The following is based on our 26 June 2004 cruise on the Caribbean Princess and will be published in parts as they occur when the cruise is in progress. To get started some background information is in order.
This cruise is the second of a series of one on one cruises with me and one other family member. The first was on the Golden Princess in March of 2004 with my daughter Whitney and I. This one is with my daughter Sydney and there's one in October with my wife Lisa on the Star Princess before we bring everyone together for a full family cruise in December on the Diamond Priincess.
This series came about quite by accident. Normally we all go on a Spring Break cruise each year. This year with Sydney (the oldest) going off to the University of Kansas as a freshman spring break dates didn't like up right and Sydney was in spring training for the university rowing team so she couldn't go anyway.
What was initially viewed as a bad deal has turned out to be a great way for me to spend some quality timewith each of the kids. The best of the series though will be the Fall cruise with my wife Lisa, our first vacation without the kids since we had them.
Each one of the series is special with its own itinerary, ship and flavor. This one, on the new Carribean Princess, in its Innaugural Season, promises to be one of the most unique of any of our cruises so far. This ship is simply one of the the latest and greatest in what the cruise industry has to offer and the early reviews indicate she is everything she's been advertised to be and more.
Before we get on with the final stages of all that though, lets turn back the clock to the planning stages of this cruise.
What follows is a condensed version of the complete travelog which appears on our website which will include photos, digital video and interviews with fellow passengers as the journey progresses.
Just days remain now before this cruise begins so we'll get right to it by starting with our air transporation arrangements.
One note to remember is that this an account of our journey, done our way, intended to entertain and inform. If you're looking for advice check out Dr Phil, right after Oprah, weekday afternoons.
If it's specific cruise related advice you're hungry for then www.cruisecritic.com is THE best source you'll find for the very latest information.
Come along as we begin our journey We'll be flying from Kansas City (MCI) to Fort Lauderdale (FLL) a day before the cruise, a practice we follow religiously for a number of reasons.
First, travel day from our Midwest home is a long one no matter which airline or scheduled flights we take. We want to begin our cruise refreshed not all tired and worn out. A night?s hotel stay in the port city takes care of that and usually is well worth the money. For this precruise hotel stay we bid on and won the Wyndham at the airport through Priceline.com with the help of Amber on www.biddingfun.com. We like the close by location and will be staying a few days post-cruise on the beach so seeing the ocean right away is not a top priority.
Second, we like to be some of the air travelers with flexible travel plans that the airlines look for when a flight is overbooked. With the flexibility offered by our relaxed schedule we can opt to take a later flight on one of the legs of our trip from MCI to FLL (which usually connects in Atlanta, Detroit, Chicago or Dallas, depending on the airline). We're rewarded, compensated or bought off (call it what you will) with travel vouchers that often represent a substantial chunk of the next cruise's air cost. On our last cruise earlier this year when Whitney and I sailed on the Golden Princess, we ended up the trip with $400 each in travel vouchers ($800 total), enough to buy air for all four family members for our December holiday cruise.
Going a day early can really pay off and being some of the "lucky" ones is not all that hard if you plan ahead
Traveling in a day early, as mentioned, provides us with the necessary flexibility to take a later flight. Sometimes that flight might be a few minutes later at a different gate or several hours, even the next day later. At some point we have to weigh what we'll get out of it against the inconvenience.
On that Golden cruise I mentioned, we also ended up with a food voucher for $50 because our next flight would not be leaving for several hours. We've had flight changes that gave us a free night in a hotel too. The trick is to know that the gate attendants have a lot of authority to grant lots of goodies, you need to be one of the people they deem worthy and be in the right place at the right time...something that is not all that hard to do
Before each flight or leg of a days air travel, we check in at the gate, even if we've printed our boarding passes at home. The main reason is to check and see if the flight is full. If it is or not we offer our help should they need someone to take a later flight. Here's how that conversation goes:
"Is this flight full?"
"Oh yes, completely full"
"If you need someone to take a later flight we might be able to, we have flexible travel plans and will be sitting right over there. There's four of us, if you need four seats let us know or even if you need just two let us know, we can split up" (Point to closeby seats in waiting area)
Special Note: Get them to "bump" part of your party and really cash in due to the extra inconvenience
Then it's a matter of keeping your eyes and ears open to the events that may unfold which present you with the opportunity to cash in. They may motion to us to come back to the counter or they may announce that the flight is overbooked and that they are seeking volunteers with flexible travel plans (us!) to take a later flight.
Pounce! It's payday!
To increase chances of this happening we book flights with connections that are close in time to each other. If the initial flight runs behind and it is the airlines fault, say due to an equipment malfunction, they'll make a deal. Be careful on this one though because if its a weather-related delay causing the whole air travel system to bog down then you're on your own and that can backfire.
And flight delays or missed connections are another good reason to come in town a day or more early. A breakdown in equipment in Denver can affect flights in Florida.
Just as flexibility is important in air travel so it is with Ground Transportation (GT). In the Fort Lauderdale area, as is typical of most cruise ports, there are a number of options from which to choose to get us from point A to point B. The trick is to discover which is the most cost effective. That doesn?t always mean which is the least expensive; there are other factors to be considered.
For this, like any cruise vacation, we begin by sketching out what our GT needs are. Not how we?ll go about getting there but where we need to go. We start with a story of what is going to happen to us from the time we leave home until the time we return home. See if you can figure out the GT needs for this scenario:
We?ll fly out of our local airport to Atlanta where we?ll connect with a flight that takes us to Fort Lauderdale. As soon as we land we will need to get to the US Coast Guard office where Sydney has a recruitment interview. She?s thinking about joining the Coast Guard that could be a really cool move for this college sophomore. She had a great freshman year at The University of Kansas but grew weary of the college scene rather quickly. Should be an interesting meeting.
After the Coast Guard meeting we?ll head back to the airport area to our pre-cruise hotel, the Wyndham for the night. Depending on time available and how we feel we might go out for dinner or just get something to eat at the hotel. The next morning we?re going to want to be at the port rather early, probably around 10AM just because we like going early and being one of the first to board. On the way we?ll need to stop by the Publix grocery store on 17th street for some sodas and other provisions not offered on the ship.
So to outline our GT needs, they are:
· Transfer from home to airport · Transfer from airport to Coast Guard office · Transfer from Coast Guard office to hotel · Transfer from hotel to someplace to eat dinner · Transfer from dinner place back to hotel · Transfer to Port, stopping by grocery store for embarkation
The popular choices in Fort Lauderdale are
· A taxi- that will work for every leg of our GT needs and is convenient. Using Yahoo?s map and driving directions feature, a conservative estimate of the cost of GT using a cab would top $100 total · A limousine service- not really practical at all- a possible good choice if the GT need was to go from the Fort Lauderdale airport to, say, a hotel in Miami AND a high value was placed on making the GT a luxury experience. Often it is thought that because a limousine seats 8 to 10 passengers that it will accommodate them for a transfer on a cruise vacation. Not safely. The storage space is often inadequate for the amount of luggage even 4 passengers might have. I used to recommend this option a lot but finally ran into an honest limo company owner who told me flat out I was wrong and that?s why. Still, if a limo is a good application for you I still recommend Limos Of Miami or Absolute Limousine as two reasonably priced and efficient companies serving the area. · Tri-rail trains- Florida has a great system in place if you want to take the time to figure it out- I don?t think most vacationers want to though- I sure don?t. I?m just not a big van of public mass transportation. I think I will take the wrong transfer and wind up in a bad part of town where I will be someone?s lunch · Super Shuttle/ Airport Shuttle- these rates are posted like typical cab rates and might be a good selection for a trip with limited GT transfers going to covered areas · A rental car- Advantages- a flat rate for the day, most with unlimited mileage. The size vehicle is easily customized to the size of your party. Shuttle service is often offered that is convenient from the airport or to the cruise port. Disadvantage- You have to drive
I went with the rental car and reserved a Ford Focus through Budget Car Rental for $23 for the day. It will be plenty big for just the two of our luggage and us and it affords us the flexibility to make our transfers happen on our own schedule for a fixed rate. Upon arrival in Fort Lauderdale, an Budget shuttle will pick us up and take us to the car. When we?re ready to go to the port, we?ll drop the car at Budget?s 17th St office and be shuttled by them to the pier.
That takes care of our pre-cruise GT needs. But what about after the cruise?
Our ship comes back to Port Everglades on a Saturday. The day before, on Friday, my wife Lisa and other daughter Whitney are flying down to spend a couple days with us, celebrating the Fourth of July on the beach watching fireworks. We did this on New Years Eve after our Holiday cruise on the Carnival Legend (awesome ship) and had so much fun it just seemed like a natural idea?.and a nice consolation prize for the family members that didn?t get to go on this cruise.
We?ll have them take a cab from our friend Will at Castro?s Limousine Service (954-593-9052) who runs a fleet of Ford Excursions ($8 per person) to the Holiday Inn on the beach. We stayed there post-cruise in December so they know the lay of the land and should have a nice part of the day Friday and Saturday on their own before we join them post-cruise Saturday morning.
From our two Carnival Legend cruises and one Golden Princess cruise out of Fort Lauderdale I know that there are plenty of cabs available. That would probably be a good choice if all we were doing was going to the hotel, hanging around, then going to the airport when we finally go home.
We have bigger plans than that
We?ll disembark the Caribbean Princess probably about 9:30 or 10:00 without much problem. From there Budget will pick us up again and take us to their 17th street location to pick up a car, this one a Ford Explorer, to accommodate 4 people. We?ll need that because · There?s a chance that Sydney might be taking the test for getting into the Coast Guard, · We have a total of 5 meals to eat someplace there, · I bought tickets online through Ticketmaster for the Florida Marlins vs Tampa Bay Devilrays game on Saturday night · As long as we?re in driving mode, I want to drive around and become more familiar with the area, checking out hotels and restaurants recommended by CC members and neighborhoods where we might live some day
This one will cost more because it?s two days and a larger car but it still is the cost effective way to go as it provides us with unlimited ground transportation at a reasonable cost which we know up front.
That?s another factor I like about rental cars, pre-reserving limousines or taxi?s that you can get rates for in advance; it?s easy to budget for them. Regular taxicabs are iffy on being able to pin down the exact cost. When planning I like to get as many good, hard numbers as possible. This goes along with wanting to plan as much as possible right up to and after the cruise because once on board that?s where the planning stops. The only plan for on board is for each member of our party to have the fabulous cruise they dream it will be. Getting them there in as painless a manner as possible is my job. Once on board its up to each one of us to make it a great vacation.
We booked our first cruise entirely through the cruise line (Carnival) thinking they own the ships, they should know what to do and when to do it.
Our flights, transfers and the sailing all came off without a hitch and our obsession with cruising was born.
Shortly after our obsession with cruising was born came our second child, my obsession with planning.
I look at the cruise as the starting place, an unfinished work of art waiting for the final touches, touches that will make it a masterpiece or a poster for sale at Wal-Mart; nice to look at but not much depth.
Booking the cruise is the most important stop on the road to a Fabulous Cruise Vacation but the road leading to it and away from it are equally important. A wreck in either area can ruin the whole thing.
My job is to not only reduce the possibility of any wrecks but to make the drive a pleasant one.
If Step one is the cruise, step two is a pre-cruise hotel stay. We did not have this on our first cruise and by the time we made it to the ship after our long travel day it was naptime. In addition, I didn't really care for being a part of a huge herd of passengers pushing and shoving to get on board. Once was enough.
By the time our second cruise rolled around, also out of Miami, we'd discovered the Cruise Critic message board and became empowered with the belief that we could make our own airline and hotel reservations. We did just that added two days to the beginning of our vacation that allowed us to explore Miami, South Beach and the surrounding area as well as plan flight times that were convenient to OUR schedule, not some master plan hatched by the cruise line.
Everything was going just fine until we came back from that cruise, went back to the Cruise Critic message board to report about our trip, and discovered that there was a better way to book the hotel room.
The scary and intimidating Priceline.com
We read of people who stayed in very nice 4 star hotels for less than we paid for our Best Western 3 star (at best) hotel and paid less than half what we did.
That's a lot...and worth investigating.
There are several online resources I consulted to make sense of it all. BiddingforTravel.com is one and BiddingFun.com is another. Fellow CruiseCritic member and founder of www.biddingfun.com Amber Bllecher tells us,
"The most important thing to remember is researchbefore you bid. Know what hotels are in which zones at what levels"
Zones? Levels? It all sounds so intimidating...but it does not have to be and taking the time to understand how it all works, even briefly, can reap considerable rewards.
Now, Priceline is THE way we book hotels, there's simply no better pricing available.
The one thing I do not like is that on priceline you don't know for sure what hotel you'll get until you place a winning bid. You can narrow it down but you don't find out for sure until the bid is accepted.
This is where Amber's advice is pure gold.
On this cruise we're booking a pre cruise hotel and want it to be close to the port and airport. Our flights bring us into town just the afternoon before the cruise so there's not any real reason to book a beachfront hotel in Fort Lauderdale plus I've not stayed at an airport hotel around there for quite some time and I thought it would be nice to have some experience in that area.
We placed a winning $40 bid on the Wyndham at the airport. It looks to be a good hotel and I've been a big fan of the Wyndham chain for quite some time so I'm happy.
Since that booking though, our post cruise plans changed to include bringing my wife Lisa and daughter Whitney down to Fort Lauderdale to join us post-cruise for a Fourth of July holiday. This is a result of coming in under budget on our last cruise and this one so far...so planning really can pay off!
They'll be coming down the night before our ship comes in and while they are familiar with the area, we decided to try really hard to get the Holiday Inn for the post cruise hotel as we'd stayed there in December as a family before our Carnival Legend cruise.
So I did my research but didn't feel really confident that a priceline bid would get me the Holiday Inn. Thanks to general information on Amber's site I WAS able to narrow down the selections on Hotwire.com, which sports a bidding system somewhat similar to Priceline.
