Number of Cruises: 1
Cruise Line: Princess
Ship: Grand Princess
Sailing Date: February 14th, 2004
Itinerary: Western Caribbean
For those who haven’t been there, the Princess terminal is a huge warehouse type of building with cement ramps leading into it. There are signs all over stating that the porters are salaried and do not require tipping. I met up with the four breakfasters with no problem when their taxi dropped them off. The line-up ahead of us could only be described as controlled chaos.
Dragging your suitcase and lugging your carry-on, you had to show your Princess ticket at the door, again with your passport or ID at the next checkpoint, and then straight into the well-marked line for your deck. As our party was in two different cabins, one on Dolphin (Deck 9) and one on Plaza (Deck 5), we split up. You must produce your Princess tickets, passport and a credit card in order to receive your Princess cruise card. Since Tom and I are used to having to wear security tags at work, I had purchased neck chains and clear plastic envelopes for all of us for Christmas so we could wear our cruise cards around our necks. It was one of the smarter things I did and was very easy to remember as you just put it on in the morning and took it off at night. I even attached my lip balm to mine so that it was easy to spot on the desk amidst all the papers and I had one less thing to carry in my pocket. The tagged luggage was taken away by a porter and, just with our carry-ons, we went through security twice more before actually going up the gangway, having our photo taken with the fake palm trees for posterity, and finally stepping onto the ship. The total time from door to ship was 15 minutes! It was amazing, to say the least.
Princess has crewmembers stationed at the gangway to take your computerized photo and activate your cruise card, then point you to the elevators. Again, a crewmember was there to greet you at your floor and point the way to your cabin. We had a mini-suite on Dolphin, amidships (D329). It was very clean, well laid out and the three of us had no difficulty occupying a relatively small space for the 7 days and we aren’t the tidiest folks on the planet. We were hot, sweaty and utterly exhausted by then and Tom said “Cost be damned” and downed the huge $2.50 bottle of water in the fridge.
In spite of completing the cruise preferences section of the Princess web site, the robes were not in the cabin, the beds were in the wrong formation and there was no fruit. Our cabin steward, Bricchio, took care of those items very quickly and is one of the most charming and efficient people I have ever met and took very, very good care of us all week.
Tiny color-coded (they match the color of the carpet for that deck) ship maps in hand, we set off to explore and get some lunch (or, in my case, breakfast). They have a tables strategically set up all over the ship for you to purchase your soft drink stickers (I think it was $22 each) and get a bonus metal thermal coke cup, so we purchased ours at that time. It was one of our better investments as we used them constantly! There was another deal for the “hurricane drink of the day” with fancy glass included, but we didn’t partake of that deal. We had an amazing buffet lunch in the Horizon Court and I felt much better afterwards. They had everything there you could imagine, for any type of diet – high carb, low carb, vegetarian, ethnic, you name it. I settled for the chicken wings and cold cuts with salad and was content.
We left Tom to his own devices after lunch and went to the spa to book our appointments. Our timing was great as we arrived just as a tour of the spa was beginning. Good thing we booked right then as appointments were almost impossible to obtain on later days!
Spa appointments booked, we rendezvoused back at the cabin in time for the muster drill at 4 p.m. Our muster station was in the Hearts and Minds Wedding Chapel of all places and, when the announcement came over the PA, off we went, lifejackets in hand, down the forward stairs. They kept telling folks not to put the lifejackets on and to ensure that the straps weren’t dragging behind, but nobody really paid attention to that part and there were people tripping on the stairs from the trailing straps of those ahead. There are smaller lifejackets for children, but since nobody was aware that they should request them from their room steward upon boarding, most of the kids had the wrong size. The demo of the lifejacket and a briefing from the Captain takes about 15 minutes, was well conducted and actually kind of fun for us newbies. I had arranged to meet a group from one of the message boards in the Wheelhouse Lounge after muster, so I headed there but nobody seemed to show up. Of course, I couldn’t really tell because I had no idea what they looked like (should have exchanged photos before we left home) and since I didn’t want to miss sail-away, I waited about 20 minutes then left.
