Saturday, December 23, 2006

December 2006, Golden Princess Cruise -- Final Day

Saturday, New Orleans

I woke up early and looked out on the Mississippi. You could see houses and roads on the river bank. Because we were moving very slowly through relatively shallow water the wake is very dramatic. When I woke up again later we had docked and it was time for breakfast and departure. It was a sunny, but cold day in New Orleans and wet from heavy rains the night before.

Here are some statistics about the cruise from David Calabrese, Captain of the Golden Princess.

Distance sailed:
New Orleans to Montego Bay, 1039.2 nautical miles (average speed, 18.2 knots)
Montego Bay to Grand Cayman, 204.5 n.m. (17.7 knots)
Grand Cayman to Cozumel, 326.3 n.m. ( 21.5 knots)
Cozumel to New Orleans, 646.0 n.m. (20.4 knots)
for a total of 2,216 nautical miles

or 2550.1 statute miles or 4104 kilometers

Note: 1 nautical mile = 1.15 statute miles = 1.85 kilometers

Except for hand-carry items we had left all our bags outside the room last night for pick up. After breakfast got all our stuff and went to find a lounge to sit in while we waited for our departure number to be called. Actually it's a color and a number, our section of cabins was Light Blue 3 to match our debarkation luggage tags.

When they called us we went ashore to find our bags in the giant tent and then went out to wait for our transportation. I called Angel at Machu Picchu and he said he would send a van to pick us up. At that moment Jack looked up and saw one pulling into the parking lot. Great service.

We climbed aboard and soon were on the other side of the French Quarter. We got our car from the parking garage and by 9:30 we were heading out of New Orleans on our way home. Ready to host a Christmas party for 12 the next day. But no worries, it had all been planned for before we left.

Everything about the cruise, before, during and after went very smoothly. Better than we expected.

I'm afraid we didn't have very high expectations regarding embarkation and debarkation because this was Princess' first time at this port. And the port is just a slab of concrete. But Princess pulled it off brilliantly.

Friday, December 22, 2006

December 2006, Golden Princess Cruise -- Day 7

Friday, at sea

We are "at sea" all day and it's the final full day of the cruise. We went through some weather last night and there was a bit of jiggle now and then. Nothing serious. We didn't need to get out our sea sick patches.

Making the Soupe du JourThis morning at 10:30 there was a cooking demonstration in the Princess Theater. The MC was, of course, our Cruise Director, David Cole. Explaining the cookery were Executive Chef Paolo Merio and the Head Maitre d' Mario Propato.

After the cooking show was over we all got a backstage tour of the galley. It was filled with close to 200 cooks and helpers rushing around getting ready to serve several thousand beautifully prepared lunches.

Signing the cookbooks -- $28 -- $28 -- $28...At the end of the tour there was a chance to buy Princess Cruises' Cookbook with recipes by the fleet's chefs. It is signed by Chef Paolo and costs $28.

By the way, you pay for nothing on the ship with cash money or even your credit cards. You pay by using your Cruise Card. The running total gets taken off your credit card at the end of the trip. It is also your room key. We had the Purser punch a hole in our cards so we could each attach our card to a lanyard. It is so easy to keep track of that way. Especially at the pool.

Rubber duckyI don't think I mentioned before that Dave, our excellent Cruise Director, was Cruise Director on the Caribbean Princess when we were on it last May. He was sent over here to the Golden Princess just for the three New Orleans cruises. He is very funny and we enjoyed talking with him a couple times. Apparently he collects rubber ducks. And on his TV show every morning (announcing the day's events and activities) there are a dozen or more ducks on his desk.

Tonight we have to pack our large suitcases and put them in the hall, by 9:00 P.M. The rest of our bags we will carry ourselves.

We have had a wonderful time. So many things to see and do. Sadly there are several bars on board we still haven't visited. Next cruise, maybe.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

December 2006, Golden Princess Cruise -- Day 6

Thursday, Cozumel

Photo of Golden Princess from the front
Just as the ship's dress code on non-formal nights is "Smart Casual," the Christmas decorations could be described as "Light Elegant." They have not overdone the decorations but what they have put up is very nice and it looks like no expense was spared. The trees, garlands and twinkling lights were the kind you would see in a nice hotel at holiday time. Think Ritz-Carlton. There was also a small but tasteful Menorah for those celebrating Chanukah. It was way too early in the season to expect any Kwanzaa decor.

