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Copyright © 1995-2002
Linda Coffman

Ocean Princess
January 18-29, 2002

by Pam Murphy -- Part Two

January 23 - Wednesday
St. Maarten

This morning our tour leaves at 7:45, so don't even think about breakfast. The earliest room service is delivered from 7:30-8:00, which is too late for us.

St. Maarten is the smallest island in the world to be divided between two sovereign powers. The current boundary is a result of numerous wars between great European powers in the 17th century. Ownership of the island is split between the Dutch and French, yet no rift exists between the people of these cultures. The island's inhabitants are quite proud of their nearly 350-year history of peaceful co-existence. According to legend, Columbus discovered the island in 1493 on the feast day of St. Martin of Tours. During the 140 years that followed, the Spanish, French and Dutch disputed possession, or at least the right to use the resources of St. Maarten/St. Martin. On March 23, 1648, a treaty was concluded at Mount Concordia delineating the boundaries of the island. The Dutch received 16 square miles and the French received 21 square miles, owing the latter's superior naval presence in the region when the treaty was signed. The French and Dutch were not always as neighborly as they are today - the territory underwent 16 changes of the flag from 1648 to 1816, with France, Holland and even Britain claiming it at times.

The establishment of sugarcane plantations during the late 1700s inevitably brought with it slavery. The exploitive colonial system remained intact and prospered as long as there were slaves; however, once slavery was abolished, the economy suffered greatly. The island became mired in a depression that lasted until 1939, when all import and export taxes were rescinded and the island became a free port. Thereafter, St. Maarten/St. Martin developed as a hub of trade in the Caribbean; the most dramatic advances were made in the late 1950s with the opening of the airport. In the 1960s, 1970a and 1980s, the hotels began to proliferate around the island and more cruise ships began to visit. Today the island's appeal is stronger then ever.

This mornings tour is See and Sea and we take this one with Pat and Ken. First we have a bus tour of the Dutch side of the island. The Dutch side has all the casinos - the French side has none. We are taken to a semi-submersible boat. The ride out to the reef is a bit choppy and the water splashes up on anyone sitting toward the front of the boat. Once we arrive at the reef we are taken downstairs to the viewing room that is under the water. This experience is very much like the Atlantis submarine we took several years ago on Grand Cayman - only much less expensive. Everyone has his or her own viewing window. I find the underwater world totally fascinating and quite beautiful. We see the different formations of coral. We are shown brain coral, which looks like a rock and is shaped, like a brain. There is also fire coral, which has an orange tint (the orange color is from the acid in it and this is what causes it to burn and be called fire coral.) There is another type (can't recall the name of it) that waves back and forth with the water. A diver goes down with food for the fish and they flock to him and eat right out of his hand - this is quite a sight. We see three species of fish - lots of each variety. We come back on deck for the ride back. Next we ride to the French side of the island and stop for a visit to Marigot, the French capital. This is a charming area with street lamps and little shops and cafes. Here Pat, purchases a couple of perfumes. There is a market with vendors set up selling all sorts of Caribbean souvenir treasures. Before leaving Jim stops at a stand called the Coconut Man and buys fresh coconut milk in a shell for Pat and me - yummy. Sipping on this just seems so very tropical! Pat plans to take the coconut back to the ship and have it cut up since she loves coconut. Really enjoy this tour.

We return to the ship and join Pat and Ken at the Grille. I don't eat and stick to ginger ale. Jim and Pat have hamburgers. Neither likes them - too salty. Ken goes to the buffet and his meal looks delicious.

