Kenneth G. Ramey
Occupation:retired/med. lab. tech
Number of Cruises: 9
Cruise Line: Princess
Ship: Royal Princess
Sailing Date: October 19th, 2004
Itinerary: New York to Montreal
For those who live on the west coast, and are to catch the ship on the east coast, the toughest part of the vacation is getting to the ship, especially when one relies on Princess Cruises for every sort of transportation. I'm sure it must be true of most cruise lines, but it was not always so.
In days of yore, flights were arranged the day before, and usually were non-stop. One was put up at a hotel from which transportation was arranged to the ship on the day of sailing, or, was met by a representative of the cruise line at the airport who saw to the transfer directly to the ship. Either way, it was a pretty sweet deal. Not so anymore.
The season for the area we were to traverse was another disadvantage because we were not favored by good weather. In New England and Canada the end of October days are shorter, and the nights longer. We hoped to see the fall colors for which the region is known, but there was more color in our western hometown. Except for one day, we didn't see the sun at all.
We drove from our Home in Paso Robles, CA to the Hacienda Hotel in LA. where we had arranged to leave our car as a result of agreeing to spend the night of October 31 (upon our return). We were driven to and from the Hotel to LAX, a most convenient courtesy for which the driver was well tipped. We have lived in Paso Robles twenty-two years, and seldom do we get much rain, if any, till december or even as late as February, but we drove through two cloud-bursts on I-5 on the way to LA. We had to slow to 50 mph to avoid planing on the water build-up on the pavement. Otherwise the drive was made without incident.
We arrived at the Hacienda Hotel at 6:30 PM, and were taken to the airport at 8:30, that allowed us time to have a bite to eat. The airport was chaotic, but we managed to check our large bag, and were then sent to go through security where the fun began. People were everywhere, and most seemed to be trying to pry their way into line ahead of us. We were led to believe they had to catch an earlier flight.
We obtained our boarding passes via the Internet, but no one bothered to tell us that the gate had been changed. We were pulled from that line and told to go to another gate about 1/4 of a mile away. We were toting three bags of carry on luggage. We were subjected to three security checks at this gate, and I was putting on my shoes for the last time, when someone realized we didn't belong there. No, we belonged 1/4 of a mile away in the direction from whence we had come. When we arrived, it was like entering a whirlpool of humanity. Time was running short. Our flight was due to leave at 10:55PM, and we had to go through the entire security thing again. I was fit to be tied. I found a chair and was putting on my shoes for the last time when an employee told me I must move on. I finished putting on my shoes!
Boarding had already begun when we got to the counter, and my wife was able to ask for bulkhead seats, and got them because I am somewhat disabled. We were told to board immediately since our section had already been called. Finally, we stowed our carry on luggage, and took our seats, there to remain till the wee hours of the morning where we were scheduled to change planes in Cincinnati for Newark, New Jersey. At Newark we had a three hour layover before the PRINCESS busses arrived to deliver us to the ship at its dock in New York; time enough to have breakfast in the terminal after picking up our luggage. GOOD NEWS! we had no problem with our luggage at all.
I had never been to New York, so the trip by bus to the dock was all I could hope for. The canyons of the city were something to behold. Streets looked like pencils beneath the overwhelming heights of the high rises. Cops rode horses whose steeds were as calm as could be. Vendors pushed carts on which were wares for sale to the general public. Traffic flows were as much as the normal mind could fathom, as jaywalkers, along with the vendors and police vied for space. We crossed bridges, and travelled beneath ground through one tunnel that could have been a mile long. We drove through Manhattan, the theater district, and down 42nd street where 'the boys,' according to the lyrics were told, 'that we would soon be there.' Confusion and chaos reigned supreme, or so it seemed to me. I was glad I was not driving. Suddenly we were at the dock in front of a warehouse next to which was docked the REGAL PRINCESS.
Here we were made to understand the wharf-gang would take over, unload the luggage from the bus that owners must identify before the gang would place it on dollies to be pushed to the reception point for transfer to the ship. It was a 'courtesy' for which we were expected to pay. To add an element of authenticity to the whole, one member of the gang asked to see our passports and a photo id before we got off the bus. It was a ruse, but we were hardly in a position not to go along. We got by with a 'tip' of just $2.00.
