheese and butter...the dairy we were hoping to sample.  We ordered a bottle of a local wine, a Portuguese vinho verde style.  I ordered a lunch plate that had very nice thinly sliced panfried pork and garlic with white rice and fried potatoes.  All very good.  The island is well known for pineapples so I asked if I could get some and they brought a whole pineapple for me to view then sliced and cored it and served as a dessert.  It was fantastic very sweet and moist.  We then did some shopping in the old town area including a stop at the local wine shop where we got six bottles of local wine and one bottle of pineapple liquor.  After a local beer and some WiFi access at a cafe near the pier we returned to the ship at the 5:30 return time.  Dinner tonight was good, I ordered a Scallop & Avacado Appetizer, Green Salad, Pasta in Pesto Sauce, Prime Rib with Potato and a Cherries Jubilee Cake for dessert.  It was cabin tine following dinner.

Cruise Itinerary
Day Twelve--Thursday--at Sea
Overcast and windy with very lumpy seas overnight and all day as we begin our six consecutive sea days.  I went to the MDR for breakfast and ordered the specials: a Papaya shell filled with mixed fruit and a traditional English breakfast.  Weather restricts the on deck activities so they have added movies throughout the day and a lot of indoor activities.  The Horizon Court had a seafood theme today with many varieties of fish on buffet, I had catfish.  We watched a few movies in the afternoon and took a walk along decks.  We had cabin time and a bottle of wine before dinner, tonight I ordered Scallops, Onion Soup, Pasta, Steak Diane, And Apple Pie for dessert.  Comedian Manuel Martinez was the primary entertainer this evening in the Princess Theater.  We turned back our time one hour tonight.

Day Thirteen--Friday--at Sea
Moderate Seas today and sunny weather, a great improvement.  I again had an MDR breakfast and ordered the special Huevos Rancherchos although they weren’t what we would call huevos rancherchos back on the ranch in Texas.  After breakfast I visited the Excursion desk and Future Cruise desk.  At 11:00 am we watched a very good British movie: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel in the Explorers Lounge, a movie I had never heard anything about and was very pleased with after viewing.  After the rather long movie we went to the MDR for lunch, I ordered a Salad, Pasta, London Grill, and Rice Pudding.  Much nicer so we had our walk partially on outer decks.  Tonight was the second formal night so we dressed for dinner then went to the Elite Lounge for Cosmopolitans.  Then we went to the Princess Theater to see British comedian Kevin Devane.  He was so bad he was somewhat entertaining.  It was then time for dinner and it was very good, I ordered the Crawfish Appetizer, Pasta, the Chateaubriand, and also had a Lobster when they brought a second helping around for the table.  I had a special chocolate pudding and a crepe for dessert.

Day Fourteen--Saturday--at Sea
Aft Pool - Crown Princess
Smoother seas overnight and a nice sunny day for a morning walk around the ship.  We looked at the shops and made another liquor purchase this morning as they were running out of certain brands.  We did the MDR for lunch and it was very good, I ordered Mexican Soup, Fillet of Sole, and a Blueberry Roulade with Marscapone filling that was the best dessert of the cruise.  We visited with friends and went to the Princess Theater to see the movie: The Hunger Games.  It was off to Club Fusion and the Elite Lounge cocktail gathering where we enjoyed some Cosmopolitans. The drink of the day was a Rob Roy, but we discovered you could have any of the previous DOD’s (drink of the day) for the special Elite/Platinum lounge special ($5) price.  The Production show was What a Swell Party a collection of Cole Porter tunes.  The show was very good and DW’s favorite of the cruise.  Dinner was good, I ordered a Pasta, the Fillet of Sole, and the Roast Beef entree.  We set our clocks back an hour tonight.

Day Fifteen--Sunday--at Sea
Seas were slight overnight so much improved.  I went to the MDR for breakfast and had Eggs Benedict with bacon & hash browns.  Very good and first EB of the cruise although they are offered at lunch in the MDR as a brunch option.  This morning was movie time again watching, The Help.  The morning started cloudy but it was the best weather of the cruise by afternoon.  We had lunch in the MDR: Chicken Tortilla Soup, Pasta, and a small assorted Seafood Mix.  We walked on deck and had balcony time this afternoon.  There was a reception for Circle C members in the Fusions Lounge.  It was nice to let Captain Andy pick up the tab today and the cocktails were good.  There  are 500+ Elites on board, 800+ Platinums and the top three members by sea days had over 800 sea days with the highest over 1100 sea days.  Hard to imagine. I will have just over 200 on Princess upon completion of this cruise.  We ate in the MDR for dinner and have fallen into a routine, with an appetizer, soup, pasta, entree, and dessert.  The dinners do begin to lose their uniqueness on a long cruise.  My entree was a nice fish fillet and so far I have not repeated any dishes although the choices are narrowing as there are a lot of repeats on the menu now.  Tonight we again set back our time another hour, first time we have done it two nights in a row, but tomorrow we will be on Atlantic Time, only one hour off Florida or EST and two off Texas Time.

Day Sixteen--Monday--at Sea
Pub Lunch
Fair seas and nice weather continue.  After all the continuous sea days we have fallen into a routine and we can by choice be lazy at home so we have decided to be more active on the remaining sea days of the cruise.  So for DW it was off to Zumba class and I had a nice MDR breakfast and then a Seminar at Sea.  The Seminar was very good, it was done by John Maxtone-Graham and the subject was the SS France that later became the SS Norway.  I wish I had been attending all of his lectures.  I actually bought his book, Only Way to Cross, almost 30 years ago while sailing on the SS Norway.  We then had a Pub Lunch with friends in the Wheelhouse Bar, this is a limited thing and only offered a few times on the cruise.  I had a Scotch Egg, they also offered Fish & Chips and two other items.  It was then off to the International Cafe to get the12:30 batch of fresh cookies, but they also had the Blueberry Roulade that I enjoyed for dessert a few days earlier for lunch.  Very good.  We had an afternoon walk around the ship and I took some photos for the blog, DW even hit the forward pool in the Spa area.  We went to the Wheelhouse Bar to listen to the La Bohemia String Quartet and have a cocktail before the evenings production show: Hypnotic Showtime with David Knight.  It was made more interesting when an MDR table mate became one of the hypnotized subjects.  Dinner had a good selection tonight, I had a Soup, Pasta, Red Snapper, Pulled Pork, and Cherries Jubilee for dessert.  It was nice busy day.

