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jimbug

Really, really long Diamond Princess review

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Hi guys,

I finally finished my extremely long Diamond review from 3/12-3/19 to the Mexican Riviera. Here it is - hope you enjoy!

 

The Diamond Princess

Mexican Riviera Itinerary

March 12-19, 2005

 

Background Information

This was my second cruise, also my second with Princess. The first was on the Sapphire Princess (the Diamond’s sister ship) to Alaska in June 2004. Our cabin was occupied by three – myself (23), my mother (52), and my best girlfriend (24). This was the first cruise for both my mom and my friend. This was also our first time visiting any of the Mexican ports, as well as Los Angeles. So, it would be a trip of adventures – a girls’ week away from school, work, and everyday obligations!

 

Pre-Cruise/Embarkation/Day 1

Living in Oklahoma doesn’t afford many opportunities for reasonably-priced airfare, so we usually fly out of the Dallas/Fort Worth airport. This time proved to be the same, and we made reservations on America West from Dallas to Long Beach, with a connection in Phoenix. I bought our plane tickets over six months in advance – and at the time, this particular America West itinerary was the cheapest for our trip. However, three months later, when Audra (my friend) decided to join us for the cruise, she was able to get a direct flight from DFW-Long Beach on American Airlines for almost half of what we paid. Oh well, perhaps I will wait until closer to the date next time!

 

So, our adventure begins. On the night of March 11, we had a hotel reservation at the Best Western Irving Inn & Suites near the airport. My husband and I had actually stayed at the same hotel prior to flying away for our Alaska honeymoon cruise several months prior. They offer free round-trip airport shuttle, continental breakfast, and free parking for up to 14 days. It’s not the most luxurious, but it is clean and certainly adequate for our needs. Our original plan was to be in Dallas by 5:00 p.m., then spend the rest of the evening getting pampered at a nearby spa. Unfortunately, the best-laid plans never seem to work out – due to interstate construction, we were delayed over three hours getting to Dallas, so we ended up going to a CVS drugstore for a “do-it-yourself” pedicure kit then on to the hotel. Audra actually lives in the Irving area, so she met us at the hotel later that night. We had an enjoyable evening chatting and painting nails, but we were so excited about the next day’s trip it was almost impossible to sleep!

 

We awoke very early the next morning, and caught the first airport shuttle. They dropped Audra off at the American terminal, and off we were to the America West terminal. I had checked us in for our flight online the day before, but apparently that was a bad idea. We had a deplorable amount of heavy luggage, and I was looking forward to dropping them off curbside and being rid of them. Well, either the curbside guys don’t know how to handle an online check-in, or the online thing somehow messes up their system. In other words, we had to haul all of our bags upstairs to the regular check-in. Since most of the airlines have gone to computer kiosks to print boarding passes, there was only one actual human agent working the counter, and it took forever for our turn to be helped. Even the agent seemed a little confused by the online check-in process, so next time I think I’ll just go the traditional route. We finally got our bags checked and made our way through security. We found our gate, grabbed some Starbucks to keep us awake, and sat down for the wait. I talked to Audra on my cell phone and confirmed her flight was indeed leaving on time. Since she was flying direct, she would have almost two hours to wait for us once she arrived in Long Beach. Little did she know how boring that would be! Our flight took off without incident, but when we arrived in Phoenix, there was apparently a “traffic jam” of sorts, and we had to wait on the tarmac for nearly an hour before we were allowed to pull up at the gate. I was starting to get nervous about making our connection, but we found our connecting gate just as they were calling the first group to board. Whew! Our flight to Long Beach was short and sweet, but one thing to note about America West is that all of our flights were oversold by 5-10 seats, and they had to end up bumping several passengers off each flight involuntarily. Also, it seemed the compensation for volunteering your seat was rather meager compared to what other airlines tend to offer. (This was probably the reason no one volunteered!)

