Day 6 – Ensenada Grande
Today was the day we had been waiting for all cruise – the day we get to snorkel with Sea Lions. This was the main reason I was willing to brave the water earlier in the week to get the hang of snorkeling. It was a little choppy but at least the wind had died down and the sun was out. There was a dozen of us willing to get in the water with the sea lions while the others had an option to stay dry and just go around the sea lion island in a small boat. I suited up with my multiple layers and was ready. We had to take a skiff over to the boat from a company (Fun Baja) that takes people out to swim with the Sea Lions. The rookery is on the island of Partida in the Espiritu Santo Island Archipelago. Our guide Carlos gave all the details on what to do and what not to do. You really do not want to annoy the large male sea lions. We pulled up to the island it and really was covered in sea lions and also lots of birds. The rocks actually looked snow covered due to all the bird droppings. It was time to get in the water and you cannot help but be noisy when getting in because it was so cold but I waited a bit for my heart to adjust and then we started swimming closer. I kept my eye on Carlos as I didn’t want to lose him figuring he knew best what to do. As we got closer a big wave hit me and I drank a good bit a sea water and was about ready to say get me out of here but I took a few minutes to recover and calm down. After that I really did start to enjoy it and get the hang of it. I was floating along and a little sea lion swam right over to me. I wasn’t sure what to do but I laughed so hard I got a mask full of water. This little guy really had fun playing with us. He nibbled on anyone hands that were out or their flippers. He also thought Carlos’s orange life ring looked like fun and played around with that for a bit. We thought he might go through it like a sea lion at a show but he didn’t. He was also able to entertain himself quite well as I watched him dive down and he blew a few big bubbles and then he followed them up to the surface but right before they reached the top he would pop them with his nose. Again I was laughing and let me just say laughing and snorkeling do not go well together. We were out in the water about an hour and by then I was really cold so I was happy when Carlos asked who is ready to go back to the boat. On the short swim back Carlos told us to keep looking in the water as there are sometimes big rays out there. I looked down and decided I really didn’t want to see if there was one as it looked way too deep. I was better off keeping my head out of the water. I was glad to get back on the boat and sit in the sun and try to warm my fingers up again. When we got back on the ship it was right in the hot tub to warm up. This was the last excursion with wetsuits so we helped by dunking them in the containers of clean water and hung them up. We also rinsed the other borrowed gear and put in the piles for the crew to put away. We did all this before lunch! I had worked up a hunger and was happy to not have to wait long for lunch.
After lunch we headed out for one last guided kayak. The wind had picked up a bit so we mostly stuck to the coast but it was another fun paddle. We were than back onboard for one last happy hour. We also had to start thinking about packing the the procedure for the morning. Guests with an early flight were scheduled for the first bus back to Los Cabos while the rest of us went back to the hospitality area that we met at on the first day. After all the talk about what to do in the morning it was time for dinner but Jess told us to pop back into the lounge after dinner as there would be a slide show of photos that the guides took all week. We enjoyed one last delicious dinner and watched the show before heading back to pack.
Our Last Day
Our luggage had to be tagged and outside our door before we went to 7 am breakfast. We had one last time to say goodbye to our new friends and then it was time to board the buses. Most of the crew were out on the pier to say goodbye which was a very nice touch. We headed back to Los Cabos and walked around town for a bit before it was time for our shuttle back to the airport. We had a great time in Baja and would definitely do it again!
Day 4 - Magdalena Bay
Today is all about the Gray Whales. We had to be up early and ready to go as we needed to board vans that would take us over to the Pacific side of the peninsula. It was about a 3 hour ride over to the other side but we did make a pit stop to use bathrooms and have a snack. This time of the year mother gray whales come to Magdalena Bay to give birth so we are excited about the possibility of getting to see the babies. UnCruise only does this excursion during the birthing season. When we got to the bay we got into a panga boat with a local captain that took us out in search of the whales. The bay is pretty well protected so you can see why the momma whales like it. After just a few minutes we saw a spout and headed right towards it. Did you know that the spout from a Gray Whale is heart shaped? I didn't know that but I did get to see up close that it is true. We ended up getting to see quite a few whales and could tell some where pairs of mother and baby by how close they were together. We thought that at least one was having fun playing with us as she would spy-hop (vertically pokes its head out of the water). Then there was a pair that seemed to just be relaxing and would come up to float for a bit. It was a great 2 hours out on the water. After our whale watch adventure was over it was time for lunch at a local seafood restaurant. They served us a huge plate of food with shrimp, lobster, fish, rice, and salads. Then it was time to head back to Sea of Cortes side so that was nap time in the vans. We got back to port and boarded the ship for happy hour. Captain Shep came down to let us know that once we were out of “the waiting room” that we would be hitting a little bit of rough water so he was waiting until after dinner was over to leave port. We have been on many cruises with rough weather so we were not too worried. Turns out that to us it just seemed like some gentle waves which were nice to lull you to sleep. Since we were up so early I was ready for bed by 8 pm! Our brief time with wi-fi seemed to be coming to an end so we are guessing we not get wifi again until we return to LaPaz.
