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  #1  
Old August 3rd, 2013, 11:12 PM
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terrific_surprise terrific_surprise is offline
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Red face Lessons learned, love shared: Golden Princess to Hawaii 3/27/13

For over a year and a half, I meticulously planned a surprise cruise
for my wife Terri (aka the "Terrific" reason for my "terrific_surprise"). Our Golden Princess cruise would begin on March 27, my wife's 50th birthday. I hoped and dreamed it would be a perfect day, and a perfect cruise.

It wasn't.

Right from the start, we experienced some serious problems, some of which threatened to ruin everything. But in the end, I think our response to those problems was actually more important than the problems themselves.

Many of our problems were caused by over-planning: I often tried to squeeze too much into a single day (especially port days). But isn't a cruise supposed to be a vacation, an opportunity to relax? How can you relax when you're constantly trying to hurry to the next event?

What you're about to read (if you choose to embark on this journey of words and pictures) is a love story, at times a comedy, and at times a tragedy. Therefore, it will include many personal anecdotes along the way which may not seem to be significant to the casual observer, but which we as a couple found to be quite significant, and which may be significant to a few who followed the pre-cruise process on CC (and I will probably provide additional comments on the other thread for those who were following it).

It is also the story of an obsession, and of the inevitable consequences (positive and negative) we would reap from that obsession. As such, it was the opportunity to learn some important lessons, some of which I will share here (and others which may require some reading between the lines). Perhaps others can learn from my mistakes.

In many ways I knew before the cruise that I had set myself up for some trouble. I tend to be kind of a rigid person, but I had enough foresight to realize that my plans would go awry if I couldn't exercise some flexibility. I didn't realize quite how seriously my flexibility would be tested.

I also set us up for trouble by planning this cruise at a time when I knew that my wife and I would both be exhausted, at the end of several weeks of intense ministry which I knew would tax our strength to its limits. (My wife and I lead a Christian ministry to pregnant women and their babies.) That pre-cruise exhaustion, coupled with my over-planning, set the stage for a train wreck.

My wife and I are different in many ways. She is more outgoing, while I tend to be more of a wallflower in social settings. My favorite form of exercise (well, maybe second favorite ) is walking, but it is a struggle for her to walk far, and she has difficulty keeping up with me. She likes to eat healthy, while I just like to eat! She is very sensitive to motion sickness and cold temperatures, while I can usually adapt to the environment.

But in spite of our differences, we are used to functioning as a team in ministry and family.

This cruise was planned by me (in great detail), but it was not for me. I always knew that it was for her, and tried to mentally prepare myself to alter my plans for her whenever necessary.

We also have some important similarities. Without a doubt, Princess Cruises is our preferred cruise line, and we don't expect that to ever change. Frankly, I doubt if we will ever cruise on another line (our first cruise on Carnival was ok, but it was nowhere near our Princess experience). Nevertheless, along the way we noticed some things which did not seem to attain the level of Princess' high standards, and I will try to share such problems candidly, trying not to let our bias in favor of Princess color our opinions too much.

So, this cruise review probably won't be quite like anything you have read here before. If you're just looking for details about the ship and the itinerary, you may want to skip this review.

In addition, as you may have already noticed, this cruise happened months ago. (I didn't intend to wait this long to post my review, but life happens.) So if you're looking for the latest news on the Golden Princess, you may want to look elsewhere.

But if you have the time, and you're up for a bit of a journey, welcome aboard.
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Previously sailed on:
Golden Princess to Hawaii (March-April 2013) - long review
Sapphire Princess to Mexican Riviera (April 2010)
Carnival Paradise to Catalina and Ensenada (April 2005)


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  #2  
Old August 3rd, 2013, 11:27 PM
silverbird silverbird is offline
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Since I contributed to your pre-planning, I am anxiously awaiting the rest of your story. I thought we had a fantastic cruise!!

You all were great in the passenger show!!

  #3  
Old August 3rd, 2013, 11:41 PM
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terrific_surprise terrific_surprise is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by silverbird View Post
Since I contributed to your pre-planning, I am anxiously awaiting the rest of your story. I thought we had a fantastic cruise!!

