Western Caribbean with Princess

Another wonderful cruise aboard Grand Princess. And the Western Caribbean couldn't be any more different from the Eastern.


Grand Cayman 7 Mile Beach

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by melissa_bel on June 25, 2004

A 10-minute ride away from Georgetown, 7 Mile Beach is really lovely. Despite having three ships in port, the beach was not crowded (most people probably went on excursions). Now, this is not really a palm-tree-lined beach - it is more of a big stretch of sand surrounded by pines, flowers and bushes. And those pines seem to attract a lot of visitors, since we were entertained by some songbirds. Which are numerous and very vocal. The water was warm and calm, the sun was playing peek-a-boo with the clouds… a nice place for a beach day. Justin and I will soon go on our “coral hunt” (don’t worry folks, I’m talking about dead coral). We never really were into the “bring a souvenir T-shirt” thing. We like to bring things that are really part of our destination. And since Grand Cayman is made of limestone, we will bring back coral and seashells.
Seven Mile Beach
Western Shore
Grand Cayman Island

4th day-Grand Cayman

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by melissa_bel on June 25, 2004

Early in the morning, we arrived on Grand Cayman. Tender is required here. Instead of using the lifeboat to go ashore, Grand Cayman provides little boats to bring the passengers ashore and back. We decided that it would be a beach day. Grand Cayman is a limestone island lying very low on the ocean that it’s invisible until you get very close to it. It’s also as flat as a pancake, which was a change from the rolling hills of St-Martin and the green mountains of St-Thomas. Now, I know lots of people booked excursions to the turtle farm or stingray city but we didn’t. You can also go to Hell and send a postcard to your family and friends and tell them you’ve through there and back! Our main attraction of the day will be 7 Mile Beach (which is not 7 miles long, by the way). As you all know, Cayman Islands are an offshore fiscal paradise and its inhabitants are amongst the most well off inhabitants of the Caribbean. Georgetown is a small town where probably half of its buildings are banks. Everything is tidy and it seems that if you want to take a land vacation here, the package will be pretty slick. We found out that the "bus" stop is by the Library so, after a little walk along the shops (it is so weird to see a Christmas tree in a tropical paradise) we reach the Library. The buses are in fact mini-vans that run when someone comes in and take people along the way. On our way, we notice the numerous hotel, resorts and villas build along the beach. This is really the tourism center of gravity of Grand Cayman.

Seven Mile Beach

Our driver finally drops us. Verdict? Seven Mile Beach is really lovely. Despite having three ships in port, the beach was not crowded (most people probably went on excursions). Now, this is not really a palm tree lined beach, it is more of a big stretch of sand surrounded by pines, flowers and bushes. And those pines seem to attract a lot of visitors since we were entertained by some songbirds. Which are numerous and very vocal. The water was warm and calm, the sun was playing peek-a-boo with the clouds… a nice place for a beach day. Justin and I will soon go on our "coral hunt" (don’t worry folks, I’m talking about dead corals). We never really were into the "bring a souvenir T-shirt" thing. We like to bring things that are really part of our destination. And since Grand Cayman is made of limestone, we will bring back coral and seashells. After a few hours of beach, it was almost time to go (the ship leaves quite early to go to our next destination). Back at the Library, I have a little chat with people working here and a gentleman, who wants me to remind you how Cayman people are nice, absolutely wants to have his picture with me. I’m more than happy to oblige. Just by curiosity, Justin drops by Nova Scotia bank to see what it takes to open an account. Turns out Nova Scotia is just a facade and is not related to the Canadian bank, they just own the name (talk about weird combinations). Not much remains of the old Georgetown and all the buildings are quite new but you can find some pretty, old buildings here and there. One of them being the Museum of the Cayman Islands, which is just by the pier. As we go back, we notice the line is HUGE!!! And it will get even bigger after us. Hopefully, things are moving fast and after 10-15 minutes of standing in line, we‘re in the tender. We came back just right on time as the weather was becoming cloudier. Back in our cabin for a quick shower, the first thing we noticed was an invitation from the captain. As a member of the Captain’s Club (that happens after your first cruise), we were invited on Friday for a special cocktail offered by the captain for his gala dinner night. It’s those kind of things that make you feel like you’re special.

