I have just returned from a cruise on the Sun Princess. You can find my detailed review here.
Photos of the ship can be viewed here.
You can email me at email@example.com if you have any queries and I'll try to answer them for you!
Sun Princess Cruise Southern Caribbean Medley-10 nights November 20-November 30, 2006 Captain Roger Bilton, Sussex, England Cruise Director John Cleford, England
DH and I are in our mid fifties. We've cruised four times before on Carnival Inspiration, Carnival Elation, Grand Princess and NCL Sun. Our favorite of these was the Grand Princess. This was a rest and relaxation cruise for us.
The flights to Ft. Lauderdale were uneventful, unlike the flights home.
We stayed the night before our cruise at the LaQuinta Inn, Hollywood, FL. It's a nice hotel with friendly people and a shuttle from the airport to the hotel and from the hotel to the port. The shuttle left the hotel at 11:00 AM on Monday and we were at the port terminal before 11:15. As soon as we got off the shuttle a porter took our checked luggage and, while there are signs saying tipping is not required, we tipped him $6.00 (3 bags).
Embarkation went very smoothly. We waited just a few minutes outside. When we entered we were given a piece of paper with a number on it. We found seats and they immediately began calling numbers. After aboutfive minutes our number was called and we went to check in. The lines are divided by deck. We were in the Caribe line and it took about ten minutes to check in. Onward to the embarkation photo, then onto the ship! This was the only photo that was taken of us the entire cruise and it was awful, so we didn't buy it.
Since this was a longer cruise, there were very few children on board. We overheard someone say there were forty, but we never saw more than four or five at a time. Most people were our age or older, which was fine with us.
We went to our cabin, C417, a balcony cabin on the starboard side. It was ready for us and we unpacked our carry-on's and checked out the cabin. It was smaller than some cabins we've had, but very well laid out. We met our wonderful cabin steward, Imran, who asked what he could do for us and was very efficient and friendly throughout the cruise. We told him the closet doors squeaked (like fingernails on a blackboard!) and by the time we returned to the cabin they'd been fixed.
About the Cabin: To the right of the entrance is the bathroom. There were three shelves to the left of the mirror and a shelf underneath the sink. The shower was the largest I've ever seen on a ship! There was a small shelf in the shower for travel sized shampoo, etc., and a small shelf for the soap. The shower controls were different from what we've seen before. There's an on/off control and a temperature control. We left the temperature control set and always had the right temperature without any adjusting. The water temperature didn't fluctuate, as it does on some ships. The shower curtain (cloth) had weights at the bottom and didn't "chase" us! The toilet is between the sink and the shower and makes the usual "whoosh!".
Across from the bathroom is the closet. The left side had a shelf at the top and room for hanging longer clothes (great for me, as I mostly wear sundresses). There's also a full length mirror on the inside of the door. The right side had two poles for shorter clothes. There's also a tie rack on the door. Next to the closet is an area with shelves, the safe (you put in your own combination), and two shallow sliding wire drawers. The top shelf is taken up by the life jackets.
There's a small shelf with a mirror next to the bathroom door. This was perfect for me to put on makeup. Under this shelf is an outlet! Unless you looked for it you might never see it! It was a perfect place for a nightlight and for recharging the cell phone. There's one nightstand with a drawer and two open shelves.
Next to the TV is a small shelf. Under the TV area are three small open shelves and the refrigerator. The refrigerator kept our soft drinks quite cool.
There's a small, but fairly comfortable club chair and a small stool/table between the TV area and the desk. The desk has three drawers on each side, an outlet, a mirror and the hair dryer is mounted on the wall next to the mirror. DH found the hair dryer to work fine for him. My hair is very short and curly and "air-dries".
The balconies on this ship have been cut out of the hull and are very small, but fine for two people. There were two chairs and a small table on the balcony. Being cut out of the hull, the balcony was covered. Remember not to open the balcony door and the cabin door at the same time. You'll create a "tornado" and anything not held down will go flying!
The Ship: As the Sun Princess is a relatively small ship it was quite easy to find our way around. I enjoyed the décor, which is wood and earth tones. There are two main entertainment areas. Forward is the Princess Theater and aft is the Vista Lounge. We didn't go to any of the production shows, but we did see a comedian, Carey Long, in the Vista Lounge. We didn't see much of the Cruise Director, but he seemed okay on the Morning Show.
We never had trouble finding a place to sit anywhere on the ship. (We don't sit in the sun, so we didn't have the "chair hog" problem.) Our favorite place to have a drink and "people watch" was the La Patisserie bar on the port side of the Atrium. There were two wonderful bartenders there, Ted and Girlee, both from the Philippines. They were very friendly and remembered what we liked to drink. The Wheelhouse bar was very nice, but too crowded and noisy for our tastes. We never made it to the Shooting Stars nightclub, but heard that it was a lot of fun.
We chose Personal Choice Dining in the Marquis dining room since we don't like to eat at a set time and we enjoy being seated with different people. We found the food in the dining room to be very good. On Thanksgiving evening they served twin lobster tails which were the best I've ever had on a ship. The service was good and we were happy with everything we ordered. We also ate in Verdi's Trattoria a few times and at the Horizon Court buffet once. The pizza at Verdi's was very good. The buffet was, well, a buffet… Edible, but not very good. We do like the setup of different stations but, as usual, some people tried to line up like they were in a cafeteria.