Day Seventeen--Tuesday--at Sea

Display in Crown Princess Piazza
Again smooth seas overnight.  It’s warm the weather will reach 80° but more overcast than yesterday.  I had a very nice MDR breakfast and DW was off to Zumba.  She says that the Zumba classes are very well done and the room was packed. I enjoyed the weather and walked the outer Promenade deck, a good start to the day.  Today we had a nice lunch on deck by the pool.  This afternoon we attended the Titanic talk by John Maxtone-Graham in the Princess Theater, very informative.  We went early to the Club Fusion for the Elite cocktail specials then to the Comedy Showtime featuring Mark Martinez.  We had some special Side Car cocktails at Crooners Bar before our special Italian night dinner in the MDR.  They served my favorite Princess dish tonight: Eggplant Parmesan and it was as good as I remembered it!  Double Eggplant Parmesan, Pasta, an Entree, and should have had Eggplant Parmesan for dessert. It’s that good. We turn back the clock to EST tonight and we picked up another television station or two today.

Day Eighteen--Wednesday--Fort Lauderdale, Florida  USA

Port Everglades
We arrived very early in port and those debarking began to get off early, but everyone is required to go through US Customs as this is our first port of entry.  We allowed those in a hurry to proceed and we took advantage of having telephone service and internet through my mobile hotspot to catch up on some personal and business matters.  We left the ship after 11:00 am and walked over to some nearby businesses.  We had a very nice lunch at a Tijuana Flats Mexican restaurant.  We picked up some goodies at a Walgreens and headed back to the ship boarding about 2:00 pm. for a 3:30 scheduled sail away.  Fortunately our balcony faces the harbor and the weather was great so we had a very enjoyable time watching the activity in the busy harbor.  I was also able to post the first portion of this review to the website.  We sailed away a bit late nearer 4:30 and all the balconies were full of pax to watch us sail out of Port Everglades through the channel and into the Atlantic.  We ate in the Cafe Caribe tonight, it was a beautiful night to eat on deck especially the aft deck behind the Cafe Caribe.  It was also a perfect night for MUTS (Movies Under The Stars) on Lido deck.  We didn’t attend, but the entertainment in the Princess Theater this evening was the Crew Talent Show.

Day Nineteen--Thursday--at Sea
Vegetable Carving - Crown Princess
Fair seas overnight and beautiful weather all day today.  I went to the MDR for breakfast and DW was off to Zumba.  The browsed the shops that are adding Caribbean displays and items for the new itineraries coming after we arrive in Galveston.  We watched the Vegetable Carving display in the Piazza and while we were there had a light early lunch of Quiche from the International Court. We attended the presentation called, All You Ever Wanted To Know About Passengers, But Were Too Polite To Enquire by John and Mary Maxtone-Graham.  It was very interesting, but I prefer the lectures.  Since the ship passed all the U.S. Health Inspections yesterday passengers were again allowed to serve themselves in the Horizon Court buffets.  I had a nice late afternoon salad since I could ‘build’ it myself and get the individual items in the quantities I preferred.  This was the third Formal Night of the cruise and we went to the Elite Lounge located in Fusions for cocktail. We then attended the production show: Disco-Blame It on the Boogie featuring the Crown Princess Singers & Dancers in the Princess Theater.  Immediately following was the final comments by Captain Andy and a complementary farewell cocktails in the Piazza.  Dinner was very good.  I had Escargot, Tomato Soup, Pasta, Beef Wellington, a Lobster Tail, and Banana Creme Pie for dessert.

Christmas Tree in Piazza
Day Twenty--Friday--at Sea
Very very lumpy seas overnight, we were rocking & rolling much of the night and morning.  We later learned that Capt. Andy had to change course due north into the approaching weather front in order to expedite a passenger evacuation.  I went to the MDR and DW to Zumba, but when we returned we had to leave our cabins as we are located below the center lido deck that was the staging area for the helicopter medical evacuation.  We went to Team Trivia that seemed very fun especially if your with a group.  We had a nice lunch in the Horizon Court, they had peel & eat shrimp and roast beef in the carving station.  They also had a special dessert display called the Pastry Extravaganza in the Cafe Caribe.  When we were allowed back in the cabin we did our packing since they ask for the bags to be placed outside the cabin BEFORE dinner.  We had our final cocktails in the Elite Lounge then attended the Farewell Show in the Princess Theater. The show included the Crown Princess Singers & Dancers, Comedian Manuel Martinez, and soloist Sonia Selbie.  A good show.  They also had a Christmas Show and also sang Christmas Carols in the Piazza.  Final dinner was good, Turkey was my entree and the feature was Baked Alaska.  We turned the clocks back and are now on Texas Time for our arrival tomorrow.

Debarkation--Saturday--Galveston, Texas
Princess calls it Disembarkation and it went well.  We usually do self, but didn’t want to impose on the friends picking us up and chose an 8:30 am time.  The color code given us was for that time.  Since we actually cleared customs in Fort Lauderdale the basically just took our Customs Declaration cards so it went quickly.  After a great breakfast with our friends in Alvin we were on our way home and arrived at the ranch about 4:00 pm.

Ship / Cruise

The Crown Princess is approximately 114,000 gross tons, 950 feet long and breadth of 118 ft. sailing since May 2006. There are about 2800 passengers this cruise so it’s not at full capacity as there are very few 3/4’s booked with only 20+ children on board.  The average age this cruise is 66 years-although it actually seems higher.  Very well dressed and polite experienced passengers for the most part.

We have cabin R330 a standard balcony located on Rivera Deck (deck 14) between the forward and midship elevators on the port side.  The thermostat was good...a real working thermostat that raised and lowered the cabin temperature as needed.  They did have a very good selection of movies on the cabin television including some very recent releases.  Also some TV classics like the Love Boat a natural program for a Princess cruise.  I like the layout very much with the desk and TV on the balcony side of cabin.


