Now that we’re back from our first cruise, I’m going to blog about it, more or less day-by-day. In December, our friends Matt and Anita told us they were going on a cruise, and it sounded like a fun idea, so we booked the same cruise: the Western Caribbean on the Golden Princess. We used VacationsToGo, which did a good job for us and got us what I thought was a great deal. (I’ve since seen other people mention CruiseCompete.com, where you pick the cruise you want so travel agents can give you bids– maybe next time.) Princess has a pretty good web site, so we were able to figure out what we needed to do before the cruise. In addition, I sent them a letter to tell them about Arlene’s gluten allergy.
We left here about 0500, picked up Matt and Anita, and headed north to the Detroit airport. Our flights were direct DTW-SJU and back; that made the most sense, even though NWA only offers one flight per day in each direction. We got to the airport about 2 hours before our scheduled flight time, which actually felt like 4 or 5 hours. Once we finally boarded, we were delayed about 40 minutes, then we eventually took off. The flight after that was an endurance exercise, nothing more.
When we landed in SJU, we headed to baggage claim, where we found a group of dancers in traditional dress. This was a great reminder that we weren’t in Ohio anymore! After we got our bags, we made our way to the Princess boarding area. We’d bought airport transfers, so we boarded a bus while our luggage boarded a separate truck; it was later delivered to our cabin. This made the embarkation process much more pleasant.
Speaking of embarkation: it went very smoothly. We waited in line for no more than about 5 minutes, showed our passports at the counters, and were each issued a little blue plastic “CruiseCard”. The CruiseCard unlocks your stateroom door, registers you as you enter and leave the ship in port, and lets you charge things aboard ship. We then boarded over the deck 4 gangway and made our way to deck 12, where our cabin was located.
The cabin itself (deck A, 212) was pretty darn nice– it was actually bigger than I expected, with a small refrigerator, a queen bed (actually, two twins pushed together), a small TV, and a serviceable, if compact, bathroom. We put away our carry-on bags and immediately went looking for food, since we really hadn’t eaten all day. We found the food court on deck 14; it’s a buffet-style area with a central kitchen and dining areas on either side of the ship centerline. We usually ate breakfast there, with an occasional stop for a late-night snack. The food was decent; I wouldn’t say it was great, but there was plenty of it, and it was nice to have so many choices. On our first visit, we met some wonderful folks from Canada: Arthur, his wife Crystal, and his mom Marguerite were on a cruise for Marguerite’s 84th birthday. We saw them throughout the cruise and thoroughly enjoyed their company.
We spent the rest of the evening exploring the ship; for dinner, we ate in the Bernini dining room. The Golden Princess has three identical dining rooms, all served from the same kitchen. Princess has two dining schedules: their “Personal Choice” dining lets you show up any time you want, and you get a seat wherever they happen to have one. The more traditional schedule assigns you a fixed time and table, so you eat in the same place (and with the same wait staff) every night. This is what we wanted, so that we’d have the same wait staff; unfortunately, we originally put in the Personal Choice pool. Arlene contacted the maître d’hôtel, Francois Ferat, and he quickly arranged for us to have a fixed time and table… unfortunately, when we arrived in the dining room, there weren’t enough spots at our table. Marcel Petcu, the head waiter in the dining room, quickly found us an alternate table and made sure that Arlene knew what dishes were safe to eat. (Marcel ended up being one of our favorite people on the trip; he had a great sense of humor and made us feel like honored guests every time we arrived). Dinner was delightful, although I confess that I can’t remember what I ate.. but it was sure good!
The ship was scheduled to depart San Juan at 11pm. We knew it was time when we heard a strange rumbling; it turns out that the ship has bow thrusters, and that they induce a loud rumble throughout the ship when activated. We had no idea what it was, but since it stopped not long after we left the dock, we didn’t pay it too much mind (until, that is, it woke us up the next morning, earlier than we liked!) The transit from San Juan to St Thomas is short– only about 60 miles– so the ship moved slowly. That made for a bumpy transit; I loved it, because it lulled me to sleep quickly. Arlene, Anita, and Matt didn’t like it quite so well, though. After a good night’s sleep, we woke up to the bow thruster rumble, had breakfast, and prepared to go ashore in St Thomas!