Day 5 – Bahia of San Francisco
This morning we woke up find us anchored out by a lovely crescent moon shaped beach. It was a bit windy but we had signed up for the morning hike. We grabbed some breakfast and then headed to the aft to board our skiff to shore. It was a really nice hike to a ridge that ran along most of the island so we got a lot of amazing views. Then we walked down in another spot where we were able to walk over and check out the salt flat. Our guide, Jenny, explained to us how the locals harvest the salt to use for the fish they catch and then they can trade. It was then back to the boat for lunch. After lunch the crew had set up a beach party back on shore for us so we were able to go back over and snorkel, kayak, paddle board and just enjoy the beach. We had fun exploring the beach but it was a bit too chilly for getting in the water. Tonight's Happy Hour was a little different since we had already signed up for Friday's adventures the day before. I guess they really needed to get an idea how many boats they would need for going over to the sea lions so they asked us to decide on that one early. Jess gave plenty of fair warnings about how the swimming with the sea lions might not be easy so they wanted to set the right expectations before anyone signed up. I was doing it no matter what. I figured that if even what she was saying was worst case scenario I could handle that. All of our desserts each day have been delicious but tonight's wasn't only delicious it was like a piece of art. Chase our server told us dessert was apple strudel but it was going to be a bit different than what we are used to. When it came out I think everyone ohhhed and ahhhed and of course took photos. It was almost too perfect to eat but it really did taste as good at it looked!
Day 2 - Bahia Agua Verde
Woke up this morning and made it to the 7 am stretch and WOW! The cove we are in today is just gorgeous! The weather also looked like it was going to cooperate both with sun and no wind. On the way to breakfast we saw that we had the morning Kayak and afternoon Burro which we knew was perfect since it is usually best to get out on the kayaks while there isn't any wind. We know from experience that wind tends to kick up more as the day goes on. After breakfast it was out to the aft deck to board the skiff to the beach. Our ship is stocked with kayaks and has a platform they use to launch kayaks in other locations but here in Baja they prefer to launch from the beach. The crew had already taken the kayaks over and had them ready on the beach for us. We grabbed our paddles and headed out. Our adventure guide for this one was Mike and he was also very excited about the lovely weather we had. We paddled around the coast and even out a rock formation a few hundred feet from the coast. Mike told us that the water all around that rock formation was very deep so many birds went there to fish and live on the rocks. The water close to the coast was very clear so that we could see things like fish, starfish, and other things on the bottom while kayaking. It was a great morning adventure and we all worked up a hunger for lunch. Back to the ship with a little time to shower and head to lunch. It was another great meal which was topped off by the most adorable and equally delicious dessert! Our pastry chef made macrons shaped like a cactus and filled with a sort of Mexican eggnog cream. All I could say was OH MY GOD!
After lunch it was time to head out for our Burro ride. The Romero family brings the burros over to the island every week just for UnCruise. Julio, the head of the family, takes a look at each guest and then pairs you with the right Burro for you. I guess he could tell I like to go fast because I got the Burro that wanted to pass everyone was we went up the first steep hill. The path was pretty narrow and he liked passing on the outside so I just tried to trust he knew what he was doing and wouldn't step too close to the edge. It was about an hour ride and we went over rocks and sand, up and down hills, and even through an oasis which was full of palm trees and freshwater. The family that brings the burros also had a little shop set up on the beach with some things they have made that were for sale. I always enjoy being able to buy something that was made by the locals when we travel so I picked up a pair of earrings and a necklace.
Since the weather was so nice we had the option to hang out on the beach a bit longer and could take out kayaks or paddleboard or head back to the ship. We chose to hang out for awhile. The crew brought over towels, chairs, snacks, and drinks as well so it was a great beach day! After enjoying the beach it was time to head back for Happy Hour and pick tomorrow's activities. We also also got a special treat and Julio joined us for happy hour and entertained us with a few songs. They were all in Spanish so I could only pick up a few parts but they all sounded like very sad songs to me. We enjoyed another very delicious meal but the chef which of course included another amazing dessert from Katie our pastry chef. For anyone that knows me or has traveled with me you will know I am a picky eater so I was a little worried about meals on a small ship. Even though there have only been 3 choices for lunch or dinner so far I have found something each time and you can also sort of customize the options if there is something you don't like. Being that we are on the sea I hve been opting for the fish most nights and they have been delicious!
Day 3 - Puerto Escondido
We were supposed to have adventures in the morning but due to wind they were cancelled so we instead went out whale watching and switched onshore adventures to the afternoon. We lucked out and quickly spotted a spout and Captain headed that way. After carefully watching and waiting it was identified as a Blue Whale, which is one of the biggest whales. We would watch the spout come up and then wait to see if the whale appeared too and most times the whale took a few breaths and then you would see the fluke (tail) as the whale dove and then wait 8 - 10 minutes to search for where he would come back up. While keeping track of the Blue Whale a pod of dolphins came over to play with us. They were bow riding and also playing in our wake. They really seem like kids that were swimming around and even showing off a little. It was so fun to watch them.
