Year Started: 1965
Ships in Fleet: 18
Summary: Princess is one of the most consistently excellent cruise lines in the upper mainstream to premium group. All the diversity of larger ships but personalized service.
Regions:Canada, Caribbean, Europe
Good for: Families. Seniors. First-time Cruisers.
Regions:Alaska, California Coastal, Panama Canal
Good for: Teens. First-time Cruisers. Families.
Regions:Caribbean, Europe, South America
Good for: Teens. Children`s Programs. Families.
Regions:Asia & Africa, Australia, Europe
Good for: Group. First-time Cruisers. Families.
Regions:Alaska, Asia & Africa, Australia
Good for: Families. Teens. Children`s Programs.
Regions:Canada, Caribbean, Europe
Good for: Teens. Children`s Programs. Group.
Regions:Alaska, California, Hawaii
Good for: Teens. Children`s Programs. Group.
Regions:Alaska, California, Hawaii, Mexico
Good for: Families. Overall Service. Teens.
Regions:Alaska, California, Panama Canal
Good for: Seniors. Group. Singles.
Regions:Asia & Africa, Australia, Europe
Regions:Asia & Africa, Australia, Europe, Hawaii
Regions:Caribbean, Europe, Transatlantic
Good for: Seniors. Value for Money. Group.
Regions:Caribbean, Europe, Transatlantic
Good for: Overall Service. Teens. Children`s Programs.
Regions:Alaska, California, Hawaii, Mexico
Good for: Teens. Children`s Programs. Families.
Regions:Asia & Africa, Australia, Panama Canal
Good for: Seniors. Group. Families.
Regions:Alaska, California, Hawaii, South America
Good for: Families. Overall Service. Teens.
Regions:Asia & Africa, Australia, South Pacific, Tahiti
Good for: Overall Service. Disabled Travelers. Seniors.
Our family recently completed a 16 day Transatlantic cruise on the Emerald Princess.
Ship - The Emerald is a beautiful ship, multiple restaurants, bars and lounges. We had a balcony stateroom (usually have a mini-suite but they were almost double the price of a balcony stateroom on this cruise) which was a little cramped for three persons. The third bed dropped from the ceiling so it was not in the way except if one had to use the restroom during the evening. We especially enjoyed the Adagio lounge on the 16th floor at the back of the ship. This was probably the most geriatric crowd we have ever encountered - I would estimate the average age to be in the 75 year range. Many "typical" New Yorkers aboard, and if you don't mind hearing how great they are, or being told by some how to do things you will survive just fine.
Ports - The itinerary was a great one - left from Copenhagen and visited Oslo, Glasgow, Dublin, Belfast, Iceland, Greenland (missed due to weather), St. John's NF and St. John NB. Iceland far exceeded any of our expectations - suggestthe "Golden Circle" excursion. Skip the Blue Lagoon as it is over rated. We also did an excellent excursion to Culzean Castle in Scotland - much better than Edinburgh in our opinion. We had eight sea days which, unless you keep occupied can get a little boring.
Entertainment - We thoroughly enjoyed the singers and comedians they brought on board. The ship's Broadway shows were also quite good. The biggest disappointment was the lounge performers. There was a piano/singer in the Crooners Bar that was absolutely terrible - he had no idea of how bad he was, but he sure was loud and off-key. There was a European band called Cactus Jack that played primarily in the Explorer's Lounge. If you like american music with a distinct European accent they are your cup of tea. Also was a duo named Allan & La Donna - to be avoided at all costs!
Staff - Overall the cruise staff were OK, but many did not seem to enjoy being there. We found the wait staff at Da Vinci to be very personable. Cabin stewards were disinterested. The Captain was one of the most friendly we have encountered. The Cruise Director Lee Childers is exemplary - outgoing and extremely helpful. On of the CD staff (Karen from the UK) ran a lot of the games, including trivia. She was the consummate drama queen, even breaking into tears when a passenger criticized her.
Food - On the whole the food was pretty typical for Princess. The Da Vinci anytime dining restaurant started out poorly but continuously improved through the cruise. I would rate their food a consistent 7 out of 10. The Horizon Court food on the other hand is poor (very). Two or three times a day you have to avoid the "Charge of the Overweight Brigade" to get to the buffet. Anyone whom wishes to see why our country is in such poor physical shape only has to take a cruise. Watching 200+ pounders carting around two or three heaping plates of food will send you to the gym in a heartbeat. I would be hesitant to rate the Horizon's food? above a 3 out of 10.
Summary - To me there are no bad cruises, only a few bad moments. We always enjoy Princess or Celebrity cruises and this one met our overall expectations.
This was our 6th cruise, the 4th on Princess, our first time cruising in the British Isles and our first time on a small ship (just 680 passengers). We traveled with our adult daughter in a balcony cabin on deck 7, mid-ship. We have only sailed the eastern/western Caribbean and Bermuda, and were looking forward with excited anticipation to a British Isles cruise. We flew into Heathrow and stayed in Canterbury for one night pre-cruise.
Flight, Transfer & Precruise
We took a direct overnight flight from Boston to London Heathrow's on Virgin Atlantic and arrived in Terminal 3 the following morning ahead of schedule by about 20 minutes. Anticipating a long queue at Immigration, imagine our surprise when the room was nearly empty, and the wait was mercifully short and quick - a mere 15 minutes! So much for all the stories about 3-hour lines and delays at the airport during the Olympics.
Weather on Arrival: The woman who checked us through immigration said it has been the worst summer for weather in London and around the UK - rainy and cool. We were very lucky, as our first day in the UKwas mild - around 70, with just a few showers and a lot of sun - what a blessing!
Transport from Heathrow to Canterbury (pre-cruise stay): We hired British Airport Cars, and I highly recommend them. I had reserved this company a few months ahead, and communication was great. I specified a 9:30 am pickup time, which would give us 2 hours to get through all the airport formalities. Since we were through immigration so fast, I called the driver who, as it turns out, was not very far away. He was happy to come ahead of schedule and scoop us up straight away for our visit to Leeds Castle and then to Canterbury for our pre-cruise stay. Our driver, Gary, was personable, professional and accommodating.
Leeds Castle: As we had plenty of time to reach Canterbury, we asked our driver to make a stop at Leeds Castle. We arrived early at the castle at opening time, so we enjoyed a leisurely walk through the beautiful grounds leading up to the castle entrance. By the time we got there, the crowds started to swell with lots of groups consisting of mostly young people. The castle itself is beautiful, though not as grand and formidable as Sterling Castle and Edinburgh Castle visited later in the cruise. We queued up for a self-tour, but feel the narrated tour, available for an additional fee, would have been more informative.
Canterbury & The Agnes Inn: A few weeks before the cruise, on the advice of my dear and wise husband, we switched our one-night precruise stay from Dover to Canterbury. We couldn't have been happier! This Dickens-like town is charming, with so much history, and we really felt like we got a better experience here than if we had stayed in Dover. The House of Agnes is a cozy and quaint B&B within walking distance of the old town and Canterbury Cathedral. Natasha and the rest of the staff were very friendly and accommodating. We chose to stay in the updated renovated stable rooms facing the beautiful gardened grounds and gazebo in the rear of the main house. The room was very small. However, a comfy bed, tea & cookies, and attractive decor made for a restful night. The heated bathroom floor was a real bonus! The main house is full of history and character, with sitting areas, an honesty bar, and comfortable breakfast room. We only wished we could have stayed longer at the inn as well as spent more time in Canterbury.
Embarkation & Cruise: Day 1
Canterbury Cathedral: Before leaving the lovely House of Agnes, we took a walk through the old town of Canterbury to Canterbury Cathedral. If you only have a short time in this beautiful town, this magnificent historical cathedral is truly breathtaking and is a must-see. Once again, the weather gods were good to us, as the day started out with a fine misty rain falling but the sun appeared in time for our walk to the cathedral.
Transport from Canterbury to the ship in Dover: We reserved a taxi through Canterbury Taxi for our ride to the ship. Our driver, Ray, arrived on time (even a bit early) and was personable and helpful, even pointing out several sights along the way. The charge was a reasonable £35 to take the five of us and all our stuff to the ship in a minivan.
Embarkation & First impressions: We arrived at approximately 1:00 pm to check in. We have always found the Check-In process on all of the Princess ships we have sailed to be fast and efficient, and even easier on the Ocean Princess, due to the smaller number of people. Our luggage was quickly whisked away, and we were warmly welcomed into the cruise terminal with smiling, happy faces. No lines, friendly staff, and all very fast and efficient, yet leisurely. There were crew members on board to show you the way to your cabin - not that you need help - the ship's not that big.
