B419 - Covered Balcony Traditional Dining Late Seating Costa Maya, Cozumel, Grand Cayman, Ocho Rios Charles and Judy Crain - 47 and 49, engineer and homemaker, respectively.
A good cruise overall.
It does suffers by comparison to the 1/2004 Island Princess cruise, which was an almost perfect cruise. But a good cruise and well worth the price paid.
Our balcony cabin was spacious, more so than the Sun Class balconies, but smaller than the mini-suite we had on the Island. The balcony is covered and not viewable from above. The dividers between balconies are solid and you have to lean out to look around. The balcony had 3 resin chairs and a resin table.
The dining room food was good, not world class, but not bad either. The dining room staff was not perfect, but made for an enjoyable dining experience and reinforced our opinion that late seating, traditional dining is the only way to go - as long as you like your wait staff. For us, traditional dining has been fun for the past 4 cruises. We have always enjoyed the banter with the wait staff, the people watching, the leisurely meal pace and the different foods.
The entertainment was ok to good, not unforgettable, but enjoyable. The cruise director staff was friendly, outgoing and certainly competent, but lacked that special spark that was present in the staff on the Island Princess - a sort of zany craziness that made us feel right at home.
We will not do another Western Caribbean if we can help it. Costa Maya is simply too small when two Grands and Splendour of the Seas show up at the same time. Cozumel is Cozumel, but when 7-8 ships are in port simultaneously, it can get hectic. If we go there again, we will do more inland stuff rather than a sail and snorkel. Grand Cayman is heartbreaking seeing the damage done, but 5 ships there are 4 too many for tendering operations. However, the people and the snorkeling were first rate and I would not mind going again. From the dead rat on the dock at Ocho Rios to the aggressive vendors and drivers, we were not thrilled to be there and will stay on the ship if we ever go back - unless we get to dock at the "real" pier.
Unless an absolute bargain presents itself, we will not sail on a Grand Class again, nor will we sail ever, even in a bargain situation, on the Caribbean Class Grands. Why? In a nutshell, too many people. Most events were packed 15-20 minutes before show time to overflowing, so moving from one to the other was not possible. The gym is almost always crowded, the lap pool as well. The Coral class has almost the same number and same size of public rooms, less one dining room and a smaller horizon court, but almost 800 people less.
Now don't get me wrong. We had a good time, didn't regret going, we still like Princess and are sailing on the Sun in April, but Island Princess trip in January outshined the Star in every category. It basically spoiled us.
Sunday - Sailaway Dinner Menu - Monday - Captain's Welcome Menu- Formal Tuesday - Italian Night Menu Wednesday - Caribbean Island Night Menu Thursday - Chef's Choice Menu Friday - Captain's Gala Menu - Formal Saturday - Landfall Menu
Being an engineer I like to define my terms. So here's the definitions for the terms I use when describing how the food was.
FOOD TERMS OK = Edible, it's a meal. GOOD = Equivalent to a stateside restaurant chain - Red Lobster, Chili's, Olive Garden. VERY GOOD = Equivalent to a local favorite restaurant. Different flavor or unique combination. EXCELLENT = Incredibly good taste and texture. You crave more.
SHOW, ACTIVITY OR EXCURSION TERMS Not Worth It - Run laps, stairs, work out - do anything else OK - Only if you have nothing better to do. Good - An enjoyable or fun time. Don't Miss - Self Explanatory
CRUISE LOG - The following is a day to day log of the cruise from our perspective, what we did, what we liked, what we didn't like.
12/5/04 - Embarkation
We stayed at the Holiday Inn - Airport on Sheridan. It's a $15 cab ride from the airport and a $20 cab fare to and from the port. The hotel has a pool, fitness center, free internet access, a decent breakfast buffet and a fantastic sushi restaurant walking distance on Sheridan to the west.
Wan's Sushi House 3327 Sheridan St., Park Sheridan Plaza, Hollywood 954-987-1388
Very Good Sushi.
