Greetings! This week we finish up my Crown Princess Caribbean cruise with my dad. Highlights include getting a behind-the-scenes look at the ship, dining at the chef’s table, and visiting the Ritz-Carlton in Grand Cayman, the Gumbalimba Park in Roatan, Honduras, and Chankanaab in Cozumel, Mexico.
I forgot to mention last week (in Part 1) about the service onboard the Crown Princess. For the most part the crew were very friendly and attentive. The highlight was our cabin steward, who we rarely saw but was super friendly and always there when we needed him.
How crazy good is technology? I’m on a cruise in the middle of the ocean and my brother is flying 37,000 feet up and we are emailing each other.
The Crown Princess has a number of dining options. Most restaurants are included in the price of the cruise but they do have a few upscale restaurants that cost extra. Obviously, those served higher-quality food and weren’t as crowded. Here’s a list of all the restaurants my dad and I hit with our Twitter press trip gang.
DA VINCI RESTAURANT
The first night we dined at the Da Vinci Restaurant, which is one of the main dining rooms. (The other is Michelangelo’s, which has the same layout and is one floor directly below.) There is no extra charge for either of these restaurants and the food and service was solid. The menus changed nightly but they always kept some of the signature dishes like fettuccini Alfredo, roast chicken breast, salmon, grilled beef…. The meals were four courses with an appetizer, soup or salad, main entrée, and dessert.
TIP: If you make reservations in advance you don’t have to wait to be seated.
NIGHT ONE DINNER PICS
If you are a foodie or just plain hungry and are interested in what the food looked like, here are some pics from dinner: Trio of melon; tortellini soup with spinach; pasta with broccoli and capers; rich chocolate mousse.
Night two we joined our Twitter gang at Sabatini’s on Deck 16. This is one of the specialty restaurants so it cost $20 per person but the Italian food/service was top notch and never-ending. The first part of the gorging begins when the waiter comes by with a tray of antipasti, then salad, soup (my pasta fagioli was the only thing that was disappointing), more appetizers, pasta, and your entrée—the last is the only thing you order and I had stuffed chicken. You know I had to be full to pass on dessert.
The other alternative restaurant we tried was the Crown Grill. They charge $25 per person but that includes appetizers (my dad had the scallop and foie gras), then soup or salad (I had the black and blue onion soup) and main entrée (either seafood or meat—I had the filet mignon, my dad the lobster for a $9 extra surcharge). They also bring out a ton of side dishes like creamed corn, french fries, asparagus, mushrooms, spinach…. Then dessert—I caved in and ordered the sampler. Yikes it was delish.
We didn’t get room service except for having large bottles of water ($3.50 each, gratuity included) delivered. That’s because the organizer of the cruise ship sends fruit to the rooms each day and on top of that the organizer of our press trip sent additional snacks: vegetable crudités, shrimp cocktail, cheese and crackers, champagne… The best were the treats they came with, usually chocolates with a little Twitter bird made from marzipan in the middle. The craziest concoction was my favorite: grapes dipped in white chocolate. Oh my.
Another reason I never ordered room service is that if I got hungry I would make my way down to the International Café on the 5th floor where they had sandwiches, salads, and desserts! Ice cream had a surcharge of a couple dollars I think but everything else was free and the chocolate pudding was insane.
Guests of Princess Cruises can arrange for a memorable and exclusive dinner at the chef’s table, but space is limited (10–12 guests) and they usually only offer it twice during a seven-day cruise.
It costs $75 per person and the menu is always a surprise.
Here’s the play by play:
CHEF’S OR DOCTOR’S?
We met half of our group, the Maître d’ and chef Giusseppe Pollara outside of Da Vinci Restaurant on the 6th floor, where he had us don chef coats. They looked more like doctor coats, though, so it was interesting when we walked through the packed dining room following the chef with notepads in hand—everyone just stared, hoping there wasn’t a health scare.