This afternoon Jim and I take the Americas Cup Regatta tour. The tour guide greets us and gives us a brief history of the Americas Cup. Then captains are picked and they start picking their teams. Reminds me of gym class when you have this fear that you will be the last one picked. Fortunately it only started this way and then the group was divided into fourths to form the teams. Our captain is a member of the Ocean Princess crew. There are two Ocean Princess crewmembers on our team. We get onto the boat and I am amazed at how little room it has and see no sails - guess they will be raised later. Without thinking I said something about being surprised by the look of the boat - the people who heard me nearly choked - we are on the tender to take us out to the sailboat and not on the sailboat (as I thought). Can you just imagine how pleased they are to have me on their team - not knowing what a sailboat looks like? We finally board the Stars and Stripes (these are actually the boats that raced in the Americas Cup Regatta) and are all given jobs. There is a choice of whether you want a very low activity job, medium activity job or heavy activity job. Jim chose the heavy activity and I chose a medium (should have taken the low activity one). Jim is a main grinder and I am a sail trimmer (think this is what it is called). The two ladies sitting near me are the bartender and bartender's assistant - wish I had one of their jobs! The crew teaches us our jobs and I am useless. I try very hard but at one point the Stars and Stripes crew member tells me that I'm doing very well but need to remember that this is a race - I must have been very slow! Everyone on the Stars and Stripes crew knows my name - it seems to be the only one they know. I'd like to think it is because I am such a stand out sailor but I'm afraid that it is because I am the weakest link on the team! My job is taking in and letting out the rope for the rear sail. Not all that easy since it is like walking and chewing gum at the same time. The left hand turns the reel of rope while the right hand is measuring and pulling out a certain number of feet as directed. While I'm doing this, the sailboat is practically on its side and I need to brace my feet to keep from sliding across the boat. At one point my feet slip and I catch my hand and get quite a bruise on it. We lose the race by a couple of feet to the Canadian boat. The experience is fun and I'm glad that I tried it, however, doubt that I would do it again. Find that trying to perform under the pressure of a race nerve-wracking. I would say that this excursion is for the physically fit - I wish that I were a bit more physically fit! While in the sailboat, there is a photographer following the boat to take a photo. After the race we reboard the tender and are taken to the souvenir shop for the Americas Cup merchandise. They have crew tee shirts and sweatshirts for sale (Jim gets a tee shirt with Stars and Stripes on it). The photos are $30 and we do not purchase it since there is a man standing in front of Jim and I -- we can't be seen. They have rum punch for us (gives me a headache). We get back on the tender, which takes us to the pier by the ship. We have about a half an hour to browse in the little shops - nothing special in them other than postcards.

While we were on tour, Pat and Ken wandered around Phillipsburg, capital of the Dutch side. They found a branch of Boolchands and Pat also got a wide Omega chain with two slides, one gold and the other a rainbow topaz with diamonds, both very pretty. She is once again thrilled with the price she paid. We arrive back at the ship in time to sail.

Tonight's dinner is very disappointing to Jim and me. I am starving and looking forward to my first full dinner - perhaps I am expecting too much. In fairness, Pat and Ken enjoy theirs. The service is also very slow this evening. Our waiter drops dirty silverware down my back. He was apologetic but didn't offer to have my outfit dry cleaned. When I get back to the room, I send it out for dry cleaning since there are spots all over the back. I am sure that I could say something and not have to pay for the dry cleaning -- but I don't want to cause a problem for the waiter since it was an accident.

Tonight I skip the show and return to the cabin to read on the balcony.

January 24 - Thursday
St. Lucia
As we enter the port at St. Lucia we immediately see what a beautiful island this is. It looks so much like the South Pacific that the film Dr. Doolittle was filmed here. Our first sight is of fishermen casting nets in their dugout canoes. Such a very island type of sight! Once again, I skip breakfast but Jim makes it up to the buffet before our tour.

The port area is lovely, with many small shops such as Columbian Emeralds International, Bagshaws with many pretty print fabrics, table cloths and placemats in tropical designs, Diamond International and stores that carry perfumes, tobacco (lots of Cuban cigars) and liquors. Cuban cigars cannot be legally brought into the United States but you can buy and bring home Cuban cigars the are rolled in the Dominican Republic. From the port you can get a water taxi to downtown.

Christopher Columbus has traditionally been given credit for discovering St. Lucia in 1502, but some relatively new theories challenge this view. According to one, Juan de la Cosa, a lieutenant under Columbus, discovered the island in 1499. Another version attributes the find to a group of shipwrecked French sailors who allegedly landed here on December 13, 1502, the feast day of St. Lucie. And, an incongruous fact is the appearance of the island of St. Lucia on a Vatican globe dated 1502. At any rate, during the next 300 years, St. Lucia was alternately occupied by British and French forces as they battled on land and sea for control of the West Indies. In 1802, the treaty of Paris established France's sovereignty over the island, but by the following year, the two nations were at war again. The 1814 Treaty of Paris ceded St. Lucia to Britain, and the island remained a British possession until 1967, when it became a self-governing associate! state of Great Britain. In February 1979, St. Lucia became an independent nation within the British Commonwealth.

Castries Harbor is one of the busiest ports in the West Indies because of its safe anchorage. At the harbor mouth, next to the main port, is Pointe Seraphine, a delightful duty-free shopping complex that also houses the St. Lucia Hotel and Tourism Association. The British constructed many of the city's landmarks, such as the Government House and the century-old main hospital named after Queen Victoria. Castries Market, built after the 1948 fire, is a picturesque tin-roofed structure on Jeremie Street that shelters a bustling morning market. South of Morne Fortune, you might catch a glimpse of the 3,117 foot-high Mount Gimie, St. Lucia's highest peak. The road continues south and winds through huge banana plantations past Marigiot Bay toward Soufriere, St. Lucia's second-largest town. This quaint fishing village, where fishermen still cast homemade nets from primitive dugout canoes, is perhaps the loveliest on the island. Soufriere was the earliest French community on St. Lucia. Beyond the town are the magnificent twin volcanic peaks called the Pitons, standing 2,619 and 2,460 feet high. The area's other stellar attraction is Mount Soufriere, better known as the "drive-in volcano" because you can actually drive into its crater and view the seething mud holes and the bubbling sulfur springs.

