MS Dawn Princess

Background

Cruisers: Debbie and David Presley, ages 40ish. We had taken two other cruises together, Carnival’s Jubilee on the 7-day Pacific coast swing in April 1997, and Carnival’s Ecstasy on the 3-night New Year’s Bahamas cruise in December 1995. David has also taken his daughter on the Big Red Boat, in conjunction with a Walt Disney World vacation in August 1994, and a 4-night Bahamas cruise on the old Emerald Seas back in June 1974. We were very active cruisers, typically first-off and last-on in each port.

David & Debbie Embarking onto the Dawn Princess (51152 bytes)

(David) began writing this review by tracking everything that we ate, but have opted to omit that level of detail from this review. I will cover the various shore excursions in some depth to help those with similar interests.

 

Friday, November 20, 1998 - En Route to San Juan, Puerto Rico

We departed Atlanta at 8:15p on Delta 178, arriving at the gate in San Juan at 12:45a Saturday morning. After 40-45min our bags (finally)made it to the turnstiles, and we hired a cab ($22 plus tip) for the ride to the Wyndham Old San Juan Hotel & Casino. We were quite surprised to be given a large suite, #314, for our $125 Quest rate. We entered into a sitting room with a TV/Armoire opposite a Couch and Coffee Table, wound around to the left towards a Table, Chairs, and lamp opposite a large walk-in closet, curved left again to a small balcony facing east with a large Chair and Ottoman opposite the balcony, and ended-up at a king-size Bed and second TV/Armoire. With a lot of people still on the streets at 2:30a we went for a walk by the piers, only to find that Princess’ usual terminal across the street had been damaged by Hurricane Georges - we would depart approximately 1 mile south from Navy Pier 4. We returned to the hotel at about 3:00a and spent a little time on the quarter slot machines in their very substantial (and pretty sparsely crowded) casino. We finally turned-in a little after 4:00a.

 

Saturday, November 21, 1998 - Ship Embarkation & Departure

Arising about 10:00a, we leisurely got ready and, after a hectic checkout (the hotel was full of cruise guests departing, and they had screwed-up our bill so I had to manually checkout), took a $10 cab ride to the pier. We had heard how easy it was to embark onto this ship, and it was even easier than advertised. At most, 3 or 4 min after we left the cab we were walking onto the ship. We were greeted by a gorgeous four-story atrium, polished to perfection, with Brits at every turn eager to assist with directions or answers to your questions. We made way to our stateroom, upgraded by our wiz-bang Cruise Agent from the cheapest rate to the second-best interior cabin – Baja 224 (it was interesting to note that the hallways are slightly narrower and not as nicely appointed as you descended further into the ship – a subtle but noticeable difference).

The stateroom was a little smaller than expected, but, upon closer inspection, terrifically arranged. We entered on a 45degree diagonal; immediately on the right was an ample closet with wood hangers, 5-drawer wire-mesh pull-out drawers, 3 shoe shelves, and a top shelf for life jackets and other personal items. When standing in the middle of the room, to the right was a vertical cabinet, with 13” color TV on top; 2-shelf cabinet below incorporating a 4-digit passenger-programmable electronic safe; open shelf below for glassware and small items; and refrigerator below big enough to hold a six-pack of canned drinks, two large bottles of water, and the continuously-stocked ice bucket. To the right of the TV stack was the step-up entrance to the bathroom, with three ample shelves on the right and one full-length shelf below the sink for toiletries, a trapezoidal-shaped shower (cozy but effective), and a toilet with a scary amount of suction(!) Beside the entrance to the bathroom was a vanity with 6 drawers that included a built-in hair-dryer (without much power according to Debbie), electric plug, and room thermostat. The twin beds were made into a centrally-positioned queen-sized bed, and a 6-drawer dresser was to the right. This stateroom also had a pull-down bunk for a third passenger that was not utilized. The walls and cabinet facings are off white with dark oak wood trim, with sea-blue carpeting underfoot. Mirrors were positioned at the entryway, over the vanity, over the bed, and in the bathroom, to further give the illusion of spaciousness.

Our Stateroom: Baja 224 - looking in

Our Stateroom: Baja 224 - looking out

Our cabin steward, Alma, introduced herself within five minutes of our arrival. Throughout the cruise she was wonderfully competent and virtually invisible. After unpacking our carry-ons, we made way up to the Horizon Court on Deck 13 for a buffet lunch, which was shockingly good given that it was buffet food (items included poached salmon, buffalo wings, hot-sliced turkey, chilled salads, green salad, various appetizers, cold cuts, fresh-baked breads, various baked desserts). If desired, burgers & fries can be found by the pool. We then set about exploring the ship to acquaint ourselves with its layout. Our luggage arrived outside the stateroom about 4:00p, whereupon we spent about 30min unpacking. In the usual terminal, bottled water, cola, beer, etc. are available for purchase to bring onboard the Dawn Princess. However, Navy Pier 4 is not in a great part of town and, for another $10 cab ride down and $10 back we opted to do without.

