Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Two Days at Sea

Day 1 – at Sea
Clocks went ahead one hour so we are awake at 8:30 but it is really 7:30.  Have to say first, the bed is so comfortable, certainly the best mattress we have ever had on a Princess Ship, no egg crate foamy needed.
Dining room is open for breakfast until 9:30 so we head down for that.  Oksana is the host at the dining room, in February she was working in the coffee bar and she remembered us.  We sat with two lovely couples, one from Florida and one from England.  Only problem with breakfast in the dining room is that it can be very long, and we are finished at 10:30. 
Bernie goes to pick up his watch from the stores as it needed to have a few links taken out.  Sarah from Canada (Toronto area) stood up from behind the counter and recognized Bernie right away.  So nice to see her again, and surprised to see her back on board the ship.

Our Cruisecritic meet and greet is at Skywalkers so we head up there.  It was nice to see the Customer Services Director, Cruise Director, Shore Excursion Manager, Housekeeping Manager and Hotel General Manager attend and chatted with the group.  The Future Cruise Sales Host called and left a message in my cabin with her apology as she was working.  It is understandable when they can not attend as they are all working, but it is appreciated when they do.
I did ask Peter the Hotel General Manager when the ship would be decorated and he said in Aruba.
This afternoon was spent relaxing, lunch in the room then watching the movie Bridesmaids in the Princess Theatre, then a workout before dinner.  The gym looks great, lots more cardio equipment but have to say if you are tall don’t even attempt the elliptical machines without hitting your head.

Sabatinis was our choice tonight as it was the first formal night and we wanted to opt out of the dining room.  Sabatinis recently changed their menu and we were looking forward to trying it out.  The old menu was just too much food.  Now you choose your appetizer and your entrée, the bring along bread and antipasto and then serve pasta before the main entrée.  We brought a bottle of wine from Argentina and order sparkling water.  We started with prosciutto and focaccia bread served with both green and black olives.  Oh my those olives were to die for.  For my appetizer I chose the artichoke cheese soufflé and Bernie had the calamari, both were amazing.  They then served pasta primavera, again wonderful.  And for our entrees we both chose the lobster three ways, lobster bisque sauce, lobster risotto, and a grilled lobster.  Yum, yum, and yum.  For dessert Bernie had the crème brule and I had a citrus tart, great way to end the meal.

We decided to head to Explorer’s lounge to listen to the band Fusion– and even danced a song!  Then comedian/musician Dan Riley came on, he was very funny and the crowd loved him. 

We wandered about the ship and stopped in to chat with some of the people we know and since we had Jasper Moose Jaw with us we had some of the crew wanting to say hi to him again.  He was quite proud to have his picture taken with Tim Donovan the Cruise Director – and Tim looked very dapper tonight for Formal Night.

Day 2 – sea day

Another great night’s sleep, nothing like being rocked to sleep.  My best night’s sleep have always been on board ships.  Woke up just before 8 am, my internal alarm I guess as we had room service coming for 8 am.  As we sat out on our balcony we enjoyed tea and juice.  We watched as a school of dolphins played in the surf at the bow of the ship, must have been around 30 of them.

I decided to head up to do the Zumba class.  It was at 9:15 at the Calypso pool, and it was very very popular.  In fact it was hard to find a spot to stand.  Mark from the cruise director staff lead us and his moves where well what can I say, nice to look at.  He was great, but I will comment I prefer it when it is in Club Fusion, not as hot and a little more room.  After the class I headed up to the gym for a workout and it was very busy in there not many cardio machines were available.  The crowd on board does appear to be younger than we have experienced before, and lots are working out.

I met up with Bernie in the International Café for a latte and then we went for lunch in the dining room.  I had calamari and then stuffed yellow pepper, both were very good.  We did check out tonight’s menu, which is Caribbean Night, not one of my favorites, we will take a look to see what the café carib is offering tonight then we will make up our mind.

We relaxed in the room for a bit, tried reading but neither of us could keep our eyes open and napped for 20 min before we headed to the Princess Theatre to watch Hangover 2.  The movie started at 2:30 and the sound person forgot to turn off the jazz music that was playing the background before the movie started. 