After some whale and dolphin watching it was time for lunch and while having lunch we pulled into the first actual dock we have seen since leaving La Paz. We are in Puerto Escondido which is a well protected harbor with mountains almost all around so it is also given the name The Waiting Room since many boats will wait out storms here. There were a few adventure options available today - a strenuous hike, snorkeling, a skiff ride, or you could just walk around the marina we were docked in. We opted for the skiff but it was windy and cloudy so a bit cold out on the water but we still saw some interesting things. We were happy to not do much this afternoon anyway since this was the first time since boarding that we were able to pick up a wi-fi signal. My travels are work for me so I really don't mind staying in touch while I travel but I hadn't been expecting to be without wi-fi so much on this trip. I used this time to check on emails and make sure all my clients were OK. Tomorrow we are headed to the Gray Whale Sanctuary which is one of the main reasons I chose this cruise at this time of year. The momma Gray whales come to this special bay to have their babies each year in late January and stay through early March.
*I was planning to post these reports live as we cruised however we didn't have internet at all most days so I ended up writing them as we went but waited to post when we got back home again.
I am so excited so be getting ready to start our UnCruise Adventure in the Sea of Cortez! When I first heard about this cruise I knew right then I just had to do it! I remember the first time I went to Sea World, when I was 8, I was totally in love and thought I wanted to be a Marine Biologist when I grow up. Well that didn't happen but I do still love dolphins and whales and getting to spot them up close whenever possible. Jacques Cousteau called the Sea of Cortez the world's aquarium so I cannot think of a better place to get to see many of them on one trip.
UnCruise has small boats that get you so close to everything. They also include all your adventures while cruising such as snorkeling, kayaking, hiking, and more! We landed in Los Cabos to meet up with UnCruise and get our bus over to the ship, Safari Endeavor, which was in LaPaz. We were taken right to the boat, literally our bus drove us right to the gangway. I was so impressed that the Captain was out on the pier introducing himself as we walked up the gangway. There were only 58 of us boarding so we were off the buses and to our rooms in no time. We met a few more of the crew and one of the adventure guides, Sarah, took us to our room and pointed out a few things and let us know we needed to head down to the lounge for the safety briefing. Our room is small but functional. It has all you need beds, a desk, closest, drawers, and a bathroom with shower. The beds are not our favorite since they are fixed twins against the walls so you cannot combine them make a queen but that is OK. We have 2 large windows and our room door opens right out on the deck. There are only 4 decks and just 42 rooms onboard. Crew to Guest ratio is 2.5 to 1 which is super!
We went down to the lounge where Captain Shep talked a bit and introduced some of the other crew. We then did the usual safety drill where you find your muster station and all the fun stuff. After that it was time for dinner and then time for the ship to pull out of port.
Day 1 - Puerto Los Gatos
I started our first day with the 7 am stretch. If you know me you know I am not a morning person, except for maybe when I am on vacation. It really was wonderful to start the day with a stretch on the top deck before heading to 7:30 breakfast (yes breakfast is 7:30 everyday). At breakfast we learned that each morning we will place our order for lunch and dinner as this allows the chef to prepare and not waste a lot. After breakfast we headed to the lounge where we would learn more about the day's adventures. Everyday has multiple included adventures to choose from. Some days we will be able to choose 2 and some days just one. For our first day we could just choose one since the morning was being used to learn about everything and collect our gear. Jessica our Adventure Coordinator started going over all the options but in the middle of that a pod of pilot whales was spotted nearby. One of the best things about UnCruise is nature is a focus so we stopped what we were doing and went out on the bow to check out the whales. Mike, one of the adventure guides, said they haven't seen the pilot whales here in 5 years so this was a pretty amazing sight. It was a pretty good size pod and Mike explained that what we were seeing was called logging and it is when the whales are pretty much hungover from eating a lot of squid the night before and are floating along in a sort of sleep mode. They were all very close to each other and would be up on the surface for a bit and they go back under. It was so cool to be close enough to hear their breaths. The captain will change course and slow down for things like this. After watching them for about an hour we moved back inside to get back to the stuff we needed to do. We heard about all the options for today and had to pick one. The options were - snorkeling 101 (for those that might need a refresher or like me never snorkeled in a wetsuit), snorkeling 201 for experienced snorkelers, a leisurely walk, a rigorous hike, or a skiff ride. Since I haven't snorkeled in a long time or ever in a wetsuit I chose snorkel 101 which would be entering the water from a beach vs from a small boat like the 201. After everyone put in their adventure order it was time to go over some of the procedures and collect our gear. Some of the procedures are for getting on and off our ship along with getting on and off the small boats that are used to get us to shore. While in the middle of the procedures talk a call from the bridge alerted us to whale sighting so again we stopped and all went out to check it out. This time it was a single whale and it took a little time for the experts to identify it but while trying to figure it out we realized it wasn't just one but 2 and it appeared to be a mom and calf. They were not giving us much time to really see a lot of them so it took a bit but they were identified as Sei Whales. While watching them a few playful dolphins came over to check out our boat and ride our waves. We hung out for a bit watching them but then back to getting ready for our upcoming adventures. We got back to the procedures and learned about the very low tech method of tracking who is on and off the ship - there is a magnetic board with all the room numbers and a circle magnet for each guest that as you are getting off you slide your circle to off and then back on when you come back. Low tech and laid back is pretty much the theme for UnCruise. There is no wi-fi on the ship (I know crazy right but we are hoping our portable hotspot will pick up a signal). You do not have or need a key for your stateroom door because it does not auto lock so you can only lock them from inside. At first I thought that seemed odd but I am already liking not having to worry about a key. With such a small boat you get to know everyone pretty fast so nothing to worry about. Plus even if someone did take something it is not like they can go far. Since pretty much everything onboard is included no need to worry about a room key to charge things to either. They even provide things like sunblock, binoculars, and reusable water bottles! Everything is very causal almost like cruising with family. No need to dress up for dinner either.
