Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Golden Princess Review - Part Three - The Mediocre

Continuing the seemlessly never ending review of the Golden Princess to Alaska cruise, here are our thoughts on the "mediocre" aspects of the cruise.

The Mediocre

Food: Food is subjective so this is our opinion – we were not impressed with the food on this ship. We ate in the Dining Room four times - twice for dinner, once for lunch and once for breakfast. Not being a seafood fan, we've always had an issue with Princess’ menus, because there are least two seafood entrees every night - we prefer chicken or beef. The beef and chicken on this ship were okay but nothing to write home about. One night we ordered a lamb entree and it was satisfactory but not outstanding.

I love the cold fruit soups served on many cruise lines and this was the first time that my soup came in a glass with a straw. I don’t enjoy drinking soup - that no longer makes it soup but a glass of juice. Last we sailed it was thicker and served with a spoon but that is not how Princess serves it any longer. The best meal I had in the dining room was a delicious “blueburger” for lunch.

There was a pub lunch twice on the ship in the Crown Grill. The offerings were pub style – Bangers and Mash, Fish and Chips, Steak and Kidney pie, etc. Ordered the Fish and Chips, which was very greasy and eating it the first day when the ship was in rough waters wasn’t a good idea.

Most other meals were enjoyed in Horizon Court, which was typical buffet food. There was nothing outstanding – at least two pasta dishes, fried fish, a slicing meat (one day was prime rib with is one of my favorites but was dry) and a few Indian dishes along with salad and sandwiches. When you get excited about finding a BLT sandwich for lunch, something is wrong with the menu. Plenty of desserts offered, but they were also very rich and calorie laden. Found that eating fresh fruit was a better option.

Hot dogs from the grill were mostly burned, but the pizza was FANTASTIC. When all else failed, a slice of pizza always hit the spot.

Our favorite food spot on the ship was the International Cafe. Don't shrug off the food here. They have an egg sandwich for breakfast, panini's and a very good Chicken Waldorf Salad at lunch time. The best Tiramisu is found here.

We did not opt to eat at the alternate pay restaurants. We've eaten at both Sabatini's and the Crown Grill on other ships and while the food is good - we don't feel should have to pay extra to get a great meal on a ship.

Entertainment: Had we never sailed Royal Caribbeans' Oasis and Allure of the Seas and NCL's Epic - we likely would have had a more favorable review of the Entertainment on this ship. However, after sailing on the three ships with the most unbelievable shows on the seas, anything else seems amateurish. There were a few production shows we tried to sit through that felt like going to a high school musical.

There are the usual port shopping talks on the Golden but we are past thinking that we will get any special deals sitting in on those.

One thing we did enjoy was the naturalist who was onboard who did several lectures. His name was Michael Modzeleski and his discussions were quite enjoyable. He was very knowledegable. On the day in Glacier Bay, some US Park Rangers boarded the ship and discussed what we were seeing while sailing. They were also on deck to answer individual questions.

Tomorrow - the final part four of our review - "The Bad".

Monday, May 30, 2011

Golden Princess Review - Part Two

Part two of our Golden Princess review is "The Good" - what we liked.

The Ship: For an older ship that was refurbished last year, the ship is in pretty good shape. The Passenger Service and Excursions Desks are done in a beautiful wood and look very classy. As usual, the International Café is one of our favorite areas on a Princess cruise and we always purchase a coffee card. The public areas and shops on Deck 5, 6 and 7 are lovely.

Our cabin: We had a balcony cabin, B309 on the Baja deck. We were in a perfect location – a little before mid ship, just a few doors down from the elevators. Baja deck balcony cabins are covered on top – which was great if it rained, as we could stand on the balcony and not get wet. The room was spacious enough with plenty of storage. Our cabin steward, Araceli, was excellent. The cabin was clean and anything we requested (bathrobes, a mattress topper for the hard mattress, extra shampoo and conditions, etc) was brought promptly. There was some wear and tear, particularly on the lamps, but that is to be expected from an older ship. I highly recommend getting a balcony for ANY Alaskan cruise. We constantly saw whales, otters, seals, and dolphins frolicking in the sea from our deck. Several in our group booked interior cabins and did not get to see any whales – where we saw an abundance of them.

Ports: We enjoyed the ports more than we thought we would. Juneau, Skagway, Ketchikan and Victoria were wonderful ports. The day spent in Glacier Bay was also great (and one of the reasons we chose Princes, since between them and HAL, they hold 80% of the permits to sail in Glacier Bay). Victoria was a particular surprise, as it was such a lovely city to visit.

