Number of Cruises: 30+
Cruise Line: Princess
Ship: Royal Princess
Sailing Date: May 22nd, 2002
BY DAVID J.E. DEVAUX
MAY 22ND THROUGH MAY 31ST
We drove down from Boca Raton, Florida the morning of the 22nd arriving at Pier #2 in Ft. Lauderdale at shortly after 11:00am. This was the time given to us by Princess cruises as the earliest boarding. Princess cruises has the boarding procedures down to a science and within 15 minutes we were onboard and within our portside suite on Lido Deck (8) just forward of midship. Our steward "Leo" arrived shortly after to ensure that we had everything that we needed. So began the first day of our adventure across the Atlantic, which would culminate in 17 days on the new "World" by ResidenSea.
Royal Princess, which was christened by Princess Diana in November 1984, is now nearly 18 years old, she was on one of the first of the all outside suite ships with a large portion being with balconies. In the 18 years she has had several refits and upgrades and in spite of her years, is in fine shape.
Some of the furnishings in the suites are showing signs of wear and tear, no doubt Princess will be gradually changing and upgrading in the years to come. Royal Princess (RP) only has the single Continental Dining Room and thus has not adopted the Princess flexibility dining option, remaining with the two sittings of 6:00pm and 8:15pm. However, the Lido Café located aft on the Lido deck is open virtually 22 hours a day in different guises. Continental Breakfast is served from 4:00am to 7:00am. Full Breakfast from 7:00am to 11:30am. Buffet (whose theme changes daily) from 11:30am to 3:00pm. Snacks are served from 3:00pm to 6:00pm. From 5:30pm to midnight the starboard side of the Lido Café becomes a Pizzeria and the Port side a Bistro from 7:30pm to 2:00am. There is therefore (with 24 hour room service also available) no reason why anyone should ever be hungry on the ship.
In the evenings, we have eaten in the Continental dining room, second seating 8:15pm and have been very pleased with the friendly and helpful service. The food variety is not as broad as we remember from past cruises with 3-4 options of appetizers, soups, and salads, main entrees and desserts, but the dishes have been excellent, the prime rib on Thursday, 23rd evening was as good as any we have had anywhere, Land or Sea!!
Our second night out Thursday, May 23rd was deemed formal night coinciding with the Captains, Welcome Onboard Party. In this case Commodore Mike Moulin is in command of the RP and we were very privileged to have an excellent dinner with the Commodore and his wife Maggie after the Welcome Party.
Since leaving Ft. Lauderdale at 2:15pm on Wednesday 22nd, we have been encountering heavy seas and strong winds (40-50 kts across the decks) with skies alternating between overcast and rainy, to severe clear.
Occasionally we would hit a large swell with a "booming" sound as the bow would dip into the swell and sheets of spray would run down either side of the ship. Other than the midships plunge whirlpool area, which is protected from the wind (the forward lap pool was empty and the area closed. It was impossible to venture onto the upper decks due to the very high winds. It probably should be pointed out here that due to the time constraints (8 days) allowed for the crossing, our route across the Atlantic was via the shortest distance, the Great Circle Route which means that we were climbing into the northern latitudes as far north in fact as Nova Scotia as we make our way across to the Scilly Isles and into Southampton.
Southampton incidentally is famous for being the primary departure port for the Pilgrim Fathers on the Mayflower as she left the Old World for the New World. The Mayflower departed Southampton in 1620 with a stop in Plymouth. In fact, there is in Southampton the Mayflower Gate where the Pilgrims once stood before their departure. Also, the Titanic sailed from here in 1912 and today, the QE2 starts and ends her transatlantic journey to New York from this Port.
Because of our Northern route, we can expect to encounter low pressure systems and storm troughs as we head from the east coast of the US and Canada across to the British Isles and Europe.
Friday, May 24th dawned wild and woolly, blustery winds across the decks, lashing rains and white capped seas made moving about the ship a challenge and those passengers who had not taken precaution with seas sickness medications were keeping the Medical Bay and Dr. Stephen Mellor very busy. Thankfully by afternoon the skies had cleared and the seas were now on our port beam, the white caps gradually ameliorated and by dinnertime we had settled down to a comfortable motion, which made the Italian night dinner theme, very enjoyable.
Saturday, May 25th begins overcast and 68 degrees, but gradually improves as the day goes on, the seas running 8-10ft are on the portside beam and the movement is easier than it has been in the previous days. Later in the day the sky clears completely to a deep blue with light winds, allowing us to walk around the upper deck. A few hardy souls mostly British seeking the last rays before the UK are congregated around the center plunge pools; other passengers are attending a bridge class in the Clubroom.