Our Cabin - Deck 7, #7061 Balcony (triple): The cabin was roomy enough, with plenty of storage space. However, the sleeper sofa, when open, blocks the way to the balcony and the desk drawers. The end of the bed can be folded back - but not so easy if there is someone sleeping in it. So I found myself crawling over my daughter to get to the balcony whenever something interesting caught my eye off the starboard side - which I am sure she didn't appreciate much. Our bed was perfectly comfortable, but our daughter said the pull-out bed was not. The bathroom seemed a tad roomier than the other ships we've been on and had plenty of storage. The balcony was large enough with a small round table and two reclining-back chairs. Honestly, though, there were several days when it was just too windy, cold or drizzly - or we were just too busy - to spend much time out there. Our cabin steward did a great job refreshing the cabin daily and always greeted us with a warm smile.
The ship's interior design contains a lot of wood paneling, mirrors, art and floral designs, giving the feeling of a traditional cruise ship of the past - a classy look, and I loved it! No room portrayed this better than the ship's library. Wood paneled walls, fireplace and a ceiling mural gave this room a warm, intimate look - a great, quiet place to curl up with a book or just sit and relax. The central staircase on decks 4 and 5 is beautiful and, as others have commented, reminiscent of the staircase scenes with Jack and Rose on the Titanic, except on a smaller and less grand scale.
The passenger demographic was much more mature (i.e. older) and well-traveled than the cruises we've taken in the Caribbean on the big ships, though a few kids were spotted around the ship, as well as a number of younger couples. There was no concern over "chair hogs" on this tiny ship in this cooler climate. Due to rain, drizzle and chill, the activity took place inside. Rarely did we see anyone spending time out on deck, although I did spot a brave person in the pool on one warmer afternoon, and the hot tubs seemed to be used often. Those who did chose to sit outside were bundled in sweaters, including myself!
One nice thing about the small size of the ship was that everything we needed was either a deck or two above or below our cabin and never more than a couple of flights of stairs away. Due to British maritime law, the casino is closed throughout most of the cruise, but otherwise, the activities on sea days are similar to those on the large ships, but not as varied and on a much smaller scale. Some of these included line dancing, trivia, Wii games, ice sculpture viewing, and the art auction. There are in-cabin movies and occasional first-run movies shown in the Casino lounge. Afternoon tea, of course, is available every afternoon, and the Lotus Spa and fitness room provide classes, treatments and workout options.
Day 2: Guernsey (Formal Night)
I had read many tales of missed calls to this port. I am happy to report that the day was mild and sunny, and the ship made it to port, as scheduled. However, wind and high winds prevailed, making the tender ride a bit choppy. We watched the tendering process from our balcony and noticed that the tender and ship had trouble connecting in order to board the passengers. The captain had to reposition the ship throughout the day in order to assist the process to make it easier and safer for boarding, so it all worked out.
Castle Cornet: Since we had to be back on board by 2:30, it was a short day for us in Guernsey. We walked to Castle Cornet, a very easy and walkable mile. We paid for admission which included a guide who was very informative and filled us in on the history of Guernsey and the castle (which is a fort, really). As an added bonus, the views are truly spectacular, including a fabulous view of the ship! One notable event at the Castle is the firing of the Noon Day Gun, a tradition dating back to the early days of the 19th century. We watched from the roped area surrounding the gun, but a visit timed to be at the level just below the gun at noon may make for a better view.
Added note about Guernsey: Later on that evening, we learned that the captain had nearly made the decision to cancel the Guernsey port stop due to high seas. Which makes me wonder - what happens when they tender people over to the island but then can't tender them back because the waves are too high ....?
Motion on the Ocean! Just as we had earlier in the day, we faced rough seas Friday night once we left Guernsey on our way to Waterford. So rough, in fact, that the Ocean Princess Singers & Dancers production was canceled, replaced by comic, Tom Brisco. There were a lot of seasick passengers that evening, as well as many empty seats in the dining room and show lounges. Those souls brave enough donned their formal attire, stumbled around the ship, attended the captain's welcome party, and dined to the rocking and rolling of the ship. The formal photo shoot was particularly challenging for both the photographer and the subjects. Another consequence of the turbulent waters is that the ship had to reduce speed, which could have affected the arrival time in Waterford the next morning. As it turned out, we made it on schedule.
Tonight was our daughter's 25th birthday. OK, not really. It was actually last January, but we never properly celebrated, so we thought this would be a good way to honor such a momentous occasion. Balloons, a happy birthday sign on the door, a card from the Captain, and a cake complete with singing waiters at dinner made it all special.
Day 3: Waterford, Ireland
When traveling to Waterford from the ship, cruise passengers are not permitted to walk out of the gated port of Belview. Fortunately, Princess does have a complimentary shuttle for the 20-minute ride into Waterford. We also saw four or five taxis waiting, but with the small number of passengers, it doesn't make sense to hire a taxi here, when Princess provides a free ride. There was never a wait, and it was an enjoyable ride.
Rural Ireland & Jerpoint Abbey Excursion: We did not want to leave Ireland without seeing some of the countryside and, therefore, pre-booked this 4-hour excursion. The day began overcast, but rain-free. Sitting on the balcony with my morning coffee and the Princess' version of an Egg McMuffin, I admired the beautiful Ireland countryside as we pulled into Waterford. By the time we headed off the ship for the tour, the rain had begun and continued on and off through most of the day. Our guide for the tour was Mary, a very personable and knowledgeable woman, whose charming Irish brogue reminded me of Mrs. Doubtfire. The bus took us on a ride through rolling hills and farmland filled with horses, cows and sheep. We were led through Jerpoint Abbey with a knowledgeable guide who took us through the old monastery ruins, pointing out interesting facts along the way. We then continued to the little village of Inistioge, along the River Nore, where we spent about 15 minutes photographing the scenery and the remaining 10 minutes in a small Irish pub enjoying a pint of Guinness with my husband's new-found Irish friend "Patty" and a few other locals. Perfect! We then made our way back to the ship for lunch before heading out, once again, this time to the shuttle for a ride into Waterford. We were very happy with the Jerpoint Abbey tour, though, as my husband mentioned, we would have liked to stop for a quick photo op of the beautiful countryside we drove through. After all, photos tend to be of better quality when the scenery is standing still, as opposed to speeding by.
Waterford: As mentioned, we took the ship's free shuttle into Waterford after lunch. We began by heading over to the City Square Shopping Center. It was Saturday, there was an outdoor festival going on in Waterford and the streets were mobbed. The shopping center was just a mall with chain stores mixed in with local shops. We didn't like it, so headed back to Reginald's Tower, the Greyfriars ruins and the House of Waterford Crystal, stopping on the way to pick up a few gifts. We prefer the historical aspects of touring and found these places more interesting and enjoyable than trying to maneuver a busy shopping center full of stores that we can find back home. Waterford is the oldest city in Ireland and I am sure has many fine qualities. However, after spending time in quaint Canterbury two days before, it was hard to become excited about Waterford's traffic, crowded streets and noise. It was my least favorite city on this itinerary.
Day 4: Dublin.
The weather in Dublin on the day we called was fairly wet - not a washout by any means, just enough to bring out the rain slickers and umbrellas. There may have been taxis available at the port, but we chose the ship's shuttle into Dublin, 16 dollars/pp round trip. It was convenient for us - the shuttles drop off and return to the same location, so they were easy to find and always available. Once dropped off, we needed to get our bearings and find the green Hop On, Hop Off bus which we reserved in advance. There happened to be one sitting nearby, and when we asked the driver how to find the location to obtain our tickets, he said it was about a mile away but made it easy for us by giving them to us right then and there. As he wasn't operating at that time, we walked to the nearest location and hopped on board the next bus. This was #5 on the route and we stayed on until the end, at which time we needed to change to a new bus. This next bus had a live narrator, where the first was the multilingual recording. If I were to do it again, I would be sure to be on the bus with the live narration. Other than that, the HoHo tour was a great way to get an overview of this lovely city as well as many photo ops. Note: The HoHo bus tour we booked was the green bus run by Dublin Bus Tours. They can easily be joined and paid for at any of their stops, and it is not necessary to book in advance. However, they do offer a 15% web discount. As our only missions in Dublin were the Book of Kells and a pint of Guinness, we got off at #3, queued up at Trinity College for the Book of Kells and then had a fine lunch on Grafton Street consisting of a very tasty Irish stew and a pint. We stopped at a few shops for Irish woolens on the way back to the shuttle and headed back to the ship. When comparing Dublin to Waterford the day before, Waterford seemed to be more of a typical working class city, whereas the city of Dublin had more of an Irish flavor and character, as well as better local gift shops.