To me, the big difference between the two is that hotwire generally gets more specific on which property you'll likely be bidding on but costs more. Not as much as "the other guys" which include Hotels.com, CheapFares.com, Orbitz.com (good for air for me though), Travelocity and the like. Hotwire gives more detail on what the different star ratings mean and with the help of Amber's site I was able to get the Holiday Inn for more than I would pay on priceline IF I got it but less than the other guys and surely less than booking direct with the hotel.
In this case, while I wanted a decent price, I was also very interested in getting the hotel I wanted and Hotwire offered the opportunity to get it.
After our first Princess cruise, a Spring sailing on the Golden Princess I was quite impressed. So impressed that when I returned I booked several more Princess cruises for the future. After our recent summer sailing on the Caribbean Princess I am beginning to feel qualified to be head-over-heels in love with this cruise line and ship design.
What follows is indeed a glowing report of a fabulous cruise, our best, running away with the lead a lap or two ahead of the rest of the pack. That's not to say that there are on critical examinations of some of the ship's features and methods of doing stuff, there will be.
In brief, this was a close to a perfect cruise as I have yet experienced.
For those considering a Princess cruise that may have sailed another line or have never sailed before, here's the information you may be looking for to help make up your mind. For seasoned Princess or other line cruisers I invite you to open your mind gather your own impression from these pages, with your own eyes and not filtered through some other source or person.
First, some facts and numbers:
Passengers: Chris (me) 49, 9 cruises Sydney (my daughter) 19, 8 cruises
Accomodations: Category BB balcony cabin C753, aft
Cost of this cruise: Pre-cruise hotel and expenses (1 day) $125 Cruise Fare including port charges and taxes $2293 Onboard Purchases total $1050 Photo Shop $20 Spa $220 Gift Shop $127 Gratuities $140 Laundry $15 Internet Cafe $53 Sailing Video $30 Onboard Credi -$50 Bar Charges $495 Post-cruise hotel and expenses (3 days) $387
Major Review Area Scores: (1= lowest and 10= highest)
Embarkation 10 Cabin 9 Fellow Passengers 10 Ship design 10 Ship features 10 Entertainment Showroom 9 Lounge acts 10 Bars/disco 10 Teen activities 9 Poolside 10 Crew Cruise Director 10 Support Staff 9 Bar Staff 10 Hotel Staff 10 Dining options Room Service 9 Main dining 9 Casual Dining 9 Upcharge dining 9 Itinerary 9 Gaming/Casino 8 Disembarkation 9
To compare ships or other lines would not be fair but I really don't much care so I'll just tell you right now: This ship is awesome and I am totally spoiled.
One facet that struck me right off the bat was that they've gone out of their way to be sure that everyone has plenty to do and plenty of places to eat . With the design of this ship, you see, Princess added an additional deck of passenger cabins. In what appears to be a knee-jerk reaction to this they've also added Club Fusion, aptly dubbed Club Confusion by the staff, in which the idea is to have something going on all the time rather than sit idle much of the day like her counterpart on other Grand Class ships. In addition, on most nights, the main showroom features 3 showtimes, not 2 like other ships, and the addition of the popular "Movies Under The Stars" offers yet another additional venue and something else to do.
Personally I think they've worried too much about this but the extra additions are welcome and for the most part well done. More on all, in probably more detail than you're looking for, later.
Explaining dining options is always a challenge to someone who had not "been there and done that", but on the Caribbean Princess the explanation is further complicated with the addition of the zany Caribe Cafe. This is basically two more cafeteria lines disguised as an additional dining option with a zest of confusion thrown in for laughs. With an early flight out of Kansas City International Airport, a hours drive from where we live, we opted to spend the night at a hotel by the airport. The original plan was to drive to the airport and leave a car in long-term parking @$5 per day ($55 for the trip) . On investigation I found that winning priceline bids were coming in at $30 to $40 for 2 to 3 star hotel in the airport area. I placed a winning bid of $35 on the Quality Inn which would let us park our car there for the duration of our vacation, shuttle us back and forth from the airport and feed us breakfast in the morning.
Easy decision?and we technically get to start vacation a little bit early if the time you leave home counts as the starting line. Personally I count right after the last thing I have to do at ?work? as the beginning of the vacation.
This was our first time at a hotel like this, a pretty darn nice place for the road warriors of the business world. Adequately appointed rooms and public areas were well managed and efficiently set up. The morning breakfast included a make-your-own-waffle bar and other assorted continental breakfast type stuff. It was more that I expected for sure.
The night before we scheduled a shuttle transfer at 5:30 for the 5 minute drive to the airport and our 6:30 flight.
Surprisingly, the shuttle was full with passengers going to an assortment of airlines to different destinations. Ours, however, seemed to be the only flight headed for a cruise. Tough luck for those other people huh?
We'd decided NOT to check our luggage at curbside at the airport with a skycap and walk it into the terminal ourselves, saving the obligatory tip required to insure that our luggage was not sent to Alaska.
Well that idea fell through as soon as we got unloaded from the shuttle, two traffic lanes away from the curb. With just two travelers (like I didn't know this when planning this move) we were one person short of being able to have someone with the luggage at all times while it was being moved from place to place.
The friendly American Airlines skycap who knows us by sight by now got yet another contribution from us. Oh well, I tried.
The first leg of our flight brought us to Chicago and I suspected that today's flight would be uneventful compared with the last time I flew in here.
That was a twenty years ago and I had flown into town for a job interview at the OHare airport. Dang oddest interview I ever had..or so it seemed. I met the guy who was interviewing me at the airport, or shall I saw he met me. As I came off the plane he was standing there waiting for me. After five quick minutes of reviewing my resume he was off and I was left bewildered as to why I even bothered flying into town.
I didn?t have to wait long to find out why
In Chicago there's this phenomenon called "lake-effect snow" that was predicted accurately to descend on the airport and surrounding area and, in effect, blanket the place in a foot of snow in a very short period of time.
The five minute interview turned into a 2 day stranding at that airport at the closest hotel I could find while waiting to be dug out.
That was in December though and this is June. No snow, just a two hour layover. Not enough time to get stranded but plenty of time for lunch.
Since this was the second of the series of one-on-one cruise vacations, first one being with daughter Whitney and this one with daughter Sydney, I had automatically fallen into the default parent setting of making sure everything was "even" as far as the base experience goes.
On Whitney's trip last March we had lunch at Wolfgang Pucks place in the Cincinnati airport (which regular readers will remember had bewildered me as it is not actually even in the same state as Cincinnati). Lucky me, there was another Wolfgang Pucks place here too.
Actually there were about 3 million places to eat here but keeping everything "even", a practice that just has to happen; no discussion necessary, Wolfies place got the nod. At first I thought "Oh good, this one says its his "express" version. One might be led to believe that "express" meant "value". If one followed that logic they would have to believe that ten bucks for a Caesar salad was a real deal. $27.00 later we had completed the required contribution to Mr Puck's fame and fortune and were on our way, along with two $3.00 bottles of water that didn't really quench my thirst much more that the $5.00 per CASE water we buy at Sam's club.
Moral of the story, stick with plan A and eat those snacks I had packed for nourishment along the way.
I don't bring this up because I am a cheapskate. I?m not. But I do try to keep an eye on expenses. So far we were not doing so well on the travel day budget of $50 for miscellaneous expenses.
It would get worse from here, budget-wise.
Travel-wise, the whole flight thing went off as planned, no problems. We made it to Fort Lauderdale a little ahead of schedule along with our luggage and our record was still perfect; we've yet to ever lose a piece of luggage. I'd love to believe that's because we double tag each bag and put that same information inside so I will. Hey, we may still be on land in reality but it can be bent from time to time a little bit.
In Fort Lauderdale, the luggage carousels are downstairs and right behind them is a bank of desks for all the car rental agencies. I stationed Sydney by the carousel for our flight and spent $2 for a self-service cart to load it all on to, determined to make moving this stuff happen successfully with just two of us.
While she waited I walked down to the Budget Car Rental desk to check in but found a sign stating that the desk was closed but to proceed to the end of the terminal where a shuttle would pick us up. Ok, no problem.
After gathering up our luggage we easily transferred the cart full out and to the left to a sort of car rental cul-de-sac where huge shuttles were already lined up from all the respective car rental agencies.
Good system, very efficient.
If I had to do it over, based on our car rental company experience so far, I?d have picked any other car rental company but Budget. By the time we made it to the Budget bus, it was full and we were to wait for the next one which would be ?right behind me? the driver of the full van told us.
Alamo, Thrifty, Hertz and Avis, in that order, took top prizes for the most shuttle busses today, or so we and another party of people waiting for the next budget bus to come had voted. It really wasn?t that long but our two groups felt kind of like second-class car renters as the other parties were whisked off to their awaiting rentals in sir-conditioned comfort while we were left wilting in the 90+ degree heat.
Eventually the Budget van did come and I guess that first driver must have had a twin brother because he looked exactly like the one that was "right behind him". I thought about sneaking up behind him later and yelling "Boo!" just so he'd have something to compare to when using the phrase "right behind me" in the future.
At the Budget mega-rental-plex, a few minutes later, we decided that I would run in and pick up the car real quick while Sydney stayed with the luggage at curbside where I would be along shortly to pick her up in the "Ford Focus or similar" vehicle we had reserved.
I'd chose the Focus because Whitney, back home, had her eyes set on one for her first car, a purchase that was looming upon our return and only about a year late for that now 17-year old who was just now learning to drive. (Before her attitude was always "Why should I learn? Sydney can just take me places)
When I got into the Budget office, a large, glass-enclosed building with 10 work stations being manned by 4 people, I got in line with my Budget "fastbreak" express card thinking this would take a matter of seconds.
I was not alone. The other dozen people ahead of me were also savy car rental operators with their own impressive "fastbreak" cards who were similarly duped into believing they were special too.
As I waited, watching the Budget people work in such slow motion that I was sure I would know the exact number of floor tiles in this place before I got a car, I could see Sydney outside waiting for me to bring that car around and pick up her and the luggage.
Not known for her patience, her cheery attitude was wilting as the hot sun beating down upon her and I could just hear her mind saying "What the heck (or some other expletive) is he doing in there", I hope he's having a good time while I am dieing her!, Where's Whitney for me to yell at?? or something else to match the look on her face.
Finally to the counter, the Ford Focus had turned into a Chevy Malibu which was fine. We were going to have the car for a day, it really didn't matter to me.
I do need to make a note to find out if our personal car insurance covers us when we rent cars. Every time I do this (which is not often) I wonder but end up buying their insurance just to be safe. This time they also offered an option to "prepay for the gas I would use". That just sounded like such a bad deal as the Budget rep started to explain it that I declined, in spite of his furrowed brow and look of intolerance for my ignorance. I took the car insurance though which ran the $23+ gas cost for our Ground Transportation on this trip up to $40; still a good deal compared with cabs or other options.
Exiting the Budget office I walked past Sydney to get the car and was not sure who was hotter, the pavement or her.
A few minutes later though we were loaded and on our way to the Coast Guard Recruiting Office, our first stop and the big reason why renting a car was a good choice for our Ground Transportation needs on this trip. As discussed earlier it is just the most cost-effective mode for this trip.
Money is one thing though and convenience is another.
I?d done several Mapquest driving scenarios for the various places we would be going to and had exact directions to the recruiting office. I am the driver and Sydney is the navigator.
As we left the Budget mega-rental-plex the friendly gate attendant asked where we were going, took a look at the directions I had printed, and gave us a simpler, verbal version that he said would be much quicker. Cool! Sydney was anxious to get there and get on with it.
As we headed in the right direction I warned Sydney to let me know as far in advance as she could when to change lanes, make turns, etc. We were doing just fine until, for some reason, she switched from the verbal directions given by the Budget dude to the written ones I had printed and we fell into the "I'm-in-a-strange-place-Twilight-Zone-highway-of-terror" mode.
She assumed it was my fault for not following her Mapquest rendition which told me to go "1.23 miles or 1.1245 minutes then" blah, blah blah.. I knew better though because I had been in "I'm-in-a-strange-place-Twilight-Zone-highway-of-terror" mode before.
Just ask Lisa (DW).
I am the only person in the world that can take 7 hours to get from the airport in Las Vegas to the MGM Grand Hotel in a rental car. I'm not saying I get lost easy but ...ok well maybe I do get lost easy. And maybe her directions were fine then too. But after passing Hoover Dam a few times I figured the best bet was to just head towards the bright lights and hope for the best. Hey, what can I say? It's a long flight from Kansas City and the drinks are free. More on that and what Lisa calls my "Vegas walk" (more like a stagger) some other time.
An hour later we made the 8.57 minute trip to the recruiting office and I took the blame for being late. I figured I better or there was no way that they would let Sydney drive one of their boats. She'd end up in Cuba and blame it on her sister just because that's what sisters do.
We had a great meeting with the recruiter who turned out to be (no lie) the stunt double for Ed Harris in the movie "Radio" with Cuba Gooding Jr. The end result was that Sydney will be joining the Coast Guard after her sophomore year of college either at home in Kansas or at home in Florida in an officers training program that will pretty much pay for everything through grad school, should she decide to head that way.
After that we checked in at the Wydham Airport Hotel, a nice place that their web site does not do justice to. It kind of reminded me of the Hyatt Grand Cypress in Orlando just not as big or glitzy. Great tropical-landscaped pool area, nicely appointed rooms, convenient free parking (forget the valet), and a decent price through priceline.com.
Ok, here's a little something I added to my knowledge of pricline.com stuff. When we book through priceline we don?t get the goodies we would normally get by being members of the Wyndham Frequent Guest program. On check in I paid and extra $30 to upgrade to a club level room which included breakfast and , I assumed, the goodies we would have gotten as a Wyndham member; some drinks and snacks in the room. We got the breakfast but that was it.
I think this varies from chain to chain though because Sheraton and its Starwood Preferred Guest program are solidly in place regardless of how the room is paid for.
Still, it was a nice room and a nice hotel, no complaints.
We decided to go back out, stop by the grocery store for provisions for the cruise and to make sure we knew where the other Budget rental office was, the one closer to the port that would shuttle us to the ship after dropping the car in the morning.