A shore excursion order form, with tour descriptions, is found in the stateroom upon arrival. I had researched the various shore excursions prior to departure, but it would be better if Princess pre-published approximate tour times as we found several conflicts(am/pm times overlapping) when reviewing the order form that afternoon. But we were able to schedule most of what we wanted, as well as a 10:30a-11:00a slot in the Princess Links for our Sunday day at sea. After conferring with the Shore Excursion Desk about our selections when they opened at 3:30p, we spent the remainder of the afternoon lazing around on the Lido Deck.

We prefer First Sitting for dinner, and were assigned Table 102 in the Venetian Dining Room. Although a table for eight, three seats were unoccupied as those folks opted at the last minute for Second Sitting. Our table mates were a couple in their late 50’s from New England and a divorcee in her late 50’s from Sweden. While none of us had much in common, things stayed relatively cordial throughout the week. Our Waiter (Dan) and BusBoy (Peter – who looks exactly like the actor Mario Lopez from the TV show “Saved By The Bell”) both hailed from Romania. Consider yourself fortunate if they serve you, as they were without doubt the best combo we’ve had anywhere – restaurant, cruise, or otherwise. Menu selection for the evening was “Continental”. Be sure to have the coffee – it’s simply awesome!!!

A lifeboat muster drill was conducted at 8:30p – same as you find on any cruise (but, I suppose after the incident with the Monarch of the Seas we all should pay more attention and give it the serious attention it deserves).

At 9:30p, in the Princess Theatre, we were introduced to our cruise staff (led by the hilarious Brit Graham Seymour, our Cruise Director); this was followed by a “Puerto Rican Folkloric” performance by Juan Carlos and five female dancers. Mr. Carlos holds the distinction of being the youngest Flamenco guitarist from Barcelona Spain, and appeared on the Ed Sullivan show “way-back-when”. Selections included “Malaguena” and various tunes played in the style of different South American countries (e.g. Uruguay, Paraguay, Brazil, Argentina). This was a very enjoyable performance.

After exiting the show, we made way to the foredeck for the 11:00p sailing. Contrary to what I’d read, at no time did we hear the theme to the “Love Boat” TV show being played. Once on deck we saw Carnival’s Fascination making way to open sea; RCCL’s Rhapsody of the Seas just leaving the harbor; and Celebrity’s Galaxy beginning forward motion. Captain Bernie Warner turned-off all lights as we slowly made way out of the harbor – the lights of San Juan are quite gorgeous! When we hit open water, the chop increased dramatically as did the wind, so we headed town to the Horizon Court where an excellent three-piece jazz ensemble had a couple more tunes to play before calling it an evening. We did too at about 12:30a.

 

Sunday, November 22, 1998 - A Day at Sea

We awoke just after 7:30a and enjoyed a champagne breakfast in bed (Korbel is what they consider cheap stuff!). We watched the excellent TV programming for a little while – the channel line-up consists of a movie channel showing second-run movies (on our cruise choices included “As Good As It Gets”, “The Wedding Singer”, “L.A. Confidential”, “Amistad”, “Good Will Hunting”, “Flubber”, “In-and-Out”, “First Wives Club”, “Wag The Dog”, “Hope Floats”, “U.S. Marshals”, “Primary Colors”); the Dawn Princess Channel (showing shore excursion information, port/shopping talks, destination videos); a channel that continually shows the view off the bow through a TV camera; the Princess Channel (Love Boat reruns, MASH, kid shows); the Voyage Channel (computer generated weather, ship position/speed, port arrival time/distance); Oceansat News; CNN International; ESPN; and the Discovery Channel (with programming produced specifically for Princess).

From 10:00a-10:30a there was a putting contest on Deck 5 near La Patasserire, which I won (yea!) – they gave me a ribbon and medal that says “Princess Cruises First Place”. We hurried up to the Princess Links and were about 2min late for our time slot. We selected Torrey Pines and got in four holes before time was up. Princess Links is essentially a commercial version of the Links ’98 Computer Golf game. Computer-generated images are projected onto a large screen; the player stands on a driving range-type mat, and, using real clubs, swings based on what he sees on the screen. The computer translates how the ball hits the screen into ball flight, direction, and distance. The next player tees off, then the screen changes to the viewpoint of whoever is away. Select the next club and play-out the hole. On the green, anything inside of 6’ is considered good. It actually was a lot of fun – if I didn’t have our trip so jam-packed with other stuff I’d have been tempted to go back and take a stab at Pebble Beach.

