Sunday, September 25, 2016

Disembarkation in San Francisco

We wake just before 7 to the feeling of the ship docking.  

We quickly shower and head to the dining room for some cereal and fruit.  

We are asked for a table of two and we were told it would be a while.  

Now we can see that the dining room is not busy and we know they want to discourage people from asking for deuces.  But today we just don't have time for a big table.

We say we will wait and about five minutes later we are taken to a table for two.  Hmm, we know the game but if you want a table for two then hold your ground.  But again have to say dining on the Island in the Dining room is a game of patience and understanding.

The service was great and we were in and out within 20 minutes.

We are in the first walk off group.  We meet at our assigned time of 745 in Wheelhouse - note there was no Platinum Elite disembarkation lounge.

Things are running a bit late.  At around 8:15 we are called that we can get off.  

The issue really is not with Princess it is more with the Customs agents, and to tell you the truth San Francisco seems to be an issue often.  Of all the US ports we have entered and had to clear customs San Francisco continues to be the worst, even with the new port and only one ship in port.

Today the issue is there is only one agent for the first half hour that is assigned to Non US citizens.  Considering the ship left Vancouver there are a lot of Canadians on board.  

We are in the first group to get off but we waited about a half hour in the Customs line.  Note they did assign another agent to the Non US group as we made it to the front and that helped.

Note the US Citizens line seem to be processed rather quickly.  But this is not always the case.

We walked down to the Embarcadero Station at Market Street and went to catch the BART.  However they were announcing issues with the BART and that there was also a bus bridge due to work and could be up to an hour delay.  

So we went back up to the street level and hailed a taxi and took it to the airport.

We arrive in plenty of time for our noon flight - have Nexus which gives us TSA pre clearance sure helped.

Flight home was rather uneventful and we were back home around 3:30 pm.  

The trip was just what we needed after dealing with so many issues at home and at work lately.  A short getaway that fell perfectly during our weekend and great friends on board.

Overall this three day was one of our best ones.  The only negative was the ship and it's changes since dry dock, which of course we managed with but was truly our only negative.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Sea Day Evening - Dinner at The Bayou Cafe

Crooners when it is quiet
When I wake Bernie is getting ready.  I am feeling much better.  A nap was a good idea.

Bernie heads to Crooners so I can get ready.  I meet him there around 7 pm.  We both enjoy a Bramble and he tells me about a conversation he had with these three women from Vancouver.  

One woman went on about once you move up to the next level in the Captain Circle program Princess automatically upgrades you.  

Bernie tried to correct her but she was adamant. Note she was platinum and never did ask Bernie about his loyalty level or experience with Princess.  

But sorry ladies upgrades prior to a cruise do not have any bearing on how often you have cruised.

The next woman asked Bernie what was the longest cruise he had been on.  He responded 49 days.  Her response was oh I never could do more than ten to twelve days as I have pets.  Bernie nodded, her next comment was that her dream was to do a world cruise.  Bernie smiled and said you do know that a world cruise is longer than 12 days by around 10 Times.  

I laughed as he told me this story. 

Monika joined us for drinks.  At 8 we all head to the Bayou café for dinner.  We both have a free meal here as one of the most travelled passengers on board. They have given us a meal at any of the specialty restaurants.  Otherwise the cost is $29 per person.

Monika go the porterhouse steak

We enjoy a bottle of Prosecco (Princess 50th Anniversary bottle) and cheer another great trip.

I start with the sausage with grits as my appetizer. 

For my entrée I have the chicken that I thought would be spicy but it is not at all and adding hot sauce to it helps.

For dessert I have the Norman Love peanut butter bar.  So yummy!  Bernie gets the peach cobbler and we all taste his so the waiters brings another one so we can enjoy more of it. 

Pat joined us for dessert - and Bernie feeds her his Peach Cobbler

Overall the meal was fantastic. I like it here.  Especially the Jazz band that plays.  Service is good.  The waiters are busy but I am impressed with the head waiter helping out.