Weather: We could not have had better weather. Temperature in every port was 60 degrees and no rain! The only days we had rain were the first day at sea going to Juneau (and the ship rocked and rolled on heavy seas – it was the first time in 15 cruises I ever had a twinge of sea-sickness) and Glacier Bay (and after getting wet on deck 15, once we went back to our cabins with the roof over us, we were able to enjoy the view without getting wet).

Excursions: We wisely chose excursions that were outstanding – but since the ship was in port late in Juneau and Victoria, we lost an hour on excursions in both ports which we felt hurt us. In Juneau, we booked a Whale Watching/Mendenhall Glacier tour which took us up fairly close to whales. We then visited the Mendenhall Glacier by bus. Losing the hour because of being late, we were rushed through the Mendenhall Glacier and had less than an hour there. We were fascinated by the stop – not only was it beautiful, the history and seeing how much the Glacier has receded, even since the 1930’s, was amazing.

In Skagway, we did the White Pass Railway through an outside company, Shore Trips, with a return by bus. Another fascinating tour where we spotted a moose, bear and eagles.

In Ketchikan, we booked a float plane excursion. Because it wasn’t raining and it was so clear, we had a birds’ eye view of Misty Fjords and could see full mountain tops and spots where an October storm had done much damage to the trees. The pilot landed the plane in a glacial lake and we were permitted to get out of the plane and stand on the pontoons for a picture.

In Victoria, we booked a trip to the Butchart Gardens, which was the most beautiful garden we’ve ever seen. There were thousands of tulips and other beautiful plants. However, because the ship was an hour late getting into this port we had a very short time frame to take pictures before it got too dark.

Glacier Bay was also very interesting. We were lucky to see calving at the Marjorie Glacier – the sound of the ice breaking is unbelievable!

Staff: Having just disembarked an NCL ship six days before this cruise, I can say overwhelmingly that the staff on this ship was cheerier, more professional, and more friendly than many other cruiselines – for the most part. We met some delightful waiters and waitresses in Horizon Court that we thoroughly enjoyed speaking to. Most were very helpful and if I needed to stop and ask a question, I never once experienced a cross word or short response from the “little guys” on the ship. Passenger Services was another story which will be detailed lin "The Bad" in part four.

International Café: Our favorite spot to eat was the International Café. They had a wonderful choice of muffins for breakfast, paninis’ for lunch and dinner as well as excellent desserts and coffee. The best tasting food on the ship was located here. Buy the coffee card- well worth the money for some delicious specialty coffees and all you can drink brewed coffee. If you don't finish all the card punches on the card you can use it on a future Princess cruise!

Say tuned for part three!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Cruise Review- Golden Princess to Alaska Part 1

Each year, our agency puts together a group cruise that many of our clients join us on. This years cruise was on the Golden Princess to Alaska. This was an Inside Passage cruise leaving from Vancouver and disembarking in Seattle. Ports visited were Juneau, Ketchikan, Skagway, Victoria British Columbia and Glaceir Bay.

It is impossible to detail the entire week in a short blog, so to make it easier for our readers, we will split this review into four parts - Part One :pre-cruise, Part Two: The Good, Part Three: The Mediocre and Part Four: The Bad. While it is impossible to "ruin" a cruise to Alaska, as the itinerary is outstanding, there were issues with the ship and some parts of the cruise that we would be remiss in not pointing out.

We arrived one night early and stayed in downtown Vancouver at the Metropolitan Hotel, which was a terrific choice. The staff was outstanding and we really liked the rooms – large, spotless, and with real doorbells at each room.

A week before our cruise, we heard there would be “chaos” in Canada Place, the pier our ship would be leaving from. There would be four ships in port in Vancouver, with three leaving from Canada Place. Having sailed from many ports that have multiple ships leaving on the same day, we were a little surprised at all the media attention to this both on t.v. in the hotel and in the Vancouver newspapers. Dire predictions of cab shortages were on t.v. in the morning before we checked out. We left our rooms shaking our heads trying to figure out what all the fuss was about.