I don't enjoy the casino, but DH enjoyed it and "donated" enough for the both of us!
Ports and Excursions: After two sea days just relaxing, on Thursday we ported in Willemstad, Curacao, Netherland Antilles. We had an early excursion, Jewish Heritage in Curacao, planned with an independent operator after Princess canceled this same tour. We enjoyed this tour very much. We also enjoyed watching the QueenEmma pontoon bridge. The ship docked across the bay from Punda and you could either take a free ferry across or walk the floating bridge (if it's not open to let ships through!).
Our next port, on Friday, was Isla Margarita, Venezuela. We didn't plan a tour here so we just got off and shopped at the small market on the pier. We met a woman here who posts on the cruise boards and I bought a very pretty blue cat's-eye bracelet from her.
On Saturday we ported in Bridgetown, Barbados. Here we took the ship's tour, Island Highlights and Sudbury Plantation. We enjoyed this tour with stops at St. John's Church, Gun Hill Signal Station, and the Plantation. All three stops were interesting and offered great views for photos.
Sunday was Roseau, Dominica. We shopped a little at the pier in the morning and then took the Whale and Dolphin Watching tour. This was the only tour we had pre-booked. We enjoyed the boat ride, but the only things we saw were some flying fish!
On Monday we ported at Crown Bay in St. Thomas, USVI. We had to get up early to go through immigration since we were back in the US. It went very quickly and we took an early tour, St. Thomas Island Tour. We went along Skyline Drive, stopping occasionally for photos. We also visited Mountain Top and St. Peter Greathouse. After the tour we decided to stay in town and shop a little. We took a taxi back to Crown Bay for $4.50 each. The shops there are not open yet, but we did see people working on the inside.
Tuesday was another sea day, and we really needed a break! Five ports in five days is a lot!
Wednesday we tendered into Princess Cays. Princess Cays is actually on Eleutherea Island, Bahamas. That's why you have to fill out a Bahamas Landing form early in the cruise for any cruise going to Princess Cays. The tender ride to and from the island was a tour in itself! We're not "beach people" so we just walked around, had a Bloody Mary, checked out the shopping and went back to the ship.
That evening after dinner we packed our large suitcases and put them outside the cabin door. We left the automatic tipping on and tipped extra to our wonderful cabin steward, Imran, and to our great bartenders at La Patisserie, Ted and Girlee.
Thursday was disembarkation day. Earlier in the week they had sent a form for us to fill out with our flight information. We were scheduled to fly out of Ft. Lauderdale at 12:20 PM, so we were called in the third group to leave the ship. We went to breakfast at Horizon Court, and then went to La Patisserie to wait for our number to be called. We were off the ship and on the Princess transfer bus by 8:30 AM and at the airport before 9:00 AM. There we learned that our flight had been canceled because of snow and sleet at DFW, but we were able to get an earlier flight. We also got an earlier flight from DFW, but spent over 3 hours on the tarmac waiting to get de-iced! By pure luck we were assigned seats next to the emergency exit and were at least able to stretch out. We got home (finally!) at 9:00 PM.
This was our best cruise, ever! The only problems I can think of were the closet doors, which were fixed almost immediately, and one time we got the wrong tour tickets. I took them back to the shore excursion office and that was also taken care of quickly and with a smile. Apparently no one else had many problems, either. Until the last day when people were settling their accounts, there was never a line at the Purser's Desk. I've never seen a less busy Purser's Desk! The few times we went there to get a printout of our account or get change we walked right up to the desk.
We enjoyed this cruise so much that we were ready to cancel our cruise next year on Caribbean Princess and book the Sun Princess again, but found out that it will be going to P & O Australia in 2007. We hope to sail the Sun Princess again in 2008!
This ship is truly awesome! From the first formal night (where the staff really makes the passengers feel like glitterati) to the on-board shows (the tribute to Broadway was so fun) to the housekeeping and wait staff (be sure to chat with the Maitre D' Luigi ... he's great), everything was marvelous.
Our steward was Francisco, and he made our stay quite confortable. He straightened the cabin twice a day, leaving yummy treats on the pillows when turning down our bed at night.
Lucin and Odiban were our waiter and junior waiter, and we couldn't have asked for better. Lucian kindly shared with us pictures of his wife and son, so he wasn't just a person delivering the food, he's a kind person who treats us like family.
The second formal night, the maitre d' built a 645 glass tall champagne waterfall. It was lovely. And not only that, but he stood there for hours allowing passengers to take pictures with him and smiled the whole time.
The Captain, Ian McNaught, was friendly and approachable. It's clear from meeting him that the warm and welcoming attitude starts with the top officers.
The ports ofcall were the reason we took this cruise, but honestly became secondary to the ship in importance to us. I can't say enough good things about the Sun Princess. If you want a relaxing vacation desgined to re-charge your batteries and make you feel great, this is the ship to choose.
This was my first cruise so I had high expectations. The Sun Princess met my expectations. The crew was great. I did not meet one member of the crew who was less than 100% customer service oriented. The food in the buffet was good. The food in the dining rooms was great. The drinks were reasonable. The ship was in very good shape. Clean, bright and comfortable. Everywhere you looked someone was cleaning or painting or oiling the teak. We had a really good time. I never felt crowded nor bored.
Service personnel in all dining areas are not at all personable; neither are the ship's crew chiefs and officers.
