Midwinter’s Daydreams: 7 Nights on a Princess Cruise

This is our blog about a seven-day cruise on the Sky Princess through the Western Caribbean and Mexico. We hope you enjoy our stories of shipboard life, shore excursions, scuba diving, snorkeling, and generally overindulging.

Day 1: Saturday, February 17: Depart Fort Lauderdale, FL and At Sea – Anchors Aweigh!

(Listen to “The Love Boat Theme” played on the Sky Princess’s horn)

We chose this cruise for our first vacation of the year. My wife’s best friend, Beth of many years, was celebrating a milestone birthday, so we joined her, her husband Howard, plus their friends Steve and Rachel and Bryan and CeCe for a week of tropical weather, umbrella drinks, and overindulging.

This cruise was absolutely packed with passengers because it was a school holiday week, so there were 3,700 passengers and 1,800 crew. That’s 5,500 people on a 19-deck floating city at sea that’s nearly 1,100-feet long and 155-feet wide.

In other words, this is a big mothership.

We boarded about 11am, had lunch and welcome drinks, and were in our rooms by 2pm. After watching a video on the Princess Medallion app, on our phones and checking in at our Muster Station with our life jackets for the obligatory safety check in case we hit an iceberg in the Caribbean, we were cleared to unpack and relax.

A Multitude of Activities.
As we familiarized ourselves with the ship, we noticed that there was always something to do. Amenities included four pools, eight hot tubs, pickleball and basketball courts, a putting green, a fitness center, a spa, a library, an outdoor movie screen around the pools, boutique shops, a casino, Broadway-style entertainment, singers, comedians, magicians, guest lecturers, and so much more.

A nice amenity on Princess Cruises is the Princess Medallion. It’s not only your room key and unlocks your door as you approach, it also identifies you and on off the ship. It even syncs with the mobile Princess App that provides you with maps, directions, daily activities, etc.

Or, if you were lucky enough to have planned it in advance, you could escape to the Sanctuary on Deck 18. Sheltered from the non-stop music and games on the Lido deck, this area offered quiet time for adults only.

Never Far From Food.
Right away, we noticed that passengers didn’t have to walk very far to find an eating venue. In fact, quite a few of the heavier ones rode around in private golf carts.

The Sky Princess boasts three main dining rooms, three specialty restaurants, an all-day buffet, a hot dog/hamburger grill, several pizzerias, an international café, a wine bar, and 24-hour room service.

While most of our land ventures have been stepping and schlepping, this trip was all about relaxing, wining, dining, and scuba. In an effort to minimize any weight gain (we each only gained a few pounds), we stayed fairly active by taking the stairs, walking the various decks, exploring the towns/ports on foot and, of course, diving.

The Best of Both Worlds.
It really was the best of both worlds: we got to hang out with our friends at breakfast each day, sometimes for lunch, and always for a sit-down dinner in one of the plush dining rooms.

The rest of the time, we were on our own to explore the ship, sit on our private balcony, or read in a quiet area. Ellen explored the ports with half of the group and planned a spa day, while Gil spent three of the port days in Roatan, Cozumel, and Costa Maya scuba diving with CeCe and Bryan.

Dinner Time.
The first night, we ate at 5:00pm in the Soleil Restaurant because all the others had been pre-booked. Since Steve and Rachel have sailed quite a bit with Princess, they were able to shift our dinner time, albeit only slightly later, to 5:30 and keep us at the same table for the rest of the week. This was a very nice touch since the waiters got to know our group’s tastes, made suggestions, and brought special plates for the table to share.

The dinner menu offered a choice of several salads or soups, a half-dozen seafood, meat, and vegetarian entrees, many side dishes, and about six desserts, all of which changed nightly.

You could mix and match as you wished, but could only order one steak, filet mignon, or lobster per sitting. (In past years, we’d heard that you could order up to four lobsters for one meal on Princess Cruises!)

Most nights, we started with a Caesar Salad and one other starter like French Onion Soup or Sea Scallops with Bay Shrimp. Our first night entrees were Pot Roast for Ellen and Grouper for Gil.

