South America Cruise
March 16 – April 3, 2010
by Mary & Vincent Finelli
The film “Flying Down to Rio” aired March 11, 2010 on TCM (Fred
Astaire & Ginger Rogers' first film together) and that same evening
we flew American Airlines to Rio de Janeiro. We took it as a good
omen, and our trip was a sensational one. For months we had been
telling everyone we were flying down to Rio, something we had been
wanting to say for most of our lives. The glamour, the natural
beauty, and the excitement of Rio are unparalleled in South America.
Vincent bartered and dickered for weeks for a non-stop flight;
finally, he changed the date of our departure and this gave us four
days in Rio and meant we only had to load our wheelchair and scooter
once. He didn't want to take any chances with our equipment. The
flight from Miami was overnight from 11:00pm to 9:30am Rio Time. Not
bad, we went business class with good food and drinks and a
comfortable seat which reclined for sleeping--all this TLC made
the time fly.
In Rio, Vincent had arranged for a mini van to aid our transfer to
the Hotel Windsor Asturias. The van was actually a tiny station
wagon, so Vincent took another taxi too, and we got to the hotel in
separate cars, but with everything in one piece and accounted for.
Now, we were truly ready for our Brazilian Adventure. After dinner
we went to the 22nd floor Terrace to see Rio. Fantastic! From our
hotel we could see most of Rio: Sugar Loaf Mountain with its cable
car and Mt. Corcovado with the 125 foot tall statue of Christ the
Redeemer whose arms are out stretched embracing the city. It was
very exciting seeing the Copacabana beach and the famous Maracana
Soccer Stadium. We took a tour to Corcovado to see the Cristos and
it was awe inspiring. The face and hands were sculpted in France,
but the huge body was constructed in Rio of local sandstone, a soft
porous stone which requires frequent upkeep. Unfortunately, at
present, there is a chain link scaffold over the statue during this
resurfacing. Although the purity of line was marred, the majesty and
enormity of the work was still evident.
However, this was one of the few times in all of our world travels
that we visited a country in which we could not understand the
language at all and very few people we encountered could speak
English. Portuguese is actually worse than Greek to us, since Vincent
understands a bit of Greek. Just ordering dinner was an adventure,
we thought that whatever came would be a surprise; so we went with
the flow and life was very enjoyable. Our hotel was centrally
located and the guests were international. Very interesting.
Once again Vincent had arranged for a special van to transfer us to
the ship. One showed up on time with seats for twelve passengers,
but no space for luggage or the wheelchair and scooter. A second
call was made and a Mercedes van showed up and we were off to the
Port, a distance of about one mile at a cost of $100. A bit
expensive but the transfer was a relief to us. Check in was simple,
since the ship was staying overnight and there was no specific rush
hour or crowds during this time. We were delighted to be back on the
Star Princess for the third time.
The Star Princess is Hull #6051 built by the Fincantieri Monfalcone
Shipyards of Italy and launched in 2002 at a cost of $450 million.
Like her sister ships in the Grand Class, Grand, Golden and Sapphire
Princesses, she has the distinctive “spoiler” in the upper stern,
which holds the Skywalker Nightclub. She is 951 feet long with a
beam of 159 feet (including the Bridge Wing) and a gross tonnage of
109,000 with a draft of a mere 26 feet. Her maximum speed is 24
knots and her registry is Hamilton, Bermuda. Average passenger
capacity is 2,600 and her crew numbers 1,150--an excellent
passenger to crew ratio.
She has 28 wheelchair-accessible cabins, which are not reserved for
wheelchair only guests. It is a pity to see physically challenged
people struggling with equipment, while able bodied passengers are
using facilities they do not need. The ADA needs to be made aware of
this. Our Travel Agent Skyscraper Tours keeps medical certificates on
hand in order to avoid this very dilemma--all agents should be
required to do so.