Ship not good for Alaska cruising because it lacks a forward or stern glassed lounge for sightseeing. Passengers have to view from own cabin balcony or hang over the rails, even in cold weather.
The Sun Princess is in great shape for a vessel her age. I was expecting to see much more wear and tear on her but for most purposes she is in excellent shape. The carpets show no wear or tear in them and none of the walls or decor aboard ship show any dents, dings or cracks that one would expect to find on a ship almost 10 years old.
The food was plentiful and while not as good as the fare I received on some other lines was still appealing and beautifully presented. Verdi's pizza was awesome and goes highly recommended.
The buffets were good but the only complaint is that we found that the food served on both lines of the buffet was often diffent so one would have to check both sides to get everything offered. Entertainment was standard cruise fare but they did have a wonderful comedian/ventriloquist who worked with puppets and did a great comedy routine.
All the ports and excursions I did met my expectations and would not hesitate to recommend this ship to anyone. The only other negative aspect in terms of this cruise which Ido not think has anything to do with the ship itself is that the automatic tipping policy I feel has led to a drop in the service levels. My previous cruise was on a line that did not do the automatic tipping and I found the waiters at your table went out of the way to get to know you as did the cabin stewards.
The Princess staff was courtesy and fullfilled their duties but found that they did not attempt to interact with you at all and all the little extra's that the cabin stewards often did for you in your cabin was not present in this situation. They did their jobs but offered nothing more which I feel was due to lack of incentive on their part. In all though I had an enjoyable time and any concerns one might have travelling on a older ship should be dismissed. THe Sun Princess is graceful, elegant, in great shape, and I would definately travel on her again in the future. Happy cruising to all.
Princess Cruises Sun Princess by George S Southern Caribbean November 18, 2005 Embarked at Ft Lauderdale, Fl, after arriving at the pier via Cruise Connection bus. Embarkation was quick and we were eating lunch in the Lido about 1/2 hour later. Our room was ready and we were able to drop off our carry on luggage. Having cruised with HAL (6 times), we were dissappointed at the small size of our cabin. HAL's inside cabin was much larger. The ship was in nice shape for being 10 years old. It appeared that new carpeting had been installed through-out. There were no foul odors that we detected. Since this was our first Princess cruise we took a tour of the ship and then settled in. We were impressed by the Atrium area, spacious and comfortable. Both Theaters seemed over-crowded (too small). And u had to hurry from dinner to get a seat. At the horizon court, the lines did not seem right, as they did'nt flow smoothly.
Also, Princess does not provide trays and you are constantly juggling the plates. The food at the Regency Dining Room was average, but the service wasgood and the staff were friendly. We also ate at Verdi's, one time, and the pizza was excellent. We did not eat at the premium dining room. The activities, on board, were the usual, and i liked the golf simulater. There were plenty of casual rooms around, where one could order a drink or just lounge. The Promenade was great, except that there were never enough deck chairs to go around. And therefore, sometimes u had to wait for one. We enjoyed most of the islands and expecially liked their Island, Princess Cay. Upon returning, Disembarkation was extremely slow. Summary: Nice ship, but we liked HAL better OH well, you can't have everything!
Beautiful Ship. No complaints in this department. Everything very clean and in top shape.
Food. Buffet was good to excellent. Fruit was always fresh and items were plentiful. Pizzaria we ate at three times. Once I ordered a calzone, it was watery on the inside (something frozen when cooked?), the pizza's and salads were good. Service was not great, the manager (Angelo) was grumpy when he came to our table and it was evident by his smug attitude and answers to us when we questioned an item on the menu. Language skills could have been better, on the second night my son ordered a calzone with pepperoni and ended up with a calzone and a pepperoni pizza. The boy is only 9 years old, how the waiter thought he could eat two pizzas is beyond me. Anyways, if the attitude would have been gone, it would have made a more pleasant meal. We chose personal choice dining and it was very good. All meals and appetizers during lunch and dinner were very good. I had a seafood gumbo, which was very good and the crab legs were delicious. My only complaintin the food and drink department was, I wish more ice tea and water stations were put in on different levels. The only place I could get tea and water was the buffet or restaurant, and the pizza parlor didn't serve iced tea at all only water. Why, who knows, I survived.
Entertainment: Music Shows were okay. Not my favorite part. The male singer would have been rejected by Simon on American Idol and the female's voice drove my last nerve. They had about 10 people on stage and only one male and female sang solo's, all the others just danced and hummed. I would have liked to had another voice. The comedians and magician were great.
Rooms were perfect. We had three in our room. My husband, son, and I. They made a bunk for our son. The beds were comfy. It was an inside cabin B624 and Ana, our maid, was great. No complaints in this department. Fruit in our room was fresh, Robes were delivered upon request. Lots of storage space for all our clothes and suitcases fit under the bed fine. TV choices were good, CNN, Cartoon network, travel, and Alaska Excursions. My only complaint, no clock in the room. My husband and I forgot watches, so we had no clue what time it was. We had to turn on the television to find out the time.
Weather was absolutely beautiful. A little cool in the glacier bay and college fjord, but jackets took care of this area. Lots of whales, sea lines, otters, and dolphins to view from the deck. Seen a grizzly bear from glacier bay. Karen, the alaskan expert, was very informative. The wildlife people that came on board were very interesting too.
