Day 1 – August 10, 2018 (Fri) – Toronto to Fort Lauderdale

Caribbean Princess West Caribbean Cruise – August 10-18, 2018

Toronto to Fort Lauderdale – August 10
Steps walked: 6,412         Floors climbed: 1 Distance walked: 4.3 km
Details Time Notes
left home for airport 5:15 AM
arrived at airport valet parking 5:45 AM
arrived at Terminal 1 5:55 AM
entered priority line for screening 6:20 AM
Breakfast at Maple Leaf Lounge 6:45 AM
Flight from Toronto to Chicago 8:25 AM
arrived at Chicago 10:20 AM
1-hour delay, then started boarding 12:59 PM
Departed to Fort Lauderdale 1:30 PM
arrived at Fort Lauderdale 4:26 PM
got luggage 4:50 PM
Taxi to hotel 5:00 PM
Check in to Four Points by Sheraton 5:15 PM
taxi to dinner at Kelly’s Landing 6:40 PM
Walked back to hotel 8:15 PM
Free drinks at the hotel bar 9:40 AM
Time for bed 10:15 PM

Day 1 – August 10, 2018 (Fri) – Toronto to Fort Lauderdale

With $200 credit from United Airlines that we had to spend within one year since last August, plus $200 travel credit from American Express, we decided to take a short relaxation cruise to W. Caribbean this summer, with most of the airfare covered by the travel credits. The cruise is another deal with less than US$1,500 for 2 people in a balcony room (refreshment drinks package, tax and gratuities included). Since we are Princess Captain’s Circle’s elite members, we have perks like free internet minutes, priority embarkation & disembarkation, free laundry & dry cleaning and free mini-bar (1-time set up at the beginning of the cruise, will have to pay extra if replenishing is requested).

While we had those lovely perks, we also had to agree to some of the airline restrictions in order to use them in the most economical way. One would be to fly with connecting flights very early in the morning.

This morning we woke up at 4:30 am to get out of the house at 5 am, so we could arrive at the airport before 6 am for our 8:18 am flight. We did well and was able to get to Toronto Park ‘n Fly Valet Parking at 5:45 am, then at Pearson’s Terminal 1 at 5:55 am. Although there were lots of people at the terminal, we had priority boarding, so check-in and immigration were quite easy for us. We were at the Maple Leaf Lounge having our breakfast at 6:45 am.

The first United flight to Chicago was very on time and the plane was in the air 20 minutes after take-off. We paid $19 to have our seats upgraded to Economy Plus on row 7. Those were wonderful seats with extra legroom (almost 3 ft. from seat to the pouch containing airline magazines and safety cards). The best thing about this bulkhead seat was that I could still put my little backpack under the business-class seat in front of me, as the bulkhead didn’t go all the way down to the floor. We even had more legroom than the those in the business class. Here is a picture to show how much legroom we got on United 737-800:

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Tips for travellers on short haul flights (less than 5 hours): Rather than paying for business or economy plus when you purchase your tickets, wait till you check in and there are always cheap upgrades that you can get. Even if there is not, no big deal because the flight duration is not long. I’m always the first one to check-in right at the second that online check-in becomes available and about 80% I could get the seats with extra legroom. For this flight I paid $19, for the flight from Chicago to Fort Lauderdale, I paid $39. For those who don’t have priority boarding, pay $30 to have United Airline’s premier access so you could skip the line to the front of security and have priority boarding. It’s totally different for long flights. I always book a year in advance and pay extra for the bulkhead seats. There is no chance to get those seats during check-in. One disadvantage of having those seats will be that you CANNOT put anything in front of you during take-off and landing, as there is NO seat but just a partition in front of you. All hand luggage & purse must be put in the overhead bin. It might be inconvenient for some people.

Back to the connecting flight, it was delayed for over an hour. Although the next plane was in the same terminal as the first flight and only 3 gates down, there was NO airline lounge that we could go to. We only have access to Air Canada’s Maple Leaf Lounge and Priority Pass Lounges and there are all in Terminal 5 (International). The flight was delayed due to the late arrival of the incoming one. UA was super efficient as the flight arrived at the gate at 11:50 am and we took off at 12:30 pm.

We had the same seats on Row 7 but the flight was a different model, an airbus A320. Other than the extra legroom, there was a partition that separated the economy plus and the business class seats.

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We didn’t have to put 2 bags under 1 business class-seat like in the earlier one, but we each had our own space for our backpacks.

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Only Rows 1 to 21 had in-seat power plugs for charging mobile devices. Row 22 + was the economy section and there was no charging facility. Make sure you charge up your electronic devices if you plan on using them during the flight. It’s better to download United Airlines Entertainment App at home when you have good WIFI service rather than doing it here on the plane.