This Christmas season the Golden Princess has three, seven-day cusises out of New Orleans all with the same, Western Caribbean itinerary. Prior to this the ship spent the fall on the Mediterranean visiting Greek Isles. It got to New Orleans after a seventeen-day trip from Rome. After the New Orleans cruises it heads for Rio for South American tours during our winter. In May it heads for Seattle for summer Alaska cruises.

Today there were nine ships in Cozumel's harbor and room for only one to dock. Ours was not that lucky one. Visiting Cozumel today were Carnival's Inspiration, Royal Caribbean's Explorer of the Seas, Grandeur of the Seas, Legend of the Seas and Voyager of the Seas, Princess' Golden Princess and Grand Princess, Norwegian Cruise Line's Norwegian Dawn and Radisson's Seven Seas Navigator.

Tender boat in CozumelEver since Cozumel's piers were damaged by Hurricane Wilma in 2005, for safety reasons the cruise ships don't use their own life boats for tendering. The shore tenders are local boats, they even use the Fiesta Party Boat, and the whole process appeared to be much faster and more efficient than when the ships use their own tenders.

We stayed on board and enjoyed lunch in the Donatello Dining room followed by a nice nap.

Our next door neighbors were two young ladies in their early 20s -- perhaps sisters. They appeared to have family staying down the hall. Both of them loved to sit on the balcony and loudly discuss life. While using the most colorful language.

An example: after we left Cozumel she told her friend, and anyone else within a quarter mile, about her day ashore. "The guide book said it was one of the top ten restaurants in the whole f--king country," she commented. "It says it's got Mexican food but it was s--t you never heard of. And they brought us chips and three different salsas. I am so not into salsa so I asked for some queso dip and they didn't have any. They didn't know what I was talking about. Can you imagine a f--king Mexican restaurant that doesn't even have queso dip?"

I wanted to yell out, "Is it perhaps because they don't have any f--king Velveeta in Mexico?"

Shortly after 5:00 P.M. we set sail. Tomorrow is a day at sea (we love days at sea). Then we continue the 646 nautical mile trip from Cozumel to New Orleans, the last 100 miles of which is the very slow passage up the Mississippi River.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

December 2006, Golden Princess Cruise -- Day 5

Wednesday, Grand Cayman

Cayman Parrot (Official Bird of the Cayman Islands)When we woke up this morning the Golden Princess had anchored close to the shore of Grand Cayman Island. Our life boats were going into the water to serve as tenders. The process of lowering the boats off our ship is complicated and fun to watch.

As is often the case we had little interest in going ashore and taking part in "activities." Been there, did that. Or to be a little more precise: Been somewhere very much like there, did something very much like that. We stayed on the ship and had a wonderful time.

There were seven other reasons to stay on the ship. Other cruise ships in port were: Carnival's Imagination, Inspiration and Carnival Liberty, Celebrity's Constellation, Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas, Radiance of the Seas and Voyager of the Seas and, of course, our own Golden Princess. That's a lot of tourists (at least 12,000) all trying to snorkel on the same beach. Yesterday the Golden Princess was the only cruise ship visiting Montego Bay.

In the weeks just before we left on our cruise there were reports of the Norwalk virus on several cruise ships. We decided to be extra safe and took Dial liquid soap, packets of Wet Ones, and bottles of Purell. The ship had dispensers of hand sanitizers at the entrances to all the eating areas and there were signs up on how to avoid contamination. Of course I am not sure how effective the anti-bacterial stuff is in fighting viruses, but washing your hands a lot can't hurt. We heard of no cases of illness on the ship.

At 5:00 P.M. we were on our way to Cozumel, 326 nautical miles to the northwest.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

December 2006, Golden Princess Cruise -- Day 4

Tuesday, Montego Bay

Montego Bay looking westAt 7:00 A.M. the Golden Princess was starting to pull up to the dock next to the Montego Bay Cruise Ship Terminal. The shoreline is very nice looking and well developed. It reminded us a little of St Thomas in the US Virgin Islands, although the area around Montego Bay is less hilly.

