Number of Cruises: 12
Cruise Line: Princess
Ship: Caribbean Princess
Sailing Date: January 7th, 2006
Itinerary: Eastern Caribbean
Jan. 7, 2006 Eastern Caribbean was our first cruise on Princess. We've sailed 9 times on RCCL and twice on Carnival. Since this is Princess' mega ship and our favorite ship is Royal Caribbean's Mariner, I'll structure this review as a comparison between the ships and the cruise lines by P+ or RC+.
We flew into FLL around 10:30 a.m. and took a taxi to the dock. There was a lot of traffic congestion and it took about 25 minutes. Once there, we waited in a room and were given a number and called to check in at about 11:45. We had pre-registered online, so it only took seconds. We were on the ship before noon, and our luggage arrived at our room by 2 pm. On last year's Mariner, we were in the Platinum check-in and it was a mess. Our cabin was on the Caribe deck with a huge balcony. Much larger than Mariner, plus there was more storage, a larger closet and just a better flow. We enjoyed the bathrobes and they provided shampoo and conditioner, unlike RC. The hair dryer was easier to use, but not great for styling. Our room steward , Mark, did an excellent job. No towel animals on CP.
This ship, for it's age and size, is quite dull in appearance. Wood and more wood. The marble atrium is pretty, but the art work is boring, and unlike the Mariner is non-exisitent in halls. The theatre with the red walls, red chairs and red curtain is ugly. The Mariner is jaw-dropping gorgeous in all places. The dining rooms are small and unimpressive on this ship, the Mariner's tiered open dining room with chandelier and waiters' parades on the staircases is spectacular. RC puts more into making a production of things! However boring I thought the ship was, that doesn't make it a bad cruise! I liked having the pool with Movies Under the Stars (MUTS); we enjoyed that a lot. However, the other pool area with the band has hardly any space to dance and really is too small for a good party under the stars. We left that event early. I loved the swim against the current pool by the gym. It's not very good for a strong swimmer; I had to just use my arms and not kick or would smash into the machine. Still, it's fun. I also loved the Promenade deck for an hour of power walking daily. It's divided on 2 levels and you must walk up and down stairs, but it's continuous unlike the Mariner. Mariner has a jogging track which is larger than Princess', but it's on a deck with chairs and people and it's impossible to use after 9 am. The jogging track on CP is small and is 9 laps to the mile with steep turns. One other area we liked was the adult pool and bar behind Cafe Caribbean. We enjoyed having breakfast out there or a snack during the day. Mariner lacks outdoor venues such as this because of the kids area in back. The Mariner's sports deck is far superior to the CP. It has full court basketball, which CP shares with paddle tennis play. Mariner has in-line skating, rock climbing wall and a very nice 18 hole mini-golf course. CP's mini-golf is ridiculously tiny and a waste of space. My husband used the golf simulator on both ships and like the CP best with a newer and different technology. There are more deck chairs on the sports deck on this ship.
Many reviewers comment that the entertainment venues are too small, and I agree. We had to get to the theatre almost an hour early to get a seat for the shows. Ditto for shows in the Explorer Lounge. Bert Stratton's popularity makes Crooner's packed an hour early and people crowd the entire area and it's hard to walk through there. I found the ship difficult to navigate and it took me the entire week to find my way around. I didn't like the Lido deck opening into a small hall of cabins. If you were coming through there with food, you had to be careful. I did, however, like the atrium library with comfortable leather chairs and ocean views. Mariner's is enclosed and on 2 levels, which I don't like. There are more places to enjoy the ocean on the CP, in my opinion. Both have dull Internet Cafes, but the satellite worked far better on this ship and AOL didn't malfunction badly. Also, they had a person helping others in there.The coffee bar in atrium was a pleasant place to sit in the morning. I don't think anything can match the Promenade on the Mariner with the shops, bars (including our favorite, Vintages Wine bar) and parades. We loved hanging out there watching people, sipping wine, listening to music, etc. However, and this is a HUGE thing for me, the CP allows no smoking in areas where public must pass. That means no smoking in Crooner's or the atrium. The ship doesn't have the disgusting side stream stench that you encounter on the Mariner. You'd think with 14 bars that RC could have a smoke free Promenade, especially with all the children who enjoy it. It simply ruins the wine bar experience. This is one cruise where I came home breathing freely where I've had bronchitis in the past. Princess scores +5 on controlling the smoke.