Roderick our cabin steward was fantastic.  Our MDR waiters were also very good as were all the dining staff we encountered at breakfast, lunch, or the Horizon Court.  Every crew or staff person I encountered was professional and courteous.  Cruise Director Lisa was very good.

I found the food to be very good.  We did the MDR most evenings, but not exclusively.  The Horizon court would get too full of bodies especially once the crew began serving the guests due to the norovirus prevention situation, but the food was good.  The lunches in the MDR were also very good and the menu changed daily.  The International Cafe had very good alternative choices and freshly baked cookies.  DW (a 30-year vegetarian) rarely is impressed with the food on a cruise, but was very pleased with the food on this cruise.  Pizza and ice creme was popular and also good.

Needs Improvement
The cokes we receive on the Soda Package will be fountain drinks, not from a can, and don’t taste the same.  The MDR breakfast hours end too early IMHO, 7-9:00 am are fine for port days, but much too early for sea days or for Caribbean cruises.  An interactive TV system so that you can check the status of your onboard account or something as simple as the dinner menu would be nice.

Duly Noted
Captain Andy’s noon announcements were always informative and clever.   I never needed or used the fan I brought along.  I enjoyed the classic Love Boat reruns they showed each day. We had the largest on-board account we have ever had, but this was also the longest cruise too, the tips alone were $460 plus a few ship excursions and it adds up quickly. 

Cruise Highlights

Venice was very special, a very unique city in the world.  We also enjoy Barcelona very much.  I had forgotten why Princess was our favorite cruise line until this cruise reminded me.  An outstanding cruise and a great asset for Galveston and Houston to have Princess Cruise Line back in Texas.
Balcony Sunset from Crown Princess

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

  Carnival Magic Cruise Review

November 4, 2012

Just The Facts:
Ship:  Carnival Magic
Ship Captain: Giovanni Cutugno   
Cruise Director: James Charlton
Ports: Galveston, Texas; Montego Bay, Jamaica; Georgetown, Grand Cayman; Cozumel, Mexico
Weather:  Very good all week

This is my 32nd Carnival cruise (1st at Diamond VIFP level) and 76th overall. I am cruising as a solo.

Day One--Sunday--Embarkation
Mongolian Grill on Carnival Magic
I intended to leave the ranch about 6:00 am for the drive south and as I left realized from the 6:00 am news that it was 5:00 am.  I did not turn back the clock for Daylight Savings.  I was in the truck and ready so left early and it was good that I did.  It was raining in the Houston/Galveston area, there was a huge Biker Rally in Galveston, and an NFL football game on my route- so I was able to avoid most of the traffic and arrive at EZ Cruise Parking about 10:30 am.  There were the stragglers debarking the ship and waiting for buses and I noticed a huge line for the port parking shuttles.  Please use EZ Cruise is so much easier than using the official port parking.  I was shuttled over to the cruise terminal through all the traffic for the Bike Rally and was in the VIFP area within a few minutes.  I used to love arriving early, but haven’t done so in a while.  I was on the ship at 11:00 am.  I did not try for the 1st in the Red Frog Pub dash for the free beer, but went to the Mongolian Grill and was first through the line.  Always good to get there early as it’s a very popular spot.  Since there was still a light rain (good excuse) I went down to the Red Frog Pub for a Thirsty Frog beer or two.  Dinesh the bartender is back and we had a good visit.  By 1:30 the cabins were open and the sun was out and it was a beautiful day.  Perfect for sail away.  My bags came about 2:30 so I settled into the cabin and waited for safety drill.  My muster station is E3 in the Southern Lights dining room, an easy location and we were able to sit during the instructions.  We sailed away on time and soon all the shops and bars were doing a brisk business...a very busy ship.  I attended a private cocktail party in the Piano Bar then walked around ship until time for late dinner.  I was seated with Travel Agents as they knew I was one and that was fine...although I’m not keen with table location.  For dinner I ordered the Tomato Soup, a Shrimp Cocktail, the Tilapia with the Creme Brulee and Butter Pecan Ice Creme for dessert.  It was good. After dinner and a longer than planned day I retired to the cabin where I found a bottle of champagne and some nice chocolate covered strawberries that had been left for me.  Sweet.  The Welcome Show was at 10:15 pm. James the Cruise Director always has a nice welcome show.

Day Two--Monday--at Sea
Dinesh / Red Frog Pub
Very calm seas and I had a very good nights sleep.  I went up to Lido for a light breakfast as I would have normally done a MDR breakfast, but now that they have the Punchliner Comedy Buffet that’s not an option for early breakfast passengers.  It was much more crowded on the Lido buffet than usual under the new system, too many people at the omelette station to stand in line and the runny scrambled eggs in the buffet were very bad so I am not a fan of the new system so far.  I attended a seminar for Travel Agents at 9:00 am. but left early to go to the Punchliner Comedy Buffet about 11:00 am.   I was able to order my usual Eggs Benedict but the menu was a combo breakfast/lunch menu so actually there were much fewer selections available.  The little show is really just a promo for the Comedy Club, really nothing special at all.  After breakfast I walked around the ship until our scheduled Private cocktail party for the Facebook roll call group in the Piano Bar at 2:00 pm.  I was able to meet new friends including a couple from my hometown in Oklahoma.  The cocktail sever was excellent and he kept us fully stocked with cocktails.  Continuing the party several of us headed to the Red Frog Pub and rang the bell with a tube of Thirty Frog.  Fun time on the Fun ship.  I returned to the cabin about 5:00ish for some R&R and found the improved canapés delivered for Elegant night.  At 7:00 pm I attended the fantastic production show: Grooveline. It was much better than when I previously saw it. They simplified some costuming and concentrated on the music, at least that's how I remember it.  Very enjoyable show, best of the cruise and not to be missed.  I had asked Ante the maître'd for a better table and I now had a 10-top table in the center area of the Southern Nights dining room. I feel more at home after spending thirty days in that area.  I knew one couple from VIFP check in and the interesting thing was that there were two single ladies traveling together that had never met prior to the cruise. Guess where they met: Cruisemates! For those that may not know, I have been a moderator on Cruisemates for five years. How cool? One had been reading my blog for many years and knew a lot about me (that can be good or bad) so it was very intriguing.  For dinner I ordered the White Stuffed Mushroom, the Spaghetti Carbonara, the Prime Rib, and Cherries Jubilee.  Dinner was very good and enjoyable.  After dinner I took a walk around deck before turning in for the evening.

