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WinksCruises

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About WinksCruises

  • Rank
    Cool Cruiser

About Me

  • Location
    New York State, USA
  • Interests
    Postcarding
  • Favorite Cruise Line(s)
    Princess, Celebrity, Royal... but not so much RCI lately.
  • Favorite Cruise Destination Or Port of Call
    Caribbean
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    Instagram: @WinksCruises Twitter: @WInksCruises

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  1. Mrs. Winks said: We have two more cruises book for later this year (including the beautiful Sky Princess)!! Wait! What?!!
  2. My lifelong cruising dream finally came true at our last port-of-call, Puerto Vallarta. Mrs. Winks and I didn’t get off the ship. I’ve tried to make this haughty brag before, on other itineraries, but invariably, we have always stepped off the ship for some reason or another, if only to tour the pier shopping mall to confirm they had a Diamond’s International, or to foolishly yield to the siren’s cry emanating from that little green Senor Frog or his tequila-soaked sidekick, Mr. Buffet. But this time, we actually stayed on. The entire time. Nary setting a foot on Deck 2, much less the gangway. That afternoon, I called security to see if I could get a copy of the day’s manifest, with dreams of framing our accomplishment once we got state-side, but they hung up on me. Good thing, I suppose, because one of the only reasons Mrs. Winks agreed to stay on the ship at all was her frivolous concern that security might be staging the gangplank as some sort of sting operation with yesterday’s medic team, so they could positively ID me and toss me into the brig for calling their CPR dummy a drunk. (And what a cruise review installment that would have made for!) But hey, whatever; Mrs. Winks’ paranoid delusions allowed me to live my best cruising life ever; staying on the ship! This self-imposed imprisonment actually afforded us the opportunity to verify a lot of our suspicions and invalidate others. I spent most of the day, a kid in the proverbial candy store, racing around the ship relishing my JOMO – the Joy of Missing Out. Missing out on the endless, stuffy van taxi ride, the mismanaged lines and the This-pen-doesn’t-work waiver sign-ins, the poking of the aquatic animals and the hopping-off on busses. The haggling, the getting ripped off. The food poisoning, the sun poisoning. I was missing it all. Or rather, not missing a thing. So here are some things I discovered during our little shipboard stay-cation. For one, people still exercise. Whether it’s the zombie-like procession on the sports deck, the morning Tai Chi at Sea class hosted by the MUTS screen instructor poolside at 8 am followed by the very popular Zumba class (with Nat), held in the Piazza, for some bizarre reason, at 9. A lot of people seemed intent on staying ahead of the 7-day buffet bulge. Tai Chi @ Seas classes (Video screen image distorted because of camera refresh rate) Zumba @ Sea in the Piazza Being able to wander freely around the ship, unencumbered by the crowds we’d face soon enough on the following two sea days, was extremely liberating. Mrs. Winks enjoyed free reign to situate her butt in any deck lounger she wanted - and even went through the motions of reserving a bunch of prime seats (never going back to check on them) with an elaborate array of clipped pool towels, empty tote bags and copies of the Fudge Cupcake Murders paperback (though just didn’t see the fun of chair-hogging if no one’s going to call you out on it). Meanwhile, I set about on my mission of photographing as many of the the cruise vessel’s publically accessible electrical outlets that I could find, checking out hither to unvisited obscure venues like the cigar room and the vacant library, and keeping my ears open for a crew drill I could crash. At one point I felt so inspired, I even purposely left my Medallion bracelet in the little call-box on one of the busier elevators, just to mess with Mrs. Winks, who was always checking her app to monitor my whereabouts. Oh, sometimes I just kill me! The romp also afforded me great views and Kodachrome moments like this one: The time onboard also let me inspect our stateroom a little better. I learned that it didn’t matter if we kept the balcony door closed and locked, even with the thermostat at full coolness, the cabin never reached a level of air conditioning crispness you want from your accommodations. And since I had the time, I ran the shower empty, just so I could get a shot of our slow running drain. Not a great shot, considering the waste of time and resources, but hey, a day at sea in port is just full of whims and innocuous little projects. Stateroom Issues I also had a chance to wonder other passenger decks aimlessly, trying to see if my super-powered medallion, which I finally retrieved from the right elevator this time, would open anybody else’s cabin door. The re-assuring news is, it did not. And aside from getting a lot of suspicious stares from room stewards who had never seen me before, I could also document that door art on Princess is still alive and well, even on this, a non-holiday sailing. Door Art of Royal Princess And probably the best part of being on the ship while it’s in port is being able to raid the buffet anytime you want and never really face a crowd – well, at least until about 1 or 2pm when the excursions people start shuffling back in. Most of them, of course, have spent money on drinks and food while off ship. But we took great solace in knowing all our meals, and snacks, and little cheats on the side, were all being had for free. And you actually have time to explore your options and choose wisely, if decadently, rather than just grabbing something on the go because that tray station happens to be momentarily free of your cut-throat carnivorous competition during prime-time hours. The casino wasn’t open while were in port, but during the day on our two sea days headed back to Los Angeles, the room was generally quiet and free of the crowding that occurred in the evening. Slipping off my Medallion and hiding it behind a seat cushion in one of the Piazza chairs, I would sneak into the casino in the middle day and deploy my latest strategy. What was that strategy, you ask? It was a simple money management one, that was