Some Enchanted Evening (includes mornings and afternoons too!) - April, 2022

Published: May 5th 2022
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Some Enchanted Evening (mornings and afternoons also included!)

aka: how I survived 25 days onboard a Princess cruise ship

Saturday morning in Fort Lauderdale dawned bright and clear – an auspicious start (one can only hope) to what will be a lengthy stay onboard the Enchanted – the newest ship in the Princess fleet. Despite having sailed previously with other cruise lines, I faced this upcoming event with some trepidation, based on my experience with the infamous Medallion app. This smartphone app has been the bane of my existence for a couple of weeks prior to departure. It is without a doubt, one of the worst examples of current technology available today – in a word it sucks! Not only does it qualify as an arachnid Motel 6, but I have developed a finger callus from rebooting my phone to “unfreeze” it. Suffice it to say after numerous tries, I was finally able to enter all mandatory information and qualify for a “green lane” embarkation designation. Apparently, the App God was in a good mood that day. This app is paired with a quarter-size wearable device called a Medallion that enables everything from touch-free boarding to locating family and friends, along with enhanced service such as having whatever you need (food and drink) delivered anywhere on the ship. So far, all it has accomplished is open my cabin door as I approach, show me my current onboard location (assuming of course I’m completely clueless) and each deck layout. Whenever I attempt to place a cocktail order for delivery, it goes into an endless spin and then freezes – just point me in the direction of the nearest bar and free me from this medallion hell.

But I digress…..the onboarding process was definitely better than anticipated. The hotel shuttle bus dropped me at terminal 2 and a porter promptly whisked my luggage off to destinations unknown, not to be seen again until 5:15pm after a lengthy departure delay – at least it showed up in my cabin eventually. With the new Covid regulations it was necessary to show my vaccination card 3 times to 3 different people, verify that I had indeed tested negative within the past 72 hours and that I had a valid passport – so far, so good. Hand luggage x-rayed and all this done and dusted within 15 minutes of entering the terminal building – a record by anyone’s estimation. Once onboard my impressions turned very favorable – this is indeed one beautiful ship with the “new car” smell. Midship on deck #5 is the Piazza where everyone and his brother congregate as the International Café, Good Spirits Bar, Salty Dog Bar and gelato ice cream parlor are to be found. Grabbing a table next to the Good Spirits Bar I ordered a Mint Julep from a very friendly waiter, and the cruise “officially” began.

My home-away-from-home for the next 25 days is a balcony cabin midship on the Emerald (#8) deck – more space than expected and one of the most comfortable beds I’ve ever slept in on the high seas. A fully-interactive, large-screen tv is mounted on the wall at the end of the bed and lo and behold, those functions all work! Obviously this tv system was NOT programmed by Princess’ IT Department. At approximately 175sf, it’s spacious enough to avoid claustrophobia but the shower is barely wide enough to turn around in – can’t have it all I suppose. However, having an open closet with many hangers was a definite plus. I was able to hang my entire wardrobe with enough room left over to store the empty suitcase. I spent an hour getting settled in, unpacking and exploring the cabin before setting out to further explore this floating city. As with many cruise lines, food venues/restaurants tend to be aft while entertainment/theaters are in the first half of the ship. Bars are plentiful and scattered throughout on different decks and of course, food is available around the clock – don’t even think about dieting, it’s an exercise in futility.

Never been a fan of magic shows, comedians and whatever other 3rd rate entertainers are available at the time, so I skipped the evening events. There are only two production shows scheduled for the coming days – Rock Opera and 5 Skies - those I will be attending. I did checkout a few of the cocktail bars/lounges – I give these a 4-star rating. For a ship which normally accommodates around 4,000 passengers, this cruise has a total of 2,307 souls onboard – some of whom like me will remain for the full 25 days with the rest leaving us when we reach Copenhagen. No crowding or long lines at mealtimes and a breeze to obtain a seat in the theater – there is a positive side to the Covid crisis with not everyone ready to resume cruising.

With 5 “at-sea” days before arrival into the Azores, I’ve settled into a leisurely routine beginning with breakfast in the Capri Restaurant, lunch at one of the many eateries and dinner in the main dining room each evening around 7pm. Kindle in hand finds me in a cozy nook by a picture window, watching the Atlantic white-capped waves dance by as we sail east to the European continent. Weather is cooperating but high winds have caused more than a few cases of seasickness. Unfortunately, I remain completely underwhelmed by the food and service in the dining rooms. With a limited menu and little, if any, creativity from the onboard chefs, meals are not something to be anticipated with relish – thank all the gods the numerous bars are the exact opposite. However, I will award a 3-star rating to the dessert at last night’s dinner – Drambuie Souffle with vanilla sauce was a total standout – I ate the entire thing which is a first on this voyage so far. My other pet peeve is the internet availability. Princess obviously knew in advance that it would be spotty at best and non-existent for the majority of the Atlantic crossing – they issued a full refund of the internet cost 2 days prior to my arrival in Fort Lauderdale! Having had excellent and stable internet on my previous Transatlantic and Transpacific crossings with other cruise lines, I find it disappointing that Princess doesn’t live up to its hype. They really need to readjust their advertising.