After going over all the procedures it was time to pick up all our gear for the week. We picked up our wetsuit and snorkel equipment, all of these are included for use during your cruise along with other things like walking sticks. I had done a little research after finding out we would be given wetsuits to use to find out what people wear under wetsuits since I knew I wasn't going commando in a borrowed suit. I was glad I did because I found out that many people prefer another layer underneath in cold water. I knew I would be cold no matter what so I got a full body suit for under my wetsuit along with fin socks to keep my feet warm. After getting our equipment it was time for lunch and then after we head out for our first adventure. I don't usually eat a big lunch but it was so good and I can already tell I love the pastry chef!
We suited up and headed to the aft to board a skiff to the beach for our snorkel 101. It was a bit cloudy and breezy but that wasn't stopping us. We gathered on the beach while our adventure guide Jenny went over the basics. It was sort of like a bit of torture though as first she made us all get into the water without fins or mask just to get the feel of the wetsuit. She also wanted to prove that you cannot sink when wearing a wetsuit which I did not know until I tried it. Ok so it wasn't just me that thought the water was cold - the water temp was only 64 degrees and the air only 74 but hey that is why we had wetsuits to begin with. So after getting all wet we had to get back out of the water to get our masks on and test those. So back into the water test the masks and snorkel to then get back out to get the fins. Once we got the fins our outfit was complete and we were ready to snorkel! It was cold and I realized I wished I had bought swim gloves and maybe even a hoodie since my ears were getting very cold. I wasn't giving up that fast though I powered through and really enjoyed snorkeling more than I ever did when I tried before so I think the wetsuit is key. Just being able to float was so nice. After about a half hour though most of us were ready to be done. We wrapped up in towels the crew brought over and then walked around the beach a bit to explore the very interesting red rock formations on the beach. We then headed back to the boat took off our wetsuits and hung them up on the aft deck. The 2 hot tubs right there on the aft deck were perfect for warming up after our adventure (again another reason to not go commando under the wetsuit since I could take mine off right there on deck and jump right into the hot tub).
Before we knew it it was time to head back to the lounge to talk about the next day's adventures. Each night before dinner everyone gathers in the lounge for happy hour and also to choose our adventures for the next day. Jessica went over all the options and this was going to be one of those days where we get to pick 2. The choices were Kayak 101, Kayak 201, Burro ride, Boulder Bash (extreme hike), or skiff. We chose Kayak 201 and Burro ride. After everyone put in their order Jessica takes those and works them into a schedule that gets posted on the wall in the main hall the next morning. So on your way to breakfast you can check to see what times you are doing each thing. Again nice and low tech just a print out paper where you look for your name on the list under each time slot. Also on that board is a laminated map of the area where our route so far is highlighted in marker as we go (since the route can and probably will vary there isn't an itinerary already mapped out). This board is also where things that we have seen will get posted so photos of the whales and other wildlife are starting to appear here. I am sure it will be totally full by the end of the cruise.
We had dinner and crazy enough were pretty much ready for bed before 9 pm! Adventuring takes a lot out of you! I am looking forward to another 7 am morning stretch so happy to go to bed early.
When I heard Royal Caribbean was offering a 4 night cruise with 2 stops at Perfect Day CocoCay I thought this is a great opportunity for me to get to check all the new stuff on CocoCay. It had been awhile since I had been on Royal Caribbean and since it was leaving from right in my backyard I couldn't pass it up.
Being so close to the port we drove over after lunch to board our cruise. Parking at the terminal is easy and so close to the ship. You do have to pay when you enter the parking garage instead of when you leave so that does help keep things moving when everyone is leaving at once. We found a parking place and since it was a bit later the check in area was pretty empty. I have the app on my phone and had already done most of the check in anyway. I had noticed that I had something called expedited arrival on my SeaPass and wasn't too sure what that meant but figured since we arrived later it didn't matter much. To my surprise I was told our room keys would be waiting for us outside our stateroom door. I thought this was pretty odd but went ahead and boarded. It was easy but also disappointing at the same time. We walked off the gangway onto an outside deck but there was no door there to get into the ship and no one there to direct us. I guess since we arrived later we missed the welcome onboard or who knows maybe there really isn't one. We wandered down the deck to find a door that would allow us to get into the ship and from there found our way to the elevators to get to the deck our room was on. Since we are seasoned cruisers we know how to handle boarding but it seemed odd to me that there wasn't any crew around to direct guests or even bombard guests with upsells. I guess I am used to walking on the ship and finding many crew just waiting to help and even just to say welcome onboard. I will admit I am a bit spoiled by the fanfare you get on Disney cruise when you board and they announce your family name as you enter into a grand atrium. There was none of that here.
