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Copyright © 1995-2002
Linda Coffman

Ocean Princess
January 18-29, 2002

by Pam Murphy

January 18 - Friday
Travel to Fort Lauderdale
Today is the day that we have been waiting for when we leave for our first Caribbean Cruise. Believe it or not, this will be our seventh cruise but first to the Caribbean. Most people seem to start with the Caribbean; we just have to be different. Our limo arrives to pick us up at 9:45 for our 2:30 flight from Philadelphia Airport. The airport is only an hour from our home but today is the first day when all checked luggage is to be inspected. The news reporters are telling us to be there at least three hours ahead of time and are showing these very long lines at the airport on the news. Our limo driver is a woman and she is virtually helpless when it comes to lifting the luggage into the limo. Maybe I'm wrong but when you order limo service, I expect them to handle the luggage and fit it into the vehicle, especially when they receive a 20% gratuity that is automatically tacked onto your bill. The limo is an eight passenger number. It is white and I feel like we are heading to our wedding or prom! The inside is definitely a sight to behold - neon lights along the edge of the roof that change color and little stars all over the roof that also keep changing color. Give me an old fashioned black limo any day!

We stopped to pick up our friends, Pat and Ken who are traveling with us. Pat is the one who found this cruise and asked us to join them. We had a Renaissance Cruise booked for this time to the Orient but when Renaissance went bankrupt we were looking for something to replace it. The reason that we have an eight passenger limo is because of the amount of luggage the four of us have, which is definitely nothing to sneeze at.

We arrive at the airport and immediately find a skycap to check in our luggage; no muss, no fuss. We then follow the signs to Terminal C - this presents a little problem since one sign says "To Terminal C" and the Other to Terminal A-F. Pat wants to take the first sign and Jim the second. Trust me they both go to Terminal C. Those two can never agree on anything. We then go through security and surprise, surprise there is no long line and we whiz right on through. Or I should say that I go right through, Jim sets off the alarm, because of his money clip. This causes him to be frisked. I can barely hold in the laughter at watching this young woman go all over his body and I do mean, all over his body with her hands and the scanning wand. Oh to have the camera out for a photo of this one. Next Pat and Ken go through - no alarms set off but, still, Pat is frisked. I tell Jim to get out the camera and take a photo! He no sooner takes the picture than the Pennsylvania State Trooper is on us, asking us about the photo. For a minute I thought that he was going to confiscate the film. He told us that we had to put the camera away since you aren't allowed to take photos of the security area. This seems odd since they are constantly showing it on the news, but we immediately put the camera away and apologize.

We arrive in Fort Lauderdale at about 5:30 PM. We immediately see the Princess representatives with a sign and have no problem getting to our transport bus, which takes us to the Airport Hilton where we are spending the night. We are lucky that we got right on line to check in, because right behind us is a whole group of passengers from a Crystal Cruises. We head to our rooms to freshen up and plan to meet for a drink before dinner. There is only one restaurant at the Hilton and it has a buffet or you can order from the menu. We order the buffet, which is $15.95 per person. It is very nice and has a nice selection. After dinner we sit outside for awhile but are all exhausted so head off to our own rooms for a good night's sleep. I head up before Jim (he remains downstairs to finish his cigar) and ask for our room number - remember how I wasn't paying attention before? He tells me it is 629. Pat pipes up that she thought it was 623. So off I go with the key card and to room 629. Have you guessed the outcome yet? Yep, wrong room! I'm ready to kill Jim and am so embarrassed. I now know that our room is 623 and won't make the same mistake again.

January 19 - Saturday
Board Ocean Princess
Today we wake up to a beautiful day. Our bags have to be out in the hall by 10:00 but we don't need to check out until noon. The bus is arriving to take us to the ship at 12:30. Pat finally comes down and looks mighty white. She had been up since three in the morning with stomach problems and has chills. As I am standing there listening to her tell me about not feeling well, I'm not feeling all that great. My stomach is starting to feel uneasy. By the time we! are on the bus, both Pat and I aren't feeling our best and just want off that bus. We arrive at the port and there is a long line to go through security. Luckily it moves very quickly. The Princess check-in also moves very quickly and is extremely well organized. Next to us there is a couple, Christine and John. Christine looks at us when she hears our name and asks if we are the Murphy's. She is a travel agent and works for the same agency that we booked with. She is actually the one that got us such a great deal on this cruise. We paid $999 per person and received a $100 per person shipboard credit plus four free 5"X 7" photos - you can't beat it!