Most of our group then went to the Princess Theater to watch a singer while we went back to our room. It was a good thing, since we were surprised and excited to see Sunday’s Newsletter Event Listings with Gil as a Guest Lecturer for “Travel Writing: How To Get Published –– A 13-Step, Real-Time Workshop” from 12:15 to 1:15pm. Gil had previously contacted Princess about this presentation, but they never confirmed prior to boarding. Fortunately, it’s “have presentation will travel,” and he was ready.

Day #2: Sunday, February 18: At Sea
This ship has a top speed of 22 knots. Because our first stop, Roatan, Honduras, is 790 miles to the southwest, that’s about 36 hours of travel but it’s been a very smooth journey so far.

We ate breakfast in the Estrella Dining Room at the aft of the ship on Deck 6. It’s a nice alternative to the buffet. However, we noticed that we were sitting right above the engines, which were a bit loud and fairly bumpy, so we’ll go back to the buffet for breakfast the rest of the week.

Next, Gil gave his presentation to about 20 passengers, engaged in some Q&A, then thanked the Entertainment Director for selecting him to speak today. We can blame the smallish turnout on the fact that it was scheduled during lunch and from the looks of it, most of these passengers rarely miss a meal. Anyway, this may become a future opportunity with Princess and other cruise lines for Gil. Very exciting!

We ate lunch with our traveling companions at the Marketplace Buffet. You can literally eat just about anything you could want here. The daily choices included salads, fruit, Mexican food with salsa and guacamole, seafood, pasta, lox and bagels, eggs, waffles, cereal, carved meats for sandwiches, Indian food, sushi and Chinese food (some days), cheeses, and other appetizers.

Beth and CeCe did an International Wine Tasting and regaled us with all the vintages they sipped in about 45 minutes. They said it was a bit rushed, but excellent wine. They liked it so much that they signed up for another wine tasting on the final day at sea.

After some rest time in our rooms, we met for drinks in one of the many bars, then dinner at the Soleil Restaurant. This was one of the two formal nights. A century ago, during the first wave of luxury cruises with the White Star and Cunard fleets, “formal” meant top hats and tails for the gentlemen.

Tonight, only a few guys on our ship wore tuxedoes, though most wore suits, many wore sports coats and slacks, and a select few just didn’t follow the guidelines by donning Aloha or polo shirts and Levi’s. However, many of the women were all decked out in their finest gowns and jewelry.

We both started with the Lump Crab Cake and Caesar Salads, then followed those up with Seared Salmon  for Ellen and Beef Tenderloin for Gil. Several of us ordered the Princess Love Boat Dream for dessert, which was a heart-shaped dessert with layers of chocolate-raspberry mousse and vanilla-raspberry cream on a shortbread cookie.

The Princess Theater was packed to see a very funny comedian who was from San Francisco, but had appeared on many late night TV shows. His impressions brought the house down.

Day #3: Monday: February 19: Food Tasting and Excellent Scuba Diving in Roatan
Ellen took a cab to the Rum Factory with Howard, Beth, Steve and Rachel, where they tasted many variations of rum including chocolate and mango, as well rum cake and hot sauces.

They then continued to the West End, where they went to the chocolate factory and learned how chocolate is made in Honduras. While interesting, the chocolate didn’t compare to the upscale factory in Maui last year. After exploring the shops and walking around the area, they went back to our ship for lunch. Beth and Ellen continued celebrating her birthday week with some wine on her deck, overlooking the Coxen Hole dock, one of two for all the cruises ships visiting Roatan.

Meanwhile, the three divers had planned to dive in Roatan months ago per a recommendation from CeCe and Bryan. They had been here the previous summer, dove the MAR (Mesoamerican Reef), enjoyed the warm Central American waters (85 F. last summer; 80 F. today), and raved about Sun Divers Roatan, which is owned by an American couple from California.

They did live up to their reputation. When we contacted them and told them our itinerary, they arranged to have a driver pick us up at 10am. At their shop, we were pleasantly surprised to see new dive gear available for rentals, so we got fitted for wetsuits, buoyancy compensation vests, regulators, gauges, tanks, and fins.