After dinner we head down to Explorers and it is busy.  It is Happy Hour and we order a bramble from Mabel.  

Jorge and Nice join us and we do some dancing and crowd watching.  

There are quite a few younger passengers trying to get drinks.  Bar Staff are checking ID to ensure they are old enough.  Another issue is many people are bringing their drinks onto the dance floor which has staff scrambling to retrieve.

We head back to the cabin and crash.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Sea Day – Friday

You would think I could sleep in.  Nope!  I am awake as Bernie heads out to get a tea.  After a half hour of him being gone I head out too to find him.  

I find him chatting with Monika and we all head to the dining room for breakfast.  A quick bowl of cereal and a fruit plate and we are good to go.  Note the dining room is only open until 9 so make sure to arrive before then.

I missed Mark Harris’ lecture yesterday but we make a point of getting to it today.  His talk is all about dolphins.   Quite enjoyable and Mark keeps it light and fun.

After the lecture we sit in Crooners and catch up with Mark for over an hour.  So nice to see him again.

Of course if Bernie has any say we are heading back to Alfredo’s for lunch and sure enough that is where we end up.  

Today it is much busier but just as good as yesterday.

I am able to get online and check in for our flights tomorrow.  

We have around 500 in transit staying on for the Panama and pretty much all those getting off tomorrow have walk off.  There is a large group who has a set time and they have luggage (I am guessing they had some tour prior). 

We got walk off group one which is like 7:40 am.  So plenty of time. 

I go in search of a quiet place to read but finding it almost impossible.  I try the sitting in the area outside Sabatinis but three couples sit next to me and are talking loudly.   

I move to the indoor pool but right away it won’t work as it is very noisy with sounds echoing all around.

Okay let’s try Horizon Court.  It is relatively quiet As it is around 330.  I grab a tea and scone and sit and read.  

But within ten minutes a group arrives and sits nearby so again I have to move on. 

Back to the Atrium but it is very busy here.  I give up.  I am rather frustrated, and being tired doesn’t help.  I know I need to head back to the cabin and rest and if Bernie is still asleep hopefully I won't wake him.

So I return to the cabin where Bernie is still napping.  I decide I need a nap too, for everyone's sake.

At Sea After Victoria - Evening

As Bernie returned to the ship we both knew where we would be eating.  Alfredo’s!  Bernie’s favorite.  On the Island Princess Sabatinis opens at lunch as Alfredo’s Pizzaria.  

We are seated by the window where we watch our departure from Victoria.

Our server Rosa surprises us as we just sailed with her on the Royal at the beginning of this year.  Since then she has gone home to Argentina and come to the Island. 

Bernie gets the vegetarian and I get the Margarita Pizza.   Note the menu is more limited than the larger ships dedicated Alfredo’s but it is still very good.

The afternoon calls for a nap.  Two nights with little sleep is catching up with me.

After a short nap we head off to Crooners to meet up with friends from my Facebook fan page as well as the Princess Cruiseline Lovers page.  

Pat and her Mom, Diane, Monika, us and Mary Jane and Peter.  I should say that we first tried to get into the Elite lounge in Explorers but it just had Bingo and they need to clean and set up for elite lounge.

Even at five after five they were still not open so we gave up and went to Crooners and paid full price for the drinks.  This is the downfall of having no Universe Lounge As normally bingo would have been held there.  So with fewer lounges events are difficult to plan and also set up and take down.

So take note if you have early seating it could be an issue if you attend the elite lounge.  We did end up here eventually for a cosmo and some munchies and it was quiet as early diners had left already.

After a great visit with everyone we head back to the cabin for a quick shower To meet up with Antonio, Diane and Jorge and Nice.

But finding them is difficult at 7:30 as the Atrium is quite busy.  They are doing the champagne waterfall right there and crowds are all over.  Not to mention all the photography backdrops all around cutting off the minimal space you already have.  Oh and then they have the sale item tables outside the shops!  

