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Thread: Part 1: Winter Refreshment: Caribbean Princess and San Juan, 4 -13 Feb 2011

  1. #1
    Cruiser Vette73's Avatar
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    Jan 2011

    Part 1: Winter Refreshment: Caribbean Princess and San Juan, 4 -13 Feb 2011

    On the 1st of February 2011, Chicago was hit with the third largest single snowfall in Chicago weather records, stretching back almost 137 years. Jac was at his corporate office in St. Louis Missouri on January 31st and saw the storm coming on RADAR. He knew that because the storm promised two inches of ice followed by up-to six inches of blowing snow for Southern Illinois, that he needed to head back to Chicago immediately if he and Sue were to make their flight to San Juan the following Friday. The five hour drive home on Monday the 31st was sunny, and Jac got home just in time for the Great Blizzard of 2011 to dump 23 inches of snow on his Northwest Chicago suburb on Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning. Jac and Sue had planned their cruise thirteen months prior and were anxiously anticipating getting away alone for the first time in their 35 years together. This storm would not stop them; they’re Chicagoans and they’re tough! Jac got the snow blower out on Wednesday morning and worked to move snow through lunchtime in temperatures around 10 degrees Fahrenheit, with winds blowing in excess of 25 miles per hour – at least the sun came out around noon.

    Chicago closed its O’Hare International airport on Wednesday and spent most of Thursday cleaning up from the blizzard and getting flights back on track. By Friday morning airport operations were back to normal and Jac and Sue’s flight was delayed by only two minutes. They arrived in San Juan just as the sun was going down then settled into their room at the Caribe Hilton resort just east of Old San Juan. Jac is a Hilton Honors member, so he got upgraded to a premium room facing the resort’s pool and the Atlantic ocean – the view was quite the contrast to what Jac and Sue woke up to just three days previously. Saturday and Sunday were filled with their first enjoyment of the warm Caribbean sun and beach in several years; why did they wait so long to come back? They walked through Old San Juan renewing memories of that great historic town and relaxed on the resort grounds swinging from one of the many tropical hammocks strung between coconut palm trees. Jac’s job keeps him away from home most of every week, so he and Sue had connected in person only on weekends for much of the past few years. Now that their kids had grown and were (essentially) out of the house, this cruise would be their time to reconnect. The Emotional Refreshment Vacation had begun.

    Princess Cruise ships board in San Juan on Sunday afternoon and Jac and Sue were understandably anxious to board, so they headed over to the ship soon after lunch. Princess boards at Pier 3 near the airstrip on the east end of the San Juan harbor. They were impressed by how smoothly the boarding process went – they were through pre-boarding and in their cabin in less than 45 minutes. Jac knew that he wanted to experience the Princess Ultimate Ship Tour during this cruise; he had learned from the Forum on that you had to act quickly once you boarded to get signed up for this unpublished excursion, so he headed to the Front Desk as soon as they had their bags unpacked and got signed up. Lois King, one of the Caribbean Princess Front Desk assistants was very helpful in making sure that Jac would be included on the UST invitation list.
    The cruise they chose would take them to St. Thomas on Monday, then to Tortola B.V.I., Antigua, St. Lucia, and Barbados over the next week. They had seen St. Thomas previously, but the other islands would be new to them. Princess ships dock in St. Thomas at a new, dedicated port; Jac learned during his tour of the ship that they do this because Princess operates a restocking station in St. Thomas where all the ship’s stores are housed and restocked to Princess liners. Looking off their balcony in St. Thomas, he noticed truck-after-truck entering the shipyard and unloading their shipments. Throughout the cruise, Jac posted a video Blog and St. Thomas offered several free WiFi sites that Jac “borrowed” from to post to the Internet.

    Last edited by Char; 02-16-2011 at 11:00 PM.

  2. #2
    Cruiser Vette73's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2011

    Part 2

    The crew on Caribbean Princess may be the best on the sea. They go out of the way to help, and always present with a smile and a please-and-thank-you. Jac found this attitude all over the ship, even when he visited the crew-only areas below deck later in the week. On Wednesday, Sue befriended a server named Micilia who was originally from Serbia. She had been with Princess for just three months, and the day before was her 25th birthday. Sue saw a bit of sadness past Micillia’s smile and asked her if she was homesick. Micillia teared-up a bit, and admitted that the fact that her birthday had come and gone without notice was difficult. She opened up to Sue and explained that ship crew normally work eleven hour days with one day off per week; Sunday is their long day (as if eleven hours is a “short” day) because the ship gets “turned around” for the next cruise. They saw Micillia a few days later serving tables near the stern deck pool and she thanked Sue for being a friend and for “noticing” her. Jac commented that if all young people had the work attitude that the Princess crew shows, the world would be a much better place.
    As usual, the ship-board experience on Princess was second to none. Jac and Sue had a balcony stateroom on the stern of the ship. In fact it was the very same stateroom number and location they had stayed in on their previous Princess cruise on the Golden Princess. The room offers privacy due to the location of its cabin entrance door in a separate hallway, and the completely private balcony configuration. Generally, the balconies of similar staterooms on port or starboard overlook the balcony below, but those on the stern are completely hidden from other staterooms, offering a very high level of privacy and an unparalleled view at sea or in port. Sue sleeps on a Tempur-Pedic bed at home, and thought that the bed in the cabin could have been better, but this was a minor inconvenience. With the introduction of their Crown Class of ships, Princess began offering the Movies Under The Stars experience on all ships, but the Caribbean Princess was originally built with this feature. It was so relaxing to lay in a soft lounge chair overlooking the Neptune Pool and watch a movie while the great Princess crew took care of them with drinks and popcorn. They felt like royalty. This ship also has a private space for adults which Princess calls The Sanctuary. For just $10, a cruiser can enter the private spa area above the bow and listen to quiet music while reading and being pampered by the crew. Sue commented during the cruise that the next time they board a Princess ship, she may not ever get off in port! Jac bought Sue both an Amazon Kindle and a Barnes & Noble Nook Color for Christmas, and Sue was anxious to discover which she liked better on the cruise. Her decision: she likes them both for different reasons. The Nook is best for viewing the photos they took on the cruise and for reading at night, but the 3G on the Kindle permitted Sue to check her email and Facebook page while in port, and they both enjoyed playing word games on the Kindle while sunning on deck or on the beach.