We walked straight into the busy kitchen following Giusseppe. The first thing my paesano made us do before a quick tour of the kitchen was wash our hands for 20 seconds with hot water. We also were earlier instructed to wear fresh-laundered clothes, and we couldn’t attend if we were ill. Those with food allergies listed them when handing in the waiver form.
CHAMPS & APPETIZERS
At the end of the tour was a station set up and a waiter passed out tall glasses of crisp champagne. Then the appetizers started rolling out.
1st: King crab with mango, tomato, lemon, olive oil, cilantro
2nd: Cheese tart with Swiss cheese, dried cherry tomato on top, puff pastry, truffle oil
3rd: Goose-liver pâté that they make right there, with apple chutney (not a fan of pâté)
4th: Russian caviar (I’m not a huge seafood lover so this was my worst nightmare. I had no choice but to suck down those salty, nasty
eggs and pretend I loved them, as chef was waiting for my reaction. Maybe the best acting job I’ve ever done.)
DON’T BREAK THE DISHES
On the way to our table, which was in Michelangelo’s on the 5th floor, I noticed a sign with pictures (in the kitchen) of broken dishware accompanied by their prices with the phrase “the cost of carelessness.” Doesn’t really have to do with the story but I thought it was interesting.
Our table was set up a little fancier then the others and had a deluxe bread basket.
1st dish was fried goat cheese. But since I told the chef I’m not a goat cheese lover he gave me…just my luck…pâté of venison.
2nd was lobster and green asparagus risotto. It was so good and by then I was already full.
Then the chef came out with raspberry sorbet. To help clean the palate even a little more he grabbed a bottle of Grey Goose and went around the table filling the sorbet dishes up to each diner’s liking.
The main course was an orgy of food: King-size plates filled with enough vegetables, veal chops, and lobster tails to feed a small village. It was actually too much food and my dad and I looked at each other, feeling guilty. But we got over it after learning it wasn’t going to go to waste, as the staff gets the leftovers.
NOW THAT’S A FIRE
Chef set up a cooking station near our table and put on a show for us and the surrounding diners as he finished preparing the veal and rump steak with ill-advised flames. Unlike my dad I took small portions so I could at least walk, instead of roll, back to the room.
Dessert began with Limoncello, brie cheese in a port sauce, then a tray of petit fours and a spectacular-looking unique edible plate made of sugar and filled with panna cotta.
Like all guests at the chef’s table we went home with signed copies of Princess Cruises’ cookbook and roses for the ladies.
MOVIES UNDER THE STARS
Possibly the best feature about the ship is on the Lido deck: High above one of the pools is an enormous outdoor television that plays either new-release movies or major sporting events, night and day. My dad and I watched both Sunday and Monday Night Football even while it was raining (we just pulled our chair under one of the decks).
PIZZA & ICE CREAM
What’s so convenient is that if you get hungry you just walk 30 steps and grab a slice of free pizza that is actually pretty darn good (unlike Oasis of the Seas pizza) and/or ice cream. During the movie features (I saw Night at the Museum) they make popcorn and pass out blankets so everyone is all cozy under the stars. Like in the theaters, they also sell candy and drinks (including alcohol)—but here they have roving waiters. Too cool!
ULTIMATE SHIP TOUR
Day three was at sea, and to make the most of it we took part in the Ultimate Ship Tour. It’s a 3-plus-hour behind-the-scenes look and only up to 12 passengers get the privilege. Typically Princess Cruises only offers one tour per seven-day cruise on all of their ships and your only chance to sign up is as soon as you board ($150 pp).
We saw so much, and I don’t have time to go into crazy detail. However, I did make a video to give you a better feel—check it out at the bottom of this newsletter.
The tour began in the 850-seat theater where Princess invests supposedly $1.5 million per show. It wasn’t that exciting to see an empty stage with different light angles but it was neat to see the sound guy change the voices of whomever is on the microphone. From there we went backstage and saw the costumes and learned how they do quick changes.
