Escape Completely: The Crown Princess Cruise Experience Part Two

I ended Part One with my experiences in Roatan, Honduras. Although the waters were choppy as we sailed away towards Mexico, the sunset was beautiful. We continued our winning streak that night on the boat, participating in movie trivia that netted us a bottle of champagne, the first of two for the week. The rough waters continued into the night, but other than loud bangs we heard, courtesy of the waves slamming into the boat, seasickness wasn’t an issue. Every night on the boat there were jazz performances and we sat in one of the lounges on Tuesday night and enjoyed some great jazz piano before turning in.

One thing I did learn after experiencing two different ports in the Caribbean is the popularity of jewelry stores in that area. Yes, the Caribbean is absolutely obsessed with diamonds, as well as alexandrite, tanzanite and about any other rare gem you can think of, that you probably couldn’t buy a piece of in North America for anything less than ten thousand dollars. Why am I mentioning this? Well because each port we docked at, had at least ten jewelry stores, about half of them Diamond International stores. And, on the boat, we picked up coupons, certificates for free jewelry, which is a great bargain because tracking down the various pieces is a fun scavenger hunt and you can save money on souvenirs for other people.

It’s a subject I’ll return to, albeit, briefly, as I describe our experiences in Mexico.

Docking in Cozumel, Mexico

Carnival ships Legend and Imagination

Unlike the other three ports, Cozumel was the only one we could actually dock in port and simply walk off the gangway. I, for one, really appreciated not having to go on another bumpy ride in the tenders to get to shore. Cozumel was also the busiest of all the ports we’d been to. Although we were the only boat from Princess, docked near us were three Carnival line ships, Legend, Elation and Imagination. Farther down, closer to downtown Cozumel was a Norwegian cruise line ship as well as a Disney ship, which unfortunately, I didn’t get a good look at as the Norwegian ship was blocking it from view.

The first thing I noticed upon stepping on shore was the colors of the buildings in Cozumel. Apparently, there IS some

Colorful buildings in Cozumel

truth to the buildings supposedly in Mexico that you see in the movies. The buildings were colorful and made out of stone, some orange and yellow, others blue. There were also a few restaurants in port that had thatched roofs which I believe helped with the heat that day, which got worse as the wind coming off the water was warm.

We may have missed out on touring the pirate ships in Grand Cayman, but we did get a photo-op with a pirate in Mexico. We also bought some of the famous Mexican vanilla to take home as souvenirs and along our cab trip downtown with two other Canadian couples, we learned a valuable lesson.

Posing with the pirate

When you’re in Mexico and you happen to notice a smaller jewelry store with a sign out front that says ‘Free Gift’, do not and I mean DO NOT, under any circumstances enter the store with the pretense that all you’ll be doing is receiving a free gift. We made the mistake of walking into a small jewelry store that had such a sign as soon as we hit port and the manager in charge twisted my partner’s arm so hard to buy me a pair of earrings, the only way we could make a hasty exit was to say that we didn’t have our credit cards on us. It wasn’t a lie, we didn’t have any cards on us but we learned never to do that again.

Once we hit the downtown core, we made a conscious decision to go into shops that we had vouchers for in order to

The Puerta Maya port sign in Cozumel

grab more souvenirs and leave it at that. We did have a great lunch at a restaurant named Pancho’s Backyard, famous with tourists and locals alike. It was great to have some authentic Mexican fare, although in my case, I realized once again why I usually go for flavored margaritas.

The jewelry aspect of our trip to the Caribbean made one last appearance while we were in Mexico as my partner won me a necklace in a raffle put on by Diamond International for all the cruise ship guests in port that day. It wasn’t just any necklace, but a beautiful blue tanzanite slide necklace from a designer named Safi Kilima. Although the designer name didn’t ring a bell, I did know that the necklace would have retailed for $150 or so and that tanzanite was a rare gem. Personally, I appreciated it simply because it was blue, my favorite color.

Safi Kilima Tanzanite Slide Necklace

Our time in Mexico was over much too quickly, but our winning streak continued on the boat that night with our second bottle of champagne, this time from playing 80s one-hit wonder trivia, which my partner is much better at than I am.  Our winning streak was capped off the next day at sea with a $200 win at bingo in the afternoon.

Yeah, I’d say all the winning made a great trip even better. Now on to the relaxation of Princess Cays, Bahamas.

Sailing into Princess Cays, Bahamas

Princess Cays in the Bahamas is actually a private island belonging to Princess Cruises, so only our ship was docked

Soft sand and blue water in Princess Cays

just off the island. Once we walked on shore, I was struck by how warm and fine the sand was, it was soft and you could definitely sink if you weren’t paying attention. The water was beautiful, just as blue green as the other ports, but without the busy atmosphere. Crew members and staff manned the huts serving drinks while other people walked to their private cabanas, clamshells or to the many lounge chairs that dotted the beach. My partner and I had a complimentary excursion, a simulated skydiving experience he had been very eager to try out. I went with him to the wind tunnel that the skydiving was to take place at, but didn’t participate. Skydiving has never been high on my list priorities and I wanted to be available when it was his turn in the tunnel to take photos.