I was a bit worried about our room keys so I wanted to make a bee line to our room. We found it easily but had we been first timers it would not have been so easy. Our room keys were sitting there on the number placard in a sealed envelope. This all just seems really strange to me since it seemed someone could walk down the hall and grab someone else's room keys but I guess they must have some type of security that wouldn't allow someone to use another person's key to buy anything. We grabbed our keys went into the room to drop our bags. Since it was a short cruise we opted for just carry ons which really makes things easier for us but not sure I would recommend that to everyone. If you got on the ship earlier the rooms might not have been open yet so you would be stuck lugging your stuff all around.
We realized the lunch buffet would be shutting down soon for the emergency drill so we went to grab a quick bite since we have the 8 pm dining time. Next up was the drill and then we explored the ship a little. Mariner of the Seas has a lot of fun extras and is nicer than most ships that do short cruises. When I first heard Mariner was coming to Port Canaveral I thought this would be a nice alternative for those that a Disney Cruise wasn't quite in their budget but want to add a cruise to their theme park vacation. The ship has an ice skating rink, Flowrider, rock wall, and the SkyPad as main attractions along with a few pools and sports options onboard like mini golf and basketball. There is definitely plenty to do for kids. Adults will find plenty of bars, shops, lounges, a casino, and even a Starbucks onboard.
Our first stop was Perfect Day CocoCay. There is no missing the waterpark features from the ship. I heard many kids come into the buffet for breakfast and get so excited when they saw what was waiting outside. There is an extra fee to enter the water park portion so I am sure there might have also been a few groans from parents after their kids saw it. Even if you didn't go to the waterpark there are plenty of free activities to do on the island. There was another ship in port with us that day so it was a bit more crowded than I had hoped for. I was hoping that maybe our second stop would be just us in port. Even with 2 ships there were plenty of beach chairs and shade to be found. There are a few beaches you can go to and grab a chair and enjoy or you can head to the largest freshwater pool on a private island and relax. There are some beach sports set up to enjoy along with a few options for lunch. Most of the food options are free but there were a few things that had an extra charge. There are a few bars around the island. Captain Jacks is right in the center and had live music anytime we went by. I have to say the bathrooms were the nicest I have seen on any of the private islands I have been to. I am going to do a whole page on our website about Cruise Line Private islands so look for that coming soon. While it is very bright and new looking I have to admit that one of my favorite things about other cruise line private islands is the rustic feel you get like you almost just came across this perfect little island by accident. There is none of that feeling on CocoCay.
After a nice beach day our next stop was Nassau. We have been here many times and don't usually get off. The weather was not that nice so a lot of guests opted to stay onboard. We were supposed to be back at CocoCay the next day but the bad weather we had in Nassau also hit there and blew the gangways into the docking spot so we were not able to go back and instead had a day at sea.
While on this cruise we checked out everything and caught an ice show and a show in the main theater. For dining I had picked the traditional dining and requested a table for 2. The first night we went to the dining room they took us to our table and it was a table for 8 and I said no thanks I requested a table for just 2. The host was able to find us a table for 2 down in the Anytime dining room which was fine. He made it so we didn't have to make reservations since we thought we had traditional dining. It is the same dining room just a different floor and for 3 out of 4 nights we had the same server which was nice. The food was OK for a short cruise but I feel like you get better food on longer cruises.
The ship has some things that were added recently like the Bamboo Lounge but then other parts of the ship show their age like the stateroom decor. I knew it was an older ship so it wasn't a surprise and I did like that being an older ship our room was bigger than then on the newer ships. All in all it was a nice quick getaway at a nice price.
Over the years I have been on many cruises varying in lengths of 2 - 30 nights. Each cruise is unique even when you are going to the same ports. I was just on a 4 night Royal Caribbean cruise and it inspired me to write this blog about the good, bad, and, ugly of a short cruise. These might not hold true for every short cruise but I think it is good to be prepared.
- If you cannot take a lot of time off of work or school a short cruise can be a great way to just get away for a few days.
- Since they are shorter they do tend to have a smaller price tag than a longer cruise.
- If you have never cruised before and are a bit worried about how you might feel on a cruise a short cruise can be a good way to test the waters so to speak.
- Some cruise line rewards programs count the number of cruises you do not the number of days so for those a couple short cruises could bump you up a level to get better perks on your next cruise.
- You won't have a lot of time to visit many ports so you could possibly have just 1 stop on a short cruise.
- You also won't have much time on the ship either so by the time you finally figure out where everything is it will be time to get off.
- You may not get to really relax as much on a short cruise.
- Shorter cruises just cannot offer the same experience as a longer cruise. If you are taking a short cruise for your first cruise you may decide cruising isn't for you but a longer cruise can be very different.
