Royal Princess is a Modern, Model Megaship
The current wave of 3,500- to 4,000-passenger ships introduced in the industry in the last couple of years or so have ushered in all manner of new features and functionality, and Royal Princess (launched mid-2013) is no exception. A few nice touches: ceiling fans above tables on the pool deck; an outdoor, all-weather par course circuit ringing the jogging track; Movies Under the Stars with custom chaise pads; Watercolor Fantasy water & light show nightly; nice Asian food station in Horizon Court; the first Lido-dedicated Pastry Shop; check-in/check-out through security with handhelds, which speeds up the process greatly; and the Sea Walk observation platform.
It’s All About Nature in Dominica
Lush, green Dominica looks like the Caribbean as it once was – before mass tourism hit. And they don’t call it the Nature Island for nothing. The diversity of flora and fauna is wide and deep, fed by abundant rainfall. Black sand beaches and hot springs are testament to the island’s volcanic nature, while the locals, unjaded by the lack of mass tourism, project a laid-back, island mentality that we wish would rub off on us. We had an interesting visit to Screw’s Sulfur Spas, a privately-run complex of spring-fed hot pools splayed along a verdant hillside. All-day admission is $10, but the orange-tinged sulfur will stain your white bathing attire while you relax in nature’s Jacuzzi.
Aboard Royal Princess in Ft. Lauderdale
With about 4,000 passengers planning to board Royal Princess on this 10-day Southern Caribbean voyage, I expected the embarkation process in Ft. Lauderdale to be long and arduous. To my surprise and delight, it was just the opposite. Thanks to staged arrivals, plenty of security screening checkpoints and use of handheld scanners, I went from sidewalk to ship in 20 minutes. Once aboard and into Royal Princess’ beautiful Piazza atrium, I was struck by its size – 50% larger than similar spaces on other Princess ships. And, as the focal point of the ship, the Piazza enables passengers to navigate the vessel more efficiently, while also serving as an entertainment, dining and shopping hub. Fixtures and furniture in the cabins also follow Princess’ design aesthetic: warm woods, clean lines and good lighting.
Carnival’s SeaDay Brunch a Touch of Luxury
Continuing with Carnival’s mission to provide quality dining room cuisine, the line’s Seaday Brunch is a nice feature offered on one sea day per cruise. With an appealing mix of breakfast, brunch and lunch items, the Seaday Brunch is a touch of luxury in a quiet, relaxed atmosphere – which is often hard to find in the mix of action on a Carnival ship. We enjoyed the smoky “flamin’ tomatoes soup,” eggs benedict, huevos rancheros and a guilty pleasure: Frosted Flake-crusted French toast. Topped off with a slice of caramelized cheesecake, brunch was a hit.
Carnival LIVE Concert Series a Hit with STYX
Onboard Carnival Inspiration for a 4-night Carnival LIVE Baja itinerary featuring STYX (remember them from the ‘80s?), I’m impressed by Carnival’s ongoing commitment to FUN. Production shows in the ship’s theater feature a high-energy cast that take the show right out into the atrium – where the singing and dancing continues. And the STYX concert was impressive too, especially for the bargain ticket price of $20. The band has held up pretty well, and their songs still sound amazingly like the original recordings – something most legacy bands can’t pull off. Many in the crowd – especially die-hard STYX fans that sing along with without missing a beat – were on their feet during the hour-plus show. It was a blast from the past, delivered in the relative intimacy of the 960-seat theater.
The Crown Jewel of Alaskan Cruising
There are Alaskan cruises that visit glaciers, and then there are Alaskan cruises that visit Glacier Bay. The former are a treat, but the latter are simply spectacular, for Glacier Bay can aptly be described as the crown jewel of Alaskan cruising. This 5,130-square mile national park, accessible only by sea, is a veritable ice-stravaganza, with 1,045 glaciers competing for attention. The National Park Service limits entry permits, thus shutting out most cruise lines completely. Holland America Line, however, has historically garnered a large share of the permits, as has Princess.
Wildlife Wonderland in Juneau
Locals say that there are only three ways to get into landlocked Juneau: by air, by sea, or through the birth canal. There are no roads leading into or out of the state capital, and the surrounding rugged mountains are testament to Alaska’s wilderness heritage. So is the abundant wildlife. On the short, 20-minute ride to a local marina, we saw no less than three bald eagles resting on treetops and light poles. And a whale watching expedition here is significantly more satisfying than a similar voyage in the lower 48. In fact, the local humpback whale population during summer is so dense that the tour operators guarantee sightings – or will give passengers a refund. We were lucky enough to get an up-close view of a pod of 14 humpbacks engaging in bubble-net feeding, a rare and spectacular form of shared-task feeding that left grizzled crew members awed – and moved some to tears. Then, as if on cue, a pair of Orcas (Killer Whales) surfaced, swimming parallel to our boat. That trip, with its ubiquitous wildlife sightings, was emblematic of the Alaskan experience.
Cruising the Inside Passage
After boarding Holland America Line’s 1,800-passenger Westerdam yesterday in Seattle, we’re sailing up the scenic Inside Passage today, on the way to Juneau. Since this 7-day Alaskan cruise is a special Holland America Line (HAL) theme cruise for their Dancing With The Stars: at Sea program, the line has plenty of star power aboard. Today, our media group had its first press conference with DWTS past-season celebrities Carson Kressley and Sabrina Bryan and dance pros Kym Johnson, Emma Slater and Tristan MacManus. All were eager to talk about their experiences while divulging details of how DWTS works behind the scenes. And Carson Kressley was hilarious!