Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Florida Trip in Early 2016



Florida... the good and bad about leaving from Florida - Fort Lauderdale to be exact.

We have been sailing out of Fort Lauderdale now for almost two decades.  We have seen it change so much.  But I guess every place has changed!  Sounding my age?

Because of how bad the Canadian Exchange rate is, currently 30% we have to be conscious of what we spend when visiting the US right now.  

One thing we find is the prices have really shot up for hotels.  Especially those around the port. Often it is rare to even find a room under $200 near the port or on the beach.  It was only three years ago that we were getting rooms at the Hyatt or the Sheraton for under a $100.  Well times have changed.

We are heading into Florida two nights prior to the cruise so we were looking for something reasonable. We love coming in early.  We really enjoy spending time here and it really helps to get use to the three hour time change from Vancouver.  

When we were able to secure a rental car with Alamo for $31 a day (thru Priceline) we knew we could venture out of the port area for a hotel.

We have done this regularly lately.  We love the idea of having a car and love the idea of heading out and playing tourist too.  Oh I guess I should add Bernie loves visiting Sawgrass Mills Shopping Mall.

I love Priceline and after bidding quite a few times on a four star in the Weston/Sawgrass area I finally secured the Bonaventure Resort and Spa.  We stayed here in 2009 when it was a Hyatt. Lovely resort and huge!  Here is a link to the hotel.

Best thing is we got it for $84 a night.

So now with hotel and car booked we are all set for Fort Lauderdale.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

All Inclusive Drink Package - My Thoughts


Recently Princess joined many of the other cruise line by introducing an All Inclusive Drink Package.

The cost for this package is $50 a day plus tip = $56.35 per day.  It is sold only on the first and second day of the cruise.  Note if you buy it the second day you will be charge for the entire voyage, including the first day, so buy it as soon as you can.

From Princess' page it is describe as 


Take advantage of our All-Inclusive Beverage Package which includes any individual beverage item, such as soda, water, cocktails, spirits, wines, beers, coffee and tea, up to $10 (retail value). Bottles of wine are NOT included in the package; however, when purchased in bars, dining rooms or specialty restaurants, will be available at 40% discount from the menu price. Applicable to all bottles below $100 retail. Note: This package is available for consumption at all bars, public areas and dining venues (not room service and excludes mini bar items). Terms and conditions may apply.





When you buy the package they will put a little sticker on your cruise card.  In the above picture you can see the small blue sticker with the Princess Logo.

When you order a drink the put in your portfolio number and order the drink.  The system knows you have the package and does keep track of how many drinks you are ordering.  

You should each order the drink package. You are not allowed to order and share with others.  Note people have been contacted by officers when issues arise of blatant abuse, ie. drink sharing.  I am not sure what the consequences are though.  If you have had an issue let me know, I am curious.

We have not gotten the drink package since it came into effect.  But we recently did a short three day cruise and thought since we had a good amount of on board credit it may be worth getting, to try it out.  I giggled and said "it is research for my blog".  

I did not buy it ahead of time.  If you buy ahead of time thru your cruise personalizer you will have to pay for it right then.  When you check in, your cruise card will already have the sticker on it.  For us this time we just went to one of the MANY tables set up all over the ship that was selling all the drink package options.

Drink prices are quite fair and comparable to many restaurants at home. Here is a link to the Martini Bar drink menu.  Vines Bar Menu.   And here is a link to pictures of many of the bar menus on board.  



Here is my experience with the drink package

The Positives:

  • We loved the freedom the package brought.  No worries about the added costs of each drink.  No worries if we didn't care for the drink we felt free to just leave it. This happened when I ordered a special margarita that I thought I would try but it was way too sweet for me.
  • I loved trying different drinks that I would never try and even fell in love with some new ones.
  • Crew were so helpful with recommendations for us to try.
  • We certainly drank more than the cost per day (oh that could be a negative too).
  • Love the freshly squeezed orange juice every morning.
  • We didn't hesitate to get bottled water or sparkling water when regular tap water.
  • The Elite Mini Bar set up we usually get we were able to trade it in for two coffee cards for use on another cruise.