Childcare program: I had a 9 year old, he didn't care too much for the children's program. They had a interesting program set up, but he didn't give it much of a chance. They had a few video games, but it took his money with no play, had to go to concierge desk for a refund. They made T-shirts and a lego contest that he was interested in. They allow you to let your child check themselves in or out. We allowed him to check himself in, and we checked him out. Finally on the last couple days, we gave him the video recorder and had him walk around and tape the ship for our enjoyment. It was silly.
Drinks: Mudslide's were yummy. The Almond Martini was great. I had the mint choc chip martini, didn't care too much for it. Pina Coladas were good too. I like that Princess sells small, medium and large.
Spa and Fitness: Lots of equipment. I went in the afternoons a couple times and equpment was always available. Didn't try the morning. Didn't try any spa services.
Shopping: T-shirts with Alaska and Princess logo went on sale the last day. Three for $24. so save your buying till the last day. Gold bracelets and watches available in the sidewalk sale. No big sale in this area.
Art Auction: They had a few, but I didn't attend.
Wine Tasting: My friends went to two sessions, they enjoyed both. Cost was around $8. for one sitting and around $20 for another, but it included foods.
Ports were great. Ketchican we went on jet ski boat adventure. Nothing exciting to write about. Wouldn't do again, got to touch a jelly fish and see lots of bald eagles. Not much time in this port. Juneua we went gold panning and whale watching. Both were good and I recommend. Skagway we did the dog mushing, it was fun and on the way back we seen a black bear on the side of the road. T-Shirt and Fleece available in all locations. I read a sign in Ketchican that prices go up from that port on, but it was not true, prices were stable throughout the area.
If you do a land portion, I recommend fishing with June's B&B Charters in Whittier, we caught 125# of fish and it was a blast. We went on a safari adventure near Denali, it was fun, but only seen one moose and an owl. Lot's of mosquitos. Be sure to bring your deet. Spent last two days in Anchorage where we shopped downtown and went around the area. My son met the Tundra Comic artist at the swap meet downtown, and this made his trip the best. Book, autograph, and pic with the cartoonist. He was in seventh heaven. The tundra is the comedic t-shirts you'll see around the areas.
My wife and I just came back from an Alaska Inside Passage trip on the Sun Princess out of Seattle, June 4-11, 2006. Here's the short version for those trying to decide whether this would be a good vacation: TAKE THIS CRUISE. BOOK IT NOW. The Sun Princess is great, but more importantly, you need to see Alaska. It's beautiful.
For a more specific rundown on the Sun Princess experience, plus insight into some excellent yet rarely-taken shore excursions, read on.
Background I've never cruised before; my wife has cruised three times exclusively with Royal Caribbean (Alaska, Western & Eastern Caribbean). So everything I know about cruise ships is from her stories, and she's never been on a Princess ship before. We have, however, been to an all-inclusive resort (Sandals) before, so some of the cruising concepts that normally blow first-timers away were not entirely foreign to me.
To start off, I must mention the weather: We were ridiculously lucky. We expected it to be 55 and rainy every day. But it was in the upper 60s and sunny every day, and it was 70 in Skagway. I even got a sunburn. For thefirst week of June, it was amazing, and to see no rain in Ketchikan, that's just weird. At every stop, even in Victoria, the locals told us it rained all day the day prior to our arrival. Admittedly, it was overcast for our first hour in Ketchikan and the first two hours of Tracy Arm, but that just added to the mystique of the beautiful scenery.
With a day of low clouds, you'd really miss some fine details such as the snow-capped mountains, but I don't think it would detract from your trip. It was rather cold on Tracy Arm morning, as the entry started at 6 a.m., so I would recommend packing a winter coat for at least that day, and a light jacket for the remaining trip. Bring ponchos and umbrellas too. We had a bunch of disposable ponchos on hand, but never used them.
The Food As for the ship, my most dire warning about Princess would be food. It's really not all that good. It's more hit-and-miss -- with more misses than hits. For example, you can write off most of the hot food at the Horizon Court Buffet as being awful. Some breakfast foods, like sausage, bacon, and pancakes (note I did not say eggs) were tasty, but all other hot food was just plain bad.
Dinner was hit-and-miss, but we had more luck there. We chose the fixed seating, and were lucky enough to get a table for two. On Princess you can get any-time dining (but that absolutely requires a reservation, I learned from other passengers) or you can get fixed seating at varying sizes of tables. They had tables for two, four, six, eight, 10 and 12. I didn't see more than two two-person tables in the entire room (there may have been more, but they are extremely infrequent and we just got super lucky), but there is definitely a reasonable number of four-person tables.
Food quality at dinner was mostly good, but there were issues with selection. My wife doesn't care for seafood, and the menu was seafood-heavy most nights. The beef wasn't good at all. The beef tenderloin and strip steaks were both bland, with the former tasting like roast beef and the latter screaming for steak sauce. The seafood, I must admit, was quite pleasant. The salmon was very good, for example.
The menu seemed to improve throughout the cruise. On the fifth night they offered Alaskan King Crab legs. I asked for seconds, and got it! They were on par with the best crab I've ever had, and far superior to the dungeness crab I had at an upscale restaurant in Seattle before departure. The following night, the twin lobster tails were absolutely delicious. The waiter watched me finish two, and without asking, brought me two more!
