Southern Caribbean Cruise
May, 1990

Click on ThumbnailBy Jack Welsch

Disclaimer and Introduction

Dawn PrincessAs I was preparing this web page, my wife said, "Don't you think it's a bit pretentious to put that on the net?" My answer is this: My purpose is only to provide information for folks planning their own trips. Personally, I've benefited greatly from reading the journals of other people and want to return the favor.

We took this cruise in the spring of 1990. We'd taken two previously and we've taken several since. For reasons which escape me now, I kept notes only for some of them so the others are only dim memories. In any case, maybe you'll find something here that's of interest.

The ship was the Dawn Princess. Thankfully, Princess has retired the ship we were on and applied the name to a new vessel. Ours came to them as part of their acquisition of the Sitmar line. It was old and pretty beat up. The crew was primarily Italian and not nearly as friendly or helpful as the crews of the other ships we've sailed on.

Saturday, April 28th - Home to San Juan, Puerto Rico

Our son Steve took us to the airport for a 9:30 AM Continental Commuter to Newark where we were scheduled to lay over about 5-1/2 hours for American to San Juan. That's one of the down sides of getting a tour package that includes air; they book flights based on availability, not convenience. However, it turned out there was a plane leaving at 11:35 but it was over-sold. We stood by and ended up with side-by-side First-class seats. That little change made 3-1/2 hours on a 727 bearable. Too bad we can't always travel like that!

We arrived in San Juan about 3:00 but, of course, our bags didn't. By the time we'd inquired about the bags we'd missed the bus so we took a cab to the ship and arrived right behind the bus. Check-in only took a few minutes. Our cabin was quite large with lots of closet & drawer space. Twin beds, of course. Oh, well...

The ship, the Dawn Princess, is OK but not spectacular. Certainly not in the same league with Song of America but the cabin is so much better it tends to compensate.

We took a cab back to the airport to claim the bags which did arrive on our originally-scheduled flight. While we were waiting for the bus we met Irene and Hal from Edison, NJ. They're about 60 and he's in banking, really nice folks. By now we really know the road from the airport to the docks. If what we saw is typical of San Juan, this is not a great place.

The show was quite good if not spectacular, then we sailed at 11:30 P.M., 30 minutes behind schedule. Leaving the San Juan harbor at night was spectacular. Night on the water is special! There was a fairly heavy sea running after we cleared the land.

Sunday, April 29th - At sea

SabaBecause we have an inside room without an alarm clock, we ordered tea and coffee to be delivered between 7:30 and 8:00. Pietro, our steward, delivered it by 7:35 thus providing our wakeup call. We have late seating which puts breakfast at 8:30. We're at a table for 8 but only one other couple showed up, Gary and Adit from Scottsdale, AZ.

We sat on deck to enjoy the sun which seemed to be directly overhead at noon. Based on the time of year and our position, I think that must be about right. Deck chairs seem to be a scarce commodity. Later in the morning, I took a short Italian course; a cute idea in light of the fact that the crew's primarily Italian and many don't speak English.

We went to the dining room for lunch in order to get out of the sun. Another couple showed up at the lunch table, Greg and Susan from Pacific Palisades, CA.

MontserratAfter lunch, Linda went to a fashion show with Adit and I sat on deck again. We passed an island rising sharply from the sea without beaches so I assumed it was Saba. Since there was an open-house on the bridge, I went up to check the charts. It's nice to be right! Saw St. Maarten and St. Barths in the distance, then we passed St. Eustatia, St. Kitts, Nevis, etc. one after the other, all to the east as we headed southeast. We can usually see 3-4 islands at a time, sometimes more.

Linda finally showed up and we sat on deck listening to a Reggae band with Irene and Hal.

Dinner tonight was formal and we had a portrait taken on the way to the cocktail party that preceded it. Linda wore her new black dress and looked great. The last couple showed up at dinner, Connie and Dan from Newport Beach, CA. Dinner was very pleasant but the food not spectacular. We went to the show which was good. However, we had trouble getting a seat in the lounge after the show so walked on deck for a while. By the time we returned, the lounge had cleared out a bit and we stayed out fairly late by our standards.

Monday, April 30th - Mayreau

MayreauI awoke and thought it was about 3:30 but it turned out to be 7:30! We'd ordered tea and coffee delivered to the room again and it was delivered by about 7:35. What a great way to wake up! We went on deck before breakfast and found we're in the Grenadines. Many beautiful small islands with sailboats everywhere. Looks like a great place to sail.

After breakfast, I picked up snorkel gear and a launch pass for 11:00, then sat at the pool. The ship's launches were used to ferry passengers to Mayreau, a small (1-1/2 sq. mi.), private island. With each of the 4 launches holding 82 people, the operation worked efficiently. This was the "beach party" day. The beach was nice and uncrowded but many people insisted on crowding together near the food pavilion. Amazing.

