Monday, 18 March 2013

The Great Panama Canal Cruise - Day 9; Grand Cayman (Or Not)

Continuing the live blog of our day-by-day Panama Canal cruise, sailing round-trip from Fort Lauderdale with Princess Cruises.

We are due in to the island of Grand Cayman today, in theory our final port of call on the 10-day itinerary. Only the weather is not cooperating.

I have been here a few times before and enjoyed the likes of the Turtle Farm, Stingray City (where you can swim with - and feed - stingrays on this shallow sand bank), the smart town of Georgetown and the visit to Hell, the ultra-touristy little rock outcropping that has been named so the locals can sell all manner of branded goods to gullible visitors.

Our preference here is just to disembark the ship via tender at our leisure and stroll along beautiful Seven Mile Beach until we find a suitable bar/cafe for lunch, and then get a taxi back to town. But not today.

Sadly, the seas are throwing up the kind of swell that makes tender operations particularly dicey and, while our Captain tries several ways to maneuver the ship, there is no getting around the fact it doesn't look 100% safe for all concerned. Hence, after looking at an alternative mooring, the Captain decides we will have to give Grand Cayman a miss for this cruise, sadly.

For one of the richest islands in the region, it does make you wonder why Grand Cayman has never invested in a proper harbour, though. They certainly receive enough cruise interest and, when the likes of Cozumel, Jamaica and others can all provide the necessary infrastructure, it is certainly a surprise that this island doesn't.

It IS one of the unfortunate elements of cruising that tender ports - where the ship cannot get in to a berth and has to use its own tenders, or those provided by the port - can be a bit of a lottery. Safety of both passengers and ship is each captain's No 1 priority, and heavy sea conditions will certainly work against a port at times. 

This is one of those times and there is nothing left but to pull up the anchor and head slowly off on our northerly course. In some cases it is possible to provide an alternative port of call, but, with nothing else close by or en route that can 1) provide a berth, and 2) keep the ship on track for its timely return to Port Everglades, we are destined merely for an extra sea day, making three in all to finish the voyage. 

That's probably not ideal for some passegers (especially those who have never been to the Cayman islands before), but we are quite happy just to enjoy another chill-out day in the Caribbean.

It is also interesting to see how the ship's onboard entertainment and dining departments cope with an unexpected change in plans. The simple answer is - extremely well.

Within a couple of hours, there is a new version of the Princess Patter daily information sheet, with all the programmes and activities for the day, and there are plenty of additional opportunities to enjoy, as well as a full lunch in the Provence dining room.

A relatively light onboard programme (on the basis of most people going ashore) has been filled out with the likes of an extra movie (Skyfall) in the Princess Theater, a line dance class, a bridge lecture, an impromptu indoor golf competition (right), a musicians get-together, Snowball Jackpot Bingo, more music in the lounges, water volleyball and a fun Paper Ball Drop in the Atrium.

There is no shortage of things to do plus, of course, there is the full array of options on the Lido deck, sports deck, Lido Pool, Spa, Sanctuary and other dining outlets. No-one is likely to be bored - or go hungry!

In the evening, there is another full programme (albeit of the fully-scheduled variety), including the excellent vocal impressionist Travis Turpin, who we rate as the best of the guest performers so far, more movies, a Pavarotti concert in the Explorers Lounge and Country & Western night in the Universe Lounge.

We also manage to make dinner in the Provence dining room last the best part of two hours as we sit chatting with another interesting and highly companionable table group, including port lecturer Chris Roberts. 

Dinner has become an absolute highlight for us each day, and manager Carlos seems highly adept at putting together convivial groupings. The evening also finished with the customary Parade of dining room and galley staff, taking a well-earned bow and round of applause from the people they have fed so well for the whole cruise. We are definitely going to miss this at home!

Tomorrow – Final Day At Sea.

For more info and bookings – in the UK, call Princess Cruises on 0843 373 0333 or visit the expert cruise agents of The Cruise Line Ltd on this link; in the US, call 1866 335 6379, or visit