In our review of our first sailing on the
Star Princess 2005, we did
a detailed deck-by-deck description of the Star, so we refer the
reader to this same site for that. Here, we will note some tricks to
getting around the Star. Vincent's Scooter got hung up on several
too steep entrances and exits--for example the nearest route to the
Lido Deck 14 could not be used. However, if we took the elevator
down to Promenade Deck 7, then went aft to the central lifts
(elevators) and then up to Deck 14 and voila there was no
obstruction. The Promenade is also too difficult to enter because of
sharply angled ramps. Mary's wheelchair could handle them, but it
was a bumpy ride (don't try this while carrying a drink or food!)
The Star's unique Centrum (Decks 5, 6, and 7) is a hub of activity,
due to neatly clustered venues. Deck 5 is the lovely Piazza with its
mosaic floor, on which the Argentinean Tango dancers Fernando and
Cecilia executed their precise and fluid movements. This was not
just a series of poses like on “Dancing With the Stars;” rather this
was delightfully staccato and rhythmic steps. Bravissimi! So
beautiful that Mary went to see them daily at 1, 2 and 3pm.
Deck 5 also has the Internet Cafe and the Library, Vines Shop and
Bar (with wine tastings and cheese pairings. Most important of all,
here is located the International Cafe serving wonderful coffees,
espresso, pastries, delicate sandwiches, bigne, and doughnuts.
Starting at 11:00am they also have hot cookies for which passengers
line up. The Centrum on Deck 5 is a busy place.
On Deck 6 are the Boutiques, the Passenger Services Desk and the
Grand Casino. On Deck 7 are the Wheelhouse Bar, the Explorers
Lounge, the Vista Lounge, the Tour Office and the Wedding Chapel.
The Centrum is the Hub of many activities and a great meeting place.
Our old friend Hotel General Manager Gianfranco Sampiero told us of
the logistical inconveniences which occurred at Valparaiso because
of the Chilean Earthquake. There were passengers with travel
problems and difficulties loading supplies. But, all were
accommodated with patience. Of course, there are always those people
unwilling to allow an act of nature to cause them inconvenience. We
say go with the flow and everyone will be happier. Under Sampiero
the ship is run beautifully and she remains lovely. Captain Edward
Perrin keeps to his schedule. At one time he was First Officer of
the Love Boat, what a recommendation!
FOOD & SERVICE
Captain Perrin's cocktail parties are well attended and during this
cruise there were three formal nights to remember. Service on board
always filters down from above and Captain Perrin has set a high
standard for all to follow. Service is top notch.
Food is where Princess excels; whenever we are asked which cruise
line we prefer, we always respond that for food we suggest Princess,
because most of her Executive Chefs are Italian and now we will add
that the Corporate Culinary Ambassador and Master Chef is
Commendatore Alfredo Marzi; His resume mentions that he has directed
and supervised official banquets in honor of many famous guests
including the following: Queen Elizabeth II, Diana, Princess of
Wales, Former King Umberto of Italy, U.S. President George Bush,
Italian President Ciampi, etc. (How's that for name dropping?)
As a graduate of L'Ecole Culinare Francaise August Escoffier, Marzi
is esteemed world wide and sets all the menus and recipes for the
Princess ships. He is the original “Love Boat” Chef and now visits
all the Princess ships in rotation. We were lucky that he was on
board this cruise. His potato gnocchi are incredibly light and
served in a delicate cheese sauce.
The Star Princess' Executive Chef is Paolo Merio, a jovial master
chef who apprenticed under Senior Exec. Chef Antonio Cereda and it
shows. Born in Como, Italy, he is the product of a family steeped in
fine food for generations. He attended the Hotel School of Bellaggio
and began his Princess career at the age of 17, as the youngest
employee in the Princess Fleet. From galley helper in 1986 to
Executive Chef in 2000, a 14-year meteoric rise.
Enough about personalities, now the food.
The Chef's Dinner: Quail & venison terrine with mesclun salad; Twice
baked goat's cheese Souffle` with garlic Sabayon; Wild mushroom
cream soup with Madeira sun-blushed tomatoes; Boston bib lettuce
salad with shallot dressing; Palate cleanser of strawberry and thyme
infused lemon Sorbet.
