Number of Cruises: 2
Cruise Line: Princess
Ship: Grand Princess
Sailing Date: April 16th, 2005
I didn't see any reviews of this itinerary before we took the trip, so I thought I'd add what I observed.
First the bad:
1) The average age of the people on this cruise was approaching about 70.
2) A transatlantic crossing is a really long time to cruise with a non-party crowd like that.
3) Princess puts lots of salt in the food. We were all swollen by the end of the trip.
4) Our dining room service was sub-par. In a first for us, we cut their tips.
5) The tab adds up fast on a long trip like this one.
1) There were only 9 kids on board.
2) The Grand Princess is a great ship with lots of amenities.
3) Our cabin steward and the cruise director staff were outstanding.
4) The poolside video screen for movies under the stars was especially cool.
1) All food on board is included with three exceptions. There are two restaurants on board with an additional cover charge. Sabatini's, the Italian place is probably worth the extra $20. They serve you about 14 courses of neat stuff. (I learned I like anchovies.) The Painted Desert has a $15 cover charge. Since it's pretty much just a steak place, and you can get steak in the main dining rooms any night you want, I don't see the advantage. Grand Princess also features an ice cream bar for an extra charge. The ice cream isn't great, and we discovered they have free ice cream on the buffet every day between 3:30 and 4:30.
2) Coffee, tea and water is free on board. All other beverages are charged to your account. Alcoholic beverages are expensive and really add up over the course of a cruise. At $1.50 per coke, it's definitely worth while to buy the all you can drink soft drink deal the first day of the cruise if you like sodas.
3) I suck at bingo. At $20 a session, that's another thing that really added up fast.
4) Princess owns and operates the art auctions on board. No matter what you buy from them, they guarantee they'll buy it back from you if you change your mind.
5) Get involved in the on board activities. It's fun and helps to pass the time on the long at sea days.
6) In addition to the internet access area, there are three computers in the library with net access. The line for net access was always shorter in the library.
7) Did I mention how charges add up on you? Get a print out of your charges from the purser's desk at least a couple of times during the cruise so you don't have any nasty surprises.
Ports of call:
Galveston, TX: We departed from Galveston. Princess had representatives at the Houston airport to meet us and put us on their shuttle bus. Embarkation went smoothly once we arrived.
Fort Lauderdale: The first stop for this itinerary was Port Everglades, for only 3 hours. When we booked, we were told we couldn't get on the ship there, yet many people did. I don't understand why that was. With all the at sea days, we could have skipped the Gulf of Mexico crossing and not felt like we missed anything.
Bermuda: The ship docked at West End. Most of the shopping and activities were in Hamilton or Georgetown on the other end of the island. We chose to ride a ferry to Hamilton to take a look around. Bermuda is beautiful and very stateside like, even though it's part of Great Britain. If the weather had been warmer we would have enjoyed a kayaking or snorkeling outing. As it was we just did some shopping and picture taking in Hamilton and then headed back to the ship.
At Sea: Only a few days before we were in the Atlantic, a Norwegian Cruise Lines ship got hit by a freak 70 foot wave. We were very fortunate in that by the time we got to the area that happened to them, the Atlantic was flat and smooth like glass. Honestly, for our entire transatlantic crossing, the water looked more like a lake than an ocean. It was so smooth, we could have water skied behind the ship. According to past transatlantic cruisers, these calm conditions were definitely out of the ordinary.
One night the captain came on the intercom and asked for volunteers to donate blood for a sick crew member. We later learned one of the casino dealers was having some internal bleeding for some reason. Several passengers donated blood to help her. The next morning at about 6 am, the captain roused us from sleep to evacuate a couple of decks of the ship because a helicopter was coming to medivac the young lady to the Azores. People gathered all over the decks to watch the chopper hover over the deck and draw the stretcher holding the woman up as it spun in the air. They got her aboard safely and after reaching Ponta Delgada successfully operated on her. The last we heard she was recovering nicely.
Ponta Delgada: The Azores just suddenly appear in the middle of nowhere. The islands are really beautiful. We took the crater lakes overview excursion. Our guide was good and very enthusiastic about his homeland. Unfortunately our view of the crater lakes was obscured by fog, but the drive around the island was marvelous. The rolling grasslands full of cows suddenly falls away to valleys of trees and cliffs that drop right off into the Atlantic. I was reminded at once of pictures I've seen of Ireland and Hawaii. After all the at sea days, this little piece of land was very welcome. I stayed on deck until the last glimpse disappeared behind us when we left.
Lisbon: Sailing up the river to Lisbon we got to enjoy the sights of fishermen out for the morning catch and the beautiful bridge across the river right at the port. Lisbon also features a statue of Christ across the river, just like the one in Rio de Janeiro.