Our tour this morning is a Four-Wheel Drive Safari both on and off road. Pat and Ken join us on this tour. Each vehicle carries about 12 passengers and this gives us plenty of room to spread out a bit. There are two guides in the front and a guide that stays in the back with us. The guide was very nice but I find him difficult to understand with the island accent. This tour takes us into the mountains and rain forest where there is lush tropical vegetation. We pass many banana plantations - an interesting fact that we learn is that the bananas grow downward but when ripe point upward. It seems that I always manage to amuse people, even without trying. Our guide points up in the trees and shows us mongoose. I'm fascinated because I know that these animals were imported to the islands to rid them of snakes and I have never seen a mongoose. Everyone looks up and sees them but me. I try and try but have no luck finding them. Pat sees them and keeps saying, "There! There!" Still no luck in spotting them. So I tell the guide that I am very interested and if he sees more to please show me and tell Pat the same. During the tour they keep pointing them out but I just can't see them. When Jim hears that I am looking in the trees for mongoose, he tells me that they don't live in trees and that they don't show themselves. I immediately tell him that he is wrong, that the guide showed them to us in the trees and that Pat saw them. Jim just looks at me as though I have two heads. By the end of the tour, I finally figure out that no one saw mongoose, the guide was pointing out mangoes. I saw the mangoes but was looking for mongoose. With the native accent he pronounces mangoes, like mongoes which sounds more like mongoose than mango. So here I am looking for mongoose for a three-hour tour when there were only mangoes. Why does everyone else get things straight and I always seem to confuse things?

We stop for a view of St. Lucia, which is very scenic. As we move on, we are off-road and it becomes very bumpy. As we enter the rain forest the heavens open and we are given raincoats with hoods. Find mine uncomfortable, so remove it and get absolutely drenched. They tell us that we can stand up and hold onto the bars (can only do this off-road). The bars actually surround you.  I try it but am getting jostled back and forth and getting bruised so opt to sit back down where it is less treacherous. Many are standing and seem to be enjoying this. At one point the guide yells, "duck". And guess who says, "where?" Yep, me - while everyone else ducks (remember they are standing and I am sitting), I am looking for a duck. Hey if I can't see a mongoose perhaps a duck will suffice!

We stop for a photo op in the mountains. This is a bustling sight where they serve us rum punch and have people selling lava necklaces (the vendor started at $25 and by the time I was leaving was down to $10). Even at ten dollars, I wasn't interested. Another man was carving birds from coconuts, something else that I was easily able to resist. Next we see two natives with a snake (about a six- foot boa constrictor). If you choose they let you touch it to see that it doesn't feel slimy - I pass on this experience. But, oh no, not my Jim - he lets them put it around his neck - talk about a Kodak moment. I just keep shooting to have a running commentary of this stunt. He is fine until the one guy lets go of the tail and with that the boa tightens itself around his neck - oh what a photo with the look on Jim's face! Once the snake has tightened its hold you can see that it is choking him. Am I worried, nope, just keep shooting the camera! Thankfully, they have control of the snake and are able to easily loosen it. Now I ask you, why are we so trusting as to let two strangers put a boa constrictor around Jim's neck? Must be crazy! The boa is less than happy and his mouth is snapping at the men holding it - it isn't poisonous but I am sure can still give quite a bite.

Our next stop is an old sugar plantation. As I am getting off of our vehicle, the step is slippery from the rain and I slip - manage to catch myself but do twist my ankle and get a nice bruise on my arm - I seem to be accident prone or am I just a plain old klutz? The Sugar Mill is something to see but nothing thrilling. There is a gift shop there where I buy some banana ketchup (now doesn't that sound interesting) and hot sauces for my son and passion fruit lotion and a pair of wrought iron and straw candle holders for my daughter ($15). The candleholders are shaped like natives holding things. I'm never one to miss a shopping opportunity! At the sugar mill there are musicians playing and we are offered juice here.

Our guide points out that most of the houses on St. Lucia are built on stilts - the reason being that this gives them space to add on to the dwelling underneath. He also tells us that Voodoo is practiced in St. Lucia.