One issue we are having is getting tea, not a problem in dining room or horizon court but in the International Café can’t seem to get any tea.  Now we are willing to pay for it but all they have is specialty tea flavours like orange, mint, black…. All we want is English Breakfast or Earl Gray, which they normally have in the Revolution but they all seem to come up with different reasons why they don’t have it.  Yesterday we got a Early Gray Twillings tea, but for some strange reason today it seems like no one knows what we are talking about when we ask for some.  Bernie will grab a handful of Lipton tea bags in the Horizon Court today and will then just as for hot water and milk and a cup and will make his own.  Sadly the International café is missing out on a sale.

Dinner was spent in the Michelangelo Dining room in Ciska’s section and we also got to see another friend Katrina who use to work in the coffee bar.  It was nice to catch up with her and to be served by Ciska who was Audrey’s recommendation. 

For dinner I started with the scallops and shrimp cocktail, then the pear and ginger soup (love the crystallized ginger in it) then for my entrée I had the cod with corizo sausage, all was very very good.  For dessert I had the pineapple crème brule.

After dinner we wander to Club Fusion where they were having a 50’s Trivia, we joined up with an older couple and had a giggle since Bernie and I knew more of the answers than they did and I wasn’t even born until the 60s and Bernie was the late 50s.  But we had fun. 

Around 10 pm we went back to the room to get changed into bathing suits and headed up on deck for a swim and hot tub, the sky was clear and the stars were out and life couldn’t get any better.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Nov 24 - 28 Pre Cruise - Seattle for One Night then Three Nights in Fort Lauderdale

We arrived at the Renaissance Seattle Airport hotel around 3 pm.  Got a room on the third floor near the end of the hallway.  The room was very nice and the bed was very comfortable.  Since it was Thanksgiving we headed downstairs for a meal of turkey which was nice but man that chef likes salt, everything on the plate was overly salty or maybe I am just use to less salty food at home. 

We went to bed early as we had a 3 am wake up call, but were woken up at 10:30 pm by the smell of cigarette smoke, hmmm this is a non smoking hotel?  We call the front desk, their comment was “would you like to change rooms”.  I never can understand that?  It is 10:30 we are in bed and you want us to pack up and move when we are not the problem.  My suggestion to them was maybe you might want to contact security to find out who is smoking.  As soon as I hung up I went to the hotel room door and checked and sure enough a door had just been closed near us (didn’t notice which one) and it became quite clear that someone had smoked in the stairwell that was right beside our room.  I called back to the front desk to explain what had just occurred.  We didn’t have a problem with smoke smell the rest of the evening. 

But I wish it was all quiet after that, because it wasn’t.  Around 1 am people in the hallway shouting to each other and going from room to room.  We became aware of them wanting to order room service and found out exactly what each person was wanting.  Frustrating, but we did manage to get back to sleep only to have alarm go off way too early at 3 am. 

We have never stayed at this hotel before, it was booked thru Priceline for a very good price, even though the issues were not the hotels fault, and could happen anywhere we probably would not choose this location again.  Sadly people seem to be getting less considerate of others. I will point out that they do have a free shuttle to the airport and they were prompt and efficient when it came to this.

We had a 6 am flight with Continental via Houston to Fort Lauderdale, both flights were on time and the bags arrived and that is the main thing.  The neat thing was when we were heading to get out bags in Fort Lauderdale we passed the line for those waiting to go thru security and Bernie pointed out Jen and Bill Arnold from the show Little Couple, I went over and said hi and told them how much I love their show and wished them luck with the family they are planning.  They were very nice and thanked me.

We caught a taxi from the airport to our hotel (cost $17) Sheraton Fort Lauderdale Beach Hotel.  I had sent a message to the hotel prior requesting a king bed on the beach side.  They gave us room 311 in the Main Building which is in the shape of a V.  The rooms face into a courtyard that has a nice seating area and pool.  There are four different sections, Beach Building – closest to the beach but a walk away, South Tower – between main building and beach building, then the Marina Tower that you access thru a skywalk across the street. 