At noontime, we had one of two sit-down lunches in the Venetian Dining Room (the rest of the cruise lunch was either included in tour packages or we would quickly grab something from the Horizon Court). We sunbathed aft near the Oasis Spa until a little before three, and would highly recommend that area as there isn’t much traffic and almost no children (of which there were 115 on this cruise). At 3:00p we were signed-up to use the Dawn’s treadmills in their wonderfully equipped health club (located in the same general area as the spa). When finished, I headed back to the stateroom for a short nap while Debbie continued working out with free weights.

This was the first formal night, so we took a little extra time getting ready. The Captain’s cocktail reception takes place in the Atrium Lobby from 5:45p-6:15p; we had formal portraits made and imbibed on a couple of glasses of champagne and a few canapes - all complimentary. The Dawn runs two evening shows simultaneously, and which one you attend depends on the dining room to which you are assigned. The evening’s entertainment for us was a musical revue entitled “Gotta Sing, Gotta Dance”, in the Princess Theatre, employing two lead singers and about ten dancers. We’ll see more of the male lead, Tim Boyle, elsewhere (an extremely talented gentleman who Debbie felt looked and sounded like a young Sinatra). Overall, it was pretty good, if you like Las Vegas revue-type numbers.

Afterwards, we did a little shopping – Debbie bought a golf ball marker and a mesh totebag to haul stuff during shore excursions. On Deck 7 we stopped in for a “Name That Tune” contest with pianist/entertainer Barrington “Barty” Brown – if you don’t know Broadway show tunes, you won’t have a prayer of winning (we gave up after about a half-dozen songs).

I retired earlier that I would have liked due to stomach distress (don’t know if I caught a 24hr bug or something at dinner disagreed with me – possibly the caviar appetizer?).

 

Monday, November 23, 1998 - Oranjestad, Aruba

A Panoramic View of Oranjestad, Aruba

Still a little queasy I opted against having breakfast. I escorted Debbie aft to the Vista Lounge at 8:15a for her Aruba See & Sea Tour; I then headed down to La Patisserie to meet for the Certified Scuba trip. [please note what a trooper my wife is: just because I’m off exploring the oceans doesn’t mean she is going to stay on the ship awaiting my return – I’m so proud of her!]

Red Sail Sports provided our 19 divers with a very new, very nice 35’+ dive boat docked at the bow of the Dawn Princess. A 20min ride took us to the wreck of the Antilla, one of the largest shipwrecks in the Caribbean. Loaded with uniforms and beer, the Antilla was exploded and sank in 1940 and now rests in 60 feet of water. Above water her bow and stern masts are still visible; below water, she is encrusted with a variety of hard corals and colorful tube sponges. I had some problems with leakage through my ESA mask and sucked air a little faster than I would have liked, resulting in a shortish 35min dive. During our 45min surface interval we backtracked about 10min to the wreck of the Pedernales. A freighter broken into three large sections, the highlight of this dive was seeing a small octopus (about the size of a basketball) trying to hide from us behind a piece of wreckage. We stayed at 25’ depth or less for about 50min before the Divemaster motioned all of us up. Another 10-12min ride and we were dropped-off in front of the Dawn.

The “Sea” portion of Debbie’s tour was aboard the semi-submarine (aka state-of-the-art glass-bottomed boat) Seaworld Explorer. Strangely enough, they headed-out to the Antilla, but arrived just as we were finishing-up and departing. But at least she got to see where I dove, and shot some excellent video for me that gave an entirely different perspective than what I’d seen. This trip took about an hour. Afterwards, the “See” portion commenced when they boarded motorcoaches and drove to Santa Anna’s Church (known for its spectacular oak altar from Holland that took ten years to carve). After a 20-30min visit, they headed to the Casibari rock formations, where she carefully climbed the boulders and video’d the breathtaking panoramic view. This was followed by a visit to the Natural Bridge, formed by the wind and motion of the sea on the north coast’s rocks. Returning back to the ship, they passed the Gold Mill ruins at Boca Mahos before being dropped-off back at the Dawn. I am appreciative that she video’d as much as she did, as it was my only chance to see these Aruban sights.

We met back in our stateroom at 12:45p, and with nothing further booked for the remainder of the day, Debbie and I enjoyed our last sit-down lunch in the Venetian Dining room. Afterwards, we strolled-around Oranjestad to sightsee and shop. We were surprised to find how competitive the ship’s prices were, particularly on Lladro pieces. I picked-up a diving t-shirt (which I like to do wherever I dive). Be sure to take a gander at the tiger with blue eyes, behind the main shopping complex. We also took quite a few photos, as the view of the ship in port was very pretty.