TOUR OF KITCHEN
Next up was a tour of the kitchen by executive chef Giusseppe Pollara. What’s amazing is that there are more than 250 employees in the kitchen, with just two sous chefs in charge. A staggering fact: They do 700 breakfasts for room service every morning!
TOUR OF STORAGE
Most food is from the USA. If the ship is overseas they have to get it from container ship, so they place orders two months in advance. On an average seven-day cruise aboard the Crown Princess, passengers consume: 1,500 kg of butter, 1,300 kg of cheese, 24,000 kg of vegetables, 32,000 bottles and cans of beer, and 240,000 eggs. Thanks @KimMance for the diligent notes.
Speaking of Kim, instead of listing all the places we went I’ll send you to check out her website, GoGalavanting.com, for her play by play.
The only thing Kim missed was the main laundry room where all the folding and pressing is done by machines. One of their many washing machines can hold 350 lbs. per load and they wash, on the average, 20,000 towels a day. Tip: Help cut down on the impact on the environment and do what my dad and I did: For the whole cruise we each used just one towel.
Did you know the average cruise passenger gains 10 lbs. on a seven-day cruise? Yikes!
TOURING THE BRIDGE
Besides the main laundry the highlight for me was touring the bridge. It’s so cool to see the views the captain and his mates have and check out their navigation instruments.
One of the biggest disappointments for me was learning about the printing press and their photo lab. Ninety-two percent of all the printed material distributed onboard is printed on the ship’s printing press. I don’t think everybody reads their nightly newsletter, and if they really wanted to they should be able to either have it delivered on request, grab it from a designated place, or turn on the TV and view it from there. Both the printing press and photo departments could be transformed to cut back on cost and the strain on the environment and increase the passenger experience.
It’s obvious that selling photos is big business for Princess. I was amazed at how many people actually stood in line to either get their picture taken professionally (behind a backdrop or with one of the in-costume locals) or to purchase them.
When they post the photos on the wall(s) there is no organization. I spent countless minutes trying to find the photos with my dad and me—and I missed more than half of them. I inquired about them doing it digitally, but they quickly dismissed my crazy idea. Well, you should’ve seen my face light up a week later when I went on Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas and noticed at check-in they had mastered the concept that I had churning in my head. When the cameraman takes your picture on their ship, they scan your room key. Then an hour or so later you just slide your key into one of their dedicated photo machines and presto—all the photos they took of you are there and can be quickly printed or put on a CD. Too easy!
If you’re interested in Princess Cruises’ commitment to the environment, check out this link.
The Lotus Spa is quite nice but it needs a bit of managing. I was lucky enough to be offered a free spa treatment so I went in and asked the receptionist what I should get. She suggested the warm AromaSpa Seaweed wrap, which is their signature treatment (I think it’s also the most expensive at $195 for 75 minutes).
After filling out a standard form and sipping the fruit-infused water in the waiting room I was escorted to a treatment room. I bypassed the locker room as my room had its own shower. I had a choice to wear my underwear or some scratchy paper underwear. I didn’t want to look like a perv so I didn’t ask Why can’t I go naked? Who can enjoy a massage if you are being bogged down by uncomfortable underwear?
My therapist was very nice and I loved her Namibian accent. She began by brushing me a couple times with a thick bristled brush to get the blood flowing (it worked). Then she covered me in a seaweed mud paste, which has the same sensation as vapor rub. When she wrapped me up in a lightweight aluminum blanket and covered me with a towel I felt like a stuffed enchilada—I just wanted to yell for help.
But she calmed my fears when she massaged my ankles, feet, and scalp. Then I took a shower to get the gook off and got a quick full-body massage. What I didn’t like was that the rooms aren’t soundproof, they drape the tables with worn-out rough towels rather than soft sheets, and the trash can hadn’t been emptied—seeing someone’s used disposable boxer shorts just ruined my day.
I also could see right through my therapist’s upselling when she told me that I was really tight and I needed to see her again before the trip was over. When I passed she tried to get me to buy the expensive products (ranged $52–176) that she used. It just left a bad flavor in my mouth which very easily could’ve been turned the other way around.