Day Three--Tuesday—at Sea
Huevos & Carne at Punchliner Comedy Brunch
Another good nights sleep. I purchased the NEW unlimited internet package on the first day and I have discovered that the fastest speed is in the early morning so I went up to Lido for a some light breakfast items then back to cabin for some internet time. I then went to the Punchliner Comedy Brunch for a proper breakfast.  It was still a small line at 10:00 but I was seated fairly soon.  I had the Huevos & Carne (steak & eggs) and they were excellent.  I just don’t care for the brunch concept.  After breakfast I bought some Carnival Magic items (by request) in the gift shop for some friends and walked around decks for a bit.  Since I had a nice late breakfast I just had a Tuna Salad sandwich from the Market Deli aft on Lido deck for a late lunch snack. I had not had one from the deli before... It was light and refreshing.  I had a nice nap before getting ready for the VIFP Diamond Reception held by the Captain at 5:30 in the Play It Again Piano Bar.  There were seven Diamond guests show up and twice that many staff and officers.  There were complimentary cocktails and fantastic horderves, the best I have ever had on a cruise ship.  Piano music and more than enough servers to keep everyone happy.  Captain Cutugno visited with all the guests and it was a nice get together.     A few of us stayed on (with refreshed cocktails) to enjoy music in the Piano Bar by James until dinner.  It was my first time to hear Jim Morris in a while and he was very enjoyable.  Dinner was good, I ordered: French Onion Soup, Penne Pasta with Seafood, Short Rib of Beef, and the Fig & Date dessert.  Overall it was a very enjoyable evening.   After dinner I went to the cabin to watch the U.S. Election results on television then a movie.

Day Four--Wednesday--Montego Bay, Jamaica
Pool & Toys to almost yourself on a port day
A very good nights sleep and calm seas.  I was awake very early (6:00am) and got in some great very high speed internet time.  We arrived in Montego Bay about 8:30 and I am not planning on going ashore so I can enjoy a nice casual day without the crowds.  I saw new friends in the MDR and joined them for breakfast, I had the Eggs Benedict, potatoes, bacon, fruit, tomato juice and leche caliente.  All very good.  With most off the ship it was time to hit the main pool.  It was refreshing, but even more refreshing is going down the slides in the Magic Waterworks.  Down the Twister (yellow in photo) and down the Drainpipe (orange in photo) is great fun, the Twister can be a little intense, but there was a young kid doing it twice to each of my single passes.  It's great to use the pool on a port day when most passengers are off the ship.  A little more pool time, then some rest before I ate in the Cucina Del Capitano.  Always good food there. I had a Bowie Pasta with tomato sauce, cherry tomatoes, & arugula.  Also a Lasagna with extra meat sauce and bread.  Not many eating there on a port day so a good choice.  Pax were coming back to the ship by now so no afternoon pool, but a nap that is easy to do in the interior cabin. It was already getting dark when I went to the Red Frog Pub at 5:00 to meet friends.  It was dark when we sailed away a little before 6:00 pm and we were working on our second tube of Thirsty Frog Red.  A good place for sail away as always.  Dinner time came pretty quick, it was actually one of the weaker menu nights, I ordered: the Potato Soup, Neptune Seafood Platter, Beef Stroganoff and Bitter & Blanc and Tiramisu for dessert.  The Potato soup was the best item by far.  Tonight was the big production magic show: Destination Unknown and also the great burlesque show: A Kiss Goodnight.

Day Five--Thursday--Georgetown, Grand Cayman
Carnival Magic Water Works Fun!
We arrived early and anchored off Georgetown.  My cabin location certainly lets you know when the thrusters are being used so that was my wake up call. The Captain must have confidence in the thrusters as all the other ships anchored off Spotts Bay.  The MDR was only open from 6:30-8:30 this morning so it was good I was around early.  I Had my ‘hearty country breakfast’ this morning since I was in no hurry.  Three Fried Eggs over easy with Hash Browns, Bacon, Ham, Corned Beef Hash, Toast, Leche Caliente, Tomato Juice, and a Banana as a starter.  It was done very well.  I had decided to again stay on board.  It was a nice breezy day so it was very comfortable on deck.  I staked-out a nice padded lounger on deck 11 with a view of Seven-Mile beach and read and enjoyed a few diet cokes most of the day.  Very nice.  As people began to come back I went down to Lido to get a nice Mongolian Grill for lunch before it got too busy.  Since it was cloudy with a breeze the weather was ideal for being lazy today.  I had to return to the cabin in late afternoon to get ready for the VIFP party at 4:30pm. The reception was held in the Theater and it was full of Gold, Platinum, and Diamond guests.  They had the large Funship Specials and I like them so that was my drink for the evening.  It was fun, the same Mardi Gras theme as on the Glory cruise so I guess that it is fleet-wide and they did call the Diamond guests by name onto the stage.  Interesting and fun.  I did meet some old and new friends as they recognized me from being on stage.  After the party I went to the Piano Bar to see soloist TJ playing.  It was a very fun show as he had a drunk lady at the bar who he incorporated into his act.  He turned a possible situation into a humorous positive especially on the song I Love This Bar where she would sing the final line of each chorus.  It was dinner time and I ordered:  Escargot, Seafood appetizer, Martini Braised Basa Fillet & Baked Alaska for dessert.  After dinner (10:15) the production show was WIN! in the Showtime Theater.

