A Day on St. Kitts – January 2019

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St. Kitts was our 5th and final port stop on our Caribbean Cruise. After a pretty chaotic experience on Barbados, we decided to take it easy on St. Kitts. We wanted to just find a beach where we could soak up some sun and breathe in some fresh air, while on solid ground, as we would be sailing nonstop for a few days after this.

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After disembarking from our ship, we found an information desk right inside the port entrance. Everyone was so helpful, and we easily found transportation to Cockleshell Beach. This beach was on the other side of the island, so we had a nice drive around the island. I was pleased to find that the beach had a restaurant attached to it, so we immediately decided to eat and have a few drinks at the Reggae Beach Bar before lounging on the beach. This was our first time eating conch, and we both agreed that conch is not for us, but we are happy we tried it.

After we finished eating, we took our bucket of beers and went to go claim some loungers on the beach. The beach staff was super helpful and got us hooked up with an umbrella. We would relax here for most of the afternoon, and it was glorious. Secretly, we may regret not taking advantage of the jet skis and having some water fun. There is always next time.

This may not have been the most exciting part of our vacation, but it was a nice and relaxing way to end it. Plus, the beach and water was beautiful!

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Until next trip….HAPPY TRAVELS!!!

 

St. Lucia – January 2019

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What better way to start the new year than by spending a day having adventures around sunny St. Lucia. St. Lucia was the third port on our Princess Cruise in the Caribbean.

While it may be scary to book an excursion outside of your cruise line (for fear that the excursion won’t get you back to your port in time for departure), we are so glad we did, as it was the best time of our trip! We managed to do just a little research before leaving for the Caribbean and found a wonderful excursion option suggested by Excursion Everywhere. This excursion was hosted by Cosol Tours and was an adventurous way to see so much of St. Lucia in a day. We were given clear instructions on a meeting point near where our ship docked. Here we met up with our guide, Cassius. He was fantastic! Here are some highlights from our day:

Banana Plantation: Cassius gave a tutorial on the production of bananas on St. Lucia, which is the second highest source of income for the island. Here we also got to try banana ketchup, banana bbq, and banana spiced rum.

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Fishing Village of Anse La Raye (see picture on the right)

Brunch: Multiple tables full of local cuisine

Overlook of the Twin Pitons (see picture at top of page)

Sugar Beach: We gook a water taxi to a beach located between the Twin Pitons, where we had plenty of time to relax on the beach, swim and snorkel.

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Soufriere Volcano & Sulphur Spring Park: We drove into the volcano, the world’s only drive-in volcano, and then took a mud bath in the hot 20190112_211452springs. (see picture on the far right)

Toraille Waterfall: We of course did not get all the mud off from the hot springs, but a quick soak under a rapid waterfall helped with that problem. (see picture on the right)

Another meal: We worked up quite an appetite after all those wonderful water activities. We were fed delicious bread and cheese and enjoyed some local beer.

They certainly filled our day with lots of adventures and got us back to our ship with plenty of time to wander around the port a bit, though to be honest, we were pretty exhausted. It was the best $75 per person we spent on this trip!

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A Day in Antigua – December 2018

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Our second port on our Caribbean cruise brought us to Antigua. We again did not have a plan of what to do or see in Antigua. I guess you could just say that we were winging this trip. Luckily after disembarking from the cruise ship, one of the first buildings on the main street was an information office. We stopped in there to try to see if we could arrange a zip-lining excursion, but we were unable to get others to join, which would have made the excursion affordable, so we opted to take the free self-guided walking tour of St. John’s that was included in the map that they gave us.

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  • St. John’s Cathedral – a focal point of St. John’s landscape was originally built in 1681 but destroyed twice by earthquakes. The current structure, built in 1848, is located on a hill overlooking much of the city.
  • The Government House – official office of the Governor General, a position created after Antigua and Barbuda became independent in November of 1981.20181231_105616
  • The Antigua Recreation Grounds – hosts premier football, international cricket matches and the annual Carnival festival.20190204_105630

We had worked up an appetite from the walk around the city and stopped at the Antigua Habour Cafe and Restaurant that overlooks the harbor for a relaxing lunch and tasty fruity drinks. After lunch, we found a cab just one block over. We wanted to visit one of the forts on the island and maybe go to a beach. The cab driver recommended Fort20181231_160614 James, which turned out to be right next to Fort James beach. We got two great options and only had to spend $25 (solely for the roundtrip cab ride), plus the cab driver waited for us and took us back to the ship when we were done. We walked around the fort for about 45 minutes, enjoyed the beautiful and secluded beach and then decided to have a beer at Beachlimerz, which is a high-rated bar and restaurant. Overall, it was a very affordable and convenient excursion.