Our second port was Grand Cayman. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t cooperating, so I never got to see the true beauty of this island that I’d heard so much about. The hot tour to do is the Stingray City, but I didn’t want to drag my dad out there. Instead, I made special arrangements to spend a couple of hours at the Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman since it was recently voted the best hotel in the Caribbean for the second straight year by Condé Nast Traveler.
-Cruise ships have been coming to the Caymans since 1939
-The Caymans used to be called Tortuga
-They told us to bring our driver’s license or passport but no one looked at either (at any of the ports).
-The island has 55,000 residents, mostly Caymanese, Jamaicans, Filipinos, Canadians, British, and Americans.
-They use Cayman and U.S. dollars. You can pay in U.S. but will most likely get change in Cayman. $4 Cayman Dollars = $5 USD.
It was a long line to get on a tender—probably a 30-minute wait, so time your ship departure well. In case you are wondering the tenders hold 150 people in emergency and about 105 on port runs. The ride to shore took 10 minutes and there were plenty of vans waiting. No traditional taxis were available so we got in a van that waited to get filled up and charged $5 pp (if the taxi has seven or more passengers). Otherwise, a regular taxi cost $15 to go about 10 minutes to the Ritz.
Bummer: The island has every major fast food chain (BK, KFC, Wendy’s…) but McDonald’s.
THE RITZ-CARLTON, GRAND CAYMAN
Mostly wealthy Americans stay at the Ritz. The service is fantastic, as you would expect, and the beach is amazing even when it’s raining. Their property is on 7 Mile Beach, which is really only 5.5 miles long. The water is warm and they have floating trampoline-like rafts about 50 feet from shore. My dad and I swam out to one and just hung out on the edge and chatted in the rain—it was a special moment. We ate lunch at Bar Jack, where we both had the Cayman Island Green: salad with papaya and mango and passion fruit vinaigrette ($12); with jerk chicken is $5 more. Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman.
RETURNING TO THE SHIP
The Crown Princess does a great job with returning passengers. We didn’t have to wait long to get on a tender even though the line appeared long, and once on the ship, they swipe passengers’ key cards and guide them to quickly put their belongings on the x-ray belt.
LOST MY CELL PHONE
When I got back to the room I realized I didn’t have my cell. The crew checked on the tender but there was no sign of it. Luckily I had the taxi driver’s business card/receipt. I called passenger services and they said to come to their desk and they would make a free phone call. Sure enough, it was in the cab. Mr. Nelson (firstname.lastname@example.org, tel: 345-916-4360) was kind enough to drive all the way back to the port and give it to a security guard for the Crown Princess who had it delivered to me. Phew!
Roatan is an island 36 miles off the mainland of Honduras (there’s a 1.5-hour ferry to the mainland twice a day and daily air service). Honduras is a Spanish-speaking country because the Spaniards occupied this place in the late 1500s. However, the island of Roatan was occupied by the British so everyone speaks English as well as Spanish.
NOT VERY TOURISTY
Only 2–3 ships come here per week and it was Princess Cruises’ first time. Everyone seemed to be looking forward to this port the most (including me) since it was a first for many. Besides, it’s Central America and Honduras just sounds so mysterious. Doesn’t it?
Just a couple days ago the U.S. Department of State officially canceled the travel alert for Honduras, which was still in effect when we were there, but we never felt unsafe. But then again, we weren’t on the mainland.
We arrived at 8:30 a.m. (1 hour time change). I opened my curtains and was amazed at the lush green scenery. It was pouring out and our guide later said that this wasn’t even rain. When it really rains in Honduras, which it usually does between November and February, you can’t see three feet in front of you. I believe her. Supposedly, two-thirds of Roatan’s 105 inches of annual rain falls between October and January.
Roatan has a brand-new port (a little over a year old). We docked for a couple of hours then the boat had to push back and moor about a half-mile out to make room for another ship (Carnival Valor). The port became packed with passengers, as all the tours left at the same time. It was a little difficult to find our guide since there were so many people—it would’ve been helpful if they had larger signs and hoisted them higher in the air. The only highlight of the madness was some locals dressed in traditional costumes, playing music and looking (not aggressively) for tips.