Desserts were good throughout the cruise; even their ice cream is great. But the best was Day 6 (same day as the lobster), when they served baked Alaska. My wife said the baked Alaska on Royal Caribbean was little more than Neapolitan ice cream, but this was mind-blowingly delicious -- and a huge portion. I still finished it, and without asking the waiter brought me another. What a great guy!
I must mention the alternative food besides buffets and the fixed-seating dinner. They had a fish barbecue on Ketchikan day, with grilled shrimp, barbecued fish and crab cakes. You can have as much as you want and it was phenomenal -- surprising, since it was served poolside and you would expect less. On another day they served reindeer chili, which was decent. And one day the Horizon Court had an Asian theme buffet -- again bad hot food, and a sushi buffet on par with most grocery store sushi, but it was fine for me. Poolside burgers, fries and hot dogs were all passable - better than I expected. We did not try the $15-per-person Sterling Steakhouse (a roped-off section of the buffet).
This leaves one thing: Verdi's Pizza. I read bad reviews of this, but I found the pizza to be quite good. The service is terrible -- you'll wait 20 minutes to an hour for your food -- but the pizza and calzones are great. Since the ship is docked in Juneau and Victoria during dinnertime, you're likely to miss the sit-down dinner at least twice. I heartily recommend Verdi's as an alternative.
The Ship I enjoyed the Sun Princess. I thought the Vista Lounge was the ideal place to spend an evening. The layout is really nice, a great show lounge. The bars are all really cool, and the Shooting Stars disco is stylish. The dining room is nice, as one would expect. The Horizon Court Buffet, though lacking in food quality, is a really nice place to eat - visually - as it is on the top deck surrounded by glass, giving excellent views.
There are two small pools, plus a circular pool by the spa that's only good for soaking, and five hot tubs. None of these are covered. I will repeat: no indoor pool. That may upset some people. Since we had great weather, we did go to the pool twice. The pools are heated; they claim it's 70 degrees, but I am pretty sure it was warmer than that. So swimming is not out of the question, just be forewarned that it is not enclosed.
For entertainment... well... it's a cruise ship. They had a great comic one night, a guy who really deserves his own Comedy Central special. Another night, we saw a surprisingly funny juggler, then a rather unexciting guitarist, and a cheesy but still amusing magician. All of these were in the Vista Lounge, a really cool venue. You'll want to avoid the Princess Theater like the plague. We stopped going after the first production show. Perhaps somebody actually likes this sort of thing, but we thought it was just plain awful.
Alaska And finally, Alaska: It's beautiful. Not just in the ports, or on excursions, but just when the ship is sailing through all the islands -- it's a sight to behold. Be sure to pick excursions that get you out of town. The port towns are tiny and of little value, except for walking down Creek Street in Ketchikan. In general, these small towns just have crappy jewelry stores and junky gift shops. If you really want to see Alaska, take an excursion. We took some atypical ones, and one very prominent excursion that everyone should (and usually does) do.
Ketchikan - Rainforest Ropes and Zip Line Challenge: Not to be confused with the similar Rainforest Canopy and Zip Line tour. That one is a series of zip lines that takes you through the trees and over a 400-foot drop. Though it sounds like fun, we did the ropes course. It included various forms of rope bridges, swinging logs, and tightrope walks both with and without a second rope above you, plus three zip line runs. I believe you hit a maximum height of 170 feet on those zip lines and the tightropes, whereas the rope bridges don't go much higher than 20-30 feet. Still, it was really fun. You get to enjoy an old growth forest, with 500-year-old redwood trees, and have a blast on amazingly fun zip lines and admittedly freaky tightrope walks. We finished our tour on a climbing wall.
Juneau - Glacier View Sea Kayaking: This was hands-down the best part of our vacation. You take two-person kayaks into Auke Bay, facing the Mendenhall Glacier. They say on a foggy day you can't see the glacier, but we had pure sun and had an amazing view. We also passed by several flocks of bald eagles (they don't group together normally, but here they did) and were followed and approached by several harbor seals. Going eye to eye with a harbor seal 15 feet away is nothing like going to an aquarium. It was incredible, and a lot of fun.
Skagway - White Pass Yukon Route Scenic Railroad: This is the biggie. Everyone should do this, and they usually go, because what else are you going to do in Skagway? If you have researched an Alaska cruise, you probably already know about this. The train runs along the Klondike trail, with stunning views and a trip into the mountains. This is your northernmost stop on the trip; you owe it to yourself to go 30 miles into the interior to see what Southeast Alaska is really like.
Skagway - Klondike Rock Climbing and Rappelling: Yes, we took two excursions in Skagway. We just had to go rock climbing on real rock (we're used to the indoor gyms) and where else to do it but on a glacier-carved granite cliff overlooking the Klondike trail? It overlooks the valley the train goes through, but for those views you're better off on the train. This is all about rock climbing, though to be fair, each person only got to climb twice and rappel once. A die-hard rock climber probably wouldn't be too impressed, though they do have routes for all difficulty levels. But for me, I loved it, and now I can say I've rock climbed the Klondike trail.
Victoria - Enchanting Butchart Gardens. Unless you do whale watching or nothing at all, this is the prime spot at this port. Butchart Gardens is on the Travel Channel's list of top 10 gardens in the world and it deserves the recognition for the Sunken Garden and Rose Garden alone. Be sure to stay in Victoria at nightfall to see the Parliament building lit up at night.