The room was standard, very nice bed/bedding, dresser, credenza, flat screen t.v., desk, small coffee table and chair.  I did notice there was no in room safe (again a minus – but front desk has free safe, however lines up at the front desk were constant).  The bathroom was rather small, with a pocket door but it looks like the room has been updated recently.  The air conditioner was rather noisy, but just a quick turn down of the fan helped.  Our room faced the road but the noise was minimal except during the day when there was heavy traffic. 

We checked out the hotel and the grounds and saw some nice little areas throughout, an Internet section where you can get free wifi, (note the rooms don’t have free wifi it was at a cost of $9.95 per day – personally it is sad when a hotel charges for this).  There is a restaurant called Dos Caminos (Mexican) that we looked into and were interested in eating at; however it was way too noisy so we passed, across from the restaurant was a bar called the Wreck Bar, and just past that is a coffee shop with some snack items.  A short walk to the Beach Building and to the Beach Pool where there is a lovely pool with lounge chairs.  There are also chairs on the beach that you can use too, and towels were provided.

We are now hungry and so we start walking towards Las Olas and there are numerous restaurants but both of us are craving our favorite Mexican restaurant in town so we head to Carlos and Pepes which is on 17th street and it doesn’t disappoint us.   We aren’t tired and we are so full we decided to walk back to the hotel which was about a half hour walk but felt great.  We had a wonderful peaceful sleep.

Saturday we awaken at around 7 am and smile, we are in Florida  We head out to our favorite diner for breakfast – Joe’s diner at the Harbour Street Stores, Bernie loves it here, it is nothing special but he can get his big bowl of oatmeal and it is quick, inexpensive and the staff are great.  Then a short walk over to Starbucks for our coffee and we relax and sip them while we people watch.

We head down to the Water taxi stop at the foot of 17th street.  We had prebooked our tickets through Groupon when they had a two for one deal this fall.  I have been wanting to take the water taxi every time we have been here but we never seem to do it, so I am enjoying being on the water.  We catch the outbound boat up towards the Galleria and enjoy learning all about the homes on the water. 

Disgustingly opulent but still nice to look at.  We then stay on for the inbound route too and head towards the Riverfront stop where we get off and low and behold Thomas the Tug is there.  Thomas is from Nova Scotia and there is a banner advertising Nova Scotia and Bernie gets his pic in front of the tug (Bernie is originally from Cape Breton Nova Scotia).  We walk down Las Olas Boulevard and check out some of the shops and grab a nice lunch and then head to Kilwans for an ice cream.  Ahhh life is good.  We head back to the hotel as I really want to see the ships leaving the port from the point. 

It is a bit of a hike along the beach (about 30 minutes) and it is so windy – we sit on some of the rocks and watch the Grand Princess, Crown Princess, a Carnival Miracle then the Oasis leave.  There were still more to head out but we are getting cold and we are tired and need a little nap before dinner.

huge jelly fish that washed up on shore
Now the dinner location was up to me tonight so we caught the water taxi to the 15th Street Restaurant (Water Taxi Captain highly recommended it).  We shared some Conch Fritters and then Bernie had grouper and I had shrimp and we shared a piece of key lime pie for dessert.  Again we are full and want to walk to help the meal settle.  We walk over to Total Wines where we stock up on our wine/champagne for the trip.  Three bottles of champagne and 5 bbottles of wine, we will see how long those last.  We also stop at the Publix for a few toiletries, some water and some small cans of Ginger ale.  We get a cab back to the hotel and tuck into bed, hard to believe it is already 11 pm. 

The hotel was hosting a wedding Saturday and many of the guests were staying at the hotel.  Now remember I commented how our room’s door faced an open courtyard, well about 20 guests gathered here and decided to socialize and drink.  Obviously they didn’t realize that their voices carried or that it was not the place to party.  I did call down to the front desk at midnight to comment and they said they would send security, but I don’t think they did as they were out there until 1 am.  I was able to sleep thru it as I had earplugs, but Bernie didn’t and he was awake until they all went to their rooms.  Again the hotel should have had security going around and told them to disperse or go to one of the many bars in the hotel. 

