Four hours into the new year and we were at the airport, starting the process of heading to Fort Lauderdale. Sounds like a great way to start the new year to me. First flight left a bit late as it was snowing and we needed to de-ice, but we had plenty of time in Montreal to connect due to a schedule change. We arrived through to US Customs before America was even open in the airport for the day (but it was only a brief wait). Had some breakfast, drank all the coffee and tea in the airport (because sleeping was just not happening with all the subdivision fireworks for NYE), and then we were on our way to Fort Lauderdale (with, ugh, Air Canada Rouge). Luggage arrived and we were finally off to the hotel (Hilton Fort Lauderdale Marina – really close to the port). It was a mad house at the hotel when we arrived (after check in time), but our room was ready, so we dumped our bags, changed out of winter clothes, and headed off to find some craft beer at Tarpon River Brewing. It wasn’t a late night after that… too sleepy.
We had an uneventful morning that consisted of catching up a bit of work, finding some breakfast, and going for a walk in the beautiful, warm weather. To avoid the chaos of people trying to board the cruise ship early, we opted to leave our bags at the hotel and go find some lunch (we didn’t go far, we just ended up at the hotel’s bar on the pier… so you can read this as we were thirsty) and spent a few hours enjoying some eats and drinks. We headed to the ship after 1:00 and it was about 15 minutes from the time we left our hotel until we boarded the ship – easy peasy. Welcome to cruise #20…
The Caribbean Princess is an older ship (built in 2004), but it’s been through some refurbishments – most recently last year when it got some upgrades to the buffet areas, some new restaurants, new beds, furniture upgrades, kids club upgrades, and more. It’s also been upgraded with the new Medallion Class Experience – including MedallionNET internet and on-board Ocean Medallions.
The first day schedule is nearly always the same… muster drill, sail-away, unpack, eat, drink, go to bed. Muster was a long process, but no life jackets and in a lounge. Sail-away is always fun – I like watching all the ships start to leave around the same time. We were in port with a few other ships – Costa, Holland America, and Royal Caribbean. We opted for Any Time dining on this sailing and the first night it was a complete disaster, so we went to Steamers instead. After supper, we tried some music trivia and quickly learned that the activities and entertainment was going to be geared to an age bracket much older than us (we were definitely in the “young” category on this sailing).
The first full day of our voyage was a sea day… always a nice way to relax (and never all that interesting to write about). We relaxed, went to a few ship events like watching a fruit carving and trivia (the trivia was geared a bit old for us, but we managed to mostly not embarrass ourselves), did a little touring around the ship, ate, drank… you know, the usual. It was also the first of two “formal” nights on our sailing – so they brought out the champagne fountain and people got all fancy (if they wanted to).
Our first port day had us arriving in Jamaica around noon, and we headed out from Falmouth to Ocho Rios to go to Bamboo Beach Club. It’s a lovely beach, and we had a nice and relaxing afternoon, but I don’t know that I would do it again. It is quite a drive out to that location (at least 90 minutes each way), longer if you hit traffic. The beach is nice. The shore line doesn’t go on forever, but there’s enough to go for a nice walk. The surf was a bit rough when we were there, so we just lounged around more than going in the water. Our excursion included drinks (draft beer, water, mojitos, rum punch, lemonade, and mimosas … enough to get people fall on their ass drunk… that really happened, but not to us) and eats (a set menu of small plates – ours consisted of a sausage and pineapple skewer, callaloo and plantain, jerk chicken, rice and veggie curry, and fried dough with fruit sauce). There’s a bar where you can pay for other drinks. On the non-VIP section of the beach, there are wooden beach chairs. On the VIP side, there’s wooden loungers. There’s music playing the entire time, and there’s some dancers that put on a bit of a show. There are lifeguards, a nurse, and facilities. We spent about 4 hours there and then headed back to Falmouth (caught in traffic, this took over 2 hours) and we got back just as it was time to be back to the ship.
Sea day again! More chillin’ on the ship… checked out a fruit carving demo, did my steel drum lesson (super fun), drank an entire cup of coffee while it was hot, did some trivia… a generally relaxing day. I love those. It was also football play-offs, so you can guess what Greg spent some of the day doing.