Then we had plenty of time to walk around the shops and restaurants along the West End along Half Moon Bay, and have lunch next store at the plush Beach House Roatan and its Mila del Mar Beachfront Restaurant for fresh fish. Gil loved the Tuna Tartare, while Bryan and CeCe shared a deep-fried snapper caught that morning.

Roatan and Belize are situated along the 620-mile-long coral barrier reef in the Western Caribbean, second largest to Australia’s and home to over two million critters. Because of winds gusting up to 23 mph that day, SDR scheduled a car to take our three divers and two others to our boat on the Southside for our two-tank dives in calm waters.

Captain Orlin and Divemaster Ricky gave us our pre-dive briefings and promised we’d be back by late afternoon, way before our ship sailed off at 7:00pm.

At both dive sites, Kristi’s Cove and Church Wall, we were under for about one hour each. Ricky pointed out small stuff like orange- and green-snout seahorses, lizard fish, and arrow crabs, while we hit a maximum depth of about 65 feet in 80-degree water with 80-foot visibility. We viewed many sea fans, brittle stars hiding in tube sponges, grouper, scorpionfish, sea urchins, and a fast-moving Caribbean reef squid.

I also saw so many pairs of Caribbean spiny lobsters that I called this site “Lobsterfest” in my logbook. We commend Sun Divers Roatan for efficient five-star service.

After such a long day, we don’t remember what we ordered for dinner, but the waiter brought a pesto ravioli and scallops for the table to share. We gobbled it all down, plus our entrees and desserts.

At the Princess Theater, we watched a very interesting musical based on a futuristic game with sci-fi effects, about 10 dancers, and great singers. While it was entertaining, it was not our favorite program.

Day #4: Tuesday, February 20: Belize – A Snorkeling Rendezvous with Stingrays
Exotica Adventures was our host for a scenic 4.5-hour snorkeling adventure to a private tropical island along this hemisphere’s largest barrier reef.

Because they had their own large boat to accommodate 100 passengers, we just boarded that and got to skip the 45-minute rides to Belize City on the ship’s fleet of tenders.

The excursion’s copy read, “among the reef’s wonders are over 106 different species of live coral and 500 species of colorful fish and marine life.” That wasn’t necessarily the case because the barrier reef in this part of the world is not as healthy as it once was due to coral bleaching from global warming. Sadly, we only saw bleached coral and very few fish.

However, while on Rendezvous Caye for over two hours, we snorkeled with some large sting rays –

one of them floated over our feet, saw a young family of osprey, ate a pretty good BBQ chick

en lunch, and relaxed in the sun under palm trees.

BTW, the osprey have made this island their home for two generations after a hurricane destroyed their nest on the mainland.

What did everyone else do that day? Beth, Howard, Steve and Rachel did an excursion, exploring Belize City and out to one of the Mayan Ruins. CeCe and Bryan went cave tubing in the jungle.

Everyone had a great time. It was fun to compare notes over dinner. We had so much fun talking that we missed that evening’s show in the Princess Theater.

Day #5: Cozumel – Great Diving, Tequila Tasting and a Hot Stone Massage
If we thought that Roatan was a busy port with three cruise ships that day, we were shocked by what awaited us in Cozumel. Gil had been here about a year ago at a dive resort where he saw 7 to 10 cruise ships arrive daily.

But it’s a different story when you’re aboard one of these ships and among up to 25,000 passengers disgorging themselves from a cruise at about the same time in the morning. In 2022, Cozumel welcomed over 962 ships with a total of about two million visitors.

Gil’s dive buddies and he left the ship at 10am, grabbed a cab a few miles up the beach, and arrived at Papa Hog’s Scuba Emporium. Recommended by someone we met in Italy last fall who has dived with these guys for 20 years, this was one of 250 dive shops on the island.

Though it is one of the smaller operations, it provided very personable service and a friendly crew. We got outfitted in our gear and were in the water by 11. After a short ride out on the bouncing current to our first dive site, we backwards rolled into the water along the very popular Palancar Reef as our Divemaster, Miguelito, led the way, with our three divers.