You all were great in the passenger show!!
Wow, silverbird, you're quick! It will be a few days before we get to the show. By the way, can I post the photo of us with you? (I won't do so without your permission.)

It was wonderful to meet you in person, and to see you throughout the cruise (literally from the first day to the last day).
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My email address (exclusively for CC friends) is terrific327 (at) gmail.com

Previously sailed on:
Golden Princess to Hawaii (March-April 2013) - long review
Sapphire Princess to Mexican Riviera (April 2010)
Carnival Paradise to Catalina and Ensenada (April 2005)


Watch our version of "Come Back New"!

  #4  
Old August 3rd, 2013, 11:50 PM
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Thumbs up Before the cruise: planning for unexpected delays

My wife Terri and I have cruised twice previously, once with Carnival and once with Princess. Both times, we were among the last people to board the ship.

But this time, I didn't want to miss a moment on the ship. In fact, I planned for us to greet the Golden Princess early in the morning as she arrived in port, just as we had greeted the Sapphire Princess in the early morning hours of February 16, when I had surprised my wife with a Bon Voyage Experience which functioned as the final unveiling of the full cruise to come.

In spite of my plans, I knew that the many ministry and family details we needed to deal with before the cruise would force us to delay leaving until the last possible minute. I also knew from experience that unexpected circumstances would likely arise which would cause additional delays, so I wanted to minimize the possibility that such circumstances would steal time away from Terri's once-in-a-lifetime birthday cruise.

Because of this, I arranged for us to travel to Ventura on the day before the cruise, making an appointment for Terri to have her hair cut and styled by a friend of ours. This same friend had done Terri's hair just before our Sapphire Princess cruise in 2010, but since then she had moved away from our area. So we had to travel out of our way to Ventura on the day before the cruise.

The hair appointment was set for 3 pm, Tuesday March 26. I wasn't surprised that the details we needed to deal with before we left caused us to delay getting on the highway until the last possible minute. Nor was I surprised when we arrived about 10 minutes late for the hair appointment. (But that's much better than being 10 minutes late to get on the ship!) Even though we were late, we paused to take a "before" photo of my wife's hair. We wouldn't realize the full significance of this photo until many days later, when we noticed that the photo clearly showed my wife's wallet, which held the driver's license she needed to board the ship.

During the next three hours, while my wife's hair was being cut and styled, I focused on several administrative and financial tasks which needed to be finished before we left. My wife had informed me that her hair would be straightened, and I was ok with that, even though she knows that I prefer her curly hair. The humidity in Hawaii would restore her curls soon enough.

After being introduced to my wife's new (temporary) hairstyle and thanking our stylist friend, we made our way toward Highway 1, the Pacific Coast Highway. I thought that a drive along the ocean would be a nice prelude to the cruise. We enhanced the experience by listening to Hawaiian music from Elua, the musical duo we had been anticipating hearing in person on the Golden Princess. I also took this opportunity to tell her about some of the people we would soon be meeting on ship (people like silverbird, who had posted various interesting messages on the Cruise Critic roll call).

As we drove through Malibu, the sun set behind us as the almost-full moon rose before us, its reflection shimmering on the water. I had known for over a year that our cruise would begin with a full moon, so I thought that what we were experiencing was just a prelude to what we would see as we sailed away on the Golden Princess.

Sadly, the thought of stopping for a photo of this beautiful scene of the moon never even crossed my mind, due to the fact that I was in a hurry for us to get to the World Cruise Center in San Pedro. I knew that the evening show at the Fanfare Fountains there ran from 7 to 8 pm that evening, and although by this time I knew that we would miss the beginning of the show, I hoped that we would get to San Pedro before it ended. (The Fanfare Fountains had been a central focus of the surprise I had given my wife over the course of the year, being likely the most romantic and memorable aspect of it.)

As we exited the freeway at the World Cruise Center, a beautiful (and unexpected) sight greeted our eyes: the Star Princess was in port! We parked and hurried across the street to the fountains, just in time for the beginning of the final song, a medley from the Sound of Music. As the water danced to the melody of "My Favorite Things," I whispered to my wife that she was my favorite thing (even though she's not a "thing").