Next on our itinerary is a stop at The River Rock Waterfall. It is about a half a mile hike on uneven muddy ground to get there. The place is beautiful and there is an opportunity to swim. Pat and Jim plunge right in but Ken and I decide to watch. Those that have gone in look to be having a hard time getting over the rocks to sit on the steps under the waterfall. Also climbing out seems to be a bit tricky for many. Here they offer us fresh coconut, pineapple, sugarcane and oranges.

We return to the ship and wander around the port to shop. I pick up a pair of tanzanite and diamond earrings for my daughter. Tanzanite seems to be very popular in the islands - it is a bluish purple stone that is only mined at one place and that mine has closed making the stone somewhat rare and thus precious.

Jim and I then go up to the buffet for lunch. I'm not crazy about the hot selections but the cold selections are a very nice - especially the fresh fruit and cottage cheese. They vary the menu and have things like tuna salad, chicken salad, seafood salad, stuffed tomatoes, cold cuts, cheeses, pasta salads etc. And, of course, a great selection of desserts.

Before the cruise a friend in Florida connected me with a friend of hers, Mingtoy, that was going to be on the same cruise. We e-mailed back and forth several times. Tonight we are meeting them for dinner at 6:30. Mingtoy and Frank are a lovely couple and they are traveling with their friends, Donna and Ingo (also very nice). Both couples are from Orlando. We have a table for eight and the company is delightful. Tonight is Italian night in the dining room. My stomach is still not doing all that great, so the fact that I didn't care for the meal may have more to do with that than its not actually being good. The minestrone soup was delicious but my veal chop was very fatty. Jim ordered roast beef which he seemed to enjoy (doesn't sound Italian to me). This is our first night eating at the earlier time and I do find that the dining room is more crowded and that the meal is a bit more rushed by the waiters.

Mingtoy tells me that yesterday, in St. Maarten, she and Frank visited the Butterfly Farm and absolutely loved the experience.

After dinner we go to the show which is called "Rhythms in the City". The show is enjoyable but I preferred the music selections in C'est Magnifique. I am finding that having the same two singers do all the vocal selections in every Production Show is becoming repetitious. The Princess Dancers all have wonderful voices and I would like to see them do a few numbers to add some variety.

January 25 - Friday
As we arrive in Barbados we have a terrible view when docked (we are on the starboard side). The view for port and starboard sides are mixed but I think on this cruise the port might be preferable. We have been lucky with the weather since we are only getting brief showers and lots of sun.

This mornings tour leaves at 8:00AM so this leaves no time for breakfast, even for Jim. We meet Pat and Ken by the gangway and head off to the Harrison Caves. This tour bus is smaller than others we have been on, but it is very well air-conditioned and we have an excellent guide. First we are given a brief history of the caves and then we tour the caves on a tram and are given hard hats to wear. They tell us first to put napkins on our heads for sanitary reasons. As soon as they said this I started itching - talk about mind over matter! This is my first time visiting caves so the sight of the formations is amazing to me. I am completely awed by the beauty of this natural phenomenon. There are a couple of times when we are able to get off the tram to see the caves a bit closer. At the end of the tour there is a gift shop and here I buy a few postcards of the caves since I doubt that our photos of them will turn out.

We next visit Orchid World. These hot houses and gardens are beautiful. I am amazed to see orchids growing in air with no soil. Never knew that there were so many varieties and colors of orchids. Than it is on to Gun Hill Signal Station. There is a park guide who gives us a brief history of this sight. The station was used as a lookout point for invading ships and civil unrest. There is a beautiful view of Barbados from here. An interesting fact about Barbados is that the statue of Admiral Lord Nelson in Trafalgar Square predates the one in London's Trafalgar Square by 27 years.

The island's earliest inhabitants were the Arawak Indians, a peaceful tribe from South America that inhabited many of the Caribbean islands centuries before European colonization. In 1536, Pedro a Campos, a Portuguese explorer, discovered this 14 by 21 mile haven and named it Barbados, meaning "the bearded one," for the shaggy exposed roots of the ficus trees that grow there. Since the island was on the Spanish side of the line of demarcation that separated the Portuguese Empire from the Spanish territories, a Campos never asserted a claim to it. The island remained without a sovereign ruler until the English arrived early in the 17th century. Under the leadership of Captain John Powell, the island was claimed for the King of England. Two years later the first colonists arrived and settled in Jamestown, now Holetown, a city just north of modern Bridgetown.