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Arriving at the Long Beach airport was such a pleasant surprise. It’s so small and quaint - such a change from the hustle and bustle of DFW or LAX. Unfortunately for Audra, there was nothing for her to do but sit and read a magazine while she waited. She was ready for lunch by the time she arrived, but sadly, the airport diner was not operating on Texas time, and it was still breakfast in California. Luckily, though, we were able to find each other immediately after we landed and we were ready to get moving. I had pre-arranged a shuttle service with Xpress Shuttle (http://www.xpressshuttle.com) to take us to the pier in San Pedro. I was quoted $42 total for the 3 of us in “Business Class” transportation, which according to their website, meant we’d be driven in a Honda Element or a Hummer H2. I was instructed to call their dispatcher upon our arrival in Long Beach, which I did. She instructed us to go across the street and look for a yellow van. We easily found our driver, but I was sad to see that we would be driven in a regular old passenger van. Luckily, the van service cost more than the business class, so I had no room to complain. A note of caution about this service: On the website, they are known as Xpress Shuttle, but their vans are labeled as LA Express Shuttle. That was a bit confusing, but since they were the only yellow van in the waiting area, it wasn’t too difficult to figure out. It took about 25 minutes to get to San Pedro, and if you’re not used to Southern California traffic, it’s quite a trip! I had reserved the shuttle service with my credit card online, and though the website states you can pay the driver with cash, our driver had my credit card receipt already charged and ready to sign. Oh well, that just made it less of a hassle for us to try and make change…more cash for shopping in Mexico, right?

 

When we arrived at the cruise terminal in San Pedro, I was very surprised to see the Diamond was the only ship in port. There were a few of the previous week’s passengers still disembarking, but overall, it wasn’t very crowded. A porter took our bags for us, and then we were instructed to fill out the “Have you been sick?” form before we were allowed to enter the building. We handed in those forms, showed our cruise docs, and went inside. Another set of Princess reps was waiting for us at the bottom of the escalator to hand out boarding passes. We then went upstairs and were directed to the Caribe deck check-in line. It moved very quickly – we were handed our cruise cards and scouted out some floor space to park in while we waited to be called for embarkation. We were the 10th group called, and it probably took about 30-45 minutes after the first group was called. The actual embarkation process was very easy – one security scan, show the cruise card a few times, and get your picture made – that was it.

 

Once on the ship, everything felt so familiar (okay, identical) since I had been on the Sapphire last June. The one thing I did miss was having Princess employees operating the elevators and escorting passengers to their hallways. In Alaska, this really prevented a lot of confused people and traffic jams. Unfortunately for us, people were pushing and shoving for elevators and generally quite confused. We found our cabin, C747, a category BB balcony, to be quite perfect for the week. I chose this specific cabin for two reasons – 1) it was on Caribe deck, so the balcony was larger than those on Baja and Aloha, and 2) C747 is the last starboard-side cabin – so there’s a little “extra” balcony portion that extends towards the aft. All in all, we had a HUGE balcony – we never felt crowded at all.

 

As soon as we entered our room, we discovered that our luggage had already been delivered – talk about prompt service! We also discovered that my favorite aunt (my mom’s sister) had sent us a beautiful flower arrangement and a voucher for a bottle of wine. Our lovely room steward, Ara, came to introduce herself and to tell us a little about the ship. She was so kind and efficient – we were definitely spoiled by her services! I was sort of afraid that we’d be crowded in a regular balcony cabin with three people. I ended up being pleasantly surprised – this wasn’t the case at all, especially after we got our suitcases put away. Another note – since I was a gold Captain’s Club member, we were left a nice “welcome back” note and some cookies in the cabin. (I don’t know if all cabins got the cookies or not, but they were a nice touch!) After getting settled, we decided the first order of business was to take the handy pocket guide of the ship and set off on a tour. I, of course, played “tour guide” since I was familiar with the deck plans. Naturally, one of the first stops was the Horizon Court for a delicious buffet lunch. Princess has definitely stepped up their buffet offerings since my last cruise – everything was very tasty and all was served at the correct temperature. After a late lunch, it was time for the muster drill. Our assigned station was Club Fusion – and after the requisite-yet-cheesy 20-minute recording accompanied by a member of the cruise staff’s antics, we were released. We went up on deck for a very chilly sailaway party – we were even sent off in style by a Goodyear blimp. By the time we reached the edge of the harbor, it had grown too cold to be comfortable, so we said goodbye to Los Angeles and went back inside. We finished up our unpacking, then just relaxed for awhile. Audra and I went to one of the hot tubs for a pre-dinner swim, which we ended up making a nightly routine. We came back to dress for dinner, then we were off for our traditional second seating in the International Dining Room.

