June 30, 200 nautical miles east of the Bahamas — The Crown Princess’ sleek hull slices the Atlantic Ocean’s gentle swells as our ship makes its way back to New York. Crown Princess departed Brooklyn’s cruise terminal last Friday morning, and here, on our return one week later, passengers are intent on savoring the last two days of a nine-day cruise.
“I am dreading tomorrow,” confides a lady in the elevator.
“Why?” a man in a swimsuit asks, reminding her, “We still have one more day at sea.”
“Oh, that’s right,” she says. A smile beams across her face. “One more day. Well, I plan to make the most of it. Then, it’s back to reality.”
Crown Princess, which operates under the Princess motto “Escape Completely,” did indeed completely remove more than 3,000 passengers away from their daily routines and the bump and grind of real life. Moreover, our itinerary, roundtrip from New York, was what many on our cruise considered to be the perfect mix of sand and sea. Of our nine days aboard ship, four were full sea days, plus two half days. Relaxed time at sea punctuated time ashore in Bermuda, San Juan, St. Thomas and Grand Turk. We docked at each port, so that no tender was required.
“We don’t feel worn out or beaten down,” says a couple from Ohio on the day before we disembarked. “Normally, when the ship stops in port everyday, you feel like you have to get off so that you don’t miss anything. But with only four days in port, the pace was relaxed.”
En Route To San Juan
Port-intensive itineraries, such as those that deposit passengers on shore everyday, can be rewarding for intrepid travelers and destination collectors, but the tempo can be tiring for those seeking respites from their busy lives back home. Throw in a good mix of sea days, however, and the tempo tones down, providing for a relaxed resort-like experience, but with just enough time in port to stretch your legs and see a few sights.
Our tempo on Crown Princess was just right. Under the command of Captain Andy Proctor, the ship departed New York Friday evening, and sailed a full day at sea before docking in West End, Bermuda at the Royal Naval Dockyard on a bright Sunday morning. Passengers who did not disperse on shore excursions were free to hang out on ship or at the Dockyard with its shops, pubs and entertainment venues.
Our ship set sail late afternoon, charting a course for San Juan. The route took a full day and a half before we docked within walking distance of Old San Juan at noon. I disembarked late afternoon for a shore excursion to Bioluminescence Bay, where I kayaked through mangrove canals and swam in a bay inhabited by single-cell luminous organisms that emitted light when agitated. The fact that this phenomenon can be observed in only 15 places worldwide made the 90-minute bumpy bus ride (each way) tolerable.
Others opted to enjoy Old San Juan’s nightlife before our departure at 11 p.m., just in time for the “Island Party” up on the top deck or for watching “Rocky Horror Picture Show” while nibbling on popcorn at “Movies Under The Stars” on the 300-square-foot LED screen light — enough to be seen even during full sun at mid-day.
With only a short stretch of sea to transit to St. Thomas, our ship was docked alongside Charlotte Amalie’s West Indian Company Dock early the next morning. Having visited St. Thomas many times before, I stayed aboard ship until our departure mid-afternoon.
This raises a delicate but salient point: It is permissible to allow yourself to stay on the ship, particularly in ports that you’ve visited before. In fact, one of the pleasures of not disembarking with 3,000 other passengers is that you have the ship practically to yourself. I lingered at the coffee bar at the atrium-level International Cafe, a new 24-hour dining concept for Princess. Satellite internet seemed speedier, because others weren’t using bandwidth checking e-mail or browsing the web. There was no line for lunch, and I had no trouble finding an open table or a deck chair.
Going To Grand Turk
At 4 in the afternoon, we departed St. Thomas for Grand Turk. With more than 400 nautical miles to cover, Crown Princess would not be alongside Grand Turk until 1 p.m. the next day.
Around 11 in the morning, I spotted Grand Turk on the horizon. As our ship approached, I could make out the whole island, only seven miles long by 1.5 miles wide. Crown Princess towered 19 stories above the dock at the new Grand Turk Cruise Center, an extremely well-done entertainment facility that Carnival Corporation funded and operates.
Grand Turk is a “must-see now” destination. The sleepy provincial capital reminds me of how I would picture the Caribbean three decades ago. The main street in Cockburn Town was so quiet that a dog padded down the middle of the street for a few hundred yards undisturbed by automobiles. “How long do you think it would take you to get bored here?” a fellow passenger asked the man sitting beside her in the “Hop On, Hop Off” bus. “How long have we been here?” he quipped.
But Grand Turk oozed such laid-back charm that passengers who I spoke with did not want to leave. “I would have liked to have stayed longer,” said a woman from Rochester, New York. “Four hours was just not enough. It’s so isolated that you couldn’t get there easily, and there are few places in the Caribbean that are so noncommercial and undeveloped. I am glad I got the chance to see it now.”
Our tour guide told us that we were here during an important juncture in Grand Turk’s history, between being explored by cruise lines and being exploited by throngs of passengers.
Back at the cruise center, passengers were hoisting Piña Coladas and Margaritas from the pool at Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville, the largest of its kind outside the United States. We sat down for a “Perfect Margarita” and nachos before boarding Crown Princess and waving farewell to Grand Turk. We were a long way from New York, with two days of sea ahead of us — the perfect way to end a perfect cruise.