We landed at 4:26 pm, got our luggage at 4:50 pm and took a taxi for $12.10 fare + $3 airport charge + $1.90 tip ($17 total) to our hotel, Four Points by Sheraton Fort Lauderdale Airport and Cruise Hotel. He booked this hotel mainly because I had an SPG reward night that’s only for a Category 4 hotel. There are only 2 that are close to the cruise port but this one is closer to the airport. I didn’t opt for a free hotel airport shuttle as it only runs on the hour. It’s better to get to the hotel earlier to rest after a whole day of travel.

Although it’s a small hotel, the front desk personnel Jason & Tabitha were very nice and friendly. Even the cleaner and the bar tender said hello and made us feel really welcomed. Our room is on the second floor which is really basic and old, but it’s free and we’re only here for 1 night, it’s okay since it’s quite clean. There was a very old-fashioned safety deposit box about 2-inch deep in the closet, so we locked our passports and money there before stepping out for dinner.

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Originally we wanted to walk to a nearby seafood restaurant (0.7 mile away) highly rated by TripAdvisor, called Kelly’s Landing New England Seafood, but it started to rain and it was very windy, so the hotel called us a taxi for $6 to get there.

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The food was very good, especially the appetizer New England boiled clams in broth and butter, so fresh and delicious!

The clam chowder was excellent but the lobster bisque was a bit too buttery for me. I had a lobster roll with sweet potato fries and my husband had fish and chips, both very good.

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Since it was not raining when we left, we took a 15-minute walk back to the hotel, then went to the bar to enjoy our free drinks ($15 or less) as an SPG Gold member welcome gift. It was only 10:15 pm when we retired to bed. Looking forward to getting on board the Caribbean Princess tomorrow!

Day 12 – July 19, 2018 (Thur) – Budapest to Vienna

Budapest to Vienna – July 19
Steps walked: 7,558         Floors climbed: 7 Distance walked: 5.5 km
Details Time Notes
Scenic cruising including Hainburg & Devin Castle am
Brunch at Blue 12:00 PM
hair appointment 2:00 PM
Galley Tour (signed up at front desk) 3:00 PM informative!
packing 4:00 PM
Early dinner at Bistro Mozart 5:30 PM
Mozart arrived at Vienna 6:10 PM
Walked to Vorgartenstrasse (Subway U1) 6:20 PM
Took the subway to HOHO Night Bus Tour 7:30 PM
Subway from Karlsplatz to Prater 8:30 PM
Arrived at Giant Ferris Wheel 8:50 PM
Took the subway back to Vorgartenstrasse 9:50 PM
Took the eBike to ride along the pier 10:30 PM
Joined Derek at Cove Bar for “Til We Meet Again” 11:00 PM

We slept in and when we woke up, we just passed by the beautiful Hainburg.

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After our last lunch at Blue, I had a hair appointment at the salon. The experience was greatly relaxing.

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At 3 pm, we had a Galley Tour. Only 2 groups of 15 guests each were accommodated, so make sure you sign up early if you’d like to join the tour. We were greeted with champagne and were shown the very neat kitchen with only a couple of staff members working there. Chef Juraj provided a lot of information during the tour.

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After a quick dinner at the Mozart Bistro, we walked to Vorgartenstrasse and used the 48-hour Vienna Card that we bought on embarkation day to take the subway Line U1 to Vienna State Opera where the Big Bus Hop On Hop Off night tour started. Although it was still very bright outside, it was a very interesting tour with great narration in English. We were lucky to get the last 2 seats on the bus. It cost 17 Euros each.

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Although we have been going around the Ring Road many times with Crystal, it was a better experience with the narration and the map in hand. Then we took the subway to Prater to board the Giant Ferris Wheel, situated in a big amusement park.

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We were able to view beautiful sunset aboard the Ferris Wheel, using the Vienna City Card.

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The night view was gorgeous!

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Then we took the subway back to Vorgartenstrasse and walked back to the ship. Brian rode the eBike along the pier.

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Then we went to the Cove Bar to join Derek and the guests. I did a “Sound of Music” sing along on the piano to bid farewell to everyone.

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Couldn’t believe it’s the last night on board the wonderful Crystal Mozart!

