Tag Archives: Princess Cruises

Mykonos Top Tip

Agios Stefanos, a mere 15 minutes' walk from the ship

Ruby Princess spent yesterday docked at Tourlos, the big ship port on Mykonos. Small ships anchor off the pretty town and ferry passengers ashore by tender but anything sizeable goes alongside further down the coast.

Tourlos is a nothing kind of place, just a dock and no facilities, but it was a perfect day. I didn’t fancy a tour, having been here many times before, and I was too late to book the beach trip to Platis Yialos, one of the most popular stretches of sand on the island; it had sold out before we got onboard. So it was a shuttle into town (which is too far to walk) and a taxi to a beach, or taking pot luck with a walk along to Agios Stefanos, the nearest beach to the dock, 15 minutes on foot over a low hill.

You can see Agios Stefanos from the ship and it looked like a decent little cove to me.  And it was more than that: we all loved it. We pitched up at 11 and there were plenty of sunloungers (5 euros each, with a big umbrella). The sea is beautifully clear, the beach spotless and sandy, there’s a lifeguard in attendance and a huge, roped-off swimming area. Not a jet ski in sight and no noise except the waves and the bustle of the three tavernas that line the bay.

The perfect Greek taverna

We lazed, read, swam and had lunch in Epistrophi, a real Shirley Valentine-style place, right on the beach, with a vine-shaded terrace and tables with blue cloths. A huge Greek salad, assorted hot and cold starters, stuffed vine leaves, two bowls of pasta, soft drinks and half a bottle of Retsina came to 75 Euro. Not the cheapest, but it was spectacularly delicious and the owner gave me a big platter of iced watermelon to take back to the sunlounger.

The ship’s Platis Yialos tour would have cost me $107 for the transfer alone for three of us – umbrellas, loungers, food and drinks are all extra. And it was only a half day. We had a full six hours on Agios Stefanos. So I’m quite grateful that I was too slow to book the official tour!

SJB

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Man overboard – or not?

Man overboard - or not?

There was an hour of intense drama on Ruby Princess last night when a passenger gave the ‘Man Overboard’ alert.

While the way the crew handled the event was nothing but impressive, the reaction of the passengers was fascinating and in some cases, bizarre.

The captain made an announcement about an hour out of Mykonos, as the sun was beginning to set. “Man overboard, port side”.  I’m on the starboard side. So what do I do? Rush out onto the balcony, only to find that pretty well everybody else on the starboard side had rushed out onto their balcony. I met many of my neighbours for the first time.

Everybody was in a state of mild shock, wondering if it was for real.

Being a nosy journalist, I went down to the promenade deck to see what was going on. But in under five minutes since the announcement, the crew had sealed the outside decks with ‘crime scene’-style yellow tape. All the officers who weren’t on the bridge or guarding the doors, where small crowds had formed, were gathered on the port side and a red flare was streaming smoke from a distant spot on the water. One man said excitedly, “This is awesome,” as though it was some kind of entertainment that had been laid on. Another guy said to his friend, “Come on, let’s go to the casino.” A Japanese man turned up with a huge Nikon, full zoom lens attached, presumably hoping for some gruesome action.

Most upsetting was the frightened parents who were running up and down the stairs in panic, trying to remember where they last saw their kids (there are a lot of families onboard with teens who do their own thing on the ship).

Meanwhile, the art auctioneer calmly continued to describe the ‘Picassos’ in the Explorers’ Lounge. The scene was truly surreal.

At this stage, we still didn’t know if there was an actual person in the water and the ship was a-twitter with rumour; it’s incredible how quickly untrue speculation spreads, the most chilling part of which was that a child had gone missing. Passenger Services started naming people who should make contact. The captain made a grim-sounding request for the person who had sounded the alarm to identify themselves. A Greek coastguard boat was spotted heading towards us. But by now, the flare had burned itself out and the sun had set.

The crowds dispersed and people ambled into dinner, where I kept a vigil by the window; at this point, the ship was almost stationary in the water as the search continued. I don’t know how you’re supposed to react in a situation like this; it seemed like something potentially so enormous and so tragic, but most people just kept on eating. On the other hand, what else were they supposed to do?