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However, our day wasn’t without a little stress and excitement. We are going to share our little embarrassing story just as an example that even if you travel frequently like we do, you can still make mistakes. After paying and exiting our taxi, we started walking over to an outdoor market, when my husband realized that he didn’t have our backpack. We had either left it in the cab or at restaurant. While we had our money and identification on our bodies, we still didn’t want to lose the items we had in our bag. Unfortunately, our cab had driven away. We remembered what our cab looked like and who our driver was and, by nothing short of a miracle, found she hadn’t driven very far due to the busy traffic on the main road. Our bag was not in the cab, and she agreed to take us back to Beachlimerz to see if we left it there. She was super nice about it and chatted with us during the ride, which eased our stress a bit. Luckily, the bag was still sitting where we left it at the bar.

We met a lot of nice people that day, but our cab driver was the best! It is her kindness, generosity and selflessness that I will remember most from our time in Antigua.

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Princess Cruise Experience 2018-2019

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My husband and I decided to spend the holiday season after Christmas through New Years (December 27-January 6th) in the Caribbean. We’ve been on a few cruises before. Our most recent cruise was in the Mediterranean (see post 20 Years of Travel #13: Mediterranean Cruise). When searching for which cruise line to take, many people recommended going on a Princess cruise. As we did with our Mediterranean cruise, we booked a Princess cruise through Vacations To Go, which was super easy and efficient (shout out to Ernie for assisting us).

On first appearance, we were really impressed with the Crown Princess ship. It was far20181227_162837 larger than any ship we had been on before. I was still having to consult the ship map to navigate my way on the final day. Our room was spacious with a balcony. The Crown Princess had so many wonderful features, including many pools and hot tubs, multiple dining options and bars, a spa, fitness center, library (with books and games), a casino, entertainment venues and an outdoor movie theater. I am sure there were other wonderful features that I am not mentioning as well. As we wandered around the ship that first day, it all seemed like it was the beginning of a dream vacation.

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But how do you know if the cruise or cruise line is bad or if cruising is just not for you? Please, if you have been on multiple cruises I would love your input on this, because my husband and I are seriously starting to believe that cruising is not for us, and maybe it isn’t.

I’m sure we have all heard some horror stories regarding cruises, like the most recent cruise in the Caribbean, where hundreds of passengers got sick with a contagious virus.20190102_195542 Our cruise was not that bad, but it wasn’t the dream I had been hoping it would be. We did have some good moments. We enjoyed the company of the people we sat next to at dinner; got to see some movies we had been wanting to see (see picture on the right); got plenty of sun and fresh air while relaxing on one of the many deck chairs; was thankful for the housekeeping staff who were amazing and always kept our room clean and comfortable; appreciated the helpfulness of the guest service individuals; drank the best cappuccini at the International Cafe every morning (see picture below); and enjoyed every island visit that was made on this cruise.

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The cruise didn’t start off so well for me and many other passengers. We were in rough seas for two days. We actually could not get to our first port because of that, so I spent two miserable days on a ship that was rocking back and forth constantly. I had never suffered from seasickness before and the Dramamine I had with me did absolutely nothing for me. However, one of our kind dinner friends gave me a Bonine tablet, and that worked miracles. Wish I had taken that right away, so I wouldn’t have been suffering for two full days. Missing our first port made it that much harder to overcome seasickness too. A lot of passengers were complaining about not just the rockiness of the ship but also the fact that all the pools had to close because of that as well. I can only imagine how many angry or miserable passengers the guest service attendants had to deal with, and the cruise had just begun.

When we considered the fact that we paid 3x as much to cruise with Princess as we did when we cruised with Costa in the Mediterranean, I’m not sure it was worth it. The drink package was expensive but worth it in the end, but the food was just not great. They had a cafeteria-style restaurant that was open all day long. We tried to eat there a few times, but it was just horrible food – most of it was inedible. Our sit down dinner time every night had great food, but the service was so slow all the time that we couldn’t enjoy some of the evening shows, because we would still be finishing our meals. We often snuck out during the meal to get ourselves more wine, as the wait staff took forever to refill some of our drinks. On top of the food not being great, I had two separate occasions where food service workers argued with me that what they gave me was correct when it wasn’t. The thought it was a bit too ridiculous when I ordered a slice of Margherita pizza, and they gave me plain cheese pizza, even though the sign in front of the counter gave all the ingredients that are suppose to come on a Margherita pizza. It sounds like we are being overly picky, but it was just disappointing. So yeah…we weren’t happy with the quality of the food or food service.