 

I admit I was a bit leery about traditional dining – what if our tablemates or our waiter were awful? Turns out we had nothing to worry about – our tablemates were lovely and our wait team, Dol and Rose, were superb. Our tablemates – a 30-something threesome of friends from LA, plus a retired couple from Denver, really made our cruise special. They were all so kind and we had such wonderful conversations each night. The food was on par with other cruise line fare – good, no complaints, but not outstanding. Of course, there were a few dishes better than the others – but all in all, I didn’t have anything that I’m craving now that I’m back home, except for the blueberry frozen yogurt – it’s to die for! After dinner, we had plans to attend the Welcome Aboard show, but we were so exhausted, we ended up going straight to bed and missed all the evening entertainment. Oh well, a girl needs her beauty sleep, right?

 

Day 2- At Sea

We actually woke at a decent hour (7:30 a.m.), and Audra and I headed down to the International Dining Room to try out the breakfast fare they offer. It was delicious, as usual, but our randomly assigned tablemates were crabby…yuck, just enjoy your cruise already! We stopped by the buffet on the way back to the cabin to bring my mom a fresh fruit plate and some coffee. (Mom takes a very long time to get ready in the mornings (primping and such), so – you snooze, you lose.) Turns out the buffet had a huge offering of fresh fruits – some of the best fruit I had ever tasted.

 

After perusing the daily Patter and trying to plan our day, I think that we finally settled on ceramics (Scholarship@Sea) and the movie being shown in the theater that afternoon. We did end up painting ceramics – I chose a tile for $18, and Audra and Mom painted coasters for $6 each. It was fun, and it’s a nice way to make a memorable keepsake of your vacation. You can come back to the ceramics area each time it is available to keep working on your project, or you can finish it all the first day and pick up your project at the end of the cruise (which we did). After painting, we decided to forego the movie for an afternoon of relaxation, which began with lunch in the dining room and then a visit to the Lotus Spa. Note that I said “visit” – we didn’t have any services performed (the Steiner prices scared me away), but my mother did talk herself into booking a hot stone massage for the following evening. After wandering around the ship some more, Audra and I went back to the hot tub and ended up meeting a lovely family from Rhode Island. They were all so great, and we ended up meeting several other times throughout the week – we played trivia together and went on the same shore excursion in Cabo.

 

Soon, it was time to get all spruced up for formal night. We got ready just in time to make it to the Captain’s cocktail party and have a few formal portraits made. The drinks were plentiful (although watered down), and the line for pictures was very long at all of the stations. The ones we took turned out great, and we ended up spending way too much money on shipboard photography! We enjoyed another delightful dinner then went to the Piano Man show in the Princess Theater. I was very impressed – I must admit I was expecting a lower performance quality. After the show, it was definitely time for bed – another wonderful day at sea ahead…

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Day 3 – At Sea

Before the cruise, I wondered if two sea days in a row would get boring – wonder no more, for I was never bored. Princess offers so many activities (and opportunities to just relax), that if you’re bored, it’s definitely your own fault. To be quite honest, I don’t remember exactly everything that we did on this day, but I’m sure it involved the two daily trivia games (we never won), hot tubbing, the drink of the day, pizza, and a nap. Ahhh, such is the wonderful life on a cruise ship. My mother reported back that her massage was amazing, and she also returned with several hundred dollars’ worth of Elemis Spa products. (clears throat and rolls eyes) She said it wasn’t a hard sell – she’s just a sucker for skin care products, haha. Anyhow, after another day of relaxation and enjoyment, we spent the evening in Club Fusion for Princess Idol. I have to say that I screwed up big-time here – our lovely CruiseCritic friends and I had been planning a get-together in Skywalkers for months. Somehow I got the day confused and ended up missing it completely. I felt so bad about missing it! Luckily, though, we had all exchanged pictures online prior to the cruise, and we all recognized each other whenever we saw everyone throughout the week. After a fun-filled night of Princess Idol and meeting some of our fellow CruiseCritic members, we decided to call it a night and head back to bed.

 

