Occupation:Public Health Advisor
Number of Cruises: 5
Cruise Line: Princess
Ship: Caribbean Princess
Sailing Date: June 11, 2006
Itinerary: Western Caribbean
This cruise was planned for 12 girls who graduated from high school 2 weeks earlier, 11 of their parents (all 40ish-50ish), and 2 older siblings (ages 20 and 21) (see picture of the kids). We had a total of 25 in our group (see group picture).
Getting There: The Caribbean Princess sails from Ft. Lauderdale. We live outside of Atlanta, so we chartered a bus to drive us all down. That was great because we didn’t have to worry about luggage weight restrictions, nor did we have to worry about our flight getting cancelled, etc. As we learned from another family on the ship, they will not wait for you if your flight has problems, unless you book an air/cruise package through Princess. When you read recommendations to fly to the city of departure the day before you sail, it’s very good advice! If the ship sails without you, you will have to pay for a hotel room in Ft Lauderdale, a flight to the first port, and a hotel room there. VERY expensive on top of what you already paid for the cruise! We left Atlanta at 11:00 pm Friday night, drove over night, stopped for breakfast, and arrived at the port at about 10:30 am.
Embarkation: We gave all our luggage to several porters and proceeded into the terminal to wait. They began the boarding process at about 12 noon and we were in the third group. It went fairly quickly, although there was some confusion because the girls were 4 to a room and needed their charges billed to 4 separate credit cards. We also discovered that it wasn’t enough to just register the card you wanted everything charged to online, in advance, like some of the girls did who didn’t have parents traveling with them. You actually had to physically have the credit card with you when you checked in. We worked it all out with minimal difficulty and were on the ship fairly quickly (considering we were “herding” 25 people!). Upon entering the ship, we were all amazed by its beauty. It is very elegant and is kept very clean.
Food: The food was generally good, but not great. My husband and daughter (age 18) both thought the food on Carnival was better. The soups (especially the mushroom and minestrone soups) were the best thing on the menu! We chose late traditional seating (8:15 pm) since we had so many people to coordinate and it’s impossible to get 12 teenaged girls ready for dinner much earlier than that, especially when they are 4 to a bathroom! We absolutely LOVED our waiters and their assistants (Jsus, Olsen, and Adrien). The problem with late traditional seating was that, by the time we got done with a leisurely 5 course meal, we couldn’t get seats in the theater, lounges, or Movies Under the Stars. It made taking advantage of the evening activities VERY difficult. One night, we decided to do “anytime dining” in the Coral Dining room to try and solve the problem, at least for one night. We couldn’t make a reservation because it would nullify our standing traditional late seating reservation (a definite flaw in the system), so we had to just go and wait. The girls/siblings didn’t go with us, so there were 11 of us. They said it would be about a 30 minute wait and we would have to sit at 2 tables. A large table actually opened up right away and we all got to sit together and only waited about 10 minutes. We did get done with dinner earlier, but really missed our regular waiter and the special service we had become accustomed to. In the future, it might be better to take advantage of anytime dining, but make a standing reservation for the same table, just a little earlier than 8:15. We all really enjoyed getting to know our wait staff and establishing a relationship with them.
Keep in mind that the chefs on this ship are very accommodating. If you want something you don’t see, ask for it. Many times, they can comply. There were nights when some of the girls didn’t see anything they liked on the menu, so they ordered spaghetti and meatballs. On Italian night, there wasn’t any cannoli on the menu. My friend mentioned this to the Pastry Chef on the tour of the galley and he said they would have made it for her if she had asked. We didn’t know!!
The sail away seafood buffet in the Horizon Court was fantastic -- all you can eat lobster claws, boiled shrimp, and Alaskan king crab legs. The crab legs were the best.
If you drink soft drinks, I definitely recommend you buy a “Coke Card.” There are plenty of tables set up to sell them when you get on the ship (you can’t miss them!). The card costs $31.80 for the week and gets you unlimited soft drinks (except can’t be used on Princess Cays – another flaw in the system). This is a bargain for most when you add up soft drinks at $1.50 + 15% gratuity per soft drink. Gratuity is included in the $31.80. We never had any trouble getting a soft drink from the waiters who are constantly checking with you at the pool to see if you need a drink. The only free drinks on the ship are unsweetened ice tea, coffee, and water (not bottled). At breakfast, you can also get milk and juice free. I recommend that you bring a big insulated mug. You can get water with lemon or lime from the bars/waiters to sip on all day at the pool.
