The Caribbean Princess
      SAILING FROM PRACTICALLY YOUR OWN BACK YARD
   by Andrew Johnson

The Caribbean Princess
 Oh, the joy of living in Brooklyn and taking a cruise ship out of Brooklyn! A terminal in the Red Hook section, a mere 25-minute ride from my house, does away with the hassle of flying to a cruise ship port or being involved in the traffic of Manhattan at the cruise facility. The terminal, operating the past three years for cruise ships, is so well organized that it actually makes boarding and at the end, leaving, a simple and stress free task. Princess has it well organized, doing away with crowding or jostling. Loading over 3500 passengers is no easy task, as well as scheduling departures in order to have all those make connecting flights and the like.
 The vessel gave us comfortably smooth sailing with those breezes, especially on our room’s balcony, which as I’ve always said is a must, whether to have breakfast or coffee out there or simply to relax and perhaps read a good book.
 Our party totaled twelve as my wife, daughter, and I traveled with my brother-in-law Wally Gebara and his wife Kathy, our good friend George Banat, and his son George with his wife Cathy, and children Stephanie, Luke, and Anton. Cathy’s son Kyle was also a member of this group.
 One sees wheelchairs and motorized scooters as the ship is handicapped friendly. The ship is also child friendly with so many activities for the youth aboard. At one of the large center pools is a huge screen on deck showing filmfare and taped concerts during the day with “Movies Under the Stars” at night.

The piazza midship includes information centers, specialty shops, and food snack centers. We know that paramount to any cruise is the food. One can figuratively “eat himself into oblivion” with the delicious cuisine offered aboard. It was the best I’ve tasted on a ship in quite a while, well prepared, impeccably served, and delicious. The specialty restaurants, including Sabatini’s and the Crown Grill, the two at which we overwhelmingly enjoyed dinner, had magnificent cuisine rivaling any fine eating establishment in New York City. There is a small charge for going to these restaurants but they are well worth it.
 
The full scale shows with singers and dancers numbered three, in addition to comedians and specialty acts. What verve and energy went into these productions!   It’s always nice to sit and relax after dinner and see a live, well done performance.  Our room steward, Enrique Tayson, whom we called Ricky, was one of the friendliest, attentive persons I’ve come across in our cruising experience. Anything you asked him for was done with a smile and “pronto.” He is an asset to Princess Line.

At night, my friend George and I went for a nightcap at the Wheelhouse, a lounge with a four piece combo consisting of the singing and music of the Ashley Clarke Quartet. These gentlemen from New Zealand specialized in late 30s, 40s, and 50s music when lyrics told it all and one could sing these tunes. Ashley, the singer, was a friendly gentleman who fielded all musical requests. He and his brother Vincent (who played guitar) came over to our table to converse with us between sets at breaks. It was a fine conclusion to the day before turning in for the night to fall asleep after contemplating what the next day would have in store.


Sailing out of Brooklyn port and under the  majestic Verazzano Bridge

The ship's pool with the giant screen overhead shows "Movies Under the Stars" and daytime, too.
 And now for the ports of call:

 Bermuda, our first stop, is still a paradise. The beaches are marvelous and our ferry to Hamilton from our docking area made for a nice and pleasant ride. There is construction going on in Hamilton, the main city. As was true on our last cruise there, I still miss the two establishments of A.O. Smith’s and Trimminghams for their fine clothing and department store wares. I have many pieces of clothing and accessories from these two places. This time, I found that the landmark Vera Card Store, which specializes in Hummel figurines, had moved from Hamilton to another part of the island, St. George. A new building complex is being built where that store stood.

