Number of Cruises: First one!
Cruise Line: Princess
Ship: Caribbean Princess
Sailing Date: April 22, 2006
Itinerary: Eastern Caribbean
As first time cruisers we really didn't know what to expect and so we were a bit more timid than I think we would be in future. For example, we booked transfers with the cruise line to and from the airport - we ended up having to wait quite a while at the airport in both directions. The port is not far from the airport in Ft. Lauderdale and you could easily manage it on your own via cab. Embarkation was far easier and faster than I ever thought, save for the people who can't follow instructions (have your passport out and fill-in the forms Princess sends you in advance!!!).
We had an interior stateroom but have absolutely no complaints about the size of the room or its amenities (the shower is a bit snug but, after all, it is a cruise ship!). There was a large closet, a free safe and enough room under the bed to store our suitcases. We were on the Baja Deck (11) in room B203 at the very front of the ship. It was a little rocky but the worst part was that the crew quarters were immediately in front of us and we could hear them at night. We heard the middle of the boat is much better. Check the deck plan when booking your room - don't end up above Club Fusion (it is noisy all night) and the Lido deck between the elevator and the deck doors is a high-traffic/high noise area as well. Also: watch out a lot of the balconies are tiered and are visible from the ones above - no privacy.
Princess is renowned for its food and with good reason. The buffet is a bit repetitive but don't go on a cruise to eat at the buffet! We had anytime dining - which we loved b/c we could have our own schedule. The Coral dining room staff was top notch (better than the Palm)so ask for Alice from Romania if you can. Also we finally figured out that Cafe Caribe serves leftovers from the formal dining room (including the crab legs and lobster tails, don't miss the sushi buffet too!)Room service menu is slightly limited but it is free 24/7. My husband liked the hot dogs from the grill - I also liked the grilled chicken and pizza they had. My husband bought a coke card and for $31 he got unlimited pop for the week. I packed a large water bottle and a bunch of crystal light singles and made my own drinks. The only free beverages are iced tea (not sweet), tea, coffee and water. At breakfast you can also get milk and juice but the cranberry "juice" is just sugar water. If you are buying alcohol - tell them you don't want the souvenier glass and you can save a few bucks. Also, cocktails are cheapest when purchased in the casino. There will be daily freebies near the main pool area in the afternoon - watch because these aren't mentioned anywhere (some afternoons is free ice cream, free rum punch during sailaway party).
This is a big ship. We were on a full sailing - yet we never had problems finding a quiet corner or lounge chair but we did have to wait quite a while for the elevator. We started going to the Lotus pool at about 8:30pm each night - no one there at all! We heard from others that the atrium on this ship does not compare to much more impressive architecture on other ships but we had nothing to compare it to and no complaints. There are some really neat parts to this ship: don't miss the skywalker's night club or mini golf at the back of the ship!
Here I must say we were disappointed. The ensemble production shows have great costumes and stage sets but the singing was horribly off-key and the writing was very cheesy. We saw two comedians on our ship the second one, a guy from BET, was hilarious and worth seeing. The first comedian, Chris something, was very racist. I mean the show starts off with the cruise director talking about how international the crew is and then this comedian comes on and has the same old stereotype jokes - no wit required (ie. chinese can't say R, Mexicans can only sell chicklets, etc.) we, along with all the guests belonging to a visible minority, walked out early. The Princess theatre is not sufficiently sized for the number of people on this ship - its a good thing the shows are so bad most people don't bother to go to the ones later in the week. If you are a theater goer then go early. The movies under the stars is a great idea and we enjoyed several films while onboard.
I had 2 massages ($109/each + tip) and bought the thermal sanctuary pass ($70/week). My massage therapist Anne was fabulous. I had the full-body swedish massage and loved it! I had the first one the first night on the ship - the spa was basically empty and it was a wonderful start to our trip. The next massage was in the morning on my birthday. The massage was still great but the massage room was immediately below the jogging track - the banging on the ceiling from other people's footfalls was distracting and not relaxing at all - book your massages at night when no one is jogging. The thermal sanctuary was worth every penny but stay on the staff - if the aroma room doesnt smell then they've forgotten to change the scent, if the hot stone loungers look like they need wiping down then tell the staff and they will. Don't miss the fruit-infused spa water it is free and very refreshing. Don't worry the sauna is not supposed to have hot air -the seats are hot - a very neat idea. If you are at all interested in the spa then don't be afraid to ask for a tour - I asked about the mud room before booking and was VERY glad I had as I otherwise would have been disappointed.
Ship board personalities
Our cruise director was annoying but by not staying near the main pool you can avoid the silly games (Survivor, King of the Caribbean etc) if you want. They have this shopping guru who has her own show on the ship's TV. She is a little scary but don't worry, once you've passed the shopping "Mecca" (no lie, that's how they describe it - never mind the religious insensitivity) of Saint Maarten she disappears.
Our cabin steward Steilan was polite, efficient and helpful.
We absolutely loved St. Thomas. We got up early and walked into town (40 min) where everything was just opening up - we had a nice look around and returned to the ship by lunch. In the afternoon my husband went on the discover scuba excursion to Coki Beach. ($89). I went along for the ride ($25). The beach was beautiful and my husband loved the SCUBA so much he intends to get his certification this winter. Well worth every penny. Remember to bring cash on excursions for tips as they cannot be added to your ship account! Traffic on this island can get pretty backed up so be sure to leave lots of time for return to the ship.
St. Maarten was a huge disappointment. The port area is dirty and under construction and the walk to the shopping area is dirty and difficult. We were taken in by an unscrupulous timeshare scam (watch out for the green 'scratch' tickets) first thing. There were a lot of buskers on the street who were accosting people trying to get them to buy things. I found this port to be too busy and with too many people trying to sell stuff. If you are not a super-interested shopper then you are better off hopping on a cab and going to a beach on this island. We did go to the Yoda Guy gallery on Front St and bought a lithograph - a must-see for any Star Wars fan!
Princess Cays was a wonderful day. We hung out at South beach. We had water socks (waterproof shoes with a sole) which made the day - the beach is mostly sharp coral and bare feet = pain. We rented a float which was worth the $8. We couldn't get a cabana but it turns out it wasn't needed as there is plenty of other shade. You can charge most stuff to the ship board account here but the coke cards don't work. I thought this was a major gouge by Princess and was unacceptable. They own the island and they sold my husband an unlimited coke pass for $31 - why can't they honour that on Princess Cays? I went snorkeling here and saw some HUGE fish.
WOW. Princess really exceeded my expectations here. We waited in the Princess theatre in total comfort watching CNN. We were paged to proceed to the gangway at about 9:30 and were on the coach on the other side of customs with our luggage by 10:00. We were at the airport by 10:30. All of our luggage was where it was supposed to be, it was easy to find and there was plenty of help on hand if needed. Even the customs folks were pleasant!
My parents have cruised extensively with Princess and insisted we go with them. While I enjoyed the trip I did not feel like the service was 'over the top'. Some people on the ship told us that the service used to be better before Carnival bought the line. Again - it wasn't bad, it just wasn't what we had been told to expect. I would not be opposed to trying Princess again in future but they haven't captured my undying loyalty.