Besides all the ports, there is the trip through Tracy Arm Fjord. Yes, get up at 6 a.m. to watch it. Yes, bring binoculars. Yes, bring a winter coat. And no, Tracy Arm is not Glacier Bay -- it is not a fjord through pure ice. It's a fjord through glacier-carved rock that has progressively younger and younger vegetation until there is none at all, and you get to see the Sawyer Glaciers at the end. A place like Tracy Arm is precisely why you go to Alaska.
Balcony or Not? Unfortunately, it is also why people mistakenly think they need a balcony cabin on Alaska cruises. Everyone always says, "splurge on a balcony; if you're going to do it anywhere, do it on an Alaska cruise!" Baloney. You don't need it. The last thing I would have wanted on this cruise was a tiny square of space with limited visibility on one side of the boat. You are only hurting yourself by spending your cruise there. You need to go up on deck, frequently, during Tracy Arm, whale watching, or any other time when you have a free moment. It is simply not the same without the near-360 degree view available on the deck. Instead of booking a balcony cabin, spend that money on some fantastic excursions instead. Also know that the sun rises early and sets late. Curtains or not, I don't want light in my room at 3:45 a.m. Having a pitch-black interior room was great for sleeping. If you need a window, try channel 35, it's the best channel on TV - the view-from-the-bow channel!
Wildlife I had no expectations of great wildlife viewing, but we saw one to two humpback whales PER DAY. At Skagway, one was feeding right in front of the ship. We saw harbor seals while kayaking, on the icebergs in Tracy Arm, on buoys in the water, etc. We saw sea lions playing. We saw dolphins pass our ship close by. We saw porpoises jumping in and out of our wake. And we saw more bald eagles daily than we see regular birds at home. The wildlife is abundant, and incredible. It's all the better because a ship's naturalist announces when whales are passing by, and gives a lot of great information on them as you watch. Take in his talks in the Princess Theater.
Disembarking I should mention the end of the cruise. They allow express disembarkation for those willing to carry their own luggage. You disembark at 7:30, which is fine because everybody has to be out of their rooms by then anyway. We did this, and it would have been excellent except for two things. Number one, people with no bags kept the elevators tied up because they were too lazy to take the stairs, even if people with six bags were waiting forever. We had to take our heavy bags down four flights of stairs.
Number two, we had to get in line to disembark, then wait and wait. Finally someone says, "is this the line for express disembarkation?" and a bunch of confused people turned around and said, "no, we're waiting to be called. The express people already left." So please, if you aren't in the process of walking off the ship, don't stand in the vicinity of the exits and block the people who are trying to leave.
It may seem like I had a lot of complaints here, but that's because it's easier to post nitpicking complaints about minor things than to write about how wonderful it was. Trust me, this ship is great. I would do the same vacation again in a minute, no changes. Avoid the hot food at the buffet, eat Verdi's pizza, get out of the ports, watch the wildlife, and carry a baseball bat during disembarkation. You will love the Sun Princess.
10-Day Eastern Caribbean C402 - Covered Balcony Traditional Dining Late Seating 4-8-05 to 4-18-05 St. Vincent, Grenada, St. Lucia, Martinique, St. Thomas, Princess Cays Charles and Judy Crain - 47 and 50, engineer and homemaker, respectively Western Caribbean (Star Princess) - 12/2004 Panama Canal - Partial Transit (Island Princess) - 1/2004 Mexican Riviera (Sea Princess) - 1/2002 Alaska (Ocean Princess) - 6/2001
OVERVIEW OF REVIEW:
Since this was the last Caribbean cruise of the Sun for this season, a detailed day by day log would not be applicable. Instead I will concentrate on things that will probably not change on the Sun and that will be of interest to future cruisers on this or other itineraries.
SUMMARY - THE HIGHLIGHTS:
Overall, a very good cruise. Better than the Star in December, but then 10 days is better than 7 anytime, but still not quite as good as the Island in 1/2004.
The highlight of the cruise was the CC people on board. From the meet and mingle during sail-away to debarkation at the Horizon Court we were running into people we knew from the sail-away.
Embarkation was handled well. It only took 25 minutes fromcurb to get on board to our cabin. A new record. Debarkation was its usual madhouse, but it was customs fault, not Princess. Only one agent was collecting declarations forms.
The ship is in excellent condition from top to bottom and stem to stern. She has held up well and yes a slight sewer smell was evident in certain places, but I think that was due to wind directions. After all, the black water tanks must be vented and eddy breezes can do strange things.
Our Caribe deck balcony cabin had the smaller opening, but we also were up against a structural bulkhead so the wall forward was solid. This layout allowed for maximum protection from wind and rain and allowed us to keep the sliding door open every night of the cruise. Storage, while small, was adequate and even the shower was bigger than I remembered.
Entertainment was hit and miss. Some comedians were good, other just ok. We didn't make any production shows. Island night was great, country night was hot. We never made it into shooting stars (disco). Just way to much to do and not enough time.
Ports of call ranged from ok to wow. St. Vincent was pretty hectic when we arrived. Grenada still had major damage from the hurricanes. St. Lucia was very pretty and fun. Martinique had some surprises for us snorkelers, but St. Thomas was gorgeous for snorkeling and shopping.
Food was good to very good, only a few things that were bad and a few things that were excellent (lobster tails for one), but well above average on the whole. Verdi's pizza was a great find for lunch and would have liked to try dinner, but we were having too much fun in the dining room.