aided by my reasonable good luck on the video poker machines this trip. Here’s how it worked. I made a conscientious effort on this cruise to ALWAYS quit when I got to be about $20 to $25 up. It usually pained me to do so, since I always thought I was aborting a winning streak, but in the end, I actually walked away over $100 up. While that’s nothing in most people’s books, for me, it was a small victory just to have chump change to spend on the way home. The Royal Princess casino Since we had a beverage package (it actually came as part of the fairly decent cruise fair Mrs. Winks scored for us) we didn’t feel as compelled to attend the nightly Elite Lounge gathering located in Club 6, next to the casino. With our status clearly on display at all times thanks to our Medallion wrist bands, there seemed less of an obligation to make a show of walking in and out of the club between the hours of 4:30pm and 6:30pm. It wasn’t as if this was a Royal Caribbean cruise, where the Diamond Lounge is open bar during that time; Princess only offers a small offering of drink specials. But what they do offer, which we foolishly didn’t take advantage of until the final evening, was some nice pre-dinner hors d’ouvres, which quite frankly easily bested the appetizers we’d been getting all week in the Main Dining Room! Mrs. Winks also liked the fact Club 6 featured large porthole windows from which to view the sunset. Often times on Royal Caribbean, the Diamond and Concierge Lounges are tucked away in the ship’s interior – little funeral parlors Mrs. Winks calls them – which she doesn’t fine as amenable to upscale maritime living. The last evening, they even had a special Bon Voyage cake along with their assortment of cheese, meats and other nibbles. Elite Lounge Menu So while our final sea days on the Royal Princess were for the most part enjoyable ones, there were still a couple of issues that irked me. And I know, Mrs. Winks has told me no one else will really care about these shortcoming, so please indulge me my crackpot OCD flaming for a moment. First of all, on the official Princess Cruise site, they herald a monthly book club. They claim it’s held on all the ships and they thoughtfully give you the book titles ahead of time so you can start reading. For those who find out about the book club meeting on the ship, they assure they will have several copies for loan in the ship’s library. What a bunch of malarkey. I scrutinized the Princess Patter every day for an announcement about when the book club meeting would be held. There was never a mention. The library itself was stripped of all reading material except a couple of foreign language books and is primarily a board game room. The real kicker is, I bothered to go out and get the book, read it, and found it to be a really good selection (The Dutch House - as picture below). And now I had nobody to talk about it with, except Mrs. Winks, who never listens to me anyway. Why do they make such a big deal about the book club at sea on their website and then drop the ball so unceremoniously with it?? Princess Cruise web site page about their Bookclub at Sea. And don’t even get me started about the Cruise Critic Meet and Mingle! When you’re on the Cruise Critic web site, dutifully participating in your voyage’s Roll-Call and someone cries out, let’s do a Meet and Mingle! You obviously go out to see how to set one of these gatherings up when sailing on Princess. We’ve been to a few of these passenger meet-ups, mostly on Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruise Lines, and while they’re largely hit and miss (and mostly miss) occasionally you walk away with some swag, or a bottle of champagne, or a picture with some of the ship’s officers (sometimes even the Captain). But lo and behold, when you get to the Princess Meet and Mingle sign up page, you are assured that EVERY Princess itinerary hosts one, and not to worry, just check your good ole Princess Patter for the time and date once you’re onboard. Well, once again, Royal Princess let us down. There was no announcement in the Patter. And hence no Cruise Critic Meet and Mingle transpired. Screen Shot of the Princess Cruises web site page about Cruise Critic Meet and Mingles All that all said, in the end, it was another excellent cruise, with only the occasional hiccups to burst the fantasy bubble and ground us back to the shortcomings of living in the real world. Cruising is becoming less special, more expensive, and too family-focused. Amenities and accommodations we used to be awed by, and then took for granted, are now slowly disappearing. We know this. And yet we still find the overall experience too compelling to dismiss out of hand. And Mrs. Winks is currently on the hunt for another unusual stateroom, at an attractive price, with an itinerary we can’t say no to. So expect to see us back sometime soon. Back in The Port of Los Angeles Next up (maybe): Our LA "Shore Excursion".
  3. Okay, story time. I get into a tiff with one of the ship’s medical officers. Nothing rash or imprudent. Nothing even coming close to fisticuffs. But let’s just say, several unpleasantries were exchanged. Now if you listen to Mrs. Winks recount this story, apparently we’re very lucky this episode didn’t get us kicked off the ship at the next port. Though, as I like to point out to her, the alleged altercation actually transpired on our final day at sea, and the next port was Los Angeles anyway. So, what’s the big deal? But anyway, do you want to know what happened? Mrs. Winks advises me not to bring it up; that the review can plod along (at its “current snail’s pace”, she always adds) without having to relate this particular incident. But I figure enough time has passed, and I haven’t heard from their lawyers, and they haven’t heard from mine, so maybe it’s all water under the keel (as we mariners like to say). And in my defense, who holds emergency practice drills on a sea day, anyway? Those types of exercises should be conducted while at port, when most passengers are off the ship. So idiots like me don’t accidentally get in the way! But that’s kinda what happened. Okay, so it all began innocently enough. It was a sea day. The sun was out. And Mrs. Winks was settled into a poolside lounger, sunning herself, and I was tooling about the ship just minding my own business. Suddenly, over the PA loudspeaker comes one of those “Bravo, Bravo, Bravo” coded emergency calls. I don’t remember the specific one in this case - it might have been “Oscar, Oscar, Oscar” - but whichever one it was, it must have referred to “There’s a Passenger Down”, as you can clearly see here… I come around a corner, intent on heading up a flight of stairs to access the Sport’s Deck, when I see two crew members, dressed in scrubs, rushing over to one of those CPR dummies that’s laid out flat on a deck chair. As I approach, I hear the medic asking the trainee a series of questions. “Does the passenger’s airway appear obstructed? Are they having difficulty breathing? Where is their tongue? What color is their skin?” “Ask the other passengers if he’s been drinking a lot,” I offer, trying to be helpful. “Sir, this is a mandatory drill. Please, move along.” “No, seriously, shouldn’t she check his Medallion profile? To see if he’s got the unlimited beverage package or something? Maybe he’s just sleeping one off.” The nurse shifts her gaze from me to check for her superior’s reaction. “I mean, we’ve all been there…” I shrug my shoulders. “Sir, it’s a matter of life and death. We don’t have time to check on their drink package status.” Unphased, I lean down and place my nose to the dummy’s agape mouth, sniff twice, and rise. “Yup, definitely smells like he’s been drinking,” I advise them. “Does medical have a stomach pump?” It’s safe to say that at this point, the medic had had enough of my disruption and offered some strong words for me. I replied back, in equally strong terms, that by performing their drill, off here in the corner, they were failing to accurately replicate an actual on-deck scenario, including having to deal with jack-asses like me. And I swear there was no shoving, before I was forced to move on. After my failed attempt to bolster the medical emergency drill’s authenticity factor, I headed down to the Princess Live! space where The Fresh Prince of the Seas (Marcus, our cruise director) had arranged for an “enrichment lecture” with New York Times Bestelling Cozy Mystery author, Joanne Fluke. Fluke writes about a bakery shop owner, Hannah Swensen, who’s also an amateur detective, in what Fluke laughingly admits must be the murder capital of the United States by now, fictional Lake Eden, Minnesota, where she has staged over 20 fatal mysteries. Her books are unique for several reasons. They’re all named after desserts. (She actually handed out free, signed, paperback copies of her “Fudge Cupcakes Murder” to everyone) All contain actual recipes that she’s vetted in her home kitchen. They’ve found enough faithful readers to generate NY Time Bestselling status. And Hallmark Channel has adapted several of her books into TV movies. I’m no fan of this genre of writing, but the interview was interesting and funny, as Fluke doesn’t take her stories or characters all that seriously, and she gave the standing room only audience insights into her craft, her battles with editors, and tips for breaking into publishing. That night, the pool area was transformed into what was touted as a Mexican Night Open Deck Dance Party. I’m not sure what was specifically Mexican in nature about it. The music was the standard mix of pop hits and wedding reception party songs we’re all familiar with. And the dancing took on all the elements of a line dancing class, with the DJ calling out synchronized steps and turns. Mrs. Winks and I were still fighting over my questionable behavior with the medical team earlier in the day, so both of us spent the party at opposite ends of the pool area, grabbing various shots and uploading videos to our separate Instagram accounts. Next Up: Final Thoughts
  4. Princess does do a 10-Day from LA that includes these ports (in addition to the classic itinerary). I think it's on Star Princess. We've looked into doing it, but the dates haven't yet worked out for us scheduling wise.
  5. Somehow this doesn't surprise me! There's actually been a concerted effort by the city to bring back cruise tourism ever since Disney Cruises dissed the port for being unsafe. So safety is a big visibility effort now for them.
  6. Thanks for checking us out! And don't worry, we have many equally-horrendous Royal Caribbean, Celebrity and Princess cruise reviews to read in our back catalog. Check out the links in our expanded signature at the end of each post.
  7. As a cruise ship destination, Mazatlan gets a bad rap - mainly because it’s located in Sinaloa, a Mexican state the U.S. State Department has designated a Level-4 hotspot (that means very bad) in its regularly-updated doom-and-gloom tourist travel advisory. To quote that advisory specifically: “Criminal organizations are based and operating in Sinaloa state. Violent crime is widespread. U.S. government employees are prohibited from travel in most areas of the state.” Not very welcoming verbiage. And, of course, it didn’t help matters when, in 2014, the most notorious Mexican drug cartel kingpin, El Chapo, was arrested in at a beachfront condo near the Mazatlan’s touristy Golden Zone. So, it’s no wonder many ship passengers opt to lock themselves in their cabins and nervously wait the port-stay out. On other visits, I’ve actually seen standing-room only crowds filling the rarely-used ship’s wedding chapel, where every prayer on the their lips beseeched salvation from the imminent drug cartel invasion… and also that Princess please not raise the daily-gratuity rate before the trip’s end. But, if you notice, a key phrase in the State Department’s travel advisory reads “most areas of the state.” Not every area. Digging deeper into the warning, as a nervous Nellie like me always does, you’ll eventually discover Mazatlan is listed as one of the few permitted areas for travel, as long as you stay within the tourist areas and exercise reasonable caution… you know, like El Chapo did. Beach along the Golden Zone This was our third visit to Maztalan, and for us it’s always been a decent stop. One time we took the challenging hike up to El Faro. At 500+ feet above sea level, it’s the highest-situated lighthouse in the world. And the views are outstanding. Another time, we booked a resort day-pass at the El Cid, El Moro Hotel which ended up being a decent bargain for an attractive, well-accommodated property. It’s also an option well worth looking into. But on this trip, rather than staying onboard as originally planned, we decided