This seems crazy to me.  Sure I understand you want people to pose for pics,  you want people to buy items, you want people to participate in  the champagne waterfall.  But now you also have people queuing for second seating, and those trying to get into the dining room. I really miss the larger ship now.

Someone asked me today if I had to choose between the Island and a Grand class ship which would I choose.  Hands down the Grand Class.  Sadly the Island is our least favorite due to the recent changes to the ship with no aft lounge.  Dark and windowless gym.  No International Café.  Two dining rooms right off the Atrium which always have issues with passenger flow.  

If I had to choose between Island and Coral for Panama I would choose Coral (that has not had the changes, but still has issue with dining room).

But I wouldn’t turn down the Island, it just would not be my first choice.  The ship overall looks amazing and the crew are top notch.

Okay back to tonight.  We have reservations for 730 and we are taken upstairs to the traditional dining room and sat at a lovely table for six. 

It is the Italian menu tonight and I start with the salad, then the penne pasta as my appetizer, then the scallop and shrimp dish which was good but too heavy. 

After Dinner We (Bernie, Diane and I) make Our Way To Explorers Lounge To Play Majority Rules and have some laughs.  We stay for karaoke and the Happy hour which here is at 10:30 to 11:30 – buy one get one for a dollar.  Pat and Monika are here with us and when the dj starts we are up dancing.  And we barely sat down. 

We crawl into bed around 1:45 and smile … oh what a great night.

Victoria - Port Stop

We left Vancouver at 4 pm and we are docked in Victoria at 7 am. Now I am not sure the routing but boy 15 hours to get here, we must of gone very very slow, or maybe we went out into open waters and did circles cause the distance between the two cities is not very much.

We are docked at Ogden Point with is around a 7 minute drive to the city center or a 30 minute walk. 

For more info. on visiting Victoria and ways to get around see this blog post by clicking here

The sun is out and it is promising to be a lovely day in the mid 20s.  But it is cooler by the water.

I should let you know as many have asked.  Yes we have been getting the port information sheets.  But yes they are also available in pdf format thru the Princess at sea app while on board.

Talking about the Princess at sea app.  They still have not fixed the way you search for contacts. Currently you have to enter the unique numerical/alpha code that is unique to each passenger which is assigned to you once you register with the app. Once you know the code you enter it and that person gets a notification a notification and accepts or declines the request. 

I don’t know why they can’t change it so you can search by cabin number or name instead.  Security is still in place as they still have to accept. 

Today Bernie is heading into town to the Royal B.C. Museum to check out an exhibit that is happening on the Wolly Mammoth.  Visiting this museum on it’s own is amazing but check out what special showings are happening too.  Also they have a great IMAX theater too so that could be an option.  The museum is located right beside the BC Legislature and very easy to get to.  Here is a link to the museums website.

I am staying on board and relaxing.  Not sure what I will do but the movie Me Before You is playing in the cabins so that might be a good option.

I sit and enjoy a latte - apparently this is suppose to be a Disney Character.  I guess Shrek (but I don't believe Shrek is Disney).  Barista says no.... apparently it is Whinnie the Poo 

Other things happening today are:  ping pong tournament, basketball, morning trivia, pub lunch, charades, $10 sale, Scattergories, golf chipping, zumba, finding big foot, Mark Harris has a lecture about sea turtles, happy hour, Arts and Crafts – origami, shuffleboard,  bingo and NFL game at Mutts.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

First Evening - Sabatini Dinner

First stop is Explorer's Lounge to the Platinum Elite Lounge to try a Cosmo.  Maribel is there to quickly take our order – two Cosmos please.  Bernie rates them right up there with some of the bests.  That says a lot.

Yes we are able to order any drink that is part of the special loungers menu for $5. 

A card was delivered to the cabin with the itinerary and what is featured each day.

We sit with two couples from Edmonton and a short while later Monika joins us for a drink. 