Choice of Entree: Griddled sea bass with Champagne risotto; Seared
scallops in citrus butter, red bliss potatoes and vegetables
Julienne; Pork tenderloin with cocoa spice rub, natural au jus and
ratatouille; Pink roasted superior rack of lamb with rosemary and
Boulangere potatoes; or Vegan English Stilton with crisp leek hay
and Port wine glaze.
Or you may try the roasted Portobello, or fettucine Alfredo which
are always available daily, as are shrimp cocktail, classic Caesar's
salad, seared salmon, broiled chicken breast au jus, beef medallions
with Bearnaise sauce, and southern fried chicken with French fries
Now for dessert, try the Menage a Trois (Mini raspberry panna cotta,
an Opera Gatteau and a Honey hazelnut semifreddo with Nutella
Twist), or maybe a sugar free mint chocolate cake, or the “Always
Available” Princess Love Boat Dream (Mousse on Brownie), traditional
NY cheesecake, fruit or cheese plates, or a variety of homemade ice
creams: Amaretto, Butter Toffee, Rum Raisin, Blueberry Sorbet or
many others. Coffee or tea with made on board Mignardises. The best
dessert was the Chef's concoction of an Amaretto Mousse, with a
starfish cookie with strawberries tumbling out and all arranged in
front of a spun sugar Red Coral Reef Sea Fan (beautiful to look at
Dinner on board the Star Princess is always an occasion with Maitre
D' Giuseppe “Beppe” Castino orchestrating it. Our Head Waiters
Andras and Wolfgang Pauer made meals interesting. They prepared
specialties in the Portofino Dining Room tableside such as the
following: Pastas, and desserts like Bananas Foster, Cherries
Jubilee and on St. Patrick's Day, Irish Coffee.
Our waiters were Edgar and his Assistant Rodel, who were very
attentive and helpful: One evening when Mary was ill, Vincent went
down to say we would not dine in the dining room and in five minutes
Maitre D`Beppe called our stateroom to say dinner would be brought
to our cabin. And what a dinner it was: Soup, baked gnocchi,
Chocolate Mousse, sorbets and a bottle of Verdicchio to wash it
Every morning we used the Bell Box (Room Service) for Continental
Breakfast in our cabin--it was always on time and coffee and
chocolate were hot. Lunch time was always interesting and a special
treat, since Chef Merio did many special features poolside on Deck
14 such as the following: Sushi displays, Mexican buffets, Italian
trattoria spreads, tapas, etc. Needless, to say our South America
cruise was a gastronomic tour. We try to avoid the buffet because of
the wheelchair, but buffet server, Gerry, helped us every time we
ventured forth and gave us courage to return.
Two days before Ft. Lauderdale Commendatore Marzi made a spectacular
Easter display of huge chocolate eggs (12 t0 24 inches tall) all
uniquely decorated. We'll just call him the Michelangelo of Edible
Sculpture; he is truly an artist. The huge displays had all the
usual suspects: bunnies, chickens, hens, ducks, geese, flowers and
even a “Tweetie” bird. We are positive that the cruisers on the next
week were flabbergasted by this wonderland of art.
Stateroom Baja 303 on Deck 11 is wheelchair accessible. When
entering on the left is a parking space for the wheelchair; a triple
armoire with two sections for hanging and one with a set of shelves
and the personal safe. Next, there is a TV, a refrigerator and a
long desk/vanity with a lighted mirror and four drawers, a desk
chair and an upholstered chair. When entering on the right, there is
the large bathroom with 4'X4' shower with a fold-up seat, sink a
mirror and nice shelves for amenities. The beds were two cot size
bunks. When we asked that they be made into one, the response was
that “As singles you will have more room in the cabin.” Next time
(May 9, 2010 on the Emerald Princess) we will insist on our request,
since we were not happy with the configuration!
The far wall had all windows and the sliding door to the balcony,
which held a chaise lounge, two other chairs and a large table.
Alas, there was no automatic door opener which makes it difficult to
enter and exit the cabin. Each time, it was a logistical event.