As I snapped some photos of my wife at the fountains, we suddenly noticed that the Star Princess was leaving port. So we hurried over to catch some photos of the beautiful ship before it sailed away into the darkness. It was a spectacular sight, with the bright lights of the ship virtually dancing on the shimmering waters.



With the ship heading south down the channel toward the ocean, we quickly drove down to the Acapulco Restaurant at Ports O' Call to see her one more time. Then we went into the restaurant for a delicious dinner, which was topped off with a scrumptious sizzling chocolate brownie sundae. While we ate, I read greetings to her which had been posted by various Cruise Critic members, beginning to unveil what I had been writing over the past year about the process of surprising her with the cruise.

Although we had arrived "late" in San Pedro (according to the schedule I had planned), it was still over 12 hours before we would be able to board the ship. In retrospect, I think that setting this early deadline for ourselves was one of the smartest things we did (even though it may have contributed to the most serious problem we experienced). I would highly recommend creating self-imposed early deadlines (even if it would mean flying in a day early) to ensure that you can make the most of your cruise experience.
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My email address (exclusively for CC friends) is terrific327 (at) gmail.com

Previously sailed on:
Golden Princess to Hawaii (March-April 2013) - long review
Sapphire Princess to Mexican Riviera (April 2010)
Carnival Paradise to Catalina and Ensenada (April 2005)


Watch our version of "Come Back New"!

  #5  
Old August 4th, 2013, 12:01 AM
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terrific_surprise terrific_surprise is offline
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Smile The night and morning before the cruise

To save money, I had not reserved a hotel for the night (we don't stay in hotels unless we can find an extremely good deal, and if we do stay at a hotel, we try to get our money's worth). Instead, I moved the seats in the back of our 15 passenger van and prepared a bed. This isn't the first time we have done this, and my wife Terri seems to find the arrangement to be reasonably comfortable.

Overnight parking isn't allowed at San Pedro's Ports O' Call, so we found another place to park which wasn't too far away and seemed to be safe. It wasn't a great way to spend the early morning hours of my wife's 50th birthday, but I figured that soon enough she would be in the cozy surroundings of our Golden Princess stateroom. Plus, we planned to get up early anyway, to welcome the Golden Princess into port.

As Terri settled into sleep, I sat in the front seat of the van working on my computer to finish some tasks I needed to complete before the cruise (including some final pre-cruise CC postings). At this point I think I must have been running on raw adrenalin, having had only an hour or two of sleep the previous night. (Some of you may be wondering why my exhaustion matters in the context of this review, but if you continue reading to see what happened the first day of the cruise, I think you'll understand why it is quite relevant.)

I worked on the computer so long that I drained our van's battery. While my wife slept, I got out of the van -- in the middle of the night -- to look around for someone who might be able to jump the battery. Eventually I gave up on looking, and decided to call AAA. After the tow truck arrived to jump our battery, I drove the van back down toward the water, looking for a place to watch the Golden Princess sailing in from the open ocean. As Harbor Blvd. turned into Miner St., I noticed that the road was blocked south of 22nd St. due to some construction. Realizing that my plan of watching the ship sail in from the south end of Miner St. wouldn't work, I went east on 22nd St. to Signal St., then drove down to a pier next to an old warehouse.

On my phone, I was watching the Golden Princess webcam, seeing the lights of Los Angeles gradually brightening. When I could tell that the ship was approaching the harbor, I told Terri that it was time to get out of the van. The pier would give us a better view of the ship than we had experienced on February 16 when we watched the Sapphire Princess sailing in from the park at the south end of Ports O' Call. The buildings near Ports O' Call had helped to enhance the Sapphire Princess surprise, but the fact that we would soon be seeing the Golden Princess was no surprise. (Just for fun, though, I did pretend to be surprised as we watched the Golden Princess sailing in, reenacting Terri's genuine surprise when she first saw the Sapphire Princess in February.)

The Golden Princess did appear to be somewhat "golden" that morning, but its appearance was subdued, not nearly as spectacular as the Star Princess had been the previous night (probably due to the fact that the Star Princess had been lit up for a sailaway party).



