Caribbean Princess/Canada-New England: Part 4 – The Ports

[Part 4 of our Canada/New England cruise aboard Caribbean Princess.]

IMG_0296I’ve talked about the ship, the food and the entertainment; now it’s time to focus on the ports we visited. A few ports we either call home (Boston) or have visited previously (Halifax and Portland), but Quebec, Saguenay/Fjord National Park, Charlottetown and Sydney were all new to us, as was the St. Lawrence River.

Quebec City: 2-Hour Walking Tour

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Wanting to see a little of the Old City during our 2-day pre-cruise stay in Quebec City,  we pre-booked this through Tours Voir Quebec. Our friends, Andi and Ed joined us, and we met at the Visitor’s Center directly across the park from our hotel, the Chateau Frontenac, so it was real easy to find. Our local guide gave us a wonderful tour, starting from the Frontenac and leading us downhill to the Old City. She expertly introduced us to the history, culture and people of this beautiful city with its narrow, cobblestone streets and quaint shops and bistros. I only wish the day had been nicer, because it rained the entire time down the hill. The uphill climb back up is a long one, so we opted to ride the Funiculaire, the City’s cable railway back to the hotel on the hilltop. The sun finally came out, and we got this great shot of the ship awaiting our arrival in port.

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Montmorency Falls and Ile d’Orleans: This was a cruise-sponsored tour which I wouldn’t do again and would only recommend to those who would be satisfied with a very brief glimpse of Montmorency Falls. The first stop was Lac-Beauport, a small lake beach resort where we got off the bus, looked at the lake, and got back on the bus. It seemed to be a lake like any other, and was nothing special. I don’t even have any photos of the lake, and the most memorable image I have was that of these young girls doing handstands on the beach.

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Another interesting feature was the display of interesting art posters by local artists, one of which could possibly be a distant relative of mine, as the signature in this photo hints at. My dad came from Quebec, and, who knows, maybe Pierre is a distant cousin. I definitely will want to explore this further at another time.

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The next stop was the L’En-Tailleur Sugar Shack, a place popular with the tourists and everyone should visit at least once, as Quebec prides itself on their maple sugar products. It was an interesting display of how maple syrup is made, complete with really good warm complimentary apple pie and coffee. Be sure to douse it with with the provided maple syrup – it’s delicious!

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The last stop on the tour was Montmorency Falls, and for those who wanted to snap a photo or two from the rear of the gift shop, I’m sure it was fine. But I am a photo nut and like to be up close and personal with my subject and make the moment last. By the time the bus unloaded, I had barely enough time to race to the falls, snap a few photos, and race back. There are other fun things to do at the falls – trails, cable car ride, zip lining, and probably more. If you’re in Quebec City on a cruise and want to spend quality time at the Falls, just take an Uber or taxi from the ship.

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Saguenay/Fjord National Park: We pre-booked an independent tour of the Saguenay Fjord National Park and surroundings through Tours aventure Fjord et Monde INC., an excellent tour which got off to a rather rocky start. My husband was a bit under the weather, so I ventured out alone on this 24-passenger minibus tour. Even though I prepaid, I still had to stop at the office shack on the pier, wait in line, and get a ticket which is assigned a bus number. I went to my assigned bus, which strangely had no seat for me, so back to the shack I trekked. After some confusion, I finally had a seat on another mini-bus. We finally drove off, and I happily had the seat all to myself. I am happy to say that the tour got much better after this, and I would highly recommend it. Our guide, Louise, was a real sweet French lady who spoke enough English to get her stories across with knowledge, humor and enthusiasm. Stops included a site with an assortment of interesting Nativity carvings, a stroll across a beautiful covered bridge and an hour-long visit to the lovely town of L’Anse St. Jean to have a bite to eat or just take in the scenery. But the highlight was the nature trail in Saguenay Fjord National Park, where we hiked to three separate overlooks to see the magnificent Saguenay fjord that our ship traversed to reach the port of Quebec City. The views were stunning and one of the top 10 best views in all of Canada, we were told. 

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Charlottetown: Lighthouses of Prince Edward Island Scenic Drive. This was a ship tour, and it was very good. We saw three of the 50 lighthouses on the island. Our guide was a friendly local man who told us all about the history and culture of P.E.I. and its lighthouses. The first lighthouse, Brighton Beach, was viewed from the shore road sidewalk, but the other two, Prim Point and Wood Islands we were able to view and access from the grounds. In fact, for the third and final lighthouse (Wood Islands) my husband and I succeeded in climbing the narrow steep stairway to the top, a very proud accomplishment for us.

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On the ride back to the ship, our music-appreciative guide entertained us with his harmonicas. It was a very beautiful and relaxing tour. Having never been here before, we were pleasantly surprised by the lush and beautiful landscapes of Prince Edward Island.