My partner in his skydiving uniform

In an ironic twist, the company holding their simulated skydiving excursions is actually from our backyard, based in Delta, less than half an hour away from where I grew up in Vancouver. The company was apparently on a two-month contract with Princess Cruises for their guests to try out their experience and judging from the positive response, Princess may very well put such wind tunnels on their new boats in the future. Although my partner was only up in the air for two minutes, he said it was easily one of the coolest experiences in his life.

Afterwards, we spent the remainder of our time in port lounging in the chairs they provided and enjoying a complimentary barbeque lunch. At one point, we walked out into the water and experienced the Caribbean water for the first time. And let me tell you, it was COLD. Nothing like being splashed by a cold saltwater wave to wake you up, it was also an eerie sensation to be standing in the water and feeling the sand get sucked out from under your feet as the tide moved out and then to have double the amount of sand bury your feet up to your ankles when the tide came in.

Final Thoughts

So that was our first cruise and our first experience of the Caribbean. We enjoyed it so much that we put down a deposit for an open booking to be used in the next four years. We hope to return down south or even to Hawaii or Europe if the price is right, with a group of good friends and some family for our next cruise. The one drawback on the boat that I could think of is the variety of food. At the end of the week, I found myself craving some authentic sushi and udon or some fried rice and some of my mom’s famous Chinese spare ribs. Other than that, the only other comment would be on the cabins. Not having a big cabin isn’t a big deal. You can enjoy the experience of cruising while having an ocean view cabin even without the balcony or large bathtub. To me, the cabin is just the tip of the ice berg on what Princess Cruises has to offer.

Escape Completely: The Crown Princess Cruise Experience Part One

Months ago when my partner and I decided that a vacation was in order, our family members highly recommended that we think about taking a cruise with Princess Cruises. After all, they said, you wouldn’t have to worry about food or finding a place to stay and pretty much any spending money you have you could spend it on anything you wanted. Moreover, with a cruise, in a week, you’d get to see several destinations in an area of your choice, whether it be Europe or South East Asia or the Caribbean.

Having heard several positive stories about the cruise experience over the last ten years, my partner and I decided that that’s what we would do for our vacation. Destination: Western Caribbean. Why Western Caribbean over Eastern or Southern? Well, everything we’d heard from our families, the itinerary was one we’d be interested in: Grand Cayman, Roatan, Honduras, Cozumel, Mexico and Princess’s own private island, Princess Cays in the Bahamas. By early December, our itinerary was confirmed, everything was booked and all we had to do was wait.

The Princess Cruises’ motto is ‘Escape completely’ and I think we did that and much more. Part One will focus on our experiences on the ship and our time in The Grand Cayman and Roatan, Honduras.

Without further ado, here it goes.

Aboard the Crown Princess

On first impression, the ship was huge as well as gorgeous. After the initial shock wore off, we discovered that the Crown Princess was large enough to carry over 3,000 people, 3,080 to be exact; not as grand as the Oasis from Royal Caribbean cruise lines which carries over 5,000 passengers, but still big.

What features did the cruise ship have you ask? Well, a casino, three duty-free shops, an entire smorgasbord of dining, a wine bar, four lounge bars-and we saw all of that right when we walked onto the ship.  What else was there? A spa, fitness centre, mini-golf, three pools, two hot tubs, poolside bars, two specialty restaurants, a café-the list goes on, but I can definitely say that being surrounded by all that for a week was absolute heaven.

The Piazza

The Piazza

The crowning glory for me was the Piazza, an open-air plaza with the elevator going three floors up. The floors were gorgeous white marble with Romanesque columns flanking the main area. They held jazz performances and piano concerts there every day and there was something about its architecture that was reminiscent of Venice to me (or at least, the Venetian in Vegas). The International Café had tables in the Piazza and you could sit and enjoy enormous portions of three different types of gelato while listening to some amazing piano music. I’m not normally a fan of jazz, but some of the performances were incredible.

I also loved watching movies on the deck, what the ship called ‘Movies Under the Stars’-basically the biggest projector screen you’ve ever seen in front of literally hundreds of deck loungers, blankets and free cookies and milk. It was definitely an experience to be curled up with my partner under blankets watching True Grit and hearing Jeff Bridges call Matt Damon a ‘nincompoop’, a good movie which I’d recommend.