Day Six--Friday--Cozumel, Mexico
Diamond Guests and Ship Crew @ VIFP Party
It was a beautiful day in Cozumel.  We did not arrive until 10:00 am so I had plenty of time for a very nice relaxed breakfast in the Northern Lights dining room.  I left the ship about 11:00 and headed to San Miguel.  Although I just got my haircut here a few weeks ago I had Martin trim it up as I won’t be back for a while and I will be busy before my next trip in a few weeks.  I went down to Woody’s Sports Bar owned by our friends Nelly and Pepe and used their free Wifi for a while.  They were very busy as there are two NCL ship docked near downtown at Puerto Langosto.  Also docked were the Carnival Magic at Puerto Maya and the Oasis of the Seas (largest cruise ship in the world) at the International pier.  Later I went to Wet Wendy’s for a Mango Margarita and a Chili Relleno.  After a little shopping and picking up some Mexican vanilla I returned to the ship about 4:30pm.  I visited with a friend and we tried the early opening of the Lido Marketplace.  They usually have very good desserts, some that will be in the MDR and some unique.  This is a secret I learned while on the Magic TA for 16 days.  I did see the new sushi display area in the Lido Marketplace, they have closed the original Sushi Bar area on the Promenade deck since I was on the ship last.  Marcus Monroe was the feature entertainer and for late dinner seating the show was at 7:00 pm.  Dinner was good tonight, I ordered the California Salad Greens, Red Snapper, and the Filet Mignon & Short Rib combination.  The beef dish is one of their better meat dishes IMHO.  I returned to the cabin after dinner, but went up to deck 11 to see Magic’s Latin Fiesta and was I glad I did.  I had never seen so many great salsa dancers ever before.  They had the entire pool deck as a dance floor and they were taking advantage of the music played by the DJ.  It was amazing to see so many having fun!

Day Seven--Saturday--at Sea
Carnival Magic sailing the Gulf
I had a very good nights sleep.  This morning it was updating email and making some bookings online.  I really like the internet package option available on the Carnival Magic.  I enjoyed a wonderful breakfast at the Comedy Brunch, I again ordered the Huevos & Carne (steak & eggs) along with some extra sides all prepared very well. After brunch I got a nice lounger on deck 11 overlooking the pool area.  The DJ was doing a good job, really better than the old steel drum bands of the past.  There were many up and dancing to the tunes and I’d never seen that before the DJ concept.  In the late afternoon I went to Cucina Del Capitano for a bowl of pasta.  I’ve been lucky to eat in my favorite places twice on this cruise.  I thought I’d go by and check the casino and it was packed.  I noticed a lot of Alabama fans setting up at some tables for the football game in the sports bar area.  I went back to the cabin for some rest before evening and so noticed on the cabin TV that Texas A&M was in a close game with #1 Alabama.  Remembering what I had seen earlier I went up to the sports bar to see the 2nd half of the football game.  It was very exciting as the Alabama fans and the Aggie fans were really going at it with each other, but mostly in a fun way.  Very interesting.  The game was very good too.  I went back to the cabin to change for dinner as I was planning on having a cocktail at the Red Frog Pub.  Just one, but it was a ‘fishbowl’ size.  It does take an hour to drink if your having one on your own.  Dinner was very good, I ordered the New England Crab Cake,  Grilled Chicken Brest on Fettuccine, Roasted Prime Rib of Beef, Panko Crusted Jumbo Shrimp, and Gran Mariner Souffle for dessert.  The Carnival Legends Show was at 10:15 following dinner.

Just a few blocks from terminal
We arrived back in Galveston just about on schedule despite leaving Cozumel late.  I was up early as I had not started packing.  Yes they used an assist tug in the turning basin an getting the ship to the pier.  I packed and went up to the Southern Lights Dining Room for breakfast about 7:15 am.  They were calling self-debark guests by the time I made it back to the cabin so I picked up my bag and headed to deck three and was in the cue to leave the ship...punching (clicking) out at 8:00 am exactly.  I have found that timing the debark so that I skip the VIFP meet up place and being able to roll directly from the cabin to the gangway is the simplest option by far.  They again had the casual inspection at Customs as they did three weeks ago so I was able to roll my bag from the gangway to the parking lot by 8:15 am.  Amazingly smooth.  I was off the island by 8:30 am and home before 1:00 pm.

Crew / Staff
I found the crew to be very good.  I was able to meet many ships officers through the Diamond reception and VIFP party. The ship seems to be in very capable hands.  I enjoyed visiting with Sam the new Hotel Director who must be the youngest in the fleet. 

I had cabin 1414 a category a 1A interior on Riviera deck.  It had a single bed (and a drop down option), standard Carnival 3-section closet unit, mini fridge bar (never used), push button safe, seat for vanity, and lots of floor space.  It originally didn’t have a table, but they borrowed one for me for the week.  Overall a nice cabin for a solo cruiser.  I was worried about vibration or cavitation with the cabin located so low and aft on the ship...basically over the thrusters, but other than docking in ports it was not noticeable.   On Grand Cayman day when we are anchored they do use the thrusters to hold the ship in position so plan to be out of the cabin while anchored.  Luis the cabin steward was great.  He kept the cabin very clean and kept my small cooler full of ice.

Punchliner Comedy Brunch
This was my first time to experience this.  If your a cruiser that likes to party late and sleep in the mornings to 10:00ish then it's probably ideal for you.  If your a cruiser that likes to get up earlier it really limits your breakfast options.  Since they have implemented this system there are only three options for breakfast:  Room Service, Lido buffet, or the Brunch.  No regular (MDR) dining room service.  The Lido opens later (7:30) and the Brunch starts at 9:00 am.  What has happened is all the diners that would have eaten in the MDR from 8-9:00 are now in the Lido.  The only eggs on the buffet were some very runny scrambled eggs so trying to get anywhere near the omelette station requires a long wait.  This also causes a huge line to form waiting for the Brunch to open at 9:00 am in the Northern Lights dining room and it takes a while to get everyone seated.  You also get the confusion of people wanting to just see what they think is a comedy show and not interested in breakfast AND people who just want a nice breakfast and not interested in all the noise of the comedy routine.  Very confusing.  That being said, the menu is fantastic.

I really think the aft pool should be adult only.  There were kids jumping in the pool (big splashes that really annoyed the ladies) and younger kids with floaties taking up far too much area.  If the Disney Magic with many more children sailing can have an adult pool then surely the Carnival Magic can have one.  I really like that the Mongolian Grill and other food venues open right away on embarkation day.  It was a mistake for the them to wait until noon as they used to do.