I don't use spas, but am a serious athlete who
expects a first rate gym. The CP was not perfect, but it was adequate. First, it
was almost always too warm, as was the Mariner. All the aerobic machines were in
a single line under the windows, which made it hotter. Mariner had them
staggered in three rows with bikes on the side. The weight machines were
directly behind the other machines which made it crowded at times with people
going all ways. Mariner's had a separate area and more machines. Though busy, I
always found a machine. During port days, the gym was nearly empty. They offered
seminars which were the same bull on RC- detox, etc. which is such a crock. If
all those people would get out of the algae wraps and onto a treadmill, they'd
be better off! One thing I loved on CP was that each aerobic machine had it's
own monitor and they showed the same TV programs that were on in the room. At
any time, you could watch news, sports, movies, cartoons or listen to music.
VERY nice. They would loan headsets at the desk, but I'd recommend bringing your
own as theirs were plastic and not comfortable. They had Cybex equipment which
was in good shape. I only saw one machine broken, and it was fixed quickly. They
had a new "Arc" trainer which was splendid for people with knee problems. I saw
the 2 fitness instructors doing seminars and selling services, but never saw
anyone instructing people on machines , helping them with adjustments, or
checking on the health of those there. Same for RC. Someone could really get
hurt, this should be addressed.
Without a doubt, RC has far better entertainment hands down. We saw "Piano Man" and "Caribbean Caliente" in the theatre. The first was a collection of songs by famous pianists. Only one female singer was up to par. The males couldn't sing in Billy Joel's or Elton John's keys. They changed the songs to fit their voices, which was lame. Costumes were good, but dancers were weak. Very amateurish. Also, they used much pre-recorded music in the performances. The orchestra, while small, was good and we really enjoyed dancing to them when they performed in the lounges. Kudos to Gretchen Marks, an outstanding saxophone player from Chicago. She can really belt out a tune. We saw her last year on the Voyager; Princess is lucky to have her. In the Wheelhouse Lounge the Elua duo provided half the music. They were okay, but they used all midi tracks. The other group, Jean Mac quartet, was simply spectacular. I'm a professional musician, and I can honestly say that George, the pianist, is one of the best I've ever heard. Eugene, the drummer and Robert, the upright bassist were awesome. Jean is a soulful singer with a low, lush voice who can sing anything well. Plus, they take requests and are impossible to stump. We danced till our legs gave out here! There was a young dance band from Britain, 5th Element, in Explorer's Lounge. They were pretty typical and did the theme stuff, plus generic dance tunes. They were enthusiastic, which was cute. The other dance nights were covered by Epithini, who also played by the pool. These guys were excellent! I wish I'd had more time to enjoy them; I stayed out of the sun a lot. Michael played tunes in the atrium and was enjoyable and very personable. The ever popular pianist/singer Bert Stratton was way over the top for us. We like to sit around the piano and sing as well as do the crazy stuff. Bert sings at you, not with you. Plus, he's so hyper he reminds me of Neil Sedaka on speed. The crowd loves him, though. Having another pianist in Crooner's with a different style and at earlier times would be nice. At Princess Cays, the entertainers were terrible. One was a keyboard player who sang (badly) and at another venue was a bad guitarist who sang even more pitifully. While waiting for shows to begin (sometimes an hour) there is no music or anything. RC has comics, jugglers, etc who keep you having fun while you wait. This is where CP really needs improvement. One fun event was the cooking demo with the robust Italian chef and the diminutive maitre d'. They were a hoot- it was informative yet hysterical. We had a tour of the galley afterwards where at least 20 people kept pushing people to buy cookbooks. We played trivia three times and won twice. They have daily games; often two. We never played bingo or used the smoky casino. The cigar bar by the theatre made parts of the theatre smell badly. Bad design here. The Mariner had a wild and crazy Quest game for adults which was a ball. It also had a spectacular ice show as well as a 50's-60's party and dance contest. Idol contests were a huge production on RC; much more professional. The ice skating rink made a huge venue for other shows and dances, which Princess could have used.