The Negatives:

  • It made us drink more than we normally would.
  • We always were aware of how much we had drank and whether we had reached the threshold of $50
  • We drank bottled water or sparkling water when we could of just had regular tap water, so felt a little guilty about that.
  • Drank more soda (usually at lunch) when normally I would of drank water.
  • Certainly consumed more calories.
  • Thought it was odd that some items were not included in the package.  ie. the small bottles of wine sold at Horizon Court for $5.  When I tried to get one they said sorry not included.
  • The cost is high for us considering we rarely drink $50 each per day normally.  


The crew are not getting as much of the tip pool as they would if we just ordered the drink by drink.  Plus they are much much busier.

Certainly noticed a lot more intoxicated passengers (but there is no way to know whether this was because of the drink package).





So in the end would I get it again.  YOU BET, but it would probably have to be on a shorter cruise with many sea days. I don't think I could justify it on a ten day or longer unless I had a lot of on board credits.

The other night we discussed the drink package and we both agreed that if we just ordered whatever drink we wanted whenever we wanted one (instead of feeling the need to meet the threshold) we would probably still come out ahead.

I would certainly jump at the chance to get the drink package thrown in on a cruise booking if it was offered.  

In the end you yourself have to weigh out whether it is right for you.  It is great for some and not so great for others.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Translator App is a MUST


I don't know about you... but I have been caught in frustrating situations when I just can't figure out how to communicate in non English Speaking Countries.

The first time we were in Brazil we scratched our heads many times.  But the funniest was when trying to order off a menu.  Our Portuguese is non existent so we pointed at items that we "thought" we knew what they were --- Only to be surprised when it arrived.

But sure that can be fun too and we still remember it.  And isn't that what travelling is all about? Experiences.

But now a days it is so much easier.  No need to carry around a small dictionary or phrase book.

If you have a smart phone then you are set.  Even if you don't have a data package for foreign countries you can use this app.

The app I am referring to is Google Translate App.  You can find it in the Android store here.   Or in the Itunes Store here.  (I have been told that the Itunes version doesn't translate offline).

I have an Android and recently downloaded this app.

You need to download the different languages you will use (make sure to load these when you have free wifi service as they are large.

I added Greek, Italian and Turkish for my upcoming trip. 

Once they are loaded you can use these functions off line -- which is very helpful.

You can then use the app by typing in a word and getting it translated. And if necessary you can even draw symbols and it will translate.

Or you can take a "photo" of a word like a sign or on a product in a store and it will translate it.

Or you can have someone speak into the phone and it will translate it for you.

All very helpful.  It is not perfect and like many translators it is very basic, but it works pretty darn good.  And best of all the App is free!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Rick Steves Will Guide Us Thru Europe


As many of you know we will be heading to Europe.  Bernie has been to Europe a few times but stayed in mainly England/Scotland and Amsterdam.  I had only been to Scotland and that was twenty years ago.

When we first decided to head back to Europe for our twentieth anniversary on a Mediterranean Cruise I knew I finally would get to use Rick Steves' information.

I have always admired Rick's shows and guides and listen to his weekly podcast religiously.  

You can find his website here


One of the first books I bought was Rick's Mediterranean Cruise Ports.  I have probably read it ten times and each time I highlight something new.  I have tab post-its to identify each port we are visiting.  

I then went and downloaded his App for Androids (but also available for Apple products).  The app is free and you can learn more about it here.  Once loaded you can then download a bunch of things including interviews, talks and then walking tours, museum tours, city tours.   What I love is once you download a tour it includes a map and a step by step itinerary.  And all this can be viewed offline too.

So after reviewing a particular area, lets just say we are talking about Venice.  In the book I highlighted the Grand Canal Tour.  I loaded that tour on my phone and I can follow along in the book as well as just listen to the audio file.  There is also a audio guide for St. Mark's Square, and St. Mark's Basilica, and even Friar Church!  

This is so our style - we like to do things at our own pace.  We love being more in control and the price is right.

But there are so many cities featured here so check them out.

The other area I learned a lot from was the Travel Talks.  I have never really been that knowledgeable about art.  But since I am going to places where the art is King I really wanted to go with a bit of a working knowledge of what I may be looking at and what it represents.  

So my first goal was to watch the three Art seminars.  I learned so much.