Good thing we did because we spent the next 4 hours learning that part of Fort Lauderdale like the back of our hands and NOT finding the office at all. We even went back to the Budget office we picked the car up from and they didn?t know where it was exactly.
The plan is to call them in the morning and see if they can give us directions to where they are. If they can?t I am going to park the car in the middle of some busy street and tell them to come pick it up.
I believe we will be joining other rental car companies little clubs before the next cruise.
But the whole thing was totally fun. We?d had a great day, a super meeting with the recruiter and could have gone home right then having had a great trip.
But we still had a cruise to go on! It seems all agree that Princess rules the embarkation procedure world and this sailing was no exception. I think if someone ever reported a bad experience in this area I'm just sure they would be a liar.
Speaking of dishonest, low-down, dirty rats.
I would be one of those who smuggled stuff on this ship.
Pre-cruise (you may remember) I begged and pleaded for information about the possibility of walking on the ship with a case of something...anything.. not offered on the ship. On our Golden Princess cruise earlier in the year I noted that Princess did not sell Heineken or Corona as well as Dr. Pepper....all needed to make for an enjoyable cruise. Not a deal breaker; no one would have their cruise ruined without them, but this became more of a quest, perhaps a time-between-cruises-killing quest.
I got reports that varied from "Oh Sure, we always just walk right on with our case upon case of whatever we want" to "There is NO way you will get that on board!" and everything in-between. Here is our experience:
The morning of embarkation we were driving around on the way to drop the car off at the Budget Car Rental office on 17th Street from where we would be taken to the port by Budget Shuttle. (That all worked out very nicely by the way- very efficient)
Not it was crunch time, I had to decide if I was going to attempt this or not.
I decided to go for it but realized that it was not so much the beer they'd object to but the brazen and open bringing it on the ship part. Everyone had no problem bringing cans of any beverage as long as they put it in their checked luggage. But I wanted bottles.
At the liquor store I found the boxed case of Heineken I wanted to take on that ship. As I paid I noticed that they had sheets of colored tissue paper for wrapping gift bottles of wine and I saw the light.
Funny how in the blink of an eye you finally see it.
I asked for a few sheets, thinking I'd tape it around the case of Heineken making it less obvious to the naked eye what I had there. Remember I was going to be one of the first in line and subject to a long period of scrutiny.
I did not want to be made an example of.
The friendly liquor store clerk asked if it was a gift so, going with the flow, I said "Yes.....Yes it is!. My brother is getting back from Iraq tonight and he said the one thing they didn't have that he wanted very badly was a Heineken"
The now even more interested the increasingly patriotic clerk replied "Oh well we have some very nice wrapping paper over here at the other counter, here let me get that for you and lets go pick some out"
Enjoying the ride I said "Oh that would be great, we're all going to meet him at the airport. I just can't wait to see the look on his face"
"Well normally we charge $5 for this but you tell him thanks for us too"
(I momentarily felt guilty here)
"Sure thing, will do, thanks!"
(The guilt did not last long)
Now you may be wondering why I would go to such lengths just to get a box of beer wrapped to smuggle on to a cruise ship. Why would I lie about my brother who would be more likely baking a souffle than defending our country (long story, some other time)? Well that's a dillema that Lisa (DW) has wondered about for decades and still has no answer for.
My take on it?
It's just more fun that way!
We made it through embarkation just fine with that wrapped like a special occasion gift case of Heineken (I planned on saying it was a present for the Captain which I must present in person if stopped) sitting atop my roll on carry on luggage, 2 6-packs of Tonic Water, 18 cans of Bloody Mary Mix and 3 12 packs of Coke/Sprite in our checked luggage.
The interesting thing about it all is I bet I only had 3 or 4 of those Heinekens and all of them were consumed in our cabin (see bar bill above). It was just the notion of being able to do it and report back here if it was possible or not. The Princess SourPusses as I call them, were there from the moment we stepped foot on the dock before embarkation until the moment we left the ship.
These are the people who moan and complain about anything they can get their hands on. It's what they do and they love doing it.
Anything will "ruin their cruise". They are bored, their kids are bored and they meet boring people.
They look way down their nose at the people who are having the time of their lives and refuse to let anything stand in the way of it. The Princess Sourpusses always look like they are going to be sick soon, are sick, or dream of being sick. If they did get sick it would surely be my fault and guess what?
I could care less.
It's those people's problem and they may or may not deal with it.
The Princess Sourpusses are around and resent all these "new" people that have invaded their cruise line.
The point of this is not to scare someone away or make them hessitant to cruise with Princess (like I was) because of the Princess Sourpusses. But they do exist and are easily ignored.
Just tuck that thought away and remove that objection to cruising Princess, you'll be glad you did...as I am.
This Caribbean Princess sailing had simply THE most fun group of passengers I've seen. All ages, sizes, and types of people were there...yes even some Princess Sourpusses...but I've never seen so many having a good time, in their own way, at once.
Let's see why that might be We had selected (not settled for) Personal Choice dining because of our experience with it earlier in the year on the Golden Princess. We liked it then and were looking forward to the same options, plus a few more, on this sailing.
We were not disappointed.
Personal Choice is really nothing complicated or difficult to understand, although I sure managed to before our first experience with it.
The notion that you can dine "where, when and with whoever you like" is for the most part true...even moreso on this ship.
Traditional dining will offer your choice of two seatings for dinner, one early and one later. You pick which one you want and hope to get it. This is still a very popular option and reflects decades of seagoing dining tradition. In other words, if you're looking for a lot of boring old people, that's the place you'll find a bunch of them. You'll also find scaredy cats who hate change with a passion or are first-time cruisers who are following the advice of well-meaning travel (buffoon) agents. The group that's also there is a bunch that's having a fabulous vacation and happen to be in traditional dining because that's what they prefer.
The fact of the matter is that unless you've got some regularity problems, small children that must eat at a specific time, or some other logical (probably not) reason, you're missing the ..ahem..."boat" by not trying Personal Choice. With few exceptions not even worth talking about, the menu and style of service is the same if not better when following the Personal Choice plan...wait a minute, that sounds like a Weight Watchers diet I was on once...make that: Personal Choice offers a rich dining experience that, if skipped, is a lot like missing formal night.
Pause for gasping
Well it's true.
Personal Choice offers dining as cruising is offered in its contemporary form:
Do what you want, when you want to.
That probably really makes the Princess SourPusses mad...but again: it's their loss.
The dining options are pretty simple with the exception of the Caribe Cafe which was thought up by someone on an acid trip at the time. Let's go there first.
The Caribe Cafe, more accurately called the Caribe Cafe Buffet, adjoins the Horizon Court Buffet, both aft.
Side note: In previous versions of this ship the space it occupies provided room for tables and chairs by the Outrigger Bar, what was a great place for a Cruise Critic meeting in the past but is too crowded now. For future meetings I'm going to push for the Sterling Steakhouse, empty during the day, which hosted the Friends of Dorothy get together. They set up a nice buffet of snacks but no one attended. I if we get in their faces about it they'll do it for Cruise Critic which would indeed attend since we all go anywhere there is food to fill our gaping maws.
What they've done with the design of the Caribe Cafe is to allow the option of having four, not two, buffet lines open at the same time which is exactly what they did on, for example, Embarkation Day. The menu was exactly the same and no body cared because we were ravenous cruise passengers at the first feeding.
Pretty clever of them huh?
The Caribe Cafe designers went out of their way to disguise this though.
During the day it appears to be similar to the Horizon court but with some different food choices. What is dang odd is that nobody still seems to be able to figure out the scramble system of serving yourself from different stations in the Horizon court.
But the Caribe Cafe, more of a straight line cafeteria, for some reason brings out the station hopping skills guests should have used in the Horizon Court which causes some bottlenecks around the good stuff and of course nasty glances by Princess Sourpusses who may have lost their way and wandered into this area while looking for someone to complain about the coffee to.
They are ALWAYS complaining about the coffee.
I make a point of taking my first sip right in front of them and saying (ala Folgers picture of calm benevolence; Mrs Olson, ) "Now Dat's Goood coffee...good to the last drop!"...or something like that.
What is really wierd and takes some getting used to in the Caribe Cafe is dining there at night. Whoever thought this idea up must have majored in Ambiguity. The place closes early in the afternoon so they can set up the tables with table cloths, wine glasses and silverware in a manner that is not coincidentally like the main dining rooms. The food is still buffet style, you still serve yourself, but they put Creole seasoning on the tables and feature food with Caribbean names...most of which is quite good and unique. One night I had (I kid you not) skewers that had huge shrimp and hunks of lobster. Pretty good for buffet fare.
Funny though, I always thought of Creole style as like New Orleans and Caribbean style as like Jamaican. Is this one of those things that everyone but me knows?
The odd part is deciding what to do.
You'll see passengers circling the place trying to decide if they can get in there with shorts or casual wear on like they can in the other (Horizon court) buffet. It's a real dilemma. I finally gave up trying to figure it out when I saw a bunch of kids I'd met earlier in the day by the pool having dinner and a good time.
I'm pretty sure that the same dude who designed Club Confusion is in cahoots with the dude who designed this place.
The cool part is that it all works. The Caribe Cafe is a great dining venue offering some really unique cuisine. Indeed, they could have simply added a couple more lines to the Horizon Court to open during peak times. But they chose to add yet another dimension to Personal Choice dining.
Tip: If both are open, go to the Horizon Court first but keep going and go through the line at the Caribe Cafe too. Just pick the good stuff, there's plenty of choices.
In addition to these two buffet style dining venues there are other offerings as well Other dining options include:
The Pizza Place/Grill Open from lunchtime through early evening, this is a good place for a good slice of pizza or a burger, chicken sandwich or hot dog. A bar separates the pizza place from the grill and spans the width of the aft of the ship. This is a great place to grab a quick bite to eat and maybe take a dip in the pool to wash the sand off after a day at the beach
Ordering off the menu in your cabin I'd heard that it was possible to have room service send down a menu from the dining room from which you could order and have it delivered to your stateroom. If you're in a mini or full suite this is no problem. On this sailing we were told that the service was normally reserved for suites but that they would send us a menu anyway. We were indeed able to order everything we wanted off the regular dining room menu. For comparison purposes we ordered the Fettuccini Alfredo which is a favorite of mine in the dining room to see how that translated to being served in-cabin.
It was good. Not as good as in the dining room but one heck of a lot better than a sandwich.
Room Service Not that the regular room service fare is not good, it is quite good. I guess that's a matter of opinion but my day would not be complete without an order of Caramel Flan from room service. Other favorites included French Fries served with Ranch Dressing (hey try it) and burgers. There was no problem with a special request of a BLT along with Honey Roasted Peanuts and an awesome snack/pretzel mix.
Just dropping in at peak times at a PC dining room As yet another experiment and test of the system, we tried dropping into the Coral PC dining room without reservations at 8:00, a peak time when lots of people were standing around with pagers waiting for a table. We were told it would be about 10 to 15 minutes for our party of 2 sitting by ourselves. It was 12 minutes so I think they did pretty good there. Our service that night, by the way, was the best ever in the dining room. I'm sure that has a lot to do with the individual service teams but this one was tops.
Scoops The Haagen Daz was being scooped up but not with any big lines as we had experienced on the Golden earlier this year. I think many passengers had gotten the news that iced cream was served in the Horizon Court from 3 to 3:30 and went there. I think others simply passed the place without noticing it as the Ceramics classes were being held right beside it, kind of overshadowing the whole thing. I was looking for Cruise Critic Members/Haagen Daz owners to get a free shake or malt but none could be found.
The Martini Bar/Coffee Place I don't even know if this place has a name but its on the lowest floor in the atrium. It's a quaint little place kind of tucked away by itself used mostly as a service bar for waiters to get drinks for the guests enjoying the atruim music or just relaxing with a book. But there's always a little something to eat here! That's unique because there is really no other place within 50 feet of it that food is served. To me, more than 50 feet away from a food venue is too far and I get nervous. I wonder if all the other passengers are at the food places I can't see gobbling up all the food and leaving nothing for me. In the morining there's a continental breakfast served, in the afternoon they have cool little cookies. A Princess Sourpuss would probably take one or two to linger over a cup of coffee with. I load up a plate and ask the string quartet if they know any good fiddle music that we can dance to.
The Bars and snack mix They don't brag about it but hidden behind all the bars is a really good pretzel/snack mix and peanuts that are there for the asking.
Tea Time I have yet to make it to tea time. I just know I am missing a big event that would add yet more dimension to our cruise experience but I always seem to be doing something else!
Oh well, there's always the next time! Would you please comment on the after Midnight action in various bars throughout the ship. We are 40's who like to stay up very late.
Midnight is as good a place to start as any. Lets start there and work backwards.
About midnight the mainline shows are letting out and there's a midnight "R" rated show someplace. It might be a magician, comedian or the like and usually lasts an hour. One of the most hilarious ones I saw was a hypnotist but the quality of the shows were all top knotch.
Lisa (DW) and I will be going on the Star Princess in the Fall, our first vacation by ourselves in 20+ years. She asked what would be different the other day and the first thing out of our mouths was "You'll see more shows".
After a bunch of Carnival cruises, a line with great Vegas-style shows that get high marks, we'd not been to many shows in the last couple of years choosing a quieter, more secluded cruise experience. (Yes, it's possible on Carnival) But there's something about these Princess shows that beckoned us to see them and I'm really glad we did. They're well done, professionally produced (plug for Sydney's friend from the CP), and quite entertaining.
After the midnight show head to Skywalkers.
Here is one brilliant idea. I can just imagine the Princess board meeting and somebody saying they'd like to attract a more lively crowd, not just younger, but more active. Some of the Carnival party bunch but not the frat buddies.
Someone else said "Ok, we'll take their money but you better keep them FAR AWAY from our regular passengers! If they hear loud music we'll never hear the end of it"
And so was born Skywalkers, perched 50 feet above the deck, all the way aft on the ship. The music and lighting system are top knotch and their apt DJ's will play anything from 50's music to the very most current music right on the cutting edge of today's music business, often at the same time.