The hotel has a bus shuttle for $10 per person, which we took on Sunday at 12:00. We were on the ship at 12:45 (a 30 minute check-in time!), our luggage arrived at 1:45 and we were in the pool by 2:30 after wandering the ship and taking pictures and having some quick pizza (good stuff) at the pizza bar. We made reservations at Sabatini's for Wednesday night, at the Maitre De's recommendation, and we made reservations at Tequila's steak house for Saturday or Landfall dinner. (We later cancelled those in order to eat in the dining room.)
The muster occurred at 4:30, after which we went down to the library and waited until 5:15, but no one from the CC boards showed up. Not wanting to miss the sailaway, we went up on deck and watched all the other ships sail out as we did.
Dinner was at 8:15 in Amalfi and we finally had our table by the window, but it was dark so all we could see was our wake in the ship's lights. Our head waiter was Albuquerque (Portugal), yes just like the city. Our waiter was Pompei (short for Pompeillio) (Romania) and the assistant waiter was Lucia (Mexico).
Criticism - The pathway into the Amalfi is terrible. Two stair cases down and only two elevators into a small lobby area (which allowed smoking!) The elevators almost never came down, which created a jam of wheelchairs and carts at the entrance to the dining room from early seating people leaving and late seating people arriving. This eased after the first night substantially as people shifted to Personal Choice - and then ran into crowds there as well, but the layout and entry could be better.
This was the Sailaway Menu. I had the Epicurean Lobster, which was OK, Judy had a shrimp cocktail which was good. We both had the Cream of Porcini mushroom soup which was OK to start, but very good after additional salt and pepper was added. Judy had the Conchiglie pasta and I had the filet of Zander. Both were good. Our table mates had the Smoked Virginia ham which they liked. Service was brisk and reserved, everyone was still checking each other out, but the relationships would get better.
The Showtime feature at 10:30 showcased the Star's new cruise director, Neil Roberts, who had just flown in that morning. A nice guy, but the lack of sleep was apparent and the unfamiliarity and lack of interpersonal dynamics with the rest of the cruise staff showed. But then, he'd only met them a few hours before.
After the show, we toured the ship, especially Skywalker's and turned in about mid-night.
12/6/04 - Day At Sea - First Formal Night
Up early prior to 0630, and determined to keep up an exercise routine, I hit the first snag. The gym didn't open until 0700. On all of our previous cruises the gym was open 24 hours. So I ran stairs for 15 minutes. We had not been able to tour the gym the prior day, so I checked out all the weight equipment and ellipticals. Judy joined in on the whole body workout session at 0800, which she liked, while I swam in the lap pool. A great workout for sure, especially when the lap pool is on high! After showering we hit the buffet around 0930. Food was ok. Standard buffet faire. Note that the Neptune Grill serves make to order omelets in the mornings - didn't try one.
We caught the first 30 minutes of the Costa Maya/Cozumel Port and Shopping talk with Richie. Nice guy. If you want freebies, sit to his left in the 2nd or 3rd row as he will throw out samples during the talks. At 1030 was our first line dancing class with Erin. It turns out after four cruises, we finally have some line dances down just about right. At 1100 was horse racing, then lunch and a quick power nap. Judy signed up and went to Pilates at 2:00, while I went to the diamond shopping seminar, and learned quite a bit from Richie and Dawn about Tanzanite, Mexican Fire Opals and Diamonds.
At 430 it was time for my second workout, then into the lap pool to get our snorkel gear into condition and to try out my new waterproof camera case for my digital camera. Taking a $290 camera into the water is not an easy thing to do, but its good that I practiced with it prior to the real thing.
After swimming I did my one and only trip to the Casino. I played video poker for about 15 minutes, hit a Royal Flush for the first time in my life, but had only bet $0.25, cashed in and left. If I would have bet the 5 quarters, the trip would have been completely paid for, but then if I had won the lottery, I'd be typing this from the internet café on the Island Princess en-route to or from Hawaii! If wishes were fishes..
We went back to the room and watched the rest of the port and shopping talk on TV that we missed in the morning, then got ready for the Captain's welcome gala. There we could snag some free, albeit watered down, drinks before dinner.
The pre-dinner crowd in the lobby area was not as intense this night. Formal nights tend to scare away quite a few diners. Our table mates did not show either and did not show for the remainder of the cruise. They probably switched to PC dining.