Debbie with the Dawn Princess docked in Oranjestad, Aruba

We reboarded the Dawn at about 4:30p and took it easy until dinner at 6:15p. Our entertainment that evening (what the folks in the Florentine Dining Room saw on Sunday night) was comedian Mike Cheselka - he is hysterical, delving into one of my favorite comedic areas: stupid people.

After the comedy show we went to the photo gallery to purchase a formal 8x10 portrait and the 5x7 of us coming-aboard on Saturday. We then headed to the Wheelhouse Bar for a trivia contest, where we placed second (we could have tied for first if I’d gone with my first instinct on one question – aaaaaaargh!). Later, we waited in the Vista Lounge for the start of the Cruise Staff Pub Night (11:00p-12:15a) – it’s a lot of fun and definitely worth a look. They describe it as Adult / PG-13 humor, but it was a heck-of-a-lot less racy than what we’ve heard on Carnival. Anyway, with a full-day scheduled for Tuesday, we retired shortly after the show concluded.

 

Tuesday, November 24, 1998 - La Guaira, Venezuela

A Panoramic View of La Guaira, Venezuela

Passengers are repeatedly told that La Guaira / Caracas is unsafe for tourists, and to either take a scheduled shore excursion or stay on the ship. After a quick breakfast in the Horizon Court, at 7:45a we headed to the Vista Lounge to meet for the all day, four-wheel drive coastal tour.

There was about a 1/4mi walk from the ship to the parking lot containing the 10 vehicles (beat-up, non-air conditioned Toyota Land Cruisers). We were assigned a driver who called himself Willy (Guillermo), who turned out to be a joy! Speaking as much English as we do Spanish (i.e. NONE), we played a lot of charades on our way to and from the beach, and became quite good friends!

I had heard that this tour was the most fun available in Venezuela, and having done it would recommend it for anyone stopping there(conversely, I’d heard that a trip into the city of Caracas is to be avoided, unless you have a love of overpopulated third-world cities). The shore excursion brochure calls this an “off-the-beaten-path, ‘Romancing the Stone’-like tour, providing a unique opportunity to explore the lush, tropical coast of Venezuela.” We rode through the streets of La Guaira, then proceeded along the coastal road to Los Caracas (where everyone stops for an orientation from our English-fluent tourguide). A short time later, the paved road ended and a dirt road took us along the mountainous and very photogenic coastline. Our destination was the small fishing village of La Sabana and Playa Grande, where there’s about an hour allocated for swimming and sunbathing. The beach tide was pretty rough and made for excellent body surfing. We continued on to a natural river pool, where we had a chance for a freshwater swim under a small waterfall(great for rinsing-off the ocean’s saltwater). We then drove on and stopped for lunch served in a local restaurant (it was okay, but nothing to write home about). Our last stop was in a small village, where we were entertained by the music and dance of local school children.

On the Roads in Northern Venezuela

On the Roads in Northern Venezuela

On the Roads in Northern Venezuela

We returned about 5:10p and had about 20min to shop in the Cruise Ship Terminal. We purchased a six-pack of Polar Beer (better than advertised – wish we could buy this stuff in the states), three Cokes, three Coke Lights (Diet Coke), and a hand-carved flute souvenir for my daughter. Back on the boat at 5:30p, we set sail 30min later for Grenada.

It was Italian Night in the Dining Room, and the dress is very casual (thank goodness, as there wasn’t much time at all to get ready). Our evening’s entertainment in the Princess Theatre was another revue entitled “America’s Music”, which was a compilation of everything from Gershwin to Ragtime to Swing to Rock to Disco. The finale song was a medley of tunes that mention the name of every state in the union. This performance was a lot more fun than “Gotta Sing, Gotta Dance”.

Afterwards, the Island Night Deck Party commenced by poolside. Music was first provided by Island Grove (who sound exactly like the band you hear on the Love Boat Next Wave TV show), then changed a short while later to Dave Ossmann & The Dawn Princess Funkestra (they’re the main show band, but provided the best rock-and-roll of the week). Island Night offers lip-synching and hula-hoop contests, with a lot of dancing and cutting-up in between. This concluded a little after midnight, with their biggest buffet of the week open at that time – but we opted out as there’s just so much room in our tummies.