Day 4 – Puerto Vallarta

We used room service breakfast as a wake-up call, and woke up to find that it was raining. I was a bit disappointed, because our planned excursion for the day was the Puerto Vallarta Beach Break, booked through the ship. We had our breakfast on the balcony in the drizzle, and decided to make the most of it, regardless of the weather. Puerto Vallarta is funny – the first thing a cruise ship passengers sees at the port is a Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club…how authentically Mexican. Anyway, we disembarked the ship and had some time to kill before our tour was to meet. The ship’s photographers, as well as some local vendors, made sure we stopped for the obligatory souvenir photograph. We walked around the marketplace right by the pier, but didn’t see any deals too good to pass up. What surprised me more than anything was the Mexican policia carrying machine guns! I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, but I sure did a double-take at the first one I saw. After shopping for a bit, we found our tour bus and went on the 30-minute ride to the beach resort. At this point in time, we still weren’t sure exactly where we were going, as the Princess shore excursion brochure wasn’t very specific. We had a delightful guide, Dario, a handsome young man from PV. Audra took an immediate liking to him, and I do believe the feeling was mutual.  Turns out we were headed to the Paradise Village resort complex. It’s on the outskirts of PV, actually in Nueva Vallarta, to be specific. It’s a huge resort complex, made up of a golf club, a traditional resort, and several time-share “vacation club” type high rises. The grounds are absolutely beautiful – the trees and plants were just gorgeous. After we entered the resort lobby, we were ushered out to the pool area, where we were given our “welcome drink” (choice of rum or tequila punch), as well as our lunch and drink tickets for later. We staked our claim on a palapa on the beach and a beach attendant promptly brought us 3 lounge chairs. The weather was still a bit dreary, but we decided to brave the cool water anyway. After the initial cold, it wasn’t bad at all, and we spent most of the afternoon frolicking in the waves. Lunch was served at noon, and it was a delicious Mexican buffet. We also had our choice of just about any alcoholic (or non-alcoholic) beverage on the menu, all included in the excursion price. After lunch, we decided to explore the resort a bit and discovered several beautiful pool areas, including a grotto-like cave with a stone hot tub. There was also a spa right on the beach offering very reasonably-priced massages, facials, and such. I thought for a moment about booking a massage, but changed my mind when I reminded myself I can go to the spa at home for much less dinero. We left the resort on the bus at 2:00 p.m. and returned to the pier area. I was feeling exhausted, so I returned to the cabin to rest, while Audra and my mom hunted down Diamonds International for the free charm bracelet. (Note: It was cute, but it was tacky, painted-on gold with a speck of diamond dust, but what did you expect for free??)

We sailed away from Puerto Vallarta at sunset, which made for some absolutely stunning pictures. I must admit that prior to the cruise, I wasn’t that excited about visiting these particular three ports, but each one turned out to be a great surprise – I would love to go back to visit all three places on a land vacation sometime. After dinner, we went to the 50’s Sock Hop in Club Fusion…it was a hoot watching the baby boomer crowd relive their youth. Princess Idol followed the sock hop, and it was entertaining, as usual. After a few rum & cokes, we called it a night and looked forward to the next day in Mazatlan.

 

Day 5 – Mazatlan

We arrived in Mazatlan to find much warmer and sunnier weather than what we had left in Puerto Vallarta. We were also joined this morning in port by the RCCL Vision of the Seas – the only ship we shared a port with all week! This is where our adventure gets interesting. After reading reviews from several CruiseCritic members who had visited these ports, I had decided that we would take a taxi to the El Cid resort, pay for a day pass, and spend the day there. I had also read several reviews mentioning the time share hawkers for the various resorts – several CC members confirmed that if you just go to listen to their short presentation, they will “hook you up” so to speak, at their resort for the day (free food & drink, facility use, etc.). Well, our plan was to go ashore and shop for awhile, then return to the ship, change into our beach clothes, then take a taxi to El Cid. When we got off the ship the first time, I went to the El Cid timeshare booth to ask about the day pass for those not interested in timeshares. Well, of course, the saleslady wouldn’t take my hint, and convinced all of us that it would be a good idea to listen to their presentation and they would give us a ton of free stuff. We agreed, but then she asked us if we were married. Since two of us (my mom and I) were, and our spouses were not present, they could not present the timeshares to us because both parties must be present to buy a timeshare in Mexico. Okay, so we got off the timeshare hook – but we couldn’t get the free stuff. She did give us a bracelet that would be good for entry to the resort if we decided to go there on our own.

 