You'll enter from deck 18 and access the club from a moving "skywalk" that takes you from the ship to the club at a pace fast enough to get you there quickly but slow enough that it invites those of all ages to attend. It's not "catapult's" nightclub so it doesn't go too fast and I've often seen people with walkers and scooters give it a try too...it's totally handicapped accessible.
One night I saw a lady with her oxygen tank there and wondered if she would be selling that later in the night to people in the smoking section.
Speaking of which it is very effectively divided half smoking and half non-smoking and ventilated very well so neither group is bothered by the other.
Skywalkers will be open about as long as the crowd stays. We closed the place every night on this cruise and last spring on the Golden Princess and that was between 2 and 3AM...more toward 3AM when the next day was at sea and more toward 2AM when the next day was a port day.
For a quieter but still fun place to go the cigar bar (if you can tolerate the smoke) between the lower level entrances to the Princess theatre is a good place to go but it does not stay open quite as late.
After 3AM, find someone with a balcony and relax there. We did that most nights. I've always enjoyed sunsets and sunrises at sea, the time of night right before the sun starts to make it's way into the picture is also a favorite. During that time on a clear night the stars can be simply brilliant and if there's a shooting star to be seen you've never seen one as clearly. Between the passing ocean, the active night sky and the memories of the day you'll be reflecting on and the promise for what tomorrow brings it's quite one of my favorite times of the day.
A side note- I've yet to hear the out of control teens running amok down the hallways at this time which I see reported here. I suppose that by then they've been arrested and thrown in the brig or passed out someplace out of sight. Movies Under The Stars and Making Reservations- I think this is a simply brilliant idea born of the same notion as Club Confusion and the Caribe Cafe in an attempt to keep us occupied. I'd read stories that it was difficult to hear and that the sound bleeded over into other areas. They must have addressed those issues because I did not find that to be the case. My first experience with Movies Under The Stars came along quite by accident as I strolled around on deck and happened upon a playing of the Tina Turner:One Last Time concert. This was awesome for all ages and very enjoyable. During these concerts (they do a Tom Jones one later in the week) it's not the popcorn and cushy lounge chairs by invitation, you can just wander in and find a seat. There are waiters to get you drinks but most people I saw with food had brought it from a buffet. We signed up early for the two shows that were playing, picking one at 7:30 and the other a couple nights later for the 10:30 show. We didn't make it to either one but recieved tickets early in the day in our stateroom mailbox. There is just so much to do on this ship that it's difficult to decide which things to do and which things to skip. When we were scheduled for the 7:30 show was on the first formal night, along with Ryan, Amy (ccmembers) and another family we'd met along the way. We watched as 7:30 came and went before dessert. Oh well, better luck with the next showing at 10:30 on another night that we had reservations for. We didn't make that one either because we were at a show earlier in the night and by then we'd fallen into the Skywalker's routine that dominated late night entertainment...something we didn't know when we made reservations. And that's the tough part By recommendation we made reservations for the Movies, Sabatinis and the Sterling Steakhouse all within an hour of boarding. Easy. We wondered why people stood in line for hours in front of Sabatinis later in the day to make their reservations. We thought we knew exactly when we wanted to go to each of those places. What we didn't anticipate was meeting so many nice people on board, becoming friends and a part of their plans as well as them a part of ours. That pretty much blew all our reservations right out the window...in a good way though. I think I'd still make reservations early, right after boarding, as part of the list of things we do right when we get on the ship...perhaps taking the place of "check dining room table assignment" as we would have done before discovering the wonders of Personal Choice dining. Or we might consider doing what I heard others had pretty good luck at....waiting until the last minute. They're reluctant to commit to seats at Movies Under the Stars that go unclaimed at showtime but I know for a fact that there were some and they're not assigned. Dining reservations, however, are not that hard to get at the last minute, probably due to people like me who made them early and then their plans changed. We called to cancel our reservations like good little boys and girls do but I bet there were a lot of people who just did not show. In the dining rooms, I am told, they hold the table for ten minutes then give it up. I suppose it has a little to do with being in the right place at the right time with flexible dining plans. Remember too that there are multiple options to anything you can make a reservation for. Like a bunch of other guests I felt a sense of urgency to make those reservations so I wouldn't miss out on stuff. While a reservation does guarantee that you'll be able to do one of these things it doesn't guarantee a good time.....and to me that's what it's all about. I won't for a minute fret and worry about making a 7:30 movie reservation while enjoying a lovely formal night dinner with new-found friends. They still offer afternoon movies in the Princess Theatre that we enjoyed a whole lot on previous cruises. If you've never done it, you owe it to yourself to see some movie while at sea. Many people think "Why watch a movie at sea? I can do that at home!" True, but every time you see that movie, a clip of that movie, or that movie mentioned in conversation, you'll think of your cruise..for a long time in the future and think "...I saw that on the cruise!" St Maarten- We'd been to St Maarten several times before so we knew what to expect and what was going on there....except for one thing. We liked going to Everything Cool on our last cruise there earlier this year but had heard that it was closed. Now on board the Caribbean Princess the rumor was that it was closed but moved down the beach a ways. We'd see when we got on board. First stop off the ship was Sharkey's, a little bar on the side of the pier that I love to spend time at on the way back from the ship. As might be expected with this bunch we'd hooked up with we started the day there as well
We had to wait for the rest of our group to roll out of bed and make it to the pier and found that drinking liquids out of these little cups made the time pass more enjoyably. In addition the 2 for $5.00 any kind of beer special helped too. Actually, this turned out to be one of the best decisions we made on the cruise and one I'd do again for sure. When we docked there were a total of four ships in port including the Carnival Glory which I swear was stalking us from port to port, the Celebrity something-or-other and a RCCL something of the Seas. They all started dumping passengers on the pier at the same time and the line for the water taxi we were planning on taking on our quest to find Everything Cool was backed up and moving slow. We decided to kill some more time at Sharkeys with fellow CC Members Ryan and Amy who were killing time before their Americas Cup racing thing.
The only thing I regret was not buying a Sharkey's T-shirt. Everybody who went on the Kon-Tiki Party Boat had one and I think we were just as "happy" as they were so I should have bought a shirt to commemorate the occasion. Again, this happy bunch of passengers from the Caribbean Princess had redefined cruising. Like I said, I always liked to stop and relax at Sharkeys on the way back to the ship in the afternoon...now I'll have to stop on the way off the ship from now on too! Fun lesson to learn there for sure. By the time the rest of our gang showed up and/or we gave up on them the water taxi line was like nothing so we walked right on the taxi and went right over to the beach. Yes, Everything Cool is still there but it's been moved down the beach. If you were in the water looking at the beach it's moved to the left of where it was. One cool thing about the new location is that there is a bar perched three stories above the beach that has an awesome view and is not in use much. You'll have to climb a spiral staircase to get there but it's also where the restrooms are located. We'd planned on doing some shopping but opted to stay right there at Everythings Cool. The kids did JetSkis causing Sydney pain for a couple days from using muscles she didn't know she had but it was fun and a great day at the beach. On the way back the water taxi line was really long (we stayed too long at the fair) so we took a taxi back ($3) and called it a day....ashore.....there was still plenty more happening for the rest of the day. Graham Seymour and Island Night- I never thought much of Cruise Directors before. They were heard on the loudspeakers selling stuff, present at the big shows but that was about it. I never did see one out among the passengers although on Carnival there were a few colorful ones that seemed in touch. Then I cruised with Graham Seymour on the Golden Princess earlier this year and then again on this sailing. Here's a guy who I did see on deck with passengers a lot, at a lot of shows and most impressively on a traditional Princess event called Island Night. Island night fell at the end of our day in St Maarten. This theme night invites guests to wear tropical clothing and join the crew in the aft section of the ship for fun, games, music and a night that will truly be one of the most memorable if not THE most memorable of the cruise. On our Golden cruise I stumbled upon the crew setting up for this and doing a sound check mid-afternoon before the events were to begin about 9:30 then be carried directly upstairs to Skywalkers for the rest of the evening. The same practice was followed on this sailing and I was equally impressed with the precision, detail and energy poured into creating this special night for the guests. Graham was firmly in control of this night. His night This is where if you had any reservations about Graham Seymour being an outstanding Cruise Director they were all washed away as his staff began the evening with some fun and games Then enter Graham. From the moment he steps foot on stage it's obvious that this is HIS night and he owns it as sure as the live ocean backdrop behind him is breathtaking. He starts with a lip-sync contest that featured our friend Keith who seemed to be popping up in all the passenger-participation events and on this one, simply following along to "Jailhouse Rock" was not enough. But when Graham took center stage there was no doubt who this show was all about and he brought the house down while the packed aft area of the ship enjoyed refreshments and snacks. Remember, Island Night is done on decks 15, 16 and 17 aft which take up a lot of space, belly up to the Outrigger bar, and is just steps away from the Caribe Cafe where you can go and grab more of the impressive array of snacks being circulated around the decks by the crew. But we carried the party up to deck 18 and Skywalkers for a great night of continued entertainment and the place was just packed. Guests of all ages (that were over 18) crammed the place with a standing room only crowd that was there to have a great time. I'm not talking just young 20-somethings, all age groups were represented here with one thing in common: they'd been to island night and didn't want it to end. One of the things I read a lot about before sailing on the Caribbean Princess was the crowding on the ship. There were indeed a lot of people on board and there were times when it was indeed crowded. I think all these big ships need just one more pool. But, to me, the crowding was not a problem. There were always chairs to be had, especially if you didn't mind tossing aside the towel that was saving them. In fact, the crowding really made the pool games a lot more fun. During the day the pool olympics and volleyball tourament were especially well attended and held in the mid-ship pool that offered good views for lots of people all around the event. These events were indeed crowded, but there were lots of places, inside and outside on the ship to find peace and quiet if that's what we were looking for. I liked that the Movies Under The Stars was utilized during the day for music videos. But while that was going on and dominating that particular area, a short distance away Deep Blue, the awesome house band that would be leaving the fleet for a while after a couple more sailings, was playing elsewhere with the steel drum Caribbean-flair music you might more traditionally associate with cruising, open decks and a day at sea. At night much of the action moved inside to the different venues around the shiip. From the Wheelhouse bar with a nice trio doing old favorites to the Piano Bar, an addicting area that saw a LOT of regulars each evening to, of course, Skywalkers for late night high-energy action (and drama sometimes if you've been following Sydney's review) there was something for everyone. Yes, a quiet stroll on deck could be had. Yes, the hot tubs were open late. Yes, there was late-night dining in either the Caribe Cafe or Horizon Court. Like I said in the beginning, this was as close to a perfect cruise as I've yet experienced. I'm trying really hard to be critical here but they've really gotten this ship together in a short amount of time. There are a lot of features on this ship to keep most everyone busy. Some people require less to amuse them than others. Like me. I'm devoting a photo essay to simply the carpet of the Caribbean Princess. Yeah, that's right, the carpet Regular readers will remember or have viewed on this website the gallery of urns from the Carnival Legend. In designing the Caribbean Princess someone took a lot of time and effort with the carpet. Here's a link to our carpet gallery!
In general I think the cruise lines do a pretty darn good job of making us feel at home. On this cruise, this crew went out of their way to make that happen. Here's an example of just how good they are:
I really wanted to explore all the dining options I could. One of the little-known but talked a lot about ones was the ability we supposedly have to order off the dining room menu in our cabin. The story went that all we had to do is call room service, request a menu, and it would be delivered to our cabin from which we could order dinner. The only other information I remembered reading about this was to be sure to order everything all at once, down to salt and pepper, because that's exactly what they'd bring.
The reality for us was somewhat different.
Where I think service really gets an opportunity to shine is when something goes wrong and this was no exception.
Sydney (designated switch board operator in our cabin) called to order the menu and I could tell (sitting across the room) that she was having trouble communicating with whoever had answered the phone in room service. My first impression was that it was a language barrier that she would overcome and everything would be ok. Soon though it became apparent that the person on the other end of the phone had no idea what she was talking about.
She handed the phone to me
Here's the exchange that occured in the conversation that followed:
"Sir, we do not offer dining room service in the staterooms"
"Oh, I was told that if we called room service that you would send a menu and we could order from it to be delivered to our cabin"
"Who told you that?"
(Pause as I try to figure out how to explain to this guy that a bunch of people I've never met off an internet bulletin board site told me)
"Well that's just what I heard.....a friend told me"
"No sir, we don't offer that service but the dining room opens at 6:00"
"Ok nevermind I guess I was misinformed"
"Well sir I don't know why you would be told that...blah blah blah"
(He was becoming uncharacteristically irritating now)
"Ok just forget it"
(Click as I hung up the phone)
:::about a minute passes:::
(The phone rings, Sydney answers)
"It's for you, it's the Maitre D'"
"Sir this is the Maitre d', I wanted to call to apologize, the person you talked to before was confused. Normally we reserve that service for our suite guests but would be happy to offer it to you tonight (door knock as I am talking) a menu is on it's way right now"
That door knock was a waiter with a menu. When we called back they could not have been nicer, took our order and when the dining room opened brought it to us just as ordered.
I was impressed with how they handled the whole thing. If they'd just said "no, we dont do that" it would have been good for me and a burger or yet another order of caramel flan would have tided me over till we could have found something else to eat.
But that's the way the whole crew was. I was impressed with the crew on our Golden Princess cruise earlier in the year but even moreso with this bunch that at times seemed to be there just for us.
They really take the time and appear to have the time to take care of business rather than being rushed trying to do too much at once.
I was talking to our room steward who also never seemed to be rushed but working at a steady pace throughout the day how many cabins they each had. He told me everyone had 17 cabins, one had 18 because that's just how the numbers worked out. I thought that sounded like a lot until I saw him in action, close up, one morning.
These guys are really well trained.
We'd slept in one morning and really pushed the envelope on getting our room made up, finally able to vacate it just 5 minutes before his shift ended. Always concientious about getting in and getting it done I told him I had to wait for a phone call but he was welcome to come in and do it while I waited.
Wow, what efficiency! This guy literally turned over our cabin in about 5 minutes. Made the beds, cleaned up our mess, changed towels, straightened the bathroom, cleaned the balcony, etc. I was impressed.