A couple of worthwhile mentions…… my extensive exploration of bars and restaurants over the past couple of days, my latest fave cocktail is a 24kt Gold Margarita on the rocks sans salt…..simply put, a regular tequila-based drink with a healthy dose of Grand Marnier, a slice of lime and a slice of orange as garnish….gets my vote as cocktail of the day. In the food arena, I checked out Gigi’s Pizza on the 7th deck and ordered a baked rolled eggplant, stuffed with angel hair pasta, mozzarella, mushrooms, and basil, topped with a more than generous dash of parmesan cheese – heaven on a plate. Things are starting to look up and certainly not before time.

To coordinate our arrival at Ponta Delaga, the ship has been increasing onboard time in hourly increments which is understandable, but to do this at noon makes no sense whatsoever. Lunch times are 12 to 1:30pm and when this is moved forward an hour, it throws many for a loop – god forbid a passenger would miss a meal!

A Little Bit of History:

Today, we dock at Sao Miguel Island, which is the capital of the Azores archipelago of Portugal. and this being my first visit, I view it with anticipation. This archipelago, which consists of nine volcanic islands, lies in the north Atlantic Ocean approximately 870 miles west of Lisbon. Main industries consist of agriculture, dairy farming, livestock, fishing, and tourism – the latter becoming the major service activity in the region. Ponta Delgada is the largest city in the Azores. Culture, dialect, cuisine, and traditions vary considerably, because being so remote they were settled sporadically over a span of two centuries. A small number of underground structures carved into rocks, have been identified on the islands by a Portuguese archaeologist, who speculated that they might date back over 2,000 years, implying a human presence here long before Portugal claimed possession. The Azores were known to Europeans as early as the 14th century and parts of them appear in the Catalan Atlas which was created in 1375. Half a century later, a sea captain sailing for Prince Henry the Navigator, “rediscovered” them.

Convenience incarnate were the words of the morning, as when we arrived in the heart of this capital and upon disembarking, found 7 4x4 Land Rovers waiting in the parking lot for intrepid souls to climb aboard. I scored a front row seat with a husband and wife in the center row and a couple of European gay guys in the back. Our drive began with a winding paved “main” road running parallel to the coastline, dotted with whitewashed buildings and red and green shuttered windows. Being volcanic in origin, the beaches were rocky and wild but surprisingly, there were some long stretches of sand and the infinite ocean horizon. Within minutes we left Ponta Delgada in our rear-view mirror, and we turned inland onto a well-worn dirt track with rugged landscapes as far as the eye could see.

The Azores are famous for their flowers and even though it is only mid-April, the azaleas were almost in full bloom with the hydrangeas expected within the next six weeks. Splashes of vivid red, pink, purple and white adore the roadsides, all set against a lush green vegetation background. Calla lilies also grow wild here, and some enterprising locals were already out picking bouquets of these, to adorn their Easter holiday dinner tables. Volcanic rock being in plentiful supply, is used to erect walls along the roads and to divide the fields, and it’s on these “living” walls that the flowers run wild across the entire island – I can only imagine how spectacular it must be by mid-summer, when the natural paint palette is on full display.

We continued our drive towards Sete Cidades (Seven Cities) at the western-most point of the island stopping enroute to see an aqueduct, built hundreds of years ago by the Portuguese in the Roman style. Known as the 9 Windows of the World, this remaining ruin is covered with vines providing glimpses of grazing cows off in the distance, thru the open window arches. At one point in the drive, we turned a corner and were met with a large herd being moved from one pasture to another and when this happens, they have the “right of way” on public roadways. I had heard the old saying “when you’re not the lead dog, the view is always the same” and I can now testify to that – the entire windscreen was a vision of swaying bovine rear ends with enlarged udders – must be milking time! These animals are outside all year round, and the resulting milk is considered the highest quality and exported throughout Europe. We crawled at a snail’s pace for at least 15 minutes before thankfully they entered their new grazing pasture, and we could continue our exploration.

