Cruising Vacations - Shrinking the Globe and Having a Great Time Doing It

By Jeffrey A. and Shari Rendall; Photos by David Vier


FORT LAUDERDALE, FL – Probably the nicest thing about traveling in the twenty-first century is that the world has shrunk.


No, this isn’t some new pseudo-scientific theory that intellectuals and politicians will theorize over in scholarly treatises and Sunday morning news programs.  And there’s no need to search for ‘The World is shrinking’ specials on the Discovery Channel, nor look for books on the subject in the library.

On the stately Coral Princess, you'll feel relaxed and pampered. This truly is a floating resort.


It basically means that the great big world (for the most part) is available for us to discover.  And we found that one of the best ways to explore the earth is by sea, specifically, on a cruise ship.  For those new to the concept (as we were), when you say the word ‘cruise,’ you probably envision the 70’s TV series (‘The Love Boat’) with Captain Stubing, Doc and Gopher, gently nudging lonely and wayward souls towards love on the high seas and in exotic locales.


Frankly, the mass-media cruising concept may have been romantic, but the show was also a little cheesy.


For that reason, we’d avoided taking a cruise until deep into our fourth decade of life, and I can honestly say, we’re regretful for all we’ve missed.  Simply stated, cruising was fun – a lot of fun.

A fabulous evening of music and dancing under the stars on the upper deck. A cruise is a great place to ring in the New Year!


There’s a saying that goes something like ‘once you take a cruise, you’ll never want to vacation any other way.’  Not sure if that’s 100% accurate, but we will say, once you cruise, most of you’ll be trying to find the means and time to take another one.  And thankfully for the newly cruise-enlightened, there are ships sailing all oceans to virtually every sea-based (and even some non-water accessible) destinations in our rapidly shrinking world.


Our cruise and cruise-line was already chosen in advance (wisely, I’ll add), and for us it was a question of just showing up at the port and setting sail.  For those in similar fence-sitting territory – not sure if cruising is for you -- the experts can try and persuade you.  Karen Tetherow, Manager of Media Relations for Princess Cruises, says sailing’s definitely worth a try:


“Cruising really is an ideal way to vacation, and if you’ve never cruised before, I’d encourage you to think of it as a great mode for families to travel.  Our Princess cruise ships can accommodate large groups with diverse interests, with everything from a Princess Kids program for children aged 3 to 17 years, to fitness classes, to being pampered at our luxurious Lotus Spas – everyone can do what they want during the day and then all come together at night for dinner and share their experiences.”

On 'sea' days, it's always a good idea to get to the pools early to reserve your spot. The pool was one of the busiest places onboard.


That’s no exaggeration, as our group included three family generations and a widely diverse set of activity preferences and tastes in cuisine.  We all found it on board -- the fitness nut spent her time in the gym, the photography enthusiast found many an attractive subject to shoot, the shopper perused the merchandise, the bar rat/gambler found more than enough to satiate his appetite for adult-level activities, and the relaxation specialist got mucho by-the-pool time.  Not to mention the kids had to be dragged (literally) out of the children’s programs to join the others when it was time to do so.


Tetherow further mentioned the convenience involved in cruising – the ability to see various ports and cultures while only having to unpack your suitcases once.  Once that’s done, you’re free to enjoy your tours, all the while knowing you’ll be back aboard your beautiful cruise ship at the end of the day.


Shore excursions for the various ports-of-call are available through Princess, and provide the first and best choices for what to do in any particular seaport, and are handled by local personnel, who are more than willing to show you a good time and as much of the native culture as you’re willing to inquire about.  We’ve heard that you can also try things on your own, and there are taxis and tour operators at every stop looking to entice you to see what they’ve got to offer.  Having heard some horror stories, we’re not sure of the wisdom of the latter method, but you might save a considerable sum of money.  It probably depends on the port and country.  Use common sense.   

With round-the-clock dining, there is always something for everyone in your party.


Returning to the boat is always something to look forward to, as the ship (for us, the Coral Princess) is the hub (and home) for your vacation.  It got you to where you were going – no need to bring a map or book the plane reservations or bring along the car rental print-outs.  After exploring your port-of-call, all you need to do is stroll back aboard the ship and get ready for what happens next.