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Sydney: I organized a private 6-hour mini-Cabot Trail tour for my husband and me, plus 6 of our friends, pre-booked with Cabot Discovery Tours, which was a great decision. Since Sydney turned out to be a tender port, we weren’t certain about the logistics of meeting the tour on time, but the tour office was very communicative from the get-go, arranging to meet as soon as we were able to leave the ship. We all met onboard at the Island Dining Room to collect our tender tickets and were on the first tender over to meet our tour. Our driver/guide was Caroline, who was happily waiting for us with her roomy 12-passenger van right at the dock when we stepped off the tender, and we were on our way by 7:30 a.m, well before the ship’s excursion. I have nothing but praise for Caroline and her tour. She showed us around a portion of the 185-mike trail loop, covering as much ground as possible, stopping for snacks and the best scenic photo ops along the way. Caroline was a wealth of information, expertly covering the geography, nature and people of Cape Breton. She was able to calm our fears when we ran into some construction traffic on the way back to the ship and even promised to drive us to the next port of Halifax if needed. Fortunately, it didn’t come to that, as we made it back in time to tender back to the ship. We all loved this tour and highly recommend Cabot Discovery Tours. We were able to be on the road well before the cruise ship busses, cover more ground (specifically the prettier west side of the trail, as recommended by Caroline), and experience more of beautiful Cape Breton, all at a significantly lower price than the cruise line tour.

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Portland: My husband has a couple of friends/colleagues in Maine, Sam and Nancy, and we used this day in port to meet them for lunch. They suggested DiMillo’s on the Water, a floating restaurant just a short walk from the ship. Our friends recommended I try their famous lobster stew, and it was delicious. After lunch, Nancy – who grew up in Portland – was kind enough to drive us around town and show us the sights.

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HALIFAX: I had been here before, having seen the Maritime Museum, and once again with David last October when we did a tour of Peggy Cove and other attractions. We had no plans on this visit, but needed to find a pharmacy, so took a walk up the hill to check out the city streets and the historic cemetery. On the way back, we walked along the Boardwalk and grabbed a lobster roll for lunch, and headed back to the ship.

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BOSTON: We live an hour away, have been there a million times, so we used this port as an extra sea day, enjoying the pool and deck without the crowds and watching the planes take off and land at Logan Airport.

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Brooklyn, New York: The cruise ended in New York, and even though I have plenty of previous photos of Lady Liberty and the New York skyline, I never get tired of the view. It was particularly beautiful watching the sun rise over the city, and I got some great shots from our balcony, the upper decks and that awesome view spot way forward on Deck 15, a limited access deck open from sunrise to sunset (and that not everyone knows about.

Disembarkation: The cruise was over and it was time to take our leave, which is always a little bittersweet, especially when it’s been a particularly good cruise. Disembarkation was disorganized and took unusually long because they were late getting the luggage off the ship. For the first time I can remember, some passengers disembarked before their luggage did.

That’s it – our cruise in 4 parts. I hope you enjoyed it, and if you have any questions about the ship, the itinerary or any cruise in general, send me a message.

Happy Cruising!

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Caribbean Princess: Part 3 – Food, Drink and Entertainment

unnamed[Part 3, a continuing narration of my recent experience on the Caribbean Princess, Canada/New England cruise]

Let’s start with the Bars. On every cruise, the first place we visit on any ship is the bar by the pool. Because our cabin was just steps away from cool liquid refreshment, the bar at Neptune’s Pool became our “stop” on the way, and bartender “Rocky” became our new best friend. He saw us coming from a mile away, called us by name (presumably with the help of Medallion ID, of course), and was ready to serve with his best “Isaac” imitation.

Other than Rocky and the Neptune Bar, I can’t remember when bar service has been so lacking on a Princess ship. I don’t know if they were short handed or if they were focusing more on the folks ordering from the Ocean Medallion apps, but we were hard pressed to find someone to take a drink order in many places – the theatre, in the atrium, poolside, and, most notably, Vines, the wine bar. We stopped by to chat with friends as they were sipping wine before dinner, and no one was in sight to see if we wanted anything.  BUT – watch how fast they come if you try walking off with their premium Vine’s stemware to enjoy elsewhere on the ship. When we finally did get service, the same missing waiter magically appeared from nowhere to chase me down in order to switch out the good wine glass for a cheaper travel version.

ENTERTAINMENT

We skipped more shows and performances on this cruise than usual, either because we had seen the shows before, we were busy wading through a 3-course dinner in the dining room, or we were just plain tired. We are early-to-rise, early-to-bed people at home, and old habits die hard, even on vacation. Still, we did stay awake long enough to catch some very good acts:

vOe9YGCBSL+ZpA5yGzBUgQLes Grands Hurleurs (Folklore Performance): Wow! Feet on fire! This energetic French-Canadian trio of talented musicians – guitar, bass and a foot-tapping fiddler – will make you want to dance in the aisles – or even your seat, and we absolutely loved them! Watch a video clip here: https://youtu.be/DXaKzLncmG0

Comedian, Richie Minervini: I can tell when a comedian is funny by how many tears of laughter I need to dry, and I needed half a box of tissues for this guy. He’s got quite a TV and comedy club history according to his website, though I didn’t recognize him and never watched the shows he was famous for (“King of Queens” or “Rosie”). In any event, he was hilarious, and his jokes hit their mark.

Static – I actually left David in the cabin one night and went out dancing to this lively, high-energy dance band. The two lead singers do an awesome job taking turns mingling with the crowd and encouraging everyone to get out on the dance floor and boogie to pop, oldies and disco.

