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Yvonne Stephens

Age: 34

Occupation:n/a

Number of Cruises: n/a

Cruise Line: Princess

Ship: Ocean Princess

Sailing Date: April 1-8, 2000

Itinerary: Southern Adventurer

Ocean Princess (Princess)
Southern Adventurer, April 1-8, 2000

My husband Randy and myself, 37 & 34, are first time cruisers. I am an online junkie so I did a bunch of research and booked 11 months in advance. I chose Princess because I wanted a slightly higher-end cruise experience and it just sounded good. I was interested in a more exotic cruise to celebrate 10 years of marriage so we decided on a southern Caribbean cruise out of San Juan, Puerto Rico. Then I sat back and impatiently waited while following the cruise message boards daily. I found 2 other couples through the Meet On Board message boards that would be on the same cruise. I never got to meet Pam and Michael, but Doug and Debra and I had email conversations for a couple of months and we were able to spend part of an afternoon with them.

I will try to be brief, but I have so much information to share that I might go long.

We chose the pre cruise stay in San Juan and booked into the Wyndham Old San Juan hotel through Princess. It was the cheapest choice so I thought that it would be a lowend hotel, it wasn’t. We were met at the airport by a girl with a Princess clipboard, she wasn’t quite sure what to do with us, since she was looking for the passengers for that night’s Princess ship departure, not hotel people. Her boss sent us to a truck to drop off our luggage and then took us to a shuttle, we were transported over to the hotel with Radisson pre cruise people. Our luggage arrived 30 minutes behind us and was automatically brought up to our room. 

The hotel was great! The pool is outside on the 9th floor and looks out over the port. RCCL had a ship, as did Radisson and the next morning Carnival pulled in. Unfortunately, the Ocean Princess berths back towards town about 2 miles. That night, we walked out of the hotel and around the piers and then down the Old Town wall, it was beautiful in the dark. We found the people to be very nice, this was a spot for teenagers to neck and be warned that San Juan is the tight clothes capital of the Caribbean, booby shirts and brief skirts everywhere J . The next morning, we went out looking for breakfast, Randy wanted to venture into Old San Juan and find the Denny’s, I refused, so we stumbled onto the best little French pastry shop, it is behind the hotel diagonally. To get there, go past the little square (triangle) directly behind the hotel and then towards the bigger square that is on the way to Cristobal Fort on the hill. Boulangerie St. Honore is right on the corner between the two squares and is in a mustard colored building. Randy had an amazing asparagus omelet and I had ‘to die for’ croissants. We shopped, then stopped in the internet café at the shops by the hotel, ($3/15 minutes, to check in with our small daughters), then got back by noon to board the bus to the ship. We sat on the bus for a couple of minutes while we waited for all of the passengers to board and Randy decided that he wanted to get off and walk. I didn’t mind walking but didn’t want to have to lug my carry-on and he said that he would haul it. So we got off of the bus and told the driver that we were walking to the pier. He looked at us like we were crazy and then instructed us that when we got to the public housing to stay right and don’t cross the street. It isn’t that far to walk, but not at all scenic. We never felt threatened, it was industrial and we walked by the housing projects. Those poor people don’t have windows, they just have metal horizontal blind things. Anyway, we almost beat the people on the bus to the pier, but the walk was hot and the humidity was high, so our photos reflected our melting look.

Embarkation was smooth and fast, no line for the check-in. The only time that we waited was for the photo and the crew said that they had never seen the photo line that long before.

The ship was fabulous !! We were directed through the atrium to the elevators and were dropped off on Caribe deck, C310. We selected our outside deluxe cabin because it is the first outside cabin next door to the balconies, so that all of the length that is taken for the balcony is included into our room. The cabin was large, lots of space, and the bathroom was, as expected, small. We had friends from home also taking this cruise, Kim and Ron, and they had an inside cabin on the same deck, C621. Their room was surprisingly roomy for an inside cabin, they had the extra, unused, upper berth and a much bigger bathroom. We met our steward, Jose (with a hard ‘J’), an older man from Portugal, he gave us the first-timer look around our room. Throughout the cruise, we saw Jose at least twice a day, and he did a fabulous job with our cabin. We went up to the Horizon Court for lunch and were pleasantly surprised, the service was very attentive, the food was tasty and plentiful and the plates are massive. I have read some reviews that knock the lack of trays, but I never found it to be a problem. I discovered that I could hold wrapped silverware underneath my plate in one hand and then grab a drink with the other on the way to my table. Really, if you have to get another plate of food on that first run, you are planning on eating way too much. The attendants recognize children and persons unable to carry and help them immediately. 