Oh did I tell you Monika is the Most Travelled this voyage.  We are in the top 40 but don’t know where we fall. If I can get to see the Captain Circle Host I will find out. (I later find out we are number 5 & 6).   

In lieu of a most travelled luncheon or cocktail party we have been given dinner for two at any of the specialty restaurants.  We will be dining at the Bayou Cafe with Monika on the last night.

Bernie wants to check out the stores as he saw a great Tommy Bahama shirt and t shirt he wanted.  So we get those items and I found a great shirt that I will have to get too.  I will post a picture of it below.  

Jackie from South Africa serves us and we discuss a mutual friend Delmarie who recently got off the Island and is also from South Africa. 

Back to the cabin to shower and dress for dinner.  Our amazing steward Cyrus has done up our cabin already and our few requests have been done already.  We find out later he is getting promoted, and we understand why, he is good.

Once ready we set out to find Qi, a cabin stewards we had last year, or was it the year prior, who is back on board.  Big hugs and a little pampering gift for her.  She has just started here third contract.  Wow does time every fly by.

Tonight dinner is at Sabatinis.  Antonio is hosting a table with us, his cousin Jorge and wife Nice, along with Diane (who we find out is from Alaska and is on my Facebook fan page and also the Princess Cruiseline Lovers page).

Dinner was probably the best meal we have ever had at Sabatinis.  Food was outstanding, our server Ryerson was very attentive and I especially was impressed how other servers helped out when needed.

Bernie's soup

My meal started with a salad which was good but I found a little over dressed, but I think most would find perfect I just prefer little less salad dressing.

My pasta course was the cannelloni which was outstanding and could of had that as my entrée.

The entree was the stuffed chicken which I had numerous times and can be hit or miss but tonight it was the best I have ever had.  The asparagus served with it were crispy and not overcooked and seasoned just right.

Dessert was the tiramisu.  I had not had the tiramisu since they changed it to the Norman Love version and again it was outstanding. 

And of course we had to finish off the meal with my favorite drink from Sabatinis a Sicilian Kiss.  Which is Amaretto, vodka and Baileys served over ice with a bit of milk.

The meal is very large so I never finished any of my dishes.  But there is no way I could. I highly recommend Sabatinis to anyone getting on the Island.

Maitre D’Hotel Neville came by and spent some time with us. It was lovely getting to know him better.

We spent the evening chatting, raising our glass in a toast, sharing our travel adventures and by the end we were all family.

One thing I like to remind people of, this is not a dinner at the Olive Garden.  The meal here is an event that takes time.  It really is like being in Italy where the evening is based around a table with good friends, great food, and even better wine. 

After dinner we walked around and ended up at Explorers watching the Quest Game Show which was an Adult Scavenger Hunt and quite funny. 

Cruise Director Mike Witte was there and we caught up with him and what he has been up to.  He is looking great and his team seems well put together and happy. 

While chatting with Mike, Mark Harris came by.  Mark is the Naturalist on board and he is getting off in San Francisco.  But he did mention he will be getting on the Grand then Star to do the Hawaii cruises as the Naturalist so watch out for him if you are doing one of those.

Observations tonight:

Because of the lower age demographics for those on the repo portion Explorers lounge is busy with the Quest Game show.  And there is a lot more drinking and gambling going on.  Now not excessive drinking but more people out enjoying themselves.

The Wake Show is on and they are even doing a question of the day for the short cruise which I think is great.

For those staying on to do the Panama cruise the Shorex has in transit tours for San Francisco.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Short Weekend Away on Island

A great deal happened and we just couldn’t pass it up.  A three day repo from Vancouver to San Francisco.  Timing was perfect as it fell right during our weekend.

We left home with small carry on bags, two bottles of Vino Verte for dinner with Antonio tonight.

See Antonio is from Portugal and we thought he might enjoy it.  However as we swung the backpack on one bottle fell out and smashed to the ground.  Oops…. Thankfully there is a liquor  store two blocks from the pier where we buy a. new bottle.