Once we check in the photographer takes our photos - we ask for one with the four of us. We are then taken to our stateroom. Our room steward is there to meet us and he is a very nice young man, named Jun. Our room is on the Baha deck and is the last room on the starboard side (odd numbers). We have one of the suites next to us, which faces aft. The room is attractive but smaller than we are used to with Renaissance. We have a balcony but there is only one chair for sitting in the room itself. There is also a bit less storage space then on the Renaissance ships. However, we do find a spot for everything and are really very comfortable in the room once we adjust to it. Pat and Ken have the identical room only they are one deck below on the Caribe Deck and are mid ship right across from the laundry room. Knowing Pat, she will make very good use of being across the hall from the washer and dryer.

I no sooner get into the room than I put out the 'Do Not Disturb' sign and hit the bed - lucky, lucky me - I'm sick. I spend my whole first day on the ship between the bed and the bathroom - just the thought of food is more than I can handle. I'm too sick to make the lifeboat drill but am told not to worry about it. I can't even unpack which is very unusual for me, since this is the first thing that I like to do. Jim unpacks and gets himself settled in. Jim is absolutely wonderful to me - even gets me a Princess plastic cup with straw and unlimited soft drinks for $23. I am becoming dehydrated but can't even stand the thoughts of a ginger ale. Pat starts feeling a bit better and heads up to the pool and she makes it to the deck for the sailing. She still isn't 100% and skips dinner. So Jim and Ken go up to the buffet like a couple of bachelors. After dinner they go up on deck where Jim has a cigar and a glass of B&B - his favorite.

January 20 - Sunday
Princess Cays
We wake up to a lovely day with the sun shining. I'm feeling a bit better but decide to skip Princess Cays (this is Princess Cruise's private island). I am finally able to drink some ginger ale, which sure does taste good since, I must be quite dehydrated. Today Pat is feeling better and Jim joins them for the buffet breakfast. The three of them head off to the island for a day of fun on the beach. There are tenders running to take the passengers to and from the island.

Princess Cays is located in the Bahamas, in the southern portion of the island of Eleuthera, which was discovered by Columbus in 1492. Often described as the most beautiful and scenic of the island of the Bahamas, 100 miles long and averaging 2 miles wide, Eleuthera is a mostly flat, coral and limestone island, graced with gentle rolling hills and miles of deserted white sand beaches and mangrove trees, surrounded by clear, turquoise waters, and blessed with a warm tropical climate. The earliest known inhabitants of the island were Arawak Indians who had migrated from South America in the 9th century and called themselves Lucayans. The Spanish transported the Lucayan population to Hispaniola and Cuba as slaves to work in gold mines and fish the pearl beds. Within forty years of their first contact with Europeans, the Lucayans were all dead. The Bahamas, called the "Useless Islands" by the Spanish because of their lack of resources, remained uninhabited until the seventeenth century. In 1648, William Sayule, a former governor of Bermuda, led a group of Europeans to Eleuthera seeking religious freedom. They named the island "Eleutheria" which is a Greek work meaning "freedom". In addition to the name, these "Eleutherian Adventurers," as they were called, also gave the island the first written constitution in the Bahamas. In the late 17th century the Bahamas were the haunt of notorious pirates. Among the most famous of the pirates were Edward Teach (known as Blackbeard), and May Read. In 1718 Captain Woodes Rogers, an ex-privateer, was appointed the Royal Governor. Rogers rid the Bahamas of its pirate inhabitants by hanging a number of their leaders. In 1728, Rogers assembled a Parliament, which in 1979 celebrated 250 years of parliamentary democracy. The Bahamas remained under the United Kingdom's control apart from a brief encounter with American revolutionaries and a year between 1782 and 1783 when Spain again occupied the islands. The many islands and cays of the Bahamas were ideal for blockade-runners during the American Civil War. Likewise, the islands were used by rum smugglers during Prohibition in America in the 1920s and 1930s. During the Second World War, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor (the former King Edward VIII and Mrs. Wallis Simpson) governed the colony of the Bahamas. On July 10, 1973 the Commonwealth of the Bahamas became independent from the U. K. Today, Eleuthera is still called the "Birthplace of the Bahamas." The population of the island is about 10,000 and maintains an economy based on agriculture, fishing and tourism.

Ken has tried snorkeling before but was unable to do it successfully. Jim shows him the correct way in about two minutes - Ken just had to learn to trust his breathing tube. Ken loves it and now plans to buy his own snorkel equipment. While they are all out playing on the beach, I am feeling well enough to unpack. Once this is done I am starting to really feel like I am part of the world of the living. However, my stomach is still not settled enough to leave the cabin.