We explored the ship from top to bottom and didn’t use the elevator once. Definitely don’t miss at the back of the ship where the oasis bar, pool and 3 spas are, it’s a great place. I had posed a question to the rtc group about getting back off of the ship and buying some pop to put into my cabin refrigerator, but the several responses that I received said that there is nothing close to the ship from that pier. Here’s a funny story. On the deck above the pool, I stopped a wandering bar waiter, Daniel from New Zealand, and asked if he could recommend a place to buy pop. He looked stunned for a second and asked me to repeat my question, he still didn’t get it, so I rephrased and said "soda". He laughed and said that he thought that I was asking where I could buy pot. Well the answer to the POP question is that it would cost more to hire a cab to a convenience store than to just buy the $1.50/can sodas from the bar. I never found out where to get my pot, (you know that I am kidding), and Daniel and I had something to laugh over for the rest of the cruise. The crew is always cleaning and sprucing up, the ship is only 2 months old and they were already stripping and re-varnishing the handrails. Randy was back in the room one afternoon laying on the bed resting without clothes and he glanced up to see 2 guys washing the windows hanging off the side of the ship, so pull your drapes if you don’t want anyone to see in.

We had late sitting in the Sardinian Dining Room, table for 8 with our friends and 2 other couples. The other couples had gobs of cruises under their belts, one was on their 27th cruise and the other on their 40th, so you would assume that they enjoyed cruising? They complained and gave our wait staff grief the whole time, they compared this cruise to previous cruises and always found this one lacking. Because the ship was completely booked, they didn’t get the massive upgrades that they were hoping for. Our waiter was Phillippe, from France, he was quiet, shy and very efficient. Leonardo from Mexico was our assistant server and he joined us in our joking. Both did a great job. I won’t go into the meals that we had, suffice it to say that we never had a complaint. When I got Tournedos of Beef, the kitchen had neglected to give me potatoes, and I didn’t notice until I had cut into my meat and tasted it. So they took it back for potatoes and I got a whole new plate with another well done piece of meat just as I had ordered. They did nothing halfway. Randy enjoyed being able to try new and different things, even the slimy stuff. He actually ate caviar, squid, escargot and frog legs, . Ron took the opportunity to order 2 extra lobster tails in addition to the regular portion of 2, then he had seconds… anyone out there ever polished off 8 lobster tails in one sitting? As has been said before, Princess does a fabulous job with pasta, try it. The desserts menu was huge, it had about 7 choices per night. If offered, definitely get the soufflé. We had chocolate/hazelnut one night and orange with vanilla sauce another, scrumptious.

The entertainment was plentiful, all of the musical and dancing shows were good. The country music singer was great, and the comedian was great. Here’s a personal soapbox: please don’t bring your children to the late comedian show, that is why there is an earlier one. Someone brought their 10 year-old(ish) child to the 10:45 show and the comedian did a great job of censoring himself, but he shouldn’t have had to. We only went into the disco once, but the teens had already massed there and we didn’t enjoy the music. We spent very little time in the casino. The opening night act was a flamenco guitarist, Juan Carlos, if you have a chance see him, do it. And pub night was fun, hint- don’t volunteer. I danced my heart out on island night by the pool, they had a sail away party every evening and line dancing one night. There was never a dull moment, you will have to work very hard to find nothing to do. We found out late in the week that we should have been playing the afternoon games all along, Kim and I won Pictionary and got a Princess bag. Don’t miss the Newlywed/Not so newlywed game, they held it on our day at sea, the couple that was the funniest was the one married the longest. He refused to say anything negative about her and she called him a pig.

Here’s some advice for someone sailing with a group, my friends Doug and Debra had a good idea, designate one place on the ship where people can meet at an approximate time. For them it was outside of the buffet sometime around mealtime. For us it turned out to be on the promenade deck towards the back of the ship when the ship cast off every evening.

Ports

Trinidad is new to the Princess itinerary, earlier cruisers this year weren’t too appreciative because they arrived during the festival. The island people were pushy, drunk and grabby, and the place was mobbed, so the word on the message boards was to stay on the ship. We didn’t have any problems, we fended off miles of taxi drivers trying to take us somewhere and still ended up with a cab. We negotiated for a rate to see just what we wanted, and not go to the beach. We saw the Trinity Cathedral, the Magnificent 7 (seven mansions along the fairgrounds, spaced widely apart and occupied by mostly diplomats), the botanic gardens, the lookout from the big hill and some shopping downtown. It took about 4 hours and cost $10/person. The taxi was little and falling apart and as we found for the whole week, the people drive like maniacs. Others on the ship went to Maracas Beach and enjoyed it, all of the beaches are on the north end of the island and at least a 45 minute drive.