Club Fusion

Last but not least, there are my favorite performances and lounges. Club Fusion was the site of one of our many triumphs during the week and Explorer’s Lounge was where of two of my favorite performances took place: comedians Peter Sasso and Cary Long.

Peter Sasso, a New York native now living in San Franciso, was hilarious. My favorite bit from him was when he recalled a conversation with his stateroom steward where he asked the guy what the line that ran across the shower stall was for. It was technically a clothesline but the steward told him it was a line to hang himself on the last day when he saw his bill. Cary Long had some great bits about how his wife would discipline his kids, but I enjoyed Peter Sasso’s show more.

Explorer's Lounge

The last performance we loved took place in the Princess Theatre, a hypnotist named Kellie Karl put on a great show. With people under hypnosis pretending to love her, be her fans and famous stars, it was a hilarious show.  The closer was the best, with a number of people she touched on the shoulder becoming stuck to their chairs and they could only get free after shaking the cruise director’s hand. Seeing the last man on stage desperately doing whatever he could to block the cruise director’s path and get her to shake his hand was a riot.

But…I’ll get back to the experiences on the ship later. Onwards to Grand Cayman.

Grand Cayman: But Why is All the Rum Gone? (Bonus points if you can name the movie it came from)

Turtle Farm

Turtle Farm

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, Grand Cayman is all about the rum, pirates and surprisingly, giant turtles. We signed up for a shore excursion that included a visit to the turtle breeding farm and the dolphin facility. What was it like at the turtle farm, you ask? Well, it was a facility just for breeding , so most of the turtles in the tank were as big as four dinner plates and weighed anywhere from 200 to 300 pounds. The one I picked up for a photo-op was still a baby, only about ten pounds. But their flippers are strong and they all hate being out of the water. The one my partner held was roughly about thirty pounds and he gave us a mighty splash while he returned him to the water. Strangely, the turtle farm also had lizards on the small beach off the pond, looking like lizards you’d find in pet stores on land.

The dolphin encounter was amazing, however, it was a bit of a let-down to not be allowed

Giant Turtle

our own cameras. Instead, the facility’s photographer took photos of the dolphin, Darwin, coming up to touch our outstretched hands or the volleyball we each took turns holding, while we stood in waist-deep saltwater in the tank. We also petted him, danced with him and shook his flippers. It was a great experience and the only thing I would want to improve on with it is to actually be able to ride the dolphins and swim with them as well.

Grand Cayman pirate ship

Pirate ship off the coast of Grand Cayman

On the way to shore, we also noticed several pirate ships that you could have excursions on. If we did get the opportunity to go back to Grand Cayman, I would definitely take that up as an excursion. Although we didn’t get a personal tour of the pirate ship, there were still several pirates on shore; including ones featured at Grand Cayman’s famous Tortuga Rum Company. Rum cake, coffee and liquor are plentiful in any of the stores in Grand Cayman, in fact you can purchase Tortuga rum for $10 duty free. They even had a rum delivery truck to complete the pirate motif. I’ve since tasted the pineapple rum that we purchased on the island and it is delicious. I highly recommend Grand Cayman for the rum, the turtles, the pirates AND Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville as the one close to port had a rooftop slide and pool as well as a DJ.

Tortuga truck

When we came back from a day on shore at Grand Cayman, we took part in a rum tasting. I would advise against tasting Bacardi Superior as I taste-tested half a shot glass worth and it still burned 15 minutes later. However, Cruzan Coconut Rum was very smooth and tasted amazing. It was also the start of our winning streak as my partner correctly guessed the name of a rum cocktail and received the drink for free.

But, let’s leave Grand Cayman for now and head over to Roatan, Honduras.

Roatan, Honduras: Scenic Island

Waves off Roatan

The trip to Roatan on Tuesday was bumpy at best, semi-dangerous at the worst. With the strong waves, the ship couldn’t pull into the new port of Mahogany Bay that we were scheduled to pull into, instead we pulled into the old port, known simply as the Port of Roatan. The sky was clear and sunny and the water was gorgeous, blue and clear. However, there wasn’t much to see in port beyond local souvenir shops and jewelry stores such as Diamonds International; which is an enormous company in the Caribbean. Unfortunately, there weren’t any local goods such as the rum coffee in Grand Cayman that I was able to purchase or partake in.

The weather was still warm and beautiful and we took the time we did spend in port to appreciate the gorgeous scenery. If we do have another opportunity to see Roatan, I would hope that we would be able to see the new port and hopefully experience a shore excursion such as zip-lining that would give us a better feel of Roatan.

Caribbean Sunset

I’ll cover the other two ports, Conzumel, Mexico and Princess Cays, Bahamas in Part Two of The Crown Princess Cruise Experience. I’ll leave you with this breathtaking sunset taken from the ship as we sailed away from Grand Cayman.