Tom wanted to watch the sail away from our balcony, but I had been told by experienced cruisers to go higher on the ship for the best view. I dragged him up to deck 15, overlooking the Dolphin pool and outside the teen area. Music was blaring, the drinks were in abundance and everyone was very excited. Various staff members, including one young lady in a navy blue suit and high heels, were positioned around the pool and hot-tubs below, enthusiastically doing the Macarena and encouraging everyone to join in. It was a wonderful and very happy sight and put a smile on everyone’s face. The sun broke through briefly as we left the pier, the horn blew in celebration, the band began to play reggae music and the party really got going. The folks who live in the condos at the end of the channel really put on a show with air horns, megaphones, flags, flashing lights, sirens, bells, etc. and we all got a real charge out of their participation.
Once out to sea, we wandered around the ship a bit more. I was specifically looking for any signs of wear or disrepair, which had been noted by others, but saw only minor things and you really had to look for them. The sofa in our room needed cleaning along the bottom edge, but all of the carpets were in excellent condition and everything was spotless. To my disappointment, the aft pool, which I had admired on the web so much, was closed while they sanded and refinished the wood surround, and there were painters doing touch-ups in various locations around the ship.
I must say that my mother and I were successful in managing to stick with three meals per day and, with a nod to our diabetes, no snacking at all except for one scoop of Hagen-Daz coffee ice-cream on the last full day so that I could say I tried it. We had breakfast and lunch every day at the Horizon Court and usually ended up near the aft pool to sit and eat. For those coffee aficionados, since my mother and I only drink decaf coffee, the Horizon Court brew was fine with us and Tom didn’t comment at all on coffee quality, so I guess he was okay with it. We knew that we could have used the dining rooms, but with everything we could ever want at the Horizon Court for those meals, why bother?
The weather continued to deteriorate and there was a bit of noticeable rocking of the ship. We didn’t mind as none of us are easily seasick, we discovered, but a lot of folks had Dramamine patches stuck behind their ears at dinner. Sated, we climbed into our nicely prepared beds (although Bricchio and I never did come to an understanding about the tightly-tucked sheets which he preferred and the un-tucked which I prefer). We were gently rocked to sleep by the motion of the ship and I actually liked it once I got used to the movement.
Wednesday was cloudy and rainy with a large waterspout approaching, which caused some concern on the Bridge. Instead of anchoring at the main port, all three ships (Princess, Carnival and Norwegian) coming into port that day were sent to Spott’s Bay on the southern, undeveloped portion of the island. Robin and I had planned an early morning trip to swim with Stingrays and the tour of Grand Cayman, so we sat waiting, freezing in the highly air-conditioned Princess Theatre, huddled in our bathing suits and shorts and shivering under our beach towels, for over 2 hours while they tried to decide if we could safely tender to shore. The scuba, golf, snorkelling and flying tours were cancelled outright and they finally decided that the stingray trip was cancelled but the land portion could continue. Robin and I charged up to our cabin, informed Tom about the change in plans and grabbed our raincoats and Robin changed into warmer pants over her swimsuit. While we were gone ashore, Tom did a load of laundry.
Robin and I boarded the tender/lifeboats for the trip to shore and no sooner got seated at the uncovered back of the boat than the skies opened up. It poured like I had never seen before. We were instantly soaked to the skin in spite of the rain jackets (I tried to keep my hood on and the rain just ran down my sleeve and soaked my shirt beneath) and there was nothing to do but wait for it to pass. Fortunately, it was not a cold rain, but we were drenched and squished our way to shore from the tiny cement pier. Somehow, the cavalcade of tour mini-buses had made the mad dash from one side of the island to the other and tour operators were trying to sort out all the passengers from the different ships. It was insane, but we managed to end up on the right bus going in the right direction. Our driver was named Newton (as he said, like Sir Isaac or Fig) and he provided a delightful commentary for the morning. Hell was interesting and we did the usual post card thing. We quite enjoyed the Turtle Farm and the Tortuga Rum Cake Factory (yes, we brought back a suitcase full of cake in every flavour).