 

Wednesday, November 25, 1998 - St. Georges, Grenada

A Panoramic View of St. Georges, Grenada

The ship had to make very good time from Venezuela to Grenada, averaging 20knots (while standing on the stern the night before, watching the wake, it looked faster than that – the Dawn Princess is a very powerful ship). We used our late-arrival to sleep-in until about 9:00a; an hour later we headed to the Vista Lounge for a cooking demonstration followed by a galley tour (far too quick and cursory for our liking – again, Princess could take a lesson from Carnival on putting-on more of a show in the kitchens). We then spent a little while sunning on deck while watching Grenada grow larger before us, and partook of lunch in the Horizon Court when it opened at 11:30a. I met the certified divers at LaPatissere at 12:15p while Debbie met at 12:35p for the Scenes of Grenada & Grand Anse Beach tour.

St. Georges requires tendering, as there is no deepwater port capable of handling a ship the size of the Dawn (or the Costa Victoria, for that matter, anchored aft and starboard of the Dawn). Thankfully, seas were only 1’-2’ so boarding the tenders and cruising up-and-back was a piece of cake!

The diving, however, was a comedy of errors (but, to be fair, one of Princess’ PADI instructors had warned me in Aruba that the quality of the dive operations in Grenada was not comparable to any other port of call – he was right!). At the outset, 11 of our group of 12 were crammed into a minibus, with a driver who didn’t know where he was going: driving 15mph and letting everyone pass, he finally stopped a few miles outside of town and waited for the other cab with the other diver, Instructor, and DiveMaster to show us the way. When we got there (about 45min and south of our departure point), it looked like a dive shop run out of somebody’s garage. Scuba Express made available two boats, probably about 22’-24’ each, so we split in two, loaded-aboard our gear and headed out. To our astonishment, as we rounded the bay we could see the Dawn Princess looming in the distance, and our dive sites were north, on the other side of the cruise ship port – nothing like doubling back! About halfway there, our boat’s motors died, and never restarted. They suspected bad gas. So, we’re all crammed into the other boat to continue to our dive destination.

For divers reading this review, also note that buddies weren’t necessary as we were to be one big happy group, staying very close together and playing follow the leader – ugh! However, once we actually got underwater, the diving was simply spectacular! Our first site was the Moliniere Reef, which forms a mini-wall that has some of the most prolific fish and coral life I’ve ever seen. I wandered-off here-and-there to take pictures, but despite my advanced rating and dive computer, would get motioned-back by the Dive Master each time. This dive lasted 39min with a maximum depth of 67’.

When back aboard, they told us that we (the divers) would be beached so there’d be enough room on the boat to change cylinders(air tanks). Some of us used the time for some snorkeling; others just sat on the sand waiting for the second dive to commence. After picking us up, we headed a few minutes south to an unnamed reef, here we spent another 39min with a maximum depth of 52’. At this point, we’re more than 90min behind schedule, so we motored back to the dock in St. Georges, were quickly dropped-off, and caught the last tender back to the Dawn Princess.

Meanwhile, Debbie’s was touring the island and (again) shooting video so, when I got home, I could see what things looked like above water. Her tour began by driving along the Carenage, through the capital city of St. George’s, past the Government House, then on to Richmond Hill for a stop at Fort Frederick. This fort, with its commanding view of the port area, was started by the French in 1779 and completed by the English in 1791. They continued on through woodlands in the sugar cane belt for a short visit to a small rum distillery. The tour later headed to a resort area on Grand Anse Beach for a complimentary drink and an hour swimming or sunbathing. She was back in the stateroom by 4:30p.

Grenada is a great place to buy spices, but we didn’t. Debbie wasn’t comfortable wandering the streets by herself, and I got back too late to have any time for shopping. We had heard about small gift baskets with cinnamon, nutmeg, and saffron that would have made great gifts, but, alas, time conspired against us. By the way, the cruise brochure says that you can smell spices in the area when you arrive, and you can – it just doesn’t smell like what you expect (it’s kind of a sicky-sweet, burning sort of smell that’s hard to identify – not unpleasant, just not what we were expecting).

Anyway, I hurriedly got ready for French Night Dinner (including escargot and pate to die for). Our evening’s entertainment was “The Comedy of Kip Reynolds”, which was basically a juggler that did pratfalls. Not worth walking out on but certainly not worth seeing again. At 10:45p we watched ”The Newlywed and Not so Newlywed Game” in the Vista Lounge. Having participated in the same game on Carnival three years earlier, we were amazed to hear that all ten questions asked were identical – guess that’s just standard cruise fare. Equally amazing was that the newlyweds correctly matched all ten questions! We called it a night just before midnight.

 

Thursday, November 26, 1998 - Roseau, Dominica
(Happy Thanksgiving!)