After shopping at the marketplace by the pier, we returned to change into our swimwear, then disembarked the ship again. We decided that we would try a different resort for the timeshare deal in hopes they wouldn’t ask us the marriage question. We lucked out – The Inn at Mazatlan reps were so gracious and nice, we couldn’t turn them down. They did ask the question, but didn’t give us a chance to answer, so we were free and clear. We got cold bottled water and a free taxi ride to the resort. The Inn at Mazatlan truly is a beautiful, luxurious facility – I was very excited about spending the afternoon there. We were greeted by a hostess who took our names and instructed us to wait in the lobby for our tour guide. While we were waiting, we saw a couple we had eaten lunch with earlier in the week, and they stopped to talk to us. They told us they had just finished the tour, and we should get out while we still could. Their tour was over an hour, and they still hadn’t received their all-inclusive armbands…they said their guide was very rude and demeaning, and wouldn’t take no for an answer when they declined to buy a $30,000 timeshare. With those words of wisdom, Audra and I decided it would be a good idea to hightail it out of there and find somewhere else to go. Unfortunately, my mother’s guilty conscience thought differently, and she felt obligated to stay since they had paid for our cab ride to the resort. After a few choice words between us, I convinced my mother and her honesty that it would be “okay” to leave if I reimbursed the hotel for our cab ride. So, I marched up to the hostess desk and told her we were not going to stay, and inquired about paying them for our cab fare. The funny thing was, as hard as they tried to get us to come there, they didn’t seem to mind one bit that we were leaving, and on top of that, they wouldn’t accept our offer to reimburse them.

 

Finally, we left the Inn at Mazatlan in search of another place to spend the afternoon. Fortunately for us, El Cid happened to be just about a block away. I walked up to the outdoor information desk and asked about purchasing a day pass. The lady said there was no need to purchase, and since we had the armband given to us by the timeshare rep earlier, we would be welcomed there as guests. Thank goodness! We went inside the lobby, and a friendly receptionist asked if we’d like the timeshare tour in exchange for the all-inclusive armbands. We politely declined, and there was no pressure put on us to change our minds. I liked El Cid better already. We made our way out by the pool area and to the beach. The water was so much bluer in Mazatlan than it was in PV, and the beach was packed! We did manage to find a palapa and some chairs to enjoy the beautiful day. Unfortunately, the beach vendors were so much more pushy and rude here than they were at Paradise Village, but oh well – the water and the waves were so much better!

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After awhile, we decided we were hungry, so we set out in search for a beachside lunch. El Cid has various food offerings, but you have to know where to look. Right by the main pool area, they had a buffet made up of a few Mexican items, plus a lot of American-style junk food (hamburgers, hot dogs, etc.). It was about $10US for the buffet. That didn’t really suit our appetite, so we went to the other side of the pool to the sit-down restaurant, but they were not yet open (plus I don’t think beach attire was appropriate for that venue). Finally, we found La Cascada, the open-air, order-from-a-menu restaurant. Yay, just what we were looking for! The menu was pretty typical Mexican fare, but the prices and the food were amazing. We spent $33US total (including tip) for 2 dinners (I had tacos, Audra had fajitas), 2 pina coladas, 2 bottles of water, and chips with pico de gallo. My mom decided to save her appetite for the Princess buffet back onboard, plus she was saving our palapa. I cannot stress how amazing this food was – it was probably the best meal we had on the entire trip – I hate that my mom missed it! The service and the views (right by the parasailing launch area) were great…this was the quintessential Mexican beach vacation, right here at El Cid in Mazatlan.

 

After swimming a bit more after lunch, it was time to head back to the ship. We walked to the front of the resort, expecting to have to call a cab or walk a bit to find one, but to our surprise, the concierge gladly hailed a cab for us and pre-arranged the price of $10 back to the pier. I was so pleased with the way we were treated at El Cid, and I will definitely return to Mazatlan someday and stay at the resort. After the 30-minute or so pulmonia (open-air cab) ride back to the ship, we had a bit of extra time, so we did some more shopping at the mercado next to the ships. We made it back just in time, and enjoyed a picturesque sailaway from Mazatlan.

 

After cleaning up from our beach day and grabbing some snacks at the buffet, we made it to the hot tub once again. Eventually, it was time for dinner, which was enjoyable as usual. We caught the show in the Princess Theater on this evening – the headliner was a variety comedian/juggler named Dan Bennett. I didn’t have high expectations about this particular show, but he was awesome! He was hilarious, not to mention an extremely amazing juggler. My only complaint about this show was that the cruise director, Billy Hygate, provided an extremely cheesy, Tom Jones-like song-and-dance routine before the show began. It was just painful to watch. Oh well, at the very least, he provided some more laughs for the evening! We called it a night after the show, looking forward to the next day in Cabo San Lucas.