Bravo – This was the only production extravaganza we experienced on this cruise. The Princess singers, dancers and orchestra came together to perform pop music with a side order of light opera. We had seen this show on a previous Princess cruise, and the vocals, costumes and choreography were as phenomenal as I remembered. It was definitely worth the re-run!

DINING

Sabatini’s Italian Trattoria. We had not planned on trying any of the added-fee specialty restaurants on this cruise, but made a spur-of-the-moment reservation at Sabatini’s, and we were not disappointed. We live in an Italian/American neighborhood in our home town and have the best Italian food around, so I was a little skeptical whether cruise ship Italian could compete. Turned out it was just as good as anything back home. Service was impeccable, the food expertly prepared and delicious. David had the foresight to remember to snap a photo of his trio of pastas.

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While dining on our Italian dinner, we watched as waiter after waiter brought out a quartet of delectable delights to other tables. When the dessert menu arrived, we didn’t hesitate and each ordered our own. While we were waiting for them to arrive to the table, little did we know that singing waiters were going to surprise us with a cake for our anniversary. There was no way we could do double dessert, so we had them wrap the cake and deliver it to our cabin, which was a good move, because it would have been a damn shame if we didn’t have room in our bellies for these slanted glass goblets containing tiramisu, berries and chocolate sauce, panna cotta and one of the cruise line’s famous Chocolate Journey creations. Positively sinful!

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Sabatini’s was, of course, the culinary highlight of the cruise, and Anytime Dining in our venue of choice, Island Dining Room, had some good offerings, as well. My prime rib was delicious, though I did hear several people complain it was tough. The always-available fettuccini alfredo was even better than I remember, and the French onion soup was amazing, as always. The best entree on the menu was the beef medallion, very tender and delicious. Service, on the other hand, was inconsistent, with long lags between courses, and accompaniments like butter and sour cream for a baked potato were slow in coming. One noticeable change was the steak option missing from the “anytime” menu, now replaced by a burger.

World Fresh Marketplace (a.k.a.Buffet ): With the exception of room service a couple of mornings, we had breakfast here most often. However, while everyone else naturally gravitated to the first stack of plates and nearby food stations, we headed on through to Planks BBQ and adjacent Steamers, both open daily in the mornings. It was far less crowded and much quieter, though by the end of the cruise, others had discovered our secret. In fact, Steamers is also where the omelet station is located, which made me wonder how many people weren’t even aware of its existence. Most of the same breakfast options were available here, and if they didn’t have it, the nearby main buffet did. We found the food generally good, with a wide selection of items to choose from.

International Cafe: This is my favorite snack venue on the ship, with complimentary salads, sandwiches, quiche and desserts. The adjacent coffee bar serves up some delicious specialty coffees for a fee.

Slice Pizzeria: Caribbean Princess does not have their famous sit-down Alfredo’s pizza restaurant, so this pool-side pizzeria was the next best thing, and served up fresh and tasty pies. The best part? It was just steps away from our cabin, so we could easily grab a slice whenever we craved it which, I confess, was too often. To our delight, they have added deep dish focaccia and sliced stromboli to the menu, which were delicious.

The Salty Dog: I don’t think we tried the burgers at this poolside grill, but the hot dogs were good. Plus, maybe I was inspired by the poutine (fries covered in gravy and cheese curds) I tried in Quebec City, but suddenly I wanted to smother my fries in toppings, so I ordered them covered in cheese and bacon.

Stay tuned for port reviews …

 

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Caribbean Princess: Part 2 – First Impressions and Medallion Class Cruising

[Part 2 of my recent experience aboard Caribbean Princess, Canada/New England cruise]

It was time to board the Caribbean Princess, which had been docked for two days in the Port of Quebec, awaiting it’s next gaggle of guests. We checked out of the Chateau Frontenac, and after a fairly long wait for a taxi to accommodate the four of us, we were finally on our way to the ship. Traffic was backed up all the way down the hill, but it was a nice way to people-watch along the way. Besides, our driver, who appeared to be a kind  and patient woman, seemed amused by the lively and comical commentary coming from her customers eager to get started on their cruise.

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Embarkation & Princess Medallion Class Cruising

Princess had recently rolled out their new Medallion Class cruising on the Caribbean Princess, featuring an actual round medallion replacing the old key card and a bazillion electronic ways to enhance the cruise experience. More about the medallion and all the bells and whistles that come with it later.

Our medallions arrived by FedEx about 2 weeks before the cruise, encased in enough paper and cardboard to destroy a forest. A small padded envelope would have been sufficient. To their credit, though, the box holding the medallions is a sturdy, attractive, reusable one and will enjoy a second life on my desk, with just the wasteful filler going to the recycle bin. After some frustrating trial and error, maneuvering the disk into the lanyard holder, downloading the Ocean READY app, and syncing the medallion with our passport info and photos, as instructed, we were finally ready to rock and roll. Embarkation and getting through security was a breeze – you still need your passport, because the security agents don’t give a hoot about your medallion. Wearing our new fashionable bling – and carrying a backup copy of our boarding passes just in case – we stopped briefly to check in with a crew member and were on board in no time at all.