Eventually, the captain made another announcement and the entire dining room fell quiet; you could have heard a pin drop. The person who sounded the alarm had failed to identify themselves; the crew had done all they could; nobody had seen a person in the water or, indeed, the blue sunlounger which had caught the alarm-sounder’s attention in the first place; and we would resume our course to Piraeus.

So it was a false alarm that turned out to affect a lot of people. The officers, the engine room crew, the dining room service crew, all the passengers who were separated from their family at the time, the Greek coastguard… I imagine one passenger is feeling very foolish indeed today. But the episode has certainly given me a thorough respect for the intense emergency training that cruise ships’ crew receive.

SJB

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Table for three

Cruise lines have plenty of events for single travellers

Most big cruise lines offer social activities for minority or special interest groups, but I’ve never seen a line embrace the subject as enthusiastically as Princess Cruises does.

On the day we boarded (Monday), there was a Singles’ Mingle, which I missed as we were having dinner, a special gathering for 18-20 year olds, who are too old for the teen club, and a GLBT Get-Together (whatever happened to Friends of Dorothy?).

On Tuesday, the Friends of Bill W had a meeting (for those of you who are not familiar with the term, this is the wording used in the daily programme for an AA group and all big cruise ships have them).  I missed the Singles’ Mingle yet again on Wednesday as it was at a weird time (5.15) and we were swimming, although the golfers, scrabble players, GLBT and 18-20s on board all had a chance to hook up.

Today is a sea day and it’s non-stop opportunities for finding kindred spirits. There are social events for bridge players, first-time cruisers, Service Club members, GLBT passengers and freemasons, a Friends of Bill W meeting, a veterans’ gathering and a service for anybody wanting to celebrate the Jewish Sabbath.

No Singles’ Mingle today, though, which makes me worry that I’ve missed the boat, as it were. Maybe all the singles paired off on the first couple of days?

I appreciate that I’m including a religious event and an AA support group with the social activities all in one stream of thought here, but it seems there is something to encourage everybody to connect – except me, as a single parent on a cruise. Even if there were a single parents’ mingle, I expect I’d be the only one there as I haven’t spotted any other obvious candidates. Everybody is either paired off or travelling in a big group. The three of us – me and two kids – certainly seem a curiosity to the crew and every time we sit down in a bar or restaurant, I am asked, “Where is your husband?”

I don’t mind at all and this is not a sob story, although we are thinking of inventing some colourful reason as to why he’s not here; ran off with a showgirl, perhaps, or on a secret mission somewhere. It just seems strange to me that more single parents aren’t attracted to cruising, as it’s such an easy holiday. The kids love it, I’m quite happy lying around reading, we’re ashore every day and we’re very happy having dinner together and going to the shows in the evenings.  But if I did want to hook up with people, it might be easier if I were travelling solo, a scrabble enthusiast or a masonic Friend of Dorothy.

SJB

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It’s Thursday, So It Must Be Naples

A funny guide makes all the difference; Diego indicates the direction of the brothel in Pompeii.

August is peak season in the Mediterranean and a leaflet has arrived in the cabin explaining exactly what this means. There are caveats galore: crowds, traffic delays, renovations of historic sites, heat, guides with funny foreign accents. Clearly, expectations have not always been met on shore excursions and Princess Cruises wants us all to be fully prepared for reality.

The truth is, running the shore excursions for a couple of thousand people is, and has to be, a well-oiled machine; a sightseeing factory.

While the excursion we’ve just done (Pompeii and climbing Vesuvius) was excellent, let’s not pretend there is anything romantic or exclusive about these tours at this time of year and with this many people. We arrived at the top of the mountain road, 25 minutes walk from the crater of Vesuvius, and there were 15 coaches lined up. Pompeii was heaving, drooping tour groups trailing behind jabbering guides bearing giant cardboard lollipops designating their cruise line and tour number.