I found the same care, concern and flexibility in every area.
We got to know several members of the crew from various departments to the point where we exchanged email addresses, something we'd not done before. I gotta tell you: this is no slave ship.
Sometimes we hear about the long hours the crew works for not so much money, blah blah blah. Every one of the crew that I talked to was there because they wanted to be and having a great time doing their jobs. That's everyone from the ships officers to dj's in the clubs to waiters and cabin stewards. Yes, they all talked of when they'd be going home.
I had the opportunity to talk one on one with the members of Deep Blue, the popular Caribbean band that was onboard. Our sailing represented one of the last they'd be doing before heading home to Trinidad for some rest and relaxation. It was also part of the second contract extension they'd accepted just because "they love doing it" they said. They love the people, they love the lifestyle...they just love to do it....and it shows in their music.
Like so many of the other members of the crew their being nice is not a forced, they were told to do it nice; they mean it. They're having fun and it's contagious.
Where exactly that comes from I don't know.
I know that they all spoke highly of the Captain and fondly of the Cruise Director but I don't know enough about the managerial structure of a ship to know which one sets the tone. I suspect both.
It was hard to believe that this ship had set sail just a matter of months prior to our sailing, they were just that good Laundry and Valet Service
While on board I had the opportunity to try the shipboard laundry and valet service and wanted to report on how that worked out as well.
Most articles of clothing can get same day service by paying a 50% of the normal charge service charge and getting them in by 9:00 AM. Regular service when handed to our cabin steward got it back by 5:00PM the next day. We tried it both ways and found the service good and the prices reasonable. Our cabin steward had the appropriate form to fill out and took care of it for us.
Dining Options At A Glance
In each cabin is one of these handy guides to all the different dining options. We used it on the first day to help map out when we'd make reservations for the different nights of the week as we were in Personal Choice dining. As I noted previously, that was just a plan. We made our reservations, painlessly, in the first couple hours we were on board but what we'd reserved and what we ended up doing was quite different.
There's also a quick reference Bar Guide that I thought was helpful
Movies Under The Stars Tickets
We made our reservations, one for an early 7:30 show and one for a late 10:30 show within a couple hours of embarkation. On the day of the show they deliver your tickets in your cabin mailbox.
Here's the backside- note the waitlist policy
Future Cruise Sales
Much has been said of this must-do service offered while you're on board but here's a form you can fill out when onboard if the Future Cruise chick is not available at the time you are:
No review would be complete without a little discussion about the desserts! Well surely any discussion of desserts on Princess would have to include the Loveboat Dream (always available).
I think it's one of the best things they do but on our Caribbean Princess cruise Sydney was enthralled with the ice creams and sorbets....had them every meal...well except for one slice of cheesecake she slipped in on the first formal night.
I read from time to time where "all the desserts taste the same". I think those comments must be based on the buffet desserts which do seem similar to me. In the dining room though there's a lot of diversity on evey night's menu which makes it difficult for me to choose sometimes. I know we can get whatever we want but I've been trying to be able to get up from the table on my own recently and a couple desserts does not help much in that area!
Still, you could always find me in the Horizon Court sometime between 3:30 and 4:30 in the afternoon sampling the homemade ice creams they offer there. I really liked the Peach!
Scoops, the Cruise Critic Member-owned Ice Cream palace on board did not get any of my business on this trip though; they did not have the ice cream bars that I liked on the Golden (and ashore). Not that I really suffered much for lack of them.
Any discussion of dessert that includes me has got to give a nod to room service's Caramel Flan, Creme Brule's second cousin, as a real winner. I can'g go a day on board without one. In fact on this cruise I tried, I really tried, to set up "Caramel Flan Time" each day for both Sydney and I by ordering two. Sometimes, ok most of the time, she wasn't there though and hers would stare at me until I ate it. Nevermind that I ordered it while she was in the shower, on deck sunning, or at a show...I tried to create a pleasant bonding experience which got turned into a sorry addict feeding his weakness.
I wish I had a copy of all the dessert menus (Jon?) so I could remember all the different ones I tried but I don't.
I do think the desserts and pastries are one of Princess' strongest culinary areas though even down to the little cookies they have out for the enjoyment atrium dwellers in the afternoon. On the dinner menu they're called Perdongies or something like that and the are heavenly too.
I'm still kicking myself for two dessert events I have missed both on this cruise and on the Golden earlier this year: Tea Time and Creme Brule night. Next cruise I am going to make a point of it but Tea Time is either a busy time of the day for me or naptime and Creme Brule night always falls on a "wierd food" night that I exercise my Personal Choice rights and skip the dining room.
Disembarkation- the icky part Just when I had successfully burried that memory you have to bring it up!
Well Disembarkation is also a breeze on Princess albeit a sad breeze.
Embarkation gets thumbs up from everyone, they give us exactly what we want: to get on the ship fast!
IMHO how Princess handles disembarkation is one of the big keys to how well embarkation does go. They start two days before by giving exit information, customs cards and luggage tags. The room stewards keep the rooms up in top condition all through the voyage but pay special attention towards the end with an eye on the next group of passengerrs.
I was talking to our room steward two days before the end of our cruise and he already had a list of who would be in each cabin and any speical requests they had so he could begin planning his day and be prepared on "turnover" day.
Princess requests that guests vacate their cabins and wait in public areas giving stewards more time to get in there, turn the cabin, and get ready for the new batch of passengers. Platinum members are invited to wait in the Wheelhouse Bar, a cozy mid ship location, where a continental breakfast is served and USA Today is available for those that just can't wait to jump back into reality. Others wait in various areas around the ship while color groups are called in an order that was published and given to us in our mailboxes.
I thought that was a nice touch- knowing where you were on the list as the various color groups are called. Another nice touch is the Log of the Voyage we're given that shows where the ship was and where it went every step of the way.
When our group, Aqua 3, was called, we started walking and pretty much never stopped until we reached the luggage area, found our luggage and had a porter transfer it to our waiting rental car shuttle.
The part I hate about this is that you have to look at the people that will be taking over "your" ship and boarding next as you leave. On one hand it's a sad moment, but on the other hand I looked back on the week and what was our best cruise ever and I can't really feel too bad.
Ok I can feel bad and I am going to and you can't stop me!
As I said in the beginning of this, our cruise was darn near perfect. I illuminated some areas where there were opportunities to improve, things went wrong, or things could have gone better but all in all they confirmed my belief that Princess offers just what we're looking for in a cruise line and they delivered it every step of the way.
I was not alone in this feeling though.
That last night in Skywalkers our "gang" was seriously exchanging email and land addresses, phone numbers and AIM screen names with more conviction than any group I'd seen on any cruise I've been on.
I bet we do see them again.
I sure hope so. For digital video of this cruise visit our website at www.LifeIsCruising.com
My wife and I just finished our first sail with Caribbean Princess to celebrate our 25th anniversary. We are at our late 40s, and have never been in a land-based resort or cruise ship before, though we travel every year in Europe on our own by car. After our booking and before our trip, I had read most of the reviews and message boards in this site to ensure I have picked the right ship. The reason I chose Caribbean Princess because it's new. I would like to share my experience and answer questions I posted in the message boards.
Embarkation: We stayed one week at WestGate South Beach to relax ourselves. On June 12, we returned our rental car to FLL airport. The car rental company had shuttle bus to take us to the terminal. On arrival, porters took care of our luggages. We went into the terminal to find about 500 people there lining up for embarkation. There were about 20 counters and the service was efficient. It took us less than 15 minutes from the shuttle bus to the stateroom.
Stateroom: We book inside on Baja. The stateroomwas clean, new and had wood decoration, with ample closet space. We are very used to one bedroom time share unit of five to six hundred square feet, but this stateroom was sufficient to meet our needs. I don't have any complaint at all.
The ship: Terrific. It was big, clean, beautiful and well organized. The ship was full, so there were 3,400 passengers there. We were able to find our private space, particularly on deck 16 where the spa is. We usually arrive at the Princess Theatre 15 minutes before the show, so we never had any problem finding seats at the front row. Of course, I had seen those coming right on the minute before the show to discover all the seats had been taken. Princess scored A+ in crowd management.
Traditional or Personal Choice Dining: We had first seating at Island Dining Room. We also booked on the first day a table at Sabatani, which unfortunately was cancelled by us due to my illness. I still don't understand how the system works. We had a table reserved for us at Island, but on two evenings, we went to Palm and Coral, because of other reasons, and we were entertained. Apparently, we had an empty table there but we were eating somewhere else. It seems we had the privileges of both traditional and personal choice dining, but those had personal choice dining did not have a table always reserved for them.
Food: Good but not excellent. My wife and I are so used to find dining, so the food on Caribbean Princess was of no surprise to us. Buffets are always buffets on deck 15, and the food quality is far from gourmet dining. We understand what we eat depends on how much we pay, and we are not complaining. We would not go on a cruise because of the food there.
Service: This is an interesting area. Our stateroom attendant was Ferendao from Philippines and dining room waitor and his assistant were Wunchai and Sombat, both from Thailand. Their service was superb, and they were very attentive to our needs. There was one problem, though. Most of the crew members we had talked to were not from English speaking countries. Though English is the third language of mine, I had spent long enough in North America to understand English of different accents. Most of the crew members apparently had difficulties with their English language skills. The only exception was those from the entertainment crews, since most of them are from UK.
Entertainment: Again, what you get is how much you pay. Don't expect Vegas type of entertainment, not even close. The shows were slightly better than those done by students from college of performing arts. They had Princess Idol, a talent show from passengers, which was great and fun. We went to every one of them in Club Fusion.
Princess Key: Beautiful beach with adequate facilities for a few hours of sun bathing and swimming. One big complaint though. We rented two snorkelling package for $20 each. My wife's life vest worked but mine did not. I went for an exchange. The guy at the booth gave me another one and put the one with air constantly leaking back to the pile. The new one I got leaked as well. Since I could swim, I did not bother changing it again. Safety and equipment rental on Princess Key were major concerns to me.
Montego Bay: This is absolutely a waste of time. We should have chosen to stay to enjoy the ship, instead of going ashore.
Cayman Island: We went to the Stingray City with Captain Marvin. It was not easy to find Captain Marvin. Once ashored, we should have turned left and walked 200 meteres to find the big yellow house, where Captain Marvin was. Service was great. The stingray City was the only highlight of all of our shore tour.
Cozumel: Very disappointed. It was hot, hot and hot. The air was polluted because of the construction work. We went to the Atlantis Submarine, which is not bad, but not worth the money. Downtown Cozumel was a mess. I preferred Cancun to Cozumel. My wife bought some tanzanite; the price is better than that in Canada.
Overall, I am glad I did my first cruise with Caribbean Princess. I consider my money well spent, since the $1000 included food, accommodation, transportation and entertainment. Service was not top class, but adequate only. I would not, however, return to a cruise trip in the near future, because both my wife and I prefer driving on the back roads in Europe than joining a big crowd of a few thousand people for vacation. Should we try again perhaps five years later, we would not opt for a ship for the mass market. We may consider at least HAL or QM.
OVERALL GRADE: my grade: A, wife's grade: A
Perspective My wife and I are in our early thirties and have so far vacationed only infrequently. This trip was her first cruise ever and my first cruise as an adult. My two other cruising experiences were as a child and I have only vague memories of those vacations. We chose Princess and the Caribbean Princess in particular because we liked the idea of a large new ship, we liked the ports of call, the price was reasonable, and we were leery of sales pressure, nickel and diming, and crass/cheesy activities that we anticipated on some other lines.
Stateroom (my grade: A-, wife's grade: A- ) We booked a category BD balcony cabin on the Baja deck. The room was very clean and was maintained in an immaculate condition throughout the cruise by the room steward. Storage in the bathroom was ample with countertop around the sink and three small shelves for toiletries. We did not bring and over-the-door shoe storage device for extra storage and would not have used it if we had. The shower was small (my wife had difficulty shavingher legs) but water pressure and temperature were good. The only peculiarity of the bathroom was a relative lack of cold water from the tap. The coldest if ever became was luke warm.
We found closet space and storage shelves to be much more than expected. A small safe is located on one of the shelves and it functioned well the entire week. Within the main room, there are two nightstands, a small desk, and a unit in the corner that contains a refrigerator on the bottom, storage in the middle (with two glasses and a bottle of water for sale), and a TV on the top. The only complaint I have about the room is that the location of the refrigerator within the bottom cabinet provides very little ventilation and as a result the refrigerator did not work well at all. Since my existence is absolutely dependent on cold Diet Pepsi, I was forced to find a solution. To make a long story short, one must disconnect the refrigerator door from the cabinet door my gently lifting the refrigerator door 1/4 inch to disengage the sliding connection mechanism and then keep the cabinet door open all the time (one can easily reconnect the doors at the end of the cruise with no harm done). The AC in the room is quite robust and worked nicely. The only clock in the room is a small LCD on the phone. For this reason, we were glad that we brought a full size clock radio.
The balconies on the Baja deck are the smallest of the balcony types and contain a plastic table and two chairs. The balcony is completely covered and quite private unless someone peeks around from either side. Looking down one has a view of the 1/2 covered Caribe desk balconies and the fully exposed Dolphin deck balconies (both have loungers in addition to the two chairs and a table). We liked the covered balcony since a break from the sun was frequently welcome. We never slept with the door open, however a bungee cord to keep the door open would not have been necessary. Overall, we loved the balcony and hope to get another in the future.
Dining Palm Dining Room - PC with standing reservation for 6:00 (my grade: A-, wife's grade: B+) We dined in the Palm dining room 5 nights, four of which were at the same table. The staff were clearly working hard to turnover the tables rapidly. This was great for us since we tend not to linger over meals. If you prefer a more measured pace, you might not have been happy. We usually arrived at approximately 5:50 and were out the door by 7:00. Service was excellent on four of the nights and just adequate on the other. The overall quality of the food was very good to excellent given the number of patrons. As expected, the cuisine was not "5-star". We had no problems obtaining a table for two each night.