that the ship would be too crowded with drug cartel worry-warts. We knew wouldn’t be able to enjoy free run of the ship, so we opted to disembark instead. The weather was gorgeous and while it was too late to arrange for a resort pass, Mrs. Winks figured she knew the Golden Zone beachfront well enough to find a decent place for us to just hit up a chair/umbrella vendor and do our own day at the beach, on the cheap. If you haven’t deduced from the pictures so far, the beaches in Mazatlan are incredible. We took our time getting off the ship that morning, noting that the buffet and other amenities were atypically crowded for that late on a port day. And of course, Mazatlan doesn’t do itself any favors in the “make a good first-impression” department, since the cruise terminal is located in the middle of a very active industrial port. Passengers need to take a 5-minute free trolley ride (you’re not allowed to walk it), through a maze of shipping steel containers, speeding forklifts, towering cranes, and in-motion freight trains, just to get to the shopping terminal and egress to the city streets. Upon exiting the ship, we found there was no wait for a trolley, and once we got through the shopping area, we grabbed a cab to the Golden Zone for $10 - a bargain if just for the fact that the driver agreed to take us solo - and not make us wait to fill his cab up completely. He recommended a hotel in the middle of the strip, where we could walk straight through the lobby to access the public beach. From there, it didn’t take very long for the chair and umbrella crew to find us. The industrial port in Mazatlan Once we secured a place to settle-in, it was as if the guy who set us up with the chairs and umbrella cast a bucket of chum into the water. We were immediately accosted by wave upon wave of trinket sellers, all carrying their cheap wares in, on, and around their bodies. There was the silver guy, who carried a briefcase along with him on the beach, popping the latches to display his silver-plated jewelry at every party of beach goers he came across. When you said you couldn’t buy something for your wife – I claimed Mrs. Winks was allergic to silver – he’d counter, “Then how about for your girlfriend?” When I explained that Mrs. Winks had arranged for my girlfriend to die in a horrific car accident, he countered “Then for your pretty secretary at work, amigo?” When I told him I had just retired from the job, he said, “Then for yourself, to celebrate your retirement, senor?” These guys (and gals) just wouldn’t take “no” for an answer, and were among the most aggressive souvenir sellers we had ever encountered. Eventually, we had to feign sleep and totally ignore them in order to get them to move on. Vendor a Go-Go Which all reminds me, the best place to follow our adventures is really on Instagram. During this little beach stay in Mazatlan, I took advantage of the Wi-Fi access our umbrella guy gave us the password for, to upload video clips of these colorful vendors, their strange wares, and odd sales rituals. We don’t do Live From Such-and-Such Ship posts, since we really don’t have the time to write volumes of text while “living the dream”. But uploading a picture or funny video clip to our Instagram Stories is pretty effortless, and during this trip we posted noteworthy content several times a day. Sadly, all that material disappears after 24-Hours, which is why it’s important to follow us: @WinksCruises and @MrsWinksCruises and catch it while it happens. Ok, shameless self-promotion over. But did you see how the beach vendor’s tactics just triggered the salesman in me? They’re animals! And really do get under your skin. Okay, so aside from having to run the trinket sellers’ gauntlet, the beach stay in Mazatlan was inexpensive and beautiful. It would have been a true paradise without their presence - but I guess the authorities are too busy keeping the drug runners at bay to enforce any local street peddling laws, if in fact there are any. So I guess we have to be grateful for that. And it’s not like these merchants are starving; it was truly amazing how many other small groups we saw actually buying souvenirs and services from them. So after a few hours on the beach, we cut back through the hotel and walked along the commercial street a little. There were various colorful shops, an amazing shell “museum” (which was really just a giant store) and sidewalk restaurants. From there it was easy to hail a cab or golf cart, with us choosing the latter to head back to the ship via. Our cart was especially tricked out with a powerful sound system, and we turned many a head as we flew down the Malecon beachside drive jamming to an unusual playlist of pop Mexican tunes, old school hip-hop, and Reggae. As Royal P. sailed out of Mazatlan later that evening, I only wish we had had time to finally take the heavily cruise-ship touted “blue line” tour of Old Town. Apparently, once out of the cruise terminal, you follow a blue line painted along the roadway that leads you past all the architectural and religious landmarks of the original city. The route is heavily patrolled to ensure safety and it’s supposed to be very culturally enriching. Has anyone here done it? I’ll have to make a note to do it next time we do this itinerary. Sunset Sail Away Next up: More observations about the ship and highlights from the Mexican Night Open Deck Party.
  8. For sure, the crowding will be less and if you're the only game in town, (lucky you!) the excursion is certainly going to get you back in time. (They want to go home as early as possible, too!). While our excursion ran late, we weren't in danger of missing Royal's All Aboard time. Our sail away that day was 7:30pm. We were back on the ship by 6pm, just too late for the Folkloric show that began at 5:30pm.
  9. Yes, this has happened to us as well. We have also found independent excursions sometimes get you to an attraction before the cruise-sponsored ones come piling in, allowing you to enjoy the space reasonably uncrowded. So there are definitely advantages for booking independently. Mrs. Winks may have to chime in to correct me, but I believe we HAD TO book the Cabo pirate ship excursion through Princess. With several ships in port that day, the pirate company made it cruise-ship-reservations-only - we tried looking for it as an independent excursion and our port date was blacked out.