As we dropped by the Horizon Court to grab a bite to eat, we discovered the ice-cream bar… Remember, there is an ice-cream stand by the Neptune pool, unfortunately, it is not free since it’s an Haagen-Dazs concession but, I guess Princess got enough complaints and instated an mini ice-cream buffer with vanilla and chocolate ice-cream, whipped cream, chocolate and caramel fudges and different kind or thingies to sprinkles. That happens between 3.30 and 5.50 and probably is the busiest station of the whole buffet. So busy that on the last day of cruise, they had ran out of ice cream! I decided to find a cozy spot on the terrace to read while waiting for the departure. As the ship moved, Grand Cayman disappeared quickly behind the horizon… off we were to sunny Mexico.

That night, we decided to go see "Road to Perdition" at the Vista Lounge. Again, it is recommended to arrive early if you don’t want to have your view blocked by a pillar (and if you want to find a place to sit). After the movie, we decided to try our luck again at the Casino but… it got even worse and we decided to avoid the place from this moment on.

In brief: Grand Cayman is a pretty relaxing place. Not spectacular but it has everything most people expect from a port-of-call: nice excursions (stingray city, Hell, the turtles farm…), nice beach, good shopping… But nothing that really makes it special though. Although most people enjoyed because it’s not too "exotic".


Embarkation and first day

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by melissa_bel on June 25, 2004

Finally, after six months of anxious waiting, here we were, back in Florida to embark on the Grand again.

We drove all the way from Chicago and arrived quite late (3.30), but the good side of it was that there was no line at the embarkation. We were alone. After a smooth embarkation, we headed off to our cabin and realized we missed the mandatory safety drill *oooooooooooh*. Once again, we had booked an inside cabin and we were upgraded to an ocean-view stateroom with a porthole. This meant we were aerial the way back on the Aloha deck. The motion is supposed to be stronger at the extremities of the ship, and we were a little afraid of the noise, since it’s right next to the Terrace Pool, where they have Island Night, and the doors leading to the decks are nearby. But we didn’t experience any problems, were not awakened by anyone, and the best thing was: when we would wake up, we just had to go two steps, go out the ten little steps up the lido deck, and lo and behold, a grand view and the swimming pool, the Horizon Court, just right next door. I couldn’t ask for more (OK, a balcony would be fine, but I can live without it). It was very enjoyable to eat my breakfast " al fresco" as it was usually very quiet in the morning back there.

Our cabin steward (unfortunately, I can’t remember his name) was a really nice guy and as soon as he saw us, he came to greet us and ask us if we needed robes, extra towels or fruits. This time, our luggage took a little longer to be delivered to our cabin, but they made it all right. We got reacquainted with the ship, it didn’t take us long, and we felt like coming back to our vacation house. We hurried up to get refreshed and see the ship leave. Once again, it was GREAT… I stopped the first waitress I could see and asked for a LoveBoat, my favourite cocktail. We also rushed to the buffet and relaxed from the anxiety we had of not making it to Fort Lauderdale on time.

Our first night was VERY quiet. We were so exhausted that Justin went to bed early. I found a cozy spot by the Calypso pool and began reading. Since we traveled during Thanksgiving week, there were a LOT of kids and teenagers aboard, which was a nice change from the usual crowd (no offense). One thing of importance: the soda card sticker was $22.50... $5 more than six months ago. Which is a very steep raise, I’d say, but it’s still worth buying one if you drink a lot of soda.


2nd and 3rd day

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by melissa_bel on July 13, 2004

2nd day: Princess Cays, Bahamas.