This was the Welcome dinner menu. Judy had the Duck appetizer and I had the Crab Quiche. Both were good. She had the lobster bisque and I had the chilled yogurt soup. Both were good, but the chilled yogurt was different and tasty, but sweeter than I like in a soup. Judy had the Mahi-Mahi, as did I, but I added the Mahi-Mahi filet to the tournedos of beef. Both were good as well. More importantly, the staff started opening up to us and the interactions were very pleasant. This contributed to both Judy and I thoroughly enjoying this meal much more than the Sailaway and looking forward to Italian night, our favorite.
After Dinner, it was off to the Vista Lounge and Comedian Philadelphia. Based on previous comments I knew we had to get there early, and was that ever true. The place filled up by 10:30 and people had to leave as it was SRO in the back. Philadelphia was good. Not as much fun as Kevin Hughes on the Island Princess in January, but good enough to make it worth while.
To bed around 12:00 again.
12/7/04 - Costa Maya
The Grand was in port prior to us and had MUTS installed already. The Splendour of the Seas was also in, but hiding behind the Grand., but it had a rock wall as opposed to MUTS.
Breakfast at the Horizon Court was, again, OK. Not much more to say there. No morning workout, so we left for the port about 0900. I wanted to price some diamonds based on our talks from yesterday. Very expensive to say the least, but intriguing to see how well Richie had tagged the sellers and given us pretty good tips (35% off list for diamonds and 65% off list for jewelry). The quotes I got were right on the money with a little room for more bargaining.
Just for the record, I don't get the deal with the Caribbean and diamonds. The 1 carat G-IS1-round in Costa Maya, with solitaire ring, was priced at $7200. This week back home I have been pricing diamonds and they are about the same price, if not a bit less. So I don't understand the allure. Even with bargaining, I don't think I would have saved much at all. However, the selection is much more varied in the Caribbean, that's for sure.
After hearing of a couple getting everything stolen, don't know which ship they were from, and tired of fighting crowds and pushy vendors, we went back to the ship and spend an hour in the lap pool.
Not much happening that afternoon, so we spent it soaking up some sun and wandering around the decks. At 715, we took in the James Michael magic and comedy act. This one we would have to rate as OK to Good. The adult show later in the week is better.
This night was Italian night, our favorite night in the dining room and our scheduled anniversary celebration night. Unlike the previous two cruises, the head waiters, as in our first cruise, cooked a pasta appetizer. Albuquerque added fresh green jalapenos to his pasta and it was INCREDIBLY GOOD, EXCELLENT and other superlatives. Judy and I both had the eggplant parmigiana. She didn't care for it too much, but I thought it was very good. The minestrone soup was good, but it quickly was put away for Albuquerque's pasta.
For the main course, Judy ordered the Pappardelle pasta, but did not like the strong flavor. She quickly got rid of the plate and had Pompei bring her more of Albuquerque's pasta, which he did. I had the Gamberi with a fillet of swordfish added. Both were very good. And about this time, Pompei brought me another dish of Albuquerque's pasta - mmmm, good.
For desert we had the traditional round Princess celebration cake with ice cream. The waiters gathered and sang happy anniversary to us. We sat around and talked with the waiters until about 1000.
Way too much food. We couldn't even make it to the Island Night party. I heard it was a lot of fun.
12/8/04 - Cozumel
We docked in Cozumel next to Carnival Glory at the new set of docks south of town. Our Palancar reef excursion had been cancelled so we signed up for a catamaran sail and snorkel. We won't be doing this again. I wanted to snorkel, not sail on a booze cruise. Other people had a good time, but I would have preferred more snorkeling. This excursion started at the dock near the duty free tunnel/gauntlet exit nearest the ships. It was a Fury catamaran. A carnival group was loading a fury catamaran in front of us. They piled about 50-75 people on that boat! We only had 24 on the same size boat! This is one thing I like about Princess excursions.