The Diamond VIFP reception by the Captain was great.  The unlimited internet package is fantastic and has actually elevated the Carnival Magic to one of my favorite Carnival cruise ships.  I very much like the Magic, Glory, and Conquest, perhaps in that order.

Another fantastic FUN cruise!!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Disney Magic

Disney Magic Cruise Review

October 13, 2012

Just The Facts:
Ship:  Disney Magic
Ship Captain: Captain John
Cruise Director: Mr. Peter
Ports: Galveston, Grand Cayman, Costa Maya, Cozumel
Weather:  Very good all week

I was excited about this cruise and review as this is my 1st  Disney (DCL) cruise, but 75th overall.  I am traveling with the Dear Wife (DW) and we know that there will be a lot of new experiences this cruise.

Day One--Saturday--Embarkation
Cabin 6543 - Deck Six
We left the ranch about 6:30 am for the drive south and arrived about 11:00 am at EZ Cruise parking.  I was a bit worried if they would have parking space as DD (Dear Daughter) was arriving on the Carnival Triumph and they were not allowing passengers to debark due to a US Customs situation. No problem and they had us shuttled over to the Disney Magic by 11:20.  We proceeded through security and Disney check-in straight away.  They we’re just about to start boarding and since we had a higher boarding number went to the Cabin Upgrade line to see what was available.  We had already lucked out with cabin assignment as we booked an interior guarantee at a very good rate and got a category 11 interior on deck six.  Because of the value fare we had the upgrade charge for us would have been $600 to O/V or $1400 to Veranda so we passed as that was more than we paid for the cruise in base fare.  It was now boarding time and we proceeded up the gangway to the ship.  As you enter the atrium they have a staff of people in uniform who great each party individually and announce you as you enter the ship.  They then assist with directions and questions. Very impressed, the Disney Magic has begun!  It was now about noon so we went to Parrots Caye, one of the MDR’s, for a buffet lunch.  They also have the Topside buffet on Lido deck, but we chose the MDR.  They had a salad area and fair selection of entrees, I had the pork cutlets.  The big item was fresh Peel & Eat Shrimp with cocktail sauce.  Very good.  Since our cabins were not yet ready we went to the Diversions Lounge to watch the OU vs.UT football game.  It was amazing how many Sooner fans, including myself, were wearing their colors as we boarded the ship. I later learned that it was a fall holiday at many schools in Oklahoma and that is why there were many Sooners on board.  The Texas fans seemed to have changed right away as OU won big 63-21.  Diversions is set up well for NCAA football on Saturdays showing the feature game on big screen and most all others on smaller TV sets. It makes since once you realize that Disney owns ESPN sports network.  We went to our cabin (6543) and was very pleased with first impression.  It’s 184 sf and decorated in a very nice nautical theme with a lot of wood trim and brass hardware.  We rested until boat drill was held at 3:45.  We went to our muster station and the roll was taken electronically by a staff member with the roster on an iPad type device.  Good that we went and it only took about 25 minutes.  We got the drink of the day, a Bon Voyage (similar to a Miami Vice), and went to the sail away party on Lido deck.  The entertainment staff and all the Disney characters danced and performed and they shot streamers and confetti into the air at the conclusion reminiscent of sail always from an earlier era.  After sail away we dressed for dinner and went to The Welcome Show in the Walt Disney Theater. It was the best welcome show I’ve seen featuring the production cast and Disney Characters dressed as passengers and crew at ship embarkation.  The routine/show was a great way to introduce pax to the ship.  The CD, Mr. Peter introduced two of the feature performers,  Steve Carte and Brad Cummings who each did a small part of their act as well.  After the show we went back to Diversions that is now set up as a bar and has light snacks such as Guacamole, Salsa, Queso, Buffalo Wings and more. It really reminded me of the Diamond Lounge on RCL ships. I had a Stella Artoi on tap and sampled the snacks.  Still exploring we went to Sessions, the Piano Bar.  It was very nice and we know we will return, but it’s now time for dinner.  On Disney ships you rotate between three themed restaurants although you keep the same wait staff.  Tonight we were in Lumiere’s dining room.  We had a nice eight top table, all adults, including a couple from OKC we had sailed with in the past.  I was very impressed with the wide variety of good selections offered on the first night dinner menu.  Entrees included Duck, Lamb, Choice Angus Steak, also a variety of salads and French Onion Soup.  I ordered the Shrimp Cocktail, Escargot, Tomato Soup, and Sea Bass.  I was very impressed with the Escargot, it was actually the better French variety and was served with a proper cocktail fork. Also a great selection of desserts, I ordered the Grand Mariner Souffle and the Creme Brulee.  After a great dinner and a long busy day we retired to the cabin for the evening.

Day Two--Sunday--at Sea
Signals Bar in Quiet Cove (adult only)
Very nice seas and we had a very good nights sleep.  The weather today is perfect with clear skies and warm, but comfortable temperatures in the mid 80’s.  We slept late and went up to Topsiders buffet for breakfast.  Not a wide variety but all the basics for breakfast.  After breakfast I made some notes in the cabin then we went exploring the ship.  We just happened to walk by Topsiders buffet as they opened for lunch and although early for us we went to see the fresh presentation of the food.  It was Italian themed so I had some Antipasto, Chicken Cacciatore, a Shrimp and Rice dish, and small Tiramisu for dessert.  After lunch we went to Quiet Cove to swim.  It’s a very nice adult only swimming pool and area.  At 2:30 we attended a Martini Cocktail Presentation in the Sessions Bar.  It was interesting and they served us four small martini’s while explaining various types and styles of the drink.  Following we went back to Quiet Cove to relax, swim, enjoy a cocktail, and visit with new friends.  They made an announcement that the evenings feature presentation (our time would have been 6:15 to attend as late dining has the early show times) had been cancelled for tonight so we just extended our little deck party through sundown in the Quiet Cove.  Dinner tonight was in Animators Palate dining room, another interesting MDR.  For dinner I ordered a Slow Roasted Duck & Cheese Quesadilla, The Beast’s Potato & Sausage Soup, and the Peppercorn Crusted New York Strip Steak.  All very good.  For dessert I ordered Cinderella’s Lemon Cheesecake and a Princess Aurora Sundae. After dinner we went to Rockin’ Bar D, a smaller showroom and bar, to see the physical comedy of Steve Carte.  It was an adult only show and very entertaining, we then stayed to watch the Love & Marriage show following. 