As we finished docking I heard "One Love" playing over the outdoor speakers at the terminal. You hear Bob Marley's music all day here on the western-most tip of Jamaica.

We got off the ship for a few minutes and checked out the terminal building. The sign on the roof also says "Shopping Mall." But the shops were few, small, very hot and very humid. You could buy cases of Red Stripe Beer and many different rums.

Montego Bay looking eastAs for the famous Jamaican weed we didn't see or smell any. However, despite many posted warnings not to buy drugs and even more warnings to not bring them back on the ship, several shops were filled with bongs, pipes and other paraphernalia. Just like at home many were decorated in Rastafarian colors: red, gold, green and black. The shops had lots of humorous, often smutty, decor items to hang on your wall. They would have made nice joke gifts but cost too much for a joke. Cuban cigars were also available for purchase with warnings of "don't take them back to the U.S."

I wanted a copy of a local newspaper, perhaps The Gleaner, but none was available. The clerk I asked about a paper looked at me like I was a crazy and maybe she should call security. And there does seem to be lots of official-looking armed guards. To get back on the ship one has to go through airport style security.

Outside there were shuttle vans to take you to better shopping and restaurants but it was hot and we went back to the ship. It was deserted and for the afternoon it was our personal, seventeen story yacht.

Montego Bay was the only port on this cruise where we could dock. All the other stops need tenders to get passengers to and from the shore.

The food on the Golden Princess, as it was on our cruise last spring on the Caribbean Princess, was generally very good. Most days we had breakfast and lunch in the Horizon Court Buffet and dinner in the Donatello Dining Room with waiter service.

Starboard view from Prego Pizzeria, Lido Deck 14And if you're still hungry, from 10:00 A.M. to 7:00 P.M., there's always free, freshly made pizza at Prego Pizzeria near Neptune's Reef & Pool. The pies have the New York City style, super thin crust. The kind of slices you buy in Penn Station.

Right beside the pizzeria is the Trident Grill with burgers, hot dogs and fries. And in between them is the Mermaid's Tail Bar serving beer and cocktails. The drinks are not free of charge but the prices are reasonable and the cocktail portions are generous.

At 5:00 P.M. we pulled away from the dock and headed for the Cayman Islands. The dress code for tonight, mentioned in today's Princess Patter, was not the usual "Smart Casual" but "Smart Casual/Tropical." This evening's entertainment was Caliente, a production show in the Princess Theater. The singing was very good, as were the dancers. The elaborate costumes tended to look silly and the set folded and unfolded like a transformer and was in the way most of the time. A good time was had by all.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

December 2006, Golden Princess Cruise -- Days 2 & 3

Sunday & Monday, at sea

High up on the Golden PrincessBoth Day 2 and Day 3 were at sea. It is 1040 nautical miles from New Orleans to Montego Bay making this the longest leg of our trip. The weather was pleasant and the sea was calm. We were heading southeast and the temperature was climbing as we got closer to the tropics. It was wonderful to have nothing to do and nowhere to be.

It was time to explore the ship. Last spring we cruised on the Caribbean Princess and like the Golden Princess it is in their Grand Class of ships (meaning very big). This ship is slightly smaller than the Caribbean Princess. They are nearly identical except the Caribbean Princess has one additional deck of staterooms. This means about 500 more passengers than the Golden Princess. You almost never notice the difference except the Horizon Court Buffet on this one is on Deck 14 instead of Deck 15.

The public spaces inside the Golden Princess, especially the atrium, are classier (a string quartet at cocktail time) and quieter during the day -- there are many great places to read a book and have a drink -- before going back to your cabin to have a nap. And then go eat.

Early morning on the Golden PrincessWe don't always travel during the Christmas holiday season. It can be good and bad. It certainly forces you to get all your Christmas shopping and chores done ahead of time. This year it meant wrapping it all up by December 15. So there's a little more pressure. But what a relief to get it all done ahead of time.