  10. The cruise ship shore excursion. This compulsion that we must always do something, be somewhere, and enjoy with fellow passengers (most of whom we can’t stand), some cultural activity dreamt up by a millennial of questionable qualifications in Miami (for maximum profit) that will define, rather than enhance, our cultural immersion in any given port-of-call. This false notion that we can’t simply be. That we’re wholly incapable of being left on our own, to wander freely and explore, the fresh flavors, rhythmic sounds, and inherent dangers awaiting us in alien environments. That our overstimulated minds require non-stop catering to, from a pre-selected, vetted, and repetitive onslaught of thrill rides, snorkeling tours, 4x4 getaways and zip line adventures (and mostly, colorful hollow tubes on which we ride a cold stream of water), lest we feel our cruise experience has fallen short of what society has mandated we continuously sustain: a relentless manufactured sense of fun and fulfillment. This is how we end up on a “pirate ship” in Cabo San Lucas… A shot of the The Queen Buccaneer's sister ship, Cabo Legend Actually, according to Mrs. Winks - who has a sharper memory than an elephant with a Prevagen prescription - I was my own worst enemy on this one. Let me explain. A few months ago, during a stop in St. Lucia on another cruise (Freedom of the Seas; you can read about it here), we were waiting on the pier for our excursion transportation to arrive. All of us (meaning those fellow excursion passengers I can’t stand being with) were huddled in a small pavilion trying to escape a cold rain. At the same time, adjacent to us, the St. Lucia version of the pirate ship excursion was efficiently onboarding guests, boisterously yo-ho-ho-ing to traditional pirate songs, and doling out plastic Solo cups, sloshing over from generous pours of rum punch. “Wow. What I wouldn’t give to be sailing out on that pirate ship,” I muttered wistfully under my breath, never imagining that, beside me, Mrs. Winks was taking careful note of this offhand comment, and foolishly believing that I actually meant it. Fast forward to our current stop in Cabo San Lucas, and I find myself boarding one of Royal’s closed lifeboats, to get to the town pier, so I can board another, even smaller tender, that’s going to take us out to a pirate ship, that’s moored at another dock, across the port’s busy harbor. Do you see what a time suck this all is? But before any of that, we first have to sign liability waivers. All 30 of us, individually, every man, woman and child. In blood, the pirate way. The waiver process took another half-an-hour to complete, and then we had to line-up, single file, and follow one of the excursion docents, who was costumed in pirate garb and sporting a mock peg-leg, holding one of those embarrassing Pirate Excursion placards high over his head, like we were feeble little kindergartners out on our first field trip and might get lost. To top it all off, we had to parade, at a snail’s pace (thanks to our leader’s unnecessary, theatrical appendage) past throngs of already drunk Cabo day drinkers. “Aye Matey, be sure to protect ye bung hole at sea,” one guy wearing a wife-beater heckled me. “Oh cute, kids, look, they’re going out swashbuckling,” hailed another. “You guys are a bunch of idiots,” jeered another guy, half-perched on a bar stool at a cantina overlooking the marina. I found myself reluctantly agreeing with his blunt candor. PegLeg's Parade through Cabo After carrying the pirate re-enactor down the aluminum gangway stairs onto the floating dock, because he refused to take his wooden leg off – “I get more tips when I wear it” he explained enthusiastically – I checked my watch and noticed we were now well over an hour into the excursion, and we hadn’t accomplished a single thing - other than take a humiliating dockside walk-of-shame by a bunch of loud, jealous drunks. Finally, after even some more waiting, we boarded a motorized skiff and haphazardly zig-zagged across the harbor, nearly sideswiping a number of other vessels - that ranged in size from jet-skis to fishing trawlers. Once miraculously there, we boarded The Buccaneer Queen (I’m not making this crap up) and were greeted by about 100 of the most sour and distressed faces I’d seen, since exiting the Brent and Sarah’s magic show the evening prior. “How long have you been waiting here,” I asked someone, as I squeezed half my butt onto the only available side-rigging next to them. It was so crowded Mrs. Winks and I had to sit separately. “For almost 90-minutes,” came the response. “We were the first cruise ship in this morning. We had no idea we’d have to wait for people from two other ships to show up before we could begin.” The ship was packed, and probably dangerously close to capsizing. I’d actually seen diagrams in history books of indentured slave ships that afforded more breathing room. Cheerfully free from the shackles of government regulation, the pirate crew cast off the ropes and raised anchor. The Queen was underway, if listing, to the pulsating vibe of Rhianna’s Shut Up and Drive. But people were not very happy. We had to blur out their faces, but the expressions were all of boredom and annoyance! As painfully mismanaged as the logistics surrounding this excursion were, once we got underway, the pirate actors did a good job at maintaining their energy and entertaining the peeved crowd. The non-stop playlist of hip-hop dance hits was a painful anachronism, as were the modern day t-shirts and tattoos that peaked out from underneath the buccaneer’s garb. But watching these young adults, clumsily playing pirate for a living, helped us feel a little less humiliated by our own current circumstances: the idiots who shelled out the money to see them do so. As we sailed out to the snorkeling spot (as this was a Pirate AND snorkeling tour), the head pirate kept the passengers busy with, of all things, a simple math quiz. (Pirates and math? Who would have thunk it?) And if a passenger ventured an incorrect answer, rather than walking the plank, they were inexplicably doused with a blast of cold water by one of the first mates who was standing by with a garden hose – something that might be pleasant if it were 90 degrees out, but at 70 degrees and overcast, no one looked like they were appreciating the cool down. One of the excursion’s highlights, was the chance to sail by El Archo, the iconic Cabo rock formation that everyone wants to take a selfie with. But spotting the formation was akin to trying to catch a glimpse of Justin Bieber’s head when he darts into a concert hall; it’s so crowded at the arch, you could hardly see a thing, and then before you know it, it was all over. Just as expected, the Arch attraction was surrounded by all manner of craft. Fearful we might capsize the ship, the captain interrupted a Jay Z tune to frantically assure us he would swing around a full 360 degrees, lest we unbalance the precarious vessel in an attempt to all grab our shots from one side at once. After 5-minutes of playing peek-a-boo with El Archo, the Buccaneer Queen continued on her voyage to our next stop, the snorkeling opportunity. Sadly, until the