During our Mediterranean cruise, we booked two excursions through the cruise line and enjoyed both. This time, we booked an excursion on our own through a company on one of the islands and one excursion through the cruise line. They were both around $70 a person, and the one we booked through the cruise line was just terrible in comparison. When we got on the ship, we signed up to take a beach/snorkeling adventure in Barbados. Basically, it was a 3 hour excursion that was suppose to include relaxing on a beach, snorkeling with sea turtles and snorkeling to see some shipwrecks. I figured that divided nicely to spending 1 hour doing each item. The excursion started off nice. The beach was beautiful. However, the boat that was to pick us up to take us snorkeling was more than 30 minutes late and then decided not to dock by the beach we were on, so we had to walk a mile through town to find the boat. In the end, we probably only had about 30 minutes total time of snorkeling, which was really disappointing. Then they docked the boat literally on the beach, not at a pier, so the waves made it near to impossible to not fall as you tried to get off the boat. One passenger fell pretty badly. It was not a great excursion. It was maybe worth half of what we paid for it. Luckily, Princess agreed and refunded some of our money, so I do believe they handled that situation well, but I may not book an excursion through a cruise line ever again.

The incident that bothered me the most on this cruise was when we got a notification in20190208_082909 our room that they would be doing balcony maintenance the following morning (see photo of the notice on the right). The notice clearly states that maintenance would start at 9am. We thought that would be a perfect morning for us to order 8am room service breakfast, insuring that we would be awake and out of our room by 9am. Our breakfast arrived on time and by 8:15am, my husband and I were in our robes on our private balcony enjoying our coffee and breakfast. That was also when a maintenance worker came onto our balcony without any warning. He actually opened the door right into my husband, as the balcony was pretty small. I personally was mortified as I was far from clothed, sitting there in my 20181231_083141robe. We booked the room we did for the private balcony and now our privacy was being invaded with no warning. When we told him to leave that it wasn’t 9am yet, the maintenance worker responded that they were starting early. I know he was just doing what he was told, but that didn’t make the situation okay. I am sure it was awkward for him as well. I immediately called down to guest services and was told that someone would call us later in the day, as the manager was not available at that time. No one ever called. Through our persistence, we did finally talk to a guest service manager, who offered us a bottle of wine for our troubles. Seriously?!! We purchased the drink package. What do we need a bottle of wine for? However, what could we do? That seems to be all they were offering us. They told us we could pick any bottle of wine we wanted, and since we had both been enjoying Chianti with our dinners, we requested that. They said that that was not something they had available but would bring us a Cabernet instead. Cabernet is not the same as Chianti, and that was not a wine that we both enjoy.

There seems to be so many people who love Princess Cruise Lines, but we just don’t understand. We didn’t have most of these issues on our Costa cruise (though that was far from a perfect cruise as well). While we did love exploring the Caribbean islands and soaking in some sun and warmth, I think it will be a long time before we cruise again.

If you have been on cruise, especially a Princess Cruise, please share your experiences below in the comments. Have you experienced similar issues or other issues?

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20 Years of Travel #13: Mediterranean Cruise

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The 20 Years of Travel series continues with a Mediterranean cruise that we took for our wedding anniversary in 2015. It was our first big cruise line cruise. We had done a river cruise in the USA, transportation cruise to the Bahamas, and an exploration cruise in the Galapagos, but never one like this. For beginners, I think we handled this learning experience really well and had a lot of fun along the way.

ITINERARY

Trieste, Italy

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Trieste was the port where the cruise would depart and return to. We lived in Italy at the time, so we just took a train to Trieste from our hometown but allowed plenty of time before and after the cruise to tour around the city for a bit. This town is the bridge between Western Europe and the Balkans. You can easily access Slovenia from here if you have time.

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Bari, Italy

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Our first stop on the cruise was the small coastal town of Bari in the Apulia region on the eastern side of Italy. It was a great walkable city, so we did not feel the need to take an excursion offered by the cruise line. There are forts to explore, a nice waterfront and the beautiful Cattedrale di San Sabino (Bari Cathedral).

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Corfu, Greece

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Our first stop in Greece was the island of Corfu. We again didn’t take a cruise line excursion, which you might want to consider doing if you want to get to the heart of the town in a timely fashion. However, we decided to just find a cafe, where we indulged in a drink and enjoyed the atmosphere of some locals.