Sunday night was formal night, as opposed to smart casual at other times. Hell froze over and we took some dress up clothes this time so we could eat in the nice dining room on formal night. It didn't kill us.

Monday we went to see The Magic and Illusions of Gaetano in the Princess Theater. He is from Las Vegas and leaves the ship in Montego Bay on Tuesday to fly back to Las Vegas to perform there. It's a busy showbiz life he leads. The Princess Theater is an amazing performance space, very high tech and well done.

Here's what it looks like right now from the bridge of the Golden Princess.

If you want to check out other cruise ship bridge cams, and some ship-board wedding cams as well, then click on

Saturday, December 16, 2006

December 2006, Golden Princess Cruise -- Day 1

Saturday, New Orleans

On a Friday afternoon about a week before Christmas we drove to New Orleans to spend the night at the Hilton Garden Inn, in Kenner, before our cruise to the Caribbean aboard the Golden Princess. This was the first time Princess Cruises had sailed out of New Orleans. We expected a bit of chaos -- finding the parking garage, taking the shuttle to the dock and going through all the steps of getting on the ship. We were wrong, the whole process could not have gone more smoothly.

We thought the ship would be near the other cruise ships, a short distance up river from the Convention Center. But the the van from the parking garage, Machu Picchu Travel Services, took us the other way, through the narrow streets of the French Quarter and over to an old (unused for many years) dock down river. The port authority plans to put up a building there some day but for now there are huge white tents, big enough for the Greatest Show on Earth.

Soon after we arrived at the Poland Terrace Dock we were on the ship and in our cabin. On the starboard side of Baja Deck, eleven stories above the Mississippi River. Our cabin had a balcony and we had a great view of the New Orleans skyline, the French Quarter and the Crescent City Connection Bridge.

New Orleans Sundown from the Golden PrincessGetting the baggage on board, for 2600 passengers, was slower than expected. Probably because this was the first time for the crew at this location. So we were over an hour late setting sail. But no problem, we managed by opening an icy bottle of Mo√ęt et Chandon and watched the sun go down on New Orleans from our balcony.

As we started down the river it was getting dark but it was very interesting to see what we could of the mighty Mississippi. Although on a map it looks like New Orleans is practically on the Gulf of Mexico the distance by river as the Mississippi meanders through the delta is over 100 miles. The seven-hour trip to the end of the delta is a slow one and requires two different pilots. At 1:30 A.M. Sunday we were in the Gulf and heading for Montego Bay.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

The Joy of Pool

Polaris logoLast Monday I was doing some pool cleaning and working on the filters -- getting ready for winter. Although the pool has been too cold to swim in since the middle of September, it is pretty to look at when it's clean and sparkling. At one point I mishandled some chlorine pellets and I got my lungs full of the choking gas. I had to sit down for a few minutes. And until the next morning I had a tightness in my chest and the constant taste and smell of chlorine. Yuck. I will learn to be more careful.

While I was cleaning the pool the water level was high. Tuesday I noticed the level was down about an inch. Wednesday it was down four inches. Thursday it was down by four feet and obviously we had a leak. A bad one.

The pool people sent their man over to check it out and he said we needed a new vinyl liner. The pool and the liner are over ten years old. And a liner lasts about ten years, so our time had come. It will be fixed in a couple of weeks (for several thousand dollars). But we were expecting this to happen -- in a year or two maybe. Oh well.

Polaris 380 Pool CleanerLast night was very cold and there was a possibility of a freeze. So we had to bring the Polaris pool-cleaning robot in so it wouldn't freeze and crack open. It had to be in a warm place, so like a pet seal we put it in the bath tub for the night.

The Polaris attaches to the pool pump by a long hose and it slowly rolls along the bottom and sides of the pool vacuuming up sand and leaves. Its movements are quite life-like and fun to watch. Especially if it's a warm sunny afternoon and you have had a few drinks.

My lungs have recovered, the Polaris had a warm night and soon the new, deep blue liner will be installed and we will have 22,500 fresh gallons of clear, clean water in the pool. That's a lot of water, and for those of you in the rest of the world it's about 85,000 liters.