A Panoramic View of Roseau, Dominica

We awoke about 6:30a and, turning on the TV, saw the mountainous coastline of Dominica while hearing the theme music from “Jurassic Park” played. That’s what the place looks like – honestly! I went topside to grab a couple of cups of coffee, as neither of us were in the mood for breakfast.

I met-up with the certified divers at 8:05a while Debbie met at 8:15a for the Trafalgar Falls and Roseau Highlights tour. Walking off the dock, then about 1/4mi northward we were grateful to find a well-equipped, 35’+ dive boat operated by Dive Dominica. We left on time and 25min later stopped our engines at L'Abym. It was certainly good of Princess to schedule the best diving of the week last – Dominica provided a show-stopping, grand-finale that is the highlight of my diving life! At this dramatic, pristine wall I saw everything from sea horses to a stingray with a 6’-8’ wingspan. The dive lasted 41min and had a maximum depth of 80’, with the best visibility of the week too. During the surface interval, where we were served a tasty fruit punch, we motored 10min north to Gaugaind (not sure of that spelling), for a 47min dive to 51’. The highlight of this dive was a beautiful swim-through that included a small cavern with what looked to be a family of three-to-four dozen medium-to-large lobsters (kind of a preview of tonight’s dinner?). Oh, how I want to go back and spend a week diving there!

Debbie headed-out to one of Dominica’s – and the Caribbean’s – most picturesque waterfalls. After traveling by minibus for a half-hour, the driver/guide led them on a 15min walk to view the two Trafalgar waterfalls, which cascade into a deep pool over slippery boulders surrounded by lush ferns and orchid blooms. Following the walk, they enjoyed a drink at the Papilotte Wilderness Retreat overlooking the rugged Roseau Valley. Before returning to town, they toured the Botanical Gardens and got to see more of Roseau. Thanks again, Debbie, for so diligently shooting video so that I could see what the island looked like!

A View of the Pool Deck with Roseau in the Background

With both of us back on the ship and nearly an hour before the start of our next excursion, we had lunch at Horizon Court and changed for snorkeling. Also conducted by Dive Dominica, we snorkeled the Champagne Reef, named for the bubbles that continuously rise from the shallow reef. This site sits on the edge of a submerged volcano, and you really can feel the hot water as it vents from the earth. Champagne Reef teems with a variety of small tropical fish, corals and sponges. The downside of this trip was a mysterious sting to the top of Debbie’s left forefinger about 30min into the dive – I couldn’t see anything around her, but it was painful enough to go seek treatment on the dive boat (I continued on for another 45min shooting yet another roll of film). On the way back, we viewed the Dominican coastline in the setting sun for one last time. If the reader enjoys snorkeling, this is a must do!!!

Back on the ship by 4:30p, we strolled on deck photographing the harbor, then headed down to dress for the second formal night’s dinner. This was lobster night – I guess the turkey & dressing served to honor the day didn’t fare so well as it reappeared on Friday evening’s menu. Tonight’s entertainment in the Princess Theatre was their signature piece “Pirates”, that includes not only the singers and dancers from the two previous revues, but five acrobats and two performers from Cirque du Soleii. It was the best show of the week. Afterwards, we enjoyed walking off dinner until 11:45p, when the Maitre d’Hotel, Mario, supervised construction of a Champagne Waterfall consisting of 741 glasses. Whoever wanted to could get their pictures made pouring atop the waterfall. Complimentary crepes suzette and champagne followed, with dancing until the wee hours. At a little after 1:00a we decided to turn in.

 

Friday, November 27, 1998 - St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands

A Panoramic View of St. Thomas, USVI

After a Horizon Court breakfast, Debbie and I headed out onto the dock shortly after eight for the Five Star St. John Beach & Snorkel Tour. The 115-food Leylon Sneed was a little late arriving, but took about sixty of us on an hour-and-a-half trip to Trunk Bay in the Virgin Islands National Park at St. John. En route we were given a guided tour of the various land masses, hotels, marinas, homes, etc., as well as a talk about our upcoming snorkeling excursion. The coral was quite nice, but the fish life was a little sparse – after Dominica, it was a bit of a let-down [mind you, without Dominica, it would have been very enjoyable and memorable – that’s how good Dominica was]. Debbie took a break about halfway through to lay on the beach, advertised as one of the ten prettiest in the world (IMHO it is). On the swim back, jellyfish were beginning to appear, so I swam lead dodging them left and right until we got back to the boat. Freshwater showers and all the rum punch you could drink made the trip back that much more pleasant. They have a gift shop and cash bar onboard if you’re so inclined. This is a definite “to-do” when in St. Thomas! (Oh, by the way, the house shown below belongs to swimming legend Esther Williams)