Two beautiful lakes awaited us at the island’s highest point – Lagoa Azul and Lagoa Verde (blue and green) – fresh water lagoons with only kayaks, paddle boats and wind surfing allowed – all engine pollution is verboten. It’s a poetic paradise, surrounded by just a few residential buildings which have soared in value, now that it is a protected area with no further construction of any kind allowed. To finish our road trip of Sao Miguel, we had a 30-minute stop in the Sete Cidades town center to both stretch our legs and visit the stunning churches. No trash or graffiti is to be found anywhere – but a KFC or McDonald’s is available should the need arise for American fast food. Returning to the port, our guide took us for a quickie drive around the town of Ponta Delgarda; historical 18th and 19th century buildings sitting cheek-by-jowl with a shopping mall and souvenir shops – such is life in this modern world. This particular tour lasted 4 hours, giving us only enough time to see the western section of the island, but there is so much more to see and do in the east. The island is approximately 64km long with the limited roadway system mainly hugging the coastline, providing outstanding vistas but adding many hours to any exploration. Without a 4x4 vehicle, the inland experience would be virtually impossible.

With two cruise ships in port, the population increased from the resident head count of 125,000 by a few thousand passengers. The summer vacation season is still a few months away, but by July, Europeans will arrive via air from the mainland, pushing resources to the limit. Direct flights from Germany, Sweden, Denmark and Portugal arrive a few times each week. At one time, Delta Airlines had a non-stop flight from Atlanta, but that ended when a crash landing destroyed the undercarriage and wheel wells of an inbound plane and they pulled out of the Azores as a result. Should I decide to return, it would be early spring or late fall so rental vehicles/accommodations are a reasonable cost and availability is plentiful – this island is best “discovered” when the great unwashed masses are absent and farmers moving their “children” are the only problematic concerns!

Finally, the production show I have been waiting for (5 Skies) is scheduled for the evening’s entertainment – now having seen it, I could easily have waited another year or so. Need I say more? I think not, but I will. The show is based on the premise of a Gamer attempting to move from level 1 to level 5 and rescuing the Sky Princess. On the plus side, the stage backdrops/scenery are innovative, impressive and create a 3-D effect. The costumes are exquisite, colorful but somewhat ambiguous except for the feathered wings providing the illusion of flying during level 2 - I was totally confused with the others. On the negative, what-the-hell-is-all-this side of the show, the performers (and I use this term very lightly) were pathetic – I would venture a guess the last time they excelled at a performance, was when they participated in a primary school 3-legged race and lost. The two major lead singers apparently had decent voices, but their microphones were set to such a high volume, I was almost tone deaf before the first song was completed. Flashing strobe lights and simulated “explosions” onstage were bright and loud enough to cause (1) epilepsy in some and/or (2) heart palpitations in the mainly geriatric audience in attendance. I amused myself for the first 15 minutes or so, counting the number of people streaming out of the theatre – geez, I wonder why? I endured thru the 4th level – my ears and eyeballs refused to absorb yet another level of verbal abuse, so I exited the theater, stage right. Just a suggestion: should anyone suffer from sinus ailments, go to this show – not only will it cure this, but your sinuses will no longer exist – problem solved. I eagerly await the Rock Opera production show (I’m also a world class liar) – no doubt it will live up to my low expectations.

Nine days have passed since we departed American shores and in the early morning hours, I had a new adventure – the self service laundromat located just aft of my cabin. This useful room contains four commercial-size washers and an equal number of dryers, all operated via tokens at a cost of $3.00 each. Laundry powder is $1.25 but thanks to my faithful room steward Oliver, I managed to charm him out of two boxes of All Laundry Detergent. Now I’m set for the rest of this cruising experience. Permanently affixed to the walls are three ironing boards and irons along with a stainless-steel sink. Available 24/7 except for cleaning maintenance between midnight and 2am – they are a blessing in disguise on these extended voyages.

Did I mention the none-existent internet? Rumors abound each day that additional bandwidth has been purchased by Princess and yes indeed, things are going to improve. I’ll believe that if and when it actually happens. I’ve begun a guessing game on how often the waiters will request my cabin number when ordering a cocktail instead of simply scanning this idiot medallion to confirm the same data – proof once more than the internet has yet to board this vessel. What a farce.

Docking in Brest there were foreboding dark clouds hovering on the horizon, the wind had arisen, with the temperature somewhere south of 50f – not exactly a day in paradise but at least, it wasn’t raining (so far). Total chaos reigned on deck 5 as a few hundred people milled around, totally clueless as to where they should go next and that included the Princess staff – all I could do was laugh, business as usual onboard. Making my own way to the disembarkation area, I was off the ship and boarding the tour bus down in the parking lot, just 5 minutes later. A total of 30 Cruise Critic members were beginning our first adventure together, even if it was 30 minutes later than originally planned.