The menu order was: Sailaway, Captain's Welcome, Italian, Caribbean, Chef's, Captain's Gala, and Landfall.
Sabattini's Tratoria (my grade: A-, wife's grade: A-) We believed the experience was worth the extra $40.00 and have no regrets. You are served small amounts of many different items (the entree is the only selection you make) that add up to a large meal at the end. Service was excellent.
Cafe Caribe & Horizon Court (my grade: B, wife's grade: B-) Dining is these venues is hard to evaluate since there was much variability for different meals and between different food items. Dinner time was the highlight and breakfast the lowlight. My wife believes that breakfast was better in Horizon Court than in Cafe Caribe. Neither was crowded except on the first and last days of the cruise. Service with respect to water, beverages, and clearing plates was excellent. Quality of deserts was variable but we were always able to find something to our liking during our late night raids.
Trident Grill & Pizza (my grade: A, wife's grade: A-) Burgers, hot dogs, and brats were very good. Whatever they pay the guys who work over the grill, it is not enough.
Afternoon Tea in Coral Dining Room (my grade: A-, wife's grade: A-) Tea, scones, little pastries, and little sandwiches. All very good.
Coffee everywhere (my grade: N/A, wife's grade: D-) Watered down and bad tasting according to my wife.
Room Service (no grade) We attempted to order dining room items to our room but were told by the person who answered the phone that this was not possible (only a limited menu available). We were disappointed since other reviews had mentioned that this was an option. We asked at the guest services desk but did not recieve a clear answer.
Other Public Areas Pools & Deck Chairs (my grade: A-, wife's grade: B-) The two main pools always attracted a crowd. Likewise, until near the end of the cruise the hot tubs at these pools always seemed to be filled. We were able to find quiet times in the aft pool and the spa pool/hot tubs during the early evening and at night. Deck loungers around the pool were difficult to obtain but there were always many empty loungers in less prime locations. My wife noted numerous instances of saving loungers and was mildly annoyed.
All other areas... ... were very clean, well maintained, and tastefully decorated. Club fusion and the wheelhouse bar were underutilized by the passengers but the explorers lounge on a few occasions had standing room only.
Perhaps our only complaint is that the forward portion of the Promenade deck is closed after sunset for "safety reasons". One neat location that was relatively undiscovered by most passengers was a deck on top of the bridge that is accessed by going all the way forward on the lido deck and through two sets of doors. Great views but sometimes closed for high winds.
Entertainment We do not have much to say about the entertainment since we did not attend many events.
Caribbean Caliente Show (my grade: C-, wife's grade: C) I dislike this type of thing even if it were Broadway quality so you may want to disregard my opinion. My wife thought it was cheesy and the sound was loud beyond the point of distortion. She did however like the dancing and the props. Not enough seats on the first night (Thursday), but plenty on the second night.
Skywalkers Bar (my grade: B+, wife's grade: B+) Wonderful location and decent crowds on both formal nights. A bit too much hip-hop and rap music for our dancing taste. The new college grad crowd liked the hip-hop (60%) but we prefer more 80s (20%) or trance (10%) or techno (10%).
Movies Under the Stars (my grade: A, wife's grade: B+) Well organized and a fun way to spend a few hours. The blankets were not needed and the popcorn was not the best but we had a great time. If you see "Starsky and Hutch" we recommend going a little drunk. The other movie was "Calendar Girls".
Ports of Call
St. Thomas We did not participate in ship tours and chose to remain on St. Thomas since we felt the travel time to St. John was more than we were willing to devote. We split our time between Coki beach, Sapphire beach, and Magen's Bay beach with taxi rides in between.
Coki Beach Dive Club (my grade: A++, wife's grade: A) We booked the discover scuba tour by calling Coki beach dive club directly, this saved us $30.00 each compared to the same activity through Princess. We were met at the gangway by an employee who directed the ship's excursion people onto a bus and then drove us over to Coki in her car. Once there we received very brief instruction on scuba diving and the people on the ship's excursion went out first in groups of 6. We occupied ourselves by snorkeling and were very pleased my the numerous fish. When the people on the ship's excursion returned after about an hour, we went out with the next available dive master and had him all to ourselves since we were the only two who booked independently (despite three ships in port!). In anticipation of this activity, my wife did a discover scuba class at our local dive shop and thus had about two hours of pool diving experience under her belt by the time we got to Coki (I am certified), this worked out very well and put her at ease. Coki is not the best reef in the world but it is good for beginners since the sandy bottom slopes gently downward and there is no need to go deeper that 40 feet or so. We saw many fish, an eel, and much coral. We liked the experience so much that we went for a second dive before the next cruise ship group arrived at 1:00. The people at the dive club were friendly and made sure we had a great time. They provide secure storage of personal effects for their patrons.
Sapphire Beach Great beach with OK snorkeling. Fresh water showers to wash off the sand. A few iguanas wandering about. One of the culinary highlights of the entire trip was a blackened Mahi-mahi sandwich (grade: A++) at the beach-bar all the way to the right (as you are facing the sea) near the little jetty . The bar has pools on two sides and is associated with a resort of some type. No secure storage of personal effects.
Magen's Bay Somewhat crowded but quite beautiful with clear water. We are glad that we took the time to at least see this area. No secure storage of personal effects.
Driving on the island was anxiety inducing and we are glad that we did not rent a car.
Rhino Rider Excursion (my grade: A, wife's grade: A-) We started the day with the ship's Rhino Rider excursion from 8:00-11:00. We were loaded on a tour bus and driven to the dock in Simpson's lagoon. The Rhino's are a little beat up but all seemed to function just fine. We went out in groups of 7 boats, one of which was the guide. We followed in single file to the north end of Simpson lagoon and then crossed under a bridge to enter the sea. At that point we spread out a little and proceeded north along the coastline, past Marigot, to a beach with no other visitors but nice condos in the immediate vicinity. The boats were quick and a lot of fun. The views were unique and quite memorable. Overall, we had an excellent time. My only complaint was the price: for cruise ship passengers, one boat (two people) is $179.00, if booked independently it is only $84.00. They do not allow independent booking if you are on a cruise ship. Secure storage of personal effects is available at the dock in the form of plastic laundry baskets that they store inside the business while you are away.
Marigot (Tropicana Restaurant: my grade: A+, wife's grade: A++) After we completed the Rhinos, we decided to not take the tour bus back to the ship but instead called a taxi and proceeded to Marigot the long way past Maho beach and Mullet bay. We did not stop at either location but did see the unrepaired damage to the time share condos at Mullet from a hurricane several years ago. Apparently there is ongoing litigation between the time-share patrons and the owner of the property who received the insurance settlement but then refused to repair the damage!!! On our way to Marigot we saw several impressive mansions that our driver claimed belonged to celebrities such as Governor Schwarzenegger and others. Once at Marigot we walked around the Marina and stopped for lunch at the Tropicana restaurant (recommended in another review). The Tropicana was the second culinary highlight of the trip with an A++ special of Tuna and Swordfish (total bill for 2 $41.00 US). After lunch we looked for a taxi, but had difficulty finding one until we went over to the straw market on the seaside.
Orient Beach We then went to Orient Beach where we were greeted not by beautiful naked French girls but by a rainstorm. The rain cleared after about an hour and we walked down to Club Orient and then back to our starting point (rain was again threatining). We hailed another cab (actually a private car posing as a cab) for the ride back to the dock. We liked Orient but do not have much to say since our time there was limited.
Princess Cays We were in line for tender tickets at 8:15am and went over on the second boat. Shaded chairs were plentiful at that time and we enjoyed both the beach and the nice BBQ lunch (long lines around noon, and also longer lines on the right side as you are standing on the beach facing the sea). Our last activity was a much better than expected snorkeling adventure on the right side of the beach near the jetty with the covered gazebo. Fish were plentiful and there were many sizes and varieties.
Weather & Seas Seas were calm and we had only two short lived rainstorms.
Selling Pressure on the Ship They obviously want to sell pictures, various trinkets, bottled water in the staterooms, and after dinner drinks (a special waiter comes around everyday during dessert and asks if you would like an after dinner liqueur in a special glass). I have little tolerance for sales pitches and found these to be non-intrusive and easy to ignore/decline.
Obstreperous Children Generally none. A few ill-timed cannonballs into the pool here and there.
Crowds The only crowds we encountered were in the buffets on the first and last days. In our opinion, crowding was definitely not a problem.
Sabatini's Reservations We arrived at Sabatini's at 1:00 to make our reservation for Monday night (they do not take phone reservations until after 5:00). The line was already long and agonizingly slow moving. The two employees were confused and were telling people different things with respect to whether or not Sterling steakhouse reservations could be made at the same time. Our complaint was that the employees made no effort to find out what should have been happening.
OVERALL GRADE: my grade: A, wife's grade: A
Any prolems I have mentioned above were small and overall insignificant. We had a fabulous time and would sail on this ship again in a hearbeat
My husband (11 cruises) and I (16 cruises) took our 17 year old daughter on her 3rd cruise as a high school graduation gift. First and foremost, we thank our Master Cruise Counselor, Ben Shapiro at Galaxsea Cruises through Dolphin Travel in Grand Rapids Michigan for putting together another flawless vacation for us. Ben is#1 in our hearts and never leads us to anything but wonderful cruise experiences.
After uneventful flights on Northwest Airline, my daughter Katy and I spent 3 wonderful nights in the Embassy Suites in Fort Lauderdale. We booked through Priceline.com for $55.00 a night. The price included transportation from the airport (5 minutes), to the pier (3 minutes) as well as a large breakfast buffet that rivaled our cruise ship buffet breakfasts and a 2 hour nightly happy hour. There were many stores and restaurants in the walking area and as our suite included both a refrigerator and microwave, we were set to eat a few meals in our room. My husband arrived the night before our cruise and the hotel was swamped with late arrivals, so, they told him to take a cab and they paid forit when he arrived. I can't imagine a nicer place to stay for such a reasonable rate. Our rooms were clean and tidy and we enjoyed being able to use their wonderful pool with a breathtaking waterfall and hot tub as well as the hotel restaurant and gift shop. On Saturday morning we could see our ship right outside the hotel. We will definitely stay there again. We were able to meet with several friends we met on the internet at one happy hour but unfortunately slept through the planned get together on embarkation afternoon and never were able to catch up with the group again.
We had express check-in at the pier and arrived by hotel shuttle at 11:30. We had no problem bringing on 2- 12 packs of pop for our cabin. By noon we were in our cabin #R712 and on our way to lunch. I would not suggest our cabin or any cabin near it. We chose it for the closeness to the back pool and buffet area and for that, it served its purpose. Unfortunately, I don't know what kind of activity they were running all night long on the deck above us, but, it was by far the noisiest cabin we have ever had. It was a nicely appointed Princess cabin with everything in its place, making for easy movement for 3 in a cabin. There were over 600 children on this voyage and this was the very first time I was ever really bothered by the little dears.
Entertainment was ok - nothing to write home about and brag, but enjoyable.
We do not gamble, but had to go through the casino several times and it was always surprisingly empty.
I enjoyed the afternoon movies several times. It was a nice relief from the summer heat.
The food was Princess wonderful, but, both my husband and I agreed that we liked Carnival just a tad better.
The pools were always open and clean and it seemed that for the most part the adult only rules were enforced.
The back hot tub never really worked right and was quite cool.
We had #1 service all through the ship and enjoyed our wait staff Albert and Dennis as well as our cabin steward Diamond who made sure that my husband's birthday and daughter's graduation were celebrated with balloons on the door and a cake on the last formal night.
Our cabin although noisy was set up so very nicely that when the three of us were all in the room, there was always room for us to roam, well, except for that teeny, tiny, little, bitty shower..
The ship itself is breathtakingly beautiful. It was spotlessly clean and in well repair.
The jumbotron screen at the pool was ok..you did get a nice cushioned lounge chair and popcorn, but I thought the picture was grainy.
We enjoyed an island tour given by Carr an independent tour guide that we met outside the ship. For $20.00 a person he took us all over the island in his open air truck/tour trolley and stopped for pictures and shopping at all the high points. We have been to the island and I have to say that this was by far one of the nicest tours we have taken.
At St. Martin we docked at the new pier and decided to take in the sites at the pier. There was water and land taxi service, but it was so terribly hot that we just decided to beat the heat at the pool.
Princess Cay as always was beautiful and we enjoyed the cool water and buffet on the beach. I am so glad that it is now almost entirely handicap accessible. What a great experience. The snorkeling was great with lots of fish.
Because we are platinum members at Princess we did have unlimited free internet access. This was heaven sent for our teenager who left her boyfriend at home. It was nice to keep up with the gossip at home once a day.
The ship was decorated wonderfully for American Independence Day which fell on the first formal night. Princess did do a wonderful job making you glad to be an American.
Debarkation was quick and painless. There was a special area set up for platinum guests, but, we did not even get there. Our color was called while we were still eating breakfast and by the time we finished and got our luggage we nabbed a taxi and were checking in at the airport.
After a few more uneventful flights on Northwest, we were home right on time. Onward to the Golden Princes to the southern Caribbean in October and then the Carnival Spirit to the Mexican Riviera in Feb of 2005.
Another wonderful cruise aboard Princess, this time the Caribbean Princess on an Eastern Caribbean itinerary.
We arrived Friday night and stayed at the Comfort Inn Cruiseport - Airport South, on Stirling Road in Hollywood, FL. The room was clean and comfortable, with shuttles both from the airport and to all the cruise ports.
We surrendered our two checked bags to the porters and got in line at 11:00 AM. The terminal doors opened at 11:30 and we went to the Caribe check-in line. Even though we had all our papers filled out on-line, the Express check in line was longer! We quickly moved through the regular line. Then through Security, posed for our embarkation photo, onto the forward gangplank, and up the elevator to check out our room. It was ready for us, we dropped the bags on the bed and stood on our Port side balcony at 11:51 AM. Twenty one minutes after the terminal doors opened and we were all set! We met our room steward, Francisco. He was exceptional all week, whether it was extra ice, towels, robes, he reappeared magically and kept us well stocked.