With regard to the Book of Kells: We arrived here on a Sunday morning and, therefore, the city was pretty quiet. We arrived at the queue for the Book at 10:45 am, just in the nick of time, before several large groups lined up behind us. So if you plan on seeing this, make it your first stop of the day or save it for later. We waited about 30 minutes in line and then, once inside, it took some patience as people waited their turn to view the Book as well as other writings. Once in view, it was humbling to be in the presence of such ancient works.
Day 5: Glasgow/Greenock
We woke up to Greenock with the sound of bagpipers playing below our cabin on the pier and then, once off the ship, were treated to a dram of whisky (my husband got a double!) by a friendly Scottish welcoming party at the port. We were very impressed by the genuine hospitality all over the UK, but particularly here in Scotland.
Independent Tour with Gordon Ross - Luss, Loch Lomond & Sterling Castle: I had gathered a group of fellow Cruise Critics and booked a Highlands tour with Great Scot Tours for 15 people. Our guide, Gordon Ross, and his able driver, John, were waiting for us right on schedule and greeted us warmly as we boarded his mini-coach to set out on a full-day tour of the Highland. The village of Luss, our first stop, is a quaint, pretty little town on the banks of Loch Lomond. Gordon refers to it as "Brigadoon" and we wholeheartedly agree. One feels a sense of quiet serenity in this idyllic place, and the view of the distant hills across the lake is one of timeless beauty. It was all very magical!
Back on board, we arrived in the Highland, at which time Gordon stopped at an overlook and let us sample an assortment of whiskies - just a wee dram ... or two or three! This was not in the tour description - just a little extra something that this kind and thoughtful Scotsman adds to his tours. With his passengers now all warm and giddy, he took us on a scenic drive, pointing out many sites along the way including all the "white rocks" dotting the countryside. Except they weren't rocks - they were sheep! Thousands upon thousands. I believe there are more sheep in Scotland than there are people.
After sharing his vast knowledge and history of this beautiful country, Gordon brought us to the lovely town of Callender, where we could wander about and have lunch. While many in our tour chose a restaurant pointed out by Gordon, we chose a pub nearby for some fantastic fish & chips and black pudding.
We then continued on to the final destination of our tour - Sterling Castle. As we came closer, the castle appeared majestic and formidable to us at the top of a rocky hill and was a fearsome sight to behold. There are no words to describe it. A walk through the castle and along the grounds is like a step back in time to the days of Rob Roy, Sir William Wallace and Sir Robert the Bruce. While some in our group toured on their own, Gordon led a few of us through the castle and showed us some of his favorite rooms - the jail, the great hall, the queen's and king's bedchambers, the kitchen, tapestries, and so much more. The distant views from the castle are spectacular, and it was humbling to look down upon the fields where fierce battles were fought to secure Scotland's freedom. Our tour was now nearly at an end, and it was time to head back to the ship. Gordon Ross was an outstanding tour guide, as well as a kind, intelligent and well-traveled man. Did I mention that he travels the world with his Celtic band? He is retiring as a tour guide after this outing, but tours will still be available with other guides from His tour company. Thank you to our fellow tour mates: Violet, Tom, Sharon, Cindy, Jon, Nancy, Dennis, Kathy, Cheryl & Mike. I couldn't have found a nicer group of people!
Today was our 35th Anniversary. Just as with our daughter's birthday celebration earlier in the cruise, there were balloons, a happy birthday sign on the door, a card from the Captain, and a cake complete with singing waiters at dinner to make it all special.
Day 6: Sea Day
Today was the first day of this cruise without a raindrop, and partly sunny skies prevailed. As great as it is to be in port and see new cities and places for the first time, it is nice to have a day in between to sleep in a bit, with no place to be. As I write this on our first day at sea, I thank God for our balcony. With just a climb over my daughter slumbering in the pull-out bed blocking the balcony door, I could step out and admire the majestic rocky cliffs off the coast of Scotland. We headed north and rounded the northern parts of Scotland today on our way to Edinburgh. I had no idea the coastline would be so magnificent, and I could sit on the balcony and stare at this beautiful scene all day.
With that said, however, I should point out that my husband and I have very different ideas about sea days. I like to lounge around in my jammies and order breakfast in the room. He likes to be up at the crack of dawn, get some exercise, and stop at the buffet for breakfast. I like to find a quiet place to read, write or just watch the world go by, maybe participate in an activity or two. He likes to be entertained non-stop, 24/7. We both love to lounge out on deck, swim in the pool, and walk around he promenade deck. Unfortunately, there is no promenade deck on the Ocean Princess, and it was too cold for serious sunning and swimming. My husband likes to try his luck in the casino, but that too was unavailable for most of the cruise. While I was perfectly content with the entertainment on this ship for this itinerary, he was not so impressed. Unlike me, he was restless and it was an effort for him to find things to do. I can see his point, and I think on a longer cruise with more sea days, it would all become old fast.
By the way, today was my husband's birthday. Balloons, a happy birthday sign on the door, a card ... well, you know the rest!
Day 7: Edinburgh
As we headed into the Port of Rosyth, the Captain came on over the loud speaker with an announcement that (1) a barge was blocking our way into port and (2) a cargo ship was parked in our spot, and he did not know if or when we would be able to dock. Well, you can imagine the rumbling which began to arise among the passengers. This was the highlight of the tour for some folks, especially those who spent big bucks on Edinburgh Tattoo tickets. Fortunately, the ship did manage to pull alongside the dock a short time later, and we were soon on our way into the city, so it all worked out.
Weather forecast: Today we were given a gift. After a mixed bag of sun, clouds, drizzle and rain, we were blessed with a warm, sunny day in Edinburgh. Blue skies prevailed, and the folks holding tickets for the Edinburgh Tattoo were very fortunate and had a beautiful night for it.
We did not choose an excursion for this port, but instead found 2 taxis for the 5 of us to take us to Edinburgh Castle at a flat rate of £35 each. There were taxis lined up at the port terminal building, and we could see them clearly from our balcony cabin. In order to get to the taxis, you might think - ok, it's just a short walk from the ship to the terminal along the perimeter of this cargo port. No, not a chance. Due to insurance reasons, presumably, we had to take a free shuttle from the gangway to the terminal, just a stone's throw away. Silly, really. Our taxis dropped us off just a short distance downhill from the castle on the Royal Mile. We had purchased the Explorer passes in advance of the cruise and simply walked in through the Fast Pass gate. Not a big deal with the small crowd when we arrived early in the morning, but a real timesaver if arriving later when the queues become large. We joined a guided tour through a portion of the castle and explored the rest on our own. The views over the city and distant hills and river are stunning.
Once we had our fill of the castle, we continued downhill along the Royal Mile toward the Palace of Holyrood House, stopping for lunch at a Scottish tavern, Deacon Brodie's Tavern. We were seated upstairs, which was fortunate because the downstairs was crowded and very warm & stuffy. There was a nice breeze and a roomy feel upstairs, and it was a great place to refuel with local favorites, like chicken pie, vegetable tort, bangers & mash, and we shared a plate of Haggis, which was actually quite tasty considering the contents of the dish and the manner in which it is prepared - minced meat and oatmeal cooked in sheep's bladder. Yikes! We had our fill, left the restaurant and found ourselves in a large crowd of festival goers outside. It was the week in which "the Fringe" was happening, and the streets were mobbed with performers, photo ops, including Sir William Wallace (my personal favorite), Yoda, and lots of people passing out ads of the fun things going on around town. We made our way down the Mile until we finally made it to the Palace. We didn't go in, but simply peeked through the gate and took photos of this stately retreat for the Queen. We turned around and started back up the hill, bought a few gifts, and when our legs couldn't take another step, grabbed a 5-person taxi parked at a hotel and went directly back to the ship. The cost was £35 - a very economical and convenient ride when split among the five of us. We loved the picturesque streets and beauty of Edinburgh, and the Castle was magnificent. Next time, though, I would take a HoHo bus tour around the city, similar to what we did in Dublin, in order to see more in a short amount of time.
The big highlight, of course, of this cruise was The Edinburgh Tattoo. Even though it is a must-see event recommended by many, we chose not to attend. At $199 per person for the ship excursion, it was more than we wanted to spend. Even though we could have easily saved a lot of money by purchasing tickets to the show on our own, stories of cold, torrential downpours during the performances were deal breakers for us, as well as the late night crowds and transportation issues if we were to go on our own. As it turns out, the night was clear and dry, though a little cold. Many people I talked to said it was a perfect night and all had a great time.