Service was overall excellent. Our cabin steward was very efficient and personable, our waiters, after the changeover, were full of energy and engaging, although somewhat too touchy or afraid of making a mistake - they needed to loosen up some more.
NOW FOR THE DETAILS:
HIGHLIGHTS OF THE CRUISE:
The highlights of this cruise were the CC people on board and our two table mates for dinner. Cookie and Barry (61 and 68) will be married in September and this was their first cruise. It was great for Judy and I to contribute to their overall experience. They really enjoyed themselves and even when things weren't perfect, they still were awed by the overall experience. (A refreshing attitude that some more "experienced" cruisers forget when their martini is not quite dry enough!)
The CC people were awesome and the experiences we had were way too much fun. From Smilin Bob's ascension to Mr. Sun Princess (and his dive certification as well) to gvre's gift to Judy of the official cruise critic hat (thanks again Richard and Deb), to the breaking of the 18 lobster tail record and to the many conversations, lunches and meals, traveling with a fellow group of NUTS is the only way to go.
This was a much younger crowd than our previous 10-day cruise. Probably only about 10-15 kids on the whole ship, but the average age looked more in the 35-50 range, rather than the 50-60 range.
The princess embarkation at Terminal 2 was almost flawless. Yes, two additional forms had to be filled out (Bahamas and noro screen), but no big deal. The only line at the door was the line due to passing out the two new forms. Once filled out, it was a 15 minute walk to our cabin. We arrived at the terminal at 12:25 and were in Verdi's pizza for lunch at 1:15.
Debarkation was its usual hectic mess and looked pretty bad, but the main reason for the exit lines was the sole customs agent collecting the declaration forms instead of the normal two. All of those people channeling through one person. In spite of that, our color was called at 0945 and we were at the Frontier check in counter in the airport at 10:35.
The Sun class remains our second favorite class - a very close second. The Coral class is our number one. (The additional deck on the Coral class that contains the explorer's lounge, Sabatini's and the Bayou café is the major difference.) The recent dry dock also involved a total change-out of the gym equipment, a large internet café, new carpet and fresh paint on everything that doesn't move. The ship is simply in great shape and she is still gorgeous. I think she looks better than Celebrity M-Class. The all white exterior just sparkles.
We had a Caribe deck balcony cabin. The sun class balconies were an afterthought and were actually cut out of the hull plating. The Caribe deck openings are smaller than the ones on Baja and Aloha. This smaller opening allows much less wind and rain into the balcony and makes it much more private. This allowed us to keep the door open at night throughout the cruise. The Dolphin deck mini on the Island and the Baja balcony on the star allowed too much wind into the cabin if the door was left open. In addition, our Sun balcony cabin was near the front stairwell and low, just above the lifeboats. This meant the bow slicing through the waves made a sound like waves whispering onto a beach in your backyard. One of the most romantic sounds, but relaxing as well. We slept the best on this ship we have ever slept.
We requested the egg crate mattress, based on tips from this board. It made a HUGE difference. I have never slept so well on a ship's mattress before.
We also had the opportunity, thanks to Richard and Debbie (gvre), to tour the Sun class mini-suite. An awesome cabin to die for. Two cabins wide, with the corresponding double wide double door balcony, has one side (one cabin's worth) dedicated to a couch and entertainment and part of the walkthrough bathroom. The sleeping side (another cabin's worth) has a walk in closet and bathroom with Jacuzzi tub. They charge a lot more for a sun class mini than all of the other minis on the coral and the grand classes, but you get a whole lot more.
The comedians will change throughout the next year and we did not go into any production shows, but the entertainment staff is top notch. Cruise Director Gavin will be gone soon, replaced by Trevor Bradford (he was on the island with us and is a great guy), but the activities planned are excellent. There is line dancing with Rachael, ballroom dancing with Mandy, pool games, trivia, putting contests, wooden horse racing and a host of other activities. We were never bored, unless we wanted to be.
Country night started too early at 9:30. Late seating dinner did not get out until 10. Regardless, we joined in late and had a blast line dancing on the Riviera deck. The party pretty much petered out around 1100.
Island night was a real blow out. Dancing, conga lines and the Mr. Sun Princess contest. After previously competing in a Mr. Sea Princess contest, I opted out, but ole Smilin Bob joined in and based on the cheers from the CC group and his friends we got him anointed. We had a 230 person conga line to close out the Sun Princess 2005 Caribbean season.
PORTS OF CALL
St. Vincent was a short stop. We only walked into town, no excursions, and looked around for a couple of hours. The vendors here were not too aggressive.
We snorkeled in Grenada and gave the tour operator very poor marks. A lady slipped and fell on the deck of the catamaran and split her lip wide open. There was no first aid kit on board, nor was anyone trained in first aid. Our group included 5 nurses and they had to administer ice and a towel until we got her back to the ship. She might have had to have stitches, but we never found out. The snorkeling was good with a large variety of trumpet fish and coral. I got some great underwater shots and the tour would have scored much higher, but safety should have been a higher priority.
In St. Lucia we did the pigeon island kayaking and then hiked to the top of Fort Rodney. On a clear day you can see Martinique. The kayaking was fun, but wet. We had the option of snorkeling or hiking. We hiked with a local guide who showed us a variety of nut and fruit trees everywhere we went. The view from the top was pretty awesome as well.