A Little Bit of History:

Located in northwest France about 300 miles southwest of Paris, Quimper is an hour’s drive from the port and is the ancient capital of Cornouaille, Brittany’s most traditional region with a distinctive Breton Celtic character. Originally settled during Roman times at the confluence of the Le Steir and L’Odet rivers, it had become a bishopric by 495 AD, with its most distinctive building being the Cathedral of Saint-Corentin with its gothic-style structure, dating from the 11th century. Its twin towers stand 250’ high and is the oldest gothic structure in Brittany. The stained-glass windows are exceptional, these were added in the 15th century. The town has a very rustic atmosphere, with footbridges spanning the rivers that flow through it and many lead to the Vieux Quimper (Old Town). Here you will find an array of creperies, half-timbered houses and shops galore – near the episcopal palace (now a museum) are the ruins of the town’s 15th century walls. The town’s most famous product is Quimper faience, tin-glazed pottery which has been made here since 1690 – there’s even a museum devoted to this. The town’s eateries boast some of the best crepes and cider in Brittany.

Leaving the bus at the city center’s Independence Square, I wandered along the river just sightseeing when I noticed a stream of buses entering and leaving the area, and one which caught my attention. Public transportation in Quimper is provided by QUB and the one I boarded was 100%!e(MISSING)lectric, seated about 10 people, provided Wifi and best of all, it was free (my all-time favorite word). This little bus does a complete loop of the town – I did two loops to ensure I didn’t miss anything. Starting at the square, the route went through Old Town to Gare de Quimper, the terminus of the TGV high-speed train from Paris, stopping at a multiplex movie theater, and a shopping mall. As I rode along, I glimpsed fascinating alleys, some lined with ancient cobblestones; modern and medieval buildings sit side-by-side in perfect harmony and always the rivers meandering around it all. Three hours passed quickly and then it was back to the bus at 1:45pm for the ride to the next and last stop: Locronan.

Located a short drive away, Locronan was chosen by the Celts to create a nemeton, a sacred pathway with stations symbolizing 12 months of the year. In the 6th century, Saint Ronan christianized this site and the town was born. It’s a commune with a population of around 800 dedicated to the cult of St. Ronan. It grew in wealth and beauty beginning in the 14th century, thanks to weaving sailcloth. Trade was established with all the large fleets which lead to fortune and the building of granite homes – these walls remain due to their origins. These elegant houses with sculpted dormer windows line each side of the main street, and to maintain the authenticity of the town’s historic heart, cars must remain outside. Many of the boutiques lining the streets, are identified with traditional signs and among them, are bakeries making fantastic kouign-amann cakes.

Classified as a historic monument since 1924, this commune is one of the most prestigious sites in Brittany with numerous artists and craftsmen settling here. Situated on a mountain in a spectacular natural setting just 3 miles from the sea, Locronan is also the starting point for many mountain hikes and bike trails. Each year, the cult of St. Roman holds a Tromenie, a long procession of forgiveness and meditation. The very colorful and impressive Grande Tromenie takes place every 6 years, with the next one scheduled for July 2025. Banners and blue/gold costumes form a possession along the original nemeton. Pagan activities also spotlight the town’s beauty, with many films using Locronan as a backdrop, “Tess” by Roman Polanski is a prime example. Film makers and visitors in general really appreciate this setting, which is free of electric cables, tv antennas, satellite dishes and traffic lights.

Unfortunately, being such an isolated community, they also set their own rules. Shortly after our bus arrived onsite, the commercial establishments were closing for “siesta” or whatever it is called in Breton (the local dialect) and wouldn’t reopen until 4pm – we would be enroute back to the ship by then. This ticked off several visitors needless to say, now they had to walk the entire length of the main street to visit the open church and simply eyeball the stunning buildings – no food or drink for you unlucky souls, but who takes a countryside excursion from a cruise ship just to purchase an iced tea or hotdog?

Just a comment or two about Covid and/or mask wearing. When I flew to Fort Lauderdale to join this circus, yes, I had to wear a mask from the moment I walked into the Las Vegas airport terminal, until I arrived in my Florida Hilton hotel room. Then I was mask-free until I arrived at the cruise ship terminal and until I arrived in my cabin onboard…….now it seems, we are only required to wear them upon embarkation and debarkation BUT even at those times, we have to remove them momentarily to reveal our full faces to match our medallion pix – does any of this make any sense whatsoever to anyone? Unfortunately, the entire crew are required to wear masks fulltime while awake, obviously upon pain of death. The entire 9th deck is blocked off to all passengers for quarantine, as necessary, although I have yet to discover if we have any Covid positives onboard so far. Now I hear on the news that mask-wearing on planes has been thrown out by a stateside federal judge, so what I have to do (or not do) for my flight home remains to be seen…….what a farce. Of the 2307 passengers, I would venture to say 25%!o(MISSING)r less only remove their masks to eat and drink, the rest of us crazies are obviously rolling the dice here – probably much better odds than those back in my hometown!

