Saturday, December 21, 2013

TABC to begin collecting taxes from Galveston Cruises in 2014


If your a Texas resident it just became a little more expensive to bring liquor back 
from your cruise.  See the following press release:

El Paso, TX (KTSM) — The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) will begin collecting personal importation taxes on alcohol and cigarettes from passengers returning from cruises in Galveston in 2014.

On January 4, 2014, cruise travelers disembarking out of the Port of Galveston will need to pay the tax for alcoholic beverages and cigarettes imported into the state that were purchased either on the ship's duty free store or at a foreign port of call.

TABC currently operates 20 ports of entry collection facilities along the Texas-Mexico border where the tax is presently collected.

During the recent legislative session, the agency was appropriated funding to begin tax collection of imported alcoholic beverages and cigarettes from seaport facilities.

The Galveston Port facility will be the first seaport location where this tax will be collected with plans to extend to the Houston-Bayport facility in the fall of 2014.

Section 107.07 of the Alcoholic Beverage Code, in effect for over 40 years, requires that each adult (21 years old and over) importing alcoholic beverages into the state for personal consumption pay the state tax and an administrative fee of $3.00.

The law limits personal importation by an adult to once every 30 days with limits of: 1 gallon of distilled spirits, 3 gallons of wine, and 288 ounces of malt beverages (24 12-ounce containers).

Persons importing alcoholic beverages must personally accompany the product as it enters the state.

For a detailed list of the taxes for both cigarettes and alcoholic beverages go to

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Caribbean Princess

Caribbean Princess

Cruise Review 12/7/2013

Just the Facts:
Ship: Caribbean Princess
Captain: Girgio Pomata
Cruise Director: Brett Siborne
Ports: Houston, Cozumel, Roatan, Belize

I am sailing with the Dear Wife (DW) and a group of 9 good cruising friends. We all like Princess Cruise Line and are very happy that they are sailing again from Texas.  This is my 21st Princess cruise, first time on the Caribbean Princess, and 83rd cruise overall.

Friday / Travel
North Texas was experiencing a major ice storm so we wanted to leave a day earlier than we would have, but didn’t leave soon enough.  It took us more than an hour to get down our mountain and off our property as it was solid ice everywhere.  We finally got to Clifton and once to State Highway 6 the roads where much improved.  South of Waco it was fine and soon we were beyond the ice line and in a few hours at our friends house in Cypress.  After some good Texas BBQ we were resting for the big day tomorrow.

Saturday / Embarkation / Houston / Day 1
Piazza - Caribbean Princess
We were up early and soon on our way to our group meeting point in Alvin, Texas.  We have a special plan today for transport to the cruise terminal.  Our group of nine are all riding together in a very nice motorhome.  In the MoHo we had breakfast snacks and morning cocktails so it was a very fun hour drive to Bayport and the party started very early.  In  addition to the nine we have two local friends doing the Bon Voyage experience.  This is unique to Princess and allows BV guests to board for the day, enjoy lunch, have a complementary welcome photo, tour the ship and receive a future cruise credit.  This also allowed the entire group to board early so we were through security, check-in, and on the ship about 11:30 am.  After dropping our bags we all met for a welcome cocktail in Crooners, the martini bar on deck 7.  We all had lunch in the Coral Dining Room, one of three Main Dining Rooms (MDR) located on ship and open for Bon Voyage, Platinum & Elite guests on embarkation day.  Lunch was fantastic I ordered the Shrimp Salad, Beef Tenderloin, and Orange Cheesecake.   After lunch we toured the ship visiting: Lido Deck (quickly as it’s cold outside @ 34°), International Cafe, Skywalker’s on deck 18 aft, the various Public Lounges on Promenade Deck, and ending in the Princess Theater.  Our Bon Voyage friends left about 3:00ish as Boat Drill is scheduled for 3:30.  Our bags were delivered by now so we unpacked and then had a nice quick nap.  We did not sail until after our scheduled time getting way about 6:00 pm.  Some went to the 7:00 pm Welcome Show, but since we were in the Houston ship channel I was getting some last minute internet use as we had phone service for the two+ hours it took to get into the Gulf of Mexico.  It was now time for our first dinner in the Palm MDR, the designated set time dining room located on deck six aft.  We have a nice nine-top table and the waiters were very nice.  Dinner was very good, I ordered The Red Snapper Cerviche Cocktail (Red Snapper, Shrimp, Mango, Rum, Lime, Avocado garnish served chilled in large cocktail glass.) Fettuccine Alfredo, Sliced Pork Tenderloin with Potato & Vegetables, a Crayfish Étouffée  to sample, and two desserts: the Passion Fruit Souffle and the Creme Brûlée.  After dinner we saw Seth Gibson the piano player in Crooners for a short time before retiring for the evening.