Barbados is beautiful, it is the only port that we booked for a shore excursion, (Princess sends the shore excursion docs out 2 months prior to the cruise, so that you can pre-book.) We did the New Waves Catamaran and Snorkel trip, the catamaran is right in the port where the ships are, so you jump on board immediately. The captain was friendly and funny, and the crew was very helpful. We motored out and around the ships to Carlisle Bay and dove on 2 wrecks. It was our first time so we were thrilled, experienced people would probably be disappointed. The wrecks are in 10-20 feet of water and one is older and has more growth and fish. Then the boat went up to shore and we could play on the beach or in the water. Rum punch was served in quantity for the rest of the morning. By far the best was when we motored out to the south side of the island and they put the boat under sail. We flew! We got back about noon, and ran to the ship to rinse the seawater out of our hair and then went back out to take a look at the town. As in all of the ports that we saw there is a great deal of shopping in the port building itself. Don’t pay more than $10 for the small rum cake, there is a shop that sells only rum cakes in the port building and is somewhat reasonable, yet another store just down the row wants $17.95. And if you don’t know what I am talking about you haven’t tried these yummy treats. Bridgetown isn’t very accessible from the port, it is a walk. We walked for a ways then turned back at the fish market when the scent got too strong.

Antigua, (don’t pronounce the ‘u’, hard ‘g’), turned out to be one of our favorite stops. I had read in a guidebook that there is a hiking trail up to the tallest mountain on the island, Boggy Peak. It is only 1300 feet high but you are supposed to be able to see for hundreds of miles from the top. We hired a cab and had a hard time getting what we wanted, we wanted to be dropped at the trail head on the other side of the island, then picked up after the climb and taken to a beach then picked up for the last time and brought back. So we decided that we could probably walk from the bottom of the mountain to the beach, and only need to be dropped off and picked up. It takes 25 minutes to get to the trailhead, the countryside is hilly and green. You can see Boggy Peak the whole time, it is the one with the satellite/radio tower. There are cows all over that are chained down in the middle of fields. It had rained the night before so that the driver didn’t want to take us closer to the mountain on the muddy potholed road between the "highway" and the bottom of the mountain, so we walked. The climb up isn’t technically difficult, once you get to the mountain, the road is paved, but it does get very steep. It is amazing that they can drive a vehicle up this incline, a Suzuki 4x4 passed us and it was the only people that we saw on the climb. After I ran with sweat and my calves were screaming, I started thinking that this was a bad decision, but we pressed on. It took us 90 minutes to get to the top and the first 1/3 and last 200 yards were killers, otherwise it was pretty easy and the scenery was great when you could see above the trees. If you are active, it is a great outing, bring at least a quart of water for each person. When we got to the top there is the Antigua/Barbuda telephone and cable facility and there were the 2 guys that passed us on the way up. They congratulated us and said that they travel from island to island working on these stations, some have bigger mountains and no roads. The view was fabulous and we took tons of pictures, unfortunately the day was hazy so we couldn’t see all of the different islands, even Monserrat, which is close, wasn’t visible. The walk down was quick, but the steep parts are even more hazardous on the way down, watch your footing! When we got back out to the road, we still had a couple of miles to Turner’s beach, the taxi driver had suggested catching the local shuttle that runs the road all day, so we did. Evidently it isn’t very often that the tourists use this shuttle, they were surprised to see us and weren’t very talkative. We got to Turner’s beach and dove in the water, heaven! Our poor bodies needed the rest. They have a bar/grill with a patio and there is a block of condos(?) with cabanas. There wasn’t very many people and we were the only Princess people until one member of the cruise director’s staff showed up. I highly recommend this as a way to avoid the crowds. The driver picked us up as promised and delivered us to the ship, we showered and ran back to the shops to get some gifts and postcards. St. John’s is right up next to the port, I wish that I had bought more of those pretty shell necklaces, they were not available or double the price at later islands. And if you want to get your hair braided, you will not have to wait long to get solicited.

Ron and Kim taxied to a beach near the ship and rented jet skis, they had a blast. I guess that Ron had a near death experience. He doesn’t care to be in the water over his head, but wanted to jet ski, and then he slowed enough that the thing overturned and dumped him, he sputtered and splashed as Kim laughed. HE COULD HAVE DIED!!!! Or so he thought. It became a continuing joke, thank goodness he lived long enough for his lobster dinner.