Ship and First Impressions

fullsizeoutput_340bWe are no strangers to Princess, and they have always been our favorite ships, so we pretty much knew what to expect when we boarded. Still, we last cruised Caribbean Princess in 2005 and would have to dig through photos to remember specific details before the recent makeover, but we were really impressed with how bright and shiny the public spaces appeared when we boarded. The ship is beautiful! The Piazza has been spiffed up and looking better than ever, and my favorite part of any Princess ship of this class is the Promenade Deck, which did not disappoint. Since cabins were ready to receive guests, we headed right for ours to unload our stuff and vowed to explore the rest of the ship later.

Balcony Cabin L251: This is a standard balcony cabin located forward of the pools on Lido Deck 15, and we would definitely book it again. 10 flights of stairs going down to dinner and shows became part of our daily workout; going up 10 flights was something else, and I did this just once after Muster, while my husband waited with the masses for an elevator. We really appreciated the cabin location, super convenient to the main pools, buffet fare, ice cream/specialty coffee station, and the fitness center and spa just a deck above. Best of all was the short walk to the bar and our favorite bartender, Rocky, located just around the corner. Because it was located forward of the elevators, as well, there was very little traffic and it was quiet most of the time. But the real bonus is a door all the way forward that opens to a viewing deck that sits over the bridge, available from sunrise to sunset, as David and I found out one evening when we were quietly escorted off by a security guard after hours. However, at times when it was fine and legal to be up there, the view was fabulous for arrivals and departures, and, in fact, the view coming into New York at sunrise was absolutely amazing and drew quite a crowd at 5:30 am.

The standard balcony cabins on this ship are fairly roomy. There was no sofa, which I did miss from the NCL ships I’m used to. There were two chairs – and for us, that meant one for sitting and one for resting feet upon – and a desk that we found useful for storing gadgets, papers, and all the other stuff accumulated over the course of a cruise. Night tables with drawer space on either side of the bed was also helpful for storage. The closet area came with a ton of hangers and plenty of space for hanging clothing, but the shelf space was a little skimpy. The large screen TV was a big improvement, with a large amount of cruise related programs and a fair number of free movies to choose from. Other than that, there were just a couple of news stations and old TV show episodes, including The Love Boat, of course! The bed – because everyone asks – was super comfy, with Princess still having the best beds at sea in my mind. The balcony was adequate, with a small table and two chairs with reclining backs.

Although we have loads of photos from the ports and tours, we are severely lacking in photos of the ship’s interior, and neither one of us thought of taking any photos of the cabin on this cruise, strange considering the fancy cameras we travel with. The reader will have to use some imagination. In any event, we had a great view of the bridge forward, and awesome sunsets, of course. On the days filled with fog, there was just white nothing.

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Free WiFi Minutes – Now you see them, Now you don’t! With platinum status, we each had 250 free minutes of WIFI. Sadly, they disappeared in a flash after not logging off correctly. Just shutting the browser won’t disconnect it, and I should have remembered that fact from past cruises. On port days or when we were within cell service I used my International Day Pass from AT&T to keep in touch, post to social media, browse, text and check emails. On the two sea days, I swore that I would disconnect, but my willpower evaporated on the last day of the cruise, and I caved and bought the unlimited day plan.

Princess Medallion Class Cruising – the Jury is Still Out

The Ocean Medallion, Ocean apps and WIFi speed were great – when they worked together, which was nearly never. In a nutshell, we found them a little awkward and confusing. For instance, why does Ocean Medallion require so many apps – SIX of them to be precise? Two of the apps, Ocean PLAY and Ocean CASINO, we had no use for. We already waste too much time and money in the REAL casino. A third one, Ocean VIEW, has Princess-related videos, which didn’t pique our curiosity, either. Ocean COMPASS was useful for connecting with friends, but that only works when the friends accept on their end. The other feature of COMPASS is the ability to order food and drink wherever you are on the ship and have it delivered. A friendly crew member showed me how to do this the first day, and it worked, even though the bar was 50 feet away and I could have just gone to get it myself. In the end, though, it was just as easy and much more social to belly up to the bar and order one. That left the final app, Ocean NOW, which was handy for checking the daily schedule, when we could get WiFi to cooperate. I consider myself to be techno friendly and know my way around an iPhone, but this all seemed like a bit much – a lot of trouble for a little bit of benefit. Princess did have an Ocean Medallion session in the theatre on the first day, but going to school was not part of my vacation plan. At one point over the first couple of days, my husband did seek help from the wizard at the Medallion desk, but even he was unable to figure it out. .

If there is one positive thing about the entire Ocean Medallion program, it would be the medallion itself and the way it magically unlocks the cabin door when it senses you’re nearby. This came in handy on more than a few occasions when I had two hands juggling food and drink, and used my elbow to press down on the door handle to push the door open. The medallion also works the same way when you order drinks at the bar. Your face pops up on the bartender’s screen, and they know it’s you. Occasionally, they asked us to scan the medallion or asked for a room number when it was busy. On one level, it’s kinda neat, but on another I do wonder about guest safety, security and privacy with this “GPS’ feature – and how many drinks get billed to the wrong room.