    Princess offers several port excursions at each port they visit; Jac and Sue’s taste run to relaxing on the beach or a catamaran, rather than swooping down on the forest canopy on a zip-line or exploring the out-back in a four-wheel-drive, so that’s the sort of excursions they took. On one catamaran trip to a quiet beach in Tortola B.V.I., Sue overheard a younger couple speaking German – since Jac and Sue learned German when they lived there in the early 1990’s, Sue introduced herself. Sabrina (the young German girl) beamed. Someone speaks German! She and her husband Viet had chosen a Princess cruise on the advice of Viet’s father, and while he spoke English she did not, which made it difficult for her to fully enjoy the cruise. Jac and Sue spent the rest of the excursion getting to know them and hearing their story, and later that evening, joined them for dinner in the Island dining room on the Caribbean Princess. Later in the week, the official Princess Cruise videographer joined Jac and Sue on their catamaran trip in St. Lucia –they had fun later that night seeing themselves snorkel with turtles on their cabin TV.

    Jac’s Ultimate Ship Tour was scheduled for Saturday, which is otherwise a full day at sea, en-route to the home port of San Juan. Princess intentionally keeps the tour group small, and this group had just eight members. After assembling outside the Churchill bar (where Jac thought the cigars were priced much too high) the tour headed off to the Princess Theater for a back-stage tour. Although the stage appears to take up two decks on the deck plans shown to the public, it actually stretches into four decks to accommodate the moving stage below and the lights and curtains above. The actors are professionals who find that choosing to perform for Princess is what they want to do. Many of them have been in Princess casts for many years and continue with Princess as long they can sing and dance. The tour proceeded to the main galley and was handed over to Head Chef Antonio who explained that everything on Princess cruises is made fresh on board – even the coffee is fresh-ground from whole beans. The “cutting room” prepares all the fresh vegetables used throughout all the galleys for use in salads and soups. Caribbean Princess even has its own butcher who cuts meat servings from whole sides of beef. Before leaving the galley, Chef Antonio fitted each tour member for a Princess Cruises chef coat which, with a Princess robe which was gifted later in the laundry portion of the tour, was delivered to Jac’s stateroom later in the day. In addition to seeing the extensive laundry operation on the tour (where Jac was impressed that even crew members confined all day below deck are happy and polite) the tour visited the ship’s engine control room, and the funnel tower above deck 17 for behind-the-scenes looks at the workings of a Super Liner. Jac liked learning about the "I95" corridor which is the main highway the crew uses to get from one end of the ship to the other.

    The tour concluded on the bridge with Captain Pickford who hails from Australia and has spent his entire sailing career with Princess. Third officer “Mike” directed the tour of the bridge and explained that Princess policy is to promote control officers only after they have completed training for the next higher rank, which ensures that no one on the bridge is doing on-the-job training at the expense of passenger safety. After the obligatory photo with the group and Captain Pickford, Jac headed back to his cabin to pack – the next day was disembarkation day.
    Their flight back to Chicago was scheduled for late afternoon on Sunday February 13, so they decided to spend their last day in the Caribbean as they had previously by visiting the El Yunque rain forest in Puerto Rico. El Yunque is the only rain forest in the US Park Service and it presents a very unique Caribbean climate and experience. It has plants and wildlife found nowhere else in the Caribbean region, and the view from the tower is tremendous – if you can handle to climb up its 186 stairs.

    All good things come to an end, and so must this vacation. Jac and Sue had designed to make this cruise the opportunity to reconnect with each other and refresh themselves emotionally from being separated so much and from the normal stresses of a Midwest winter. This was accomplished in full measure and they both returned ready to face real life again. Chicago is still covered in snow, and life’s challenges go on, but ten days in the Caribbean and time on-board the Caribbean Princess make it tolerable once again.

  3. #3
    Cruising Machine SailKeyWest's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2009
    Wow, I can't wait to see more! Thank you for taking the time to share!

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