During both 45-minute plunges, we saw a big barracuda, many parrotfish, and huge gray or yellow/blue angelfish, large schools of grunts and yellowtails, a Caribbean Sea Turtle the size of a VW Beetle, as well as more Caribbean spiny lobsters. The reef had a very barren landscape at first, then got healthier as we drifted further.

Meanwhile, Beth, Howard, Rachel and Steve grabbed a taxi and went into town, for tequila tasting, chocolate tasting, Mayan artifacts and homemade tortillas.

Ellen decided to indulge in a little me-time with a hot stone massage on board the ship.  It was very, very good and with everyone in port, delightfully peaceful.

Day #6: February 22, Costa Maya:  Lionfish, A Private Sanctuary, Surf & Turf
This port and its adjacent beachfront town of Mahahual were built as a cruise ship destination by the Mexican government and the cruise industry about 30 years ago. Today, it’s a bustling port with a huge mall of shops, tequila bars, restaurants, festively costumed locals, bungee jumpers, and a swimming pool for day trippers.

The three scuba divers taxied to Amigos del Mar, arriving at 10am. Emiliano was waiting for us, got us fitted for gear, and we waded into the warm Caribbean to a large panga. At both Tortuga (Turtle) and Cañones, we hovered at about 55 feet above a wall, again enjoying 80o F. water temps, and visibility of up to 100 for 55 minutes.

On one dive, Emiliano speared two poisonous Lionfish and tried to feed them to a large, free-swimming green moral eel, but he wasn’t hungry. At both sites, we saw many spotted eagle rays,  huge Caribbean angelfish and enjoyed less current than Cozumel.

We got back to the ship by 1:30pm. Gil met up with Ellen who had spent the morning at the Sanctuary with Beth, to kick off the celebration of her actual birthday. The Sanctuary is an adults-only area on the 18th deck, where both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks and light meals are provided in your private cabana overlooking the Caribbean. Not only is it quiet, but you feel as if you’re on a completely different ship.

We spent the remainder of the afternoon relaxing before getting dressed for the second formal night of the week and the BIG BIRTHDAY celebration. Beth wore

her tiara and sash, surprising her friends with goody bags for joining her on this once-in-a-lifetime celebration.

Dinner was prime rib for most of the table and it was quite good. Once again, our waiters suggested several shared items, such as the Crab Risotto and Duck á l’orange. As always, many of us ordered two desserts –– with Howard again having his two scoops of vanilla ice cream. The entire restaurant joined us in singing “Happy Birthday” to Beth.

After dinner, we strolled over to the Princess Theater to hear the singer who had entertained the masses the first night. She was fantastic as well as personable and charming while belting out Motown and R&B Hits.

We’re so glad we got a chance to see her.

Day #7: Friday, February 23: At Sea
We lingered over breakfast with our group on our final full day of the voyage. Ellen and Gil walked three miles around the ship looking for sun loungers in the shade, checked out the pizza, and soft serve for lunch.

Beth & CeCe did their second wine tasting – Italian Vintages.

Gil sat in the Atrium Lounge to watch another Enrichment Speaker: she was a History professor in an eastern college, and provided an excellent presentation on the history of modern day cruising. Meanwhile, Ellen and the others saw a cooking demonstration in the Princess Theater and we were all then given a tour of their spotless galley where they prepare all the meals and go through 8,000 eggs per day!

Dinner was the traditional Surf & Turf, with the finale of the waiters carrying plastic Baked Alaska with electric candles throughout the dining room. Things sure have changed since the vintage days of cruising when dozens of waiters would parade around the main dining room with flaming Baked Alaska held high on platters.

Day #8: Saturday, February 24: Fort Lauderdale, FL: Disembarkation
Parting is such sweet sorrow, but we had an 8:30am plane to SFO, so awoke at 5, finished packing, showered, wolfed down some breakfast, and left the ship exactly at 7am. We caught a cab and were at the airport by 7:20am, then got to the United Lounge to chill until we boarded around 8:00am for a smooth flight home.

Overall, we enjoyed this Princess Cruise, especially because it was a great way to celebrate a special birthday, spend quality time with friends and relish a warm weather vacation in the middle of winter.

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