In Martinique we snorkeled off a quaint little village with a topless beach. The view was pretty awe inspiring, both above and below the water line. We snorkeled with two schools of squid. I got some great underwater shots and video of the squid. Then we moved to the bat cave where you can snorkel into a cave with bats. Not recommended to snorkel too close to the guano zone, but you can definitely hear, see and smell them. We didn't go into town, but heard the shopping was pretty expensive.
In St. Thomas, we shopped and BOBed. The shopping was very convenient and some things were reasonably priced, some bargains (booze mainly) and some prices much higher than the states. The little shopping mall is handy for last minute things not available on the ship. BOBing was pretty cool, but a once only deal for me. I'd rather scuba dive. Judy got a little claustrophobic in the helmet, so she didn't care for it. But the crew was a lot of fun. However, the fish life in the water, the water clarity and warmth rivaled Grand Cayman. Large jack fish, a 30" barracuda, sea turtles and a school of bait fish 100 yards long and 20-30' thick was just simply incredible. Snorkeling through this was great. Diving would have been awesome. BOB is a good compromise if you want to try something different.
Princess Cays was simply lovely. A great way to end a cruise. Rather than snorkel, we beach combed to the north. You can actually go for quite a ways, probably several miles if you want. There are coral and sand beaches and small tidal pools to explore. The BBQ was great. Hamburgers, huge hot dogs, chicken, ribs, salads, what more can you ask? New sand has been brought in so the beaches are a little sparse. I would highly recommend water shoes while snorkeling or wading.
My philosophy on a cruise is to taste everything I can't pronounce. This cruise was no exception. I found out several interesting things on this cruise. By being on the Star in December, I know that the menus are identical across the fleet. What I didn't know is the latitude a ship's chef has in making the dishes. The tastes for the same menu items were totally different - except for the lobster. That was excellent and did taste the same. One specific example was the eggnog ice cream. On the Star the flavor was light and very good, on the sun the spices were heavier and overwhelming - same menu item totally different result.
The cream soup's were the highlights for us. European style cream soups heavy with the vegetable's flavor (broccoli, asparagus) were all very good.
The head waiters still cook pasta on Italian night, cherries jubilee on Continental (ne-French) night and other times as well. The pasta on Italian night was perfect, but the next night he tried smoked salmon over fettucini with a heavy cream sauce. The smoked salmon overwhelmed everything. The dish was simply too fishy for us.
Verdi's pizza was a great find for lunch and would have liked to try dinner, but we were having too much fun in the dining room. Verdi's menu doesn't look too varied, but they will mix and match anything on the menu. Judy liked the vegetable pizza, but wanted meat on top, so she ordered double pepperoni on the veggie pizza. It was great. I stuck with the Calzones, which were fresh and very good.
The buffet was fair, but not unexpected. It's a buffet for pete's sake! Unlike the Star and the Island, there were no special taste treats on the Sun. This repeated our experience on the Ocean Princess buffet on our first cruise as well. Remember though at 3:30, they have a 2 hour ice cream buffet line in the Horizon court. At 3:20 the sharks start circling, and by 3:29 they're looking for blood in the water.
Lunch in the dining room was good. Service was a little impersonal, but efficient. Food was of better quality than in the buffet and there were some tasty bites here and there.
Overall food was good to very good. Only the head waiter's pasta on Italian night would be categorized as fantastic/excellent, but then maybe the free bottle of wine helped. Only a few things were "bad". The beef Wellington tasted spoiled. The cut of prime rib was too dry - she thought I said well done and it was. The fruit tartett's in the buffet were a major disappointment. They were so good on the island and the star, but not good at all on a couple of days. But the good outweighed the bad by a long shot.
Service was overall excellent. Our cabin steward (Bethoven) was very efficient and personable. He did a great job and only missed ice once. We tipped him extra when we left the ship.
Our waiter (Fernando) got hurt on the second day. He was proper, efficient, but stiff and formal, not very personable and hard to understand through the thick accent.
Gabrielle, the asst waiter, took over and her new assistant (Kasha) stepped in. These two girls were full of energy and much more personable, still a little stiff and afraid to make a mistake, but the energy level at all three tables went up. We did tip them extra because they did contribute to a very enjoyable dining experience. So much so that when Barry offered to take us to Sterling for a dinner, we declined because we were having so much fun in the dining room.
Francisco, the head waiter, was personable and a pretty good cook. On the second night, the matre' de asked if we could move to the table near the window for 4, from our table for 6. We said no problem, and then Smilin Bob's group shows up to take over the table for 6. We then had this parade of people thanking us for moving a whole 3'. They were going to buy us champagne one night, but I already got a free bottle from our TA, so I negotiated a free bottle of wine for Italian night that was really good stuff.
Since this was Judy's b-day cruise, I ordered flowers and a bottle of Absolut. They were in our cabin when we arrived. The flowers were absolutely gorgeous. I also popped for a sea weed wrap and massage for her. I called it her sushi massage. She loved it.
For workouts, Judy did cycling (spinning) and I basically ran on the ellipticals. The gym opens at 0600 so I was able to get in two workouts a day on sea days, one on port days and only missed 2 days on the whole cruise. No problem getting a machine whenever I showed up. Judy's spinning class did a sunset bike on the deck one evening which she really enjoyed.