We arrive at the pier at 1230.  We are directed upstairs to the conference center where we are divided by ship.  The Volendam is in port with us.  We fill out our health forms.  Then quickly get our cruise cards.

We snake around like we are in a parade heading downstairs to go thru security.  The line is long but it moves very efficiently.

Normally we would go thru US customs but since the ship is heading to Victoria first we don’t go thru customs.  We will however have to clear US customs when we arrive in San Francisco .

In total it took 15 min from when we got to the pier to when we boarded.  Very efficient.

Last year we sailed the island for a month, and we had been on her quite a few times prior so we know the ship.

This voyage we are in Plaza 529 which is an Oceanview cabin.  Great location midship and close to atrium and coffee bar.

We notice the cabin looks very fresh and clean.  They haven’t got the new bed/bedding but the bed we have is very comfortable.  We are told that the new bedding will be happening soon though.

There is this great little nook in the closet with an extra closet space.  Haven’t seen this in other cabins on this ship.

A beautiful bouquet of flowers and a bottle of champagne awaits us as a gift from Antonio.

Again we feel blessed to call so many crew friends who feel like family and Antonio is definitely family.

Up to Horizon Court for a quick bite to eat.  It is a zoo up here, so I quickly grab a salad and meet Bernie outside where he is grabbing a hot dog and fries.  He couldn't handle the crowds in the buffet.  I tell him how they are queuing up for food at one of the stations in Horizon Court.  
One man tried to get food at that station where no one was and was told off by another man.  I bit my tongue.  If you wander around and get food from area that are not busy it works.  Lining up doesn't as there are different stations and you can't line up for each.  If one area is so very busy I just pass it up and I survive.  I like to go with the flow.

The sun is shining and it is in the high 20s.

We both comment that the demographics of this voyage are very different than the May repo we did.  Very few kids on board, maybe a handful compared to a lot of kids in May.

This cruise carries on thru the Panama Canal so many are on for the entire voyage so there are quite a few older passengers  (my age and older).

Bernie called room service and got thru rather quickly to change out our mini bar for two coffee cards, and they delivered them right away.

Ships officers:  Captain Andrea Poggi, Staff Captain Vincenzo Lembo, Chief Engineer Vito Torre, Hotel General Manager Ivano Calandri, Cruise Director Mike Witte, Customer Services Director Carla Ramos, Food and Beverage Director Sandra Belchior,  Executive Housekeeper Antonio Pimpao, Executive Chef John Convery, Maitre D’Hotel Neville Saldanha.

Muster is at 345 with sail away at 4pm.  With Victoria being so close I wonder where we will sail as we don’t dock until tomorrow at 7 am.  Tonight we are joining Antonio for dinner in Sabatinis at 7:30.

Things I have noticed:

Prices have gone up.  All specialty restaurants are $29.  Drink prices too have gone up for some items.   Coffee card is now  $31 plus tip.  They may of gone up earlier and I just didn’t notice.  I later check my notes and prices for special restaurants went up in May.
Ship looks great.
Embarkation was very smooth and well organized.
Staff on board are very helpful, friendly and very patient.
The water pressure is very strong.
Many people are staying on for Panama portion.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Brazilian Visa - Don't Miss Out

Many people ask about getting a Brazilian Visa and how difficult is it. 

Brazil like many countries requires a visa for some Nationalities. First thing to check is click here to see if your country requires a visa. Canadians, Americans, and Australians require visas. British passport holders do not. 

Once you have the page open scroll down to see the number beside your country and then scroll up to see what that number means. 1 means you need a visa 

I can report how our experience was five years ago. It took about a week to gather all the necessary documents and fill out the forms. For use we required:  letter from employer, pay stubs, and travel itinerary. 

We delivered the forms, money and passports to the Brazilian Consulate in Vancouver and because everything was in order we got our passport and visa back about 10 days later.

Note each consulate and country is different. Our experience with the consulate here in Vancouver that represents western Canada asked for different documents than our friends who dealt with the consulate in Ottawa. Friends in San Francisco had a totally different experience too.