swimming activity was complete, for safety’s sake, the rum kegs would remain sealed. When we reached the spot, it must have taken 20 minutes of more to get each snorkeling passenger geared-up and off the ship. Many returned almost as soon as they left, reporting that the water was both cold and deep. The reef was a good distance down and the waves were choppy. A little boy, one of the first to re-board, couldn’t seem to stop shivering. From aboard the ship, it looked like a scene out of Titanic, with the waters filled with not only our large group of snorkelers, but a cluster of new ones that suddenly appeared from a rival excursion as well. A sea of humanity While Mrs. Winks took the sea to snorkel, I took advantage of the emptied ship to relocate our seats to the upper deck, safely away from the wet and cold onboarding crowd. When she returned, Mrs. Winks reported, as others had, that it wasn’t a prime spot for snorkeling. The reef was too far down, so you couldn’t get up close with the fish. It probably took another half hour to get everyone else back on board. And then, finally, the rum punch was allowed to flow and a buffet lunch was served. We spent the voyage back to Cabo perched in our crow’s nest above the main deck, content to drink our punch and take in the views. Seated in our crow's nest with the Queen's captain The excursion might have received a passing grade from us, now that the alcohol had soothed our jangled nerves - except for the horrendous disembarkation process that soon followed. Upon returning to the Queen’s mooring in Cabo, we weren’t free to depart the vessel and make our way back to town. No. We were told, like school children, that we had to return to town the same way had arrived, by tender. Only now, there were more than one hundred of us crowded onto the pier; tired, burnt and in various states of inebriation, who had to wait over the course of multiple tender trips, since the single craft available to us could only accommodate 10 people at a time. In the end, we spent almost an hour on line, waiting for a trip across the harbor, something we could have walked in ten minutes, had they let us. But access to the main road that hugged the marina into town was gated shut. We were stuck waiting for the return of a single tender which was the only vessel able to take us back… until we complained, loudly, and the pirates all pulled out their cell phones and managed to secure additional transports. Mrs. Winks positioned it most succinctly when she let the crew know that we had now wasted an hour of our “vacation of a lifetime”, trapped like prisoner on a narrow pier, because someone hadn’t afforded the excursion either more tender service, or a bus, or simply a key to the gate, so we could readily stroll back to the town’s center. Because of the late excursion start and now late return, we missed the Folkloric Mexican Dance troupe whom we had been looking forward to seeing. The pirates were sympathetic, but in the end, said we would have to take it up with Princess, which a bunch of us decided we would do. It was a horrendous experience, and only further proved that shore excursion are a huge waste of time and money, and you’re better off either enjoying the day on the ship or going off to explore on your own. Stuck on a pier, waiting for the next tender boarding Thanks for your continued readership, pertinent corrections, and encouraging comments. Next up: Running the Mazatlan Beach Gauntlet
  11. For those of you considering a cruise on the Royal Princess, Mrs. Winks and I can’t think of a finer ship in the Princess fleet to recommend. She’s grand, reasonably new, and gloriously elegant, and the cutting-edge touches, like Medallion Class, only amplify the superlative onboard experience. She’s a terrific option for adult families and young couples who are looking for an alternative to the ubiquitous armada of kid-catering vessels currently saturating the high seas these days. The crew is engaged and competent. Perhaps not as gregarious and convivial as they could be, but that seems to be shipboard character trait that’s been on the decline ever since the introduction of Anytime Dining. Our room steward, Marc, was cordial enough and left chocolates on the pillow nightly. Thanks to the RFID chips in our bracelets, he always knew when we were out-and-about, so he could make-up our room with all the obtrusiveness of a church mouse. The Horizon Court buffet is one of the better ones out there, not only because of the decadent offerings of its special stand-alone dessert station (that’s to die for), but also for their dinner time fare and ambience, which they make a genuine effort to upscale from lunch and snack times. A variety of milk options (rice, soy, Lactose-free, diary-based), a fresh grilled veggie station, and specially themed lunches, like a seafood extravaganza that offered fresh clams, oysters and shrimp served on giant trays of ice, were unique gastronomic treats you don’t always see elsewhere. Mrs. Winks and I ate in the Main Dining Room every night and actually found the food there a little disappointing, often running up to the buffet later on in the evening to grab something more palatable. It was one of the few cruise of late where we haven’t opted for specialty dining. Milk options in the Horizon Court buffet Seafood Extravaganza and hot veggies just off the grill... We’ll be kind and say the nightly entertainment was pretty good. Comedian AJ Jamal was the true shining star of the playbill. We thought his routines were genuinely funny and rather edgy for a Princess Cruise audience - mainly because he wasn’t always PC. He did two shows and both were laugh-out-loud fun. By contrast, Brent and Sarah’s magic/comedy show seemed very forced when it came to comedy and pretty pedestrian when it came to magic. Their reliance on a recurring pee joke was not only uncomfortable given the amount of OAB likely with this demographic, it was just poorly executed. We’ve seen worse, so they get a pass, but barely. The one show we wanted to catch was the Antonio Ramirez Mexican Folkloric Show, when a visiting troupe in Cabo boards the ships and presents a history of Mexican music. I had caught there act on a previous cruise in Puerto Vallarta and it was mesmerizing. Unfortunately, we missed their act this time around, thanks to the fiasco with the Pirate Ship excursion that I will relate shortly. But if you want to see pictures and read up on their show, here’s a link to our previous Mexican Riviera review aboard the Grand Princess. One of the unusual entertainment highlights of this cruise was being able to watch the NFL wild card playoff games on the pool’s big screen while the ship spent the day at sea sailing past the Baja Peninsula. It was a little windy and chilly on the upper decks, so people sported team-color sweatshirts and blankets, and sat back in loungers watching the games. It was like being at a stadium with this so many people watching. NFL Wild Card Games on the pool big screen (MUTS) The current cruise director, Marcus Prince (aka The Fresh Prince of the Seas), is energetic and motivating, and always fun to watch as he works the crowd with his standup comic routines, whether