After the ship sailed silently by, we drove back toward the World Cruise Center, parking in the lot next to the Fanfare Fountains. We had been here before, of course, but this time we noticed the Cruise Ship Promenade extending along the north side of the port. So we walked along the Promenade, waiting for the ship to catch up with us, reading the informative displays about the history and habitat of the port (well, I may have been the only one reading the displays -- she was too excited about the ship).



I think the sun rose while the Golden Princess was pulling into port, just as it had risen for the Sapphire Princess in February, but this time the sun was hidden behind a thick bank of clouds.

To see more of what happened before the cruise, go to:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/9496552...7633293133394/
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My email address (exclusively for CC friends) is terrific327 (at) gmail.com

Previously sailed on:
Golden Princess to Hawaii (March-April 2013) - long review
Sapphire Princess to Mexican Riviera (April 2010)
Carnival Paradise to Catalina and Ensenada (April 2005)


Watch our version of "Come Back New"!

  #6  
Old August 4th, 2013, 12:47 AM
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terrific_surprise terrific_surprise is offline
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Unhappy Missing ID causes sailaway stress

After the ship finished docking, it was time for us to finish some final details: filling up our van with gas so that our son could drive it home and getting a mailing to the post office for the organization we run. I also suggested that we go to breakfast at the Omelette and Waffle Shop so that my wife Terri could have a Hawaiian omelette (as she had enjoyed one before boarding the Sapphire Princess in February), but her stomach wasn't ready for breakfast. She was already getting the jitters, maybe because now that it was light she was wondering where her wallet was (although she hadn't said anything to me about it yet).

We parked in the lot across the street from the World Cruise Center to gather our luggage and make our final preparations for the cruise (being too cheap to want to pay for parking, even for a few hours). We also planned to meet our son and a friend here so that they could join us on the ship for the Bon Voyage Experience. But during this time, Terri informed me that her wallet was missing, and that quickly became our focus, as I looked for it everywhere I could think of (including many places where I was sure it could not be, such as inside our packed suitcases).

Eventually we had to try to board the ship without her wallet (and, more importantly, without any government-issued ID for Terri). As I explain in a separate thread it was an extremely frustrating experience, and at times we wondered if we would miss the whole cruise. But once we found ourselves safely on the ship, we soon began to relax, as I think is evident from this photo our son took of us on our private balcony (even though the lighting makes the photo a bit weird):



I hadn't told my wife that we would have a balcony, but when she walked into the room for the first time, she didn't seem to be too surprised (but was certainly pleased). This was our third cruise, but our first balcony. Our room, Baja 744, was at the far aft end of the long narrow hallway, having a unique triangular extended balcony which gave us a great view of the entire port side of the ship.

The door of our room had been appropriately decorated by Princess with a "Happy Birthday" sign, which in this case coincided perfectly with my wife's 50th birthday, March 27, 2013. (I was glad to see that Princess hadn't forgotten to put up the sign, because when we celebrated our 25th anniversary on the Sapphire Princess in 2010, the Happy Anniversary sign was missing for a while.)

Other than the time we spent eating, the remainder of our Bon Voyage Experience time was occupied with the "treasure hunt," visiting various locations on the ship to get our cards stamped. Most of the locations we visited for the treasure hunt were ready and willing to quickly stamp our cards and let us hurry along our way. Soon we found ourselves heading to the top deck on our way to the Lotus Spa to get our final stamp.

We found it frustrating that the Lotus Spa refused to stamp our cards. They told us that we needed to return after muster (at sailaway time) for some kind of demonstration to get our cards stamped, so our treasure hunt cards were not completed (because we had already made plans to meet our CC roll call group for sailaway). I wondered if it had been a waste of time to go through the "treasure hunt." I wouldn't know for sure until the following day.

At 3 pm, we said goodbye to our son and our friend, and hurried to our room to grab our lifejackets for the muster drill. After all of the stress we had experienced before and during the boarding process, having the opportunity to sit down in the Vista Lounge and listen to a presentation for a few minutes was just too much for me to handle. I must confess that I fell asleep (though I'm not proud of that)! Terri did nudge me a few times to try to get me to pay attention, but I just couldn't focus on what was being said.