Martinique was okay, ever since Barbados we were trying to avoid the cruise crowds and do our own thing. We walked along the water to the ferry stand, I had gotten instructions from someone on rtc to visit an out-of –the way beach across the bay from Fort de France, on Ponte du Bout. We boarded the ferry, and went across the bay, it is more of a resort place, with big hotels and quaint shops, the ferry docked at a really picturesque marina with private sailboats. You can use the beach at the Bakoua Beach Resort but my instructions told me to go past there through the shopping to Anse Mitan. The beach is long and rocky, not as scenic as we had seen on other islands, so we walked back to the Bakoua to see what their beach looked like. It is a nicer beach, manmade and smaller with a gazebo bar out in the water, but it was pretty crowded. So we went back to Anse Mitan, we arranged our stuff and paid way too much to use lounge chairs. Then we went swimming and thought ourselves lucky to have found this beach that no one else had. And just then a ferry pulled up and disembarked 150 Princess passengers, you could tell by their blue and white striped towels. The beach became towel to towel with ship people, so we finished our swim and went shopping. You have to have a pastry while on the island, we had one with meats in it, kind of like a calzone, it was great. The people spoke at least a little English were nice and you will probably get change from $US in francs. This was the only time that we saw any inclement weather, it rained a light misty rain for most of the afternoon.

St. Thomas , no ship leaves the area without stopping there. The tablemates were waiting for this island to buy some jewelry, everyone knows that it is a shopping paradise. We got a cab to Red Hook and then took the short ferry to Cruz Bay, St. John. 2/3 of the island of St. John’s belongs to the US Park Service, so it isn’t very developed, there is also camping and hiking trails and many beaches. Most people know St. John for Trunk Bay, but there are quite a few others. We took a cab past Trunk Bay to Cinnamon Bay, the beach is much longer and less people use it. There is a general store, a restaurant and campsites, you can also rent snorkel equipment and other stuff at the beach shop. We loved it, you can see every ridge in the sand on the bottom of the bay floating 15 feet above. There are palm trees and the campsites are private because of the heavy foliage. We had about 100 yards of beach all to ourselves. We spent a couple of hours sunning and swimming and then explored the wooded area and took a shower. We wanted to catch the 1:15 long ferry all the way back to Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas, so we taxied back to Cruz Bay. While waiting for the ferry, we had lunch at Margaritas, I highly recommend them for the Mexican food. Randy had grilled grouper and said that it was the best fish that he’d ever had and I ate wonderful taquitos. The ferry back to town took about 45 minutes and the large homes along the shore of St. Thomas are fun to see, we didn’t dock next to the ships but downtown, it is walkable but not worth it. Randy went immediately back to the ship in a cab, I stuck downtown to finish my souvenir and gift shopping. The prices on jewelry are a little bit better than back home, definitely shop around and know if you are receiving a bargain. Kim got a beautiful tanzanite pendant and Ron bought a crucifix, he was pretty pleased with his haggling skills. It didn’t take me long to finish and I taxied back also. This would be our last afternoon on the cruise, so we were already starting to get melancholy. As our tradition, we watched the ship leave the harbor from the promenade deck, the sunset was stunning but a little bit sad.

Disembarkation was easy, we were 4th category off of the ship, a porter snagged us and our luggage and he knew what to do. We declined taking the provided transportation to the airport, we didn’t want to have to blow 3+ hours there. And since the walk to the ship from Old Town San Juan was so much fun, (not), we did it again. We cooled down back at the Wyndham and poked around Old Town. We specifically went back to the Boulangerie St. Honore to buy pastries for the airport, then caught a cab closer to our flight.

It was great, and I don’t have any complaints! Princess was definitely the perfect choice, and we will go with them again. I think that next time we might have to bring the kids and will try Disney.

Here is something profound that I thought of last night:

If you bring your children, it ceases to be a vacation for the mom, it is just reality in a different and more difficult venue. Think about it, you have to worry if everyone is adequately covered in sunscreen and you have to be able to find an emergency soda machine/bathroom/snack bar when a little person needs a drink/potty/food. You cannot have late nights or you will have nasty little monsters the next day. I would recommend that your first cruise be without kids, and enjoy it!

First timer observations:

I have seen no discussion about how a woman shaves her legs in those tiny showers, my answer was to stand in front of the toilet and put my foot in the sink.

You will need more sleep and less activities. If at all possible, try to take a nap everyday, otherwise you will be dead by the end of the week.

Take extra towels to the beach, sand gets everywhere. If you want to shower and dry off, don’t use the towel that is full of sand, it is pointless. Also, take the little shampoo/conditioner containers from the ship to the beach to wash your hair.

Do not get sunburned on your first sea day! Use good sense and adequate sunscreen. You guessed it, Ron fell asleep by the pool on our first day and he had at least 2nd degree burns on his ankles. He did great, but it was very painful.

Also, it is posted in both the Princess brochure and at all of the bars that you must be 21 to be served alcohol. I don’t know why, but if you want your children to drink, maybe buy something and keep it in your cabin? (I saw a complaint about this in a recent review.)

Plan on getting ripped off, remember that the taxi drivers/market people do this every day and you and I do not. I was stupid about the exchange rate with local money on Trinidad and the cab driver told me that I didn’t give him enough and so I gave him more. Just shrug and don’t let it ruin your holiday.

Yvonne Stephens

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