Then came the security check before we could board the ship. Names were checked against the register, and compared with cruise tickets; visas and photo id was checked again before we were sent forward to the gangplank. As we stepped aboard the ship, all were required to be photographed and an identifying bargraph became part of our boarding pass for going from and returning to the ship. Then finally we began to be treated with the respect and courtesy to which we had become accustomed during past voyages. We were given keys to our cabin that, when opened, revealed that our luggage had beat us to it. The nice thing about cruising is that you unpack once, and pack again only when the cruise is about to end. Even our inside cabin was sufficiently large to allow for plenty of closet space and room to relax.
At 70,000 tons, the REGAL PRINCESS is truly large. I didn't bother to try to take it all in. The library is a laugh, far too small, about the size of an overgrown walk-in closet. I guess I have outgrown the 'big' production shows, and I'm not a movie buff, but I do like to write. In the climate, an open deck was less than inviting. The best place was the Lido restaurant, but the hungry chased me from there, as they had a right to do. I found most of the chairs less than comfortable wherever they were found, and tables on which to put my writing material was better suited for drinkers. Compared to the ROYAL PRINCESS at 40,000 tons, I felt the REGAL left much to be desired.
On the other hand, the service, courtesy, and attitude of the staff were outstanding. I was generally disappointed with the public rooms, probably because neither I nor my wife drink or smoke, and these areas seem designed to accommodate those who do. Food was very good both in the Lido and the dinning room. Our waiter, Julio, from Mexico City, and Nekki, from India, were delightful. Public restrooms abound, and seem to be situated on the starboard side for men and the port for the ladies, always very clean. I prefer smaller ships about the size of the ROYAL, but it is simply a personal quirk. Usually, I like to check out the layout of the ship early, but not this time. THE REGAL WAS DOCKED. ALMOST DIRECTLY ACROSS FROM WEEHAUKEN ON THE NEW JERSEY SHORE WHERE AARON BURR AND ALEXANDER HAMILTON FOUGHT THEIR DUEL.
The cruise was preceded by a storm with rain and considerable wind that robbed the foilage of its hoped-for beauty. There was more color in Paso Robles, than in the entire Northeast.
We sailed every night; it was dark by the time we finished eating at the first seating, and had docked by the time we had breakfast the next morn. Until we left Halifax and had skirted southern reaching shoals, the sea was choppy, and tended to shake the ship in a manner reminiscent of the earthquake we had in Paso Robles less than a year previously. Thereafter the seas moderated and one would hardly know he was at sea; that is sailing north into the gulf of St. Lawrence, up the river to the Saguenay River, and return, before continuing on to Quebec City, and eventually to Montreal.
From New York we sailed past a fog-muted Statue of Liberty, and were anchored in Newport RI the next morning where we were tendered to shore. I was more impressed by the fact that to our east was Buzzard Bay and the mouth of the Acushnet River that leads to Fairhaven, Mass, where Captain Joshua Slocum rebuilt the SPRAY that he eventually sailed alone around the world over a period of three years, 1893-96. The spray was 7+ tons gross compared to the REGAL'S 70,000 tons.
Newport was blanketed with fog with a low ceiling that was chilly and drippy. Everything that could be seen was a neutral gray quite in keeping with nearly all the ports we visited. I saw no purpose in going ashore, but was persuaded by my wife to be tendered to the wharf in the afternoon. I didn't stay as long as did she. I get a bit anxious about my wife whose middle name is 'late,' but after 40 years of marriage I've learned there is not much I can do about it. I checked with the port authority, and was told, that should she miss the boat, she could catch a bus that would deliver her to Boston in an hour and a half. Fortunately, it didn't come to that.
We were frequently at dinner when the REGAL sailed that lent a degree of excitement to our experience for a night or two when we were buffeted by 40K winds and choppy seas that caused us to dock in Boston later than expected. We walked to the OLD NORTH CHURCH (you know, 'one if by land, and two if by sea,' or vice versa, courtesy of Paul Revere), that was a greater challenge than we had anticipated. It was virtually impossible to get to point B from Point A because of the construction downtown. I made a mental note of a clock tower as a landmark that would take us to the spot where we were to be picked up for the return trip to the ship. By focusing on it, we managed to avoid detours and get aboard the warm 'trolley' in plenty of time to return to the ship.