After the muster drill, we returned to our room for a few minutes. Our suitcases had all been delivered, so I hung our clothes in the closet and began unpacking everything else, hoping in vain that somehow I might still find Terri's wallet.
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My email address (exclusively for CC friends) is terrific327 (at) gmail.com

Previously sailed on:
Golden Princess to Hawaii (March-April 2013) - long review
Sapphire Princess to Mexican Riviera (April 2010)
Carnival Paradise to Catalina and Ensenada (April 2005)


Watch our version of "Come Back New"!

  #7  
Old August 4th, 2013, 12:56 AM
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cr8tiv1 cr8tiv1 is offline
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Hi -

It's Renee. I am reading both your threads. Hope your voyage turned out better than it started. I am so sorry to hear about all of your disappointments after taking such steps to make sure it all turned out well.

Looking forward to reading more.

  #8  
Old August 4th, 2013, 12:58 AM
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terrific_surprise terrific_surprise is offline
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Talking An exciting sailaway!

Our Cruise Critic roll call group had scheduled an informal meet and greet for sailaway at Outrigger, above the aft pool, so eventually I stopped unpacking and we hurried up one level to the Aloha Deck, which has a door leading directly to the pool area. When I booked our room, I had considered its proximity to the Terrace Pool to be a plus, so I was glad that it didn't take us long to meet up with our group (especially because we were already late). With such a small roll call group, I think we had the opportunity to meet everybody. Linking faces with online identities was of course an interesting, and at times surprising, experience. Some who seemed shy online were quite friendly in person, and vice-versa (speaking as someone who is more friendly online than in person). We would encounter these faces again, of course, often greeting each other as we passed in the hallways, but for me it was a constant reminder of the pleasant online experience which led up to the cruise.

When the ship began to move just before 5 pm, we quickly excused ourselves from the meet and greet, finding our way to the top deck, standing at the rail as far aft as possible, adjacent to the Skywalker's support structure. From here my wife began texting our friends, so that we could try to spot each other as we sailed away. Our son Matthew and friend David had found a spot just north of the Acapulco restaurant. From here they were able to not only see us but also to hear us. (Well, in truth, they only heard Terri, who was shouting at the top of her strong lungs.) We didn't see them, but we could hear them, and they could hear us, as evidenced by this video Matthew recorded.

In the parking lot south of the Acapulco restaurant, our friend Becky and her family twirled a green and white umbrella as we sailed away. (That umbrella made them hard to miss!)

As the Golden Princess gained speed on its way to the ocean, we passed the yachts which are docked behind Ports O' Call. On one of those yachts, our CC friend "elcyd" (with whom we had dined on the Sapphire Princess in February) waved a huge yellow hand.





As she waved the yellow hand, we could hear her shouting "aloha" and "Happy Birthday Terri!" Thanks, elcyd, for a fantastic sendoff!
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My email address (exclusively for CC friends) is terrific327 (at) gmail.com

Previously sailed on:
Golden Princess to Hawaii (March-April 2013) - long review
Sapphire Princess to Mexican Riviera (April 2010)
Carnival Paradise to Catalina and Ensenada (April 2005)


Watch our version of "Come Back New"!

Last edited by terrific_surprise; August 4th, 2013 at 01:01 AM. Reason: fix image link

  #9  
Old August 4th, 2013, 01:05 AM
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terrific_surprise terrific_surprise is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cr8tiv1 View Post
Hi -

It's Renee. I am reading both your threads. Hope your voyage turned out better than it started. I am so sorry to hear about all of your disappointments after taking such steps to make sure it all turned out well.

Looking forward to reading more.
Thanks, Renee. I'm so glad to know that you are already reading this.
You were such an important part of what went right with this cruise (although, as you will see, I should have taken some of your warnings more seriously).
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My email address (exclusively for CC friends) is terrific327 (at) gmail.com

Previously sailed on:
Golden Princess to Hawaii (March-April 2013) - long review
Sapphire Princess to Mexican Riviera (April 2010)
Carnival Paradise to Catalina and Ensenada (April 2005)


Watch our version of "Come Back New"!