- Cruise lines know with the short cruises the ship will get a lot more wear and tear so they tend to use the older ships. If you have seen the ads for the fancy new ships with all the crazy extras don't expect to find that on your short cruise.
- Since they are older ships the decor may seem very outdated and just plain ugly.
- Many times on short cruises you get a bit more of a rowdy crowd looking to blow off steam and party hardy in a short time so it could get ugly.
Disney Cruise Line is one of the exceptions to the rule as they started using a brand new ship for 3 and 4 night cruises from the beginning. Disney Cruise Line is also the only premium cruise line to offer short cruises year round.
Princess Cruise Line has some pretty cool cruise technology called Ocean Medallion. I will admit I was very skeptical when I first heard about this new technology. I have been on many cruises and experienced the iffy internet so I wondered how using a technology that relies a lot on WiFi could possibly work. That being said Princess did have some bumps along the way when they first rolled it out but based on my recent cruise I think they have sorted through most of those now. Of course I was also sailing on a brand new ship which was the first to be built from the group up with the technology in place.
What Does Ocean Medallion Do?
This fun technology starts even before you leave home. Once have booked your cruise you are prompted to download the Medallion App (note that previously you were required to download multiple apps but I happy to say they have consolidated it to one). In the app you can do your online check in and upload both a security photo along with another photo if you would like something different to be your profile photo (this is the one that will show up your room door and other places). Once you have completed the online check in you are able to confirm the order for your Medallion. Princess will ship these to you free of charge with the basic lanyard. You also have the option to add on other accessories if you would like to have other ways to wear your Medallion. I chose to stick with the free option. The Medallion itself is very nice. They are about the size of a quarter and will have your name and sail date printed on them along with being color coded for the level your are in the Captain's Circle program (side note Captain's Circle is the loyalty program for Princess and there are a few different colors based on how many times you have sailed with Princess).
When you arrive at the port have your medallion out and you can take the quick line for guests with medallions. This was the fastest check in process I have ever had! Now the fun stuff begins!
Once onbaord your Medallion will unlock your door as you get to your room so no more having to get your room key out to tap it or anything. Just walk up to your room wearing your medallion and your photo will appear and your room is unlocked. There are games in the app both Casino games and games just for fun along with some videos you can watch. You can also create an OceanTagalong which like your onboad avatar for playing games and interacting with the large screens around the ship. All the of fun games and videos are free but if you choose the Casino games those are played just like you were in the casino.
There is also OceanCompass which not only helps you find your way around the ship but it will also help you find other guests that are using the medallion. I tried this out a few times on my cruise and it was kind of fun to see where someone else was on the ship. You do have to both agree to being tracked before this will work those so you cannot just stalk some random guest. I can see this being really handy for parents or large groups traveling together.
The daily schedule of events is listed and you can choose to bookmark certain things you want to attend. You can also reserve things like dining and shore excursion from the app. Last but not least, what I think is really the best feature is being able to order things from your app and they will be delivered to wherever your with your Medallion (within reason of course). If you are too far from something the option to choose that location to order from won't show up. I first used this from my room to get robes delivered. It was so easy and so quick. Then we tried it out up in the buffet area to get a couple slices of pizza delivered to our table from Slice the pizza counter out by the pool. It was quick and so much easier than standing in line outside to get them. You can order drinks from the nearest bar (TIP - as of now they are offering your first drink free when you order from the app. Not sure how long that will last but if they are still offering it you will see that pop-up when you go to order). When you order anything from the app you can track the progress in the app so you will it go from processing to delivering. It will even tell you the name of the person delivering your order and might ask you to hold up your medallion to help the server find you. The server will know your name and photo so they will call your name and will make sure you match the photo too.
I didn't have any problems using this fun technology during my cruise and I really do think it improves the experience a lot! The one thing I am really surprised about is that Disney Cruise Line didn't do this first.
Last week I was able to sail on a short cruise for the new Sky Princess. I had just 3 nights to explore this wonderful ship. Our cruise made a stop at Princess's private beach in the Bahamas called Princess Cays. I am going to write a few blogs about this cruise but this one is just a general review. I am also going to write a blog about the Medallion Experience which is exclusive to Princess Cruises and great innovation. I am also going to write a comparison of this cruise and the 3 night cruise I did on Norwegian's newest ship.
The Sky Princess is the first vessel built from the ground up with the Princess MedallionClass experience. I was very excited to try out this new technology. I will explain it all in the blog I write just about Medallion but basically it makes check in and boarding faster and makes things onboard super convenient.
I had been on a Princess Cruise earlier this year in Alaska so I have experienced one of their older but recently refreshed ships so I had an idea what to expect. Princess is a premium cruise line and you can easily tell that as soon as you board. I love the beautiful Piazza with its swirling spiral staircases and glass sculptures. The Piazza is at the center of the ship and really is a hub of activity. On the lovely marble tiled floor in the center there was lots of live entertainment going on throughout the cruise. The 3 decks that open up to the Piazza are lined with shops, bars, lounges, and even a couple dining options are open to the piazza..
The rest of the ship is just as lovely with a feel of luxury throughout.
