Oct 25, 2018 - This morning, Island Princess is docking in the port of Cartagena, Colombia.
This is a large and busy port with a lot of container ship and tankers. Since it is a long hike to the cruise terminal, Princess has arranged a complimentary shuttle to ferry guests to/from the ship/terminal. The cruise terminal here is quite nice with lots of little shops and an outdoor aviary with exotic birds and wildlife.
We have scheduled a City Sightseeing Hop-On/Hop-Off bus tour for this morning. As soon as we disembark Island Princess, City Sightseeing folks are at the end of the gangway to take our tickets and guide us onto a waiting shuttle. The tour includes a bus tour of Cartagena as well as a guided walking tour of the Old Town. Guests can opt to do both, or either one.
We chose to do the walking tour only. The shuttle drive to Old Town takes about 30 minutes and as soon as we disembark the bus, local merchants swarm around us selling everything from sunglasses to hats to bottled water.
One of the double-decker Hop-On/Hop-Off buses is just about to leave on its 90-minute tour through the city. There are 14 stops along the way where guests can "hop off", do some shopping, have lunch, explore, then "hop on" when ready to continue their tour. A bus comes around every 30 minutes or so, depending on traffic.
We have done many of these Hop-On/Hop-Off bus tours with City Sightseeing all over the world and have always found them an excellent, and affordable, way to see an unfamiliar city. But, we have never done a walking tour with them, so today Raul will guide us through Old Town.
There are about 20 guests in our walking group and everyone is given a set of ear buds and an audio receiver. This allows everyone to clearly hear the guide talking through his transmitter.
The tour begins with a walk through the old city gate under the clock tower.
Once inside the walls of Old Town, we begin walking through a labyrinth of narrow streets, and into expansive plazas.
There is some beautiful architecture to be found here, not the least of which are the elaborate churches.
Raul took us to a local chocolate museum where we enjoyed a complimentary chocolate milk drink. Many on the tour purchased chocolate items in the store.
Of course, everywhere you look there are local street vendors selling their wares. Rickee finally gave in and purchased a decorative head band. Even though the vendors are persistent, they are not aggressive or pushy. A simple "no, gracias" will send them away if you are not interested. One unique merchant was an artist who painted on a mirror with his fingers and palm, only using a small sponge for a couple of effects. He gave us a demonstration and it was amazing. He did a beautiful painting in about two minutes! We bought two of his paintings ($10) to take home as gifts.
The walking tour took about 90 minutes and was an excellent way to see the Old Town Cartegena, which is definitely the highlight of this port city. After the tour, most guests joined the Hop-On/Hop-Off bus for the driving tour of the city, but we opted to catch the shuttle back to the ship.
Of course, the first thing Rickee wants to do once back onboard is to head straight to The Sanctuary. So, I took my laptop with me so I could work on the blog while enjoying the view of Cartagena from Deck 15 aft!
We had the chance to get a photo of The Sanctuary team who have been taking care of us. What a great group of guys! They are always on hand to bring a glass of cucumber water, or take a lunch order, or bring an umbrella for shade.
They even serve afternoon tea at The Sanctuary. Rasim brought us each a plate of delicious sandwiches, cakes and cookies. Unfortunately, we are booked for The Chef's Table dinner this evening, so we can't enjoy all of these wonderful treats.
As mentioned before, this evening we have been fortunate to be selected to dine at The Chef's Table. This is a special, once-per-cruise event that is strictly first-come, first-served for reservations and is limited to no more than 12 guests. As instructed, we met the 10 other guests in La Patisserie at 6:45 where we were each fitted with white lab coats to wear during the galley portion of the event.
We were escorted into the galley on Deck 5 by Silvio Zampieri, the ship's Maitre'd Hotel, where we were introduced to Executive Chef Dirk Daumichen.
Chef Daumichen took the time to explain how galley operations work on a Princess ship. Each guest enjoyed a glass of champagne during his presentation. Soon, trays of appetizers began to appear, one-by-one. First was a deep fried King Crab leg with a delicious mustard dipping sauce.
Next was a decadent Foie Gras lollipop coated in a port wine jelly served with crushed pistachio. I am not a fan of Foie Gras, but I have to admit, it was delicious.
As if the Foie Gras Lollipop was not creative enough, next up was a white tomato soup that was as tasty as it was unusual. Chef Daumichen explained how he was able to make the tomato soup white, and it is quite an interesting process.
The Pancetta wrapped Angus Beef with Stilton cheese cube served next was drizzled with a Balsamic glaze. This was our least favorite of all the appetizers, but still quite interesting. I am just not a fan of bleu cheese.
Our last appetizer was a small potato filled with Hackleback Caviar. I am not a caviar fan either, but this was pretty good if I do say so myself.
Believe it or not, all the dishes I have just described are just the appetizers! Now we still have a huge meal ahead of us! We remove our white jackets and are escorted from the galley to a special table at the back of the dining room. Each place setting is marked with a name card. Soon after we are seated, a white wine is poured and our starter course arrives: a Porcini Mushroom Risotto with Jumbo Shrimp. It was excellent.
For an intermezzo, Chef Daumichen once again reached into his bag of tricks to produce a Bloody Mary Sherbet with Grey Goose Vodka. Sounds weird, right? Trust me, everyone at the table agreed it was incredible.
Of course, we were already full before the main course arrived. And, arrive it did in the form of two silver platters full of protein! The first had racks of lamb and beef tenderloin.
The second tray had Grilled Sea Scallops and Main Lobster Tails.
After a beautiful glass of Shiraz was poured for each guest, we were served a platter filled with each item!
A sweet potato mash was the perfect accompaniment to a plate of perfectly cooked proteins. Everything was simply amazing, and there was much more than even I could finish. But wait, there's more! Two more courses, if you can believe it. A cheese course was a ramekin filled with Chives and Pink Peppercorn Cheesecake. I don't even know how to describe this dish. It was sweet, savory, and spicy. Definitely one of the most interesting, and delicious dishes I have ever tried.
Finally, the dessert course arrived. The Sable Breton was almost too beautiful to eat. Imagine white chocolate dollops atop a mango panna cotta atop a crispy cookie base.
A tray of Chef Dirk's Homemade Petit Fours was passed around, as if we had not eaten enough already. Ladies were presented with a rose and the Chef's Table event finally came to a delicious end. Of course, there were a couple of other surprises thrown in, but we have to leave something to your imagination. This is a meal we will remember for a long, long time. It far exceeded our expectations. If you love good food and good wine, do whatever it takes to get on the list early for a seat at The Chef's Table.
Tomorrow, we will going through the locks of the Panama Canal.