It is now Sunday and we decide that we need to change rooms to somewhere quiet, we do not want a repeat of last night.  The front desk apologizes and they move us in the afternoon to the Marina tower to room 1092 which faces North East, with a beautiful view and now I realize this was where we should of requested a room in the first place.  It is much quieter, no open walk way or courtyard that we can hear everything.  The room is very similar, all the same furniture, and a larger bathroom, but still no safe.

We head out for our breakfast again at Joe’s diner and then over to Starbucks, but this has got to be the busiest Starbucks.  It isn’t big and it is packed with people that are heading out on a cruise today, those coming back from a cruise and a lot of crew that want to connect with family online.  We ended up grabbing our drinks and heading over to the Renaissance hotel where we enjoyed our coffees in their lobby. 

We hop on the Trolley Shuttle ($.50 per person per ride) and take it up to Las Olas and walk back to our hotel for a nice walk. 

Monday:  embarkation day

Breakfast is at the hotel’s restaurant Dos Caminos and it is very good.  We then head off to the ship around 11 am and drop our bags with the porter.  Taxi ride was $10 from our hotel.  We get thru security rather quickly and we are then directed to the preferred seating area where we wait for about 15 minutes.  At 11:30 we are taken to the check in counter and receive our cruise cards and then back to the waiting area where we wait for a short while and they start boarding passengers at noon exactly.  One thing that is different is they now have hand held machines where they take your security photo when you board.
One other thing I noticed that was new is the lounger chairs along one of the pools is newer and the table and chairs near the pizzeria and burger bar are new and very nice.

We don’t get our bags until 3:30.  Muster drill was at 3:30 so just as we were heading out the cabin steward knocks of the door with our champagne, strange time since the muster drill is just starting.  We declined, don’t think it would look right.

We did ask at the coffee bar about the new coffee cards.  We have two brand new cards still from a previous sailing.  They stated that the cards are still good for espresso drinks, but not good for brewed coffee/tea.  When you  buy a new card you can get free brewed coffee or tea while you are on the current sailing…. Cards are marked with ship/date. 

Saw our friend Dierdre Doyle, the Customer Services Director and it was nice to see her again.  We hope to see here later on in the voyage to catch up.

Sailaway was fun, did not win anything in the scavenger hunt, first time we have done it – yup I dragged Bernie around to all the spots for stamps.  Had our usual sailaway drinks and danced a few songs.  Did notice that Tim Donnovan, the cruise director, was not there, mind you he did just board the ship today so I am sure he is getting settled.  At 5 pm we headed to Skywalkers to the Platinum Elite lounge where tonight’s drink is the margarita for $3.99.

Back to the room to unpack and get dressed for dinner.  We wanted to eat in the Da Vinci dining room tonight so we could say hi to Francesco the head waiter, who I believe is now the Matre D for this dining room.  He remembered us and it was nice to catch up with him.  We had a lovely meal, tonight’s theme is sailaway and I had the spring rolls, mushroom soup, and the barramundi, and finished it with carrot cake.  Oh and we brought a lovely bottle of Chianti which I must say went down rather quickly.

We then went to the boutiques to check out some watches, for the first two days there is an extra 10% off so we both bought a new watch, something we rarely do but a nice treat.

We popped our head into the Princess Theatre to see how the Welcome Aboard show was going and caught the act of Dan Riley, he was quite funny and laughed so we will be sure to check him out later on this sailing.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

November 24, 2011 - heading out

Well couldn't sleep too much last night, woke up at 4 am today and my mind wouldn't stop.  Did I pack the Kindle charger, did I pack the travel alarm clock, did I pack my good watch.  Of course I had packed all the above.  It is rare we forget something and even if we do oh well we can do without or we can buy down there.  As Bernie always reminds me "no worries Vickie I hear they have stores in Fort Lauderdale". 