The cat sailed north for about 3 miles along the coast while we got lectured on snorkeling. Then it u-turned and sailed south and dropped us in the water about 300 yards from the dock! We drifted north for about 45 minutes looking at the sparse coral near the shore. I did get some underwater shots with my new camera setup, but I seriously needed more practice. Then we loaded up the cat and sailed south along the coast for about 5 miles. The cat beached, along with 4 others, at Fury beach where a BBQ, lounges, water toys, volleyball and kayaks, plus all you could drink. Judy hung on the beach while I snorkeled out from the beach. Not great snorkeling, but better than nothing.
We stayed at the beach for "one Mexican hour" and then sailed back to the dock. The party on the boat began. Line dancing, margaritas and beer flowed freely. I drank while Judy danced, which would cause problems later, but we didn't know that at the time. (The dancing not the drinking.)
Judy and I had to do some serious vanilla shopping at Las Cinco Soles, which just happened to be next to Pancho's backyard. Anxious for some serious chips and salsa, and a frosty margarita, I got us a table while she bought vanilla. She is a tamale nut, so I ordered her some tamales and a small margarita, while I did the hot salsa, guacamole, chips and LARGE margarita. The combination was very good.
So after margaritas and lunch, we lurched back to the ship, had another margarita at the Atrium Bar, went to our cabin and promptly napped out.
Our dinner reservation at Sabatini's was for 7pm, but after dancing on a moving ship, having a couple of margaritas for lunch, Judy was not up for the dinner at all. We had to leave after the first set of appetizers. The maitre' de was very understanding and we were not charged at all. He was concerned that the food or service was bad. For the time we were there, the service was impeccable, though stiff and formal, and the food was very good.
Bedtime, needless to say, was early.
12/9/04 - Grand Cayman
We were to anchor in Grand Cayman about 1200. That left time for an 0700 workout for me and an 0900 pilates class for Judy. Line dancing with Erin was at 1100.
Grand Cayman was hit hard. New roofs and blue roofs (tarps) were the norm. The green island I remembered from January was leafless and almost treeless.
Judy was still a little uncertain about getting into another small boat, so she sat out the Wreck and Reef snorkel and I went ashore. Two Carnival ships, an RCL and the Westerdam were already anchored and the tender wars had begun.
For this port, Princess had all of the excursions meet in the theatre. We were then taken to a tender where we had priority. Even with all the delays we were only 15 minutes late in getting on shore.
Fortunately, this was one of the better snorkel excursions. Unfortunately I didn't take the camera. We first snorkeled the wreck of the Callie, which is about 400 yards north of the tender terminals, still inside the harbor and about 150 yards offshore. The wreck is really neat to snorkel, about 15-25 ft underwater. Water visibility was good, but not as good as I saw it in January. Water temperature was perfect. I really kicked myself for not brining the camera. We snorkeled here for about 40 minutes, then picked up anchor and moved out and north about 500 yards.
This was the reef part of the snorkel and it was really impressive. Huge 6' long tarpon cruised the gulleys between the coral reefs - and me without my camera. Lots of fish, lots of coral and interesting rock formations. Time went by quickly and we snorkeled for about 45 minutes, picked up and headed back to the tender terminal. I caught the very next tender and was back on board in less than 30 minutes. The RCL ship had left and both carnival ships and the Westerdam was in the process of leaving. I rated this excursion as a Don't Miss for sure. If we ever go back to Grand Cayman, I will do this one again.
The good news was that Judy got a couple hours of sleep and felt much better. I was invigorated by the snorkeling and didn't need a nap, so we spent the next few hours watching us sail away from the top decks. The breeze was warm and the rapidly darkening sky against the lights of Grand Cayman were a relaxing and beautiful sight.
The schedule for this evening was hectic. We wanted to see Live Wire, but the only showtime for us was 1030. But 1000 was the country and western dance party. We couldn't let our line dance instructor down. In addition, the adult version of the James Michael comedy/magic show was on at 1130. It was going to be a late night.
Dinner was the Chef's Choice menu. By this time, it was like dining with friends. The wait staff knew us, we knew them and dinner was an enjoyable experience. Judy opted for Shrimp Cocktail and I dared the Green Asparagus, both of which were good. Judy had the diced vegetables in oxtail broth, which she thought was very good, while I had the lentil cream soup which I thought was good. For the main course she had the black tiger prawns, as did I, but I added the boneless chicken kiev as well. The tiger prawns were very good, the Chicken Kiev good.
