Cruise Line: Princess Cruise Line
Ship: Sun Princess
Date of Cruise: October 30 - November 9, 2000
A Caribbean Journey on the Sun Princess
By: Sherry and John Mudra
COSTA RICA - PANAMA CANAL - CARTAGENA, COLUMBIA - ARUBA - BARBADOS - DOMINICA - ST. THOMAS - SAN JUAN
This is our second cruise, the first being last December on the Grand Princess. We are a married couple 50 and 55 years old. We found that most passengers on this cruise were older than us, but there were also some younger in their 30's and 40's. I think we only saw 1 or 2 children on the ship. I should mention that the ship was only 2/3 full on this voyage, which we enjoyed because there was never a problem getting a chair by the pool or anywhere for that matter. Our waiters, Hector and Eva, in the second sitting had only our table to serve, so we got very fast service and lots of attention. They were wonderful beyond words and we truly enjoyed their company every evening.
The dining rooms are very tastefully done in intimate groupings so you never feel you are in a large room filled with people. The food was wonderful in the dining rooms. We had absolutely no complaints. The Horizon buffet was adequate and they did do theme lunches which were interesting. Breakfast was always very good, though sometimes cold. We loved the Sun Princess and felt it was exactly the right size for us - not too small or too large. The atrium was beautiful and very useful as a central meeting place and one of our favorite places on the ship. You could always count on meeting someone you know there before or after dinner and during the day there always seemed to be some type of game in which to participate. We both felt that the Sun was even more beautiful than the Grand. She has been kept in excellent condition and certainly doesn't look five years old.
We had a room with a balcony. It was adequate for our 10 day cruise but seemed small when we first arrived. We had a mini-suite on the Grand, so this did seem a lot smaller to us. The closets were a little cramped and the bathroom was very tiny. In fact, we said it reminded us of the bathroom in our RV. We found a lot of passengers making jokes about the small bathroom size. However, after a few days, we did adjust and get a routine going so we weren't always bumping into each other. It helped that I could use the desk for a vanity and there was also an outlet for my hairdryer. Speaking of outlets, there was only one in the entire cabin!!! There were absolutely none in the bathroom. We did bring a power strip so we could have more outlets, but it didn't really help since everything would have to be plugged in on the desk. We had a steamer to get rid of the packing wrinkles and it was never convenient to use it near the desk as there was no place to hang the item you were steaming.
The balcony was wonderful and very private. It has a table and two chairs, which is about all it could handle. We did have breakfast there when going through the Panama Canal, which we really enjoyed. Room service was extremely fast. The pools are wonderful. There are two midship. One is deep and the other is only 4 foot all the way across. The second one is where they did water aerobics every afternoon. The aft pool is very quiet and has a cover and there are four hot tubs in the rear to enjoy. We sat in lounge chairs facing the rear of the ship and watched as we navigated through the canal. It was very peaceful and beautiful.
One complaint we did have was embarkation, which was worse than terrible. We left at 10:00 a.m. on Oct. 30th. Our flights were booked through Princess as were our transfers. I would highly recommend transfers if you are arriving in or departing from Costa Rica. The flight delays we had all day weren't Princess's fault so I won't even go into that. We did, however, finally arrive in Costa Rica at about 9:30 p.m. We thought this was very poor planning on Princess's part because we missed the entire first day on the ship. We had tried to change flights but they wouldn't let us because they said the papers were all printed (?).
So we arrived in Costa Rica tired from a full day of travel. Everyone was very glad to get off the plane and anxious to get to the ship. We were led to a room where we were amazed to see about 8 lines a block long each where we had to wait to go through immigration. This took between 45 minutes to an hour. When we finally got through that mess, we had to get our 5 bags of luggage and drag it over to where they were stacking the luggage to go on the buses that were taking us to the ship. Then we were told to go stand in ANOTHER line about 2 blocks long to go through customs. At this point, there were quite a few disgruntled people. Finally, someone came and told the Princess passengers they could go through this other line and we walked right through customs. They loaded us onto two buses. We were in the last one. The first one took off shortly after we all marched out of the airport. The one I was on was only half full. We waited and waited and waited. Finally we asked what was going on and nobody spoke English. At last an English speaking gentleman told us that we were waiting for everyone's luggage because we were the last bus going to the ship. We sat in the bus for an hour and waited. By now, people were very irritated. When the driver and guide finally boarded, we were told it was at least 1-1/2 to 2 hours drive to the ship!!!