If you want Vesuvius to yourself, or to enjoy air clear enough to see all the way to Capri from the top, or to get photographs of Pompeii without someone else’s baseball cap in the foreground, come in October!

Having said that, many of us are limited to travel in school holidays, which means making the most of the situation. Happily, our tour today was really good, brought alive by a funny and entertaining guide, Diego, who has been guiding for 33 years and sometimes does Pompeii three times a day. “Vesuvio e last erupt 1944 and e blow every 64 years,” he drawled (do the maths). “Imagine. Catastrophic eruption. More exciting than boring Pompeii. Everybody on bus dead. Except the guide.” Makes a change from an endless string of dates and facts, I suppose.

Pompeii, too, was perfectly judged. We had a lot of teens in our group and as we approached the site, Diego announced: “Vesuvio, e wake up one day in AD79 after really bad McDonald’s and e explode for three days and three nights.” And even when it’s packed, I find Pompeii awe-inspiring, especially the warehouses at the end of the tour where a lot of the artefacts from the site are stacked up, waiting for labelling or display in museums; today, we saw plaster casts of a writhing dog and of a pregnant woman, killed by the eruption and frozen in time from 2,031 years ago. Both have toured the world in Pompeii exhibitions and, today, they were just sitting there, gathering dust. Makes you feel very privileged to see these things, even on the hottest and busiest of August days.

SJB

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Bienvenue a Monaco!

Monaco

We’re alongside in Monte Carlo today and it’s unbelievably hot and humid; the kind of heat that leaves you lethargic and drained. Flat sea and no wind, and it’s only now, in the late afternoon, that a few yachts are pottering out of the harbour in search of a bit of evening breeze.

Because of the heat, we’re all too floppy and apathetic to do much and besides, have been here before and ‘done’ the sights. And in Monaco, what better activity is there than people, car and yacht-spotting anyway?

There’s a vessel just across the yacht basin from Ruby Princess that’s bigger than some small cruise ships: Al Mirqab. I was so blown away by its enormity that I Googled it and found that at 436 feet and displacing 5,000 tons, it’s one of the largest private yachts ever built and belongs to the prime minister of Qatar. A mere 10 guests are accommodated and cared for by a crew of 60! Six crewmembers each!

Meanwhile, up in Casino Square, the scene was as insane as it ever is and we played a game of spotting locals and yachties (men in loose shorts, baggy shirts and loafers, the women in huge, stacked heels, glittery sun dresses, immaculate hair, improbable tan, carrying Louis Vuitton bags), who stand out among the throng of tourists. A round of one milkshake, one Evian and one iced coffee came to 23 Euros.

I photographed a Rolls Royce with the numberplate ‘1 ME’. A crowd suddenly materialised from nowhere like bees around honey and started snapping shots of a young man cruising past in an open-top white Merc.

I’ve no idea who he was but a woman rushed up to the car and threw a bottle of water over him as he drove away. This place is barmy. OK to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live here!

But for all its conspicuous consumerism and unimaginable wealth, Monte Carlo provides a fine and surprisingly unsnooty welcome to cruise passengers, whose vessels, after all, change the entire look of this tiny place.

Singer Dame Shirley Bassey once complained that billionaire Roman Abramovich’s yacht, Le Grand Bleu, ruined the view from her Monaco apartment. But the Russian’s boat wasn’t a patch on Ruby Princess, which effectively creates an 18 deck-high wall along one side of the harbour.

Our handy welcome pack

Yet we’re greeted by a cool, air-conditioned cruise terminal with an information desk staffed by helpful locals. Little welcome packs are given to everybody, including a map, postcards, a leaflet detailing all the attractions and their opening times and a handy discount book worth 26 Euros off entrance to museums. There are details of restaurants offering a cheaper ‘plat du jour’ menu and discount vouchers for shops.

The boat man on the Taxi-Bateau that crosses the harbour for one euro each was chatty and even the waiter in the Café de Paris had a certain brusque charm.

Although Shirley Bassey might not approve, you get the feeling that Monaco makes a real effort to host cruise passengers. Even if we do stand out somewhat.

