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Jewels of cruising on a Crown Princess

Ten things we liked about the Crown Princess, the ship that in seven days carried us to three Western Caribbean ports from Galveston, in no particular order:

The Ultimate Ship Tour

Usually, tours of the innards of a ship are a one-time experience because a galley is a galley, a print shop is a print shop and a laundry is a laundry. This one was almost three hours and the time flew, even during the longest stop, the Princess Theater. If there was something we didn't see in the theater (okay, we missed seeing performers changing costumes), we'd be hard-pressed to find it, and we left with a genuine sense of what it's like on the other side of the stage lights. And, of course, it never gets tiring to visit the bridge of a cruise ship.

The Cruise Director

Lisa Ball has been honing her skills for almost six years on Princess ships. Unlike some cruise directors, her style is not "over the top" and she is the epitome of professionalism. And if you'd like to know more about her, check on our blog regularly.

Muster Drill

Are you kidding? How can anybody like a muster drill, the "fasten your seat belts" instruction, to use a flight analogy? This one lasted nine minutes, was taped by the captain, played regularly on state-room televisions and covered everything ("If you do go in the water…"). And guess what? At our muster station, everybody was listening for a change.

Man from Vines

Vines is the wine tasting bar that's part of the piazza, the Princess moniker for an atrium. The wines were fine, as they say, but the real star was the ship's lone sommelier. Eduardo Angulo Solis seems a little un-traditional as sommeliers go, encouraging customers to pair food and wine and decide for themselves what works, with a little coaching from an expert. This young man from Chile takes a leave from Princess to spend a year studying to become only the second master sommelier in his homeland, Chile.

The Elevators

At first it was a game: Which side of the door will the illuminated buttons for each deck be on, because they always seemed to be on the side where you didn't look. Then we realized we weren't the only ones playing the game…most passengers were asking the same question, and most were getting it wrong. Talking about it beat elevator music.

Gatsby's

This is the trade name for Princess casinos, and we didn't like it for the reasons you might think, but for the one night on the cruise when smoking was banned. Not everybody agreed…we did see one woman, playing a slot machine and chewing on an unlit cigarette.

Space in Balcony Rooms

On most cruise ships, it's hard to find room for all your clothes, some of which get tucked into drawers and cabinets made for other things. On the Crown Princess, the closet was about eight feet long and, with shelves on top and an adjacent cabinet, why….we clearly didn't bring enough clothes!

The Piazza

This is going to be a staple on Princess ships, and we can see why. It's a gathering spot, as atriums always are, but the Princess Piazzas are busy and entertaining, and adorned with many things Italian (the pizzas are coming!)

Captain Andrew Proctor

A Scotsman of the sea (how many of those are there), he didn't agree to an interview, but he did tell us the secret to making haggis edible: "Mashed tatties [potatoes], mashed turnip…and 12-year-old gravy!"

The Crown Grill

As spectacular as the filet mignon was at this specialty restaurant ($25), the side plates of potatoes and spinach and cream corn and French fries (and more) were perhaps more impressive. It prompted this comment: "I could make a meal of the sides." Yes, even without the 12-year-old gravy.


Holland America Zuiderdam
7 nights
May 18, 2013
Vancouver (return): Tracy Arm, Juneau, Skagway, Glacier Bay, Ketchikan, Inside Passage
Inside: $599
Cost per day: $85
www.hollandamerica.com

Once a Millennium, Celebrity Millennium

We met less than two years ago. If it wasn't love at first sight, it was at least affection. She was a beauty, and she introduced us to all kinds of nice people. A helpful Puerto Rican named Leo…a friendly Colombian named Sandy…an old friend from Little League days…the Panama Canal…and Saravan the Sommelier, the best at his craft we've ever met.

No wonder we like the Celebrity Millennium.

Now here she is, just 12 years old, and they say she needs a facelift. She's going in April 22 to get Solsticized, in Celebrity speak, and when she emerges next month she'll be better than ever.

Hard to imagine.

What may be better is what she can introduce us to next, and that would take some doing, too. After making another west-bound trip through the Canal, the Millennium is making a 5-night wine cruise from San Diego to Vancouver. There is no mention of Saravan.

Then she's spending the summer in Alaska, or going back at forth from her new Canadian home. There are worse ways to spend a summer, Millennium or not. In the fall, when she heads south again…another wine cruise. This one takes 8 nights. That sounds better than the first…wine is meant to be consumed slowly, and savored. At least that's what Saravan says.

Two more trips through the Panama Canal, and then the Millennium's off to Hawaii and points beyond. That would be across the Pacific in 20 days, to Sydney, followed by 17 more seeing the ports of Australia on the way to Singapore.

If this all sounds delightful and romantic and desirable, that's probably because it is, even if it isn't do-able for most of us.

But remember, it is the Millennium at her best.