In the 17th century, Barbados became an island of vast plantations, and thousands of slaves were brought in from Africa to help cultivate the cane fields. Even at this early date, the island was already attracting tourists. It became fashionable to go to Barbados for one's health. In 1751, George Washington accompanied his ill half-brother, Lawrence, to Barbados for a change of air. Unfortunately for George, he contracted the smallpox that marked him for life. This is also the only place outside of the United States visited by George Washington.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, Barbados' economic fortune paralleled the success and decline in the sugar trade. During this time, the island's strategic importance was not overlooked. In fact, the coastline once boasted 26 forts, and the evidence of early British military occupation is still visible on the island. In 1966, Barbados became an independent nation, administered by a governor-general, appointed by her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, and a Prime Minister, representing the majority party in the House of Assembly. 

Barbados is a flat coral-formed island. Unlike so many others that are volcanic islands, coral rose from the sea very slowly, layer by layer. The Eastern side of the island is not good for swimming. There have been many shipwrecks on the eastern side due to the coral. Samuel Hall Lord took advantage of this situation by lighting lanterns on the eastern beaches to fool the ships into thinking that this was the harbor. Once the ships were wrecked he would loot them, which made him a very wealthy man. Lord built a castle on the Eastern Shore, which is today a hotel. Education on the island is compulsory and it has a very high literacy rate.

There is a shopping area by the port, which is very nice. There also are kiosks set up with all the usual touristy souvenirs. Not far from the port is Pelican Village, a handicraft center. It is about a mile walk into town and a cab will cost from $3 to $4. We stayed by the dock to shop. Those kiosks were just waiting for Jim to arrive to purchase his plate, shot glass and hat (one of those crocheted red, yellow and green ones with the dreadlocks hanging from it. All of these goodies will be added to the collection he has displayed in his office. In the mall area there is Diamonds International, Columbian Emeralds International, The Royal Shop (jewelry, perfumes etc.), a rum cake shop with free samples to try - people were buying these to take home as gifts. Believe that the small size was about $7. We ran into Pat and Ken at the mall and Ken was buying himself a colorful painted wooden parrot sitting on a ring, which hangs from the ceiling. I find two slides for my Omega chain at the Royal Shop, both were a good buy

The security on the ship is very tight. They check your card before getting to the gangway and then again When you have to put the card in the machine to check in. All packages are scanned and any liquor is taken and held until debarkation. I imagine that this is so that you will buy their liquor on board.

After shopping we joined Pat and Ken for the buffet lunch. We all then head for the pool -- I only stay for an hour or so, but do manage to fit in a piña colada.

We meet again at 7:30 for drinks and then have an 8:00 dinner. Tonight I order the crayfish. There were two small ones that still had their eyes - this took away my appetite - they actually seemed to have expression! The rest of the dinner was OK. Jim ordered the broiled chicken, which was nothing special. We have some time to kill before the show begins so sit in the lounge where Paul Burton is playing the piano and singing. He is absolutely terrific.

After dinner, we go to the show in the Vista Lounge. The performer is Bobby Curtola, a 50s singer from Canada. He is a bit over the hill, overweight with a toupee and thinks that he is something very special. He is actually a pompous jerk and difficult to watch. His voice is still good and he works very hard at entertaining. There were a group of Canadians that just loved him. In my opinion, we should have stayed in the lounge and listened to Paul Burton. Think that they missed the boat not putting him on one of the main stages.

The photographer is taking black and white portraits - Pat and Ken have these done. Tonight the ship is selling loose gemstones (garnets, amethysts, citrine, peridot and blue topaz) for $10 per carat. They also have some set pieces.

January 26 - Saturday
In Antigua, our cabin is on the water- side, giving us a lovely view. Today is a beautiful day. Christopher Columbus sighted Antigua on his second voyage to the New World in 1493. He named the island Santa Maria de la Antigua at that time, after a miracle-working saint in the Seville Cathedral. The British mispronounced the name as "An-tee-ga," and it has remained so ever since.

In 1632, Edward Warner, under the command of his father Sir Thomas Warner, came across from St. Kitts and colonized the island as a British Territory. No attempt at colonization was made before this, due to the inhospitable population of Carib Indians and lack of natural spring water. It has remained British ever since, with the exception of a brief occupation of the French in 1666-67.

In 1674, a British sugar planter, Sir Christopher Codrington, who came from Barbados, established the first major sugar estate. He named the estate Betty's Hope, after his daughter. The introduction of sugar to the island brought about slave labor. The island's sugar economy was dependent on slave labor as well as protective tariffs, which maintained high prices back in England. When slavery was abolished in 1834, the economy was hit extremely hard. With continuous pressure for a free trade market in sugar, the prices plunged and the sugar estates collapsed. Despite the collapse, sugar remained an important industry in Antigua. In 1967, led by V.C. Bird, Antigua achieved Statehood in Association with Britain, with independent internal affairs and foreign affairs. On November 1, 1981, Antigua achieved full political sovereignty, with V.C. Bird as Prime Minister.