After a stop atthe Horizon Court buffet, we went to Sabatini's where the Conceriege was set up, to make the week's reservations we wanted, namely "Movies Under the Stars" and Sterling Steakhouse. These filled up very quickly, if you'd like to try any of them, do make plans early on board. The movies were a fun experience and the Sterling Steakhouse was one of the best meals we've ever had, anywhere. The sail away Princess Patter said there would also be a makeover show, "If They Could Sea Me Now", sign-ups were in the Lotus Spa. The cruise was only one week, so Barb thought there wasn't anything they could do for me! Got my Coke sticker, for me it's a good deal. Here, we have to comment on some of the other reviewers notes that they had trouble getting soda with the cards. I never did. I'd just ask the server or bar staff for a large Diet Coke and I got fine service all week. Didn't have to carry my insulated cup around with me, just took my large soda back to the room and refilled the cup regularly. Maybe I just ran into good servers, but all week long, any bar or server filled my order quickly.
Barb is the coffee person in the family, and the Lobby Bar on Deck 5 was the place for her. Servers Maria and Gabi were great all week, the coffee was fresh, and you could self-serve the regular coffee and go, or have them make up one of their excellent flavored coffees.
Sunday was the first of two straight sea days. There is a 10:00 AM lecture in the Princess Theatre with Cindy, the Port and Shopping Advisor, for our stops in St. Thomas and St. Martin. It was also rebroadcast over the TV, but since this was our first time in these ports we found it informational. The street maps furnished in the "All Ashore" flyer before each port were helpful in getting around, finding taxi stands and locating sights we wanted to see. As before, we knew the Princess "preferred" shops were being pushed, but our yellow highlighter marked up the maps enough for us to find pretty much everything we wanted.
We have to mention one store here. In Phillipsburg, St. Martin, on Old Street is a shop called "Island Arts of the Yoda Guy." It's owned by Nick Maley, the artist/creator of the Yoda character in the "Star Wars" films. He commutes between here and Antigua, and has unique memorbilia and his own original artwork and prints at very affordable prices. We got an autographed photo of Nick working on Yoda on the set of "Star Wars" and he personalized it for one of our grandsons' who is a huge "Star Wars" fan.
Also on Sunday is the first Art Auction of the cruise. We found it to be a fun way to relax and learn a little about various artists. We had read the pro and con arguments of cruise lines holding art auctions, but they don't last all day, it's just another offering on their plate. Later in the cruise we bid on one painting we liked and can't wait for it to arrive.
We chose Personal Choice dining in the Coral Dining Room and enjoyed our dinners there. If we went at a very busy time, we might have to wait for a table for two, but it gave us a flexible schedule where we didn't HAVE to be at dinner right at a certain time. Our wait staff, Sandro and Maria, both from Mexico were very pleasant, remembering our names and drink preferences.
We took one tour in each port. On St. Thomas we did the "Best of St. Thomas Island Tour," an open air bus up and down the very steep roads on the island. Our tour guide, Harold Rabasset, or "Panhandler" as he was known locally, was fun and took pride in showing off the sights of Megan's Bay, St. Peter Greathouse and Botanical Gardens, Mountain Top and literally birds-eye views of Charlotte Amalie harbor, with all the cruise ships docked in port. A view not to be missed.
On St. Martin, we took the "Under Two Flags" tour, an air-conditioned bus, with Eram as our guide, from the dock through Phillipsburg, around Cole Bay to the French town of Marigot. Here the tour stops at an open air market square with tents set up for souvenier shopping. We wandered through the tents but on the street, behind the bus parking lot, found the La Vien Rose Cafe. They have tables and chairs under red umbrellas and serve the best coffee, espresso and cafe au lait. There's seating for breakfast, lunch and dinner upstairs. Barb got her caffeine fix and we relaxed and watched the comings and goings in town. It's only a 45-minute stop, so we're going back by taxi next time and exploring the shops and dining places. Back on tour we went by Grand Case with it's beach and fishing village. Our guide told us there's 136 restaurants in this small town. Evidently nobody cooks at home! On past Orient Beach and Dawn Beach, and past the remains of a village that had to be moved a few years ago, due to changing tides. It looked familiar as Eram pointed out that the former village was used in the final scene of the movie "Speed 2" where the "out-of-control" cruise ship crashed right up the main street. Back into Phillipsburg, where you could get off the bus for shopping or stay on and Eram would return you to the dock. We got off, wandered around, bartered here and there, before taking the water taxi ($3 per person, one way) back to the cruise ship dock.
One note here about each island. Our Caribe cabin was on the port side of the ship and directly faced each harbor. Beautiful views sailing into and out of each port.
We passed on going ashore at Princess Cay. We've been there before and opted this time to stay on board and enjoy the ship and our balcony as our cruise neared it's end. We spoke with a staff member who had tender duty that morning, and 2300 people had tendered ashore by 11:00 AM to enjoy the beach and sea.
During the cruise, there were always fun shows to see, some better than others, everyone has there personal preferences. Some good specialty games, The Marriage Game, the Princess Price Is Almost Right game, dicey horse racing, trivia, bingo, etc... The "Princess Idol" tryout shows were fun, when the singers were good, it was enjoyable...when it was bad, it was great! Hey, it's a cruise, do as much or as little as you want.
We liked the Caribbean Princess a lot. The crew seemed to be working well together in most places. There were new ports to explore, so we enjoyed them and especially enjoyed the sea days. For us it was just right.
We took the Eastern Caribbean and visited St. Thomas, St. Maarten & Princess Cays from 5/22/04 to 5/29/04. This was our 1st cruise with Princess, but our 7th overall (5 Carnival & 1 RCL).
Embarkation: We flew into Ft. Lauderdale. When we picked up our luggage, there were plenty of cruise reps to guide us. We then took the bus from the airport to the cruise terminal. At the terminal, Princess has made this very efficient. You stand in line by your cabin deck. It took about 15 minutes to get thru the line & on the ship. This was the easiest embarkation we've ever had.
Ship: The ship was absolutely beautiful! Even though there are over 3000 people, it never seemed crowded. There was no shortage of chairs by the pools. The movie under the stars was awesome. We suggest planning on doing this one night.
Dining: The food was awesome! We really enjoyed the Caribe buffet on sushi and seafood extravaganza nights (there were 2 of each). We chose traditional dining. We really enjoy having the same waiter & asst. waiter each night. Whenever we wanted food, we could find somesomewhere, there is no shortage of food on this ship. We each got the Coke card for this cruise. It was well worth the cost.
Cabin: We originally booked an oceanview cabin, but were upgraded to a balcony on the Baja deck. Our balcony was completely covered. It had 2 sitting chairs & a table. We talked our room steward into exchanging a sitting chair for a lounge chair on the balcony for us. Our room had plenty of storage. The suitcases slid under the bed.
Itinerary: St. Thomas - For starters we did the St. Thomas Skyride. It was within walking distance of the ship (about 5 mins) and was well worth doing. Our excursion in the afternoon was snorkeling, New Waves Castaway Snorkeling. You get right off the ship onto the snorkeling boat. We really enjoyed it.
St. Maarten - We did the Afternoon Beach Bash. We took a bus to the Orient Beach. It was set up really nicely and was just a relaxing afternoon in the sun. We highly recommend this excursion.
Princess Cays - This is the private island. We just swam and relaxed. They had a BBQ lunch set up. There are plenty of chairs for everyone and plenty to do. We needed no money for this port.
Service: Our room steward, Cesar, was great. He always came and went without disturbing us. We really appreciated everything he did. Our waiter, Eduardo and asst. waiter, Levi, were great. They always chatted with us about our day and were a pleasure. They made sure we were taken care of. At the pool bar, the bartender, Joey, always knew we wanted Sprite. It was a pleasure seeing him. On another note, all staff was very friendly and always said HI when passing in the hall.
We are in our early 30's and love cruising. We really enjoyed this cruise and we will definately take another Princess cruise in the future.
The new Caribbean Princess is well worth sailing on! We would go again in a minute!
We sailed on a seven-day Eastern Caribbean cruise, visiting St. Thomas, St. Maarten and Princess Cays.
Princess has this down to a science. We arrived at Port Everglades Cruise Terminal 2 at 1 p.m. and were on board by 1:15. HINT: Complete the pre-boarding paperwork online and save time during embarkation. Check your pre-cruise documents and www.princess.com for details. This is well worth doing in advance, as you can then speed through embarkation. When your documents arrive in the mail, they will have a sticker that indicates "Express Check-In" and you can then use the special lines set up for "Express Check-In" passengers.
In a word, beautiful! Although the ship holds 3,100 passengers, they have designed it with passengers in mind, because you never feel crowded! In my opinion, the highlights are:
1. "Movies under the Stars," an outdoor 300-sq. ft. LED movie screen (like in NY's Times Square) that shows movies and other things like concerts and sporting events (we saw Tina Turner's 24/7 Concert).
2. The Lotus Spa and Gymnasium, a beautiful complex on Deck 16 atthe front of the ship overlooking the ocean. I use the treadmills every day on a cruise, and this is the first ship where I NEVER had to wait for one. It has about 20 of them, along with a full range of other cardio machines (e.g. Stairmasters) and a full selection of weight machines. The spa is beautiful and is operated by Princess, not an outsourced company. The personnel are friendly and the massages are terrific. And there's no sales pressure to buy their products (in fact, no sales pitch at all). HINT: For best selection, book your spa treatments online, before you board. Check www.princess.com for details.
3. Princess Theater, with great views no matter where you sit. We always sat in the last few rows of the balcony, and still had good sight lines. The shows were good, and the selection varied each night.
4. Internet Café, with easy-to-use PC's (just run your guest card through the card reader) – I never had a wait, although sometimes the response time was slow due to satellite transmission, I guess.
5. Outdoor areas. Spacious pool areas (5 pools!) were busy but never seemed crowded. The great promenade deck was never crowded, and is a great place to sit and read.
We selected Personal Choice Anytime Dining and could not have been happier. I had read some reviews where some people had problems, e.g. long waits. We had no problems whatsoever! HINT: When you get on board, immediately make specialty dining reservations. If you want a reservation for Sabatini's Italian Restaurant or Sterling Steakhouse, go there as soon as you board to make reservations. Also, if you want to eat in a main dining room, call the Concierge line (on your cabin phone) and make a reservation several hours before dinner (we called each morning). By following these methods, we were able to eat where and when we wanted...with no problems at all.
A few nights we ate at Horizon Court/Café Caribe (they are connected). They serve the same food at dinner as the main dining rooms, although it is buffet style. The food was good, but the service was only fair and this is an area that could be improved. We never bring formal attire on a cruise because we don't like to get dressed up on vacation...so this is an informal alternative dining venue if you want to leave the nice clothes at home!
There's great pizza outside on Deck 15; we often had lunch there (OK, so we went to the Horizon Court buffet right afterwards too...it is a cruise, after all). They serve burgers outside too, which were OK but not as good as the pizza.
We ordered room service breakfast every day by filling out the card and hanging it on the door the night before. It was always on time (sometimes early) and good!
We were very fortunate to have Emilio as our room steward -- one of the best cabin stewards ever!
We splurged and chose a mini-suite for this cruise after having booked one on the Grand Princess a few years ago. It was a very spacious cabin, with a sitting area (full-size couch), two TVs and a bath with a full-size tub, as well as a great balcony with a table and two chairs.
The balconies on this ship are built in wedding-cake fashion, and the mini-suites are at the bottom...meaning that the balconies above can look down on yours. We noticed that most of the time, people were not on the balconies above, and we did not feel like our privacy was being invaded even when they were outside. So the question becomes, should you trade balcony privacy for a nicer cabin? Our answer is to go for the nicer cabin...we would absolutely book a mini-suite again! We spent a lot of time on the balcony, especially in the late afternoon and early evening when we would have a few cocktails there. Great sunsets...don't miss them! I noticed too that some mini-suites are cheaper than regular balcony cabins, so check pricing and you may be surprised! HINT: If you want to remove a chair from the balcony and add a chaise lounge instead, just ask your room steward!
There were three sea days, which is great! We had full days in St. Thomas and St. Maarten (go on the America's Cup Sail in St. Maarten -- it is a lot of fun). We called at Princess Cays on the last full day of the cruise and it's nice to just relax and wander on the island. There's a good BBQ buffet at lunch there too.
Without a doubt, excellent, even considering the below-average service we had in the Horizon Café. Princess employees were always professional, friendly, kind and helpful. This is quite a tribute to the staff, especially considering that the crew had been together for only about a month!
In Summary: We would sail Princess again, and would not hesitate to take another cruise on the Caribbean Princess.
BIO / CRUISE
This was our third cruise and the first with the Princess line. Our group consisted of 7 people, me and my wife, my brother and sister and their spouses, and the real Princess and birthday girl, our 87 year(young) mother. With the exception of my 45 year old sister-in-law, we are all in our mid to late fifties. We sailed out of Fort Lauderdale from Philadelphia. Ports of call were Princess Cays, Montego Bay, Jamaica, Grand Cayman Islands and Cozumel, Mexico.
Since the airport is only 10-15 minutes from the ship, we suggest you take a cab or a van. The Princess bus transfer, which we were told not to take but did anyway, took over one and a half hours. Live and learn. Princess does a great job with registration. We suggest you get into the shortest line even though the lines are identified by deck.
We had a balcony on the Aloha deck on the 12th floor, and it was great. Plenty of storage room and it was quiet all week. You may want to check to make sure you are not below the night club since weheard that could be noisy. We suggest you pack a night light since the room does get dark. Having your morning coffee on the balcony is a must! Also, you may want to try sleeping a few nights with the sliding doors open to hear the sound of the Caribbean Sea, it's a great experience. Once you have a balcony deck, it will be difficult to book future cruises without one.
Maybe its our Italian heritage but quality food is important to us. We were not disappointed. We selected the personal choice dining but did a "work around" by making a standard dinner reservation at the Island Dining room for the entire week with the exception of the two nights at the specialty restaurants. This was done on our first day. We never had a problem all week and our table was always waiting for us. Since our group preferred sit down service to cafeteria style, we enjoyed breakfast in the Coral Dining Room. Cruisers with children and on tight schedules may prefer the Horizon Court and Café Caribe on deck 15. Our two best meals were at the specialty restaurants, Sabatini's and the Sterling Steakhouse, both on deck 7. Even though it costs $15-$20 more per person , treat yourself, its well worth it. Just buy one less Tee shirt.