Dinner that night was in DaVinci and was very good, dessert included, of course. I should say that all of our wait staff in the dining rooms was excellent. The sea was still rough, so we called it an early night and I spent a quiet hour or two out on our balcony, just watching the waves before I climbed into bed. Tom went to see a comedian and reported back around midnight that it was quite enjoyable.
Thursday was a beautiful day – hot, sunny and with a light breeze. Perfect weather at last! After a lovely breakfast beside the aft pool (which was filled and reopened), we arrived in Costa Maya. No tender required, we disembarked the ship and walked a ways down the pier and climbed aboard the tiny tram which runs from the end of the pier to the ships. We managed to make it to the taxi stand after some confusion (it’s not well marked when you first get off the pier), bought tickets to the fishing village, Mahahual, and waited in line for a taxi.
There is a lot of construction just outside the port itself and it’s obvious that there are big plans afoot for the development of the area. We arrived a few minutes later in Mahahual and I have to say, it’s like something straight out of a movie as the road wanders alongside the beach and vendors ply their wares. The place was very busy with our three ships in port and you had to watch for teenage tourists on rented ATV’s roaring past with nary a care for the pedestrians. Residents chatted in small groups under the palms, dogs lazed in the sun and the occasional donkey dozed in the shade. Wanda and I needed a bathroom, so we dodged into the closest formal restaurant to use their facilities. We just howled with laughter when we followed the signs leading back outside to a brilliantly yellow painted three-door lean-to toilet, two marked “hombres” and one “damas”. We were offered a massage on the beach for quite a reasonable price, but I turned it down.
We caught a taxi back into the port and wandered around the pier shopping area. There were costumed dancers around the pool and the place was very busy, bustling with the crowd. A young man in Mayan costume stood on some steps in the marketplace, blowing a conch shell. Three male dancers in beautiful, colourful costumes came around the side of the market and did a fabulous dance for all of us tourists and our cameras.
Friday was yet another perfect day weather-wise, and our last one in Mexico. Robin and I had booked the trip to Chankanaab Park for the dolphin swim. It was a very well organized trip with a very good guide and in spite of it being our most expensive excursion, was worth the money just for the once-in-a-lifetime experience, including being stung by jellyfish. Naturally, we purchased the video and photographs afterwards for an outrageous sum, mostly to explain to my chiropractor why she has so much work ahead of her. I must say that our pre-cruise trips to the tanning salon were worth the effort because, in spite of the fact that our sunscreen wore off in the water, we were only a bit pink at the end of the day and not in any pain at all. For those who are very fair skinned, I recommend the extra insurance of getting a bit of a base tan before you go.
After the dolphin swim, we were free to wander the park for the remainder of the afternoon. We strolled down the paved pathways in the sunshine, then found the big restaurant in the centre of the park, right on the beach. I partook of a big plate of authentic Mexican nachos and, finally, my first alcoholic drink in three years, an honest-to-goodness real pina colada. It was thick, cold and very, very good, with just the right amount of pineapple and coconut, and went down oh, so smoothly. Robin had a coke and a burger with fries and the bill came to about $15.00. We wandered the beach a bit more and while Robin wanted to try the anti-gravity trampoline and I really wanted to see the botanical gardens, we just didn’t have time, so we headed back to the taxi area to grab a cab to Señor Frog’s in downtown Cozumel, near the other docks at the opposite end of town away from the Grand.
On the way to downtown, my daughter had a religious experience. As a relatively new driver, she was in shock that the taxi was doing 120km about a foot from the bumper of the car ahead, with another taxi about a foot behind us. Her eyes were the size of saucers and I think she was praying under her breath.
Purchases made, we wandered around the shopping area a bit more, then grabbed a taxi ($6) back to the ship. Robin had yet another religious experience in the heavy traffic on the way back, and shakily announced when we arrived safely that her life had passed before her eyes about a dozen times en route.
