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Saturday, February 15, 2014

2013 Royal Princess Christmas Cruise - Pre-Cruise + Getting There

This post is a chapter of my 2013 Royal Princess Christmas Cruise Photo Review.

This cruise review was originally published on Cruise Critic beginning January 3, 2014.  You can read the original review here.

My Traveling Party

My dad, Boyd, is a funny guy - if you aren't laughing at his jokes, you're laughing at how bad they are (and I am told by my boyfriend that I have the same sense of humor)! Dad is a nuclear licensing engineer who is always in need of a vacation.

My mom, Sharon, is always trying her best to bring order to this group of crazies. Before leaving for vacation, she straightens the house - "In case someone breaks in while we're gone."

My sister, Rachel, brings along even more laughter. She has an outgoing personality and will do crazy things just to make people smile. Rachel is a civil engineering major at Clemson University.

Choosing the Cruise

Since 2009, my family has left the Christmas tree and stockings behind (and taken miniature versions with us) to celebrate Christmas on a cruise in the Caribbean. What started as a rather last-minute cruise deal five years ago has evolved into a family tradition. This year, we wanted to spend our holiday doing a cruise out of Florida so that after we could go to Walt Disney World after, since we had purchased annual passes when we were at Disney in October. We like taking longer cruises – our first few were 8 or 9 days, and last year, we took a 10-day Panama Canal Partial Transit on the Island Princess. However, this year, there wasn’t much available in the way of 8 or 9-day cruises. The Independence of the Seas has an 8-day itinerary which I had my eye on for the longest time, but it seemed rather overpriced for a balcony stateroom and never really dropped. We thought we could find a better value, so we started to consider other cruises which we narrowed down to the Celebrity Reflection, Norwegian Epic, or Royal Princess which all sailed 7-day Eastern Caribbean itineraries. Of these, we ultimately chose the Royal Princess because though we loved the Norwegian Epic and would love to sail on her again, the Royal Princess included a stop to Princess Cays which we had never been to before (Reflection was Coco Cay and Epic was Nassau… meh).

Cruise Route

Choosing the Cabin

We were first considering an obstructed view balcony on the Royal Princess. We were going to book a forward-facing cabin until we realized that you couldn’t go on it unless the ship was in port (and after this windy cruise, we understand why!), so it was essentially a glamorized oceanview stateroom. We were twiddling our thumbs and debating on whether to select the obstructed view balcony or upgrade to a standard balcony when my dad found a promotion on an online booking site which allowed us to secure an aft balcony for about $200 less than we were going to pay for that forward-facing balcony (with onboard credit) – hoorah!

Pre-Cruise Planning

Ha! What pre-cruise planning? The benefit of visiting ports that we have already sailed before is that we already know what’s there. We are beach people (and when I say 'we,' I mean Rachel), so I knew that for Princess Cays, we'd just find a nice spot on the beach. In St. Thomas, we'd go to Sapphire Beach, and in St. Maarten, we'd head to Orient Beach. No excursions for us this cruise - just cab rides!

My Camera Bag

For about two years, I've owned a Nikon 1 J1 and the 10-30mm and 30-110mm Nikon 1 lenses. 

I have been planning for a long time to upgrade my camera body and lenses, but I didn't have the time to purchase until a few days before vacation. So I did one-day shipping through Amazon and got everything Thursday evening (we left on Saturday) thanks to the hard-working UPS and FedEx holiday workers.

Nikon D7100

So in addition to my Nikon 1 J1 and Nikon 1 lenses, my camera bag includes the Nikon D7100 camera body, Tamron 17-50mm lens, Tokina 11-16mm ultra wide angle lens, and Nikon SB-700 AF Speedlight, as well as a MeFoto Backpacker tripod and a wireless remote.

I thought there would be some situations in which I would want to use my Nikon 1 J1 over my D7100 either because of size or in risky shooting scenarios. However, I actually only used my J1 two times during the entire vacation - in the hotel room the morning before embarkation and at Epcot shooting the Candlelight Processional because I needed the longer focal length of the 30-110mm Nikon 1 lens. For the rest of the vacation, it stayed locked in the safe.

December 21, 2013 - Let's Get Out of Here!!!

We planned to leave our home in Anderson, South Carolina at 12:00 PM.... so naturally, we left at 1:40 PM. I actually thought we were going to make it this time. Rachel and I packed Friday evening and were ready to go around 11:30 AM. Usually Mom is the one dragging behind, but she also got a pretty early start on packing. This time it was.... DAD! That morning, I awoke to hear Mom asking him what he wanted to pack because apparently since he had delayed it so long, she decided to do it for him. He also waited until noon to take our dog to the kennel. So we couldn't even start loading things into the car because he had taken that one (we have five cars at our house... our driveway looks like a used car lot... and logically, he takes the car we need for vacation).

And then an hour and a half later, the car is finally loaded, Rachel, Dad, and I are in the car..... but where is Mom? We find her inside tidying up the upstairs (because Rachel and I came home from college like a wrecking ball). "Mom! Why are you cleaning? We're leaving!" "Oh, you know - just in case someone breaks into our house while we're gone." "Ah, I'm sure that the robbers will really appreciate that you left the home so clean for them."

We fought a lot of traffic. Dad had said that we'd probably stop in Orlando and just get up early tomorrow since traffic was so tough. But we drove past Orlando.... and kept driving... and driving.... until finally, an hour and a half later, we found a hotel! We spent the night in a Fairfield Inn about an hour and a half from Fort Lauderdale in Fort Pierce.

NEXT: Day 1 - Embarkation

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