Cruise Ship: Grand Princess
Cruise Dates: February 10 - February 17, 2007
Cruise Destination: Western Caribbean
Guest Contributor: Fritz
Just before Christmas, I saw an item on the Internet that said Princess Cruise Captains were authorized to marry couples at sea, and when I looked into it, I discovered they offer a "Renewal of Vows" package (more later). My wife and I have been together for 14 years -- and a sail over Valentines day sounded like the perfect Christmas gift .... so I booked the cruise on line via the Princess web site -- and then followed up via telephone.
The telephone reservation person was very helpful and accommodating, and based on a suggestion by the About.com Cruises Guide, I booked a balcony stateroom. I reserved the "Renewal of Vows" package at the time of booking -- but the reservation person told me that the actual date and time would be set once we were on board the ship.... so that left a little bit of surprise for both of us.
The on-line information process and pre-cruise reservation system was easy to complete. When our cruise documents arrived about the first of February, we had plenty of information about our itinerary and the optional excursions. We set the papers aside, and then, a few days before we left, we realized we hadn't made any plans, so we made our choices and were able to reserve them before we arrived. I also booked the "Couple's Massage" the night we embarked to help get us into the relaxed vacation spirit in the "Lotus Spa".
We only pre-booked excursions for day 2 in Costa Maya and the day 5 in Cozumel. The four stops were Costa Maya, Roatan, Honduras, Belize City, and Cozumel, but I think they sometimes shuffle the order on the ports of call.
We had some frequent flier mies, and did not use the Princess flight arrangements. We arrived in Houston, and easily found the Princess transfer representatives at baggage claim. We had a 30 minutes wait, more or less, before we boarded a bus for the 1.5 hour ride to Galveston. (We landed at IAH, not Hobby).
The embarkation process in the terminal took perhaps 20 minutes, The lines moved very fast. Once aboard, we went to the buffet for lunch.
This may be the case on all ships now, but there were reminders and alcohol gel hand wash stations at every meal site in an effort to improve awareness of sanitation to prevent Norovirus and other gastrointestinal illness. During our lunch, one of the waiters asked us to go to a wine tasting for $9.50 a person. We agreed, as we thought it was reasonable. But as a note to others, if you have a hard time saying "no" be cautious the first day, there are LOTS of things you can buy, do, sign up for, all optional. It would be easy to spend more than you planned on.
Next we wandered the ship and were taken on a "tour" of the Lotus Spa. The spa operation is separate from the ship - so be prepared for the full press sale. There are more treatments, oils, lotions, and creams that will cure everything wrong with your aging body. All for a price <grin>. That night, during our couple's massage, my wife (both of us 46) learned we had "fine lines and wrinkles". "Dry skin", are "overweight", and my masseuse said I was "tight and stressed and needed to come back for a second massage and a consultation with the fitness and nutrition counselor." Sigh.....
But, we said "no" the lotions, but thoroughly enjoyed the massages. The couples massage is $137 each for 50 minutes. Also, the customers in the spa came in all shapes, sizes, and ages, so don't think only the "beautiful people" hang out there.
Day two, at sea, was the night of our "Renewal of Vows". The Grand Princess has a wedding chapel, and we met there a few minutes early to see another couple end their ceremony. The ship staff gave a beautiful bouquet of white roses to my wife, and a white rose boutonnière to me.
We walked down the aisle, the Captain performed a nice ceremony and a photographer took pictures of it all. Included in the ceremony was a nice certificate, a bottle of chilled champagne in our stateroom, and it was one of nicest things we have done together. I highly recommend it.
In Costa Maya, we chose the bicycle and kayak trip....an easy bike ride on single speed Schwinns and a gentle Kayak ride on the ocean to a place to swim and then kayak back to the bikes. Costa Maya has a well developed commercial shopping mall right at the pier, so you can shop, or eat drink, even swim in a pool in a very controlled and clean environment. In the little village we visited on the bikes, a beach side massage was about $30, for comparison.
In Roatan, we did not have an excursion planned. We took a taxi who drove us to West Bay beach (not West End) and we sat by the ocean, enjoyed a quiet day, and returned. From other passengers, the buzz was Zip Line was THE thing to do in Roatan.
On ship, we booked an excursion for Belize City, a tour, jungle trek via 4 x 4, an a river ride. This was another great day.
The last day, in Cozumel, we booked the trip to the Mayan ruins at Tulum. Something to know about Cozumel is that some of the excursions are on Cozumel island, some are based in the shore town of Playa del Carmen. If you take the ferry to Playa del Carmen for an excursion, you may not be able to return to Cozumel to see any of it. Our trip lasted most of the day, another couple's trip ended around noon, but they were not able to get the return tickets for the ferry until about 4:00. So plan and ask questions accordingly.
The Tulum trip is typical of organized ruin trips. The 30 minute ferry ride, followed by a 10 - 15 minute walk to the air conditioned road buses, an hour bus ride with a 30 minute stop at a souvenir shop, then on to Tulum, an hour guided presentation and an hour on our own, before returning.
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