Instead of making Princess Cays the last stop, it is our first port-of-call. After a nice breakfast, I decided to take the tender on my own, as Justin was still asleep. The weather didn’t seem promising (cloudy) but the sun peeked out quite a few times. As I was amongst the first ones to go ashore, I quickly found a chair by a palm tree on the quieter side of the Cay and started to read. The weather was warm but not hot, in between dips in the water, a good book and a drink, I hardly noticed time go by. The barbecue was good (but you know, the sea breeze will make you hungry). Finally, some people decided to have a game of beach volleyball. Just what I was waiting for. The weather, however, didn’t seem to want to cooperate. All of a sudden, we had a tropical shower falling on us. It was funny to see everybody running to get shelter while we carried on playing. It was a nice sensation as it was a warm rain. It was exhilarating! There was so much rain and it was falling so hard at one point, it began to hurt. But those tropical storms don’t last long. In 20 minutes, it was all over. We were just finished playing and Justin joined me and we found another group playing beach volleyball. But shortly, it was time to leave the island. We were the last to leave. As we were about to get into the tender, a table sets with "fruits arts" (animals made with different kind of fruits) caught my eyes and one of the guys told me to pick one I liked. So, I got a birds with a body made of cantaloupe, a neck of pineapple, a beak made of carrot, wings made of pepper bell…It was so cute! Unfortunately, perishable. We had to throw it away after 2 days.

That night, after dinner, we went to the casino but unfortunately, we both lost what we won on our previous cruise, and then some. Rats!

3rd day: At sea

I just love sea days…I was able to read some more about our destinations (my first stop was the library), read a good sci-fi book while soaking up the sun by the Neptune pool. Usually, the morning passes by so quickly, it’s hard to figure out how come. Around 11, we got really close to Cuba. So close you could see towns along the sea. It was so strange to think that this island is forbidden land for a lot of passengers. I couldn’t help but mumble "Hasta siempre" and "Guantanamera" as I was watching the coast go by. I spent the afternoon playing monopoly with Justin (and getting beat real bad by this greedy shark) in the cards room. It was also formal night so, I put on my gown and went to dinner. Which was delicious as usual. Justin was relieved to see he was not the only one without a tuxedo. He doesn’t have one, didn’t want to rent one (he hates to dress up) but still brought his fancy suit to please me. As soon as dinner was over, he rushed to put a polo shirt on while I remained in my ball gown.


Day 5 : Costa Maya, Majahual, Mexico

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by melissa_bel on July 16, 2004

That morning, as I go on deck to get my breakfast, I am faced with an awesome view. We are at Costa Maya, a brand new pier on the Riviera Maya. We are in the middle of nowhere! There is a stretch of sand and beyond: the jungle! A sea of green. And nothing. I am amazed at first. Then I wonder: what are we going to do. This is the only time I regretted not booking a shore trip. Being very culturally inclined, I quite wanted to see the Mayan Ruins. Justin is not. So, we compromised and decided we would go check the village of Majahual. From the information we received the day before, there is a pier with a tourism center and lots of attraction, it looked good, at least on paper. Unfortunately, it was pouring rain. We had to wait for the rain to stop (around 11 am) to disembark. The pier is very long but you have shuttles coming back and forth and you can hitch a ride. A RCA ship is in port as well (I think it was the Radiance but not sure).

The road to Majahual, looking towards Costa Maya with a Royal Caribbean ship in port.

At the door of the Costa Maya complex, we are greeted by someone dressed as a Mayan warrior. That is where I begin having serious suspicion. Once inside, it is confirmed: we are in the ultimate tourist trap. The whole thing is modeled on a resort with shops (and luring vendors), restaurants, bars, a swimming pool and a small artificial beach. It may be ok with tourists (and I am sure they will be satisfied by what they can find at Costa Maya) but not for us. I find it heartbreaking in fact and cannot wait to get out of there. So, we will walk to Majahual. As we are on our way, we meet a couple who was just coming back and told us it would take 20 minutes, half-an-hour to go there. It hot and humid as the skies are still cloudy and, we didn’t think about it but I hope it is a lesson to you, MOSQUITOES!!! That kind of weather drives them crazy and those critters are proliferating in that environment. We hadn’t thought about that and didn’t have any bugs repellent with us. We were at their mercy for a while, been bitten several times. But, the sun finally came out and the humidity dropped, the mosquitoes disappeared. The road to Majahual is a whole lot of nothing but it’s also quite exciting. You feel like being an explorer. A narrow path of yellow dirt (sand) is waving between the vegetation and the sea. It is deserted, although men are not far away (and there is a road not far away), almost halfway there, we come across a Mexican Navy base, it seems almost abandoned. The coast is lovely but I would not say unspoiled since you can find plastic bags or a plastic bottle. It’s a shame, but the clean places are lovely and have a rugged charm that is so hard to find in most popular port-of-calls. After a nice 25-minute walk, we arrive at Majahual. Guys, it is not Acapulco. It is a tiny fishermen village with one dirt main road, a couple of snack-bars-restaurant, the inevitable Beetle car… It is the real Mexico, poor but trying to get by. Some fellow cruisers sit on terraces and sip a Corona. Villagers are taking advantage of Costa Maya… even if it’s hard for most cruisers to walk all the way there. Vendors are selling jewelry and are not too pushy. They hopefully haven’t learnt the way of their big cities counterparts. I wish we could sit and have a drink, I’d rather spend my money here than in Costa Maya but Justin feels uncomfortable. He will admit he doesn’t feel at ease around poverty. I can’t blame him. It’s always a bit uneasy the first times. But I am glad we made the walked all the way there.