Tonight Albuquerque was cooking bananas foster - An extremely sweet dessert. I'm sure they were very good, but also very, very sweet and we couldn't finish them all.
During the course of the meal we talked to Albuquerque about his pasta. 3 years ago on the Ocean Princess, Gino, our head waiter, cooked pasta on our Alaska cruise. It turns out that Albuquerque knew Gino and had exchanged emails with him in the past few months. Gino was on the Sun Princess (I hope he's there when we sail on her in April.) During the course of the conversation about Head Waiters cooking pasta, we told Albuquerque that while Gino cooked very good pasta, Albuquerque's addition of the green jalapenos made the difference and his pasta was the better of the two. You would have thought we just told him he won an Iron Chef competition! He thanked us profusely, shook our hands, and went and made us some crepes to go with dessert. Stuffed as we were, we couldn't turn them down. I also mentioned to him that we had cancelled our steakhouse reservations because we really enjoyed having dinner in the dining room.
Just as we were leaving he came back to the table and announced to us that he would be making us pasta the following night - just for us and very special. He asked what we preferred and we settled on spaghetti.
After dinner we went to the country and western dance. It was extremely crowded, so much so that if you got up and danced, you lost your seat. So we just stayed out on floor and line danced for the next hour. A very good time was had by all.
Immediately after the dance, we hot footed to the Vista Lounge to see the James Michael adult show. You have to get to a show early if you want a good seat. The show was good. It had some really funny moments and some really lame ones, but it was entertaining.
After the show, it was off to bed.
12/10/04 - Ocho Rios
We had never been to Ocho Rios or Jamaica before. We don't plan on going again. The first clue was the dock. We docked at the old mineral loading dock, greeted by a dead rat on the dock when we got off the ship. (Later we found out that the Star was the first Grand class to dock at this dock and the captain had to flood the tanks and cause a list to get the boarding ramps to line up just right.) Carnival Victory got the prime parking spot on the new dock, next to the new shops - it really pays to be early.
We went out to the traffic snarl at the end of the dock and met our excursion group. The bus ride through the town was interesting to say the least. Jamaican's use horns more than people on the east coast! It was on the bus ride that I noticed people walking from our dock along the street to the new mall shop at the end of the new pier where victory was parked - Jimmy Buffets' Margaritaville is in this complex. Almost every one of those people were being tailed by a local: some a discrete distance behind; some right alongside and apparently not taking no for an answer. One poor women looked very upset and harassed. Judy and I had planned to shop after the excursion, but not if we had to run a gauntlet to get there.
Unfortunately, our sail and snorkel cruise was essentially a booze cruise with emphasis on Rum, not snorkeling. The rum started flowing before we left the dock and didn't stop until we got back. The catamaran sailed west back past the Star, past the falls and anchored just off the new hotels. The water was not very clear and we snorkeled for about 45 minutes. Then it was back to the dock, rum flowing - and the selling began. First it was cigars, then it was t-shirts, then it was pictures, then it was videos, then it was bootleg music CDs. The crew seemed to be genuinely upset when you didn't buy everything they brought out. For anyone who would want to drink, this is the excursion to go on, but we wanted to snorkel -big disappointment there. This was a definite not worth it.
We got back to the ship about 200 and decided, after seeing the gauntlet we would have to run, to stay aboard. That's when we noticed the ship had a definite list, which the Captain explained later that was deliberate to get the ramps lined up with the dock. We ate a light, late lunch and watched sail-away.
The evening was the last formal evening, Captain's Circle, a new Comedian (Rodney Johnson) and 70's night in the Explorer's lounge. Captain's Circle is another great place to snag free, but watered down, drinks. We even got a picture with the Captain this time.
Dinner was Captains' Gala. Lobster, Escargot (Not the clam's casino as on the CP menus), Beef Wellington and Albuquerque's spaghetti. The Escargot was very good, especially for dipping bread in the garlic juice. We both had the Roasted Garlic Veloute soup which was good until I added salt and pepper and then was very good. The lobster was excellent, the best Judy said she ever had. I had the beef Wellington (excellent) with two lobster tails - very good to me. In the Beef Wellington, the spices had penetrated the meat. It was wonderful.