SJB

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What are your worst cruise mistakes?

An item on the Cruise Critic message boards caught my eye recently, in which member ActiveTraveler, aka Andrea, bravely posted a list of cruising mistakes, hoping that flagging them up would help others in their planning. She doesn’t actually confess to having made all these mistakes, mind you!

Here are a few that I like from her list:

*Pack too much, pack too little, or pack the wrong things for your cruise?

*Select the wrong cabin, do the wrong activities, or order the wrong food?

*Take pictures of the wrong things and forget to take pictures you wanted?

*Get too much or not enough cash or exchange currency the wrong way?

*Miss the beginning of a tour you had reserved in advance for any reason?

Yes, guilty as charged for several of those, especially the packing, the almost missing a tour (open the ticket envelopes and double check your bookings the minute you arrive in your cabin) and the currency – a large wodge of useless Turkish lire is still sitting in my safe, waiting to be aired again.

Member GreatDaneMom adds a few more to the list of mistakes:

*Booking an anniversary cruise the last week of May out of Port Canaveral and NOT realizing the kids in Florida are out of school for the summer

*Booking a cabin across from a passenger laundry room

*Linking my dining reservation to a group of cruisers I met on a cruise board who turned out to be awful people and we were stuck eating with them

None of these is actually going to wreck a cruise, although we’ve probably all learned not to repeat them. But member tea4ular tells a sad story of putting down a deposit for a family group on a cruise, getting very excited and only researching travel to join the ship when it was too late: “The cost of airfare, hotel for a night in each direction, and then transportation from airport to hotel/port, added a cost equal to the cruise fare. BAH! Had to call friends and family, and we all cancelled.”

And then there’s the debate about planning. Do you over-plan and end up over-scheduled and exhausted? Under-plan and miss places you might have enjoyed?

I suppose the best advice I could offer regarding the destinations is simply to be informed. Read the Cruise Critic boards and port reviews, learn a bit of local history from a good guidebook and establish the difference between tours that work best with a guide (Pompeii, Jerusalem, most places in Egypt) and places you can explore easily and cheaply on your own (St Martin, Juneau, Barcelona).

And finally, a note on clothing. Wear your skinny clothes early on in the cruise and save the expanding ones for when the situation gets critical near the end. On a recent Princess Cruise, after a week of enjoying the food, my friend and I poured ourselves into our only remaining posh frocks, sat at dinner, unable to move, seams bursting, gave up, tottered back to our cabin and ordered room service in our tracky bots.

What’s your worst cruising mistake? Weigh in and add to the list!

SJB

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Celebrities Who Cruise

On which cruise line’s ships are you most likely to bump into Oasis’ Liam Gallagher, stars from “Strictly Come Dancing” or John Travolta? Let’s be frank – there aren’t a whole lot of celebrities who cruise (and mostly those who do are participating in some sort of guest star role) but these three were definitely spotted onboard (Gallagher hopped on a Silversea Cruises Atlantic crossing when ash madness grounded planes, “Strictly Come Dancing” performers have been spotted on several Princess cruises, and John Travolta was on Royal Caribbean’s Enchantment of the Seas a few years back.

Oprah, the U.S. reigning queen of daytime chat, has taken a cruise; she chartered NCL’s Norwegian Gem for a staff trip – and presided over the events from the plush garden villa. Even Guns ‘n Roses’ guitarist Slash has been known to tweet about his love for — ready for this? — Disney cruises.

In a new story today on Cruise Critic UK, check out other celebrities who you might spot at sea. http://bit.ly/9eC0TE.

The reason that most inspired Norwegian Cruise Line executives to name American country music and sitcom star Reba McEntire as godmother of its new Norwegian Epic (christening’s July 2 in New York) is because – she actually cruises for pleasure! NCL president Kevin Sheehan told us that on a Mediterranean cruise a few years back he ran into her so often (around the ship and on shore excursions) that he was afraid she’d think he was stalking her. Seriously though, she really loves cruising and so is the rare godmother who regards the christening as more than just a publicity stunt.

CSB

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