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February 18, 2012
Day 1: Rio de Janeiro: The Star Princess

The Princess Cruise Lines embarkation in Rio

Today, Saturday, February 18, was the first day of Carnaval. It was also the day we departed Rio de Janeiro to begin our cruise. Talk about poor timing.

Our official boarding time for the cruise ship was 4:00 pm. However, we knew from previous experience that it is better to board earlier than later. We also suspected that traffic would be abnormally bad today. For those two reasons, Gail had reserved a shuttle to take us from the hotel to the pier at 10:00 am. We figured we wouldn’t have time to do anything further in Rio anyway, and we’d rather have a low-stress transfer day.

Having packed last night, we were able to enjoy a leisurely breakfast at the hotel. We had the usual buffet of fruit, breads, doughnut holes, granola and yogurt, sitting by a sunny window that overlooked the beach. We took one last walk to the beach, and discovered to our surprise that the traffic lanes had been completely rerouted. The westbound section now went eastbound. The eastbound section was closed entirely and now overtaken by joggers.

A last look at Copacabana Beach. Note the bike lanes to the left (occupied by joggers) and the traffic lanes to the right (occupied by joggers).

We shared a shuttle with fellow Cruise Critic denizens Larry and Barbara (from New Jersey) and John and Sharon (from Florida). John recounted how he bought 3,000 shares of Apple at $8 and sold it at $39 (it is now at $500 after two splits). Sharon recounted how they had originally tried to take this cruise two years ago, but were jinxed by the major earthquake at the Santiago embarkation point. Larry showed off a Carnaval tee shirt that he had finagled out of the hotel staff (and that Russell had been trying unsuccessfully to secure).

We made good time on the shuttle, arriving at the pier well before the check-in opening time of 11:00. Even better, John and Sharon used their Elite cruise status to get us a preferred boarding pass. Unfortunately, our check-in administrator was brand-new and had no idea what she was doing. (It took forever for her to validate our passports, until a coworker finally noticed that she had her passport reader turned backwards.)

From left: Barbara, Larry, Sharon and John with Gail. Note everyone wearing their Carnaval tee shirts just to annoy Russell.

In the embarkation line, Gail met a little old man named Ahraham Imovitch, who spoke no English but apparently had been cruising all over the world somehow. She couldn’t discern either his language or his place of origin, but they were able to share travel stories by pointing at the flags all over his jacket.

We were some of the first people aboard the ship. It was great to be able to explore the empty ship without crowds of people around. Our first meal aboard ship was a buffet lunch in the only open café.

The centerpiece of any cruise ship is the main atrium in the center

The rest of the day was a matter of getting unpacked and organized. Our small cabin is on the port side, so although we have a window, we will never see land through it. Our cabin is also as far forward as you can go before you hit the crew quarters, which means that we are directly under the theater.

Our little cabin: P202, Deck 5, port side, completely forward

We soon discovered another disadvantage of being far forward on the lowest deck. Gail had to do so much walking to get anywhere (including going up and down stairs), that her ankle started giving her excruciating pain. We tried to get a wheelchair, but that requires a doctor referral, which requires a mandatory $60 doctor visit. For the time being, Gail will simply try resting her ankle and wearing a brace.

We have chosen “open seating” for our dinner option, which means that we can dine whenever we want to. Unlike traditional cruises, we will not have the same dining partners every dinner – but we figured that after 30 days, we’d get sick of the same people anyway. Tonight, we were joined by Jean and Diana (retired London policewomen – Diana was in the murder detail!) and Pat and Diana (Pat was born on St. Patrick’s Day, which means he will celebrate his birthday aboard ship).

We departed Rio and set sail at 6:00 pm

We were back in our cabin by 10:00 pm for the night. We can already tell this is going to be a great cruise with a great bunch of people!

Our last image of Rio de Janeiro: sunset over Christ the Redeemer and Copacabana Beach


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