Day 8: At Sea
It was another much welcomed, relaxing day at sea - the second and last of the cruise. The warmer sunshine brought a few more people out on deck, and I saw at least one person in the pool. Re-packing took up most of the late afternoon hours.
Disembarkation was a breeze. We had breakfast in the buffet, vacated the cabin, and waited at the appropriate time and venue according to color code. In our case, we waited in the Cabaret Lounge for just a short time while Princess showed a video of the new Royal Caribbean features. We had already seen most of it, but the review was nice, as we are booked on Royal for next summer. Our color was called, we exited the ship, grabbed our luggage, and climbed directly aboard the Princess shuttle for the 2-hour drive to Heathrow. The process was all very well quick and well-organized.
Return Flight Home:
This was the first time we flew out of Heathrow. The process was pretty painless, except for not assigning the seats requested on line. I was surprised by the terminal - it's a shopping Mecca. I also didn't realize that we would have to wait over an hour before we could go to the gate, nor that one had better use the bathroom before you get to the secure gate area, which seems to be guarded like Ft. Knox, not like the small town airport I'm used to.
Dining, Entertainment & More:
Dining Room: This was our first time with fixed, late seating, and it worked out very well. With long days in port, we were able to nap or just rest before dinner. We found the dining room cuisine to be excellent. Just like all Princess menus, the menu is different each night, and if you don't see anything that appeals to you, there are the alternative always-available items (i.e.. Fettucini Alfredo, roast chicken, etc.). Our waiter was fabulous, attentive, friendly and professional. It always amazes me how hard the dining staff works, always especially evident on the final evening with the Baked Alaska Parade. If the service seems a little off, it is always this final night. It takes time and patience to individually serve and chocolate-glaze that Baked Alaska after being paraded around the room, and things can get a little muddled in the process, with some staff assigned to the parade, and the rest left to serve the tables alone. So please forgive your waiter on Baked Alaska night, when he seems a little frazzled or for the little omissions, like forgetting to bring coffee.
Buffet/Room Service: The buffet, on the other hand, at both lunch and breakfast was hit or miss, like every other cruise or land buffet I've experienced, but there was always something to like. In particular, there is an omelet station for made-to-order eggs if you don't care for the buffet scrambled eggs. Drinks, on a couple of occasions, were a little slow in coming in the buffet, and I found myself getting my own coffee or juice on occasion. Room service is available 24 hours, and we always started the morning with pastry and a pot of coffee.
Specialty Dining: Crown Grill and Sabatini's: We didn't bother with either this time around, so I can't comment.
Pizza/burgers: Princess still has the best pizza at sea. I was told by my family that the burgers by the pool were good.
Coffee: With coffee being a popular topic on the boards, I will simply comment that it was all good, but better when cream was added as opposed to milk. I am a Dunkin Donuts/Folgers gal, and I take my coffee with "extra cream". It was fine in the dining room with milk, but better in the morning when it came with cream to the cabin. Whatever it was - syrup or real ground coffee - it gave me the caffeine kick I needed. I used my old coffee card from 2010 for specialty coffees and hot chocolate in the Club Lounge.
Afternoon Tea: It was our sixth cruise, and we finally attended our first afternoon tea. I don't know why we never tried it before (could it have something to do with my husband not being fond of tea?). We enjoyed it and think it will now become tradition.
Entertainment: I liked the intimacy of the show lounge over the large crowded theaters of the big ships, there was never a problem finding a seat, thought the entertainment on board ranged from "just OK" to excellent, and all provided 45 minutes of solid entertainment. Following is a summary of some of the entertainment we caught:
Ocean Princess Singers & Dancers/Joe & Jennifer: Great vocals, choreography and stage presence. By far, the best shows on board. The alternate cast appeared later in the week with their premiere dance show - good, high energy dancers.
Comedian, Tom Brisco: Good, funny stand-up comic.
Piano man, Alan James: Young, talented guy with a nice voice. He takes requests, to the point of attempting a Lady Gaga song ("Bad Romance", of all things!) requested by a group of three young blondes who wandered into the bar. Let's just say it wasn't pretty. I give him credit for aiming to please his audience.
Comedian/Impressionist, Sean O'Shea: Highly energetic, entertaining and sometimes funny. In one of the more memorable moments of the show, I was one of several women picked to throw a piece of underwear at him during his rendition of "Delilah" as Tom Jones. Oooh La La!
Alex Crowe, Mentalist: He was the "Just Ok" element of the entertainment on board, and the skeptics among us had an inkling of how he was able to perform some of his mind reading acts.
Trivia: Tough questions on this cruise, mostly relating to history and geography.
Art Auction: The free champagne flowed on this voyage at the auction, several glasses, so I hear from my husband who attended and was feeling enough of a buzz to purchase a piece. I have yet to see it.
Line Dancing: Since it was too cold for the pool, we found ourselves taking part in cruise activities we never bother with. This was one of them, and it turned out to be fun - and we burned a few calories in the process!
Casino: Gaming lovers, take note: The ship's small casino remains closed throughout most of this cruise due to British maritime law.
Dress Code: Even on this classy little ship, a few pairs of jeans were spotted in the dining room at dinner. The staff didn't bat an eye, but some of the more seasoned cruisers may have turned up their their noses at this. Several tuxedos were seen in the dining room, but the majority of men wore suits or jackets, and the women were seen in an array of styles ranging from cocktail dresses to long gowns.
Weather: like most reports I read about weather in the UK, every day on this cruise was a mixed bag of sun, clouds, drizzle and a few periods of steady rain, but far from a total washout. The temps hovered at a high of low 60's through most of our time in Ireland and Scotland, except for our last port day in Edinburgh, when the sun appeared and warmed the day up nicely. As others have recommended, bring a rain jacket and umbrella, and be prepared for anything.
Dolphin Discovery: Early in the cruise I was sitting by the balcony door writing notes for this review, when I turned to gaze outside at the sea and spotted some gray fins pass by as they bobbed up and down in the waves. With no open sofa bed to climb over, I jumped up, grabbed my camera, and quickly made my way to he railing, and snapped a couple of photos. By that point, they were pretty far ahead of the ship, so I may have only a couple of dark specks on the ocean in my photos to show for it. It was still a great moment nevertheless!
This was a fantastic itinerary for an 8-day cruise, and we thoroughly enjoyed all the ports, except maybe for Waterford, which was our least favorite. I particularly thought the cooler climate was a nice change to the tropical waters of the Caribbean. The Ocean Princess is a very pretty ship, and the smaller size makes it easy to get to know the crew and fellow passengers. On more than one occasion, crew members addressed us by name, a pleasant personal touch not found on a ship of 3,000 passengers. Features of the bigger ships that we missed most on the Ocean Princess were a real promenade deck and the International Cafe. The most wished-for item missing from the dining room menu was French Onion Soup. For the most part, the pool deck was unusable and I wish there had been a covered pool like that of some ships cruising colder waters. We are happy that the cabins and balconies are now smoke-free, but disappointed that the prettiest lounge on the ship, the Tahitian Lounge, allows smoking on one side of the room, making the room reek of tobacco at any time of day.
Would we cruise Ocean Princess again? If it were me, absolutely! However, given that my husband still prefers the large ship experience and since he contributes the most money to the cruise piggy bank, I would have to give him a say. So the answer to whether or not we would cruise Ocean Princess again is probably more of a definite maybe!
This cruise on the Grand was the Baltic and Scandinavian. We got a lot of hype about the ship getting an extensive "over haul ".. The main areas were re-done, and were very nice, however, we and many other passengers were very disappointed that the cabin were NOT re-done a bit ! Walking into the old, run down cabin was very upsetting. Everything was very old, even the very flat pillows, and the thin worn out towels. The toilet had black stuff in it, and the shower was old, and the closet was VERY tiny. We had an oceanview. I just hate it when the window is over the head of the bed, instead of having the bed along side the other wall. The cabin stewart was one of the worse we have ever had in our 50 cruises.
We contacted his supervisor, who did see to it that he did his job. He was just lazy and forgetful. The last straw was on the last night before disembarking, he forgot to give us the note about setting out clocks ahead. Also the food on Princess ships has gone downhill. We noticed a lot of "cutting back" on a lot of things.