Which most of the time involves eating.  The food on our cruise was truly unbelievable – and certainly worthy of longing towards every minute of the day, whether in port or out to sea.  Every person’s tastes are accounted for on a cruise ship, be it the basic meat & potatoes crowd, the pizza & pasta lovers, or even seafood connoisseurs and vegetarians.  There’s no limit (for better or worse) to what you can consume, and with 24-hour room service, there’s no such thing as ‘unavailable’ when you’re craving sustenance at 3 o’clock in the morning.


During our cruise, we were fortunate enough to receive a personal tour of the galley from the ship’s executive chef, who was more than happy to explain all that goes into planning for feeding over 4,000 people (including crew) at all hours of the day.  The staff is busy preparing meals every second – someone’s always cutting, baking, slicing, dicing and getting ready for the next meal service. 

The Coral Princess' galley is a sterling silver dream for chefs. From this super efficient hub, food is prepared 24/7.


If it sounds like a lot of work, it is.  But one common trait we found with the mostly international crew members was a love of service.  Sure there was the occasional terse look or reply from a staffer who wasn’t having a good day, but these people work literally three to four months at a time with very few (if any) days off.  And instead of seeing it as a form of indentured servitude, they love it.  They really do.


For passengers, time is relative on a cruise ship.  You can do as many of the activities as you can squeeze into a day, or do nothing but plot your schedule around visits to the buffet and dining rooms.  TV addicts may suffer some withdrawals, as the choices in this genre are very limited -- there is closed circuit TV available in every room, but the chances of getting your favorite show on at the usual time aren’t great.  If there was one drawback to our experience, it was not being able to receive our favorite school’s bowl game over the holidays. 


But I guess that’s what Tivo boxes are for.  Plan accordingly.

Evening entertainment is included in your cruise package. This is just another perk that makes cruising a good value.


Seeing as it was our first cruise adventure, we were wondering if our great time was due solely to Princess Cruises, or if all cruising is created equal.  In talking with several hearty cruise veterans who’d been on a number of different ships and cruise lines, the consensus was that it was some of both – Princess was ranked high amongst their favorite cruise providers, but they’d also had great experiences with other operators.


Naturally, Tetherow says Princess is different, and better.  “Princess Cruises visits every continent and more than 260 ports.  Our company was one of the pioneers in the modern-day cruise industry, beginning as a one-ship company operating cruises to the Mexican Riviera in 1965.  More than forty years later, Princess is one of the largest cruise lines in the industry with fourteen (fifteen in June) ships cruising to all seven continents.”


That’s right, even Antarctica.  No joke.  Tell me you don’t think about ‘March of the Penguins’ when you hear that.

The five-story high atrium is truly the ship's gathering center. "Decked out" for the holidays, it was a sight to behold.


Tetherow proudly pointed out that Princess sails its ships to more worldwide destinations than any other major line, with cruises to the Caribbean, Alaska, Mexico, the Panama Canal, Australia/New Zealand, the South Pacific, Hawaii/Tahiti, Europe, India, Africa, Asia, South America/Amazon, Canada/New England and, as mentioned above, Antarctica.


That’s not to mention that our favorite ‘Love Boat’ show was also set aboard a Princess ship.  That’s one way the company became famous, and just as Santa Claus is the perfect promoter of winter and pleasant snow-covered landscapes, Princess Cruises is synonymous with amore, sunsets and tropical paradise.


Gavin MacLeod, who played Captain Stubing, is still the company’s spokesperson – though he never actually commanded a ship.  We’ll leave that to the professionals, who were pleased to show us how the vessel is controlled during a tour of the bridge.  Sadly, bridge tours are no longer offered to the ‘public’ in our post 9/11 world, but since we were reporting on the cruise experience, the captain and first officer gave us some glimpses into how it all works. 

The bridge is the technological center of the ship. Safety is paramount onboard, though not always visible to passengers.


Anyone interested in navigation would marvel at how such a big ship can travel through virtually any kind of weather and reach a destination without the passengers even knowing there was a storm on the horizon.  And for those who’ve seen ‘Titanic’ one too many times, the odds of a cruise ship again being felled by an iceberg are probably more remote than your chances of winning the lottery.