The ship sails at 3:00 PM so the three musketeers return by early afternoon. They all head up to the pool and I remain in the cabin with my book but am able to spend some time on the balcony. I also find time to watch the port talks on the television and also the shopping talk. I love to shop and St. Thomas sounds like a shopping Mecca. We booked our shore excursions from at home and booked a sailboat snorkeling tour for the morning in St. Thomas. After listening to the talks, we decide to cancel the excursion to leave time for some good serious shopping.

I once again skip dinner but do order room service to see if I can get something into me. I ordered chicken broth and a roast turkey sandwich. The broth was very fatty and I wasn't able to eat it but the turkey sandwich hit the spot. The room service menu is more extensive than on the Renaissance ships but the quality isn't great. The sandwich had the crusts cut off and amounted to about a half a sandwich.

Jim joined Pat and Ken in the dining room. We chose the Personal Choice Dining, which is basically open seating - where you can eat when and with whom you please. Pat called for reservations and was only able to get an 8:00 reservation. The earlier times seem to be more popular. The open dining was in the Tuscan Dining Room on deck 6. The dining room is nice but I wouldn't say the prettiest on the seas. They were seated at a table with Eduardo as waiter and Victor as the junior waiter. They liked both very much and enjoyed the dinner. For those of you who have never read my trip reports, I'd better let you know right up front that Jim is a very picky eater and the only one, I know of, who loses weight on a cruise. The menu is varied and changes every night with four to five selections for each course. There are also set menu items that are available every night. Once Jim found out that they had sirloin steak and baked potato every night he was happy.

Jim came back to the room after dinner with the photo of us boarding the ship - it came out decently and will be a nice memory. Pat and Ken go to the comedy show in the Vista Lounge - a NY comedian, which they enjoy. Running at the same time is a production show in the Princess Theater. I'd like to see that one so they are waiting to see it with me tomorrow night. There are two shows per night and each runs for two nights.

January 21 - Monday
At Sea
Pat is up bright and early and by the time she calls us she has already walked around the deck - oh those morning people! She even reserved lounge chairs for us at the pool. We all meet for a buffet breakfast. The breakfasts are OK (in my opinion) but not great. The fruits and pastries are wonderful and the pancakes are good. I eat very little, since still not back to feeling the best.

This is my first trip out of the cabin and I am finally getting a look at the ship. It is very pretty and kept immaculately clean. It's going to take me a while to learn my way around. After breakfast we get into our bathing suits and go up to the pool. We find that the small pool at the back of the ship is far less crowded then the large pool in the center and decide that we prefer this spot. Today it is showering on and off but the showers are brief interludes between the sun shining.

I'm not one to go into the pool but Pat talks me into tying the pool. I really enjoy it - it is very refreshing. Around noon I order a virgin frozen daiquiri - big mistake - doesn't sit at all well. Need to head back to our room. I spend the afternoon reading on the balcony. Jim and Pat are signed up for a wine tasting seminar. There is a charge of $7 per person, but if you order a bottle of wine for the dining room they credit the seminar charge to your bottle.

I have always wondered how to pronounce Caribbean - "Care-ih -BEE- un" or "Kuh-RIB-ee-yun"? Well, according to Webster, both are correct! The sea takes its name from the Carib Indians (pronounced "CARE-ib", not "kuh-RIB") who were the predominant inhabitants when Columbus arrived in 1492. The Caribs were warlike cannibals and their name comes from the Spanish word for cannibal - Caribe. The other Indians who inhabited these islands were the peaceful Arawaks, originally from Venezuela. They were farmers and artists easily overcome by the Caribs.

Columbus was so impressed by the macramé hammocks they made and used for beds; he promptly had them installed on all his ships. Columbus made four voyages to the New World before his death in 1504. He died still thinking he had discovered a route to Asia, not a whole new continent. Because he thought these islands were outlying regions of India, this area is still referred to as the "West Indies."

Tonight is a formal night. This is probably the thing I like least about this cruise. Makes me feel like a bunch of older people trying to relive their high school proms! With Renaissance every night was Country Club Casual -- people looked nice yet it was easier to pack for. For this cruise there are two formal nights and the rest are dressy casual and smart casual. On smart casual nights a few people were walking around in shorts and tee shirts! We meet Pat and Ken and do the photo thing. Lines galore waiting for photos but lots of photographers taking them with different backgrounds. We each get individual shots and then have one taken with the four of us together. There is one couple who has their own camera and is using a photographer's backdrop that was roped off and was not being used. The photographer came over and reprimanded them and made them leave. Found this a bit rude and embarrassing for the couple. After the photos we sat in the Atrium Lounge for drinks. Met two very nice ladies Bee (the aunt) and Cheryl (the niece) - lots of fun to talk to.