Next port – Cartagena, Colombia… hello new pin on our map! We were essentially only in Cartagena for the morning, so we were up and off the ship quite early in the day for a walking tour of Getsemani and the old city. Admittedly, I would rather do my walking tours with people who are a little better and faster at walking, and in a much smaller group, but we did a cruise tour here and there was many more people on the tour than was advertised. Regardless, Cartagena is so charming and it’s definitely on my list to come back. The bright colours and lovely people – it’s really worth a visit. After our walking tour, we had a quick visit to the Armeria Real hotel for a lesson on how to make coconut lemonade (which is absolutely delicious) and then sadly it was time to go back to the ship. The rest of the day was spent relaxing and watching more NFL playoffs.
And now, it’s time to transit the Panama Canal… to see the whole process, we had to be up early in the morning… the tugs were hooking on around 5am. The new Agua Clara locks on the Caribbean side consist of three locks… it took over 2 hours to go through them. Definitely an interesting process to watch. Once through, we anchored in Gatun Lake and the ship off-loaded anyone who had an excursion. Since we were doing a partial transit (the ship was going back through the same locks after everyone doing excursions got off), you could only do a ship-sponsored tour. We opted to do a walking tour of Old Panama. It was about a 90 minute ride from the canal zone to our first stop, Panamá Viejo, which is the remains of old Panama City. We had some time there to visit the small museum and walk through the grounds. We split from the group and did some exploring on our own, so I liked this part of the tour a lot. From there, we headed through modern day Panama City to where they rebuilt Old Panama. This area of the city has some stark contrasts, with a mix of renovated and destroyed buildings at every turn. It was very hot and I was really at my limit of touring around in a big group by the end of this day, because this is not our normal style of doing things at all. But I did get to see some more of Panama that I had never seen before. From here, back to meet the ship, which was now docked at Cristobal (about an hour’s drive away).
To round out a string of three ports days in a row, we landed in Limón, Costa Rica. Here we got back to doing things our way, where we had a private tour (with Your Lucky tours) for the two of us to tour around. We stopped to meet a wild sloth chilling in a cocoa tree, to see wild life all over the place, hit up a local fruit stand to taste our way through tropical deliciousness, visited a banana plantation (a Dole plantation I believe… bananas are definitely big business in Costa Rica), did a boat tour on the Tortuguero canals, stopped at the beach, and did a little hike through a park and some of the rain forest. Our guide was really passionate about showing off this location and wanted to show us as much as he could, making sure we had lots of pictures, and that we stopped as long as we wanted anywhere we went. Throughout the day, we saw birds, monkeys, sloths, etc. Once we finished the tour, we walked around the area of Limón for a little while, had a few drinks, bought some coffee, etc.
Sea day time again! We didn’t get up to much of anything… another steel drum lesson (still fun, despite some ridiculously annoying and rude other learners), formal night again, and we went to one of the production shows – Fantastic Journeys. This is one of the newer shows across the Princess fleet, and honestly, it was a nice change because a lot of the entertainment options are geared to a much older age group than us. Parts of this one were really well done, with some recent music and amazing costumes.
Our last port of the cruise was Grand Cayman, where we anchored with 5 other cruise ships for the day. It’s been a while since we have been there, but we’ve done the tour and been out to see the stingrays… so we decided on a low key day of just walking around and trying some local eats and drinks. We spent hours at Cabana enjoying some tasty beverages, we walked around a bit, and we popped over to Bread and Chocolate (a vegan restaurant) for a bit of lunch before heading back to the ship.
One last sea day to round out the voyage… so some more relaxing was done (though admittedly, this was a bit of a working holiday for both of us). We snuck in a few activities as well, like a cooking demo, a tour of the galley, and some trivia.
As per usual, all vacations are great vacations and we had a lot of fun on this one. I prefer the newer, bigger ships, but this one was totally fine. The staff was all really great (we really enjoyed Anna and Dan from the cruise director team), the itinerary was interesting, and the food was good. As I’ve mentioned, the demographic on this ship was definitely a fair bit older than us, and at times, even though we are not complete assholes, it was incredibly hard on the patience stores trying to get from A to B for us because we both have a tendency to walk fast. This was also a cruise where people really participated in everything, so if you wanted to go to a show or an activity, you really needed to think ahead and go early.
I love the tech advancements Princess has made – fast Internet (and while still not free, at a much more affordable price), current and free movies in your stateroom (sometimes I just needed a break from fellow cruisers), and the new Ocean Medallions (no more signing a receipt for every purchase!).
And that’s a wrap.