 

Day 6 – Cabo San Lucas

We woke early this morning and had buffet breakfast in the Horizon Court. It was delicious, as usual, with the corn flake-crusted French toast being the highlight of the morning. We then met for our shore excursion, the Chileno Bay Snorkeling, in the Princess Theater. Turns out Jeff, Karen, and their family (the Rhode Island crew) would be on our same excursion! Anyway, we were promptly ushered to a waiting tender, and we soon arrived on the shores of Cabo to the scene of several pelicans spending their morning inhabiting a fleet of local fishing boats. Anyhow, we were ushered directly into the line to board the Tropicat, our catamaran for the day. After about a 5-minute wait and a signed liability release, we were onboard this beautiful sailing vessel. They hoisted the sails, and away we went. The Tropicat crew was awesome – they kept things lively with some great music and a few snacks. They also had a very organized method of distributing the snorkeling gear. After about a 30-45 minute boat ride, we arrived at the Chileno Bay snorkel site. I was a little apprehensive about the whole snorkeling thing, since this was my first time, but turns out I had nothing to fear – it was marvelous! Audra and I put on our gear (Mom chickened out) and slid down the boat’s waterslide into the icy cold water! Brrrr!! We swam about a hundred yards over to the best snorkeling, and I was just in awe of the amount and variety of fish we saw. We even saw a large starfish. People say that the snorkeling in the Mexican Riviera is not anywhere near as good as the Caribbean – if that’s the case, I can’t wait to snorkel in the Caribbean next year. I had a disposable underwater camera with me, and we ended up getting some nice shots of each other and of some of the fish. After about 45 minutes-1 hour of snorkeling, we made our way back to the boat. Luckily for us, they had started serving from the open bar – wahoo!

 

The bar was unlimited, and they also had cookies and sandwiches for those who were hungry. We partied on the trip back with the Rhode Island bunch, and had a blast. A few whales were spotted, but they never appeared long enough for us to take pictures. Also, the Tropicat cruised us right on by the Los Arcos rock formations, where we got up close and personal with a ton of sea lions sunning themselves on the rocks. Prior to deciding on this excursion, I had toyed with the idea of just taking a water taxi to Lover’s Beach, which is the beach surrounded by Los Arcos. Now that I saw it up close, I’m glad we didn’t. It is absolutely beautiful, no doubt about that, but it’s not very large, and with the water being so cold, I wouldn’t have wanted to spend the day just in that one spot. So, I would definitely recommend the Chileno Bay Snorkeling through the ship – an A+ excursion!

 

After we were returned to the dock, with Audra and I quite a bit tipsy (okay, flat out drunk), we had about an hour to kill before we had to board a tender. We decided to do a tiny bit of shopping, but how much can you do when you’re giggling like hyenas and trying to pretend you’re sober?  Somehow, Audra did manage to find some necklaces she liked and negotiated a pretty good deal on them. My poor mother – she had to endure our antics on the trip back. Anyway, we boarded a tender and returned to the ship without incident – but with the major munchies! Unfortunately, the thought of the buffet smells made my stomach churn, so I stayed in the cabin and ordered room service while Mom and Audra went to Horizon Court to fill up their plates. They returned with the motherload of goodies, and we pigged out on their findings and on my room service cheeseburger and chef salad when it arrived. After that, it was, of course, time for a nap. We did miss the sailaway from Cabo, but the nap was much deserved.

 

The Cabo San Lucas night was also the second (and final) formal night. Since I was a Captain’s Club member, I was invited to the members-only cocktail party prior to dinner, but I decided to pass since my cabin mates were not also invited. After dinner, Audra and I went to take some “fun” portraits with one of the photographers, and then we went to the last preliminary round of Princess Idol. We were indeed ready to call it a night after Idol, so off we went. We could tell the mood around the ship was changing – everyone was getting in the “my cruise is almost over” funk. I definitely was NOT looking forward to it ending.

 

Day 7 – The Final Day At Sea

We slept in on Friday and took it easy – mostly took care of packing, buying the ship’s way-too-expensive (but nice) photographs, and picking up our finished ceramics. We lounged around and watched Connie and Carla (loved it!) and part of Sideways on the in-cabin movie channel. We hit the hot tub one last time, left comment cards and extra tips for Ara, put our luggage out in the hallway, then headed downstairs for our farewell dinner. We took lots of pictures, and were amazed by the Baked Alaska parade. Okay, so I can see how people think it’s cheesy, but for a first-timer, it was fun! We said goodbye to our new friends, plus Rose and Dol, then we went to the Princes Idol finals. The place was packed, and the lady who won deserved to be on the real American Idol – she was fantastic! While at the finals, we met a nice lady from Texas who goes on a cruise just about every month – and informed us that AARP suggested she retire on a cruise ship instead of a nursing home! That’s my kind of lady – I hope I turn out like her someday (in many years…). After the show, Audra and I headed up to Skywalkers, hoping to enjoy a pleasant evening to end the cruise. Unfortunately, for the first time all week, we were hassled about looking young. Some of the waiters refused to serve us, even with valid cruise key cards and drivers’ licenses. Now, I know we were only 23 and 24, but we were certainly legal, and I don’t know why they chose to hassle us on the last night only. So, after the inconvenience of having to argue over our legal age every time we tried to order, we gave up and called it a night.