Day Three--Monday—at Sea
Minnie at Character Breakfast
Another good sleep and pretty day although more clouds.  We slept as late as possible as we had our scheduled Disney Character Breakfast this morning at 9:45 am in the Parrots Caye Dining room.  Our assigned table and waiters even rotate with you for this event as well as dinners.  I enjoyed a Denver Omelette with sides of sausage and bacon while the Disney characters all came by the table for photographs during breakfast. Very interesting.  After breakfast we looked at the Disney shops then went to the Buena Vista Theater to see the movie: The Odd Life of Timothy Green at 11:15 am.  It’s a great theater designed specifically to show Disney movies on board and the movie was very good.  After the movie we went to the Topsider buffet and the theme was ‘steakhouse’.  They had very nice small steaks they grilled on deck.  I really enjoyed the fresh Crusted Cod with tarter sauce and they again had the fresh peel & eat shrimp with cocktail sauce.  It was an excellent lunch.  At 2:30 we attended the Tequila and Margarita Cocktail Presentation ($15) in Sessions.  They served five samples and they were very interesting, the margaritas were much better than the tequila shooters-IMHO. Just a little cabin time before getting ready for evening activities.  At 6:15 we went to the big production show Twice Charmed in the main Walt Disney Theater and it was a wonderful Disney production with a large cast and amazing sets and costumes.  After the show we went to Sessions, the piano bar, for some tunes and a wonderful Side Car cocktail.  Tonight we had our late dinner in Parrot’s Caye.  It was good, they had some nice Hearts of Palm for me and I ordered the Crab Cake, Mango Peach Chilled Soup, Rib Eye Steak and the Creme Brulee Cheese Cake for dessert.

Day Four--Tuesday--Grand Cayman
Pirate Night Deck Party
It’s a warm and beautiful day.  We arrived at Grand Cayman and anchored off Spott’s Bay not the usual downtown Georgetown location.  We have decided to stay on board and enjoy the ship since we have been here many times.  DW had room service breakfast and I went to Lumiere’s for my first proper breakfast of Eggs Benedict, bacon, hash browns, etc., it was the best breakfast of the cruise so far.  After breakfast it was up to Quiet Cove the adult only area to swim and relax.  They have a large pool, two hot tubs, Signals Bar, padded loungers, tables, and a small cafe: The Cove.  They also have entertainment in the afternoon and evenings, a very nice touch. The three beers on tap at Signals bar: Shiner Bock, Longboard Island Lager, and Bud Light. Everyone knows about Shiner Bock, a great Texas beer, but the Longboard, a Hawaiian beer is very nice as well.  We had lunch in Topsiders and it was again very good.  They had Crab Legs, Sirloin Steak on the carving station, Lobster Rolls, and much more.  A really amazing selection for lunch.  For dessert they had a make your own Sundae station.  After lunch we returned to the Quiet Cove area.  It’s really busier than I thought it would be as many cast members were also enjoying the pool and great weather.  Interesting seeing them and speculating on who is which particular Princess, Prince Charming, Pirate, or Disney character.  We sailed from Grand Cayman about 4:30 and we enjoyed our day on ship.  We returned to the cabin to get ready for the 6:15 show featuring David McWilliams or Magic Dave.  He had an interesting show, very family oriented as he used children in the act.  After the show we went to Sessions for piano music and a couple of Side Car cocktails.  Tonight is Pirate Night on the ship and many guests and most of the crew are dressed in pirate gear this evening.  Dinner tonight was back in Lumiere’s.  The wait staff is dressed as pirates and there were Pirate scarves for the guests as well as a Pirate Caribbean menu.  They again had Hearts of Palm for me and I ordered a wonderful Pirates Golden ‘Pot Sticker’ (a dumpling stuffed with pork) and a Castaway Chicken Breast in light jerk sauce.  After dinner we went on deck for the big Pirate Deck Party.  They had entertainers and Disney Characters dressed as pirates dancing.  Also some new characters: Smee and Captain Hook made an appearance.  The highlight was pirate Mickey sailing down, by zip line, from the top of the stack to the stage on lido deck followed by fireworks.  Very impressive and the first time I have seen fireworks from a cruise ship.  The night was not over though as we went to the Buena Vista theater to watch Finding Nemo in 3D.  It was almost 1:00 am by the time we got back to the cabin...a very long and enjoyable day.

Day Five--Wednesday--Costa Maya, Mexico
Mahahual, Mexico - 100% Agave
Nice weather and a good nights sleep.  We are heading towards Costa Maya with a noon arrival scheduled.  We both had room service for breakfast this morning then went up to Quiet Cove for a swim.  We are enjoying the adult area very much.  We had an early lunch at Topsiders and it’s Tex-Mex day.  If you know how to do the right combinations of the Tex-Mex items on the buffet you can have a very nice meal.  The steak tortillas (I would call them Tacos al Carbon) were very good if you added Pico de Gallo and the Pulled Pork was great especially if rolled in a tortilla.  The guacamole, etc. was just OK, but we are on a cruise ship and not in Mexico or Texas.  We left the ship about 12:30 and took the shuttle to Mahahual.  We found Fernando’s 100% Agave and got a nice table and palpa right on the beach.  We enjoyed a Sangria Margarita and a Mango Margarita and soon were joined by our new friends so we stayed and made a day of it.  We decided on the regular lime Margaritas as the drink of the day and enjoyed alternating swimming with cocktails until 5:00.  Beautiful weather, great beach and view, great drinks and snacks, massages, a perfect beach day.  We took a taxi back to the ship and straight up to the pool for a quick dip to cool off again.  We went to the production show Villains in the Walt Disney Theater at 6:15 and it was a fantastic show featuring the villains from several different Disney shows.  Dinner was again very good, The Mushroom Risotto appetizer was the highlight, I ordered the Veal as an entree and the Dessert Sampler (they have a variety platter available each night that has three smaller portions of the evenings desserts).  Also my Hearts of Palm were there.  After dinner we went back to the cabin to to rest after the busy day.