During dinner Saturday night a very unusual event occurred, the Commodore came over the PA system (normally announcements are made only in the hallways and in public areas), but to be broadcast in the Dining Room donated an emergency situation and so it was, not a ship emergency, but a passenger medical emergency so serious that the ship was diverting towards Halifax, Nova Scotia where on Sunday morning a helicopter evacuation would take place.
Sunday, May 26th, we are awakened by the announcement over the PA system that at 9:45am (ships time) a helicopter from the Canadian Coast Guard would arrive and do an air evacuation off the aft deck, portside.
It was also announced that the aft end of the ship would be off limits to passengers from 9:30am until completed. Needless to say most passengers were braving the 46-degree temperature, with calm winds and thankfully calm seas, most were on the Sun deck to observe this very unusual and potentially dangerous evacuation. Almost on the stroke of 9:45am a Canadian Lockheed Hercules 4 engine turbo prop arrived followed closely by a large yellow Canadian Coast Guard Chinook helicopter. Within minutes the ships personnel were welcoming the two Coast Guard men, who descended from the chopper by slings and soon after two passengers one in a stretcher basket were whisked up to the chopper followed soon after by the two rescue medics. The whole operation was over in 10-15 minutes. It was as if the ships company had done this every day so efficient was the operation.
The rest of the day was anti-climatic with the ship resuming her east northeasterly heading, but by now we were projected to arrive in Southampton 24 hours late, 4:00pm on May 31st instead of May 30th.
A word about time, for the first two nights, 22nd and 23rd the clocks were advanced by one hour at 2:00am and thereafter by 30 minutes each night. Thereby ensuring that on arrival in Southampton the clock would have advanced to meet the 5-hour difference between Florida and England.
Monday, May 27th, (Memorial Day in the USA) dawned clear, bright and cold. The sea was calm, lightly ruffled by a gentle southeasterly breeze, but with the look of oiled water. A glorious day, but with temperatures at 9:00am of 43 degrees, hardly an open deck day. The feeling was of recapturing winter in five easy steps, the seeming brightness of snow capped peaks, as the sun reflected off the shimmering ocean. Truly a lovely day to enjoy an ocean crossing with no ports or land to interfere with the melancholy mood.
At 9:00am we are located over the Grand Banks and 220 miles south east of Cape Race. Most interestingly was the fact that we were also just north of the final resting place of the "Titanic" and just skirting south of the "known ice belt". After five nights on board, we have only eaten dinner in the Continental dining room, we do however, have lunch or a snack in the Lido Café each day around 2:30. Tonight is French night in the restaurant our favorite cuisine, so there is much anticipation.
10:00pm and it is still light outside, one of the idiosyncrasies of these northern latitudes, the sea is still calm, but a swell is developing and we are told that the greenish tinge to the ocean is the mixing of the cold Labrador current and the Northern branch of the warmer Gulf stream. The ship is now rolling ever so gently, the Commodore is reluctant to extend the stabilizers as this reduces our speed by at least half a knot. We are presently cruising at about 21 knots and every little reduction makes our arrival in Southampton that much later.
Tuesday, May 28th, this day dawns with rough seas and a strong northwesterly wind giving a decidedly rocking and rolling motion to the ship movement. Since the beginning of the voyage both of us have taken a half Bonine in the morning and evening. That together with ginger capsules from time to time, a gym workout each morning and we are none the worse for wear. While most of the seasickness medications make us feel drowsy, we find that the meclizine, the main ingredient in the Bonine has little or no side effects.
Tonight is the second formal night of the cruise and normally would have been the night before the last, but because of our medical diversion, we still have two more after tonight. At this juncture, it should be noted that Princess has pulled out all the stops to accommodate passengers inconvenienced by the late arrival. For example, passengers with air through Princess and scheduled to depart on May 31st are having their flights rebooked to June 1st and are being provided with complimentary transfers, meals and accommodations at the Heathrow or Gatwick airport hotels. The ship has made available complimentary satellite telephone calls to passengers in order that they can notify friends and family or to make alternative travel arrangements.
Princess has once again shown their propensity for setting it right and have gone overboard to ensure that passengers are inconvenienced as little as possible even though the passenger medical evacuation was not their fault in anyway. Perhaps much of the tribute should go to the Commodore, who over the years first as Captain then as Commodore has demonstrated his sensitivity and commitment to his ship and passengers.