 San Juan, Puerto Rico, has that distinct and unique flavor as we toured through Old San Juan, a short walk from our docked ship. We actually found the discount shops of Marshalls and Payless Shoe Source among many other establishments.
In St. Thomas, the three or so shopping blocks in downtown Charlotte Amalie have the best bargains and prices in the Caribbean. When you can get a liter of Stoli vodka at $9.95, that’s saying something. It was shop, shop, shop for so many on our ship.
Again, there were the smiling faces of Victor Sani and his staff and the many fine buys at Ajanta Jewelers. In the Caribbean for over 30 years, this diamond and fine stone establishment has personalized service in a relaxed atmosphere which they create. There are many satisfied customers (including this family all these years) as attested by internet blogs. Located in Drake’s Passage, designs with all shades of diamonds, mother of pearl jewelry, tanzanite, and Alexandrite are done in a variety of settings that are outstanding and beautiful. Sold there too are beautiful watches and a variety of figurines. A must for many, including myself, whenever visiting St Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
  We also found in St. Thomas, the friendly smiling face of Ingrid in the Crystal Shoppe, the outstanding prices of liquor and other goods in A.H. Riise, and a nice chat I had with Mohammad, who worked at another of the many jewelry stores to be found there.
 Our other friends went to the beach which they found to be outstanding. I only wish the ship would stop for a longer period of time in this port.

 Grand Turk has had a building boom and remains a place with still a great deal of natural splendor.
 
And now for other miscellaneous pluses and minuses I encountered on this nine-day voyage of excellence:
The Pluses:
1. As was the case with the last Princess cruise, the ship was clean and hygienic. On entering the buffet for food, a Purell-type sanitary liquid canister greets you with that “shot” of cleansing the hands. Milk in metal pitchers for coffee or tea is posted with a time limit as to spoilage. This was the case for other perishable foods as well.
2. The ship docked at all ports of call . . . no tenders.
3. All ship personnel, including our favorite waiter Ana Maria, down to engineers and deck hands, were always smiling and greeting you, accommodating, and answering any question you might have.
4. Entering and reentering U.S. territory was far superior from the last cruise of Immigration seeing each one’s passport. We went in and out of each port without  long waits on line.
The Minuses:
1. I found the shower part of the bathroom in the stateroom to be a bit confining.
2. The balcony for the category we chose was large and most adequate.
3. Tours from the ship were pricey and we refrained from taking a few we thought about.
4. I do miss small things in the cost cutting mode . . .
--- No violinist circulating in the dining room romantically playing at each table.
--- No more Baked Alaska extravaganza.
--- No special orders made at tables by the head waiters.
--- The Evening Grand Buffet a thing of the past.
--- No more towels and washcloths made into animals and left on your bed at night. I guess the poor steward has no time for this as I observe each no longer having an assistant and covering more rooms than in the past.
5. One of the delightful acts done by the cruise staff aboard Princess Ships is the “If I Were Not Upon the Ship.” Usually done in the huge theatre for all to enjoy, this ship had it confined to a small lounge as part of Pub Night. Most who were able to get seats could not see the stage and watched TV screens for the sequence. I couldn’t even get into the place as it was jam packed. And I missed this, as did a large number of people. Poor planning!

The ship's beautiful Atrium rivals Las Vegas 
hotel lobbies.

The payoff - the tranquility of St. Thomas, sun, sand and shopping.
A cruise today is still the best value in a vacation. The feeling of sitting on your stateroom balcony, or going to one of the four pools, basking on a deck chair in the sun, partaking of the many activities on the ship, enjoying a live entertaining show, seeing a movie, going to the casino to challenge “Lady Luck,” sitting in a lounge with drink in hand, partaking of the finest cuisine, or just doing nothing but relaxing: all this is affordable and enjoyable. I always feel that it “charges your batteries” for another year.
 It is true that cruising is not what it was thirty or so years ago, now a strictly dollars and profit making venture, but what else in our society isn’t? With Princess, one of my favorite cruise lines, I find enjoyment, pleasure, and sheer relaxation in doing what I want to do when I want to do it. If you’ve never cruised before, you don’t know what you’re missing. If you’ve cruised before, you know what I’m talking about.

Photos by Lisa E. Johnson

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