Holland America Veendam
7 nights
September 22, 2012
Boston, Bar Harbor, Halifax, Sydney, Charlottetown, St. Lawrence Seaway, Quebec City, Montreal
Inside:  $1,039
Cost per day: $148
www.hollandamerica.com

Celebrity, Wine the Perfect Match

As wine lovers go, we don’t think we’re especially HM, even though we did once have TWO sommeliers at our TABLE while on a cruise ship, the Celebrity Millennium. At the other end of the wine bottle, we were on a Princess cruise where there was ONE sommelier for the entire ship!

The point here is that Celebrity makes a huge commitment to winos…er, wine lovers. (The Princess experience was excellent for everybody, except perhaps Andre Smith, the sommelier, who had an army of “sou-sommeliers” at his disposal.)

Celebrity just raised the wine bar…or the wine glass.

Its latest enhancement is to take seven ships full of passengers — or one ship, the Celebrity Constellation, seven times — for overnight stays in France, Spain and Portugal. This all happens about a year from now, in the heart of the harvest season for vineyards.

This dovetails nicely with Celerity’s dedication to all things wine. Impressive Cellar Masters wine bars (above) are open 24 hours-a-day on most of its 10 ships, with a wonderful selection of wines. The wine lists are at least the equal of any cruise line. They have many sommeliers…on the Celebrity Eclipse there are 22.

The 2012 Constellation wine cruises, which go on sale later this week, will spend overnights in regions known for wines of champagne, Bordeaux and Rioja.

And if you don’t known what Rioja is, well…you need a sommelier.

DAILY DEAL:
Pacific Princess
12 nights
November 3, 2011
Venice to Greece (Holy Land)
Balcony $2099
www.princess.com

Cruise Class Solution to Red Wine

There I was, attending a mini-seminar on Riedel wine glasses on the Celebrity Eclipse when a fellow passenger asked the question that made me cringe.

“What do you do if you can’t get rid of red wine stains?”

Ingrid Talavera (right), the sommelier conducting the Celebrity Life class, had just explained that you swirl a little bit of water with a little bit of soap and usually it will do the trick. But this woman wanted to know what to do if that didn’t work, and I had an answer that I wasn’t about to share with anybody in the company of a sommelier.

My answer was: “Put a couple of droops of bleach in a glass, fill it up with water and let it sit a few minutes, then rinse, rinse, rinse and rinse some more.”

The thought of telling a sommelier that I put bleach where wine would go made me shudder.

And then I heard her answer:

“Put a couple of drops of bleach…”

Notes From The Boat…

Random thoughts and notes, after 14 days on the Celebrity Millennium, our first trip through the Panama Canal…
Celebrity’s Hotel Director, Andrew Harris, spent more than three decades in the hotel industry before the cruise line wisely convinced him to come aboard in 2009. After declining several times to go on a cruise and check it out, he finally relented and boarded a ship in Costa Rica, a little over a year ago. The ship was on its way west and by the time it reached Cabo San Lucas, he had decided to accept the Celebrity’s offer.

This, despite having a written offer in his pocket to re-enter the hotel business and end his three-month retirement. This, despite he had never been on a cruise! You think he ever could have imagined one day wearing a sombrero and serving Mexican buffet with his other senior officers?

Andrew’s wife’s name is Kim. They live in Orlando’s fashionable Windermere area, home of Tiger Woods. It was “Kim Harris” whose husband called 911 when Woods crashed his car in November. A few days later, Andrew’s wife received a phone call from Harpo Productions, owned by Oprah Winfrey, for an interview about the 911 call.

Right district. Right name. Wrong Kim Harris.

* * *
There are 11 sommeliers on the Millennium, now heading for Alaska, and one of the things they do is taste your wine before pouring it at dinner. After tasting a 2000 Bordeaux we brought on board and for which we paid $25 corkage, sommelier Isagani Natividad quipped: “I love my job!”

* * *
Tours to the bridge of a cruise ship are regular features for guests, and the Millennium is no exception. Technical jargon and security aside, the most impressive part of the visit is the wall-to-wall view of what lies ahead.

On the Millennium’s 14-day cruise from the Sans — Juan to Diego — about 400 passengers took advantage of the opportunity to see and hear about the operation of the ship. That number depends on the captain, and the Millennium’s Captain Zisis Taramas was generous with bridge visits, in part because of the number of sea days.

Of the 12 to 15 bridge crew members, there are at least three on duty 24/7. The captain, who keeps an eye on the bridge throughout the day, is always there when entering and leaving ports.

Interestingly enough, when the ship navigated the Panama Canal, where small trains are attached on both sides, it was still a manual operation when it comes to maneuvering the ship into position in the locks.

But that view…it’s just too bad they can’t sell suites above or below the bridge.

* * *
It appears that Celebrity will lean towards more seats for “Select Dining” in the main dining room, which is the same principle that Norwegian pioneered, calling it Freestyle Cruising. On this cruise, about 15% of the diners opted to pick their own time to dine, and whether to sit at a table for two or more.

Cruisers qualified for Select Dining by paying their gratuities in advance, or by applying at embarkation. It came as no surprise to those of us who like the concept that there was a waiting list.

* * *
Captain Taramas was asked if he has to file a sailing plan with authorities.

“We follow,” he replied, “the rules of the road.”

* * *
That’s it…we’re done.

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