Princess Cruises Caribbean Princess by George British Isles & Ireland June 7, 2012
I recently travelled with my wife on a Princess cruise to the United Kingdom. It began in Southampton and was supposed to go around Ireland, Liverpool, Scotland and one stop in France. This trip was meant to be a celebratory trip for our 35th wedding anniversary.
There were countless delays. First, boarding the ship on embarkation day. The ship failed a security test, and then there were mechanical issues. Passengers were stuck at the cruise terminal for hours waiting without enough food. Once the ship passed another security test, the cleaning staff were delayed with the staterooms, so we could not enter our rooms. The dining rooms were chaotic as everyone was very hungry after waiting for about 4 hours in the cruise terminal.
The ship did not end up leaving Southampton until 24 hours after the original departure time. We were unsure how this would affect the itinerary, and passengers were not updated very quickly. People were walking around the ship complaining about sitting and not actually cruising, and not knowing what was going on. The next morning (two days afterdisembarkation), we were told that Liverpool (our only stop in England) was going to be cancelled. They should have cancelled Guernsey or Cobh instead. This opinion was voiced by many, many people onboard.
The food was fine (as it should be for the price). Nothing excellent. Entertainment staff continually made jokes about other cruise lines. Holland America was particularly picked on, which is ironic considering we had a MUCH more enjoyable time with that company and not a single complaint. The service from waiters and room stewards was great. Because passengers were on the ship much more than expected with cancellations and delays with the ports, the staff was unable to have the breaks they were entitled to. Other passengers were also taking out their frustration on the stewards, which we thought was so unfair.
If you do go with Princess, be aware that their shore excursions are extremely overpriced. This information is not made clear ahead of time, and they have strict rules about cancellation. One trip in Greenock cost us $140 (for two people) to simply get a ride into Glasgow. We later found out that if we had done it independently, it would have only cost $30 together. We found out in time to cancel our trip in Invergordon (which cost $110) and paid $40 for the both of us to get a ride into Inverness AND shown Loch Ness.
The weather was not great throughout the trip, but that should be expected in the United Kingdom. In Edinburgh, the weather was so poor that we were told we would be unable to tender into the port. This was a huge disappointment on top of the already cancelled Liverpool. What annoyed us, however, was that the decision was made by 7:30am when the weather could have improved in an hour or two. As a result, we had another day at sea. We got very restless and bored with the options available on the ship. We were continually thanked for our understanding, which obviously was not the case.
The night before disembarkation, we put our luggage outside of our stateroom. The morning of disembarkation, there were further delays. We left the ship nearly an hour later, and were rushed when claiming our luggage in the terminal. My wife's bag (which was bought specifically for this trip) had been badly damaged, and she was missing some possessions. There was no one around to speak to about this due to the rush. If staff had 12+ hours to transport a regular suitcase from the stateroom to the terminal, there is no reason for so much damage to the luggage. Because we were late leaving the ship, many passengers were worried about missing their flights from London (about a two hour drive from Southampton where the ship was). It was a very stressful morning and very disorganized. The staff seemed more concern with preparations for the next group of passengers than those they already had. As "compensation" (offered after Liverpool was cancelled at the beginning of the trip), they offered everyone onboard a "gesture of goodwill" in the form of $75 onboard credit. Quite frankly, this amount was insulting. My wife and I chose this specific trip to see Liverpool, Dublin and Edinburgh. All in all, we saw one out of three ports we really cared to see. We could have easily taken a trip around Alaska for a MUCH lower cost.
When we returned home, we tried to file a claim for compensation by detailing all these issues. We were immediately and flatly denied any form of compensation. Princess is not a company that cares about customer satisfaction. They rely entirely on their passenger contract and care nothing about a truly enjoyable travel experience.
Even with the baggage damage and lost property, we were offered nothing. The Princess passenger contract outlines that passengers are entitled to a maximum of $250 for these issues. We were given the run-around between Princess departments over the phone. We were assigned a particular compensation advisor and she was the one who initially denied us. We tried to speak with someone at the Property Claims Department and they told us they could do nothing as the compensation advisor had put a note on our file that we had been denied for any form of compensation. When we approached her following that, she said that we must not have called them (essentially saying we were making this up) and that we should fill out a "Missing/Damaged Luggage Report Form" which says on the first line "This request form does not constitute a claim against Princess Cruises." After three emails back and forth, she simply ignored our messages.
We are beyond disappointed with our travel experience with Princess. These feelings were compounded with the customer service experience we had after. We asked for a credit to use towards a future Princess cruise as form of compensation, which would have ensured we would be on another Princess cruise and pay them even more money. This possibility was flatly denied. We will NEVER go with Princess again, nor will we recommend to anyone we know. We wish we had read other passengers' reviews before we booked our trip.
the cruise was awesome the ship was great the staff were excellent but the food was terrible .It was cold not well presented in the buffet areas . We tied the restaurants and not much better.the internet service was horrible ,never worked very slow When I got back I phoned Princess about this cruise and complained . They gave me no satisfactory reason for this bad food and internet service , so I asked for some rebate of my fare. they told me to seek legal council. Not a great pr move on their part, so I guess it is buyer beware . Plus we had an outbreak(supposedly) of noro virus on board, 50 sick out of 2600+crew. I really do not think it was noro virus ,since this spreads very quickly. My thoughts are with food poisoning because of cold food. Hopefully cruisemates will be unbiased and release this review
My husband and I absolutely loved this cruise and will do it again in a couple of years. It was second time on the Dawn Princess we did an island south pacific cruise in October 2011. The ship was going into dry dock when we got back to Australia and needed it. The ship is looking decidedly tired and in need of a makeover.
We could not fault the service by the crew but Princess do seem to not be organised well when dealing with US immigration day for all the passengers. Princess need to have more control over passengers when these days occur and also when there are people who line up for whatever reason.
Other than that the cruise was wonderful and the ship covered all our needs, with entertainment and things to do. I did the watercolour classes and Ian enjoyed the competitions for golf etc. As we have just completed our third cruise with Princess I would like to see less of the same people who entertain, and some are below standard.
We have had the same comedian on all cruises and he not that good, and hestates the same jokes for at least half his routine. The shows are great by the dancers and singers but again they need a bit more of a change as we have seen some twice and as we would like to do more Princess cruises would like to know we get variation. This also applies to the movies in the theatre, more variety and more up todate would be good as I do not see many back home and this is one of my things I enjoy on the cruise.
Will probably go with Princess again due to coming out of Sydney so much but will also look at some of the others for a change. Library was good, internet expensive and naturally depending on signal can be a pain, deck chairs need an upgrade some very grubby and old looking, clean otherwise on ship, and most service was great.
GRAND PRINCESS Southern Caribbean Cruise March 17-24, 2012 By Mary & Vincent Finelli
When the Grand Princess entered Venice, Italy in 1998 for the first time, it was said: That the only thing more brilliant than the sight of the Grand Princess on the Venetian Lagoon is the sunrise! She was truly innovative then and now; even though her spoiler has been removed, she still is a splendid sight. The spoiler once held the lively Skywalker Nightclub; suspended high above the ship and the sea, cruisers danced the night away among the stars. Reached only by elevator and escalator, it was a veritable gorgeous crow's nest.
This was our third cruise aboard the Grand and she is just as lovely now as on our first trip during her inaugural year. This cruise is billed "Discover Old World Charm:" and there's plenty of it from the hub of the Piazza (Square) with "Vines" and its fine wine selection to the new "Alfredo's Pizzeria." The marvelous continuous entertainment in the Piazza was headlined every afternoon by guitarist Ron Steta. Then of course between 3:30 and 4:30pm, there is High Tea in the Da Vinci DiningRoom. Fit for a queen, with the whole gamut: from water cress sandwiches to fresh hot scones --- all served with white gloves. Captain Anthony Herriot (England) and Hotel General Manager Richard Harry (England) are the two men on board who are the keepers of "Old World Charm."
Port Everglades, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida is easily accessed from I-95 after a short ride from Boca Raton. We arrived at 12:45pm and dropped off our luggage curbside. We were through check in and on board in less than ten minutes. This is an excellent use of deck by deck boarding and priority boarding for elite members. Our cabin was ready, and we left our hand luggage and were off to the Welcome Aboard Buffet.