Lido Deck, Fitness Center and Spa

Given our cabin’s close proximity to everything on Lido Deck, we frequently found ourselves out by the pool – either in it or lounging around it. The pools on this ship are a decent size, and on this Canada/Northern New England cruise they were pleasantly uncrowded, though the hot tubs (not terribly hot, by the way) and pools did get busier in the afternoon on nice days. Word of warning: Due to dense fog, the ship’s foghorn blasted every few minutes during most of the last day of our cruise and was particularly deafening at the pool with the movie screen, at least to my sensitive ears. The adult pool, aft, was a heavenly oasis throughout the cruise, the water was warm, and the lounge chairs (only 20 of them) have comfy cushions, making it a great place to read or relax.

fullsizeoutput_323fFitness Center: If you’re an early bird and like a treadmill workout, forget it. Even though the center opens at 6:00 am, the treadmills aren’t available until 8:00 am on this ship, apparently a result of complaints from occupants of the cabins directly below it. This was a huge disappointment for us – if we don’t work out first thing, then chances are we won’t, though we did return a couple of afternoons when we – or the gym – wasn’t busy. There are just two recumbent bikes and two uprights, which, as you can imagine, are always occupied. Early one morning my husband went to the gym and watched while a woman spent an hour on a bike, selfishly ignoring the line of people waiting to use it. There should be a 30-minute limit at peak times or when people are waiting, but we saw no signs posting that fact.

5ylhTu8KQz+bPQbrwi3KWgThe Spa – Dave and Jan’s Couples Massage. We are not spa people. The last time we visited the spa on a cruise ship – or anywhere – for something other than a haircut or a facial was in 2002, our first cruise on the Grand Princess, our 25th anniversary. For some reason, David thought it would be fun to pre-book a couples full-body massage on this Canada/New England cruise and booked it for the afternoon of a port day after returning from a morning tour. I was less than excited and no inkling of what to expect, and the whole idea sounded a little weird. But what the heck. We marched down to the spa, donned our robes in our respective changing rooms, and met up in the treatment room. The two young women who worked on us were pleasant, with his masseuse being the chattier of the two, and mine seeming to be new but still capable of a good massage. It didn’t take long to realize what I’d been missing all these years. She no doubt had some serious knots to work out, and it wasn’t long before I was totally relaxed and David was snoring peacefully on his side. I did have to ask her to back off the ankle because it’s sensitive after a fracture a few years back. In the end, they did attempt to sell us some magical ointments and explain what else we needed to help us live through the next millennium, but there was no high pressure to buy anything.

Strange story: While he was at the Spa, David made an appointment for a head shave. He went to the spa at his appointed time expecting the return of his chrome dome and was told that the guy who does hair was MIA and didn’t know when he’d be back. What? Huh? Did he jump ship? Plus, they told him they don’t shave heads – they only do buzz cuts. Not sure why they failed to mention this when they made an appointment. Pretty weird. So no head shave.

Stay tuned to hear about the Food on board …

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Quebec City & Caribbean Princess – Our Canada/New England Cruise Begins-Part 1

fullsizeoutput_30f5And David and I were off … on another cruise, this one beginning in Quebec City, ending in New York. The plan originally was to rent a car and drive to Quebec City, but Air Canada had $99 fares, too good to pass on. Even when adding in the seat and bag fees, it was a lot quicker and cheaper to fly. My brother generously offered to pick us up at 4:30 in the morning for the ride to Boston’s Logan airport. I don’t know if I could have done the same AND have been so cheerful at that hour.

fullsizeoutput_30f9This Day #1 of the trip was David’s birthday, so what could be better than a flight to Canada to celebrate! Plus, we were to meet up with our good cruise buddies, Andi and Ed, and spend a few days exploring the city before we all boarded the Caribbean Princess, a ship we love – and oddly doing a northern route instead of the tropics it was named for. Go figure.Loved the plane on the first leg, by the way. Rows were 2-seaters on each aisle with no dreaded middle seat. I like to think it’s the big weight loss for both of us over the last year, but these seats definitely felt roomier than normal for economy.  

We finally arrived in Quebec City after a 3-hour layover in Toronto, and took an hour-long taxi ride in some pretty heavy rush-hour traffic, happily arriving at our destination hotel for a 2-night stay, the iconic Hotel Chateau Frontenac.wMyzWWGzQ62XbzNlwFHILw

Imagine our joy when the desk clerk at check-in announced that we’d been upgraded to Gold Class, and with that upgrade came access to the VIP lounge with free breakfast and more. The trade off was a room on the scaffolding side of the building being renovated, not a problem if you don’t mind workmen appearing outside your window and loud sandblasting starting at 9 a.m. The only time it was a bother was the last morning when we were re-packing the bags and spent a significant amount of time in the room. Otherwise, this beautiful and magnificent hotel lives up to its expectations, and you can feel the history within its walls. The room was luxurious and classy, though a little dark due to construction apparatus blocking a good amount of natural light. The hotel’s location, however, couldn’t be better for seeing Quebec. In all its glorious state overlooking the city, restaurants, shops and attractions are located just a short walk away, and if that’s not enough, an invigorating hike or the funicular down the steep hill to the Old Town is not far away.

Ja9dy5wHRtu0pWorw5dx4gA stay at a classic, historic hotel calls for an activity of equal class, so the four of us signed up for the Frontenac’s High Tea, complete with singer, piano accompaniment, a variety of teas to choose from and delicious finger food served in fine china by a friendly waiter. It was all so Downton Abbey-ish, except with a French flair instead of British. Even my husband, who has never showed any love for tea, seemed to be getting a big kick out of the whole experience! 