Jim and I take a catamaran snorkeling tour, which leaves at 9:30. We board the Kokomo Cat and head for a reef. On the way we pass James Fort, but this is the only historical sight that we see. The water is rough today and not the best for snorkeling. I stay on the boat so it really doesn't matter to me. However, there were a lot of complaints from the snorkelers. Jim went in for about 20 minutes but found fighting the currents tiring. Another problem he encountered was that the waves were over his snorkel tube and he had to keep clearing it. He did see a few fish but nothing spectacular. One of the crewmembers had a rubber boat with a motor and he was helping people who were having difficulty with the currents - they were able to hold on to the rubber boat. Even though there were many complaints, there was one girl (young) who thought it was the best snorkeling she ever experienced. There was music and drinks served (alcoholic drinks only served on the return trip). They were selling crew shirts on board with the Kokomo Cat logo. Believe they were $20 and Jim got one for himself. The day was gorgeous and just sitting and relaxing on the catamaran was pure heaven to me. There was solicitation for tips and one crewmember walked around with a piggy bank collecting and didn't leave until he was given something. We would have certainly tipped but being forced to do so, isn't the nicest. Our tour returned 45 minutes ahead of schedule - this also caused some complaining. I assume that this was because of the rough waters.

As we left the Kokomo Cat we saw the Jolly Roger at the pier. It looks just like a pirate ship and it takes you out for a pirate theme party sail. We then browsed in the shops near the dock (Redcliffe Quay). Once again we see the ubiquitous Diamonds International and Columbian Emeralds International. There is the Jewelry Warehouse and The Body Shop. I stop into a craft shop where I find a very pretty set of three butterflies that are made of metal on the island - the set is $15 and rather unusual. This shop also has the Lime figurines that are popular on the islands. These are a pottery type of figure (chips easily) and they have no faces. These are not terribly expensive but I love the look. I also stop into a linen shop where I get bibs that are hand appliquéd for $2 each. They are so pretty and I have a friend with a new baby to give them to. And, of course, Jim gets his usual souvenir junk.

On the islands, I have noticed that very few of the natives wave to the tourists. When on tour in other places, the locals usually wave to you. What we found out today is that only the tourists wave first. So assume that the locals don't want to be mistaken for tourists. I wander around Diamonds International and if I ever return would love one of the beautiful diamond rings they have.

There is no problem with currency conversion on the islands. On this trip we go from US dollars to Eastern Caribbean dollars to French Francs to the Barbados dollar to Dutch currency. All stores accept American dollars and convert prices for you into dollars. I have my currency converter all set to go and don't need it. There are some very interesting people at the shopping area. One woman wants to give me cornrow braids - I have short hair and there isn't enough to braid without it sticking out! She also wants to braid Jim's hair and he doesn't have much hair since it is very thin on top. Another man wanted to mix up a magic potion for me at a very low price - yeah, right!

Once again we do the buffet lunch and then I head back to the room to read on the balcony, even manage to fit in a nap. Jim goes off the ship for a cigar.

Tonight we (along with Pat and Ken) once again have dinner with Mingtoy, Frank, Donna and Ingo at 6:30. Tonight I order the crab legs - absolutely delicious. They are prepared in a way that is so easy to eat. Quite of few of us have them bring us out some more, which they do with no problem.

After dinner Pat and I go to the Production Show in the Princess Theater, Words and Music, a Broadway Review and excellent. Jim goes to the upper deck for cigar night and Ken turns in early. Stopped in at the photographer's to check out the photos that had been taken of us. Both Pat and I bought several. The gift shop was having a half-price sale on fine jewelry - there are some very pretty emerald rings at good prices.

January 27 - Sunday
At Sea
Today we get to sleep in a bit and then meet Pat and Ken for the buffet breakfast at 10:00. Believe that the dining room breakfast stops serving at 9:00 or 9:30. After eating, Pat and I check out the shops on board. What they do have are colorful tee shirts with the different islands on them and Princess Cruises. Ken has the Antigua and Jim the St. Lucia and Barbados. They are also selling the left over Alaska Cruise products but these are not especially inexpensive.

Pat, Ken and Jim all go to the pool but I plan to stay out of the sun since my forehead got burned on the catamaran yesterday. To me, sitting on the balcony and reading is the most restful thing that I can think of. Our stateroom isn't getting the sun so it is perfect out there for me. I prefer being in a port every day rather than the days at sea. However, the relaxation of the days at sea is a nice change of pace. I'm not the type of person that goes for the shipboard activities so can't tell you much about them. However, they are there for those that do enjoy them.