We wrote a review on the Grand during her inaugural year; wherein we described her deck by deck in detail, so this review will center on the general ambiance and the many on board possibilities. The Grand was built in 1998 and refurbished in 2011. She is 109,900 tons and registered in Bermuda. Her length is 951 ft. and beam is 118 ft.. She has a passenger capacity of 2,600 and a crew of 1,200 (an excellent passenger to crew ratio). There is a total of 372 inside cabins and 928 outside cabins of which 710 have verandahs. There are 215 suites. There are three dinner seatings: 5:30pm, 6:00pm and 8:15pm. We were in the first seating and found 5:30pm a bit too early even for us to dine. Especially after tea at 4:00pm There are 12 Bars & Lounges, a Casino and Chapel and 12 elevators plus on board self service laundromats. There are a library, where tea is also served, a theater, a giant outdoor screen for "Movies under the Stars", on board shops, a health spa and a video arcade. The physical fitness facilities include basket ball, golf simulation, a jogging track, four swimming pools (one heated) and eight whirlpools. There are children's facilities including a playroom, kiddie pool, youth program and teen center.
Our wheelchair accessible cabin #A304 was on Aloha Deck 12. When entering on the right is a triple armoire: two sections are for hanging clothes and the third has a personal safe and six shelves. Next, there is a TV and a refrigerator with a complimentary bar set up for Elite Members of the "Captain's Circle." Then, there is a long desk/vanity with lighted mirror and four drawers.
When entering on the left, there is a huge bathroom with an extra large shower 4'X 4' with a folding seat. There is a single sink with mirror and several shelves for sundries. Next is the king size bed (at just the right height) flanked by night stands, each with a reading lamp a top shelf and four drawers. There is an upholstered barrel chair, a desk chair and a small wood and glass coffee table.
The far wall has a sliding glass door to the balcony -- on which are two chairs, a table and a chaise which Dixon, our excellent steward, added for Vincent. Housekeeper Violetta Cecane was very courteous and helpful and made sure that the service remained excellent throughout the cruise. The interior of the stateroom is mostly beige trimmed nicely in walnut wood. The carpet is a diamond patterned burnished red. There is one huge picture of a small row boat with its reflection sharply delineated in the clear water of a bay. In the background, there is a small whitewashed town and a hill. The drapes and the headboard of the bed are a soft blue accented by a beige trellis pattern. All pleasant and comforting.
FOOD & SERVICE
We always say the quality of the service filters down from the top -- Capt. Herriott and Hotel General Manager Richard Harry set the very British tone and it is terrific. As elite passengers (more than 15 cruises), many things are gratis: complimentary bar set up, laundry, shoe shines, afternoon tea in the cabin, etc....
Vincent took advantage of the the laundry service and was very satisfied. Mary took advantage of the afternoon tea served in the cabin and made a standing order for all week. Which she later modified, since on the first afternoon the Bell Box waiter arrived with a full High Tea for Two: Two pots of hot water, a sampling of 12 types of tea, two plates of dainty sandwiches, eight scones with whipped cream and raspberry preserves, eight pastries and eight fruit concoctions. This is as close to heaven as it gets! Needless to say, Mary modified the order to just tea and scones for the rest of the week: Excellent and only available on the Princess ships. The butler will also stay and serve if one desires. Next time we travel with friends, tea will be at the top of our agenda.
Breakfast -- we always have in our stateroom. We complete the selections the night before and hang the menu on our door knob. The next morning at 7:00am promptly it arrives. There is an English muffin sandwich: fried egg, Canadian bacon and cheese, very nice. We also selected coffee, hot chocolate, orange juice and half of a grapefruit, cold cereal, yogurt, plain or fruited, rolls, toast, croissants and brioches are all available. Or just go up to the buffet or down to the Da Vinci Dining Room, from 7:30 to 9:30, for sit down service.
Luncheon on the Princess has a full menu -- including pasta courses (Amatriciana, Carbonara, Puttanesca, etc...). Every day fried calamari are available. Some of the lunch items are usually dinner items on other lines: Vitello tonnato, mixed English grill (tiny lamb chops, bangers, veal kidney and beef medallions). Our favorite place for lunch was Alfredo's Pizzeria, where personal pizzas were created for each diner.
Dinner was exceptional every evening. The courteous and friendly Maitre D' Fabio Marcotti assigned us an easily accessible table #01, near the entrance of the Michelangelo Dining Room, which was very much appreciated by Mary who could park her wheelchair within a few step from it. Head Waiter Antoine and Head Waiter Victor saw that service was snappy and courteous. Our waitress Elena was from Romania; she was fast and flawless. Her assistant was Franco from Mexico and he couldn't be nicer.
Service and food on board are excellent.
Cruise Director Billy London has things well in hand and the "Princess Patter" lists the myriad of activities available daily. From Trivia Games, Bingo, Movies, and live entertainment to Wine Tasting with the Sommelier on board, there is much to do. The entertainment in the Piazza lends the atmosphere of "Old World Charm." Ship's musicians, comedians and variety entertainers performed throughout the day in the Piazza. Most of them were good, but our favorite was the guitarist Ron Steta, who had a lovely repertoire of old popular and classic melodies. He performed at least once a day throughout the week.
Enchanted Evening entertainment is emphasized mainly in "Showtime" presented in the Princess Theater and/or the Vista Lounge, twice each night, at 8:15 and 10:15 to accommodate first and second dinner seatings. Showtime consisted of a couple of Las Vegas type shows, several comedy shows and concerts with the Moonlight String Quartet, with guitarist Ron Seta and the Grand Princess Orchestra and with a solo pianist entertainer Alan Shiels. In addition there are some variety shows with a hypnotist and two jugglers.
"Movies under the Stars" is also a popular venue in the morning, afternoon and evening for those who enjoy open air entertainment. Concerts, documentaries and movies are usually shown in the morning; then in the afternoon there are Matinee movies; and in the evening, a main feature movie is projected along with the typical popcorn treat. There is fun for the whole family and everybody else.
PORTS OF CALL
Day 1. Ft. Lauderdale, FL Sail Away 4:15pm
Day 2. At Sea
Day 3. AT Sea
Day 4. Oranjestad, Aruba Arrive 7:00am Depart 5:00pm
Day 5. Willemstad, Curacao Arrive 7:00am Depart 1:00pm
Day 6. At Sea
Day 7. Princess Cays, Bahamas Arrive 8:30am Depart 3:30pm
Day 8. Ft. Lauderdale, FL Arrive 7:00am
This was a snap. Those needing wheelchair assistance met in the Casino. There was a steward to accompany us to baggage pick up and from there a porter assisted us through customs and passport check. The whole procedure took 15 minutes. Excellent!
This was our seventeenth cruise on Princess ships and the third on the Grand, and again a wonderful one. It feels nice to be pampered and appreciated. We enjoy the freebies reserved for the Captain's Circle Elite members, thus we plan to cruise more frequently on Princess. The only difference we noticed between our first cruise on the Grand and this one was our difficulty accessing certain areas, such as the Promenade and the Pool, since now both of us have limited mobility; before, when at least one of us was able and strong, we could open the heavy doors, but now we have to wait for some other person to hold the doors for us. However, on the newer Princess ships, we have noticed the improvements toward making a more wheelchair friendly environment, with automatic door openers and smoother thresholds. Thanks, Princess for listening to our suggestion. We have already booked a future cruise on the Ruby Princess for November 4, 2012. Happy Cruising!
GRAND PRINCESS EASTERN CARIBBEAN CRUISE
This was my third Princess and my tenth cruise overall. For my friend Jan, it was her first ever cruise and she couldn't have been more impressed. We left the hubbies home for a girls' week of fun. Stayed at the Embassy Suites 1 day pre-cruise which was an excellent choice. We had booked Princess transfers and the move from the airport to the hotel was seamless. Our room wasn't ready so we left our bags with the bell desk and set off in search of lunch since breakfast had been at the airport around 6:30 AM. Jan had some recommendations from a co-worker who had lived in Ft. Lauderdale so we chose Anthony's oven-fired pizza. Not knowing where it was, we took the shuttle for $3/pp. It turned out not to be very far from the hotel.
We decided on sharing a large salad and ordered a personal pizza each. It was way too much for us to finish so we took the leftovers with us. The shuttle driver had given us his card so we could call for a pickup but he was stuckin a traffic jam on RT 75. Looking at the street signs, I figured out that we were only a few blocks from 17th Street so we walked back to the hotel w/o any problems. There was a CVS pharmacy right on the corner which was great since I had forgotten a few personal items.
Back at the hotel, our room was ready so we were happy to sit down in the air-conditioning and put our feet up for a few minutes. I don't know what it was, but we both were complaining of swollen feet which made walking around rather uncomfortable. After a brief rest, we took off in search of the Total Wine shop. Everyone said it was right behind the hotel but what they don't say is that there is quite a nice strip mall there and the wine store was in the far left corner. I even had some coupons to use. Purchasing one bottle apiece seemed to be the limit of our alcohol consumption.