While we were in town, we took a 2-hour guided walking tour with Tours Voir Quebec for a good overview of the city, starting at the Frontenac, and downhill past Citadel, Place Royale, and ending in the lower old city. The day was not the best, as it was hot, humid and rained heavily nearly the entire trek down the hill. Fortunately, we came prepared with rain gear and enjoyed the tour and the exercise nonetheless. Still, we were tired, wet and not willing to make the steep uphill climb, so we boarded the  funicular and were whisked up the hill back to the Frontenac in just minutes.

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A stay in Quebec City would not be complete without sampling some of the city’s fine cuisine, and our friends Andi and Ed made advance reservations at two of the many cozy bistros in town, Chez Jules and Bistro Sous le Fort. Unfortunately, the outdoor tables were all spoken for in both cases, so we dined inside.  

Chez Jules was just a short, convenient 2-minute walk away from the hotel, and like many French bistros, the place was charming, but a bit small and cramped. It was particularly hot and stuffy inside on this steamy, humid night due to the lack of air conditioning. Our waiter, though, was great, had a good sense of humor, and served up some good French fare. To cool off after the meal, we bought ice cream at the shop next door, sat outside and watched the people stroll by. 

Better, still, was our meal at the charming Bistro Sous le Fort located in Old Quebec at the bottom of the hill conveniently by the funicular. Ambiance was nice, decor pleasant, and though the bistro was small, it didn’t feel as cramped or stuffy as Chez. Service was great and food delicious and well prepared. I had poutine (fries topped with cheese curds and gravy) for the first time ever (despite my French Canadian roots), and it was good; but, then again, I have nothing to compare it to.

fullsizeoutput_30ffQuebec City is a charming city with an old-France feeling, and we loved walking the narrow cobblestone streets, passing by the outdoor cafes, boutiques and shops and listening to the conversations in French along the way. I definitely would love to return and spend more time here. From the Frontenac we had a beautiful view of the Caribbean Princess on the St. Lawrence river below, awaiting our arrival.ExodZ7eiRkS3n2It0Y2XaA1g62u3nxRASqNYteSW33qQ%FVwzb+dSpi0jfxPti7FvQ

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Emerald Princess: A Stormy Start and First Impressions

In attempt to keep the costs down for this cruise, we initially booked an inside cabin. However, the price dropped and we were able to upgrade to a standard balcony at no extra cost. I wondered, would a balcony even be usable on a cruise like this, one in which driving rain and wind kept everyone inside? First things first … get the balcony door open. We pulled and yanked to no avail, but finally the door slid open so that we could barely see the skyline and Statue of Liberty through the mist. Come to find out, when we had trouble with the door later that evening, we were told by our very gracious cabin attendant, Grace, that the wind makes it hard to pull the door open, to lean into the door and then pull. Whew … what a relief! I didn’t want to gaze at the scenery through a rain-slicked window!

Once we looked around the cabin, I realized what I love about Princess staterooms – the fact that the space is much more functional and usable than the Norwegian cabins we’ve become accustomed to. I like having a desk more than a couch, for instance. The couch becomes a place to throw stuff, whereas a desk has drawers to hide things away. Love the Princess beds, as well, and their comfy beds are everything they advertise. The bathroom is compact but leaves enough room to move. The large flatscreen TV is mounted on the wall directly across from the bed, freeing up precious counter space and making TV viewing convenient without having to strain your neck.

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This ship is absolutely gorgeous, and even though the weather kept most people inside, it didn’t feel crowded. The decorating  scheme is tasteful, done in muted colors, using lots of mirrors and creative lighting to make it look ever so elegant. Artwork throughout the ship is sophisticated, matching the elegant tone and design of the ship. The Atrium is absolutely stunning. A special mention goes to the Seawalk, a very cool walkway extending out from the upper decks over the ocean with views at your feet 15 decks below to the water. Pretty awesome, and not as scary as I thought it would be.

We have recently learned, after many a cruise, to head to our muster station about 15 minutes before the required drill alarm is sounded. In this case, our muster station was the Concerto dining room, to which we leisurely made our way, and had our choice of seats. We have also discovered other like-minded seasoned passengers who do the same – we saw one couple playing cards to occupy their time.

We had intended on stopping by Club 6 for the Elite cocktail party at 5:00 pm but found ourselves at the Wine Bar, instead, off the Atrium for sail away. The weather was too nasty for a proper deck party, so the festivities were moved inside. Being our first time in a wine bar, we decided to try a “flight”, which we learned was a set of three 2-ounce wine samples. Even though the menu showed 8 different groupings, strangely enough, only two were available. I chose the European, and David chose the Italian. We were soon joined by three other friendly people From Long Island, adding some great lively conversation to our wine sampling.

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Due to the storm, sail-away was delayed by about 90 minutes. By then, some of the mist had cleared, and we had a decent nighttime view of both the NYC skyline, Lady Liberty and the Norwegian Breakaway heading into port.