We are currently headed north cruising thru the North Sea and will enter the Baltic in the next 24 hours. A little excitement this afternoon when suddenly three NATO jets screamed past the ship flying almost at sea-level, headed south – was war declared in this region since breakfast? The way this entire trip is going, nothing surprises me anymore. This first leg of the cruise has been straight forward, despite my prior comments, but that is about to change. The upcoming 11-day stretch has been changed (itinerary-wise) so many times, it requires a spreadsheet to keep track. Just last evening the captain advised us we were no longer making two stops in the Danish town of Skagen but spending 2 nights in Copenhagen – that does indeed get my vote. Our expected arrival into the Danish capital is later this afternoon and as it’s been years since my last visit, I’m really looking forward to a re-visit. I delayed my trip into the city until the following morning, as I wanted to take the earliest Hop On/Hop Off bus available before the barbarian hordes all decided to follow in my footsteps.

A Little Bit of History:

Home to one of the world’s oldest monarchies with a lineage tracing back to the Viking age, the cobblestone streets are steeped in history providing modern-day residents with a beautiful backdrop of palaces, canals, parks, churches, and fountains. All Danes have at least a drop of Viking blood flowing thru their veins. From 800 to 1066 AD, Scandinavian populations were known as Vikings – Norse explorers and merchants, warriors and pirates who raided, enslaved, and raped their way throughout Europe – did these folks know how to party or what? Vikings settled all over Europe, in some Asian areas and the North Atlantic region, thankfully, they are definitely more civilized nowadays. Copenhagen was founded in 1167 AD by Bishop Absalon. Over the following years, herring fishing brought great wealth and in the 15th century, Copenhagen claimed status as the capital of Denmark. Under the reign of King Christian IV during the 17th century, the city grew to become the important capital it is today, with a population of about 805,000 people.

Leaving the ship just after 8am, I found the first HOHO bus beginning to fill up with other passengers at the terminal building in the parking lot. A one-day ticket cost 30 euros ($32.38) which I was able to purchase, and have it charged directly to my cabin – see, I found yet another function which is finally working on the Medallion app! This first big red bus served as a shuttle to deliver everyone to bus stop #1 at the Central Train Station about 5 miles away from the pier. For the next few hours, I enjoyed the open-air upper deck as the bus made its way down narrow streets, alongside harbors, providing spectacular views of various castles, historic monuments, incredible churches, and ultra-modern architectural buildings, and let’s not forget the magnificent parks and green spaces scattered throughout this lovely city. Danes are a cycling nation of fanatics….I especially loved the innovative additions to standard 2-wheel bicycles to accommodate babies, dogs, grocery shopping and even an adult or two! These additions included waterproof enclosures and screens for comfort riding in all seasons. For all I know, some may even have heaters onboard.

The tour includes 16 bus stops, ensuring you see and explore exciting attractions such as Tivoli Gardens, Christiansborg Palace, Amalienborg Palace, Gefion Waterfountain, the Swedish Church, Rosenborg Castle, the Latin Quarter and most famous of all: the Little Mermaid statute down at the harbor front. Whenever cruise ships are docked here, a shuttle from the Little Mermaid back to the pier is provided and makes the round trip once an hour. I couldn’t have asked for better weather. Despite the low temp (50f) it was bright blue skies and brilliant sunshine all day, but I could have done without the cold wind blasting off the Baltic. Back onboard by 1pm, I headed to the Good Spirits Bar for a hot rum toddy to counteract my chilled bones and restore normal circulation.

Dinner that evening was one for the record books. I was seated with two elderly couples whose main topic of conversation was cremation – I now know more about death/cremation/handling remains than I never wanted to know – how do I get into these situations? Granted, my table companions were old enough to have attended kindergarten with the Almighty, but this is all they can discuss over food? The one comment made at table was the cost of this cremation policy - $2,500 per person – which was currently being paid off at the rate of $50 a month. All I could think of was: if you croak before its fully paid, do they only burn half of you and if so, which half? And people wonder why I rate cruising at the bottom of my transportation list. I rest my case.

Norway is on the horizon – next port of call is Oslo.