Majahual, restaurant and Beetle.

On our way back, I spot a young girl, alone, her long raven hair floating, walking her feet in the water. I take a picture. Further away, a little barge, half-broken, is abandoned but in a frame of palm trees… We are also looking for seashells and corals. They will be our souvenirs. Back at Costa Maya, I am forcing myself to take a look at the shops but don’t buy anything. After taking a look at the beach (which is very small and didn‘t look inviting), we decided it was time to go back to the ship, just on time for the ice cream buffet. Needless to say that once again, we had during the evening… but that’s a given. It was Thanksgiving so, we decided to go eat at the main dining room, so we wouldn’t miss the special dinner. The atrium had been decorated accordingly and looked really nice. When the main course (turkey of course) arrived, Justin was all disappointed because it was tiny slices of turkey when he expected a leg or a breast…

But the pumpkin pie was delicious. We went to see a stand-up comedian in the Princess Theater, unfortunately, I can’t remember his name. But he didn’t seem to make the crowd as much as he wanted (repeatedly asked if we were not asleep).

In short: Costa Maya is different from many port-of-calls and brings very radical feelings. Some hate it, some love it. I’ll try to be constructive. From what I’ve known, this is the work of the Mexican government to try to improve tourism revenue for the area. Is it done the right way? I am not sure that building a resort enclave where poverty is so close and so apparent is the right way. And I am not sure people from area are even participating since I heard some people were brought here from the capital. Some travel experts says that Cozumel started the same way. That still remains to be seen. My advice is to plan carefully what to do. If you don’t do anything, you ’re much better off staying on the ship. But it would be a shame to miss the Mayan ruins (I’m still banging my head on the wall over this).


Day 6: Cozumel, Mexico and Day 7: At sea

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by melissa_bel on July 16, 2004

Day 6: Cozumel, Mexico

From a tiny and sleepy fishermen village, Cozumel became snorkeling Mecca and party spot. Another face of Mexico. The ships stays here a while so, lots of space to visit. First thing, we decided to visit the city. One thing I can recommend is getting out of the docks area ASAP. You will be assailed by very pushy street vendors and I know some people don’t like it. San Miguel de Cozumel is bustling city with a lot going on. Its claims to fame? One of the best coral reefs in the world. snorkeler and scuba divers, this is your fantasy playground! But once you start leaving the center of activity, it becomes quiet and provincial with hardly someone in the street (it’s too hat anyway). The houses are painted in lively colors and one car out of five is a beetle, often customized. I didn’t know they came in so many different colors.

Religious icons are also numerous. Let’s not forget that the big majority of Mexicans are devout Catholics. After a nice walk, we decided to go to the beach. After a quick stop at a convenience store (dollars accepted), we took a taxi to Playa San Francisco. It was a nice beach… the water was calm and warm and it was such a beautiful day! I had my goggles and decided to check out the rock formation nearby. I was lucky enough to spot some fishes. Not far from where we were, there were partially submerged Mayan ruins. I was, once again, amazed at how close history can be. Talk about a blast from the past. The area has beach bars. Further south, Playa del sol is also a good place for beach goers. Around 4 o’clock, we decided to go back the ship. And no, we didn’t stop at Carlos ’s n’ Charlie’s. We waited for the sunset and a lot of people also came to the aft pool because that was one of the best viewpoint from the ship. The sky was cloudless, the sun, really orange. We were about to have one hell of a show. We watched the sun go down slowly and when it disappeared, I sweat I saw the green flash. The show provided by Mother Nature was so good We also had to get ready for the second formal night, this time, I would be in my cocktail dress. We went to the Captain’s club invitation-only special cocktail at the Vista Lounge. Captain Romano told us about the future of the company. He also put forth people onboard who sailed the most. One elderly couple sailed 22 times!!! Wow! After sipping some free cocktail (hey, doesn‘t happen everyday), it was off to diner. We had a lot of fun and went to see Michael "the kid" doing his late night act at the Vista Lounge, he is obnoxious *lol*.