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Cruising Regal Princess to Canada – the Journey Begins

I remember my husband and I being aboard the Ocean Princess back in 2012 and watching a preview of the soon to premier Royal Princess. The new design looked so beautiful, with her large open atrium and understated elegance, and I knew it wouldn’t be long until we would sail this new class of Princess ship. However, it wasn’t until sister ship Regal Princess entered the picture a few years later that we were finally able to consider a cruise aboard the biggest ship in the Princess fleet. When I saw the Regal Princess was sailing a 5-night cruise to the Canadian Maritimes from New York in late October, I convinced my husband to juggle his schedule around in order to accommodate this short cruise, and it didn’t take much to convince my brother Norm and his wife, frequent cruise buddies, to join us! fullsizeoutput_2769

The big day was finally here. The only slight blip on the horizon was the forecast of a nor’easter heading our way, threatening our sailing. As a result, instead of the 4-hour drive from Rhode Island to Brooklyn on the morning of the cruise, we drove down the night before with a stay an hour away from the Red Hook port, in Stamford, CT. This was a good move, because it made for a much less stressful drive for my brother, and we arrived relaxed and ready to cruise!

fullsizeoutput_276cWe arrived at the port at 11:00 am in pouring rain, where Norm dropped off us and our bags, and went to park the car. Being Princess Elite, I was able to escort us all through priority embarkation quick and easy, and we were on board and in our cabins by noon. One of those fabulous things I love about Princess … the rooms are always ready after boarding. No need for schlepping your stuff around while occupying your time until rooms are ready. We dropped off our stuff, checked out the room (more about that later), admired the fog, rain and mist from the balcony (I think I spot the NYC skyline ever so slightly), and is that Lady Liberty peering at us through the haze?). In just a short time, we were off to explore the ship!

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Alaska Cruise Review: Whales, Glaciers & Sled Dogs, Oh My!

Pre-Cruise Hotel: After an uneventful flight from Providence, we were met by “Already There Towncar” and driven to the Hampton Inn & Suites, in Seattle’s Queen Anne neighborhood, arriving around 7:00 pm. The lobby was modern and welcoming. Our 2-room suite was roomy and clean, but from the looks of the tired decor, the place could use a face lift, particularly the bathroom with its worn linoleum and dingy paint color. It looks like some remodeling is going on in that area of the property, so maybe they hadn’t gotten to this room yet. On a positive note, the beds were comfortable, breakfast was sufficient, and the easy access to the Space Needle and monorail was convenient. After settling in, we grabbed a couple of delicious pies at the NY style pizza place around the corner.

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Seattle – what a beautiful city! We only had a day, so we scratched a few of the must-sees off the list. We began with the Space Needle, arriving as the doors opened. There was no wait, and we went right up the elevator to the top, before the crowds. Next was the fun little ride on the monorail to Westlake, and from there the walk down the steep hill to Pike Place Market – not an easy undertaking if you have weak knees. I don’t especially enjoy shopping in crowded places, but my husband had only one goal in mind – to see the guys throw the fish. Apparently, a lot of other people had the same idea, because the place was mobbed with everyone eager for a view. Basically, this popular event consists of 2 guys in a fish market tossing a large, dead fish back and forth. I’m not sure what the fuss was all about, but it was over quick and we went to find a seat and plan our next move – the famous Seattle Wheel – and took a spin around a few times. Because my body clock had not caught up yet, we caught an Uber ride back to the hotel to rest while the girls went to the Aquarium. Meanwhile, I closed my eyes for a catnap, and slept a full four hours. Speaking of Uber, this was our first ride, and the whole experience was far more pleasant than a taxi.

I couldn’t leave Seattle without experiencing the best view in the city, from Kerry Park, and since the rest of the family was tired and I was newly invigorated, I took another Uber ride up to the viewing point. There it was – the iconic view you see in all the Seattle brochures. I watched Mt. Rainier and the Space Needle basking in the setting sun, and the Wheel light up as nighttime set upon it. Because the weather was perfect for walking, I slowly made my way back down some very steep roads in this pleasant neighborhood back to the hotel.

Norwegian Pearl.

IMG_7846Embarkation: This was our first time cruising from Seattle. We arrived at 11:00 am, peak boarding time it appears, and despite some confusion as to where to go for luggage check, security and registration turned out to be an easy, speedy process. Boarding began at noon in an orderly assigned-number process, and we were on board by 12:30.

Stateroom: We had two balcony cabins on Deck 10 with with a connecting door for the daughters. We had a similar cabin on the Gem last summer, and I liked the addition of a small coffee maker, narrow hidden shelves below the TV and USB ports beneath the lamps by the bed. However, I missed the small table near the sofa which was good for holding snacks, drinks and accumulating stuff. Instead, we made use of the very small footrest, which doubled as a table when flipping the top over. Bathroom was exactly as that on the Gem and Dawn, with decent sized shower, tiny toilet stall space and adequate sink and storage area, all divided in three sections. Our stateroom attendant did a good job keeping the room neat and tidy, though I think we only saw her twice throughout the week.