Sailing off St. John

Esther Williams Home high above the waters of St. Thomas

After returning to the Dawn Princess, we had a quick bite of lunch in the Horizon Court. We then met at 1:30p for The Best of St. Thomas Island Tour (having never been here before we thought it would provide a good orientation – in retrospect, I think a competent cab driver could do as good a job, and not make you stay in some of the areas for quite as long). First, we traveled along Skyline Drive, which boasts magnificent views of St. John, the British Virgin Islands, and Charlotte Amalie and the harbor. Next we stopped at the St. Peter Great House, formerly a private, contemporary hideaway of the rich and famous. There, we strolled through the botanical gardens and took-in the panoramic views of the Virgin Islands from the observation deck, situated 1,000 feet above the ocean, as we enjoyed a complimentary rum punch. The last stop was Mountain Top, where we had a 30min “shopping opportunity” … ahem. On the way back, we had the driver drop us at Havensight Mall, where we shopped a little for fragrances (what Debbie wanted was apparently so new that none of the shops had it); we then maxed-out (12 liters) our alcohol purchases at A.H. Riise (note: you’ll get great priced coupons at A.H. Riise Stores in the Princess Travel Documents, but get there early as all of the good deals were gone by late afternoon).

A Birds-Eye View of Charlotte Amalie

A Birds-Eye View of Magens Bay

We returned to the Dawn at about 5:30pm and enjoyed our bottle of Moet & Chandon Champagne and some canapes prior to the American Night Dinner (with the cruise-mandatory, busboy-toted Baked Alaska parade concluding the meal). It was tip night and we were very generous with our wait staff as we felt that they, and the food, were beyond reproach – it’s better than advertised!

Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas at Dusk

The last evening’s entertainment was “The Musical Artistry of Harry Bee” – while we were waiting for it to begin we were joking about it probably being something lame like a harmonica player – it was! A helluva entertainer, absolutely playing his heart out, we gave him about two numbers before we made a quiet retreat out the rear doors. We saw a lot of others do likewise. Let me reiterate that he really was a virtuoso on his instrument; it just wasn’t our cup of tea, particularly on the last night of the cruise.

This last night revealed a quirk we’ve not seen on other cruise lines: Princess wants your packed bags outside of the stateroom prior to 9:00p. Had the show been any good we would have been very late for that. As things were, we came back to the stateroom at about 8:45p, only to find one of the porters loitering outside of our stateroom door to inquire where our bags were. He told us we were the last ones in the hallway – so we headed inside, stuffed them as fast as we could, and had everything outside by about 9:10p. We walked the ship and reminisced about the past week for the remainder of the evening. We vowed to return in 1999... although that clearly never happened!

 

Saturday, November 28, 1998 - San Juan, Puerto Rico

A Panoramic View of Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

Disembarkation was as easy as embarkation. The evening before, colored tags are issued based on your return travel plans – early flights get off first, then come later flights, finishing with those of us remaining for a post-cruise stay. Airline representatives were on the ship by 6:30a to issue boarding passes and bag checks. Watching those first off, they would go through customs, then take their bags to airline attendants that looked just like curb check-in at an airport. Bags were loaded into the backs of trucks, whereupon the passengers would board small passenger coaches to head to the airport or for their post-cruise tour. The only bad lines were around customs, which still only took about 15-20min.

We had a final sit-down breakfast in the dining room at about 7:30a, and a short time later met in Jammer’s Disco to receive instructions on how to get to our post-cruise hotel. We then could walk the ship, doing whatever we wanted, until time to disembark at about 10:45a. Surprisingly, unlike prior cruises, we had full use of the ship – Carnival would wall-off stairwells and sections of the ship, causing you to feel a little like a caged animal.

Being in possession of eight items, we used the services of a porter who greeted us at the foot of the gangway. It took just a moment to identify our stuff, then just another 10min-or-so to go through customs, with no hassles whatsoever. We made way to our coach bus, which took a 15min ride to the Ritz-Carlton San Juan Hotel & Casino in Isla Verde. The Ritz was a last minute substitution for the Hyatt Dorado Beach, whose physical plant and golf courses were also damaged by Hurricane Georges (we had intended on playing two rounds of golf while staying there).

We were disappointed upon arrival to find that our room would not be available for several hours, despite being told contrary in the morning’s briefing on ship. Arriving shortly before 11:30a we were told to check-back in two hours; at that time we were told it would be another hours. To make a long story short, we finally got our room about 3:20p. The Ritz is your basic Ritz: 5-star accommodations and expensive! During this time, after overdosing on five-course meals all week, we opted for chips-n-salsa and a couple of beers poolside – these cost $25 plus tip - ooooooowwwww!!