The REGAL had docked in Boston, and had to back out into a turn-basin in order to sail past Logan Airport, through light-marked channels and out to sea. It didn't go as planned. At dinner, I noticed the ship moving slowly forward to loosen the securing lines that had to be cast off. Then the ship moved in reverse with the object of entering the turn-basin, but not for long. The captain explained over the PA-system that strong winds had scuttled his good intentions by pushing the REGAL to the other side of the slip where, fortunately, no ship was currently docked. Tugs were called to assist in the maneuver, but we were becalmed - so to speak - for some two hours. Night had fallen, and Boston reminded me of San Francisco with its lights and hills draped in darkness. From the Lido Deck we watched as the REGAL was swung around in the basin near the Logan Airport approach lights. Finally, we moved forward under our own power, red lights to starboard and green or blue to port to mark the channels through which we must pass to reach the safety of the sea. And, so to bed.
Dinner and another night's sailing was a repeat of the night before as the REGAL bore away for Bar Harbor, Me., passing GLOUSCESTER to the east. What struck me most were the lateral jerks of the ship as, presumably, it was struck broadside in the chop of the sea. The cabin creaked, and my wife said she did not sleep well under those conditions. In south-America, the ROYAL PRICESS plunged and lept in heavy seas. I don't recall experiencing the lateral jerks of the REGAL before it anchored in a cozy cove at Bar Harbor. The tender rides were quite comfortable, but the weather remained breezy and chill. The arrival of the REGAL marked the end of the tourist season at Bar Harbor that was hunkering down for the winter. One could enjoy the scene from the ship over a cup of coffee or at breakfast as the ship swung gently to its anchor, head to the wind, or was pushed by the tide. There must be a coast guard station at Bar harbor, too, since a small cutter circled the REGAL several times soon after our arrival.
Near our anchorage I thought I saw some reefs, but they turned out to be breakwaters that were obvious at low tide. The harbor had several small tree-lined islands that, when the surf was up, lent their neclaces of white to a pleasant scene gazed upon by estates or vacation villas from the safety of the shore. This obviously was a vacationer's paradise, but it was practically deserted at this time of the year. Breakers added a touch of elegance to the larger shoreline below, and I could only imagine how a bit of sun would have added to the beauty of the scene. There was a minor maze of small boats through which the REGAL'S tenders had to weave to reach the dock. I think they must have been lobster boats. Gray skies are a disappointing backdrop to what must surely be an idyllic spot at another time of year. This day one's imagination must come to the rescue, and so it does.
We had also arrived in the area of extreme tides with a rise and fall of dozens of feet. From the shore, I took a picture of the ship that seemed almost to be resting too near the rock for comfort, an illusion I meant to accentuate. My wife was leading me down a path she had walked earlier, and where I was able to get several pictures of doubtful interest. The fog had lifted somewhat, and we were finally able to see some fall color, much of which had been hidden or eliminated by the force of wind and/or rain. Our next landfall would be in New Brunswick Canada at St. John.
St. John is located on the southern shore of New Brunswick overlooking the Bay of Fundy near its mouth. From Bar Harbor to St. John was a very smooth sail. The seas had moderated considerably. We docked at high tide, and sailed on another high tide that can vary as much as 32 feet. I really liked the people. Their sense of humor corresponded nicely with my own. I take a diuretic that requires that I make a pill-run periodically, and when we came upon a government house during our walk, I stopped to ask if there was a public restroom. The answer I received was 'yes.' After some hesitation, and having been down this road before, I asked, 'and might you tell me where they are?' He could not have been more obliging, and we both got a chuckle out of it.
The village rises from the dock upward several blocks to the top of the hill. Rather than walk up the hill, we entered the market at the end of the street, and rode escalators to the various levels one of which led through the city hall. The market was something to behold. I don't recall ever seeing so many beautiful vegetables. The place was spotless, and each elevation had its own character, such as a department store and, as I said, the city hall.
Town houses are the dwelling du jour in St. John, each with a span of perhaps twenty feet, and solidly packed among others along an entire block. As we stood admiring one, the lady of the house opened her door and, my wife hearing dog-sounds from within, asked if she could see the dog. No problem. Indeed, we were invited into the house itself and given a tour of a most curious, but delightful abode. Such is the nature of the people that if you show an interest in them and their lifestyle, they go out of their way to be friendly. I took a picture of her on her door stoop as we left, but I have not the hint of an idea what her name may be. I only know that she was grand.