But you’ll still have life boats and vests on board, just in case.


Tetherow says Princess is known for another innovation that sets it apart from the rest, Personal Choice Dining – a unique program which features two options for main dining room seating.  There’s the restaurant-style ‘Anytime Dining,’ where you can show up and request tables of various sizes to accommodate your party, or the more traditional ‘fixed seating’ cruise ship dining, where you’ll have the same table and waiter every night – and you’ll also eat with the same dinner-mates, for better or worse.

With three pools onboard, swimming is always a popular activity for kids and adults alike.


Some people see it as a great opportunity to meet new friends, and having the same waiter throughout the cruise guarantees that your personal preferences will be attended to at every sitting.  But if you get stuck with someone who grates your nerves, you may have to lean on the Maitre’ D to make other arrangements.    


Of course there are the specialty restaurants aboard (on the Coral Princess there was an Italian selection and a Café/Steakhouse), which we took advantage of on one occasion – the Italian specialty restaurant, Sabatini’s.  At Sabatini’s (which requires a cover charge of $20 a person), you pick an entrée, then you’re served a sample of everything on the menu, from caviar to soup to pizza -- you get it all.  Talk about the need to loosen your belt.  I won’t say I liked everything that was served, but I will say that you’ll regret not trying a specialty restaurant if you take a cruise.


To be fair, there were a few things we didn’t like about cruising – minor complaints, but it just goes to show there’s room for improvement, even on a tightly run ship.  Surprisingly, soft drinks are not included in your cruise fare, mandating that you buy a ‘sticker’ for the duration of your voyage.  Drink all the coffee you want, but don’t ask for a Coke unless you’ve paid for it.  Similarly, pizza was only available until seven o’clock (unless you were at Sabatini’s), and certain popular items at the buffet, such as sushi, tended to run out quickly without hope of being replenished.

Sabatini's, one of two speciality restaurants on the Coral Princess, is a culinary treat not to be missed. Be sure to bring your appetite because you sample a bit of everything!


Maybe it’s because the pizza was so good that you missed it late at night after a trip to the casino.  What a terrific midnight snack that would be.


And while cruising is a pretty good value, in terms of what you get for what you pay – it isn’t inexpensive, especially when you factor in alcoholic beverages and shore excursions.  The casino sets a limit of $1500 a day in ship’s credit, and a few folks we saw were pushing that limit.  The excursions ranged from expensive to prohibitively expensive, and should definitely be factored into your budget when planning a cruise.


That being said, nearly all the entertainment onboard is included in your fare.

The poolside 'Princess Pizza' shop is a pizza aficionado's paradise. Here, the pizza chef prepares (in the main galley) for the next day's pie offerings.


Despite a few bumps, our cruise trip was about as enjoyable as we would have ever imagined.  Tetherow sums up the quality of cruising:  “There is something mystical and romantic about traveling by sea.  You can step out on your balcony and watch the sunset, or maybe even spot a whale and feel like you’re the only person on the water.”


The Princess crew certainly made us feel that way – that we were the only ones on the ship.  We loved our first cruise, and we can’t wait to take another.  We’ve never been so happy that our world just shrunk a little bit more.


Note:  The golf element of cruising will be addressed in a separate article.

Sunrises and sunsets -- when you're out at sea, there's nothing between you and them. Princess offers a high percentage of balconies with the rooms. Take advantage of them.


Our thanks toDebbie and David Vier, for insisting on us trying a cruise, then making it possible; the good folks at Princess for providing some extra access to ship operations and amenities; Marius Martalogu, the Head Waiter who gave us great service as well as a crash course on his native Romania; George, our cabin steward who treated us all like royalty; and the rest of the staff of the Coral Princess whose tireless enthusiasm made every passenger feel valued.



Princess Cruises

Santa Clarita, CA


Information on Princess Cruises is best obtained from their website:


The Princess site includes cruise itineraries, sailing dates, pricing, and excursion offerings.  Early booking is strongly recommended to ensure availability of your stateroom preferences, as well as off-ship activities.


For those (like we were) who’re sailing for the first time, the website also includes handy tips on what to pack, and what to expect, as well as suggested deadlines for obtaining needed travel documents, such as passports.

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