Proceeding to the Dollar Store which is kitty-corner from the front of the hotel in another strip mall, we got gift bags for our Meet and Greet gift exchange. At this point, it was getting dark and we were getting tired. I was cranky because my feet hurt so we headed back to the hotel for the free evening cocktail hour. One drink each seemed to satisfy our thirst and made us very relaxed. Still full from the pizza, we opted out of dinner and headed back to our room for a shower and bed.
Setting the wake up call for 8 AM, we were up early and started getting cleaned up for breakfast. Our breakfast was great with made to order omelets and other things. The letter from the cruise line told us to have our bags outside our rooms by 10 AM and be in the lobby at noon for check in with the Princess reps. They were late so everyone was milling around getting antsy to leave. General chaos reigned as everyone tried to get their health forms and to identify their luggage for transport. This was the only problem with using the Princess transfers. Once the buses arrived and everyone had their luggage loaded, it was much better. Dropped us at the correct pier where we took our carry-ons through Security and checked in to receive our room keycards. We stopped for the boarding photo and then went up the correct ramp according to our cabin number. Found our room without any problem and dropped our stuff.
Our cabin attendant was Savone from VietNam and he got everything we asked for; robes, top sheets, extra hangers, 2 tote bags. He was quick with cleaning the room when we were at breakfast and did a superb job.
We were in Caribe 308. The room looked identical to the one I had previously on the Grand in 2008. I was disappointed in the balcony. Although it was quite spacious, there was no rubber matting and the 2 chairs were recliners but no foot stools so they were actually not very comfortable. The reason that was given to other cruisers for the lack of matting was weight which is ridiculous when you realize the ship lost 4 Tons with the removal of Skywalkers. What was 113,000 RT in 2008, is now 109,000 RT. The probable reason is cost cutting.
Jan wanted to do the "Treasure Hunt" card we were given upon boarding. It required you to find different departments on the ship and receive a stamp for each one. We dropped the cards into a box by the pool for a drawing. The nice thing about it was it makes you become familiar with the ship. Jan was totally blown away by the beauty and size of the Grand. She kept saying she felt she was in the first class section of the Titanic! This was the only frame of reference that she had to cruising. We ran up to the Sanctuary to reserve some space for a sea day only to be told we had to be there @ 8 AM on the day desired. International Cafe won our lunch choice for shrimp and chicken salad.
While eating we heard the first announcement for the muster drill telling us to bring our life jackets with us. When we got to our room, the luggage was there so we dragged it in and got ready for the muster drill. With the Costa Concordia disaster so fresh in everyone's minds, I have to say this was the most attentive muster drill I have ever attended. Next up was the sail away by the pool with the band and lots of fun and excitement. Our names were not drawn for the Treasure Hunt but it was fun anyway. Got our specialty drinks and watched the ship leave the pier.
Back to the room to unpack and clean up for dinner. We had Anytime Dining and this was the first time I had tried it. I think it worked very well and I would do it again. First night at 7:00 was very busy but we got a pager and only had to wait 20 minutes. We agreed to share a table at every dinner and met lots of very nice people. I was wondering how Jan would like the menus as she is a picky eater. Princess now has "Down-home" entrees on the menu and Jan ate them at least 3 times.
There was quite a range of ages onboard from a 6 month old baby on up. It was nice because the late night activities were well attended. The Princess Pop Star competition was quite good and we really enjoyed attending it. Some very talented people were there. We went to the casino and I started out with a bang by winning almost $200. Jan won $30 on the slots.
Sunday was a sea day and One5 was the location for our CC meeting. The Meet and Greet was a big success. We met the Captain, Purser, Maitre'd, Executive Chef and Trent, Customer Relations. ( A real cutie!) Jan and I got our pictures taken with Captain Bilton who was so nice and accommodating. We met lots of nice people and loved crossing paths with them all during the trip. Tried the pool that day but it was rather windy and had some sprinkles. Of course we went to Bingo at least 5 times and never did win but we had fun anyway. Our first formal night we had to wait a short time with the pager but sat in the Piazza and watched the fashion show. Turned out we got a table for 2! Lots of jokes about our "romantic" dinner. Saw the comedian show and it was ok. Lots of people were walking out. Back to the casino and I won big again. Jan hit the slots for $65.
Monday was a partial sea/tour day. We arrived in San Juan @ 4 PM and we had planned a tour. Jan had never been to any of these places so we did a tour at each stop. In SJ, we went to San Cristobal fort for a self-guided tour and then a short stop in Old SJ for shopping. Jan loves to shop so she was in hog heaven in every port. Back to the ship for dinner and see a show but don't remember which one. We were too pooped to stay up too late and the casino did not open until 11 PM. Saw the first part of Princess Pop Star and thought it was very entertaining.
Tuesday was St. Maarten and this was the best tour we took. Booked the Orient Beach stop with lunch which was very good and 2 drinks. The beach was very nice and the water had big waves which I love!. I was sorry I didn't have a boogie board to ride them. We come from Chicago where not only is our land flat but so is our water. Lake Michigan is not known for it's surf. LOL! Going back to the ship we could have gotten off the bus to go shopping but we had done some with the local vendors and were anxious to get the sand out of our bathing suits. Another nice dinner and back to the casino again. This time Jan won $300 on the slots and I didn't know when to quit when I had doubled my money and had a loss.
Wednesday was St. Thomas and we thought we were being so good to get up at 6:30 to we could eat breakfast before going on our tour to Magen's Bay. Thinking we had lots of time, we decided to go to the dining room for breakfast and as usual, were chatting away with our table mates while eating our meal. Excused ourselves to go back to the room and get our suits on for the tour. Looking at my watch, I was shocked to see it was 8:39 as our tour left at 8:20! We threw on our suits and ran off the ship to see no one waiting for us. Jan was for grabbing a cab to Magen's Bay and catching up with the tour. At this point, it started raining and I was not too keen on that idea. Back to the Shore Excursion desk where they were so kind to book us on another tour leaving in an hour.
Changed out of our suits and were on time for this tour which took us around part of the island and to Blackbeard's castle and it's 99 steps down to street level. From there we hit street level and all the shops in downtown Charlotte Amalie. Our best stop was Mr. Tablecloth where we both scored great Christmas linens. Jan really wanted to go to the flea market to score some deals and I was ok for a while but, still suffering with swollen feet I headed back to the ship by taxi. I sat on the balcony and finally opened up my bottle of wine. Jan came back just long enough to get more cash and run back to the shops on the pier to make one more purchase. We stood on our balcony and watched the Eurodam back out first while we waited our turn. Hearing some cries of "wait, wait, don't leave without us" directed our attention to the entrance to the pier to see several young women running to our ship. I heard someone on a balcony above us saying she heard the ship was missing 6 passengers. The "missing" made it to the gangplank where they boarded and were duly checked in. Back to the casino where Jan won another $300 and I was chasing my money. Saw the Motor City show and liked it but everyone who saw the Magician said he was fabulous. Sorry we missed him. Stayed up late to watch a movie in the Vista lounge; "The Debt" which neither of us had seen before.
Thursday was our last sea day and I ran upstairs at 8 AM to reserve our spot in the Sanctuary from 1-5 PM. Jan got her lounger in the sun but I am definitely a shade girl and I had trouble finding and keeping a spot. Most of the loungers are set up for 2 together so the odd single person is hard to accommodate. Everyone talked about how great the service was up there but honestly, no one came around with water spritzers, I-pods or menus. I asked for a menu and finally got one. Jan and I both ordered something and waited quite a while for it to arrive. Turns out one of the waiters dropped a whole tray full of lunches and they had to re-make everything. I wanted the tuna pate with pita bread but the "tuna" was not what I received. Vlade from Macedonia was knocking himself out to please us. I mentioned the food error and he went to get us 2 additional entrees as well as to replace my mistaken order. We ended up with 3 lunches!
We went to the Captain's Circle cocktail party in the Vista lounge that I was invited to as a repeat cruiser and got a free drink and snacks. I have learned not to accept the drinks the bar staff is pushing at these things and wait for someone to ask me what I want. The Captain was very welcoming and mentioned that there were so many repeaters so they had 3 of these meetings scheduled. Off to our last formal night and sat with one couple from Texas and 2 couples from Canada. There were 7 lobster dinners and 1 short ribs. (guess who?) I was very disappointed in this meal as I think they feel that the lobster is the star of the plate. It was served with white rice and carrots. This is an elegant dinner? I thought the presentation was not that great. There was a sorbet for the Chef's Special night which I passed on as I am diabetic and thought it would be too sweet. No one at the table liked the combination of flavors, especially with a sprig of thyme in it.
