Two weeks ago, I went on my first cruise in ten years. It was a seven night cruise from Fort Lauderdale to Amber Cove, St. Thomas and St. Maarten on the Regal Princess, which is only two years old. My last cruise before that was a seven night cruise in 2006 from Tampa to the Cayman Islands, Belize, Cozumel and Costa Maya on Royal Caribbean’s Legend of the Seas.
Why so long between cruises? I prefer land vacations because I’m a walker / hiker and cruises don’t allow enough time in port to explore much of what the port has to offer. Cruising is more for relaxation than activity.
So what has changed in ten years? What struck me most is the size of the ships. The Legend is 867 feet long, 160 feet high and holds about 2,050 passengers. The Princess is 1,083 feet long, 217 feet high and holds about 3,550 passengers. I do not like these “mega” ships. You can imagine the lines when embarking, disembarking, and lack of seats for seeing the theater shows even with early and late shows nightly.
This was the first cruise I’ve been on sailing from Fort Lauderdale. Unlike Tampa, where you sail into Tampa Bay and then under the Sunshine Skyway Bridge before entering the ocean, you are in the Atlantic very quickly after setting sail. Reflecting the post 9-11 security concerns, we were accompanied by a Coast Guard speedboat with a manned machine gun.
Of course, the first thing most folks do after boarding the ship is to indulge at the lunch buffet. As a foodie, I am not a fan of buffets. It is impossible for a buffet to be “fresh” when you’re cooking for over 3,000 people. Your local Chinese buffet is probably fresher than a ship buffet!
I don’t know if it’s an indication of a shift to “global” cuisine, the fact that the head chef is Indian and the assistant head chef is Filipino, or a bit of both but I was pleased to see a number of Asian entrees served at lunch. Some of my favorites were Tom Kha Gai soup (Thai), Lamb Curry (Indian) and garlic fried rice, fried pork belly with crispy skin and adobo (all Filipino). I like lamb and saw more versions of it during the cruise than ever before. For some reason, lamb is not a popular meat in the U.S.
At breakfast, there was both “American” (crisp) and “English” (limp) bacon, as well as baked beans which is popular in England because it was served when I was there in 1988. Breakfast was an opportunity for “fresh” food by ordering a custom omelette at the buffet.
One nice thing about cruising is that both breakfast and lunch are opportunities for dining with a view, either “al fresco” or by a window, and I did both. I always included a bagel and lox with breakfast! And garlic fried rice (a Filipino breakfast favorite) when they had it. I liked that in addition to “American” sausage, they also had Chorizo, a Spanish sausage.
The first “port” was Amber Cove, in the Dominican Republic. Amber Cove is an artificial “shopping and dining only” area with a beach and water activities similar to Costa Maya.
It is seven miles from Amber Cove to Puerto Plata and I wanted to go into town for better prices and to see some historic sites.But the Amber Cove folks don’t want you to go into town; taxi fares are regulated and it is $30 one way for a taxi. For seven miles! So I availed myself of free WiFi to get on Facebook since Internet on the ship is expensive. I did buy a bottle of the very smooth, award-winning local 60-proof rum called…Mamajuana.
The next morning, we arrived in St. Thomas, one of the U.S. Virgin islands. They used to be Danish but the U.S. purchased them in 1916.The port is about a mile and a half from town and I decided to join may others in walking for the view since the sidewalk is along the waterfront. But I took the $3 shared cab ride back since I was loaded down with purchases.
Charlotte Amalie, the main city and territorial capital, seems to be little more than jewelry stores one after another interspersed with some liquor and clothing / turista shops. If you aren’t familiar with jewelry and prices, better go into one of the ship’s “recommended” stores and get a feel for prices.
I went into one “local” store and was told a $70 ring with a fairly large stone was “tanzanite and buue opal.” Well, I know that tanzanite is very expensive and so when I questioned the price, the clerk replied “of course, it is imitation tanzanite at that price.” Of course…. As was the “opal.” So I walked out rather than try to negotiate with a clerk who was not forthright from the beginning and hoping I was a sucker.
Normally, you can only bring back one liter of alcohol duty free. In an effort to promote the local rum industry, you can bring an additional four liters of liquor back from the U.S. Virgin islands if at least one of them is locally produced. And I found an excellent locally produced Raspberry Chocolate rum called Loco Choco. I bought two of those and a mango rum for me and a bottle of Gray Goose for a friend since it was just $25 for a liter. Along with the Mamajuana I bought in Amber Cove, I was at my duty free maximum of five liters.
Although I found the breakfast and lunch buffet adequate, I did enjoy the dinners. I had some unusual appetizers, including the “seafood ceviche mojito” appetizer below. Entrees included tiger prawns, pheasant, lobster tails and prime rib. The creme brulee (below) was very good.
Our final port was St. Maarten. This was similar to St. Thomas, with lots of jewelry stores. The port is about a mile from town and I walked that both ways.
On the final full day of the cruise, the lunch buffet featured a dessert spectacular – beautiful cakes of all sorts with an artistic flair.
The question enquiring minds have is: how many pounds did I gain? By watching carbs and desserts, as well as walking in port and on the ship, I gained just one pound. Other cruisers probably were not as fortunate…