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Aboard the Star Princess
Ft. Lauderdale to Copenhagen
May 5 - 22, 2007

by Lucinda Barnett

The trip started with a red-eye flight from Portland, Oregon to Ft. Lauderdale. We arrived in Florida bleary eyed. The transfer from the airport to the ship was chaotic. Somehow there weren't enough buses to transport all of us and our luggage (even though passengers were able to pack light due to onboard self-service laundry areas). However, once we arrived at the port all went smoothly. I was very impressed with how well the Princess staff handled the check in of thousands. Part of the process involved receipt of wallet sized plastic cards. These would be our cabin keys, identification for boarding and disembarking, and could be used to charge anything to our account.

Once onboard we found our balcony cabin on deck 14 to be lovely and well designed. There was a queen sized bed with end tables, a desk, comfortable chair, television, adequate storage area, and a small self-programmable safe for passports, money, and valuables. TIP: bathrobes and bowls of fruit are available, but you need to request them from your room steward. A quick trip to the buffet settled our hunger pains before we indulged in some much needed shut-eye. We awoke in time to watch the sail away--an event not to be missed. Hundreds of people in small boats, on apartment balconies, and along the dock waved as we set out. There were even a couple of dolphins to wish us Godspeed.

The next five days crossing the Atlantic were filled with restful activities: game playing, reading, gazing in wonder at the watery expanse, and, of course, eating. We signed up for the Personal Choice dining and enjoyed the option of meals on our schedule. Most evenings we reserved a table at the Capri dining room where we found the service excellent and the food delicious. TIP: Reservations could be made for that day only and tables were available from 5:30-6:00 or after 8:00 p.m. However, those without reservations did not have to wait long to be seated.

The nightly entertainment in the Princess Theater ran the gamut including comedians, jugglers, magicians, vocalists, and dance productions. We enjoyed some more than others. Our favorites were the shows with the Princess dancers and the performance by a pianist with Jerry Lee Lewis' style. TIP: Seats in the theater filled very quickly, especially on the nights of the big production numbers. Many people grabbed seats an hour or so prior to the performances and sat relaxing with a book in hand.

The first port of call was Ponta Delgado in the Azores. From the sea, the beautiful island of Sao Miguel reminded me of Hawaii, but a closer look revealed its uniqueness. We opted to forgo an organized tour and investigate the town on our own. A free shuttle bus (provided for passenger safety in this active port) made the walk a short one. The rich history of this area, dating back to the time of New World exploration, was evident in narrow cobbled streets and churches lined with exquisite tile murals. When we returned to the ship and heard about tours into the countryside, we wished for more time in the Azores. It is definitely on our list of places to visit again.

Our next stop was Lisbon where we signed up for a tour of Cascais and Sintra. Princess has tour organization down to a science. At the time specified on our tickets, we lined up outside the theater. Crew members gave each person a sticker with a letter and number. Then we simply relaxed until our group was called to disembark and make our way to a waiting bus. As our excellent tour guide explained the highlights of Lisbon (or Lisboa as they say in Portugal), we skirted the edge of the city. Her commentary continued as we proceeded along the coastal route to Cascais and then up to the small mountain town of Sintra. The trip included an interesting drive, lots of information, and even a brief time to explore both towns on our own. TIP: Cruise tours have a definite advantage over arranging with independent vendors. If there is some unforeseen delay on a Princess tour, the ship will wait for you. We considered the 10-20% difference in cost to be cheap insurance. A second advantage is that you can pay with U.S. funds; especially nice when the dollar is weak against foreign currency. You can order tickets prior to leaving home via the Princess website, just be aware of cutoff dates and refund restrictions. Making arrangements early is a good idea for trips to popular locales or those most important to you. When we checked with the tour desk the first day at sea, we noticed a few excursions were already full. However, on board ordering is as easy as dropping a form off at the tour desk with your name and cabin number. The cost is charged to your account and the tickets are delivered to your stateroom.

There were only two tour options in Vigo, Spain, so we decided to just walk around the city. Although we enjoyed some of the architecture and the humorous cow statues (a special art display on various street corners), the city wasn't memorable. TIP: A day at port is a better time to do laundry than a day at sea. There is less competition for the machines. There were two washers and driers on most decks. Because there were none on the 14th, the laundry area on deck 12 had four of each. It was only a dollar a load and a dollar for detergent. A great deal!

Following another wonderful day at sea, we arrived in Le Havre, France. This time we took separate tours, my husband was interested in the WWII beachheads and I decided to try the trip to Honfleur, a small town from which Champlain explored America. Both experiences were wonderful. We spoke to others who opted for the trip to Paris which was about 3 hours away. They were disappointed that they drove by famous landmarks without even a photo stop. TIP: Read the tour descriptions carefully. "What You See" usually means viewing it from the bus and "What You Visit" means you get a chance for sightseeing.

Dover was one of the highlights of the trip for us. We again elected to explore on our own and took the inexpensive shuttle from the port through town and up to Dover Castle. In addition to the castle itself, the complex includes a first century Roman lighthouse and warrens of tunnels used during WWII. We spent 4 hours there and wished for the energy to see more. TIP: Although we found a few places that accepted Euro, it is best to convert some money into pounds for your day in England.

In Belgium we took the "Bruges Sampler" tour. The medieval city of Bruges is one of the best preserved in Europe. We had a tour guide on the bus, one for a walking tour, and one for a short canal ride. Then we had a couple of hours to roam around on our own. Bruges was an amazing place of architectural delight.

The day that we spent in Rotterdam was atypical. We met some Dutch friends who planned the day for us. We took a boat ride out to Kinderdijk, the site of 19 historical windmills. One was open so visitors could go inside for a glimpse of what life would have been like for a family of the 1700s (NOTE: there is also a Princess tour of the area that goes by bus). Returning to the port, we walked over to the Hotel New York, the converted office building of the Holland Amerika Shipping Line, for a delicious lunch. Even if we hadn't met with our friends, Rotterdam would have been our favorite port: the ramp from the ship led to a large airy building with filled with cheerful Dutch vendors, a band performed for us as the ship prepared to leave, and dozens of people gathered alongside the harbor to wave as we sailed away.

Turning northward, we entered the fjords of Norway. The dock in Oslo, like the one in Rotterdam, was right next to the town. In fact, the Askershus fortress with its Norwegian WWII Resistance Museum was literally a stone's throw away. Equipped with suggestions for a walking route after attending the excellent onboard lecture, we set off for a stroll past highlights like the Nobel Peace Prize building, the residence of the monarchy, and the art museum. We were only in port a half day and it flew by. TIP: Because it is not part of the European Union, Norway does not accept Euro. You will need to have Norwegian currency and everything there is very expensive. Even at McDonald's, a hamburger and a coke will run about $23.

That night was our last one onboard. With suitcases packed and ready to go, we prepared ourselves to return home. Copenhagen would be our last stop and our experience there would be limited to the bus transportation to the airport. We were reticent to leave. The trip was incredible and unforgettable. ONE LAST TIP: The time listed to disembark by group is an estimate. Be seated in one of the public areas 15 minutes or more prior. Our group was called up 10 minutes earlier than expected.

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