Cruise Director J.J. Ullrich has personality, pep and leads the fun
aboard the Star with enthusiasm. The best show was the folkloric “Brasileirissimo
Samba Show” Costumes were fantastic; featured were Capoeira Maculele
and Samba--WOW! This ship had new release movies in several
venues: The Princess Theatre, the Vista Lounge and the Pool Deck
Gigantic Screen which featured Cirque Du Soleil “Delirium.” The
production shows in the Theatre were “Ports of Call” and “Cinematastic.”
The Star Princess had something always going on from the top Deck 17
“Skywalkers” to Deck 5 Piazza. No one should go away bored. There is
also the Scholarship at Sea Program: with computer courses,
photography, ceramics, ballroom dancing, culinary arts and wine
tasting. There are also gym, swimming, golf, trivia, bingo, the
Casino tournaments, etc.
PORTS OF CALL
Day 1. Rio De Janeiro, Brazil Embarkation suggested after 2pm.
Overnight in Rio to facilitate tours of this beautiful city. Tours
organized by Princess: Best of Rio, visit to Sugarloaf and Christ
the Redeemer (8hrs. $199); Christ the Redeemer, visit the
125-ft-tall statue on top of Corcovado Mountain (4hrs. $89).
Day 2. Rio De Janeiro Depart 5:00pm
Day 3. Santos, Brazil Arrive 7:00am Depart 7:00pm
Tours by Princess: Highlights Sao Paulo, Brazil's largest city with
barbecue lunch at a traditional Churrascaria (8hrs. $149); Tour of
Santos & Guaruja`, a coastal resort (4hrs. $69).
Days 4. and 5. Sea Days
Day 6. Salvador, Brazil Arrive 8:00am Depart 5:00pm
Tours by Princess: Salvador Highlights, bus ride through modern
Salvador, visit craft shops, artisan studios and cafes (4hrs. $55);
A Walk Through Historic Salvador, a guided tour including two
beautiful Baroque churches (4hrs. $45).
Day 7. Sea Day
Day 8. Recife, Brazil Arrive 8am Depart 5:00pm
We visited our local friends Alessandra & Eduardo and toured the
city by car. We enjoyed Olinda, Brazil's old colonial capital, with
the many varicolored houses and historical churches. That morning on
the Pier we saw from the ship a group of dancers, in colorful
costumes, with small umbrellas, doing the “Frevo”, a local
characteristic dance. With a very energetic “Crescendo”!
Day 9. Sea Day
Day 10. Fortaleza, Brazil Arrive 7:00am Depart 4:00pm
Tours available: Introduction to Fortaleza, a narrated drive through
the city with visits to the Neo-Gothic Cathedral, the Central
Market, etc. (4 hrs. $49); Cumbuco Beach Tour, a 45-minute drive to
this famous beach (4hrs. $79).
Days 11, 12 and 13. At Sea
On day 11, on March 26, at 10:30am we crossed the Equator. On that
occasion a traditional ceremony was performed by “King Neptune” and
his court on Deck 14 (Neptune's Reef & Pool)
Day 14. Barbados Arrive 7:00am Depart 5:00pm
A variety of tours are offered by Princess, from snorkeling to
sailing and golfing, to scenic rides and safari adventures, etc.
Day 15. Antigua Arrive 9:00am Depart 5:30pm
As for Barbados the same can be said for Antigua, more than twenty
Tours are offered by Princess. Check the list on Princess' website.
Day 16. St. Thomas, USVI Arrive 7:00am Depart 5:30pm
US Passport Check. This island is a great place for tax-free
Day 17. At Sea
Day 18. At Sea and Captain Perrin's Farewell Cocktail Party
Day 19. Ft. Lauderdale, FL. USA Arrive 7:00am
This was a simple and speedy affair, since we had already done our
passport check in St. Thomas. All those in wheelchairs met in the
Casino and were escorted from there to baggage pick up and Customs.
We were in our van and headed home on I-95 at 9:45am. Excellent.
We strongly feel that wheelchair cabins should be available to those
who need them and not to opportunists. A simple directive to travel
agents should be made to inform them that the cruise line's policy
will be to move those who ignore the rules to another cabin and it
may not be one of their selection. Moreover, the cruise line should
not assign the wheelchair accessible cabins to anyone without proper
medical documentation until the last days of booking, when all the
disabled passengers have been accommodated.