A Little Bit of History:

Oslo was founded as a city at the end of the Viking Age in 1040 AD in Viken, the northernmost province of Denmark. Control over this area was wrestled between Danish and Norwegian kings during the Middle Ages, with Denmark claiming it until 1241 AD. According to Norse sagas, the city was established as a trading place in 1048 AD by Harald Hardrada. Recent archaeological research, however, has uncovered Christian burials which can be dated prior to 1000 AD, evidence of an urban settlement, which called for the celebration of Oslo’s millennium in 2000 AD.

After being destroyed by fire in 1624 AD, a new city was built and named Christiania in honor of King Christian IV. The last Black Death outbreak in Oslo occurred in 1654 AD and finally in 1814 AD, Christiania once more became a real capital when the union with Denmark was dissolved. Now the city is the economic and governmental center of Norway and is also the hub of Norwegian trade, banking, industry, and shipping. Home to many companies within the maritime sector, some of which are among the world’s largest. One of the Nobel prizes (some say the most important) is awarded here – each autumn the Nobel Peace Prize makes its appearance, the rest of course are given out in Sweden.

A city which is surrounded by both mountains and sea, Oslo is compact, cultured and definitely fun. Here you can feel the presence of Edvard Munch and Henrik Ibsen, the city’s two most famous sons and if museums are your thing, you’re certainly in the right place. As with many locations these days now that life has resumed after the pandemic, Oslo’s skyline is crowded with cranes with construction everywhere, but this rapidly growing urban metropolis is also one of the world’s most overwhelmingly green cities – it earned the honor of being named European Green Capital for 2019.

I had opted for an all-day bus tour which began in the city center, twisting and turning in wide boulevards and then narrow side streets, until we arrived at Vigeland Sculpture Park. With more than 200 bronze, granite and cast-iron sculptures by Gustav Vigeland, the park is free to enter and is open all year round, 24x7. All statutes are completely naked except for one – could this be the reason some folks only visit after dark? Thoughts to ponder. Approximately 1 mile distance from entrance to exit, it can be somewhat strenuous plus the number of steps involved, gives everyone a decent cardiac workout.

Museums abound here and the “don’t miss” ones are Fram Polar Ship, Maritime, Cultural History, Kon-Tiki and probably the most well-known: Viking Ship Museum. Unfortunately, the latter is currently closed until 2026, while a new building is being constructed around the old one. However, the others are open for business and well worth the time to explore.

The most prominent monument and visible from just about everywhere in Oslo is Holmenkollen, the ski jump ramp used in past Olympics and world championships. Accessible via a winding mountain road, the sweeping views of city and fjords from the summit are spectacular. It has been rebuilt many times and the current structure is #19.

Our second and last port of call in Norway was Kristansand, a short 200-mile cruise from Oslo, where we docked the next morning. It is a seaside resort city with a population of around 112,000 and reputed to have the most sunshine days in all of Norway, making it an extremely popular tourist destination for locals and foreigners alike.

A Little Bit of History:

The area has been inhabited since prehistoric times confirmed by the discovery in 1996 of a well-preserved female skeleton dating to approximately 6500 BC. Founded by King Christian IV on July 5, 1641, the town was laid out in Renaissance style on a grid plan and merchants throughout the region were commanded to relocate here. In return, they were to receive a variety of trading privileges and a 10-year tax exemption.

I spent a pleasant afternoon exploring the city, before boarding a ferry boat for a 2-hour cruise of the skerries and inlets surrounding Kristiansand, where both old and new settlements can be found. Once again, the weather cooperated with crystal clear skies and brilliant sunlight, however the ambient air temperature (50f) and prevailing winds made for a cold sail. I spent the entire time in the enclosed saloon where the strong smell of diesel was preferable to freezing to death upstairs.

The second production show – Rock Opera – was performed last night and I was pleasantly surprised when the dancers/singers were vastly improved since “5 Skies”, maybe they have practicing? With the reduced number of passengers, the theater was more than half empty, but such is life these days on the high seas. As with the previous show, the costumes were impressive as was the backdrop. The solo singers had stepped up their game, but the volume was again far above acceptable decibel level – I could see many of the geriatrics turning down their hearing aids enmasse.

I have two pet peeves about this cruise in general. First let’s talk about the toilet paper which is thin enough to read the Princess Patter through. This is the daily one-page event notification delivered to the cabins each evening, for the following day. I can only attribute this flimsy excuse for bathroom tissue to the bean counters back at Princess headquarters making a valiant attempt to save money. Don’t these numbnuts realize that the thinner the paper the more will be used? I wonder if economics is even a word any of them understand. God help us what’s next, rationing the ice cubes?