Sunday / Fun Day at Sea / Day 2
Caribbean Princess Aft Pool area - our HQ for the week
A little bit of choppy seas overnight as we broke through the cold front, but I slept very well.  We now have very welcomed warm weather.  I had breakfast in the Coral MDR and ordered the days special: Blueberry Pancakes with a side of bacon & ham. It was very good. Afterward I saw some of the group heading to the International Cafe for one of their signature Cronuts (combination donut & croissant), I did sample one just to say I had.  We are very conveniently located next to the aft pool so it’s very easy to lounge here as many did this morning.  Since the Pub Lunch is limited and it was available today in the Crown Grill some decided to meet there at 11:30.  We got a nice larger table fairly easily and ordered beer and lunch.  I had a Fish & Chips and a Ploughmans Lunch.  The afternoon was Casino, more deck time, or NFL football for the group.  Some in the group attended the Matre’D premium Wine Tasting and said it was very good.  Six of us attended the Captains Circle event 4:00-4:30+ in the Princess Theater.  This was my first time to see the Cruise Director and they had a nice small show with the Caribbean Princess orchestra and feature singers.  What I really liked was that in lieu of being served a ‘cheap’ cocktail we were given drink vouchers good for a cocktail of our choice in any of the cocktail bars.  Wonderful idea.  We went strait away to see our cocktail server Kelvin in Crooners.  I had a Hershey’s (chocolate) cocktail.  As it was now sundown, we went directly to the aft for our own wine party.  We had wine glasses, our own music, and went through 5 bottles of wine while enjoying the sundown+.  This is the first formal night and we went to see the Champagne Waterfall and Kelvin made sure we got a complementary champagne.  Dinner was good, I ordered the Crabmeat & Monterey Jack Cheese Quiche, Farfalle alla Rustica, French Onion Soup, and the Golden Medallions of Beef Tenderloin.  For dessert I had a very nice Bananas Foster prepared by the head waiter and also sampled an Oreo crusted Chocolate pie.  DW, a vegetarian, had the Mixed Greens Salad and Crustless Spinach & Potato Flan with Spicy Tomato Sauce.   After dinner most attended the feature show: Do You Wanna Dance in the Princess Theater.  It was an enjoyable show and we had a great view from our third row seats.  It was a FUN sea day on the Caribbean Princess.

Monday / Island of Cozumel / Day 3
Chen Rio area on east side of Cozumel
Very smooth seas overnight. Weather is perfect 82° with a breeze.  We docked at the Puerta Maya pier by the scheduled 9:00 am arrival.  The Carnival Dream is also docked and the Carnival Triumph is next door at the International pier.  Several went to the MDR for breakfast, the daily special was a Mexican omelette, but I had Eggs Benedict this morning.  A  group of eight of us arranged a private van to do our own tour and bar crawl on the eastern shore of the island.  We met our driver at 10:00 am, stopped at the 7-11 to get some Bohemia beer & water and were on our way to the “wild side” of the island.  First stop was  Rastas bar with our first view of of the Caribbean and Bush Beach.  The wave and surf were very high.  After a round of drinks, a very nice mojito for me, we were on our way.  Next stop was Playa Bonita that used to be our favorite stop in years past,  Unfortunately time has taken a toll, the beach here is basically no more.  Still a wonderful view and very good guacamole.  The waiters did a bit of a raunchy show along with free shots of tequila.  Chen Rio was the next stop and it was super with a small bay that allowed us to swim as the surf broke on the large coral rocks just beyond us.  They also had Bohemia beer and beach massages.  Next stop was the chichi bar Coconuts located on a bluff overlooking the coast line.  This is one of the most famous bars on the island and I had a mojito and enjoyed the view.  Final stop was at Punta Moreno and as it’s later in the day we had the place and it’s saltwater pools to ourselves.  They also had a nice beach, hammocks, swings,and more.  The mojito here was the best of the day.  We then headed to San Miguel and after a pit stop at Woody’s Bar we went to a pharmacy to get our medicines needs fulfilled.  We arrived back at the pier about 4:30 in time for some shopping at Cinco Sole and shops.  From the balcony we watched the Carnival Dream docked next to us depart with the usual waves and horn blasts between ships.  Always fun.  We sailed about 6:00 pm.  Hot shower and rest time until dinner.  Half our group did the Monday Night Football Party on Lido deck where they were showing the Dallas Cowboy Game so we had small group for dinner.  I ordered the Warm Crab & Artichoke Dip with Baguette Chips, Cock-a-Leekie Soup, Fettuccine Alfredo (they have this on the menu every night), Surf & Turf  (filet mignon and jumbo shrimp) and Ice Creme for dessert.  A great day on ship and in Cozumel.