WHAT TO BRING
We drove 25 minutes to Gumbalimba Park, which has beautiful well-kept grounds but wasn’t as authentic as I thought. Our guide toured us around the property for an hour in the pouring rain. Be sure to bring a rain jacket, poncho, and/or umbrella. Also bug spray, as we got eaten alive (I had a dozen bites in a matter of minutes). The souvenir sellers ran out of ponchos so the guy behind the snack bar kindly handed out plastic bags—the large ones worked well but by the time they got to our group he only had small ones left. Thanks to @Cajun_Mama’s husband, Brett, who was kind enough to give his to my dad. They are gentlemen in the South.
We walked maybe three-quarters of a mile, and along the way we saw incredible trees, flowers, and hummingbirds. We then visited areas that had captive colorful parrots and chained cute monkeys—nothing was wild like I imagined. We then were led into a man-made cave for a history lesson—our guide who has never been to America spoke pretty much perfect English without an accent, and the history was interesting, but I couldn’t pay attention—my objective was to kill attacking mosquitoes.
From there we drove five minutes to Tabyana Beach. It was still pouring so we couldn’t tell how beautiful the beach was supposed to be but the water temp was warm—about 85 degrees. To pass the time we hit the BBQ included in our excursion: chicken, hamburgers, hot dogs, rice/beans, coleslaw, fresh fruit (pineapple, watermelon, melon, and papaya). All the staff were super friendly and I downed about five lemonades and ice teas that had a uniquely tasty flavor. If the weather conditions were different it would’ve been a perfect spot to spend the day at the beach and listen to the talented live band, but instead most people hitched a ride back to the boat early. Overall everyone in our group still loved the tour, which can be reserved by the cruise for $109 pp.
Our last port was Cozumel, which is an island in the Caribbean Sea 30 miles off the eastern coast of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula (opposite Playa del Carmen). The ship arrived at 8 a.m. and departed at 6 p.m.
SHOPS & RESTAURANTS
The port is massive and must be brand new. It’s a long walk to the main busy street, but to get to it requires a maze-like exit through a sleek outdoor mall. For those who don’t want to walk, they have Pedicabs who work only on tips right outside the ship—my dad and I took one on the way back (his back hurt). We spent some time walking the streets, passing one tourist shop after another all selling the same knick-knacks for dirt cheap. However, I was on a hunt for one thing—a hearing-aid battery for my dad—and finally found one at a place called Hollywood something about 10 blocks to the left and 5 blocks in. Every store/restaurant takes U.S. cash and most will give you USD in change.
My dad and I hopped in a cab ($10 each way) and drove 10–15 minutes to Chankanaab Park. Again the weather wasn’t good so we quickly walked around their unimpressive Mayan ruins and checked out the Dolphin Discovery, where guests get to swim with dolphins. I was sorry we didn’t sign up for this instead of the Snuba, because this looked amazing and the Snuba was canceled. Instead, we grabbed chicken tacos ($7.50) at their La Laguna restaurant. They were pretty good and we took a chance with their hot sauce, which was fresh salsa. I prayed it wouldn’t get us sick and it didn’t. The restaurant was cash only but the prices were reasonable. A bottle of water was $2, which is cheap compared to Disney—which this place basically is. Chankanaab Park.
The next day we were at sea and the following morning we returned to Fort Lauderdale. Even at the ports, U.S. Customs can’t get their act together. It’s so frustrating to stand in line for over 45 minutes to have someone quickly glance at your passport. Don’t you think they should staff more than six agents for 3,100 passengers? What a joke.
Overall the trip was amazing and the Crown Princess turned out to be an excellent ship. I would love to go back next year for either a family reunion or my dad’s birthday. To get a better feel of our trip check out this seven-minute Johnny Jet video.
Note: This trip was sponsored by Princess Cruises.
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