The the last area I love is the Travel Forum area where you can go to destination Q&A, Tips and Trip Reports.  Again this is an area where people discuss things that the average traveller wants to know.  







Cabin Pictures - Another Great Website to Check Out



Probably the single most asked question is about cabins on board a ship. 

This is a site that has pictures of cabins.  Some ships/lines there are more pictures than others.  But I find that if you have never been on a cruise or are sailing a new cruise line this site can be very helpful.

The site is called Cruiselinerooms.com  

Check it out and even better add some of your own cabin pictures to increase their library.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Another Favorite Cruise Website - Cruise TT


For all you cruise addicts if you are anything like me you like to know which ships are in port when you are in port.  

This can be helpful when figuring out how busy a port will be.

Another great thing is to see if there is another Princess Ship in with you.  

If we have friends who are travelling on another ship this website will help you determine if you cruises will cross paths.

I find it especially helpful when sailing out of a busy port like Fort Lauderdale.  Knowing ahead of time how many ships are in port can often help you when finding a hotel.  Or answering the question "why are hotels so darn expensive" oh yeah there are six ships leaving the next day.

So check out CruiseTT - here is a link to their website.

It isn't anything fancy and isn't the easiest to maneuver around but it can be very helpful.

Click on ships tab at the top.  Find your cruise line and then select your ship.

Choose which month you will be sailing and then scroll down to see the date you are leaving and then it will show your itinerary.

First and second column shows the dates and then the third column is the port the ship is in.  Next column shows the load (this means how many passengers in total will be in port that day).  The next column shows what other ships will be in port with you.  


So you can see from the above picture of our upcoming cruise on the Island leaving Civitavecchia on Oct 25 there is one other ship in port.  The MSC Preziosa is in port with us.

The day we are in Naples there are two ships in port with us, Crystal Serenity and Costa Diadema.


Sunday, September 20, 2015

ShipMate App

photo courtesy of ShipMate App

There are quite a few tools out there that I find so very helpful when planning cruises.  Or tools I use to connect with others who are cruising.

Ship Mate has been around for a while but it has really grown into something that I find to be very helpful. Especially for new cruisers.  Or if you are travelling with friends/family.


The app is free and once loaded you can add you upcoming cruises onto it.


See the itinerary, ship photos, deck plans, shore excursions and even a so so roll call that I personally find cumbersome but does the trick.  I would use other roll call avenues for chatting, like Cruise Critic or create an event on Facebook and have others join.


I like the countdown feature and the itinerary feature.  


Also love the ship tracker.  With this I can see where my ship is currently.  For some reason this excites me - yeah crazy I know, but cruise addicts can relate.


Often I forget where I am going to be on which day and all I have to do is quickly open the app and pull up my cruise and view the itinerary.


A great tool is detailed information and tips from others about ports you will be visiting, along with photos.

You can also chat with others who are sailing on that ship but again I find it a little disjointed.  Someone posts and then you respond and conversations just don't flow that well. 


But if it is something you may be interested in you can learn more about it here.



Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Last Night

After showering I meet up with Bernie in Wheelhouse bar and sat at the bar so we could catch up with Allain Mendoza.  We first met Alain on the Royal last January in Vines.
Allain



Bernie gets a Cosmo and I get my Bramble.  Oh that Cosmo is good Bernie adds.

We are later than normal and as we head to deck six for dinner we run into Mitre d' Silva in the stairway he asks about our trip and of course it was great.  He directs us to the dining room on deck five cause it is much quieter and we are given a table for two.

The table is right in front a station, basically the dirty dishes are our view!  Our waiters seem off, food comes out before drinks, no pepper is offered, and our pasta appetizer is not offered parmesan either.  These short three days just don't cut it when it comes to dining room service we find.  The food is good though and that glass of Ancient Peaks is very good.


.
Tom Turkey meal

We decide to head down to Vista Lounge for the Liar's Club.  Bernie hands out chocolates or treats every time we go up to answer.  One time we hand out Pop Rocks and they each put them in their mouths as they answer the words' meaning.  I got it on video but will have to wait to get home to put it up. 

After the game we meet up with Paul and Melissa and head to Wheelhouse to get a drink and catch up with both of them.  We appreciate all they do and they work so hard.  Till we meet again.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Monday Sea Day



What a lovely night’s sleep but we are awake at 6:40.  We decide to shower and head to the dining room for breakfast.  It is being served in Da Vinci starting from 7 am.

