Friday, March 25, 2016

This is not your Grandaddy's Cruise... Oh, wait IT IS- Houston

Anniversary Cruise 2016- Caribbean Princess

Houston Traffic Strikes Again
Houston, TX
Sunday, March 13, 2016

Chris and I have become true cruise addicts and we have completed 6 cruises thus far. In the summer of 2015 we noticed a major Houston news story that mentioned the Port of Houston closing in April 2016 due to the 2 major cruise lines of Princess and NCL pulling out and not renewing their port of embarkation contract with the Port of Houston. Chris and I have only cruised on Carnival and Royal Caribbean and have always wanted to try other cruise lines and we took this as a sign to get on board. We looked into and saw that a Spring Break cruise aboard the Caribbean Princess was actually cheaper than both Carnival and Royal Caribbean ships in Galveston traveling to the same ports. We booked this cruise in August 2015 and have been anxiously waiting to get on board a new cruise line. This lovely floating resort took us to the following destinations: 

Cozumel, Mexico
Mahogany Bay, Isla de Roatan- Honduras
Belize City, Belize

This cruise was all about trying a new cruise line and "escaping COMPLETELY" from our busy and hectic teaching and parenting lives.  This will be a multiple entry blog about not only our 7 days at sea but a food blog (Revamped style) from each of our perspectives, a side by side by side comparison of the 3 cruise lines, a pictorial review of The Caribbean Princess and a few more. Thank you SO MUCH to all my followers... without you the blog would not be as popular as it is today! Be sure to check back as these posts come through in the next few days and weeks. 

Embarkation Day
After living in Houston for nearly 5 years I have become accustomed to the never ending traffic but I had no idea it would delay my cruise... 

The day we had been looking forward to for the past 8 months had arrived and we were ready to see what all Princess had to offer. We collected all of our bags and double checked so we didn’t make the same mistake as we did on the MAGIC (Click link for more details) and forget all of our formal attire. We had it all but I knew we were forgetting something and then it dawned on me that I did not buy a small fan like I had planned to since on ALL of our past cruises the room has been hot. We made a quick stop at Chris’s parents’ house to borrow a fan of theirs and we were on the road by 8:30AM. This turned out to be the best decision we made the whole cruise as our room was in fact HOT but thanks to this little camping fan we slept comfortably the entire cruise. If you are a hot sleeper or just like to be cool as you sleep, go and get a small 12" box fan and take it with you! Otherwise it may be REALLY HOT!  Thank you Dan and Jackie for letting us borrow this fan! A true life-saver!

We made a small pit-stop about halfway to the terminal at a local Starbucks to get some caffeine as neither Chris nor I sleep well the night before a cruise as we are giddy with excitement. We arrived at the Bayport Cruise Terminal at the Port of Houston at 10:07AM and were parked by 10:10AM. This cruise terminal is REALLY nice and very well laid out. The parking lot is literally at the port and owned by the cruise terminal which is part of the Port of Houston. It is not all paved but the fact that it is within a few hundred feet from the actual terminal is amazing. The cost is $75/ week if paid ahead of time and $85/ week if paid when you arrive. This is a little higher price tag than most parking lots in Galveston but again, the easiness of this made it all worth it. This is so much nicer than the Galveston terminal which does not have its own parking lot and uses local businesses for parking. This was so much better and easier and I just wish Princess and NCL were not pulling out of the Port of Houston this year so we could continue to cruise out of this terminal.

The 1st look we had of this somewhat beautiful ship! 

As we got closer we were able to see more of her beauty!

We were able to walk our luggage from our parking spot to the terminal and drop it off by 10:20AM and then get into the security line which was about 30-40 people deep at this point. They opened up the security check points and metal detectors at 10:30AM exactly. We had our 2 bottles of 750ml wine in our bags and they never asked us to pull them out or even look at them. On both Carnival and Royal Caribbean we have been asked to pull them out and they inspect them before we take them on board. I was surprised they didn’t inspect them or even look at them since this was Spring Break cruise. This could be because the terminal is only open for the next month or so and they are being lenient or maybe they just don't care … either way, I was shocked we got by so easy with our wine.

A view of the parking lot from the Lido deck of the ship. 

Once we got to the check-in counter we got all checked in and got our magic key cards by 10:37AM. We noticed that they did not take a picture of us which was a security measure that both Carnival and Royal Caribbean did. We also noticed that we did not get a sticker that some of the other guests did. We asked a worker and she said that the stickers were traffic measures. Those guests who have forward rooms have stickers and those without are staying in aft rooms. It was an interesting way to direct traffic but I think it worked as the elevators and area we board were not crowded at all. We also noticed that they did not give us the daily newsletter “Princess Patter” as we checked in. This would have made passing the time to board a LOT easier. I did not like not knowing what was going on.

We were all checked in and just waiting to board the Caribbean Princess!