It was near 1:00 a.m. when we finally arrived to see people still in line from the first bus that had left much earlier. There were only 2 people checking in boarding passengers. After checking in, we presented our passports to the immigration people after filling out yet ANOTHER immigration form and we finally got on the ship. No fanfare, no pictures, pretty much an empty ship because everyone was sleeping. We were hungry so we headed upstairs to the Horizon to eat while we waited for our luggage. The only people up there were crew members and passengers who were late arrivals like us. By the time we got our luggage and unpacked, it was way after 3:00 a.m. Not a good way to start off a cruise. I sure hope that Princess does something about smoothing out this embarkation process if they intend to keep Puerto Caldera as a starting point.
PORTS OF CALL
COSTA RICA (Puntarenas)
We didn't plan an excursion for this port since we knew we would be getting in late and most tours left at 7 a.m. Also, we knew that there would be a 2 hour ride each way to the point of interest and after a day of traveling, we just couldn't face it. We were especially glad we had decided this after the fiasco described above. There is a little area of vendors in the port, however, which is just a short walk from the ship. We had a lot of fun here. There were musicians playing (for tips) and a lot of interesting home-made items to purchase. We did manage to drop a few bucks here and we had a wonderful time going through all the vendor's stands.
This really isn't a port since you just navigate the canal. We especially loved having the balcony. We were on the port side and were very lucky because we were on the right side of the locks and could watch the ship next to us as well as the workings of the locks and the little trains that pull the ship through the locks. The canal is beautiful. The captain (or I think it was the captain) also told us about the canal on the speaker system and points of interest. One point I thought was interesting is when they showed us the old canal that the French had started many years ago which was supposed to be all one level without locks. All in all, I think the canal was more interesting and beautiful than we had expected.
We were very apprehensive about this port since we had heard so many terrible things. It turned out to be a very enjoyable experience. We went on the "Best of Cartagena and Fortress" tour and had a very good time and learned a lot. One thing, be prepared to do a lot of walking up some steep inclines on this tour at the fortress. It is worth it, though. You can also wait in the air conditioned bus if you prefer.
Everywhere we went, there were police officers, military personnel and/or something they call tourist police that wear badges indicating that is what they are. We thought this might be done to make tourists feel more safe. We did take some pictures with them and they were more than happy to oblige. When we returned to the ship, there were two military men with drug dogs standing at the ramp. We asked if we could take pictures with them, and they were also very happy to pose with their dogs. One officer even had his dog stand on his hind legs for the picture. The Columbian people were very friendly and we enjoyed seeing everything on this tour. One thing we noted was that our guide kept repeating many times how safe the city is. We kind of laughed because every single residence and business had bars on the windows and fences around their property. Some of the fences even had barbed wire at the top. We would highly recommend this tour to anyone.
One tip…don't buy anything from the street vendors. They are VERY aggressive and if you buy from one of them, you will practically be assaulted by every other vendor on the street trying to get you to purchase their wares. We had a vendor actually push open the bus doors, get on the bus, and try to sell us items while we were waiting for other passengers.
This was probably our favorite port because we had so much fun on our excursion. We took the Four-Wheel Drive Safari where you drive your own small four wheel vehicle in a caravan around the roughest parts of the island where you wouldn't be able to go with any other kind of vehicle. It was quite an adventure and we had a great group of people in our group of nine vehicles. You really get very dirty on this trip. We were fortunate that it was the rainy season so there wasn't any dust to contend with, but we did have many mud holes which were fun to speed through. Everyone was covered with muddy water. The last stop on this excursion was at a beach which had very large waves and only the very bravest (or craziest) of us went in. This is a very rough excursion where you get very dirty, but it is great fun. The trails are very rough and scary and sometimes we didn't know how we all either made it down a hill in a gully wash or up a very steep grade on rocks and coral. The north side of the island is where we spent most of our time and it is very unspoiled and beautiful.