Back to the casino where they finally got us good and we left with our tails between our legs. Saw the show British Invasion and it was not bad but the usual cruise ship show.
Friday was our Princess Cays day and we had rented a bungalow. Unfortunately or not, we slept in and had a late breakfast. Our priority tender tickets were a moot point since almost everyone who wanted to be off the ship was already there. Jan had popped for the Gourmet Lunch which they wanted to serve us immediately. We prevailed upon them to wait a little time. The appetizer alone was enough for a meal. They brought 8 dinner rolls for the 2 of us! Vlade was our server at the bungalow also and brought us plates loaded with everything on the buffet table. There was enough food for 4 people. We had a table with 4 small chairs in the bungalow and 4 loungers outside it. I was never a big fan of the beach there and even though we both had surf shoes we did not really venture too far into the water because of all the rocks. After Orient Beach, this is actually a come-down. Princess really has a huge facility there with 3 different buffet areas, very nice clean bathrooms and some vendors. Jan wanted to do her last bit of shopping so we ventured outside the gates to the small area of vendors there. It was the usual tourist stuff but Jan found some jewelry for her granddaughter. I was all shopped out by that time. The line for the tenders was long but moved fast. It was good to get back on the ship.
Being the last night for our cruise, it was a bittersweet ending. We went for anytime dinner and ended up at a table for 4 which we shared with one of the couples from our first night! We decided to head back to the cabin just to get everything packed so we could enjoy the last evening. Back to the casino for one last chance and joined all the other losers. One of the nice things about playing the table games, you get to know several people because you all are there together every evening. We crashed for the last time and set a wake up time for 7 AM.
Our last breakfast was in the buffet and we shared that with one of the couples from our formal night dinner. Jan had just discovered the chocolate croissants and grabbed one for the wait in the airport. Our disembarkation group met in Explorers lounge and we were only there for about 15 minutes before we were called to disembark. Found our luggage, went through customs and headed for the bus to the airport. While we were sitting waiting for our flight we heard people talking about an outbreak of illness on other ships. So glad it wasn't on the Grand!
Hubby picked us up at Midway Airport and our vacation was over but not forgotten. All in all, we had a great time and Jan can't wait to take her next one. We are hoping to get our nursing school classmates together for a 4-5 day reunion cruise next year.
A Royal Caribbean Fan Impressed by Princess
We (DW & I, 50's), did a Southern Caribbean cruise on Crown Princess (private island of Princess Cays, Curacao, Aruba). Crown Princess, (in our opinion at least), offered a great cruise with nothing lacking.
PRE-CRUISE: We booked Embassy Suites through Princess (included transfers from the airport to the hotel to the ship the next day). No complaints about the hotel itself (Princess arrangements were another story). They had a free manager's reception for two hours Friday night (free drinks, snacks), plus a very nice breakfast the next morning. I would stay at Embassy again, but I probably wouldn't book through Princess. We had to be with our bags in our room at 9AM (they came to take the bags around 9:45), then we had to go to the lobby at 11AM, identify our bags, then check in with a Princess Rep to get a seat on the bus to the Port. That basically blew the whole morning which could have been spent seeing more of the local sites. We were assigned the first of two buses to leave the hotel for a five minute drive.Our luggage has a mind of its own apparently; it decided to take the second bus. By the time we got our bags, tipped the porter for moving them two feet, and approached the embarkation desks, it was after 1PM. I can't really comment about Embarkation itself: it was very easy, but by time we went through the whole process, almost everyone else was onboard.
THE SHIP: Crown Princess: immaculately clean, a very beautiful ship. We had a Caribe Deck Balcony cabin, mid-ship with a large balcony. No towel animals (Does Princess not do this? Talked to others who had none), but a very attentive Room Steward. Small bottles of shampoo, conditioner, and lotion, along with medium sized soap bars were provided in abundance. CNN and ESPN (but often the International versions) could be found on tv along with numerous other channels. Lacking: many newer ships allow you to view your portfolio on your tv screen (some even offer face-recognition technology for the photos they take of you). Those are not available on Crown Princess; you have to go to the service desk to get a copy of your statement. I was told that they will shortly have self-service kiosks where you'll be able to check by yourself instead of standing in line at the Service Desk. Our balcony had four chairs and a table; some rust was apparent on the balcony, but nothing major. The wooden rail was freshly varnished.
FOOD: We were impressed. I thought the portions in the Dining Room were more than ample; presentation seemed nicely done to me. Let's face it: food is very subjective, and I spoke to another cruiser who said the food quality and presentation was better on her previous Princess cruise. For us we could only compare it to Royal & Celebrity, and, while my pre-cruise expectations were to find food in slightly lesser quality, I feel Princess had a more creative and varied menu. I tried several main courses I never had before in nine cruises and enjoyed them all (strange way of serving cold soups though). Have to mention: I'm not much of a fish eater, but the fish choices looked so interesting I had fish 3 nights in a row (You can always get a good steak somewhere, but unless you live near the ocean, seafood is a different story). One night I had Cioppino, a fish stew. If you had told me before the cruise I'd be eating (and enjoying!) a fish stew, I would've called you a BS'er. Good hamburgers and hot dogs on the pool deck (also grilled chicken, more). Best pizza I've ever had on a cruise ship. Free ice cream on the pool deck (soft or hard). I had the deluxe soda card (included virgin drinks and shakes); DW went for the regular. Iced Tea was a little hard to find, but bartenders or waiters would usually honor a request for Iced Tea even if the buffet area was closed.
The buffet: food quality equal to other ships, but Royal and Celebrity have a better system. Crown's buffet area seems too crowded. We had fish & chips at the Wheelhouse Bar (offered for lunch twice this cruise), had one DR breakfast, and had many snacks on Deck 5 at the little cafÃ© there. We did not try the specialty restaurants (we were very happy with the main DR); spoke to some who did and raved about them. There are many complaints on CC about coffee. I found it okay; so did our table mates. . We had the Botticelli DR, late seating (8;15PM). To me the late seating interfered with some activities we wanted to see, and most cruisers seemed to think Anytime Dining was the way to go.
The Pool areas were nice (larger pools than many ships). We looked at The Sanctuary, never felt a need to book it - plenty of space near the pools on most days. Some people complain MUTS is distracting. You have your choice of several other pools without MUTS, so that's not a valid complaint. We wanted to see a movie on MUTS, but late dinners and a few cold nights prevented us. I like the concept though. Another case of misleading info on CC: The Theater - many posts about it always being overcrowded. Maybe it was because we had the late seating, but we never had trouble finding good seats, and the theater was never full for any shows. The lounges used for comedians, Karaoke and games: Now THOSE tended to get crowded, but we never missed anything.
CRUISE DIRECTOR STAFF: Lisa Ball did an excellent job in our opinion. She and her assistant Chris hosted a slide show of "Behind the Scenes" crew areas and spent an hour answering questions about Ship Life. She was also visibly present after every theater show. And Chris (Deputy CD) is certainly capable of having a ship of his own some day soon.
ENTERTAINERS: Crown had a very good mix. Wayne Hoffman, a mentalist, had a bizarre (meant as a compliment) show. James Michael offered a "Hello Kitty" segment in his act; it was funny but I'm trying to keep that mental image out of my head. Phil Tag: hilarious comedy. Good mix of entertainment (even jugglers and more) each day in the Piazza. Not too many cruisers would think a piano player would be an entertainment highlight, but Kory Simon had a last night show that was as entertaining and amusing as anything else we saw. He performed to packed rooms in the Crooner's Bar several nights also.
EXCURSIONS: On Princess Cays I rented a Kayak. Fun, but in retrospect I'd spend a few more bucks and rent a Hobie Cat Trimaran - more speed and fun, less work. In Curacao we did the Sunset Cruise - disappointing, (there was no Sunset!). The catamaran took us out to sea (always trolling speed), returned to shore 5 minutes before the sun set. On top of that I just found out we actually returned 45 minutes earlier than scheduled; therefore, no reason to miss it. In Aruba we did our own thing: local bus to Palm Beach, rented two loungers for $5 each, rented a float for $5, had lunch at Senor Frogs.
This is only to inform you that the Coral Photo Mugs we got in the Calypso Cove leak liquids through the sides of the mugs. This could be dangerous. They leak at a rapid rate and are not useable.