  #10  
Old August 4th, 2013, 07:36 AM
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Love.II.Cruise Love.II.Cruise is offline
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I'm following both your threads. Life does happen and there have been times I've posted a review a little later than planned. I think you'll find people still wanting to read your review.

  #11  
Old August 4th, 2013, 07:50 AM
phabric phabric is offline
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Looking forward to more of your review.

I am surprised that Princess allowed your wife on board without proper identification. Did you find the wallet?

  #12  
Old August 4th, 2013, 09:17 AM
silverbird silverbird is offline
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I hereby, formally, give you permission to post our picture. But . . . please post a warning that children and small animals must be protected from it!!!!

Here you are, writing a wonderful review and I am still struggling with getting all the pictures into an album. I think I took 120 pictures on our whale-watching trip -- four of which were actually good enough to print. The entire trip was so much fun. Happy memories all around due to so many super people on board. Dave and Leialoha made it extra special.

  #13  
Old August 4th, 2013, 10:27 AM
Mekamax Mekamax is offline
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Wonderful review and can't wait for more! We will be on Princess for the first time in a few months.... We also did a Bon Voyage Experience in March but on the Crown Princess in Galveston. It was not smooth and we had to be persistent. We only ended up with less than 3 hours but it was enough to get an idea of the ship and I'm glad we did it.
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Last edited by Mekamax; August 4th, 2013 at 10:29 AM.

  #14  
Old August 4th, 2013, 10:46 AM
Tee706 Tee706 is offline
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Anxiously awaiting the next installment. This is like reading a good mystery, I want to know what happens next. I am hoping for a happy ending to an overall wonderful cruise!

  #15  
Old August 4th, 2013, 12:27 PM
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Good review so far. Looking forward to the next installment.

  #16  
Old August 6th, 2013, 10:40 AM
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My apologies to those who are following this review. My computer is dead again, so there will be an unexpected delay while I wait for it to be fixed. I had pre-written some other things off-line which I have not yet had a chance to post, and my willingness to type on my phone is limited, so your patience is appreciated.
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Previously sailed on:
Golden Princess to Hawaii (March-April 2013) - long review
Sapphire Princess to Mexican Riviera (April 2010)
Carnival Paradise to Catalina and Ensenada (April 2005)


Watch our version of "Come Back New"!

  #17  
Old August 6th, 2013, 11:07 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by terrific_surprise View Post
My apologies to those who are following this review. My computer is dead again, so there will be an unexpected delay while I wait for it to be fixed.
No problem. Your review is worth waiting for.

  #18  
Old August 6th, 2013, 04:18 PM
beshears beshears is offline
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I am enjoying this review also, and am anxiously waiting to find out if your wife finds her billfold, and the rest of the details of the cruise.

  #19  
Old August 9th, 2013, 12:53 PM
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So enjoying your review and waiting for you to get your computer back so you can finish... I found you on page 4 so thought I'd comment to move you back up....
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  #20  
Old August 9th, 2013, 08:28 PM
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Thanks for the bump, blazerjan. Hopefully the computer will be up and running on Monday, and then the saga will continue (if all goes well).

Incidentally, I'm writing this from my phone, as we travel back down to the World Cruise Center in San Pedro! We will be enjoying the Fanfare Fountains tonight and welcoming the Sea Princess in the morning (as a little way to celebrate the 29th anniversary of our engagement)!

No, we're not sailing :-( -- not even visiting the ship for a BVE (although Terri warns me that the appeal of a 3 week cruise to Hawaii and beyond may be irresistible, so she she told me not to be surprised if she figures out a way to stow away).

This is just a little way to rekindle the fading memories, and dream a little bit about our next voyage (whenever that might be)!
__________________
My email address (exclusively for CC friends) is terrific327 (at) gmail.com

Previously sailed on:
Golden Princess to Hawaii (March-April 2013) - long review
Sapphire Princess to Mexican Riviera (April 2010)
Carnival Paradise to Catalina and Ensenada (April 2005)


Watch our version of "Come Back New"!

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