House is all set up with a friend staying there for the next few weeks. 

We will be driving down to Seattle in a few hours.  Not sure what the border will be like with it being the U.S. Thanksgiving weekend.  But since stores are closed today I am hoping not too many Canadians are heading down today, plus we all have to work.  We do have our recently acquired Nexus card so if the line is busy we can go thru the Nexus line.
Booked Radisson Hotel Gateway Seattle-Tacoma Airport thru Priceline.com and we won the bid for $65 for the one night.    We will head out and park our car at SeaTac Park, we have parked our car here numerous times, and is very economical for a long term parking. http://www.seatacpark.com/.  Their monthly rates can not be beat anywhere, plus we love that we park our car and take our keys. 

I am hoping that the hotel will have a traditional Thanksgiving dinner as when we celebrated the Canadian Thanksgiving last month I had to work so missed out and I am craving a turkey dinner.

We have printed out our boarding passes.  We are flying with Continental via Houston and should get into Fort Lauderdale around 5:30 pm Friday.
Our hotel in Fort Lauderdale we also booked thru Priceline and got the Sheraton Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort for $85 a night for three nights. The hotel's web site is http://www.starwoodhotels.com/sheraton/property/overview/index.html?propertyID=664

Friday, November 11, 2011

Preparing for our Caribbean Cruise

We are heading off again for another adventure on the Emerald Princess in the Caribbean.  We are doing the back to back 20 days on her again.  I know I know we just did that itinerary in January/February.  In fact this will be the third time we have done this itinerary, but since Princess doesn't offer anything longer than the 10 days, we end up teaming them up to create 20 days.  And the price couldn't be beat.

We had two weeks vacation and with a few days from our banked overtime and a few trades with other workers we are able to swing it. 

Once again we booked with http://www.bestpricecruises.com/ .  They were so great when we had to cancel two cruises within a week of leaving in May, and they helped us secure our future cruise credits that we used those future cruise credits right away to book these trips.  We booked back in June and secured initially an inside cabin but a few months later decided to upgrade ourselves to a balcony.  And we are glad we did when we did.  Since booking the price for the lowest category balcony has never come down, only gone up.  However prices for insides and outsides have gone down and there are still a few cabins available as of today for both sailings at amazing prices.

This cruise is going to be very very different for us, and we are not to sure how it will affect us.  As many of you know this year has been a tough one with the loss of my Mother to cancer at a young age in May.  Then Bernie had shoulder surgery recently and he is slowly recovery but needs a lot of assistance.  We knew that this trip was something we really needed for the two of us, we need some rest, and some together time.

Normally whenever we sail we know quite a few people ahead of time that will be on board with us.  This time we don't really know anyone.  Normally we are very involved with the Cruise Critic Roll Call for both sailings, but this time even though I am keeping up with the boards, I have only committed to attend the meet and greet for each sailing.  The first sailing has lots of great things planned but I am just feeling this time I need to sit back and watch.  I have agreed to invite the officers to our meet and greet and have all ready done up the letters to them.  It is nice to see so many officers that we know will be on board.

Normally we have a few excursions planned for each port.  But this time nothing is formally planned in any port.  We have been to every island at least twice before, and some we have been to numerous times, like Aruba and St. Thomas, so it isn't like we need to get out and see the island for the first time.  Our thoughts are we will wake up each day and relax and see how we feel and then go do what we want to and feel like doing.  Also because Bernie's arm is still in a sling for most of the day and doesn't have the strength to do what he wants it to, we will have to limit strenuous activity.  But he is glad he can still stick a snorkel mask on and then walk into the water and snorkel. 

We still haven't gotten our cabin assignment, I am hoping it is soon and I am hoping it is a good cabin.  Crossing fingers for an upgrade, but the upgrade will be in a higher category within the balcony cabins
Our goal this trip is sleep in, enjoy good food and wine, meet nice people, learn more about the islands, spend quality time together, journal this trip for my facebook page, and reflect on the year and the future.

I hope you will follow my blog and travel along with us.