I thought both were comparable. Some things very good, some so-so. The breakfast buffet was better on CP with more choices and fresh, not canned, salsa. RC uses hard tater tots or greasy patties where CP had potato pancakes and other varieties. The buffet is cramped and crazy on CP- really bad design. We had dinner there twice and enjoyed it. I think the salad bar also has more choices, though they had no non-fat dressings. The late night buffet had huge shrimp and scallop skewers which were great. We used personal choice in dining room and really liked it. We showed up between 530 or 6 and requested a large table. We made many friends this way and it was something we would definitely do again. We were always seated immediately and service was always excellent. Pizza was a little soggy on the deck. Popcorn at MUTS was yummy. We didn't try Sabatini's or Sterling's- we were trying to lose a couple pounds this week and succeeded.
We don't care that much about where we go. I loved having two sea days at the beginning, even though the second was rough and we had up to 18 ft seas! We stayed on the ship in St. Thomas. If we were to go ashore, it would be to ferry to St. John. In St Maarten, we took a 35 min cab to Marigot (terrible traffic both ways) and caught the ferry to Anguilla, which I had never seen. It was a very rough ride and the waters were rough there as well. I wanted to swim, but we spent the day walking Shoal Bay and then having a delicious lunch at a beach restaurant. We had a friendly cab driver who gave us a tour of the island with a short history lesson. The people on the island were very friendly and gracious and the island, while not lush, was unspoiled and the beach with it's natural vegetation and turquoise water, was lovely. Very relaxing day. Give yourselves at least sixty or seventy five minutes from ship to shore. The day at Princess Cays was perfect. The water was calm and it was easy to swim a mile at the cove at the far right of the tender. The beach barbecue was a bit crowded and not very good, especially for non-meat eaters. However, they had cold drinking water all over and there was a paved walking trail to most of the spots. RC's island, Coco Cay, has nice beaches and more shade, but it's sand walking only. The snorkeling there isn't much, where this place had a good reef and many kinds of coral. RC's other private place, Labadee, on the tip of Haiti, has murky water with seaweed, no coral and no fish. They do have better island entertainment, however.
The crowd on the ship was the same as RC in January; lots of older people, few children or teens. We talked to many veteran cruisers who had sailed other Princess ships and many had negative comments about service and entertainment. I had no negative experiences with service, I loved the staff. They were a bit pushy with the drinks, pictures and selling services. The CB was a little calmer than RC- no singing waiters, Quest, sexy leg contests or horse racing. Champagne waterfall was festive, but it was also too crowded as was the Captain's party. Cruise director James Lay was very good and funny. He did an excellent job. Some people really don't like the big ships for the same reason that I love them. I get lots of exercise walking and doing stairs. There are many, many activities and no way to do all you want. There always seemed to be chairs on some deck, maybe not by the pool but somewhere. I would cruise with Princess again, though our next cruise will be RC's Freedom.
We had blue tags and were off rather late. However, it was a beautiful day so we sat on the pool deck and had a drink (cash bar) and chilled out. We were pushed out of there, crowded again, into the customs area where we sailed smoothly and quickly through. Once in the luggage area, it was a zoo. Huge room with luggage everywhere; ours was not even together. On Mariner, we had airport-style kiosks in separate rooms for tag colors, very organized. FLL airport was crowded with passengers and has really bad food choices. Miami isn't much better. Orlando and Tampa are my favorite by far. Easy flights home and great memories, once again.
Feel free to ask questions at LLindaC@aol.com