On Barbados we took the Island Safari by Land Rover tour. You don't drive your own vehicle, but sit in the back of a Land Rover driven by your guide. It can still be very rough at times. In fact, one of the Rovers in our group got stuck in the mud and we had to pull them out. Don't wear good clothes because you do get an occasional splash of mud. This was a very enjoyable tour and we got to see a lot of Barbados that the average tourist doesn't see. On the way back to the ship, we went through the resort and mansion area of the island and the guide pointed out homes owned by celebrities. We loved this island, too, and would love to go back and visit it again.
DOMINICA (pronounced Dom in EEK a)
This is an island that we were really looking forward to because it was supposed to still be in a comparatively natural state. Unfortunately, we were disappointed. There were several cruise ships in port and the island had a difficult time accommodating them all. We went on the Dominica's Favorites Tour to see the two main island attractions of the Trafalgar Falls and the Emerald Pool. It seems every person on every cruise ship wanted to see the same things. The roads were terribly crowded with tourist buses and they were in terrible condition. We were one of the first buses to leave the port and the guide kept rushing us through the whole tour so that all the buses behind us wouldn't catch up. Unfortunately, they did catch up at the falls where we couldn't find a place to park the bus and there was the worst traffic jam I've ever seen (and I lived most of my life in Chicago). The roads were winding and narrow and there wasn't any place for the vehicles to turn around to go back down the hill and more tour buses just kept coming up the hill to the falls. Our bus kept dying out going up the hills and we would have to turn off the air conditioning so we had enough power to get to the top. This was one tour that we were all glad to see come to an end. The island is beautiful, however. Strangely, it doesn't really have any beaches. There was one small black sand beach, but it was also very rocky. If we went here again, we'd stay on the ship. We also had to tender at this island because there was another ship at the dock.
We had been here before when we were on the Grand Princess. It is a beautiful island and we had many good memories of it. We especially loved getting off the ship and being right at the Havensight Mall. We knew we would either have a view of the mall and the beautiful hills around it or the picturesque bay and the boats anchored there. So, we were excited when we woke to open the blinds and see this beautiful island. What a disappointment when we discovered we had been stuck out in Crown Bay Port. This is an ugly commercial port. When we opened our curtains all we could see was commercial ships and dump trucks and a navy ship right across from us. There was also an oil company. It was truly an ugly view.
Not only that, but we were so far away from everything that we had to take a taxi to the shopping which was $5 per couple one way. There was absolutely nothing you could walk to. So we did take a cab to Charlotte Amalie which was much closer than Havensight Mall. We liked Havensight Mall, so this was another disappointment. There were six ships in port the day we were there and the traffic was terrible and the stores were packed. Two of the ships were the largest passenger ships in the world, the Explorer of the Seas which holds 3,000 and the other was the Grand Princess which holds 2,600. A Disney ship was also in port and another medium sized ship. We had planned on going to St. John and snorkeling, but the traffic was so bad and we were so far away from Red Hook that we decided not to take the chance. Another factor in our decision was that we were sure Trunk Bay would be packed with all those ships in port. This was probably the biggest disappointment for us because we were really looking forward to this port.
We didn't actually see Puerto Rico because our plane was scheduled to leave at 1:10 and we had to leave when we could get a transfer to the airport. Disembarkation was very smooth and practically painless. This was more like our experience on the Grand last December and completely different from our experience in Costa Rica.
All in all, we really did enjoy this cruise and absolutely loved the Sun Princess. The Cruise Director John was good, but his assistants Jackie (male) and Sean were marvelous. This was Jackie's last cruise until next January when he will be on cruises in Africa. Our only concern for the future of cruising was the number of ships and new ships. We saw such a difference between last year and this year in the ports and the crowds of tourists. If this continues, I'm afraid it will take a lot of fun out of cruising, though we still feel cruising is one of the best values and most fun ways to travel or vacation. If anyone has any questions or comments, please contact us at the email address below.