A View from The Ritz Carlton San Juan

Once in the room, we realized how much we’d been burning the candle at both ends over the past week. We both fell asleep and dozed for a couple of hours; upon waking, we elected to just order a couple of burgers & fries, along with a couple of drinks from room service, and stay in to catch a movie. But the pleasant surprise of the evening was that the TV was malfunctioning and letting through all of the pay movies for free (regularly $8.95 each). We caught “Lethal Weapon 4”, “Six Days & Seven Nights“, and a couple of adult titles.

 

Sunday, November 29, 1998 - San Juan, Puerto Rico

After sleeping-in until nearly 10:00a, we leisurely got dressed and hired a cab about lunchtime to head into Old San Juan for an afternoon’s walking tour. Traffic was an absolute terror as the city was conducting its annual Christmas Parade. We started at El Morro and spent nearly an hour touring there. It’s run by the National Parks Service and is definitely worth visiting, particularly since it’s so prominent when exiting the harbor on the cruise ship! It is big too: they say there’s enough room in the six-level fortress to accommodate a nine-hole golf course.

We exited and began a walking tour on our own, that included brief stops in the San Juan Museum of Art and History, the Buttress House, the San Jose Church, and the Pablo Casals Museum. Shortly before 2:00p we lunched at Amadeus on San Sebastian(excellent and recommended highly). We again kept it simple, with Debbie getting a grilled chicken sandwich and me getting a shredded beef sandwich – both served with fried plantains (I also enjoyed Puerto Rico’s flagship brew: Medallia). On a return visit, we’d love to come back for dinner in the back dining room – it appeared very romantic.

We continued touring, visiting the Dominican Convent, Casa Blanca, the San Juan Cathedral, the Cristo Chapel, Plaza de Armas, and Plaza de Colon. We did a little shopping in some factory stores, but didn’t see anything that had to be bought. We made way to Fort San Cristobal, but decided to tour it next time we’re staying in Old San Juan. After walking the cruise ship terminals one last time (nearby the Wyndham) we hailed a cab for a $16 ride back to the Ritz – walking the area we had trod eight days before provided a sentimental kind of closure to our vacation. After getting cleaned-up, we walked about two blocks for dinner at Metropol, which specializes in Cuban and Puerto Rican food, very good and reasonably priced. Having consumed a bottle of wine with our meal, we decided to call it an evening shortly after we returned to our room.

 

Monday, November 30, 1998 - Return Home to Atlanta, Georgia

This was our “be lazy” day: we slept late, packed, checked-out about 12:30p, and had one last expensive lunch at the Ocean Bar & Grill (two Cuban sandwiches with fries, two drinks, $41). We then sat around the pool, moving an hour-or-so later to the lobby until our ride came shortly before 4:00p. From the time we left the hotel to when we were sitting in the terminal waiting to board our flight only 45min had elapsed, so we had a pretty substantial wait for our 5:50pm departure on DL572, bound for an 8:50pm arrival in Atlanta. We were back in our home in suburban east Atlanta by 10:30p.

One of the more amazing sand sculptures you will ever see!

 

Conclusion

P&O has acquired two new, loyal, very happy cruisers – sorry Carnival! The overall quality of the Dawn Princess, it’s décor, stateroom comfort, food and wait service, cruise staff, etc., are simply top notch! There are no gaps in things to do during the week. If the reader sails on this itinerary, definitely get wet in Dominica or at least go snorkeling in Trunk Bay; see if you can hook-up with Willy in La Guaira (but be forewarned, his driving may scare you a little); take time to buy spices in Grenada; and do your own touring in St. Thomas.

But, nothing is perfect – what can Princess do better? 1) Improve the musical selections. Particularly weak was the lack of competent rock-n-roll bands – the only credible rock music for the week was provided by the show-band on Island Night. Also inept were the Steve & Eydie clones in the Wheelhouse Bar, and the female lead singer in the musical revues (she’d make a great torchlight singer but didn’t have the power or range for a stageshow). Barty should learn something other than Broadway show numbers. 2) Replace the harmonica-player with another comic. 3) Replace La Guaira / Caracas with another port in the general area (possibly Bonaire, Curacao, Trinadad, or even Barbados).

However, all-in-all, it was an excellent week, and we vowed that we would definitely want to sail on Princess’ other "classic" itinerary in the very near future!

   
 

| Home | Music | Golf | Travel | Family || Email Me | Facebook | Twitter | Google+ | Instagram | LinkedIn | Pinterest |

Copyright © 1999-2017 by David Presley, All Rights Reserved. Webspace hosted by GoDaddy.com.
Optimized for High-Speed Connectivity - Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, and/or Safari - minimum 1024x768 display resolution.

Find more about Weather in Vancouver, WA