From MayreauMayreau has a small native population which was better dressed than many we've seen but were pretty pushy. We snorkeled, swam, ate lunch, sat on the beach 'til about 1:30, then climbed a path to the small town (there are no roads on the island). Since we walked through town, we got closer than we'd ever come to the shacks. Many of the shacks were quite nice by Caribbean standards but still shacks. We met lots of people who were coming down as we were going up and they all said we should climb to the church on the top of the hill and look to the other side. The view was spectacular but the climb was a killer. By the time we got back down we were dead tired so returned to the ship to shower and change.

We went to tea at 4:00. They had a great pianist who played a lot of Puccini and the scones were out of this world! White glove service, of course.

In the lounge before dinner we met Pat and Nancy from Seattle. I think what I like most about a cruise is the ease with which you meet people.

After dinner, we went to the show and there were no seats except two in the front row. We made the mistake of sitting there and I got roped into "volunteering" to be in the show as a cow in an Old McDonald bit. Very humiliating!

To end the day, we had a galley tour which was part of the midnight buffet.

Tuesday, May 1st - Barbados

Original Pacific PrincessThis morning, we went directly to breakfast without going on deck so were surprised when Gary and Adit told us it was raining. It's amazing how weather can affect your spirits! Once the ship was tied up at Bridgetown, Barbados, we went into town to walk around and do a bit of shopping. It rained on and off but never very hard. Most of the stores were closed for "Labor Day", May 1. Those few that opened to accommodate the 4 ships in port closed at 1:00. Giving up on shopping, we returned to the ship to have lunch, then laid down for a nap. I suddenly remembered we needed to buy stamps for postcards so I went to do that. I went into one of the lounges and another couple came in all excited because they'd just visited the ORIGINAL Pacific Princess which is tied up behind us. I woke Linda and we went for a look. Even thought it's smaller than the Dawn Princess, it's much more open and much nicer. It's registered from London and the crew is mostly British while ours is mostly Italian. This was the original "Love Boat" and it looks distinctly familiar. It's been chartered by an insurance company for winners of a sales contest and is sailing with about 50% passenger load. What a treat that must be!

AtlantisWe'd previously booked a submarine voyage on the "Atlantis" for this afternoon. A tender picked us up at the end of the pier to take us out into the bay to meet the sub. When we got out there, the sub was still submerged with the last group so we floated around for about 10 minutes. Suddenly bubbles appeared and the submarine surfaced. The tender tied up and we traded places with the previous group. It's amazing how many old ladies came up that ladder! The sub ride lasted for an hour and we went as deep as 110 feet. The sides were lined with portholes much like the Disney ride. Colors were, of course, greatly subdued because of the clouds but the experience was still fantastic. The sub's equipped with lights so it can dive at night and makes 12 dives a day on one charge!

We had drinks in the piano bar with Pat and Nancy who enjoyed telling me they caught my act in the show last night. Dinner was Italian and was delicious, of course. Certainly the best meal we've had. The show was excellent, a baritone and a magician. There was a big Caribbean party on deck as we left Barbados at 11:30 PM but it was terribly crowded so we went to the piano bar for a drink, then crashed. Neither of us slept well.

Wednesday, May 2nd - Martinique

Sacre CoeurWhat a great day!! We'd been told we had to use the launches in Martinique but we found ourselves tied up at a commercial pier next to stacks of containers. We'd originally planned on a Catamaran trip but were advised the take the 4-hour island tour which was fantastic! The day was a sunny one and the island is beautiful. Our tour guide was a friendly young man named Yves whose English was very good. On the tour, we visited Sacre Coeur Basilica, the rain forest and the town of St. Pierre which was Peleedestroyed by the volcano Pelée on May 8, 1902. We briefly stopped at the volcano museum in St. Pierre and eventually got dropped off in the beautiful town of Fort de France. We ate lunch, shopped and strolled around the park, then mis-judged the distance to the ship and foolishly decided to walk back. What a long, hot trek! Martinique is a very special place which we'll certainly visit again. I shot over two rolls of film. We were on deck as we left Fort de France and headed north along the coast. Several times, dolphins swam with us. I stayed on deck long enough to see St. Pierre and Pelée from the water, then went to dress for dinner.

I went to the piano bar before dinner to write the journal. Dinner, appropriately, was French and quite good. The show was a terrific 50's review. The late night meal was champagne and crepes suzettes. Perfect day!!!

Thursday, May 3rd - St. Maarten/St. Martin

Another beautiful day. We anchored in Great Bay but there were no launch passes required to get off the ship so we were on the dock by the post office by 8:30. Having spent a week on the island years ago, we decided to spend the day exploring on our own. However, we had a bit of a problem renting a car. The people in the visitor's center helped us locate one from Thrifty and it finally showed up at almost 9:30. We immediately left busy Phillipsburg for Marigot on the French side. Traffic is unbelievable which is apparently why it took so long to deliver the car. This used to be a quiet island but no more.