Day Six--Thursday--Cozumel, Mexico
Disney Dreams cast
It was a beautiful, but hot day in Cozumel.  We arrived very early, but did not chose to leave the ship early.  I had nice a breakfast of Eggs Benedict, et al.. in Luminere’s and DW had her usual room service.  We are docked at Puerto Langosta that is walking distance to San Miguel and I walked over about 9:30 so I could be at Antonio’s Barber Shop by 10:00 opening.  DW stayed on board to swim in the Quiet Cove pool that she had to herself.  After my haircut I went to Woody’s Sports Bar to use their free Wifi and catch up on the internet.  Soon the owner, Nelly, came by and saw me and we had a good long visit on the patio. Soon DW came by and we did a little shopping before going by Wet Wendy’s to split a Mango Margarita.  We returned to the ship early by 3:00 to swim (it was scheduled to leave by 4:00 anyway...much too early IMHO).  We are really enjoying the adult Cove area of the ship.  We relaxed and swam well beyond sail away until we needed to get ready for the evening show.  The production show was Disney Dreams that featured a lot of Disney Characters we had not seen as yet.  A fantastic show, you really must seem them, the costuming and sets are fantastic.  This was the Captains dinner night and the menu was very good. Again my Hearts of Palm were there. I ordered the Oysters Rockefeller, Lobster, a very good Chicken entree and the Dessert Sampler.  After dinner we went back to the cabin to watch Disney programming on the TV.

Day Seven--Friday--at Sea

Caption above cabin bed
Well this was an interesting day.  The plan was to primarily be a movie day as two we wanted to see, Frankenweenie and Brave were being shown in the Buena Vista Theater, then relax in the Cove.  It was not to be.  After 76 cruises I guess it was our time, but we both contracted the norovirus.  It began during the night and it’s not good.  I made a trip down to the Medical Center and got medicine, but basically we were in bed for 36 hours.  The virus seems to run it’s course in just over 24+ hours, but that put us into the second night.  We each had one piece of toast and some crackers for the entire day.  A big difference from the previous 6 days, but I lost all the weight that I gained.  It’s not uncommon for me to ‘catch’ a bug since I live in an isolated place then get around a big group of people, but this is the first time to get the dreaded cruise norovirus.

We arrived back in Galveston just after 6:00 am well ahead of schedule.  We had planned on using the Express Walk-off debarkation, but really had no choice as we were much too weak to pack on Friday.  We began packing about 6:45 am in hopes it would begin early and we could beat even the early crowd.  I was feeling much better and DW was still weak, but we made it down to the Rockin’D the designated Express Walk-off location about 7:15 and yes they were allowing pax off early.  We were through customs about 7:30 am..  We walked to the car, filled with gas at our usual Galveston location ($3.42 gal), and was on the bridge by 8:00 am.  We did run into Texas A&M football traffic that delayed us somewhat, but we were back at the ranch at 1:00 pm..

Maiden Voyage: July 30, 1998
Passenger Capacity: 2,400 | Gross Tonnage: 83,000 tons
Length: 964 feet | Beam: 106 feet | Draft: 25.26 feet
Cruising Speed: 23 knots
We both love the design of the ship.  It has an old fashioned Ocean Liner theme and has a lot of Art Deco and Nautical themes throughout.  It uses large portholes in lieu of square windows and the uses lots of rigging to give it an older feel.  All the public rooms are wonderful, especially the themed MDR’s and Art Deco rooms. 

Crew / Staff
The staff and crew always greet you. From the beginning of embarkation to every crew member on ship they always acknowledge passengers with a greeting. The bar staff all very friendly. The cabin steward, Rohan Murray did a very good job. Our dining room waiters were excellent. Aditya Salian, from India, our server and Servet Yuksel his assistant were probably the best team I have ever had on a cruise.  It helped that they have fewer tables and really well for us that on late setting we were their only table.

We had cabin 6543 a category 11 interior, It’s 184 sf (the same as a Carnival interior cabin). Decorated in a nautical art deco style with a couch, curtain separator, push button safe, small refrigerator (not a mini bar), flat screen TV, radio/phone communication system, and two closets.  The cabin seems larger since there is the full couch, there is good floor space.  Since Disney cabins are designed for families there is a drop down bunk and the uncomfortable couch makes into a bed.  There is not really that much storage for the two of us, I would hate to have any 3rd or 4th along.  The bath room is very small with very little storage for toiletries.  The cabin Television features many Disney channels and programs.  There was a wide variety of Disney classics and newer movies throughout the week.

I have mixed feelings about the food.  Breakfasts are very weak and not a good salad bar anywhere.  The lunches were half and half...some great, some just ok.  Two days were some of the best lunches I’ve ever had on a cruise ship.  The dinners were all very good to excellent. Steak is available every night either on the main menu or the everyday menu.  We had dinner reservations for Palo, but canceled as the dinners in the MDR were so good.  I would do Palo for brunch since breakfast is the weaker meal.  There were ice creme machines and a soda fountain on Lido deck.

We really enjoyed and took advantage of the adult Quiet Cove area. The productions shows in the Walt Disney Theater were all excellent.  The Disney first run movies in the Buena Vista theater were also great.  We also enjoyed the Sessions, the piano bar.  The crew and staff were also all so very well trained.  Also the unlimited soda fountain was great for us that drink Coca-cola products.

It was our first Disney cruise and in spite of the final day we really enjoyed it.  Our initial fear was that there would be too many children.  There are so many scheduled children’s activities that the kids are kept very busy and as experienced cruisers we took advantage of being on ship when most were away and did activities at different times in order to minimize those ‘family’ times. My contrarian cruise theory worked very well. If you are into the Disney experience you will have a fantastic time.  There are numerous Disney character gatherings, the limited addition Disney collector pins, Disney activities & games, and so much more.  You literally can not walk for more than a few minutes on board without running into a Disney Character.

The new 8-day Disney cruise from Galveston next year will be very Disney intensive with calls at the private island of Castaway Key, Key West, and a day at WDW.  I’m not sure I will do that, but DW and DD would.  I will cruise the Disney Wonder when she comes to Galveston.

Disney Magic - Costa Maya, Mexico - 10/17/2012

The End