But the highlight was the spaghetti. We noticed that Albuquerque had disappeared after a while and I thought he'd forgotten. Nope, he brought us a silver dish heaping with spaghetti, a sauce made of olive oil, fresh tomatoes (cherry), fresh basil and green jalapenos. It was heavenly. We ate one helping instead of salad, and a little bit more during the main course. Needless to say, we were stuffed after dinner. Completely and totally stuffed.
70's night was way too slow. Hardly anyone there was dancing except the cruise staff. No one feels like dancing in a tux. So we wandered over and waited for the comedy show. Some people didn't like Rodney at all. He was ok. Probably not as cutting edge as Philadelphia. His highs were not as high, but his lows were not as low either. It rated an OK. We probably should have went to see Da Beat, but we like comedians.
12/11/04 - Day At Sea
I always hate the last day at Sea before docking. The impending doom that is the end of a cruise just hangs over your head like a dark cloud. But we both had to work off last nights dinner, so today would be an active day.
Breakfast at the Horizon court was, well, a buffet breakfast. Nothing special.
At 1000 we went to the summary line dance class with Erin. We reviewed the dances for about 45 minutes.
After class we decided to pack at least one suitcase before working out, and then at 130 I started my workout and Judy went to Pilates at 200. After showering, we hit the buffet which featured fake sushi, which was actually good. (Fake sushi is cooked shrimp, crab and smoked salmon in Negri style and in California Rolls.)
After lunch it was dicey horse racing and the big derby. That was fun to watch and apparently Neil, the cruise director, had caught up on his sleep because he was much more invigorated or at least more comfortable than before.
The Passenger Talent Show was at 530 and most of the people were actually quite good. There was a pretty funny lady from New York doing standup, a lady with a great voice and a young couple. She could really sing. The show though was just ok.
James Michael and Rodney did a show at 715. Rodney was much better than the previous day and James Michael had some new skits/stunts/magic tricks. We rated this show as good.
Our landfall dinner was at 815. We had already cancelled the Steakhouse reservation to be with the folks in the dining room. This was the baked Alaska night, so dessert would be extremely sweet. Judy had a shrimp cocktail and I had the Vol-au Lent a la Reine. It was very good and Judy's shrimp cocktail was good. I had the fresh green asparagus soup, which after pepper and salt was good, but Judy's chilled yellow pumpkin soup was just ok. We're just not cold soup fans. She has the sea scallops, which were good, while I had the prime rib, which was also good.
The biggest problem with this meal was the service. It wasn't Pompei's fault though. To do the parade of the baked Alaska, they pull the assistant waiter away for about 15 minutes and then rush the dinner service to get everyone on dessert at the same time. Add to this the fact that all three of Pompei's tables, except for our table, were now filled to capacity for the baked Alaska and you have a recipe for a harried and harassed waiter.
Needless to say, it wasn't the best moment, but basically we just waited until things calmed down and people watched for a while. Once Lucia got back, things picked back up. We said our goodbyes to Pompei, Lucia and Albuquerque and went up to see the finals in the Princess Idol competition. However, because we'd sat at dinner so long, there was no way to get a seat. We stood in the back of the lounge, in the hallway actually, for the first two acts and then turned in for the night.
12/12/05 - Debarkation
We really tried to sleep late on Sunday, but no dice. The Sun Princess was in the secondary dock, with the Star in the primary spot.
We docked at 0700 and immediately noticed that the outside air temperature was 55 degrees F. No kidding! We went up to breakfast about 0745 and really didn't have to fight lines. We were purple 2 in color. They started calling colors at 0818.
0818 - Red 1 and 2 0823 - Red 3 and 4 0831 - Brown 1 and 2 0836 - Green, Light Blue and Orange 1 0840 - Orange 2 and 3 0846 - Orange 4 and 5 0851 - Gold and Purple 1 0905 - Purple 2 and 3
We were at the cab stand at 0930, in a cab and back at the Holiday Inn by 0945 where we stored our luggage, flight was not out until the next day, and went to see a movie.
We've never had a debarkation this smooth before.