My second peeve is the ridiculous practice of locking the laundry room doors on port days! Anyone with an iota of common sense would realize that passengers not planning on going ashore, are more than likely wanting to launder at least one or two loads of dirty clothes. However, in the “wisdom” of the Princess higherups, these rooms are verboten…..give me a break. After hiking the length of the deck in order to refresh my wardrobe with clean clothes yesterday I found the door locked, which necessitated a change of plan until 6am this morning. I was NOT a happy camper when stumbling down the hallway sans coffee, to operate mechanical devices at such an ungodly hour of the morning. On the bright side, the extremely soft water ensures spotlessly clean clothing not requiring any ironing – tick the plus side of my ledger on this.

At long last the end is in sight – there is a god – and we arrive in UK waters this evening with two scheduled England stops before the final docking in Southampton and my flight stateside in 3 days’ time. Falmouth (in Cornwall) and Portland (in Dorset) are classic resort towns on the southwestern English coast, and we get to enjoy full days onshore at each. I haven’t been in this region in more years than I can count, and believe it or not, I’m looking forward to it.

A Little Bit of History:

It was here in Falmouth where King Henry VIII built Pendennis Castle to defend the southern coast in 1540, and it was during his daughter Elizabeth’s reign that the castle’s defenses were strengthened due to the threat from the Spanish Armada invasion. Following the English Civil War, Pendennis Castle was the second to last fort to surrender to the Parliamentary Army.

The town has always been closely associated with the sea, being the nearest large harbor to the entrance of the English Channel and is the world’s third largest deep water natural harbor. The Falmouth Packet Service operated for over 160 years, as it carried mail to and from Britain’s growing global empire. On October 2, 1836, the HMS Beagle anchored at Falmouth at the end of her noted survey voyage around the world, and that same evening Charles Darwin left the ship and returned home. Another notable event for the town was in 1839 when approximately $50,000 of gold dust from Brazil was stolen on arrival at the port. While Falmouth’s maritime activity has much declined from its heyday, the docks are still a major contributor to the town’s economy. Being the largest port in Cornwall, it remains a cargo port and is also popular with cruise ship operators.

The local newspaper – Falmouth & Penryn Packet – was first published in 1858 and is still based in the town center. Our arrival into Falmouth has caused much excitement and we even made front page news over the weekend, as the Enchanted Princess is the largest cruise ship to ever drop anchor here. As it is also the Early May Bank Holiday Monday, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the entire town population of about 27,000 turn out to greet our arrival, but I doubt one of its most famous sons (Sebastian Coe) will be one of them!

Before any passengers could disembark, mandatory attendance was required with UK Customs Officers in the Vista Lounge on deck 7. With passport in hand, we were matched with our ID pictures and medallions – evidently no trust exists in today’s world. Maybe they were under the impression all Americans onboard were planning a Boston Tea Party reenactment? I can visualize a bunch of geriatrics on electric scooters and pushing walkers, waving their canes on high storming the beach head……..

Some bad news: the husband of a couple I had befriended during the cruise, tested positive for Covid the evening before we docked. He was immediately placed in quarantine on deck 9 and his wife while negative, must wear a mask anytime she is out of her cabin and is not allowed into the main dining room. 10 days are forecasted for his quarantine period which means it will be May 11th at the earliest before they can fly home to Florida. No idea where they will be placed in quarantine when we disembark in Southampton, things are still so up in the high. I immediately tested myself before bed and again after breakfast – so far negative.

The water shuttle had me at the Falmouth pier some 30 minutes after leaving the ship anchored out in the harbor. Dark clouds were gathering on the horizon and the wind was chill, but so far, no rain. At the top of the gangway was the welcoming committee of Cruise Ship Ambassadors and the City Mayor, complete with chain of office around his neck (more bling than Mr. T) in a snazzy blue suit. He greeted one and all with gusto (“call me Steve”) and directed us to the bright red complimentary shuttle buses for the short drive into the town center.

Being a holiday, the town appeared shuttered and deserted, so I found the nearest bus stop (#6 on the shuttle route) on Grove Place and for a one-pound ticket (about $1.30), I rode around the giant downtown loop for the next hour. This local shuttle runs Monday thru Saturday from 9am to 4:40pm. With 11 stops total at main points of interest, it gives an overview of the town with photo ops along the way. Next to the gangway at the pier are a pair of nesting swans and apparently, they have used this same nest (in a protected section of the wharf) for the past few years. I was back onboard by mid-afternoon, chilled to the bone and ready for some hot soup.