In short: Cozumel left me quite ambivalent. The beaches are nice, but I’ve seen better, the city is very lively but some parts do look very poor. The island, although, has something from everyone: the partygoer, the cultural addict (San Gervasio ruins), the sport lover, the nature lover (snorkeling and Chankanaab Park), the beachgoer… You can also take a trip to the continent (take a ferry to Playa del Carmen and visit ruins). You will most probably have a great time.

Day 7: At sea

After a late night, I woke up around 9:30, feeling completely refreshed. The weather was great and after my breakfast, I headed to the pool. Miracle, I found a seat by the pool, in the sun. I remained there, well decided for some serious relaxation. It’s a good way to conclude a cruise. Although it was Thanksgiving and the ship had a lot more teens or young people, the cruise director was not able to have anyone for his pool game. Poor lad! After a slice of pizza (did I mention they are delicious?) and a quick trip to the buffet, I headed for the Theater to go and see the "Minority Report". I was pleased to notice the sound and quality was not bad at all. Memo to princess: providing popcorn (it’s cheap after all) during the picture show might be a nice touch. It was also another way to chill out. Especially after spending the whole morning under the sun. Unfortunately, they ran out of chocolate ice cream that day… oh well…I then joined Justin in the card room for a little monopoly. He had some good news: he made a deposit for a next cruise!!! And before you knew it, the sun was setting. Now, the last night on ship is really awkward and sort of depressing. Seems like the ship is deserted, we felt like eating at the buffet because on the last day, they have a mix of everything. The night was warm and we decided to go play a little ping-pong. There was almost no one on deck. Pretty good for a ship carrying 2,600 people. After one refill station at the buffet, it was time to go to bed. Our last day at sea had ended.


Disembarkation and look back on the cruise

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by melissa_bel on July 16, 2004

Disembarkation:
The weather was definitely not nice in Florida…again! There went our planned day at sea! Grrr!!! During breakfast, we decided we would drive through the Everglades and go up the gulf Coast all the way back home. The Horizon Court is always really busy on disembarkation and we took our breakfast on the Terrace. The rain had stopped and we heard our number, just as we finished eating (aaaah… the privilege of Aloha Deck). We reluctantly left the ship. I took a last look behind as I was on the gangway already and hope we’ll be back soon. On our way back, on the northern part of the coast, we stopped at a citrus grove and brought back 4 big bags of oranges, tangerines and grapefruit. Unfortunately, you cannot pick them up as people might contaminate the fruits and trees. We arrived in Chicago as the first snow of the year had fallen. Talk about a coming back!

A look back on the cruise:
From the ship’s point of view, I have nothing to add except it was as great as I remembered. Friendly staff, great entertainment. Maybe not enough days at sea to relax!!! ;o) Personal Choice Dining was a breeze (maybe because we were eating a little later than most people) and despite the fact of having a lot of children and teenagers, there hasn’t been a single problem (at least, not that I am aware of). Our room steward was very friendly and always asked us if everything was all right or if we needed anything.

Now, concerning the itinerary, I frankly prefer the Eastern Caribbean. It is more scenic and we enjoyed ourselves more ashore. Cayman Island was a pretty relaxing spot although nothing really stroke us. Memo for Costa Maya: it is probably better to book an excursion or rent a car to go around in your own exploration if you are the "traveler" kind. We regretted we didn’t although I found Costa Maya being an interesting experience. Cozumel was nice but since we don’t snorkel or don’t intend to get wasted by the early afternoon *;o)*, we maybe didn’t enjoy it as much as we should have but our long walk in San Miguel’s streets did really give us a taste of Mexico. If a cruise takes us back there, we will go to Chankanaab Park. On the whole, we had a great time and can’t wait to go back on a cruise again.


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