At the dock, before we could enter, we had to show our ships permit as well as a picture ID for security purposes. For the latter, I used my driver's license that I had in my wallet, and kidded with the attendant that I wanted it back when he was through with it. He took my jibe in the spirit intended, and we made a joke of it that put us both to laughing. My kind of guy. Attitude, architecture and character were the hallmarks of a visit not easily forgotten. We found this to be true in all the Canadian ports of call.
Sailing time from St. John was 3:00 PM to take advantage of the outgoing tide. At 2:00 pm I saw a small tidal bore, where the outgoing tide overrides what remains of the incoming tide. It was not large, but clearly noticible. I may have seen others, but this was the first time I recognized what I was seeing, and I was pleased. Except for rounding the western end of Nova Scotia, the sail to Halifx was downright smooth. During the night we passed Briar Island, the childhood home of Capt. Slocum, and Cape Sable from which he took leave of land and sailed alone with the SPRAY into the Atlantic Ocean. These are places about which I had read, but relied upon my imagination to perceive. In these latitudes, the nights are long, and it was long dark before we cleared either Briar Island or the Sable Cape.
I was in no hurry to get up after such a pleasant night's sleep, but when I did I saw the GRAND PRINCESS docked beside us in Halifax. There was just a hint of sunshine, but it didn't last, and the day became another gray and windy one as always. Old town was remeniscent of St. John except that it was wrapped in layers of new construction, and was evident by the many steeples that rose from within; always a pretty sight, with a sizable high rise as a backdrop for contrast. Horse drawn trollies and double-decker busses were used for tours, but again, fog limited the amount of color we expected to see, although it was high enough to allow for a fuller view of of the town itself. The REGAL sailed a half hour later than scheduled to accommodate two passengers returning late to the ship, then exited the port into moderately rough seas southward to skirt a layer of shoals. Later that night, when we headed east, then north about the shoals, the sea calmed, and the rest of the cruise was most relaxing as we headed into the Gulf of St. Lawrence and into the mouth of the river that in two days would deliver us to Quebec where we were to arrive the night of October 28.
The late arrival of the REGAL in Quebec was due to the cruising of the Saguenay River that empties its flow into the St. Lawrence from the north. A pilot was taken aboard at the mouth of the river who guided the ship some distance to where someone had erected a 29 foot high statue of the Virgin Mary high upon a bluff on the west side of the canyon. At this point the ship was slowly turned while 'Ave Maria' was sung over the PA-system five or six times before the REGAL began its retreat down the canyon to pick up the St. Lawrence River again.
The Saguenay was an interesting detour if for no other reason than that the sun began to shine. Some may have taken it to be an omen. I was reminded of the story of Adam and Eve, especially the name of Eve that in the Meditterean tongue would be pronounced Eva. The point of interest here is that the connotation of Eva is associated with evil, and it was the tendency of old to change the perception of evil by reverse-spelling that would convert Eva (evil) into its opposite "Ave," to connote good, the Virgin, and Mother of God. I could not but wonder how many listeners were aware of the meaning of the words they heard? At the mouth of the Saguenay, our pilot was left and another taken aboard to complete our approach to Quebec.
Quebec is derived from an Indian word meaning "where the river narrows." To the west of the city is the only bridge that spans the river, and our departure from the dock was timed so as to allow the REGAL to pass under the span since the river is yet part of the tidal sequence of the sea. It looked to me as if the top of the ship missed the bridge by a matter of feet.
The day spent in Quebec was the only day the sun shone on the entire trip. It couldn't have happened at a better time. It was the highlight of the cruise. Quebec has a population of some 660,000 souls, very few of whom live or work in what is called the old section on a level with the dock and beneath a bluff upon which the rest of the city is constructed, not counting suburbs.