Once we were all checked in we got a Group 2 boarding card which meant that once all of the Back-to-Back, which turned out to be 660+ guests, and the Elite/ Diamond groups were called, we would be the next group to board the vessel. They started making announcements at 11:29AM and by 11:41AM we were on the Caribbean Princess.
We immediately went to find our room and put our luggage away. Unlike Carnival or Royal Caribbean, our rooms were ready when we boarded and we really liked having this perk automatically. We dumped our luggage and headed towards the Coral Main Dining Room for embarkation lunch. This was nice to be able to actually sit down and dine and not be rushed and pushed in the buffet area. The food was very good and right off the bat we were impressed with their offerings, service and overall food quality. Be sure to check out this dining opportunity if you want more of a quiet lunch atmosphere.
The Coral Dining Room... a lovely enclosed space! The Caribbean Princess offered 3 main dining rooms all of which were identical and felt very crowded as we are used to the 2-3 story open feeling. 

After our dining room lunch we decided to check out the much talked about Piazza on deck 5-7 and the 24/7 International Café and Coffee Bar. The Piazza was very nice and laid out well but it was not near as nice or extravagant as the atrium areas on the Carnival and Royal Caribbean ships we have cruised. We were underwhelmed to say the least. The International Café was a 24 hour café that offered anything from breakfasts to sandwiches to fancy desserts. We were impressed with their offerings and quick service and this became a ritual for us over the next few days. Be sure to check out the International Café soon in your cruise as their selections change daily.

A view of the Piazza from Deck 7... This is where the musicians played daily. 

The International Cafe offerings for Embarkation Day.

The pastry offerings... Yummy donuts and delights! 

The International Cafe is located on deck 5 (Piazza) mid-ship. 

More offerings in the International Cafe. 

As a tradition of ours we decided to make our own ship tour and really get a good feel of the ship before the cruise actually started. We were able to check out the middle and upper decks and see all FOUR pools that were on the Caribbean Princess. The amount of pools made the layout of the ship a little weird but we got used to it by the end of the voyage. Soon after that we decided it was time for more food… what else do you do when on a cruise ship, right? We went to the Café Caribe for their lunch buffet and had some of the best scallops I have EVER had and we knew within minutes that this was a buffet WAY ABOVE the other cruise ship buffets we have had. The food was fresh, crisp and actually had FLAVOR. Be sure to check out the Café Caribe and Horizon Court buffet areas… even if you are like us and not really buffet people.

The Aft Pool on deck 14. The Skywalkers NightClub hanging above made for PERFECT amount of shade throughout the day. 

Another view of the aft pool from deck 16. The aft pool was for adults only which was a very nice added touch. 

A view of the Neptune mid-ship pool. This was a pool for families and children. 

A view of the Sanctuary (adults only) area and the Spa pool in the forward area of the ship. 

The "Princess Links" golf course... if you can call it that! Unfortunately, Chris and I were NOT able to play our golf game this trip since this is all they offered. 

We love exploring the ship!
Overlooking the Houston Ship Channel in the background!

This was at the forward of the ship overlooking the Neptune Pool. 

Selfie #1 of the trip... At the Calypso Pool (MUTS pool)! 

We continued our ship tour and went up to the highest, and most difficult area to find, on the ship, Skywalkers Night Club on deck 18. This is only accessible from the very back "aft elevators" and only the middle 2 of 4 take you up that high. It was a completely enclosed nightclub with floor to ceiling windows overlooking the aft and the wake of this ship. It even had a conveyor belt style of ramp leading up to the dance floor. It was really neat area to spend the afternoon in and read a book and a very lively nightclub once the sun went down.

Shortly after this we took a Spa Tour and learn all about the Lotus Spa offerings for the week. One of these days we will splurge the $150-200 PER PERSON and get spa treatments and messages but not this time. The spa area was great and very well laid out. The fitness center was a great size but the treadmills were directly above passenger cabins below and they were only available from 8AM-8PM which was a little frustrating, especially since this ship did not have a jogging track either. Needless to say, I would not book a cabin on deck 15 forward on the Caribbean Princess.

Chilling out at the Thermal Spa area... ONE OF THESE DAYS! 

The treadmill area in the fitness center.
Plenty of treadmills but since everyone had to wait until 8am; they filled up FAST!

The spa pool was small but had covered shade areas... We spent a LOT of time here!

The Caribbean Princess also offered an adults only retreat called The Sanctuary but it was for an additional fee. Guests could pay $20 for a half day entrance or $40 for all day entrance. This entitled them to a deluxe chaise lounger, shade, deluxe spa towels, special spa water as well as some other amenities. This seemed great but I was annoyed that it cost $20-40. Especially as a fair skinned red-head, I wanted the shade and retreat but I was not willing to pay the extra fee. Throughout the whole cruise we never saw more than 6 people in there at a time.

The water offered in The Sanctuary. 