You will find the usual things for a large cruise ships and if you have sailed Princess you will most likely find your favorites are on this new ship as well.
There are many dining options both complimentary and specialty ones with an extra charge. I really love that they have a pizza restaurant, Alfredo's, that is complimentary. While I do enjoy Slice which offers pizza slices on the pool deck it is really nice to also have an indoor option where you are seated and can order a pizza off a menu. By the way Princess was voted Best Pizza at Sea! On this short cruise we obviously couldn't try everything but I would never cruise Princess without getting something from the Chocolate Journeys which is exclusive to Princess and created by Norman Love. Honestly I could be happy eating just pizza and chocolate I think. Oh wait I forgot one other thing to add to that and that's ice cream. There is a soft serve counter on the pool deck that is complimentary along with a gelato shop in the piazza that has a small charge. All of the food we ate was great and the servers we had were also great.
Beside what was offered in the Pizza there is also a main theater that offers nightly shows some of which are rather big productions. Princess is also known for being the first to offer Movies Under the Stars and the Sky Princess of course has that big screen. There is also a new twist to the big screen on this ship that I will mention when I talk about the staterooms. There are also a few lounges throughout offering live entertainment. We really enjoyed the new Take Five which is a fun Jazz themed lounge.
You have the typical options for staterooms - inside, window, balcony, and suites. Sky Princess is currently the ship offering the largest balconies at sea with the Sky Suites. These suites have wrap around balconies that face both the ocean and the main pool area with prime viewing of the big screen. A perk to the Sky Suites is that you could choose which movies are played during your cruise. You can even host a really fun catered viewing party on your balcony. I was not lucky enough to have one of these suites on this cruise but the stateroom I did have was very nice. The rooms are decorated with light neutral colors and offer plenty of storage space. Of course it wouldn't be a Princess Cruise without being able to water The Love Boat episodes on demand in your stateroom. There are other on demand options as well at no extra charge.
There are a couple pools to choose from, one of which is adult only and sort of secluded which is a very nice touch. There are a lot of hot tubs scattered around on 2 of the top decks so you should be able to find one that isn't too crowded. The Sanctuary is also Princess favorite where you can reserve either a very comfy lounge chair or cabana for the day or entire cruise if you would like. We really enjoyed our time in the Sanctuary on our last cruise but with just 3 days to see everything we only did a walk through instead.
The Spa oboard is located way down on Deck 5 all the way forward, which I thought was odd. I am used to spas being up top and connected to the fitness center but that is not the case on this ship. The Thermal Suite, called The Enclave, is the largest for Princess. It has heated lounges, a few saunas, aromatherapy showers, and a hydrotherapy pool. I opted for buying a pass to The Enclave for this cruise instead of the Sanctuary. Now that i have done both I am not sure which I like better. I think I will write a blog just about both of these experiences since I like them so much.
There are also kids clubs which were very nice offering lots of fun stuff and separated the kids into 3 different rooms based on age. The Teen Lounge is somewhere I would like to hang out with lots of comfy leather sofas and chairs and plenty of large windows to get a nice view. There is also a sports deck with things like basketball, mini-golf, and new to Princess an Escape room.
Last but not least, Princess Cays. I love a private stop and Princess Cays did not disappoint. The beach was nice and the path ways mostly paved for easier walking. There were plenty of lounge chairs both in an out of the sun. There were 2 buffets sections for lunch one on either side of the island. The food was your typical beach bbq lunch on a cruise line private stop. There are also some shops offering Bahamian items and other souvenirs. There are also plenty of excursion options. We rented a Hobie cat for an hour an really enjoyed sailing around the clear waters across the front of the beach. There was plenty of space to sail which made it more fun. The one drawback to Princess Cays is it requires a tender to get in and back to the ship. Many of the cruise line private stops require tender so it wasn't a big deal.
I recently got to cruise onboard Norwegian Cruise Line's newest ship the Norwegian Encore as part of a travel agent preview cruise. It was just a 3 night cruise with a stop at Norwegian's private island Great Stirrup Cay. Three days really wasn't enough time to see all this amazing ship has to offer so it is a good thing the regular cruises on this ship are usually 7 nights. The Encore is 1,094 feet long and 20 decks high. She can accommodate around 4,000 guests. The Encore is part of the Breakaway Plus class of ships in the Norwegian fleet. The Bliss is sister ship to the Encore and they are almost twins but you can easily tell them apart by the design on the front of the ship. The Bliss was designed with Alaska in mind so it has a Wyland design that includes whales and other sea life. The Encore is a little more abstract and brightly colored with it's hull designed by Eduardo Arranz-Bravo. Most of the ship inside is very similar to the Bliss with a few slight changes like La Cucina is replaced with Onda by Scarpetta for the Italian specialty restaurant. Both still have the Go-Karts and laser tag on the top deck. The Encore has a new feature called Galaxy Pavilion which features a bunch of virtual reality games you can play. The Galaxy Pavilion took over the spot where Spice H2O is on the Bliss and personally I preferred having an outdoor area that was adult only instead of the Galaxy Pavilion so I think they made a bad choice on that one. I did enjoy the go-karts and laser tag was fun too. The big production onboard Encore is Kinky Boots along with another original show called Choir of Man. Norwegian is known for excellent shows and you do want to be sure to plan ahead and reserve your seating for the big shows as they tend to be full in advance.