 

Day 8 – Back in Los Angeles

We woke up early, around 6:30 a.m., and went to breakfast in the dining room one last time. We had two handsome and charming waiters from Romania – oh, how I wish we’d had their table all week! They treated us like queens when it was obvious some of the other waiters were trying to hurry their guests on out so they can get ready for the next week. Anyway, after a delicious but depressing breakfast (since it was the last one onboard), we went back to our cabin to collect our things and to say one last goodbye to Ara. We had Cream 3 luggage tags, and though it was about 2/3 of the way down the list for disembarkation, judging by my experience in Alaska, I figured we’d be off the ship by 10:00 a.m. at the very latest. I was in for a rude awakening…

 

We made our way down to the Explorer’s Lounge and grabbed a table. They had complimentary, self-service water and coffee set up at the bar, but once the supplies ran out, they were not replenished. Rumor had it that the Horizon Court had an “endless” supply, but we never ventured up there to check it out. After we realized how slow the disembarkation process was going, we broke out the deck of cards and started some Texas Hold ‘Em and Slap Jack. After awhile, even that got old, and we just knew our color would be called any minute. Well, around 11 a.m., we started to get worried – we had a car rental reservation with Enterprise at the San Pedro pier location, and they closed at noon. We were FINALLY called off the ship around 11:45 a.m. I expected once we got off the ship, we’d be home free as far as waiting went. Wrong again. There was a humongous line of people waiting to go through immigration. While waiting in that line, we ran into Jerry and Sue, two of our tablemates. Turns out they also had reservations with Enterprise, and Jerry was talking to them on his cell phone at that minute. He informed them of our situation, and a potential longer wait, and they assured us that they would wait until 12:30 before they closed for good. We were again instructed to use the red courtesy phone in the terminal for the shuttle, and they would definitely come to pick us up.

 

After another half hour of lines, customs, and baggage claim, we were finally ready. It was 12:20, and I picked up the red phone to call the Enterprise shuttle. The “closed” recording immediately came on, and the shuttle was nowhere to be seen outside. We saw Jerry and Sue again, and they were in the same boat, so to speak. Turns out Enterprise left about 10-15 parties standing on the curb with no rental car after promising to wait. Now I realize it was after normal operating hours, but they should not have told us that they would remain open later. My suggestion to Enterprise – extend your operating hours on Saturdays and Sundays because more times than not, I’ll bet, delays in disembarkation result in a good number of unhappy cruisers with no car.

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Our next plan was to catch a shuttle to the Long Beach airport and grab a rental car from there. (We were planning to pay Enterprise a $25 drop-off fee to be able to return the car to Long Beach in the first place, so it would hopefully work out anyway.) I called the Long Beach airport Enterprise location from my cell phone, and the extremely rude reservations agent informed me they were out of cars, and that none of the other agencies at the airport had cars, either. Something told me to check other agencies anyway, so I called Hertz. They were so friendly and got us the exact car we needed, plus the AAA discount. We ended up taking a shared ride van to the Long Beach airport, for $35 total for 3 passengers, which we found reasonable. We picked up the car, and were on the way to the hotel, finally! All this mess with Enterprise ended up costing us $10 extra plus about another hour of our time. Oh well, I just won’t be using them again.

 

We had a reservation at the Coast Long Beach Hotel that I got on Priceline for a steal of a deal. The hotel is just down Queensway Drive from the Queen Mary and the Carnival terminal. It also has gorgeous Long Beach waterfront views, and beautifully landscaped grounds. They originally had us in an oceanview king, and they were glad to accommodate us in a room with two queens instead, but we had to have a courtyard view. Oh well. The rooms were surprisingly luxurious – I would definitely stay here again if I cruise from the west coast again.