We took a shore excursion to Fatima during our Lisbon stop. What little I got to see of this beautiful city was from the windows of our bus. There's plenty to explore in Lisbon and I'd definitely like to go back to check it out better. Fatima is a very impressive place and they're still building more. We witnessed several people crawling into the chapel on their knees, signifying whatever they had come in search of in the past had come to pass. They crawl in as a way of returning to say thanks. We watched part of a church service while we were there and toured the rest of the church grounds and the surrounding town.
We were looking for a place to have lunch when we stumbled upon Jack Pizza. As a Jack, I had no choice but to try them out. The pizza was good and so was the Portuguese beer.
On the way back to the ship we got to experience rush hour traffic Portuguese style. Actually it's just like any other rush hour traffic you've ever been caught in, but we barely made it back to the boat before our scheduled sailing time.
The roughest seas we saw were in the approach to the Straits of Gibraltar. Even these little white caps weren't much higher than about 4 feet. Unfortunately it was hard to see the Rock of Gibraltar, but we could just make it out in the distance. We did get a good view of the African coastline before we turned north towards Barcelona.
Barcelona: What a pretty city. We took the Barcelona highlights tour and cruised around past the Olympic stadium, many architectural wonders and ended up with a tour of Gaudi's unfinished cathedral, La Familia Sagrada. The cathedral was crawling with tourists, but was really cool to see. After getting dropped back off at the ship, we struck out again and had lunch along the popular La Rambla district of the city. It's a pretty tourist filled area, but it's a lovely place to stroll and shop. Unfortunately we didn't have time to also ride the tram from the port area up to the top of Montjuic. There's a village up there built for one of the World Fairs to represent all the separate provinces of Spain. If I ever get back to Barcelona, I'd like to check that out.
We got our most beautiful sunset of the cruise after we sailed from Barcelona. The sun set behind the mountains and reflected across the Mediterranean as we headed north east to Cannes.
Cannes: Cannes is a tender port, which means you have to ride a boat to get to shore. You can take shore excursions to Monte Carlo or Monaco, but we chose to just wander around Cannes. We happened to be there the week before the famous film festival and we saw a lot of preparations taking place for that event. We also stumbled into a flea market in the town square area. It was kind of a combination art festival and garage sale, but fun to poke around in. We also did some window shopping at some extravagantly priced shops along the beach strip. Cannes appears to still be a quaint seaside town and it's very clean.
Livorno: All I saw of Livorno was the actual port. We took the Pisa and Florence highlights excursion and were off the boat as soon as it docked. This tour featured our only annoying guide. She must have lost someone in the past because she was obsessed with counting us multiple times every time we got ready to go somewhere new. I really felt like cattle on this tour. Unfortunately we were in town on Italian labor day, and all the museums were closed. We did get to walk past the museum where Michaelangelo's David is housed, but alas couldn't go in to see it. Likewise, we only got to walk around outside the cathedral and other monuments in Florence. It was in this city that I first started to notice the graffiti problem that seems to plague the cities on our trip. Of all the places we went, this city was the dirtiest.
Pisa looks like it wouldn't be anything if it weren't for the leaning tower. It's really more of a small town than a city. The tower itself sits in a square next to the cathedral and baptistery. Those three buildings are surrounded by a wall and tons of stalls hawking souvenirs and counterfeit sunglasses and purses. Taking the obligatory "holding up the tower" picture is a very popular activity, and you have to jockey for position since people are constantly walking in your way. Once you've done that, you can head back to the bus. There's nothing to see here folks.
Civitavecchia: Our disembarkation port was Civitavecchia. A word to the wise, this port is quite a ways out from Rome. You'd better have your ground transportation arranged, because there aren't any taxi cabs nearby. Some people took a shore excursion into Rome as their way of getting to town. After the tour, they got dropped off with their bags at the train station. This was a pretty cheap way to get to town, but I wouldn't want to have to deal with my luggage on the Rome subway system. It would probably be OK with just one bag, but since this was the end of a 16 day cruise, few people had that little to keep up with.
Rome: We stayed for a couple of days in Rome. All Rome hotels are expensive. Ours was no exception, but I highly recommend La Scalinata di Spagna at the top of the Spanish steps. It's a good in town location, right at a Metro stop and at the top of one of the most popular tourist sites.
In Rome, everywhere you look there are historical sites, ruins and things to fascinate the visitor. You can walk between many of the most popular things, or grab a cab or jump on the Metro to get around more quickly. We saw the Spanish steps, the coliseum, the forum, the Pantheon, the Trevi fountain, the Presidential palace (accidentally), the Vatican and many Piazas and fountains along the way. Really you need several days to see it all, and we only had two, so we were turbo touring.
We took a tour with Icon Tours (www.icontours.com) for the Vatican and St. Peter's Basilica. I highly recommend this outfit. The guide really knew his stuff and was passionate about the material. I came out equally impressed by his knowledge and the skill of the artists who created all the wonderful work in the Vatican collection.