We are sat at a table for two and we order freshly squeezed orange juice.  Oh my this is so good.  So we order another.
 

I get a half grapefruit and the eggs benedict.  While waiting for the food the pastry guy comes by and offers us Danishes 
and I respond oh no I am sweet enough as it is.  He then smiles and says “croissant then” oh that just cracked me up.

Food was excellent and within a half hour we are out of the dining room and take a seat in Vines and do some reading and enjoy another coffee while the rest of the ship comes alive.

Oh I should add that we got our disembarkation information last night.  We are going to have clear US Customs before getting off the ship tomorrow.  They have everyone having to go to Vista Lounge at their designated time to clear customs and then they can get off.

Normally when we have done this itinerary we clear US Customs at Canada Place before getting on the ship and so we don’t have clear it when we arrive in the US.  But we didn’t do this cause we had a port stop in Victoria before arriving in the US.  Also we are at the other pier – the old pier.  There is another ship in the new berth so we are bumped.  Facilities at the old one are horrible so it makes sense that customs is coming on board.

The disembarkation times have been assigned by cabin numbers and they are all walk off except for some who had to go to the Purser’s desk before 2 pm yesterday to say they had luggage. 


Okay back to our day.  The outlet sale is happening and we want to check it out to get some items for our nephews we are seeing.  Bernie stops in and picks up some tshirts for the boys.  I am sitting in the Atrium reading and chatting with people who sit beside us.

We meet a nice man from Mountain House (where we are going when we get off) and he is very helpful with tips.  Then a couple sits beside us and then we get talking about drinks they are trying and what I am drinking.  She overhears us talking about my facebook page – Cruising Princess Cruise Line with Vickie and she tells me she works for facebook in their FB Page area.  When I tell her more about how much I love my page and what I can do she promises to it out.

Lots is happening around the ship but we are quite happy just relaxing and reading.  But as we are there they do the fruit/vegetable carving in the Atrium.  Then there is the 60 second frenzy.  Vista is doing line dancing by Melissa.  Of course there is Zumba earlier.  The MUTS is featuring Now You See Me. 

We decide for lunch to try out the pub lunch in the Crown Grill.  When we arrive we are sat and we see Alan and we both are like “where do we know you from”.  Then he says his last contract was the Royal and oh yeah Vines!  He worked there with Ryan.  We promise to visit Wheelhouse tonight to have a drink and catch up with him.

We both order the fish and chips with a coke.  The chips are good but the fish was really bad.  It had obviously been fried and sat there cause the outside is NOT crispy at all, in fact it is a soggy mess.  I just take out the fish and eat that.



After our meal I tell Bernie I am going to head up to the Horizon Court and grab some salad and really enjoy the layout of items for a nice salad.  I sit and enjoy it before heading back to the cabin where we watch a bit of a movie.  But we are both struggling to stay awake.  So we set the alarm for 3:15 cause we are off to see Dolores and Laura for afternoon tea in their cabin.

We arrive and the huge spread of food is there.  Sheila and Greggory are there too and we spend the next few hours laughing our heads off.

We don’t get back to our cabin till after six.  I am catching up on my blog posts.  Bernie is reading.  We are trying to decide what to do tonight.  I think we are heading to the dining room.

The day has been jam packed with activities and lots going on tonight too.

Here are some of the things that were scheduled for this afternoon:  slot tournament, ballroom dance class, 10 pin bowling, adult golf putting, afternoon movie in the Princess Theater is Far from the Maddening Crowd, Paper Plane Challenge, Art Auction, Origami, Veterans Get Together, and bingo.

Sunday Evening



When we come back to the room there is a bottle of Korbel on ice and a gift bag with a lovely crystal rectangle paper weight with an etched Golden Gate Bridge with the words Pacific Coastal.  We are number three on this voyage and this is the first time we have gotten a gift like this.  Very pretty but boy does it ever weigh a lot.  Thankfully we are doing carry on bags for our flight.


We have arranged to meet up with Victor in Alfredos for pizza tonight for 8 when he is on his dinner break. 