it’s on the morning televised Wake Show or introducing live shows on-stage in the Princess Theater at night. Best of all, he has a candid and slightly sarcastic edge to a great deal of his patter, which is something I greatly enjoyed. He was the mastermind behind all the shipboard activities and he did a pretty solid job at it, even arranging for a popular NY Times Bestselling Cozy Mystery author to do a talk about her craft one day at the Princess Live venue. Of course, every ship has its cons, and Royal does come with a few. They’re not deal-breakers by any stretch, but simply design flaws that act as negatives on a vessel that otherwise flawlessly executes so many positives. One of the biggest drawbacks on the ship were the elevators. The several banks servicing the vessel’s center atrium area were always crowded and rarely moved faster than a floor at a time. Super annoying, especially on formal nights when you have to be nice about it all! The bow and stern elevator banks were a little better, but always a mess near show time. Then there was a confusing set of elevators, clearly in the passenger area, marked crew only, which always seemed empty and fast. Finally, the elevators featured a floor selection panel on only one side of the car. This resulted in people constantly having to ask for their floor button to be pushed, since they had no convenient access to a panel on their side. What a huge design flaw for a transportation system that’s clearly bustling at all hours of the day. But probably the worst shortcoming for a ship this relatively new is the lack of electric plugs in the stateroom. When are cruise lines going to address this problem? As passengers, we try to come up with our own work arounds to the situation, power strips, but are punished for using them. Given our increasing reliance on multiple small portable electronic devices, you’d think the cruise industry would keep in step with the times and afford stateroom occupants more charging station options and, say, do away with the antiquated electric-shaver outlet in the bathroom. They don’t seem to have a problem supplying outlets around the rest of the ship! If you need to charge your mobile phone, you’re best off heading to the coffee counter at the International Café… or stake out one of the marble pillars overlooking the Piazza grand atrium… or look between the banks of slot machines in the casino… or at the base of the display case on Deck 5 that honors Royal Princess’s figurehead godmother, The Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton; because you’re only going to find two electrical outlets in your stateroom, and even they’re a bit of a challenge to utilize. It’s a wonder that no one has come up with a guide-book that documents the available wall plugs on every cruise vessel that roams the seven seas. Taking a quick stab at such a compendium, here are some places on Royal you can find a place to charge your devices should your stateroom plugs be already occupied. And they will be. So that’s sort of the Reader’s Digest version of the pros and cons of taking a Royal Princess voyage. Now I know you all want to hear about the Pirate Ship shore excursion - and how it went so terribly awry that we had to miss the Mexican Music show back on the ship - and Mrs. Winks almost ended up suing Princess and divorcing me... as you can see it's quite a yarn. But your ole pal Winks has run out of steam this evening (ranting on and on about electrical outlets and elevators and such), so we’ll have to save the ill-fated Pirate Ship story for our next installment. Rest assured, we’ll be back tomorrow with more tales of swashbuckling terror, community theater caliber play-acting, and overpriced drinks. Stay tuned...
  12. I always wondered about those cabins visible from the Skywalk. I guess you didn't use the balcony too much! 😃
  13. The OceanMedallion is so innovative and transformative of the whole cruising experience that it’s hard to fathom that Princess Cruise Lines is the brand behind its roll out. AI infused RFID-technology is the cutting-edge marketing currency of much hipper purveyors of sea travel; something you’d expect coming from Richard Branson’s new Virgin Voyages or the youth-oriented Carnival Cruises itself – though I wonder if the clientele on that line possess the necessary intelligence-base to understand, much less use the device, before accidentally ingesting it! With this program, Princess has one upped the competition, and while its deployment is not without faults, after using it a few days, you come to understand it’s destined to become a new standard for the industry. And that’s both a good and scary thing, as we will see. Our OceanMedallion experience, like most passenger’s, began pre-cruise. We registered for it as part of our cruise planning duties. Doing so was fairly straightforward, with having to upload your-own selfie as your security-photo being the only step in the process that was a little off-putting. And as you can imagine, Mrs. Winks spent the better part of a Sunday afternoon in an attempt to capture just the right free-and-breezy look she was ultimately satisfied with. I on the other hand accepted the first photo we snapped, though I’ll be the first to admit it I probably should have shaved and at least combed my hair for the occasion. The real thrill comes the day your Medallion box from Princess arrives at home. It’s like getting your Little Orphan Annie Secret Society Decoder Ring in the mail. Scrooge that I am, even I have to admit it was probably the most exciting present unwrapping experience of the season. The chips are sleek. They had our individual names engraved on them. They came in the color of our Captain’s Club Loyalty Level, so that uppity ship crew would instantly know who they were dealing with and dial back the attitude accordingly. We showcased our treasured prize from Princess all over our social media accounts (@WinksCruises and @MrsWinksCruises on Instagram - come follow us!) and even built a make-shift shrine to Medallion on the dining room table (pictured below) we were so enamored. A lot of things can get you excited about an upcoming cruise: final payment, printing out luggage tags, single digits on your countdown calendar – but nothing comes close to the excitement of getting your Medallions in the mail from Princess. You’ll notice in the photo above that we opted for wrist bracelets to hold our Medallions. This is an upcharge item, and I think Mrs. Winks and I are both on the fence as to whether they were worth the investment. The Medallions care package comes with a free lanyard, from which a square plastic capsule hangs that you can snap-shut your Medallion in (you can see it in the first picture, up above). Those are fine, and may actually be the better choice, as you can quickly throw the lanyard over your head, or reach father out with it, when you have to make contact with a chip reader (which is basically every time you make an onboard purchase). Having to throw out your arm and sometimes twist it for the Medallion Pay reader wasn’t as convenient, and unbuckling it from your wrist was a hassle you saved mostly for once a day, at bedtime. And