Grand CaseMarigot has been built up so much we literally didn't recognize it! This used to be a quaint little town, now it's all traffic, people and shops like Gucci. We bumped into Gary and Adit who arrived on the "Explorer" cruise. We walked around enough to orient ourselves but didn't stay long. We fought our way out of town and headed for Grande Case which, thank God, had not changed too much. They have added a street (bringing the number to two!) and have added some buildings where there used to be access to the pier and beach so it took a bit of time to get oriented. Our favorite ice-cream place has closed and what was a cute but decrepit church has been rebuilt.I finally found the beach cover-up I'd been searching for and had a nice chat with the girl in the store who was born in Lorraine. Since it was only 11:30, we left for lunch at "Mark's Place" in Cul de Sac but found it both closed ('til 12:30) and spoiled. There used to be a great view of the beach but it's now blocked by a condo. This part of the island used to by almost totally wild, now it's all hotels and condos. Quelle dommage!

Grand CaseDisappointed, we returned to Grande Case to eat lunch. We decided on the "Le Tastevin" which didn't open 'til 12:00 so we killed the 15 minutes drinking white whine in the lobby while the staff ate lunch. Various staff members passed through the lobby and every one was very friendly. It's interesting that people identify us as English-speaking before we open our mouths. I maybe it's the clothes. We had a great meal on a terrace overlooking the beach. The china was Villeroy and Bock. This is living!

After lunch, we went to Orient Beach which has also been spoiled. All the trees and bushes around Club Orient, the resort, have been removed so it's as totally exposed as the residents (it's a nudist resort). What used to be an unspoiled access road to the beach is now all tee-shirt stands, etc. What a waste! Undaunted, we still spent over an hour on the beach. On the way back to P'burg, we drove past Dawn Beach where we stayed last time. I'd forgotten how bad the roads were but the hotel still looks great. Oyster pond is totally spoiled with buildings everywhere.PhilipsburgWe arrived in Philipsburg at 3:00 and parked the car where we'd agreed to meet the Thrifty guy and shopped 'til the 4:00 rendezvous time. I arrived at the car at exactly 4:00 as did the Thrifty guy. He was surprised to see me since he'd been told we'd been in an accident on the French side. He'd been instructed to skip the rendezvous and go directly to the French side but he told them he's promised me he'd be in P'burg at precisely 4:00. (Luckily for me, this was probably the only time in history when a Caribbean native was punctual!)

Back again on the ship, we sat on deck until over an hour past scheduled sailing time and finally saw the launch returning to the ship. We learned later that an old lady from our ship had had a heart attack and had to be taken to the hospital.

Dinner was again formal. Linda wore her pink dress. We skipped the show and had a coke in the piano lounge before going to bed. I hated to quit, the pianist is great.

Friday, May 4th - St. Thomas

We'd booked a catamaran cruise for St. Thomas but were advised it was canceled due to lack of response so we got up early to book an alternate. We decided on a sail to Buck Island to snorkel. SailingThe boat was a 60' steel two-masted schooner. With winds of 18-20 knots, this was a perfect sailing day. At Buck Island, we found lots of beautiful fish but the coral had been almost totally destroyed by Hurricane Hugo. It looked like a moonscape! I swam out to a 200' steel cement carrier which was in 40' of water. It had originally been sunk in Charlotte Amalie harbor then brought to Buck Island as a dive site. It was in one piece until Hugo hit and broke it up. The midships section is intact and the bow is at least recognizable but the rest is just litter.

I swam back to the boat and started feeding the fish potato chips from my hand. The yellowtails hit the chips most aggressively when they're thrown on the water but only the sergeant majors will eat them from my hand. I found myself surrounded by zillions of fish. Fantastic. I with I could have had a picture.

After snorkeling, we had a great sail back with me at the helm for about half the time. I've never felt such a weather helm. The captain took my camera up into the rigging to get my picture.

We returned to the ship and had pizza for lunch, then cabbed to Charlotte Amalie for shopping. Most of the stores seemed to be jewelry stores but it was fun to look. I bought an eel skin wallet. The heat was oppressive so we cabbed back to the ship. Linda got dropped of at a mall near the ship and I went back to sit on deck and play Frisbee in the pool with a bunch of girls who work in the shops on the ship. About the time Linda showed up we met our friend Hal who'd just returned from a visit of the Sky Princess which was docked behind us. Linda wasn't up to it so I got dressed and went alone. Wow!! Certainly the nicest ship I've seen. Returned to sit on deck 'til time to pack (sigh!).

After packing, we had a drink with Irene and Hal in the piano bar before dinner. The last dinner with our table was tough. We were so fortunate at having such a wonderful group of people. We shopped in the ship's shops for a while, then sat in the piano bar with Gary, Adit, Connie and Dan. Finally, we went on deck in time to see St. Thomas slipping away. Tough to end the last day!

Saturday, May 5th - San Juan and home

As always, it was a pain getting off the ship. Boarding was efficient but not disembarking. Customs, as always, was a joke. The bus got us to the airport by 9:30 for a 1:50 departure. Fortunately we were able to get a 10:00 to Newark. Since it was a DC10 only 60% full, it was great. Unfortunately, we didn't make out quite so well on the connection but still got home about 3 hours ahead of schedule. We didn't even bother to check for the bags since they were probably still at the dock when our plane took off. In any case, we were home again.

A week is definitely too short!