It didn’t take long find out. We checked out of our hotel at about 11:15 AM and the concierge called for a van to take four of us to the pier. (There were another six people in our group at the hotel who opted to do a city tour in the morning and would arrive later at the pier). We waited about 15 minutes for the cab. The driver said that it was a little “crowded” at the terminal. What should have been a $5 four block cab ride turned into $25 ride because the pier was over run with people departing the ships and arriving for new cruises. There was a massive traffic jam caused by hundreds of cabs trying to get passengers in and out of the pier.

What was the problem? Cruise ships piers normally have a separate pier and check in line for each ship. Not Canada Place – there was one line for at least 18,000 passengers getting on and off three ships."Chaos” was the most mild choice of words we heard that day. The line to get on the ship took three hours and up depending on the time you arrived.

I've never heard so many complaints in one place - ever. While Princess was not responsible for the pier only having one line, this was not the first time this happened (nor will it be the last time this cruising season) and they were not prepared. There should have been representatives handing out bottled water and snacks. There should have been some type of seating in various areas for passengers to rest a bit. Alaskan cruisers are generally older is pitifully and unacceptable that passengers as old as 85 had to painfully stand in line with not even a drink of water.

We assumed people arriving a few hours later might be better off as the lines would have shortened with so many passengers already on the ship. That was not so – the later people arrived, the longer they waited. Some passengers arriving after 1 PM did not get on the ship until 6 PM. The only way the wait could have been worse was if it had been raining – which started just after the ship finally left port.

Our ship was scheduled to depart at 4 PM. People were still boarding at 6 PM. After a long day, the ship finally left Vancouver at almost 6:30 in a light rain. We were off to a day of rocking and rolling (literally) on the high seas - and we do mean high seas!

Check here tomorrow for Part Two - "The Good".

Monday, May 9, 2011

Occidental Grand Cozumel Resort

We were recently lucky enough to visit the Occidental Grand Cozumel resort in Cozumel, Mexico. This resort is a haven for divers. Located in the south west corner of Cozumel on San Francisco beach, this resort boasts many amenities perfect for divers and people who enjoy aquatic sports or those who would like a quiet resort to get away from it all.

We were greeted in the beautiful Mexican style lobby by Ricardo Torres, Guest Services Manager, who gave us a tour of the resort. There are 251 rooms in 11 Colonial style buildings. There are rooms with either king beds or two double beds, which make the resort ideal for singles traveling together.
Deluxe Room

Each room is air conditioned, have a
ceiling fan, cable t.v., private bathroom with separate shower and bath, hair dryer, safe deposit box, alarm clock, mini-fridge, coffee maker and balcony or patio. The Royal Club has 32 rooms with balconies and shower bathtubs. This section offers concierge service, free internet desk access (and wireless for an additional fee). There is an independent front desk, where guests are whisked away to for private check in. There are six junior suites with living room, shower, balcony and bathtubs and one Presidential Suite formed by two rooms, two bathrooms, living room, shower, a bathtub for two people, dresser area and balcony.

All rooms have garden views- there is a preserve between the rooms and the beach that is accessible by a bridge and walkway which doesn't allow for water views. Families are welcome, but you'll need more than one room if you have more than one child, as the maximum allowed in one room is three people. The grounds are landscaped and well kept with lovely garden views from each room.

There are six restaurants - La Posada, the international buffet, Sonora Grill, a steak house, Los Olivos, featuring Mediterranean food, a pizzeria, the Beach Club Restaurant, serving lunch on the beach, and the Royal Club Restaurant, for guests staying in the exclusive Royal Club.

There are two pools - a quiet pool near the buildings housing the rooms and a larger pool a short walk away on the beach where many daily activities are held.
Activities Pool

Royal Club rooms also have their own pool within their courtyard area.

The resort is all inclusive offering a welcome cocktail, a weekly Managers
Cocktail party, all means and snacks, wine served with dinner, daily activities by the pool, tennis courts, scuba clinics in the pool, non motorized water sports such as snorkeling, kayaks, sailing on Hobie Cats and windsurfing.

There are optional excursions for diving conveniently located right on the beach. We witnessed several dive boats picking up and dropping off divers throughout our stay. The Palancar Reef is a five minute boat ride away. The beach is small with gorgeous blue water and plenty of shaded chairs and many people were snorkeling. There is a spa and beauty parlor. There are also optional excursions to Tulum, Xcaret, Chichen Itza, Xel-Ha, Cancun, and fishing trips as well. You can also rent a car or motor scooter. Downtown Cozumel was a 20 minute cab ride away.

Click here to take a look at our photos of this great resort!

The beautiful beach!