Mrs. Winks that the small wristband was a little tight, maybe more appropriate for kids than an adult. That said, there was nothing like wearing your loyalty level out there in the open, visible for all the less qualified members to see, so there was always that. So what do Medallions do? For one thing, they get you on the ship faster. Flash it for the embarkation staff and they pretty much know who you are and what you ate last night. Present your Passport to them for verification and you’re pretty much good to go. One of the most convenient features was not having to fumble for a room key every time you need to access your cabin, where you know you’re always carrying something, be it bags from your shore excursion of a plate of raisin-oatmeal cookies and a glass of milk from the buffet. With Medallion, once you get within about 5-feet of your door, it unlocks for you. You still have to deploy the door handle, but not having to retrieve a key is great. A little display screen welcomes you to the room and shows your picture. But again, not all the kinks with Medallion are worked out. Imagine my delight when our cabin door wasn’t as sensitive to Mrs. Winks’ chip as it was to mine! Most times, she had to raise her hand to the pad to get the door to unlock, where as it would readily click open for me, just steps before my arrival. That was fun torturing her with, but ultimately, something that shouldn’t have happened. The experience should be the same for all, if only to avoid the ensuring marital spats! But we are sure that day will come. Making a purchase at the bar, or gift shops, or photo gallery requires you to actually make physical chip contact with a device call MedallionPay. Thank goodness for that. Can you imagine if they charged you for a drink every time you passed within five feet of a venue! But as stated previously, twisting your wrist to make full-on contact with the device was a little awkward and not befitting for someone of our loyalty status to be seen clumsily doing. Nonetheless, the process was efficient and we didn’t experience any real problems with it. So now, here’s where some of the Medallion creepiness starts setting in. But first a side note, OceanMedallion comes with a suite of ancillary apps. One app lets you instant message other members of your party (super convenient) and annotate you Princess Patter with a calendar feature. But then there’s an entirely different app, which you have to download and access separately, if you want to explore another function, which, if I’m remember correctly, is the “Find Mrs. Winks” feature. In the future, I’m sure they’ll have this all packaged together into one single app. It’s all great stuff. Just a little cumbersome having to switch through apps to get to the particular function you’re looking to use. Okay, so Mrs. Winks has the unnerving habit of moving her location when she’s up at the pool grabbing sun. Some noisy family sets up camp near her, or the bar service is slow, or the sun has moved position, so she ups and moves to another area completely. That means, when it’s time for me to grab her - for say Main Dining Room Lunch, which closes in 10-minutes, or some strange tom-foolery happening in the Piazza (rare, but it does happen), I can’t find her! Well, Medallion Class has an app for that. You can literally locate your dear family member via their RFID chip. Big Brother is always watching. And there’s an location app that lets you see exactly where your significant is at any given time. Throughout the day, I would get instant messages like these: “What are you doing in the buffet again?” “Why are you back in the cabin; is your stomach giving you trouble?” And the constant “For goodness sake, what are you doing at the Wheelhouse Bar?? Are they even open this early?” I don’t know how Mrs. Winks got any of her paperback book read, since she appeared to fill her pool time keeping tabs on my whereabouts on the ship! But are you ready for the creepiest aspect of all this? Well, here’s a little story. As the cruise progressed, we eventually settled on the Wheelhouse Bar as our pre-dinner cocktail venue of choice. Mrs. Winks will tell you it’s because I like the wasabi nut mixture they traditionally serve, but quite honestly, I find the vibe there the most appealing and the staff the most personable. There’s generally a light jazz troupe playing in the performance space and the bartenders aren’t so busy (like those at the active pool or martini bars) that they can’t take a moment to chat. There was one such bartender at The Wheelhouse who greeted us nightly and knew our drink preferences. In fact, she seemed to know more about us than either of us remember ever revealing to her during our nightly small talk. “Oh yes, Mr. Winks, I know you are Platinum Level, in fact, you are so close to Elite you can taste it,” she laughed one night, when she mentioned my bracelet. “A couple of us were howling in the back just now, laughing at how silly it was for you to book a standard stateroom, especially such a windy one at the front of the ship, when a suite would have made you Elite on this cruise.” She was right, but how did she know this particularly sore point about us on this cruise? It was true. Had we booked a suite, we would have earned Elite Status on this trip, a level Mrs. Winks, and her odd booking machinations, seem hell bent on us never achieving! But how did our server know? She soon explained. When we sit at the bar, our faces come up on an iPad near venue’s POS device. She can tap on our faces to instantly know who we are, what status we’re at, what we like to drink, where our cabins are… a plethora of personal information. I noticed these devices at several venues, and the menu of passenger face-avatars the staff would rifle through when charging a drink or settling an account. Then, one night at the Anytime Dining Room, when the hostess was off checking a table, I snapped a full screen shot of the iPad. There were some other disturbing features to be had, including two scary looking buttons: My Notes (Are our bartenders writing opinion pieces on us here?) and Activities (like excessive drinking?!) (see picture of the iPad below… passenger details blurred out to protect the innocent!) Also note the Inferred Preferences area. Is artificial intelligence at work predicting what are preferences should be? All 1984 - Big Brother stuff that should have us all uncomfortable, for sure. Our friend at the Wheelhouse went on to tell us that she had recently attended at a crewmember seminar where Medallion’s next gen features were being showcased. She couldn’t detail what those features would be, as she is under a binding non-disclosure agreement, but she assured us, yes, pretty soon, Princess would know EVERYTHING about us! It’s a scary proposition. And who knows what agencies and companies Princess is sharing all that information with? But at the same time, the Medallion’s convenience and ease-of-use are as disruptive as they are enticing, and are a game-changing enhancement to the cruise experience. #BeCarefulWhatYouWishFor Next up: Passenger Mutiny On Our Pirate Ship Excursion in Cabo.
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