We now have a standing reservation for the same table at 8:00 PM every evening. This makes it easier then making reservations every night. I was disappointed in the dinner - I'm not sure if it is the food or the fact that my stomach is still not right. The appetizer of crab quiche was delicious, the soup was only warm - not hot and the tournedos of beef - tasteless and dry. I ordered the coconut parfait for dessert, which tasted like old ice cream that has formed that gummy substance on the outside. Ate the quiche but nothing else. Pat ordered the Lobster dish, which she raved over and it really did look good but I was afraid that it would be too rich for me.

After dinner Jim's stomach started acting up and he returned to the room. I went to the show with Pat and Ken and my stomach was queasy so I also returned to the room. Pat and Ken enjoyed the show and the talent in it. The Production Shows have the same man and woman as the leads -- they do all of the solo work. These two performers are backed up by the Princess Dancers who both sing and dance. They are a very talented group of young people. During the night, Jim spent a lot of time in the bathroom - now it's his turn!

January 22 - Tuesday
St. Thomas, USVI
This morning Jim gets up a little under the weather but is feeling better. He is determined not to miss St. Thomas so gets himself dressed and ready for the day. In St. Thomas we have to go through immigration (on board) since we are re-entering the U.S. This is well organized, we are given a time to report according to the first letter of our last name. We moved through quickly. Pat and Ken have a tour booked for this afternoon and leave the ship ahead of us so that they will have the time to shop this morning. Once off the ship there are jitneys waiting and for $3 per person will take you downtown. There is a shopping area at the port called Havensight Mall but from what we have been told the greater selection is downtown. Our jitney driver offers us a tour of the island for $20 per person (much less expensive than a tour from the ship) and we take him up on it with another couple. There isn't much to see on the island - have a feeling that the main reason for coming here is the shopping. Our guide gives us some of the history of the island.

Ever since Columbus discovered what are now the U. S. Virgin Islands during his second voyage to the New World in 1493, they have probed to be an irresistible lure for more foreign powers than any other nation. The flags of Spain, France, England, Holland, Denmark and the United States have all flown over these islands. The first successful colonization attempt commenced officially in 1666, when the Danes took possession of St. Thomas. Soon after the Danish settlement, it became apparent that St. Thomas' future lay in her port. The tiny settlement with four taverns became known as "Tap Hus", or "Beer Hall", until 1691, when it was renamed Charlotte Amalie, in honor of the consort of King Christian V. In 1685, the Danes signed a treaty that allowed the Brandenburg American Company to establish a slave trading post on the island. At about the same time, two early governors gave their approval for the use of St. Thomas as a pirate refuge, knowing that the local merchants would benefit from the open sale of pirate bounty. From 1700 to 1750, piracy was on the wane. Legitimate trade was on the upswing and prosperous merchants replaced buccaneers on Main Street. Then in 1764 King Frederick V declared St. Thomas a free port, which made this area the trading center of the West Indies by 1800. When the governor general granted freedom to the island's slaves in 1843, the economy suffered an immediate decline. Around the same time as mankind took a giant step forward with the switch from sail power to steam, the Virgin Islands, once so necessary as stopover points for sailing vessels, became a backwater. During World War I, the Americans became fearful that Denmark would fall to the Germans, making the Virgin Islands a German base in the Caribbean. In 1917, The U. S. bought the islands for a total of $25 million in gold. Prosperity returned after World War II, primarily because of the islands' free-port status and the increased availability of air and sea travel. In the late 1950s, St. Thomas moved into a new position of eminence as a tourist Mecca.

On our tour we see Blackbeard's Castle in the distance. Blackbeard, the notorious pirate, was born Edward Drummond but also sailed under the name of Edward Teach. He got his nickname because of his huge unkempt beard in which he wore colored ribbons and pieces of slow-burning hemp. He had as many as 14 wives, shot crewmembers without reason, and once made a prisoner eat his own tongue, ears, and lips. Now doesn't he sound like a nice gentleman?

We stop at a couple of places where we have wonderful views of the island. We also stop at the highest point on the island where there is a gift shop. Our guide tells us not to buy anything here but to wait until we are downtown since the prices are better in town -- this is the first that I have ever heard of a guide telling you not to buy! There are sporadic and brief showers during our tour.