Dining: The buffet had the usual fare, ranging from good to just ok. As is the case with most cafeteria-line style buffets, it was pandemonium at times, playing dodge-em with other plate holders, crashers, shufflers and minglers. Getting a cup of coffee was sometimes a challenge. O’Sheehan’s pub had tasty shepherds pie and fish & chips, but the BBQ wings were overdone, the spinach artichoke dip was watery and the Irish stew looked anything but, resembling cabbage soup. The nachos were a nice snack but light on cheese, and they were without the beans, salsa and guacamole I’m used to. The main dining rooms were good, with the exception of anything involving beef, with my prime rib and steak dianne overdone in both instances. One annoying thing about dining on NCL – especially noticeable in the dining rooms – is the practice of servers neglecting to take a beverage order before dinner. On 5 out of 7 nights, the waiter came around immediately after we were seated and launched right into the dinner order without asking if we wanted anything from the bar. It made us wonder if this was NCL’s way of rushing guests in and out. The only other dining experience we had was the complimentary Asian restaurant, which we thoroughly enjoyed, though the waitress seemed to have a hard time grasping the concept of ordering multiple dishes for everyone to share, which is our ordinary custom in Asian dining back home. Otherwise, the food was great.

Entertainment: Some time has passed and I can’t remember the performers’ names, but the show band rocked, the string trio entertained with both classics and movie music (think “Lord of the Rings” ), and the comedy guy on the first night (and a few other occasions) grabbed helpless victims from the audience and had us in stitches. The magician-comic at first made us yawn, but he came through at the end with a hilarious shoestring trick. I’ve lately been impressed with Norwegian’s big production shows, and two of those I saw were no exception – the nail-biting aerial act and Legends in Concert. A quality sound system, lighting, attractive sets, and talented singers and dancers, delivered it all together in a highly entertaining package.

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IMG_7835Juneau: We booked an independent whale watching trip with Juneau Tours. We were promptly met at the ship’s dock and driven to the boat, a 2-level vessel that carries about 45 people. For the fast ride to and from the whale sightings, everyone was seated in the enclosed cabin, which was cramped and tight, especially for anyone of size. Otherwise, when the boat wasn’t speeding along, we were free to move to the outside decks, which was ideal for spotting the whales. We chose a good day, because we lucked out with a rare sighting of orca, a breaching humpback and bubble net feeding – all on the same trip. Our guides were informative and enthusiastic, which made for an enjoyable trip.

IMG_7877Skagway: The ship was docked at the pier closest to town, but there was a convenient shuttle for $2 one way or $5 all day. We spent a couple of hours in the morning shopping, and then did an afternoon Sled Dog Training and Musher Camp tour with Alaska Excursions. This was a fun way to learn about the famous Iditarod dog racing and meet the dogs and hold the puppies. Our guide was great, had a fabulous sense of humor and kept us all engaged with his knowledge of Alaska, Skagways gold rush days, the dog racing and the area in general. The dog sled ride (actually on wheels) through the wooded trail was a blast, but half the fun in getting to the camp was the ride through the steep hills and the twists and turns. As a bonus, we were given multiple stops along the way for some incredible views.

IMG_7949Glacier Bay: We woke up to a layer of fog, and despite being overcast with low-laying clouds shrouding the tops of the glaciers and mountains in mist, the scene was still magnificent. Deck 12-Aft outside was a popular place to be where we could relax in comfort at chairs and tables. I’m glad we got out there early, because a lot of people had the same idea. From there, a quick run up the stairs to decks 13 and 14 offered fantastic views, both forward and aft. Having done this before, we dressed in appropriate warm layers – plus hat, scarf and gloves – it’s that cold in the glaciers. Balcony cabins, of course, allow for comfortable one-sided viewing, and the ship does do a slow 360 so you can eventually see in both directions. However, I still prefer to be up on deck, where I can easily access both sides so I don’t miss any wildlife or glacier calving.

Ketchikan: We were only in port from 6:00 am to 1:00 pm, too brief to enjoy both an excursion and a stroll around this delightful town, but we managed it. The highlight of the day was an early morning, 2-hour independent flight-seeing Misty Fjord tour with Island Wings, and I can’t say enough good things about this company. Owner and pilot, Michelle, gave us the ride of a lifetime, pointing out the beautiful scenery and relating some local history along the way. We followed up with a little shopping and a walk over to picturesque Creek Street before heading back to the ship. If time had allowed, I would have liked to check out some of the totems scattered around town, as well.

IMG_8168Victoria: Our last stop was a short time in Canada from 6:00 pm to 11:30 pm. We had nothing planned here, so we took a relaxing walk along the harbor as the sun began to set, and stopped for an ice cream at the floating docks. The ship is in walking distance of downtown if time allows and if you’re up to it, or a shuttle is available for a fee. Our walk took us about half way, which was fine.

Disembarkation: We had a 9:15 disembarkation time, but they were ahead of schedule. The whole process was very well organized and went very smoothly. We remained in our cabin until our tags were called and were off the ship, queued up, and through customs fairly easily. We opted for the ship’s airport transfer this time around. The ride went smoothly, but next time, I’ll get a car. The bus let us off in the garage area, and it was a long hike to the terminal. It didn’t help that no one told us where to go or gave us guidance of any kind.

This was our fourth Norwegian cruise, and though they were never a first choice, the cruise line is growing on us. We like the relaxed, come-as-you-are atmosphere, and there was enough on board to keep us busy. The Pearl is beautiful, tastefully decorated, and well laid out. Alaska, for our second visit, was beautiful despite the rain showers and lack of sun, and I still have a ton of photos to upload. Although there is plenty of nature and wildlife to view on an inside passage SE Alaska itinerary, I think my next visit will be a land-tour.

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