As this was probably our last opportunity, Wanda, Tom and I went to the Princess Theatre at 10:45 to see “Curtain Up, A Salute to Broadway”. It was a very nice performance and the music and dancing were very enjoyable. I was starting to nod off towards the end, as it had been a very full day, so we called it a night after the performance, and headed off to bed. We passed by the main lobby in time for the champagne waterfall, being held two decks below, but there were so many people gathered around the railing that it was impossible to see anything.
Saturday was our final full day on board and was a beautiful, sunny sea day. It was impossible to find a lounge chair and several arguments broke out when, in spite of the notices posted all over, folks reserved chairs and then rarely occupied them. One man, who was obviously an insurance attorney, had quite the loud “discussion” with the deck staff when they stopped him from removing chairs from the teen area so he could have six chairs together for his group. He then tried to argue that, since he couldn’t remove the chairs, he would and could park himself in there. When the deck staff told him that there were insurance issues involved in having adults in the teen area, he attempted to challenge them to an insurance liability debate. He even tried to argue that he was a teen - to no avail (not many teens have a receding hair line and facial wrinkles). Eventually, he grabbed chairs from someplace and put all six together on deck 15, right at the top of the staircase leading up from the dolphin pool, obstructing traffic. He placed his towel and tube of sunscreen on one chair, told his teenaged daughter to occupy the end one and then sat at the bar for the remainder of the afternoon, periodically strolling over and wiping his face on the towel. His wife showed up occasionally and used one of the middle chairs and a couple of others from his party made brief appearances, but otherwise, the chairs sat empty all afternoon. We made sure to comment on the chair-reserving situation on our comment card at the end of the cruise as it spoiled an otherwise perfect day.
On disembarkation day, we were up, showered, dressed and off to breakfast in the Horizon Court by 7 a.m. We found seats in the lounge on deck 7 and waited for our tag color to be called. There were periodic and repeated calls over the loudspeaker for certain passengers to come and clear their account at the purser’s desk (how embarrassing!) and about 8:50, we were called to disembark. My mother and Wanda had different coloured tags and Wanda needed a wheelchair, so they waited in the lounge area on Deck 5 for a chair to be freed up. They were amongst the last to leave the ship at about 9:45.
Tom made for the pay phones outside the terminal to call the Plantation Hampton Inn for their shuttle to come and pick us up, but every phone was occupied by a Grand crewmember calling home. Eventually he was able to get through, and we had to wait an hour for the shuttle to bring departing passengers and pick us up for the return trip.
The Hampton Inn in Plantation is a well-appointed hotel, located right behind the Broward Shopping Mall. We had to wait in the lobby for an hour while our rooms were readied, but our reservations were correct and at a special reduced rate of $99 (with special thanks to Debbie Coté). Our room was spacious and very clean but we were surprised to find that there is no coffee shop in the hotel, just a small area in the lobby where they serve their complimentary breakfasts. I headed with Robin to the shopping mall and were joined by the others later for dinner. We didn’t realize that the mall closed at 6 p.m. on Sundays until we noticed the security guard locking the doors near the restaurant as we finished our meal. I went over and asked if he could unlock a door for us nearer to the entrance we had come in as Wanda was very tired and I didn’t think she could walk all the way around the outside of the mall and back to the hotel. Nothing doing, he pulled out his walkie-talkie and summoned one of his co-workers driving a utility vehicle. He put the two of us with all our parcels into the truck and his partner drove us around the mall and back to the hotel, while the other three walked. Now that’s customer service extraordinaire!
The limo was waiting for us when we emerged from the airport back home and it was a quick drive home to drop everyone off at their place of residence. Too soon, our vacation had come to an end.
Budget-wise, we didn’t do too badly. We underestimated the large expense for Princess photos and for spa treatments, but the remainder of the expenses were about right. With a few minor refinements, our personalized packing lists worked like a charm and I will re-use them for all of our future trips.