At around 1:00PM, Pat knocks on the door and we go down to the Atrium for piña coladas and some "girl's time" together. There is a pianist playing in the lounge and sitting here with a drink watching the water go by is extremely peaceful. After our drinks we go to the lunch for the buffet. Today, a sushi bar has been added.

Pat returns to the pool and I go back to the balcony to enjoy my book. I find time to squeeze in a quick catnap before meeting at 6:30 for dinner. Tonight the four of us are once again having dinner with Mingtoy, Frank, Donna and Ingo. This is our second formal night so the photographers are out in full force. We have our photo done with Pat and Ken and then we have one taken in the dining room of the eight of us. Tonight I order the two lobster tails, which are very very good. The other favorite dish tonight seems to be the Beef Wellington. I find it amazing how the food goes from unappealing to downright delicious. We all agree that the desserts are disappointing - we expected more on the formal night. I ordered the double chocolate mousse (a small amount of white chocolate mousse and a small amount of dark chocolate mousse). I don't care for it so order the orange sorbet, which is absolutely wonderful.

Pat, Ken, Jim and I immediately change into our bathing suits after dinner and head up to the pool and hot tubs. We have the place all to ourselves and have a wonderful time. We go back and forth between the hot tub and pool. Pat and I sip on Amaretto on the rocks and Jim has his B&B and cigar. Tonight is probably one of the high points of our trip - now this is cruising!

January 28 - Monday
At Sea
The four of us once again meet for the breakfast buffet at 10:00. This morning they are in the process of setting up a fruit bar that is really quite interesting. They have animals made from different fruits and the most gorgeous creations made of Jell-O that looks like stained glass. They also have carved fruit and the artistry is remarkable.

We stop at the photographers to buy the photos from last night. Thank heaven there will be no more, buying the photos can become costly. Pat was up bright and early and is already packed. This is our last day so I still have this chore to do. Return to the room and once I am packed, just head on out to the balcony to read. To me, this is a perfect way to end the cruise.

Pat, Ken, Jim and I decide to try the Pizzeria for lunch. The ship's pizzas are excellent, very light and tasty. They offer a variety of small pizzas for one and also calzones. After lunch I go up to the pool with everyone, stay for a couple of hours and have my piña colada.

Today I finally see the casino. It is much larger than I am used to on the smaller ships. Since this is the first that I've seen it, you can tell that this is not my idea of the way to spend a cruise. While walking past the main large pool, there is something going on. Stop for a moment to see what it is. Appears to be a male beauty pageant. The first thing I see is the female judges parading around the pool in their bathing suits - not a pretty sight! However, the sight grows worse as the male contestants come out - this takes guts! I've seen enough and move on.

Tonight Jim and I have the chance to sit out on the balcony before dinner. There is a full moon and its reflection on the water is breathtaking - so very romantic! We meet Pat and Ken for cocktails at 7:30. Dinner is at eight and tonight it is just the four of us. Tonight's dinner is great. I first have a half an avocado filled with seafood, then a pear and ginger cold soup, broiled scallops and finally Baked Alaska. Everything was outstanding

After dinner there is a passenger talent show that we attend. It was fun to see the other passengers perform. As you can imagine, some of the talent was better than others, but everyone put their heart and soul into it. It is hard to believe that tomorrow we will leave the ship.

January 29 - Tuesday
Fort Lauderdale - Travel Home
Breakfast is served this morning starting at around 5:30AM (I think). Since we are one of the firsts to disembark I skip it but Jim does run up to get something. Some people receive letters telling them to report to customs on deck 7 of the ship. I'm not sure why we got one, but I overheard something that sounded like Jim bought something for me in the gift shop and my guess is that since there was a record of it on the ship that this is why he got the letter. There was no problem for him getting through quickly and they stamped his declaration form.

We are called to leave the ship at 8:00AM. Going through customs was a breeze and it moved very quickly. Princess handled disembarkation extremely well and this is part of the reason that things went so smoothly. We needed to identify our bags in the terminal and then we were taken to our tour bus for our tour of Fort Lauderdale. Our tour was Fort Lauderdale by Land and Sea - we had an excellent guide. When we booked the tour they said that your flight had to be after 2:00PM to sign up for it. We wanted to take the Everglades tour but our flight was at 2:05 and for that tour it had to be after 2:30.

We now find out that the tour will not get us back to the airport until 1:00. Our flight is at 2:05. They are saying to check in for flights 2-3 hours ahead of time. We notice that there is another tour with our group, the land only portion of the Fort Lauderdale tour will be taken to the airport at 11:00 while those on the Land and Sea portion will take a cruise on the Carrie B paddle-boat. After discussing whether we should take the cruise portion, we decide that we don't want to miss our flight and had better head for the airport with the land only people. We have a feeling that we will probably make it with only an hour to spare but our fear is that if security is tied up that we will be in trouble.