Tuesday / Island of Roatan / Day 4
We snorkeled around these!
A little bit of rolling overnight just enough for a good sleep.  The weather is perfect in the mid 80’s.  I went to the MDR for breakfast and ordered the day’s special: The Lumberjack Breakfast (steak & eggs).  We arrived at Mahogany Bay in Roatan a little late and that always causes a back up for those wanting to leave the ship.  Our group arranged for a Catamaran private excursion with Radical Adventures, rated #1 in Trip Advisor.  Their van picked us up at the Mahogany Bay entry and we were off to Oak Ridge on the east end (south shore) of the Island of Roatan.  The Catamaran was very nice with a crew of five and they provided snacks, soda, beer, or piña coladas.  We sailed to the Cow and Calf islands and had some great snorkeling completely around the small island. We saw great coral reefs, fans, lot’s of colorful fish, lobster, and even a small octopus. We enjoyed the water and scenery as we were served a very nice grilled lunch and dessert before sailing back to Oak Ridge.  After returning to the dock we were taken back to Mahogany Bay in the same van.  It was a great excursion and perfect for a group.  It was a good day for balcony or deck time with the perfect weather, we have a view of the bay and shipwrecks from our balcony. After a hot shower I relaxed and enjoyed a good movie in the cabin, White House Down until dinner time. This was the night I was looking forward to for dinner as it’s Italian Night.  I ordered: Melanzane alla Parmigiana (Eggplant Parmesan), Iced Peach Bellini Soup (in a glass), Spaghetti con Polpette in Sala di Pomodoro Fresco, Scaloppine di Vitello al Marsala, Saltimbocca di Pollo (pan seared chicken breast  topped with parma ham) and Cassata alla a Siciliana (ice creme with candied fruits) for dessert.  The waiters were are dressed in Italian uniforms and the assistant Matre’D sang several traditional Italian songs, it was an outstanding dinner. Several went to the casino or listen to music after dinner, but after a long day including snorkeling I retired soon after dinner.

Wednesday  /  Belize City  /  Day 5
Entry to Skywalkers
Smooth seas overnight and we arrived at our anchorage early well before 8:00 am; however, the weather although warm is foggy and rainy.  I went to the MDR for a nice breakfast, Italian (open faced omelet with mushrooms over Frittata and Polenta with Italian sausage) was the special, but I ordered an Eggs Benedict and a nice Pineapple boat fruit starter.  Afterwards we met on the aft deck for Bloody Mary’s and watched the weather, most are staying on board especially since this is a tender port. We watched a movie then had a nice late lunch on Horizon Court.  Rain continued throughout the day so they opened more television stations with movies so it was an afternoon movies and reading for us.  Some did the wine tasting in Vines and enjoyed it.  There is enough indoor public space and activities to handle a rainy day so everyone seemed fine with the weather.  Dinner was good, I ordered the Goat Cheese Souffle, Potato Gnocchi in Tomato Sauce, the Pork Tenderloin entree, a Trilogy of Lamb Chop, Veal Breast, & Chicken Kabob (to sample),  and a Chocolate Lovers Delight for dessert.  After dinner some went to the Casino and Disco located in Skywalkers high above the sea on deck 18.

Thursday  /  Fun Day at Sea  /  Day 6
Caribbean Princess - Main Dining Room
Calm seas overnight and the weather has improved to just cloudy, but it’s nice and warm so outdoor decks in use today.  I went to the MDR for breakfast and the special was Eggs Benedict so that’s what I ordered.  Mine were cooked hard not near as good when being mass produced…the previous ones I ordered were perfect, still a very good breakfast though.  They had a lot of shipboard activities today including: Bingo, Trivia, Games, Seminars, and a Veterans meeting. I watched some Love Boat reruns in the cabin and I ordered a Club Sandwich and Chef Salad from room service for lunch, they were excellent.  The weather improved and after an afternoon relaxing on the aft deck most met at Crooners Bar for cocktails.  This was quite fun and one of the bartenders could make a very nice Sidecar Cocktail.    This evening was the Elite Guest Circle C event in Club Fusion.  They served cocktails and appetizers and were very generous at this half hour+ event. We did get to meet several officers and staff and shook hands with the Captain. It was enjoyable and very different than the previous one for Gold and Ruby guests on Sunday.  Dinner tonight was the formal Chef’s Dinner menu evening, I ordered: Escargots Bourguignon, Roasted Tomato Creme Soup, Ravioli di Vitello in Salsa di Funghi Porcini (ravioli & mushrooms), and the Red Wine Braised Beef Short Ribs as an entree.  Other choices were: Broiled Lobster, Pheasant, Beef Wellington, and Filet of Rockfish.  An excellent dinner.  We went to the late production show: Born to be Wild in the Princess Theater and had very good center seats on row two.  The center piece on the stage was a Pink Cadillac so they did that song and other 50’s-70’s road themed rock music. Always enjoy the song Route 66.  It was a very good show. 