Tonight I want to try a different pizza and get the Grand Princess Pizza and a glass of wine and sparkling water.  Have to say I love the fact that with the All Inclusive Drink Package we don’t hesitate to get what we like. 



The pizzas arrive and they look lovely, but sadly again the pizza in the middle section is soggy and needs more cooking (I am guessing) but certainly not as good as we have had on other ships.  Or as good as we had on this ship last Fall.



For dessert we let the waiter know that the chef has prepared something for us.  He comes back with a tray and four dishes of halo halo!  Wow what a lovely gesture.  I am shocked that they got the ingredients.  Victor has never had halo halo before and I think he liked it.



We catch up with Victor and how he has been since our last time together in November last year.  He has been in his relationship now for almost a year!  He seems so very happy and I am so glad we were able to reconnect with him.

We still haven’t seen Paul the Deputy Cruise Director and since the Vista Lounge is his lounge we head back there where he should be and see that comedian Steve White is performing.  The place is busy and we take two seats off to the far right.  I forgot how bad this lounge is for site view cause of the huge pillars.  But it is a comedian so it isn’t like we really have to see him.  We have seen Steve before but his jokes still make us laugh.  And heck it isn’t like we had to pay for a ticket.

Paul does come on stage at the end and discusses the events happening around the ship now.  He is so funny and you can really see how he has grown as a Deputy.  He seems more confident and put together.  His humour is subtle but right on the mark.  I love that he is approachable (although we seem to keep missing him) and helpful.

Majority Rules is still happening in Explorers.  It looks very well attended and we see Melissa from the cruise staff walking by.  We spend some time catching up with her.  We sailed with her a few times a long time ago and then we had not seen her for quite a while and she fills us in on what she has been up to.  Again another lovely person who is very dedicated to her job and making sure everyone is having a good time. 

The piano bar in Crooners is featuring Liam Ryder and the place is packed.  But neither of us really want to sit and my foot is throbbing from all the walking today.

So we are back in the cabin around 10:30 and again as soon as my head hits the pillow I am out.

Reflections on last night:

-          The production show British Invasion was on only twice 8 and 9:45 (hmm are they back to only two shows?)

-          Events seem to be very well attended

-          A balancing act called La Paire performed.  Now I love these things normally and he and his assistant were very good.  But what is really strange he takes his shirt off near the end (and yes he is very well built) but really what is the purpose of this?  At the end he loves to pose with people for pictures.  I just think this guy is really full of himself, and could leave his shirt on.

-          An excellent singer and guitar player Terry Conlon performed in the Atrium twice and he was excellent.  I can see this guy making it big.

-          The seas are rough.  A lot of people are commenting.  For us it is okay and yes there is some movement but it is really nothing compared to what we have seen.  The shops have Bonine and Dramamine – heck even the tables around the atrium have a supply of these – just in case.  But I am happy to report around 9 pm the seas/winds calm down considerably.

-          The drink package does have its downfall too.  We have discussed it with many crew and their comments are it is great to see people enjoying themselves.  But there is a lot of abuse of the package with people sharing one package.  More people are over indulging and are getting intoxicated.  In fact last night there was a fight on board, although I can’t confirm if it was from people who had the drink package.  But liquor and attitude don’t mix.  The other thing the crew are saying is they are a lot more busy because of it.  They are doing twice the normal work but are certainly not making the tips they normally would.  I have been told that the tips from the drink package go right into the general pool for all the crew.  Whereas if you don’t have the package and you buy a drink at a bar that tip goes to that venue’s staff.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Afternoon at Sea

 

Back on board for noon, sailaway is 12:30.  So holding back hair and earrings so we are not blown away on the pier.  Oh I think this wind could cause a bit more rough seas.  Time will tell.

We take a sea in the International Café and enjoy some coffees – I try the new Chai Tea.  It is very good, a little sweet for me but very tasty.

Bernie says he is tired so he heads back to the cabin for a nap.  For me I grab my tablet and find a seat and read some magazines.  But it is getting a bit too noisy in the Atrium because of the martini demo so I head up to the top deck and enjoy a Ultimate Cooler up at the pool deck, but half sweet.

I hobble around the ship looking for what is happening.  I finally settle down outside Explorers and chat with a woman from San Francisco who is on her first cruise.