At the end of the tour we are dropped off downtown. Our driver offers to pick us up at an appointed time (this service is included in the price of the tour) but since we have no idea of how long we will be we tell him not to worry about it. The downtown area is extremely crowded with wall to wall tourists. First on my agenda is to find a Haitian painting for my daughter - she loves the bright colors in this artwork. Stop into one art gallery to browse and then go to another gallery. I buy what I think she will like for $450 at the first gallery. Our next stop is at Mr. Tablecloth, where we run into Pat and Ken -- perfect because we want to find a tablecloth for a friend that we are planning to go in on. While we were on tour, Pat has been busy shopping -- bought herself a lovely gold necklace and earrings. I believe it is a Byzantine design - gold braided into a very pretty pattern. She got a great price for these two very heavy pieces at a store named Boolchands in town (I noticed that they also have a shop at the Havensight Mall). Pat's sister, who has shopped there, recommended Boolchands. Needless to say, Pat has a great big smile on her face! Mr. Tablecloth has some absolutely lovely table linen and the prices are very reasonable. We are thrilled with our purchases and know that we couldn't touch the quality for the price in the States. This store also has some beautiful children's clothing that I am drooling over - at times like this I wish I had a grandchild! The children's clothing is the old-fashioned type with the hand tucks and embroidery - just gorgeous and the prices are excellent. Pat and Ken then head back to the ship to catch their tour. Jim and I stop at Boolchand's but I know that Jim isn't feeling well so suggest that we head back to the ship. It is very hot and humid and coming back to the ship is just what we need - we have chance to freshen up and have a nice cold drink.

Once we get our second wind, Jim seems to be feeling better so we head out to Havensight Mall -- near the ship. I much prefer shopping here, not nearly as congested as downtown. Jim is happy because he finds a bench to sit on and is able to smoke a cigar. I know that he is feeling better since he wants a cigar! I browse in the shops and find books with stories of the Caribbean for Pat and Ken's grandchildren, a spicy pasta cookbook for my son, and also a rum-soaked cigar for Jim. Jim then joined me in a jewelry shop called Omni. I make out like a bandit here - find a lovely thick gold Omega chain and a very pretty diamond slide for it. Also get a lovely sapphire and diamond bracelet and a pair of small diamond hoop earrings. The prices here are excellent - I couldn't touch these things at home for the prices we paid. Now I have a great big smile on my face just like Pat's!

Pat and Ken's tour was a snorkeling trip to St. John's. Pat doesn't snorkel so took a rubber raft tender to the island while Ken snorkeled. They enjoyed the tour, which didn't return until close to 6:00PM.

Tonight we have dinner with Christine and John (she is the travel agent we met on our first day). It was French Night at the restaurant. The menu had escargot, French onion soup and even frog legs. My stomach is still not great so I order a gourmet meal of a few slices of cheese and a dry baked potato with ginger ale - and this is a cruise? Definitely not getting my money's worth in the food department. Everyone else seems to be very pleased with the meal. Jim doesn't eat much at all since he's still not feeling all that wonderful.

Stopped at the photographers to see the portraits from last night -- buy some personal photos and also some stock ship photos of different areas of the ship and of the shows. These will be nice for the album I make when we return home. The photos of the ship and ship show are 4 for $15. The eight by ten photos run about $22 which I think is a bit high. Every night the ship has tables set up with special items for sale. Tonight they have some very pretty evening bags and I purchase two very unusual beaded bags for my daughter ($25 and $48).

Jim returns to the room to get a good night's rest and I go to the show with Pat and Ken. The show is far more lavish than what we have seen on the smaller ships. The talent is no better but the costumes, sets and lights are fantastic. This show is C'est Magnifique and has a French flavor. Especially love when the female vocalist does a tribute to Edith Piaf - very very good. There is one costume that the girls wear that is a champagne glass - the skirts are dark with just a stripe down the center that is the stem of the glass. They have see through collars around their necks that are the bowl of the glass. Their headpieces are bubbles that light up - quite a spectacular effect.

Even though the ship is very large and carries around 2000 passengers, Princess has things very well structured so that you don't feel like you are on such a large ship - there is still a sense of intimacy. There is no problem finding your own personal space. The dining room is not over crowded when we eat at 8:00, plenty of empty tables. I'm starting to find my way around without much difficulty. But of course, there are still those times when I find myself going the wrong way!

After the show I return to the room and read on the balcony - to me this is the best part of the cruise!

Continued--Part Two -->

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