Friday  /  Fun Day at Sea  /  Day 7
MUTS - Movies Under the Stars
Fair seas overnight and I had another MDR breakfast. Today's special was Eggs Florentine, but I ordered Pancakes with sides of Bacon and Ham.  The weather is great today, very sunny and warm, but enough breeze to be comfortable so a deck day today.  The group had some loungers and tables on Lido aft so we made a morning of it and enjoyed both our bought-aboard and bar cocktails.  Also perfect for our Pizza lunch.  We were fortunate to have such a nice day as we know it’s very cold back home.  In the late afternoon we visited the shops to see if there were many late bargains and I also purchased a Future Cruise Certificate from the Futures Desk.  While in the Piazza I did go by the International Cafe and sampled a nice Cuban Sandwich.  DW did select a ring so she got a souvenir and we celebrated with a cocktail in Crooners.  I had a Sidecar and she liked the Poinsettia Champagne Cocktail (served with cranberry it would make a good Christmas cocktail).  At 5:00 pm we met friends in Skywalkers for the Elite Guest cocktail hour.  It’s the first time we had actually attended, but they offer reduced prices on cocktails and have nice snacks to Elite and Platinum guests.  This evening it was a very nice Shrimp fountain with cheeses and other goodies.  We had a great time and actually stayed until dinner time. Tonights dinner was a USA theme although we requested a repeat of Melanzane alla Parmigiana (Eggplant Parmesan) for the table. I also had a Green Salad, NY Strip Steak, and a proper Baked Alaska sliced at our table.  We also had a birthday cake for one in the group so it was a very nice dinner.  After dinner I packed as we had to have our bags out by 11:00 pm.  Afterwards I finally had a chance to see Seth at the Crooners piano bar.  I was able to catch a song most evenings as we were going from one area to another, but it was always too busy to get a seat.  He is very good and not to be missed, but I will say it’s not as ‘randy’ as his sets on the Carnival Sunshine….LOL. 

Saturday  /  Debarkation  /  Houston
We arrive back at Houston ship channel early, but it was closed due to fog so we had to anchor outside the harbor  The waves hitting the ship certainly could be felt and were loud while we were anchored so we were up fairly early.  I finished packing my roll-on bag and the group had a final MDR breakfast in the MDR.  We finally arrived at Bayport about 10:45 am so we had a long wait until most of us debarked.  It was about 1:30 pm for us, and eight of us returned to Alvin in the motorhome.  We left Alvin about 3:00 stopping at the new Waller mega Buc-ee’s on Highway 290 for fuel arriving home about 7:30 pm.  A long interesting travel day.

She's a beautiful ship and until just a few months ago when the Royal Princess was launched the Caribbean Princess was the largest ship in the Princess fleet.
Launched:   April 2004
Tonnage:     112,894 GT
Length:        951 ft (290 m)
Decks:         17 total, 15 passenger
Power:         2 diesel-electric propellers (42,000kW each)
Speed:         22-knot
Capacity:     3,080 passengers
Crew:          1,200 crew

Our cabin is a BE category balcony on deck 14 aft.  Good location near the exit to aft Lido pool.  It is slightly smaller than a comparable balcony on Carnival, but the bed itself is larger.  No couch, but two chairs and a table.  The refrigerator was stocked with my Elite Bar set-up and we added the cokes we brought on board.  Standard bathroom although DW would prefer a more adjustable shower head.  We did loose hot water a few times during the week. Cabin Steward was good and kept us adequately supplied with ice. 

MDR service was very good, Princess has more waiters per guest than most cruise lines and that is reflected in the service. Impressed that our MDR 10-top table was set for 9 the number in our party.  Enjoyed Crooners Bar, the Wheelhouse Bar, and International Cafe very much.  DW enjoyed the vegetarian choices on the menu, much better than most other cruise lines.  I really enjoyed the MDR breakfasts.

Always great cruising with a group of friends.  We always create our own fun on board ship.  I enjoyed the Caribbean Princess very much and although I won’t be able to sail her again this year, I am already booked on the Emerald Princess out of Houston for next year.