Dolores and Sheila walk by and they invite me to join them for Afternoon Tea – SURE !  we are sat at a table for four and shortly after being sat I see Chuck who is also on  my fan page being sat near us.  Hugs and soon thereafter he is joining our table.  Soon Sheila’s husband Gregory joins us and we scoot over and add a chair.  Really my feeling is the best part of cruising is getting to know others and it is lovely to meet so many that I have heard about for a long time.



After the great tea I decide to check out the trivia cause if Bernie is up there is a good chance this is where he will be.  Yup there he is sitting with three other guys and I am impressed they did quite well too. 



We decide to head back to the cabin, but of course we get distracted easily and I hear someone say “hi Vickie”.  It is Karen and Bill who read my blog and also on the Princess Cruise Lover’s Facebook page. They are originally from Australia but live in California now.  We chat for a while and I make sure to get a picture too.

Then we walk down to the shops to check out some of the things for kids.  We want to pick up some things for our great nephews we will be seeing soon.  They have some really cute items.  I especially love the shark hats, but they are $22 each and that is US so I think we will pass cause we would have to buy two of them. 

Ron
I tell Bernie that I ran into one of the Bartenders we had sailed with on the Emerald who came over to say hi.  So we head to the International Café bar and right away Bernie remembers Ron.  We sit and have a drink (love that drink package) and we catch up with him.  Another great connection!

Lots of people are waiting to get into the dining rooms, it is around 6 pm and I think many are excited to get the evening started. 

Tonight we are dining with Victor who is the watch specialist on board during his dinner break. We are going to head to Alfredos for a pizza.

I am currently in the cabin and sun is setting and all I can think is there is nowhere else I would rather be.

Sunday September 13, Victoria

I awake to the sound from the hallway with the announcement that we have docked in Victoria and we are clear for those to go ashore.  The time is 7 am.

Argh… roll over Vickie go back to sleep you are on vacation!


But after about a half hour I decide or more to the point Bernie decides to get up and head down to get coffees. 

Kind of nice cause we returned our entire mini bar for two coffee cards that we will use on a future cruise.  The All Inclusive Drink Package includes coffees/teas and bottled water.  And after all that drinking Bernie brings back a large bottle of water too.  Smart man!  I knew there was a reason I married him.

On goes the tv and we watch Mike (cruise director) and his deputy Paul on the Wake Show.  I love that even on these short cruises they do everything they normally would do on a longer cruise.  Including the wake show.

I write up my blog post for yesterday and post them.  Internet is very good and we have no issue connecting and posting.  I do notice a few changes on the Princess @ Sea and it is getting better, with better flow and more information.

Bernie wants to get some cereal cause we are not planning on heading out for breakfast till later.  Also he can get the freshly squeeze orange juice with the drink package and he gets two! He tells me later he loved it.

My foot is good, not great, but definitely good.  Swelling seems to have gone down but the colors are coming out.  I am so grateful it is not worse.  But I will be wearing flip flops ashore today.

So we have to head the Purser’s desk to give them the letter for our free dinner at the Crown Grill so they can credit our account.  Leilei Cao from China takes care of us.  It seems he is new to Princess but his professionalism shines thru.  Even though he is not entirely sure what to do he quickly ask someone for verification.  I love that he dealt with it without passing it on to someone else.  Right away the cover charge for the Crown Grill is credited to our account and he guarantees us he will pass the letter to the Crown Grill Manager. 

Here are some pics from right at the pier in Victoria that others may find helpful.







We head ashore at 10 am to meet up with our friends Kim and Norma who live here.  We met them a few years ago thru our friends Monika and Rick.  They were then on the Coastal Cruise we did in May, and now we are excited cause they are joining us on the Island for the Med too.

The best thing is Norma is bringing me a tensor bandage for my foot. 

We are heading out for Brunch, they are taking us to Kitty’s and it doesn’t disappoint.  Food is plentiful, fresh, and tasty.  It is the kind of place that is that gem that you go back to time and time again.  Where the servers know your name – gee sounds like a commercial for Cheers.  But we really did enjoy it and we couldn’t finish our plates.  Great conversation with Norma and Kim about everything!  And of course we are all so excited cause the next time we see them we will be in Rome.  Thanks again you two for today.