Day 11 – July 18, 2018 (Wed) – Budapest

Budapest – July 18
Steps walked: 5,799         Floors climbed: 7 Distance walked: 4.1 km
Details Time Notes
Breakfast at Waterside 8:00 AM
Ship Tour: Feast for the Senses: 9:00 AM Guide: Brigitta
                   Parliament Building & the excellent
                   Great Market Hall (BUD-03)
walked back to ship from Market Hall 11:30 AM
lunch at Blue 12:00 PM
sail to Vienna 12:00 PM
Trivia with Derek 1:15 PM did not attend
scenic cruising along the Danube pm
Life & works of Mozart at Palm Court with Sonja 2:15 PM did not attend
Apple Strudel Demonstration with Sebastian 3:15 PM did not attend
Dinner at Waterside with Gerry & Marianne 7:30 PM
Social time at Cove Bar 9:30 PM

Our 31st Anniversary today!! We were greeted by a beautiful morning in Budapest. After breakfast, we boarded our coach to the Hungarian Parliament Building, the iconic landmark of Budapest, crowned by a magnificent central dome and hailed as the city’s tallest building. We had to follow very strict security check-in and the tour was led by a parliament guide with excellent English. Here is the map of the building:

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This interesting feature was a cigar holder on which members of the parliament left their cigars on the numbered tray and took them back after the meeting.

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The interior was stunning and we even saw the changing of the guards but we were not allowed to pictures. There was a small elevator for those who could not do the stairs.

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Then we drove past about 60 pairs of shoes cast out of iron by sculptors Gyula Pauer and Can Togay.  It was a moving memorial that they created to these Holocaust atrocities that sat in front of the magnificent Parliament building on the edge of the Danube river. Different sizes and styles reflected how nobody was spared from the brutality of the Arrow Cross militia (the shoes depicted children, women, businessmen, sportsmen etc.) in 1944 – 1945. Those people were victims who were shot into the Danube. They were forced to strip naked on the banks of the Danube and face the river in the freezing cold weather; a firing squad then shot the prisoners at close range in the back so that they fell into the river to be washed away.

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Next we went to the Great Market Hall, the largest and oldest indoor market in Budapest. I bought a lot of souvenirs there. A small group followed the guide to sample different food and drinks.

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It only took us 10 minutes to walk to the ship from the market.

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Crystal Mozart doubled parked with Thurgau Silence, which had to move away so our ship could leave at 12 noon.

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Good bye, beautiful Budapest!

Day 10 (con’t) – July 17, 2018 (Tue) – Violin concert and night cruising, Budapest

Now we have come to my favourite evening of the whole cruise. Being a classical concert pianist, I didn’t really enjoy the very modernized concert with loud taped background music to create the sound effect and modern feel, although the 3 “Princesses” played with excellent techniques. I guess it was necessary to cater for the rest of the audience so they wouldn’t get bored.

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I enjoyed the beautiful grounds where the concert was held, Budapest History Museum on the Castle Hill. Nonetheless, we had to walk on cobble stones for over 5 minutes so Crystal recommended “No High Heeled Shoes due to walking conditions”. In the concert hall, it was boiling hot, even one of the performers had to stop and wipe her sweat with a towel.

After the concert, we took some beautiful photographs of the grounds while walking back to the coach.

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When we got back to the ship, Crystal Mozart sailed away for a night cruise on the Danube. It was very windy so I wrapped myself in a comfy blanket, enjoying tons of finger food and drinks, while my husband took many beautiful pictures. Though it was so cold, lots of us were on the Vista Deck. It was a great 2-hour night cruise.

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This is the Liberty Bridge that was close to where we docked (Pontoon 8):

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Next we sailed past the Elisabeth Bridge:

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Then the famous Chain Bridge close to the Palace:

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The stunning Castle Hill at night:

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My husband is a civil engineer so he took lots of pictures about bridges, here is one of the many:

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You don’t need a good camera to take a shot of the fully illuminated parliament:

IMG_0967It’s a pity that we only got to spend one night in Budapest. We’ll definitely return to this beautiful city.

Day 10 (con’t) – July 17, 2018 (Tue) – Szechenyi Spa, Budapest

After lunch, we hopped on to a taxi that Crystal called for us to Szechenyi Spa, originally built in 1913. The taxi fare was only 3,000 Forint, according to the meter. It was great that we could share this with another couple from the ship. It’s 10 Euros if not paid in Hungarian Forint. The journey took only 15 minutes and the traffic was quite light. We got in from the entrance opposite to the Circus and the line-up was huge. Luckily we bought the VIP entry so the line was so much shorter that we got to the counter in less than 10 minutes.

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VIP package meant we could have a private little cabin for each of us as a change room. The room operated (locked/opened) using the digital bracelet that we got and it was quite spacious so we didn’t have to worry about our belongings or leave them in lockers. We were also given shower gel/shampoo, flip flops and a towel but we opted not to use those as we brought our own for hygienic purpose.

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This was the map of the spa to show the 18 outdoor/indoor natural hot springs with different temperatures, 10 saunas / steam cabins and several rooms for massage therapies.

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Here’s the huge outdoor baths:

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A few of the indoor ones:

 

There were a few massage areas with many treatment rooms.  The rooms were all spacious and the service was very relaxing. Both my husband and myself enjoyed the 1-hour thermal massage a lot.