A Little Bit of History:

120 miles southwest of London lies the Isle of Portland in the English Channel. It is actually a “tied” island joined to the mainland by a barrier beach called Chesil. The site has been inhabited since at least the Mesolithic period and it was occupied by the Romans who called it Vindelis. The first documented Viking landing occurred at Portland Bill in 789 AD, as recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, with the Vikings losing 3 ships. In 1539 King Henry VIII ordered the construction of Portland Castle to defend against the French, and it is one of the best-preserved castles from this period. Portland is famous for its white limestone of which 6 million tons were first used to rebuild the destroyed parts of London after the Great Fire in 1666 AD. Well known buildings in the capital, such as St. Paul’s Cathedral and Buckingham Palace feature this stone, and even New York City displays it on the United Nations Headquarters building. It continues to be quarried here today. Portland Harbor is one of the world’s largest manmade harbors – from its inception it was a Royal Navy base and played prominent roles during the first and second world wars. It is now a civilian port and popular recreation area and was used during the 2012 Olympic Games for some of the aquatic events.

My last full day onboard and first thing before breakfast was to conduct the mandatory Covid test to fly home on British Airways tomorrow afternoon. Waited 15 minutes and as I didn’t receive a phone call in my cabin telling me I was positive, I can safely assume I’m good to go.

A Little Bit of History:

The history of Weymouth stretches back to the 12th century, and it has played roles in the spread of the Black Death, the settlement of the Americas and development of Georgian architecture. Its economy is dependent on tourism and being located halfway along the Jurassic Coast (a World Heritage Site), makes it extremely attractive to visitors. In 1635 AD, around 100 townspeople crossed the Atlantic onboard the ship Charity and settled in Weymouth, Massachusetts. The resort is among the first tourist destinations, after King George III’s brother, the Duke of Gloucester, built a grand residence here (Gloucester Lodge) and stayed for the winter in 1780 AD. The King himself made Weymouth his summer holiday residence on 14 different occasions between 1789 and 1805 AD – he even ventured into the sea in a bathing machine.

Complimentary shuttle buses were again available at the pier (double decker ones!) and it was a very pleasant 20 minute drive into Weymouth, where I had a short walk from the bus stop into the town center. This place really is the epitome of an English seaside resort with many of the quayside homes at least 200 years old – King George III vacationed here in the late 1700’s. The High Street is lined on each side with small businesses including a Tesco food store and of course a Boots Chemist. I always look for Boots when in the UK, so I can stock up on VO5 hair products I can’t find in the US – I emptied one shelf of product and was delighted when checking out, to discover it was a 2-for-1 sale day and I saved a bunch – that made my morning.

The weather cooperated with clearing skies and sunshine, it even warmed up enough not to need a jacket or coat. I sat on a bench by the canal and watched as the Town Bridge was raised around 10am to allow a tourist boat to pass. Many locals were out walking their dogs and wheeling prams along the cobblestone streets – what a different world from Las Vegas! It was close to lunch time, and I couldn’t resist having fish and chips with mushy peas in a quayside “chippie” – oh god, was that good and cheap too. For five pounds (about $6.50), I had two large pieces of fried cod, a mound of French fries and a helping of mushy peas, all drowned in strong malt vinegar – I had died and gone to cuisine heaven. Sat outside under an umbrella enjoying my fantastic lunch and watched as the Weymouth world passed by. I headed back to the ship in the early afternoon – it was time to pack my bag and prepare to leave. Had I not first checked my luggage tags that evening for transfer to Heathrow, god only knows where my bag would have ended up. The one I had been given indicated “independent” departure despite the fact I had a scheduled transfer from ship to airport – come to find out, several my fellow passengers also received incorrect tags – yet another example of what I’ve had to deal with.

Returning stateside was an interesting event and I’m left wondering why travelers are expected to “jump thru hoops” to comply with various and sundry Covid restrictions just to fly. During the check in procedure, I was not required to produce evidence of a negative test within the previous 24 hours, or even evidence of being vaccinated and boosted. No mask wearing in airport or onboard the plane was mandatory – in fact, I had no human contact with any airline employee – everything was automated. Arrival in Las Vegas (thank you global entry – I was the only one in line for that) and once more, no masks, no producing of any Covid evidence needed and I was exiting the airport in record time.

So, in summary, will I ever cruise again – extremely doubtful – but never say never, fate delights in proving me wrong. However, if my experience over the past 25 days is indicative of how Carnival/Princess conducts business – thanks but no thanks. Without a doubt some of the staff were a sheer delight to interact with daily. Others need a lot more training, especially in the dining room, and when it becomes necessary to double check everything you are being told or given by crew members, it gets old fast. I rest my case – cheers!

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