We first drive through Port Everglades. We are told that Joe Young visualized a Port here. He went to Canada to hire lumberjacks to come to Florida to build it. The port opened in 1927 and is today the second largest port in the world.

As we ride along the beach of Fort Lauderdale we see the Elbow Room which brings back memories of the 1960s when I was in Fort Lauderdale for my college spring break. During the 50s and 60s this was the Spring Break Mecca for young people. Remember the film, "Where the Boys are"? The mayor encouraged the kids to come because he thought it would be a boom to tourism. However, damage was done and the mayor decided that it wasn't his wisest decision. So he distributed letters telling the young people not to come. If they did come and got into trouble they would be thrown in jail. The kids came and were jailed and then stopped coming.

Our bus stops at the beach for a few minutes. The beaches are beautiful and they also bring back memories of that spring break so many moons ago. There has been a lot of beach erosion and as we travel on we see the beaches narrowing.

Fort Lauderdale is a very pretty city and there seems to be a lot of wealth here, especially in Los Olas - yachts galore. This area is called the Venice of America. A Charlie Rhodes went to Venice, Italy and when he returned to Fort Lauderdale he decided to take his property in Los Olas and build all the homes as waterfront property, like the canals of Venice. Flagler, a friend of Rockefeller, had a railroad. Several women from Fort Lauderdale wanted him to bring the railroad to Ft. Lauderdale. Flagler didn't believe that things could be grown in the dead of winter and shipped up north. So these women sent him a gift of fresh flowers and fruits from Florida. This made a believer of him that the weather was warm enough to grow these things. Consequently, he brought his railroad to Florida.

We get off of the tour bus to take a walk along the New River, which is extremely picturesque. There is a park and restaurants here. We pass the hotel that Flagler had built near the railroad station. This is the end of our portion of the tour since we have opted not to take the boat ride, even though we paid for it. The Carrie B looks lovely and I have the feeling that this cruise will show much more of the wealth of the area.

We get to the airport and use the curbside check in - quick as can be. We then fly though security and once again have all this time to kill. We probably would have been fine doing the whole tour but we just didn't know. Actually, Fort Lauderdale Airport was not nearly as thorough as Philadelphia. This surprised us since so many of the terrorists from September 11, came through Florida.

We went to Sloppy Joe's (a branch of the Sloppy Joe's of Key West) for lunch. Ken and I ordered the conch chowder, which was very spicy. Ken ate his but it was too hot for me. I also had a sandwich so didn't go hungry.

Our flight was not full so Jim and I had an aisle and window seat with a seat between us - very comfortable. Everything is on time and we arrive in Philadelphia and our limo is waiting for us. We drop off Pat and Ken at their daughter's and we head home.

These islands are a shopper's paradise where you can find the best for less. Shopping here is lots of fun, as you visit the islands you visit stores featuring some of the world's finest merchandise at tax and duty-free prices. Princess does have a shopping expert to guide you. His talks are very informative.

This cruise was well worth the money we paid for it. The Ocean Princess is a very large ship but they manage things so well that you don't feel like you are one of 2000. There are lines to deal with, at times, but they move very quickly. The cruise line is also excellent at keeping you well informed.

I still miss Renaissance Cruises. I doubt that anyone will ever match the small ship atmosphere with the large balcony rooms at the price they charged. However, Renaissance was a lot more than we paid for this cruise. Taking that into consideration, this was a wonderful value.

As I have stated in my report the food gets a mixed review. The bottom line is that there are enough choices and variety that no one should go hungry. They also will bring you as much as you can eat, upon request.

Tipping is handled in a way that I like. The gratuities are automatically added to your ship account. I imagine that if you don't want to give the recommended amount that you can go and have it changed. I personally, hate having to deal with tips and find this a much nicer way of being able to handle it. It is taken care of and you don't have to worry about it. We did give a few extra dollars to our waiters in the dining room, since we had the same ones on most nights. I also gave a bit extra to the cabin steward who did an excellent job. The recommended tipping guidelines are much lower on Princess than they were on Renaissance, and the service is equally good.

This is our first cruise to the Caribbean and honestly, once you've seen one of the islands you've basically seen all of them. They are all very much alike and the shopping on each is very much the same. I'm not a beach person and prefer the European cruises. However, saying this, I thoroughly enjoyed this cruise and we are even talking about doing another Caribbean cruise itinerary with Princess next January - so you can see that we really had very few complaints.

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