Considering how little time there was to investigate, the convenience of the town could not have been better. I was particularly impressed by the layout of the city within the immediate vicinity of the ship. And the arcitecture was dramatic to say the least. Alleys were devoted to the display of art, and street artists busied themselves drawing likenesses of those who would pay for the privilege. Streets were winding rather than laid out in rectangles all of which lent themselves to the charm of one of the most charming cities it was my good fortune to visit. It was also very clean. Suffice it to say that I was properly impressed. I am seventy-five years old, and if the U.S. should decide to re-impose the draft, Quebec would be the fisrt place I would consider as an asylum. One could spend days exploring. Between the upper bluff and the lower village is a steep bank adorned with trees in autumn hues. The pace of life at mid-day is modest, and unlike New York city, the skyline reveals an artistic quality of architectural structures independent of each other.
The REGAL sailed promptly at 4:00 pm, and we arrived in Montreal on the 30th of October, 2004. We were disembarked early the morning of the 31st. which gave us time to explore Montreal most of the 30th, except for time needed to pack. Montreal was dull when compared with Quebec, and the return of overcast skies, and even some rain, did nothing to dispel the impression. I was about walked out, so we shared a horse drawn surrey with another couple for a tour of an hour; $30.00 Canadian for them, and $25.00 US for us. I suspect this is where I caught what I have concluded was my annual cold. Naturally, I shared with my wife, but she handled it far better than did I. In the hour we spent in the surrey,we saw more than ever we could have on foot. Frankly, I was about out of gas. My age, and the effect of three back operations were taking their toll.
The architecture was not unlike that in Quebec, but the buildings seemed more a mixture of the old and the new. Had not the driver pointed out the distinctions, I might very well have missed them. Then again, without some space in which to express themselves individually, buildings tend to take on a oneness that in Montreal was lost in a universal greyness. Having once had a horse ranch of our own, I found myself more intersted in the interaction of driver and steed. When the street steepened for a block, the horse surprised me when it broke into a trot to provide impetus for the pull. In another instance, the driver had only to speak in undertones to get an immediate response from the horse.. I was reminded of the many times I worked to get horses to respond to word commands. So, I was not surprised, but rather pleased at how well this driver and horse worked together.
In Montreal the CHRYSTAL SYMPHONY was docked also, a ship of another line about the size of the REGAL. It was the end of the season for both ships in these waters. To the west of Montreal are the Great Lakes, and so it is that cruise ships reverse course at this port. The REGAL would be on its final cruise-leg ending in Miami where it would go into dry dock for a couple of weeks before plying the Caribbean.
Disembarkation went tolerably well, and we were driven by bus to the Airport where we arrived about 10:00 am. We were scheduled to fly from there to O'hare in Chicago for a change of planes to LAX. The plane from Montreal was not scheduled to leave till about 5:00 pm. Consequently, there was little incentive for boarding passes to be issued with dispatch. I eventually had to resort to a wheelchair after which I received kind consideration during the security check-in. I was surprised to learn that we were to go through U.S. Customs at the Montreal Airport as well. From this point on, had it not been for my cold, our troubles were virtually over, or so we thought. We arrived late at O'hare, and found ourselves scrambling to make our flight to LAX. My cold must have affected my inner ear so that in the process of removing a carry-on bag from the overhead, I lost my balance that cost me a black-eye. I can only imagine that I must have infected every passenger on the flight to LAX, but I hope I didn't.
We had not eaten since morning, and it was now after 7:00 pm. The rest rooms and snack bar were essentials we hoped not to miss, but the plane came first. Fortunately, another plane was in our gate, and until it could be pushed out of the way, we could not board. We barely succeeded in every regard, but were in our seats just minutes before takeoff. We arrived LAX an hour late, and transferred to the Hacienda Hotel via its courtesy, but didn't get to bed till 12:30 am. We checked out at 11:30 am, had breakfast in it's café, loaded the luggage into the car that my wife retrieved, and headed home swearing that we would never go through such an orderal again. It has been a full two weeks since we got home, and I suspect I still have another two to go before I am over my cold, Thank God for the antibiotic (just in case), and the cough syrup prescribed by my doctor.
A finalword if only to prove that our experience was not the worst. Several passengers became ill during the cruise and were confined to their cabins without so much as the touted cabin service when it comes to feed.
We saw a lady who had gone to the Lido Café to get something for her husband to eat, and was carrying it to him covered with a napkin, Compare his plight with that of ours, and we came out smelling like a rose..
Kenneth G. Ramey