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We spent about 3 hours at the spa. The shower stalls were all private and the facilities were very well-run. We just had to tell the girl who led us to our change cabins that we paid for the private cabin and had a massage with the set time on the ticket, otherwise she would take us to the public locker area. A few taxis were waiting at the entrance so it was easy to get one to take us back to the ship. Our return journey cost double of what we paid, not sure why, might be because of the time, a bit of traffic jam, but we knew the driver did not take a longer route. It was a side trip that I would highly recommend.

Day 10 – July 17, 2018 (Tue) – Budapest

Budapest – July 17
Steps walked: 8,784         Floors climbed: 14 Distance walked: 6.3 km
Details Time Notes
Breakfast at Waterside 8:00 AM
Ship delayed entering Budapest 9:00 AM
Ship Tour: Beautiful Budapest (BUD-01) 9:45 AM Guide: Eva
drove around the city for major sights very funny
Visited Castle Hill 10:50 AM
boarded coach to go back to ship 12:30 PM
Buffet lunch at Waterside 12:50 PM
Took a taxi to Szechenyi Spa 2:00 PM taxi fare: 3000 forints
Private Tour: Budapest Szechenyi Spa 2:30 PM
     with VIP Massage (5808P30)
taxi back to ship 5:30 PM taxi fare: 6000 forints
Buffet dinner at Waterside 6:15 PM
Signature Event: Princesses of Violin at 7:20 PM very commercialized
       Budapest History Museum (BUD-08) with loud background
      “3 Princesses of Violin” music, great techniques
boarded coach to go back to ship 9:10 PM
Budapest by Night Cruising 9:30 PM beautiful but very windy

The ship was about 45 minutes late entering Budapest, so it gave us some time to watch the ship arrive at beautiful Budapest.

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At 9:45 am, we started to tour around both sections of Hungary’s vibrant capital, Buda and Pest. Following along Andrassy Blvd., we reached the Heroes’ Square, with its statue featuring the Seven Chieftains of the Magyars and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

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Then we crossed the Elisabeth Bridge to the Buda side where the Castle Hill was located, driving past the Royal Palace.

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After we got off the coach, there was a 10-minute easy uphill walk to reach the Matthias Church and the seven towers of the Fisherman’s Bastion.

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We visited one of the terraces to enjoy the sweeping panoramic view of Budapest from Castle Hill, plus a very nice and enjoyable surprise prepared for us by Crystal.

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Day 9 – July 16, 2018 (Mon) – Bratislava

Bratislava – July 16
Steps walked: 6,571         Floors climbed: 4 Distance walked: 4.7 km
Details Time Notes
Scenic cruising including Hainburg & Devin Castle am
Brunch at Blue 12:00 PM
Ship Tour: Bratislava’s Ultimate Survivor: 3:30 PM
              Chatam Sofer Memorial (BTS-04)
Bratislava on our own 5:20 PM
Boarded trolley for a 30-min Old Town Tour 5:25 PM
Walked around in town 6:00 PM
“Pressburger Duo” show in Palm Court 6:15 PM WE MISSED IT!!!
Back to ship, booked Bistro dinner 7:05 PM
Dinner at Bistro Mozart 7:30 PM
Social time at Cove Bar 9:30 PM

After passing through Hainburg, then Devin with its castle, we reached Bratislava in Slovakia in the afternoon. We docked with the Starboard side facing a very long pier which almost spanned the whole length of the ship.

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We first went to the Bratislava Castle, built in the 9th century on a hilltop, overlooking the beautiful Danube. We didn’t go inside the castle.

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Then we went to Chatam Sofer Memorial, an old Jewish cemetery where hundreds of rabbis and teachers were buried.

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Then we went to the Old Town to tour the Museum of Jewish Culture in Slovakia and the oldest Jewish settlement in the city. To be honest, the visit of the cemetery and the museum was something I didn’t enjoy much, after learning so much in Poland about the Holocaust and Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. The walk through the Old Town was quite interesting. When we saw the Old Town Trolley, we told the guide that we would hop on it and went back to the ship by ourselves. That was a smart move as we saw a bit more of Bratislava and we didn’t have to walk, though I was very happy to walk past the residences of Mozart and Beethoven.

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Of course we had to take a picture of the bronze statue of Cumil the Sewer Worker.

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When we walked back to the ship, we made reservations to eat at Bistro Mozart again. The Bistro waitress, Emese, was always friendly and helpful. This time we had a little bit of difference in our appetizer:

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The side of the main course was mashed potatoes instead of mushrooms. Best of all, the view of the sunset was amazing. It didn’t look like we were on a river at all…the water’s wide!

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