Kelly Clarkson is Godmother to the Encore and I think it is really great how Norwegian designed part of the kids club using her book River Rose as inspiration. One new design onboard that had a lot of people talking was the main chandelier. On the Bliss it is a glittering chandelier full of sparkling crystals. On the Encore I thought the chandelier was still wrapped in bubble wrap since it was still so new but I asked and found out that nope that was the actual chandelier and they are calling it "art" but I was not alone in thinking it was ugly.
If you are looking to splurge and want to feel like you almost have your own private ship inside the ship then the Haven is where you should book your room. The rooms in the Haven are simply amazing! The Haven also has it's own lounge, pool, restaurant, sun deck and more. While I am talking about spoiling yourself I also need to mention the new section of Norwegian's private island called Silver Cove. This is like a private beach on a private island. Our cruise was the first to stop at Great Stirrup Cay after Silver Cove opened. We got to tour the Villas and see the amazing private beach that comes with the Villas. I am not sure I totally understand why anyone needs a bedroom in a villa on a private beach when all I would want to do is be on the beach but these Villas have full bedrooms and bathrooms.
I think Encore is a great name for this ship as I can see many guests wanting to sail on her again and again.
PS - Stay tuned for new sections on the website dedicated cruise line private islands and my stateroom reviews.
I don't know about you but I really only use plastic and sometimes apps to pay for things. I rarely use paper money which also means I rarely have that handy. When it comes time to travel I realize shoot I need tip money! I think this is a very important step to add to your packing list since if you are like me you might need to go to a bank or something to get some small bills. I try to stash a few in my travel bags so even those times when it gets a little hectic before traveling and I forget to plan for tips I at least have something. On my recent trip to Jamaica it wasn't until we were at the hotel that I realized my stash was out of small bills. Luckily I did have a larger bill and was able to pop down to the front desk and they were able to change it out for some smaller bills still in American dollars. Planning for tips in other countries can be even trickier since you might need to make sure when you exchange money that you get smaller denominations. Of course traveling to other countries brings up a whole other set of questions when it comes to tipping too so below are some of my tips for tipping.
#1 - Pre plan for as many tips as you can think of and have those small bills already set aside and have some extra for the times you might not have thought of.
#2 Exchange at least a little money before traveling. If you are going somewhere that uses other currency it is best to exchange some at home so you have at least a small amount handy for the first few people you might need to tip when you arrive.
#3 If traveling to another country it is best to look up what the policy tends to be on tipping, In some countries tipping is looked at as an insult.
#4 Check all of your bills. While on vacation there might be times when an automatic tip has been added to your bill so be sure to double check your before leaving a tip.
Here is a quick list of people you should be thinking about tipping while traveling. Of course this isn't all of them and in some cases some of these people may not be allowed to accept tips.
1. Transportation related people.
- Taxi/Uber/Lyft/ or car service drivers - suggested amount is 15 - 20%
- Shuttle driver that might either take you from an off airport parking lot to the airport or from the airport to your hotel - suggested a couple dollars maybe more if you have a lot of heavy bags they lifted for you.
- Skycaps - if you use them it is suggested that you give a couple dollars per bag.
- Bellhops - suggested a few dollars per bag
- Housekeeping - suggested a few dollars per day and you really should do tip each day in case different people work each day.
- Hotel Concierge - this one can be tricky and really depends on what they do for you. If they set up some simple dining reservations that would be a smaller tip than if they scored you tickets for a really hot event.
- Dining - as usual you would tip your server like any other restaurant you would eat at while home. If you order room service a few dollars tips should be given to the person that delivers your food.
Tipping on a cruise can vary based on the cruise line. Most will now add a pre-paid gratuity that gets added to your bill automatically at the start of the cruise. This will cover the main people taking care of you during the cruise such as your room attendant and servers at meals.
- Bartenders - many times your bar bill will have an added gratuity already on there or if you have a drink package a pre-paid gratuity was added to that package price so it is up to you if you want to add more. If you have a really great bartender you might want to reward that. Some people like to start out the cruise with an extra tip to the bartender in hopes that will get them better service throughout the cruise.
- Spa treatments - most times a gratuity will be auto added to your bill so check first but if you had a really wonderful experience you can always add more.
- Porters - at the end of the cruise you will have to collect your luggage and go through the terminal. There will be porters available if you would prefer to have someone else transport you bags out of the terminal for you and just like bellhops should be tipped accordingly.
- Room service - most cruises offer 24 hour room service and while the food is usually included in your cruise price you should tip the delivery person a couple dollars.
- Guide - if you take an tour or excursion with a guide you should tip them and you can base how much you give on how good of a guide they were and how long they were with you.
- Driver - if your excursion or tour involves a bus or some type of vehicle that got you safely to your tour and back you should leave a little tip.
Tipping should be looked at as a way of saying thank you to someone for doing something that made your travel a little better so don't worry too much over who and how much and just do what feels right to you at that time.
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