 

After getting settled in our room, we decided to head down to Anaheim to spend the evening at the one and only Disneyland. I’m a huge Disney fan, so I was very excited! After using the precise directions I had printed from Mapquest prior to our trip, we arrived in the Disney area with no problem. We were starving, so we made a quick stop at a nearby Subway restaurant first, then made our way to the Mickey and Friends parking facility. Disney has parking down to a tee – they give you tickets with the exact building, level, and row that you parked on – making finding your car after your stay very easy. We boarded the tram and made our way over to the park. We sort of had a hard time deciding whether we wanted to go to the original Disneyland park or to the new California Adventure right next door, but decided on the original since Audra and I had never been, and Mom was there nearly forty years ago.

 

I have to admit – after being to Walt Disney World in Florida twice, the entrance to the Disneyland park and the “magical” feeling you get while there sort of paled in comparison to WDW. Oh well, it was still Disney and we were still having fun! We took several pictures, rode several rides, and ate our way through the park. No kidding. We started with mint juleps and fritters, moved on to chocolate chip cookies and churros, ate dinner at Club Buzz Lightyear (burgers and fries), and finished off the night at the Gibson Girl Ice Cream Parlor with way-too-large helpings of gourmet ice cream. Yeah, we definitely gained a few pounds that night. Oh well, you only live once. We finally made it back out to the car and sleepily drove back to the hotel in Long Beach.

 

Day 9 – Back Home

Thanks to my friends on CruiseCritic, I had been tipped off about a great Sunday Champagne brunch served at The Reef, a restaurant along the Long Beach waterfront. What I didn’t realize in advance was that it was literally right down the street from our hotel – walking distance. So, we got up that morning and called the restaurant for a 10:30 a.m. brunch reservation. We checked out of the hotel and walked over to The Reef. The spread was amazing! I’d never seen so much food at one time! It was so delicious, and quite possibly, the best restaurant meal I’d ever had. Here’s the kicker, though – it was $30 a person! Perhaps by Southern California standards, that’s not much…but I had been to a similar (but not as tasty) brunch in a Chicago suburb that was around $15 a person. We were shocked when the bill came…but you know what, it was completely worth it. It was a perfect way to end a great trip.

 

After brunch, we walked back to the hotel to get our rental car then headed on out to the Long Beach airport. We checked in and found a spot to sit and read magazines while we waited for our flights to be called. After two uneventful flights, we landed back in Dallas around 10:00 p.m. I was hoping to be out of there by 10:30 p.m., which meant we’d be home around midnight. Ha! It took over an hour for the luggage to even start coming out, which completely baffles me since the airport was practically dead that time of night. While waiting for the luggage, I got a phone call from Audra, whose American Airlines flight had landed about two hours earlier. She said she had tried to call the Best Western hotel shuttle to take her back to get her car, and they wouldn’t come get her since she didn’t have a reservation for that night (even though the deal was for round-trip airport transportation). After her fiasco, and by the time our bags finally came out, we decided not to waste our time arguing with the hotel, so we just stepped outside to catch a cab back to the Best Western to get our car. I think we got ripped off by the cabbie – the trip back to the hotel is about 3 miles tops, and he charged us $21…and didn’t have the meter running. Oh well – by that point, we were so tired and cranky, we didn’t care. Sure enough though, what do we see when we pull up to the hotel in a cab? Yep, that’s right – the hotel shuttle just returning from the airport with someone else from our very same flight – who headed back to their car instead of the hotel check-in desk! Ahhh, would’ve been our luck. Finally, we got on the road back to Oklahoma. I dropped Mom off in Ardmore just after 1:30 a.m., and made it back to Norman around 2:30-2:45. This is definitely the last time I’ll try to make that trip so late – I was singing out loud to myself just to be sure I stayed awake!

 

Final Thoughts

This was an absolutely fabulous cruise/trip, and if I sounded negative at any point in time throughout the review, it really was nothing major…just minor annoyances that are easily forgotten. We’ve got a cruise booked for next March aboard the MSC Opera, and although I know that the MSC product is very different from other mass-market lines, it will still be interesting to see how it compares to my Princess experience.

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:) Thanks for the review.

 

We have done this itinery before and will be doing it again next March.

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Yes, I loved it - and I didn't think I would! I will definitely go back on this itinerary one of these days.

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jimbug - what a great review.:) It was almost like being there with you. Yes you had some unexpexted gliches, but you just chalked them up to a no problem status.:) You are a very positive person and I only wish that when others post about some disappointments, that they could put the spin on them like you did. Hope we meet some day aboard one of the Princess ships

:)

A

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