You could even have your massage within the canopies inside The Sanctuary. 

In front of the Sanctuary... It was WINDY!

We knew we would be setting sail soon so we went back to our room to unpack all of our suitcases. This was a larger inside cabin and was well over 185 SQFT. Despite being an inside cabin it had the most closet and shelf space of any cruise ship cabin we have ever stayed in. Plus the layout of the room was very well thought out and allowed for lots of extra space. This may actually be our favorite cabin ever. The Grand Princess class ships only have about 6 of these cabins on each ship and are “sideways” inside cabins. If you are looking to book an inside on these ships be sure to look for these cabins as they are not to be missed.

Our home for the next 7 days... Good thing it was AWESOME!

A view of the bed area... This room was MASSIVE for an inside category!
It says on the brochure it is 185 SQFT but I think it could actually be bigger! 

This was taken from the bed... LARGE closets, and shelves/ cabinets under the TV. 

We headed up to deck 17 forward for the sail away and we heard the Captain come on over the announcements saying our sailing would be not happen until 6PM instead of 4PM due to “delayed embarkation processes”. This made me a little nervous as I knew the Houston Ship channel has had all kinds of issues the past year and we even knew someone on the same cruise as us who was only sailing on this voyage because their original voyage was cancelled due to a wreck in the channel earlier in 2015. We went back to our chaise loungers in the shade and even missed the Muster Station drill by accident. Later I went and got us checked off the muster list and we just sat back and enjoyed the ships atmosphere before our first dining room dinner.

I might as well prop my feet up...we  aren't going anywhere anytime soon! 

One last selfie before we go to eat... I am loving this ship!

As we got back to our room to change for dinner I decided to do some investigative reporting and called the Guest Services to ask why we were going to be delayed. Of course the agent who answered the phone gave me the same “forced” answer she did everyone so I just asked to speak to a manager. He too tried to give me a textbook answer but I kept asking more and more questions until he finally gave in. He told me that a ship carrying our fuel for the week was delayed in “Houston Traffic” as he said and we would be sailing shortly. He also laughed saying “Mrs. Davis, you must be an experienced cruiser to ask so many questions”. Why yes sir… I am and I wanted to be sure I would have 1 more cruise in my experience. Thank you kind sir for answering my questions! I feel better about our voyage.  

Time for our 1st dinner aboard the Caribbean Princess! 

We went to dinner still not having set sail and it was past 6PM. We did finally set sail from the Port of Houston at 6:23PM and both Chris and I felt better almost immediately knowing that our cruise had finally begun. Once again, Houston traffic showed its UGLY head and delayed our journey to Cozumel. Gosh... I just HATE HOUSTON TRAFFIC! Once we finished dinner we went to the promenade deck expecting to see open Gulf waters but we saw lights from what turned out to be oil refineries from Texas City and even Galveston lights.

The sun setting over the bay as we pulled away. 

We were just leaving the channel... you can see a buoy in the background! 

The lights in the distance are Galveston Island.

We headed to the Welcome Aboard show for a comedian who turned out to be not as funny as I would have hoped for, especially on opening night, but I laughed nonetheless. After the show we went to the Prego Pizza for what is hailed as the “Best Pizza at sea” and it proved to be true. It was incredible brick oven baked pizza with hot and fresh toppings. Be sure to try it out early in your cruise as it will be come a daily ritual.

The Caribbean Princess did not offer as many trivia games as we like and the one they did offer were at night but we opted to go to the Hollywood Faces trivia at 9:45PM. This was a neat game of “guess who” but we did not do well. We did notice that Princess offered a bottle of champagne as prizes instead of key-chains and hats. I personally would like a memento or keepsake instead of booze but it was a very nice gesture.

Finally we decided to go to Skywalkers Nightclub and have an evening of dancing and fun. It was here that they offered a Buy One, Get One $1 daily happy hour. This was a GREAT deal as the drinks were $8.95 and then a 2nd one for just $1. This made the total, with the required 15% gratuity, $11.44 for TWO drinks. They offered this deal daily at 4-5PM in the Club Fusion and 10-11PM at Skywalkers Nightclub. If you enjoy a good drink, be sure to check it out as it is not to be missed. The strobe and disco lights of the dance club and the near 100% windows gave me a headache so we did not last very long at the nightclub before retiring for the evening at 11:30PM. Once we got back to our room we noticed the next day’s “Princess Patter” daily newsletter and chocolates on our pillows. This was a nice added touch but I much would have preferred the Patters earlier in the evening. As I have mentioned in previous cruise blogs, we are not in our twenties anymore and we were tired.

No budget cuts with this cruise line... They still offer the nightly chocolates on your pillow! 

Tomorrow is our first day at sea and we are ready to do… well NOTHING! That was the whole idea!

Next Up… Sea Day #1
Thanks for following along!

God is Good… All the time! 

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