Monthly Archives: November 2009

Aboard the Crown Princess – Day 4, Grand Cayman Island

Posted by on November 13, 2009

Welcome to Grand Cayman

Welcome to Grand Cayman

We finally got to visit a real port of call, Grand Cayman Island. Given the problems with the weather, there were five boats in the port at Grand Cayman. Three Carnival ships, the Crown Princess and a Celebrity ship. My shore excursion was SCUBA diving, which is something I haven’t done since I dove the ruins of the Lighthouse of Alexandria in March. I signed up for the only certified dive option which was available, so I had no idea what sort of dive we’d be doing.

Considering there were five ships in port, you wouldn’t have guessed it from the crowd on shore. It didn’t seem that busy and the dive boat was only half full. In fact the dive sites we visited didn’t have any other boats nearby.

The first dive was sort of lame. The location wasn’t anything special, they limited us to 30 minutes and a depth of 80 feet (24m). The water temperature was 85F (30C) and was some of the warmest water I’ve ever dived in. The reason why the dives were so short and shallow was because of constraints, as told to us by the dive masters, by the cruise ships. Lesson: don’t use a cruise ship for a dive holiday. If you really want to dive, go on a liveaboard.

The second dive was sort of odd. With most multi-tank dives I’ve done, you have lunch on the boat while you do your mandatory surface interval. (When diving, you have to decompress for a certain length of time depending on how deep and long your previous dive was). Our second dive was 20 minutes after our first dive. We went to a place called “Stingray City” which was only at a depth of about 15-20 feet, which explained the short surface interval.

Swimming with stingrays was surreal. Yes, these are the same things which killed Steve Irwin, but they aren’t really dangerous. The accident he had was really just a freak occurrence. The stingrays in this area are so used to people they will swim all over you. The females were about 4-5ft across. We had a tube of squid for feeding them, which was also weird. Their mouths are more like vacuum cleaners. They will suck stuff out of your hand. Just after feeding one, it moved up my arm and sucked my forearm. It hurt like hell and left me with a massive hickey. Stingrays freak me out.

We were dumped off in Georgetown with a few hours left before we had to get back on the boat so I had lunch at a local place, avoiding the Hard Rock Cafe and Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville.

Executive Chef Giuseppe and Maitre D Hotel Francois

Executive Chef Giuseppe and Maitre D' Hotel Francois

Back on the boat, it was our day to eat at the chef’s table. I thought that dinner I had on Monday would be the best meal I’d have on the boat. I was wrong. The dinner started out with a tour of the galley (kitchen). We had to put on lab coats and wash our hands before the tour. The kitchen was surprisingly clean and orderly. I’ve never worked in food services, so it was all new to me. In the kitchen we were given several small appetizers: a crab and avocado salad, a truffle tart, caviar on sour cream and a small pancake, and a small cheese tart. This was served with champaign.

At the table, the food just kept coming. We had a risotto dish, an amazing flaming meat main course, bloody mary sorbet with vodka, and an over the top plated desert of spun sugar and chocolate. The executive chef did the tour and also came out to the table several times, as well as the head pastry chef. We were also given signed copies of the cookbook made by the executive chef. This meal was on a par with meals I’ve had which cost several hundred dollars.

The Chef’s Table experience is available to anyone for $75, which I honestly think is a deal compared to what you’ll pay for shore excursions, which usually run over $100. If I had to choose, I’d walk around for a day in a port and not pay for a shore excursion and put down the money for the Chef’s Table. It is worth it.

Aboard the Crown Princess – Day 3

Posted by on November 10, 2009

Day three was much better than day two. There were two big highlights of the day. The first was the backstage tour of the boat we were given. What was original supposed to be a three hour tour of the ship ended up being a five and a half hour tour. We visited backstage of the theater, the galley and food storage areas, the environmental and engine control rooms, the laundry (which was surprisingly large), the smoke stacks and finally the bridge where we got to meet the captain and sit in his chair.

I’ve always been fascinated more by the behind the scenes stuff than I have the public face of things. I took the backstage tour at EPCOT center and thought it was equally as fascinating. The level of organization necessary for a ship with over 3,000 passengers and crew, with all the food, laundry, machinery, and people pooping, is really impressive. It all seems to run like clockwork.

I have a ton of photos I took on the tour, but there is no way I’m going to be able to upload them from the ship. While we are given complimentary internet access (which other wise very expensive), all the data has to go to a satellite so it is very slow. Text is OK, but big images are a different story.

The other big event was dinner. We had dinner in the on board steakhouse, the Crown Grill. I know I’ve been harping on this point the last several days, but this meal was exceptional even by land standards. I had fois gras with scallops for a first course, tomato soup with prawns, lobster tail for the seafood course and then a porterhouse steak for the main course. All with a great bottle of wine. It was really exceptional. So far, the highlight of the cruise has been the food, which I never would have guessed would be the case.

Today we are in Grand Cayman were I will go SCUBA diving and swimming with sting rays. I will also get to eat dinner at the Chef’s Table, which should be fun. I am now looking forward to dinners on the boat. The bar has been set pretty high now.

Aboard the Crown Princess – Day 2

Posted by on November 9, 2009

Our cruise itinerary was changed because of a hurricane in the Caribbean. What was to be our last stop ended up becoming our first stop. It was the place I was looking forward to the least. In the previous post I mentioned that Princess owns a private island in the Bahamas. It turns out that isn’t quite true. They own a small spit of land which is connected to a much larger island via a mangrove swamp. I suppose in a technical sense it might be an island, but it is really just a hunk of beach on the much larger island.

According to the sailing schedule, this was the day I was least interested in for the entire cruise. I’m just not a big beach guy. Especially crowded beaches which is what this was. None of the activities which were available really appealed to me: snorkeling, kayaking and banana boat riding. The snorkel area was a small roped off area and you had to wear a life jacket.

Brett also didn’t want to sit on the beach, so we left the area and headed inland. We probably walked for over and hour round trip and only saw a few houses, most of them abandoned. Most of the houses were painted in the aqua or pink colors you so often see in the Bahamas. We even found an abandoned church and what I presume is the new church a few minutes up the road. In the end, we didn’t find the village we were looking for. We very well might have taken a wrong turn. I later found out there was a bus trip to the village, but I didn’t know about it.

We walked back to the beach and parked ourselves at a bar and waited to find other people who were in our Twitter group. Mostly I drank which I felt was acceptable because it was after noon.

Getting back on the boat I mostly wandered around. I ran into an art auction (they have an art gallery on board the ship) with some pieces selling for over $200,000.

As I said before, the food on board has been above my expectations. We had dinner at the Italian restaurant which was one of the places on board you needed a reservation for. The meal took three hours for all the courses to come out. We started at 8pm and ended at 11pm. Given how long it took to eat, I didn’t feel full by the end of the meal.

We’ve also been moving through rough seas, so several people in the group ended up getting sea sick. Surprisingly, I was not one of them. Given my history of motion sickness, I was sure I’d be one of the first. The restaurant was also on the 16th floor in the starboard aft part of the ship, one of the worst places to be to experience motion.

Today looks to be better. We get a behind the scenes tour of the ship and I get to have dinner with the captain tonight.