Note, many people feel more comfortable dealing with a visa service. The cost of using this type of service is almost double the cost of the visa and you still need to provide all the same information as you would if you processed it yourself. 

So really the only thing the visa service is doing is taking your money, and collecting your documents and submitting to Consulate. Save your money and do it yourself.

Processing time varies significantly so don't wait, get your visa right away so you are not disappointed. Yes in some cases it can be expediated but make sure you give yourself at least two months prior to get the visa. 

Remember if you do not have your visa you will not even be allowed to board a flight to Brazil. If you are getting on a ship that is going to Brazil, you are require to have the visa before you even get on the ship. You will be denied boarding the ship if you don't have it.

Our last cruise that went to Brazil, over 30 people were denied boarding in Fort Lauderdale. These were Americans who were lucky they were able to head to Miami and get their visa processed quickly and then flew and met the ship in Barbados before it headed South to Brazil. 

One couple from Canada was not so lucky as they had to return to Canada to get their Visa. They opted to meet the ship in Argentina and missed the first 14 days of their cruise. Don't let this happen to you.

If you are heading to South America, take note that you also require an Argentinian Reciprocal Fee that needs to be completed before you arrive.  Currently the fee is $72 US and the information for Canadians can be found here.  

Here is a great site that you can put the information of where you are going and it will tell you if you require a visa or not.  Note this is a visa service website so they are trying to get your business.  Save the money and submit yourself.

A good travel agent will make sure you know about the requirements for each country.  You can also check on your cruise personalizer with Princess and they have notifications about your visa requirements.  It is your responsibility to ensure you have the correct documentation.

South America Planning and Gambling

As many of you know we have been on two amazing South America Cruises.  Have to say that South America holds a special place in our hearts.  It is an area we had always been interested in and it did not disappoint.  And of course we can't wait to get back there.

When planning for 2017 we knew our vacation choice at work was not going to be a good one and we would have to focus on time in January/February.  Not to worry we don't mind that time of year as we always go away then.

We have a few reasons for wanting to head back.

  • I really want to visit many of the ports again for more research.  My goal is to write more port information and look at port lecturing for South America after I retire. This trip would focus on us looking at the ports on a very practical level for this purpose.
  • We have some friends in Santiago we would really like to spend more time with.  Not to mention we have never been to Santiago and want to spend some time there.
  • Bernie has always dreamed of going to Machu Picchu and we are hoping to head to Lima and then Cusco prior to the cruise.  
  • Also Lima is an amazing city I want to explore more

Usually we like to go to the Caribbean in January for some R & R but this coming year the prices are just way too high and with the exchange rate still sitting at about $1.30 Canadian for one US dollar we have to be conscious of the cruise cost.

This year we have really focussed on looking for deals.  This means not booking most trips far ahead of time like we have.  We can't risk the price not dropping.

Normally South America itineraries are high at first but can come down closer to the date.  Note cruises that are part of the repositioning of the ship - like our 49 day Fort Lauderdale to Los Angeles rarely drop by much.  But the 14 days between Buenos Aries and Santiago often goes down. 

Since we are not too concerned about cabin location - other than not wanting to be in the aft section due to vibration on the Crown - we can wait.

So far the price has gone down $400 each.  We are still watching and hope to book in October.  This is risky and a gamble that you have to be prepared to do.  

Of course we won't have a great selection of cabins.  We will probably not be able to get the same cabin for both legs (but we will manage).  But it is a risk we are willing to take.  

The great things about this itinerary are:

  • It leaves from Valparaiso on Bernie's Birthday
  • It visits Puerto Montt again (have only been there once)
  • It has two nights/three days in Buenos Aries
  • It visits Puerto Madryn twice - have never been here but it is a common stop
  • Lastly it stops once in Punta Del Este in Uruguay - have not been here either

So stay tuned to see what happens.

We do have a back up if this trip doesn't work out but we hope we don't have to fall for the back up. Time will tell.