Mykonos, Greece

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Mykonos was a highlight for me as I’ve been wanting to go there since I was a kid. It did not disappoint. We took a jeep tour of the island excursion, which was an amazing way to see most of the island. Plus, my husband loved driving around on the rough passageways. This excursion also included lunch on the island with an ouzo tasting, which is an alcoholic shot that looks cloudy and tastes like black licorice. After the excursion, we had time to clean up and catch sunset on Mykonos. The island lights up with amazing colors at sunset. We decided to eat a fancy dinner for our anniversary on the island, which I highly recommend. Though it is tempting to eat only the food that is included on the cruise you paid for, it is nice to give some money to the local businesses. Mykonos was just stunning!

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Santorini, Greece

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Our next island stop was Santorini, which was my favorite stop on the cruise. I had seen beautiful pictures, but pictures don’t seem to do it justice. We took the excursion transportation to Oia, which was 100% worth it. The guide gave us a great overview lesson of the island, its history and economics, and then we wandered around. We immediately found a cafe, where we could sit outside with coffees, enjoying an amazing view of the caldera. When you have finished viewing and taking pictures of the cliff-side architecture, I would do a wine tasting and purchase some bottles of wine if possible. Due to the eruption of the Santorini volcano many years ago, the soil on the island is rich for producing wine. You will have a lot of white wine choices, and Santorini’s specialty is the Vin Santo, which is a dessert wine. I loved everything about this island and especially Oia.

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Dubrovnik, Croatia

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This was not part of the original itinerary, but due to some bad weather, we stopped in Dubrovnik instead of Split, Croatia. Dubrovnik was the last stop before heading back to Trieste, Italy, where our cruising adventure would end. I went to Dubrovnik ten years prior to this trip (I’ll discuss further in an upcoming post about the Balkans), and it has remained very dear to my heart ever since. I was happy to revisit some of my favorite places, including the cafe that overlooks the Adriatic, where the owners gave us coffee and drinks even though they were not officially open. The weather was not great but we still got to walk in the ancient city walls and visit the Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola.

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Lessons Learned

  • Make sure that you have a spare set of clothing (aka dress, underwear, shorts, etc) in the small bag that you carry on to the cruise boat. We had our luggage checked prior to getting onto the boat. The luggage check-in was located outdoors in the midst of a huge windy rainstorm. When we received our duffle bag full of clothes, everything was drenched. While the cruise line had all of our clothes dry cleaned for free, this took a couple of days, where we were wearing the same clothes.
  • The drink package is sooooo worth it! After finding out about our wet clothes and having my credit card canceled (even though they knew I was traveling – thank you Capital One), we wanted nothing more than to sit at the bar and have a drink or three. We decided to purchase the all-you-can-drink package, which we definitely utilized frequently. This includes water and coffee as well, so it is 100% worth it!
  • Pack multiple sets of dress clothes. Apparently dressing up for dinner on a cruise boat is sometimes mandatory. That bit of information can often be hidden on websites and can catch you completely by surprise if you have never been on a cruise before.
  • Find a good booking site. After getting frustrated on trying to figure out how to see some Greek islands on our own, without using an organized tour, I received an email from VacationsToGo, advertising a discount on a Mediterranean cruise for the time period we were looking to travel. It seemed like a sign, so I picked up my phone and called the 800 number on the website and within a few minutes an agent had us all booked on this cruise. It took barely any of my time to plan, cost a lot less than if I had set up travel to the islands on my own, and we even got our drink package for free as part of a special deal.
  • Plan excursions prior to being on the cruise. Before going on your cruise, check out the possible excursions and make a decisions on the ones you want to go on prior to being on the boat. We did not purchase excursions ahead of time and found at least one we wanted to do was fully booked.
  • Don’t be afraid to change dining tables. Cruises love to give you assigned dining seats, so you can meet new people. However, unfortunately we did not have a great experience with our dining table, and we waited too many days to change tables to sit with some friends. If after the first night, you do not enjoy your dining experience, talk to someone, so that you can be relocated.
  • Allow plenty of time before and after the cruise. Most people will travel to take cruises. If you are one of those people, make sure to leave a good cushion of time before and after your cruising experience. The cruise line took a long time returning passports to passengers at the end of the cruise (hours after we were docked) and madness erupted. Many passengers were furious, because they missed their schedule trains or planes home. While we had allowed plenty of time before and after the cruise to catch our transportation home, it was hard not to feel for every individual who had to suffer missed connections because of this delay.

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While I am not sure I would recommend Costa cruise lines as the best option for cruising, we enjoyed our cruising experience overall. So much so that we have decided to take another cruise at the end of this year. If you have done some cruising, please feel free to leave some tips and recommendations in the comment section below. I would greatly appreciate it. Until next time…

HAPPY TRAVELS!!!