Tuesday evening's Gala night in the dining room presents without a doubt our best meal to date with Caviar to start, double broiled lobster tails as the main course, and then followed by Grand Marnier Soufflé for dessert. A fitting end to a relaxing day at sea. We are told that midnight the Matre d' Rui Pereirr and his chefs will perform a Champagne waterfall and cook Crepe Suzette, but for us sleep beckons.
There are some who miss the daily ports and the shore side opportunities, but to us, we couldn't be happier to remain at sea and never venture into the ports. There is no pressure to rise early for a shore excursion or in fact to do anything if so desired except perhaps to be on time for the second sitting of dinner at 8:15pm. But then again since there is food available around the clock this is not even a requirement!
Wednesday, May 29th another overcast day with occasional rain showers and air temperature at 50 degrees. There is a strong northwesterly wind and a rolling swell, which is all helping to push us along towards the UK. We are told our heading is approximately 070 degrees.
The ships diversion is now starting to cause us problems. Our travel agent has advised that due to the "Bank Holiday" weekend in the UK, both Monday and Tuesday are holidays and this also coincides with the Queens Jubilee weekend thus all flights out of the UK are booked solid. Our original booking when we were due to arrive at Southampton at 4:00pm on the 30th was to overnight at Gatwick airport and catch British Airways to Pisa Airport (Italy) at noon on the 31st. Now that we would not arrived until 4:00pm on the 31st we have missed that flight and cannot get a seat for June 1st.
Now worry begins to set in as "The World" (our next ship) sails from Livorno at midnight on June 1st and is at sea until the 3rd June, when she docks in Sorrento. We are helpless to do anything the poor internet access (very slow) and only 4 terminals makes communication by e-mail very difficult particularly as nearly everyone on board is lining up to use the system, by the satellite phone the lines are perpetually busy.
By evening the weather has improved with moderate seas 6-10 feet, 50 degrees air temperature and wind from the west at 25 knots. With the seas and wind behind us the ship moves easily through the seas with only an occasional dip or roll to remind us we are on a ship. While the Royal Princess has an easy motion, there is the constant reminder that she is in fact 18 years old, there are creaks and groans and some vibration that is always present particularly in certain parts of the ship.
We decide tonight to forgo the dining room and try the Bistro, which at night is the Portside of the Lido Café. We had been told that the food in the Bistro was the same as the dining room, but we find that in fact this was not the case. The Bistro has its own menu and we find the food satisfying, but not up to the standards of the Continental dining room. The area that we did find that evening was the Horizon Lounge. This room is located off the sundeck at the highest and aft end of the ship. With a panoramic view and piano player soothing the mood, we most enjoyed a martini before dinner.
Thursday, May 30th, the weather is improving day by day; seas are slight with a maximum swell of 6 ft., air temperature of 57 degrees and the wind SW at 15 knots. At noon today we are 180 miles south of Ireland in the Celtic Sea and over the Continental Sea Shelf. We spend the majority of the day in the suite waiting for word from our travel agent. Finally at about 6:00pm we receive a telephone call and an e-mail that our travel agent has found a flight on June 1st.
However, it is on Ryan Air (a UK low cost airline) and it is from Stansted Airport, which is located to the northeast of London. We are thankful for a flight, but not happy about the long drive from Southampton to Stansted Airport. We scramble to organize a car to drive us there and a Hotel at Stansted to spend the night. Finally, we are able to book a room at the Stansted Airport Hilton and to arrange a limo from Pegasus Cars in Romsey to drive us to the Hotel.
Friday, May 31st, today dawns crisp and clear with temperatures in the 50's and the sea flat calm. We enter the English Channel and head towards Southampton. England is in the grip of a high-pressure system and the clear sunny weather, while unusual for the UK, is extremely welcomed.
At 1:30pm we are alongside and at approximately 2:15pm we disembark. We have already cleared immigration on the ship on Sunday 26th so we simply walk off, collect our bags and within 10 minutes are in our car and on our way to Stansted. True to form the Motorway (M25) is stop and go and our journey takes just under four hours to the Stansted Hilton. The log of the cruise shows that from our departure from Ft. Lauderdale on May 22nd to our arrival on May 31st we had completed 4,170 miles, consumed 947 tones of fuel and other than a brief stop in the middle of the ocean for the medivac, we were non-stop across the Atlantic. The Royal Princess, while an older lady has matured well and we would not hesitate to travel on her again. We had been a bit apprehensive about taking a smaller ship across the Atlantic, particularly the North Atlantic, but we need not have worried as 9 sea days was probably the most relaxing way to start our cruising adventure.