Sabatini's is a wonderfully delicious 5 course meal with 5 different waiters serving the 7 of us.
The meal at Sterling Steakhouse was equally as good. If you are only selecting one of the two, my choice would be Sabatini's. We suggest you call the Concierge on your first day to set up all your reservations for the week since they do fill up quickly.
Trident Grill located around the pool had great thin crust pizza in addition to the usal burgers, hot dogs and fries. The pizza however baked daily, is the main attraction.
You won't starve on this ship between the 24 hour room service and the food available at the Horizon court, Café Caribe and the Bistro.
In order to see as much as possible, you need to check the daily Princess Patter for a schedule of activities, and plan accordingly. Movies under the Stars was enjoyable especially with the free popcorn and blankets provided.
Here is our review of the entertainment:
Fernandez the comedy/ hypnotist was our favorite attraction. He hypnotizes 15-20 volunteers from the audience and makes them do some hilarious things. The audience was hysterical. In fact we caught his Jerry Springer routine as well on another night.
Bert Stratton the piano player/singer is also a "must see", he is in the Crooners lounge.
James Michael has a high energy comedy/magic act that is very entertaining
Mike Wilson, a comedy impressionist was also very good.
Sarge, a comedian put on a good show.
The Broadway show, Let's Rock, was a high energy production with a young group of singers and dancers. I found it to be only average.
Brandi Chapman, a female vocalist only appeared on our last night and she was terrific, singing Oscar award winning songs. What a great voice!
For the younger crowd there was plenty of after hours partying going on at the Sky Walkers lounge on deck 19.
My wife enjoyed her body massage and we even got Mom an eye facial although she questioned what it could do for her at this stage of her life.
PORTS OF CALL
Princess Cays - this is Princess's private island where you get a tender to their beach. We had a great day and rented paddle boats, rafts and even went sailing on a Hobie cat. Lunch was a nice barbecue.
Montego Bay - we took the Wet N Wild party cruise and were disappointed. The boat was old, small and dirty. Once we got off at Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville, we decided to stay there, have lunch and not return on the boat. Lunch was a little expensive but we enjoyed it. We took a cab back to the ship.
Grand Cayman Islands - since we previously visited this island we just did some shopping. Of course my wife did buy a ring.
Cozumel Mexico - We booked the Passion Island beach tour which was fun. It's a 5 four tour with 3 hours of actual beach time. Our tour guide Octavio was excellent. The beach and water were beautiful. Trip included lunch and an open bar.
Princess does a superior job. Very organized with little waiting.
We had a great vacation and made a lifetime of memories. The ship is beautiful, great food and service, plenty of swimming pools a wide variety of entertainment, a casino for my brother-in-law and much more. Since I am a sports fanatic, my only disappointment was the lack of a true sports bar with American ESPN, Spanish ESPN just didn't cut it for me. The Churchill Lounge is only a cigar bar, although they call it a sports bar. Other cruise ships also offer an Internet version of the USA newspaper at a daily rate, which Princess did not. Other then that, I had no complaints. We would book another Princess cruise in a "New York minute."
We were passengers on the third scheduled cruise, April 17-24, 2004, of the new Caribbean Princess, the second of three new Princess ships being introduced. Our cruise was to the Western Caribbean with stops at Princess cays, Montego Bay, Grand Cayman and Cozumel with two sea days. We selected the cruise because of the ship.new and big! We were not disappointed. Will give some highlights of the ship and cruise as well as some hints for those who may be considering the Caribbean Princess.
The ship is big; 112,000 to 116,000 tons depending on what you hear. The captains log listed 112,000. It accommodates 3000 to 3500 passengers which results in a little bigger than normal crowds at some venues but is NOT anything to be concerned about. It is very nicely decorated with lots of Caribbean pastel colors as well as chrome and brass , has an elegant atrium with a light color scheme, and dozens of places to go on the ship, all giving a feeling of being relatively small and intimate. The ship had the fastest elevators of any ship we had ever been on which reminded usof the elevators in Las Vegas casinos.a real plus if you have waited for the slow elevators on many cruise ships. There are a lot of balconies.
HINT: The balconies on the Caribe deck are bigger than the balconies on many decks.
The ship was new but the crew was experienced. We were a little concerned about a new crew when we booked the cruise. Several crew members had transferred from other Princess ships along with others who came from other cruise lines. We even recognized a couple from other ships we had been on. Service was excellent everywhere, especially in the dining rooms.
We selected traditional dining which meant assigned seating for all dinners. There were A LOT of dining options including personal choice dining in one of the three main dining rooms. ( Someone told us that the personal choice dining was so popular that the dining rooms were going to be shifted to accommodate more for personal dining on the next cruise). The buffets ( There were two) were very good. The lines were crowded the first afternoon due to the large number of people and the traffic pattern which was a little different. Open seatings for breakfast and lunch in the Coral Dining room was easy..no lines and no wait. Interestingly, the attendance in the main dining rooms was far less that capacity.probable due to the number of choices: At least two special rooms ( with a cover charge), pizza, grill and two buffets as well as the three dining rooms. All the restaurants were nicely decorated and offered a very pleasant atmosphere.
The food was very good highlighted by lobster night. We thought the selections in the dining rooms where we eat most meals were excellent. The dining room menus featured a wide selection of international foods that were interesting and delicious. The buffet also had a nice selection. Pizza, compared to other ship experiences, was excellent. I like ice cream ( splurge on cruises) and they had some macadamia nut that was special. Food rating.High.
HINT: We tried the Steakhouse, with a $15 cover charge. The steaks were very good but the rest of the meal and the setting were nothing really special. Service was excellent.
Shops on the ship were nice. A good selection of both shops and goods. We made several purchases. The casino was large and well done. ( didn't win). Neither the shops nor the casino were crowded even though there were over 3000 people on board. The showroom, however, was standing room only a couple of times. ( The Caribbean Princess does repeat some shows on a second night so there are four opportunities to see the show). Lounge entertainment was good. ( Lots of lounges)
The ports were the standard ones for the Western Caribbean.
HINT: Be sure to get off the ship at the Princess Cays. The facilities on the island are very nice, including sheltered areas if you don't like the sun and lots of beach for those who do. The scenery and view to the ship from the island are worth a photo. They also had a nice barbecue with good food.
We tried the river rafting at Montego Bay, a nice relaxing ride down a river ( shallow in most areas) on a bamboo raft with interesting scenery along the way. It was followed up with a talk on local produce, instructions on making rum drinks, a jitney ( jitney is a wagon with seats pulled by a tractor) ride to a banana plantation where we were fascinated by a description of banana growth and uses, a lunch, and coconut palm climber. We then went downtown.
HINT: Downtown was neither a place to go nor shop. It could use a lot of development which is unfortunate for the local people.
Grand Cayman was very crowded the day we were there. Tenders are required and the docks were filled with passengers from all the ships, many looking for their tour groups which met on shore. We tried the underwater viewing boat which is a good opportunity to see marine life just below the surface. Grand Cayman is well developed, has a lot of shops and good buying opportunities.
The last stop was Cozumel, with a visit to Tulum probably the biggest attraction. Tulum is well worth a visit if you have interest in the Mayans. Shopping in Cozumel is also very good.
HINT: A shopping area right at the pier has been completed in the last few years. It is clean, safe, and has many shops including duplicates of those downtown. Provides a chance to shop if the tour runs long.
Getting on and off the ship is worth a couple of notes. Getting on ( embarking for the sailors) was a little confusing with express and regular lines. Express was for those who registered on line.and had "express" on their ticket covers. ( we registered on line but had no sticker). Boarding started right at noon and we were in the initial large group so maybe that's why things were confusing. Didn't seem to make a any difference because no one was there to give directions..probably our only real complaint with the cruise. Getting off was very predictable and easy..remember, we had over 3000 passengers.
A couple of other hints..
HINT: There is a parking garage right at the ship, maybe the closest we have ever parked to our ship BUT there is a least one other garage and it not hard to end up in the wrong garage..and it is an impossible walk.
HINT: Booking another Princess cruise on the ship will get you some shipboard credit for your next Princess cruise and the down payment is much less than you would normally pay. The risk is also low: You can change your itinerary and date and are given quite a long time to book ( four years in our case).and you still use your travel agent ( who may be able to better the rates quoted). We had researched future princess cruises and were prepared to take advantage of the nice offer.
SUMMARY: Big, beautiful and new ship with a lot of modern amenities sailing to the Caribbean. We had another very, very nice travel vacation.
My 55-year-old husband and I (53) celebrated our 35th anniversary by taking our first cruise, and chose to sail on the new Caribbean Princess to the Western Caribbean. This was only the second sailing of this beautiful ship. We sailed out of Ft. Lauderdale after flying down from Baltimore. Scheduled ports of call were Princess Cay, Montego Bay, Grand Cayman, and Cozumel.
Even though it was Easter weekend and there were crowds, embarkation went without a hitch and very little waiting in line. We had a Princess bus transfer waiting for us from the airport to the dock, which went smoothly.
We had a deluxe balcony stateroom on the Deck 15 (Lido deck), and it was lovely. We heard no noise. There was plenty of water pressure in bathroom. Our stateroom was roomy with plenty of storage in a separate closet, enclosed shelving area (with safe), and bedside drawers and desk. There were lots of wall mirrors and the décor had lovely color choices throughout. The cabin had a small refrigerator/bar/TV stand, a desk, and sliding doors to our nice-sized balcony with table and chairs (plastic).
The food was plentiful and I'd giveit four stars. The Horizon Buffet and Caribe Cafe were going day and night with all kinds of goodies to tempt all palates -- vegetarian, meat lovers, sweet tooth, lots of fresh fruit etc. The coffee and tea could be better. Our dinner was in the Palm Dining Room on the aft Deck 6, which was a challenge to get to -- one must go up and down to reach it from the forward end due to the open atrium in the middle. The food there was plentiful and they aimed to please, allowing you to order whatever you wanted, even off the menu. Our only complaint: It took too long to be served the main course each time we were there, but if you want leisurely dinner conversation with your tablemates, this is okay.
The pool area had a pizza oven that served great thin crust pizza, and also a sandwich grill for fries, burgers, etc. You could pay extra to eat in the special steak house (the Palm Room steak was excellent), Italian restaurant, and one other. We were more than happy with the "included" food.
The new "Movies under the Stars" is fantastic! The ship has a three-tiered outdoor movie theater with deck chairs under the stars. Sound and picture were great.
My husband's favorite entertainment was Bert Stratton, a piano player/singer who did requests on the atrium promenade deck. You can go to his web site using just his name. He was able to play spontaneously all types of music from the 20s to contemporary. He was a mix of Jim Carrey (antics and faces), Victor Borge (humor and wit), and Lurch. He was very entertaining and engaging, bringing his intimate audience right into the show and "whipping us into a frenzy." Don't miss him.
We loved dancing in the Fusion room to the bands, also in the Explorer Lounge, and on Deck 15 to the Caribbean band. All were great. We did not catch any of the shows in the Princess Theater. Richard Hatch of "Survivor" was there for a talk. There were also "Broadway-style shows" with singing and dancing. It was my understanding that all the props could not be obtained when we missed our port in Grand Cayman, so this was a limited show.
We were plenty busy! We played bingo and my husband won part of a $200 pot. He played in the casino a little, but we aren't big gamblers. It looked like a great casino with lots of nickel and quarter machines as well as $1 and up.
My husband took advantage of the running track, which made him dizzy because 10 times around equals one mile and he runs about four miles. The workout room has lots of equipment and beautiful views of the sea. The new Lotus Spa offers a beauty shop, massage, and facials. My husband won a free makeover, which was filmed and shown on the TVs on board. That was fun.
PORTS OF CALL
Princess Cay: This is Princess' private island and is very nice. We enjoyed the water sports and swimming, and they served a nice barbecue to everyone under pavilions on the beach. There are local craftsmen there selling baskets, trinkets, hats and clothing. "Princess Pirates" in full costume meet you for pictures.
Montego Bay, Jamaica: This was a disappointment, but was not without merit. Tenders are needed to get to shore. The cab drivers are everywhere and relentless in trying to procure you as a customer, as are the shop owners -- much pressure, little relaxation. The port is depressed looking and sad. We visited a small shopping center and bought T-shirts, then went to Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville ($4 cab fee each) and had lunch overlooking ocean. My husband went down the large tube slide into the water (no cost). A hamburger is $8. I think we would skip this port and enjoy the ship next time.
Grand Cayman Island: Unfortunately, because of high seas, the port authority closed this port to all cruise ships and we had to skip it. I understand it is the most beautiful.
Cozumel, Mexico: My favorite! The ship lands directly at a dock, no tenders. Lots of colorfully costumed people greet you for pictures or just to enjoy. You exit the dock through a large duty-free shopping center (vanilla, alcohol, jewelry, etc.) into the local shopping center with lots of jewelry, handicrafts, T-shirts, etc., at good prices. The water is beautiful; it's very picturesque.
We took the catamaran snorkeling excursion to two coral reefs and it was fantastic! We went in a large, covered catamaran seating 50, with bathrooms. We saw beautiful seas, underwater coral gardens, colorful fish, and sea turtles. It's several hours out, so wear a shirt or sun block! On the ride back, the crew serves both alcoholic and soft drinks and fruit. They were great. It cost us about $50 each for this Princess tour. We took photos with an underwater camera and hope they turn out.
This went very smoothly with little waiting. Again our Princess bus transfer brought us straight to the airport from the dock.
We loved this cruise and found the ship to be beautiful with a crew that pampers you. Montego Bay was a disappointment, and we were sorry we could not see beautiful Grand Cayman, but safety comes first. The price was fair, at $897 each for a lovely new ship and a cabin with a balcony for seven days. Onboard ship activities were wonderful. We want to go again!