Many of us had the pizza throughout the week and it is quite good, as others have stated. It made a great quick lunch at the pool or a snack between lunch and late dinner.
The room service menu is limited but is free and available 24 hours/day. My son ordered a club sandwich one day and it came within 15-20 minutes and was good, not great. Surprisingly, the fries that came with it were hot and tasty.
I never did find the free ice cream that is supposedly available in the Horizon Court in the late afternoons. Ice cream is available every night on the dessert menu in the dining room and several of our group purchased ice cream from Scoops (very reasonably priced) and said it was good. You can also purchase an “ice cream card” (similar to the Coke card) for $17.50 (I think) for unlimited ice cream from Scoops for the week. None of us purchased it, so I don’t really know how it worked.
For breakfast, we always had the Horizon Court buffet and it was more than sufficient. Scrambled eggs – either plain or with stuff in them, omelets cooked to order, fried eggs – perfectly cooked over easy, smoked salmon and other meats, bacon/sausage, cantaloupe, honey dew, watermelon, papaya, oatmeal, grits, cold cereal, Danish, bagels, English muffins, etc., etc. Coffee lovers beware - the coffee is terrible!!!
I went to Afternoon Tea one day and it was wonderful! Tea was great and scones were to die for!!! Definitely try it if you like tea.
We did not try Sabitinis or the Sterling Steakhouse.
Navigating the Ship: It’s true that all the elevators don’t go to all the floors, but we learned quickly how to navigate to the areas we went most frequently and didn’t have any trouble getting around the ship (I was a little worried about this from all the reviews I read before we went). There are little maps at each of the elevators that are pretty self-explanatory.
Ports: St Thomas – Shopping was good. We bought our daughter a pink sapphire ring for her 18th birthday at Nita’s Jewelry (recommended in another review). I haven’t had the ring appraised here yet, but did feel like we got a good deal and the service was excellent. It’s a small, family owned shop and isn’t on the cruise ship’s “recommended list” (which I don’t really trust since I believe the ship gets kickbacks from those stores). We also took a cab over to Magen’s Bay, supposedly one of the top 10 beaches in the world. We were not impressed at all. It looked like a state park and wasn’t what I would consider one of the best beaches in the world. We did get a deal from the cab driver at the port. We arranged, up front, to be taken to the shopping area and then be picked up and taken to Magen’s Bay, and then be taken back to the ship. He didn’t charge us for taking us into town. Also, the vehicle was big enough for all 25 of us to go together, so that was a plus.
St Maarten – We loved St Maarten! Shopping here was also good. We stayed on the Dutch side since it was a little pricey for us all to go over to the French side (which I would have like to have seen). We loved the fact that we could lay on the beach and shop all in the same place (they are right next to each other). The main shopping street is so quaint! We took the water taxi to the downtown area (second stop), which was a bargain at $5 per person round trip. When we got off the water taxi, we went to the left to find chairs on the beach together. As we walked, many locals came up to us trying to “give us a deal” on beach chairs/umbrellas. We found that friendly competition worked in our favor. We needed 25 beach chairs and managed to get them for $3 each for the day (saying, “Well that guy over there will give them to us for $3.50 each. If you will give them to us for $3, we’ll take them from you.”). They also made water trampolines, jet skis, and parasailing available to us, each for a fee. Drinks were also available right behind where we were sitting, at a number of beach bars.
Princess Cays – You have to go to the Princess Theater and wait to catch a ship’s tender over to Princess Cays. We went around 10:00 a.m. and only waited about 15 minutes for our row to be called. We loved Princess Cays! It is an absolutely beautiful island – great beach, gorgeous blue-green water. They had plenty of beach chairs and we loved just having a relaxing day on the beach. I also liked the little shops for straw bags and local jewelry. HINT: If you walk outside the Princess Cays area (straight ahead to the “Exit” as you get off the tender), there are a bunch of little local stands, almost like a flea market. They have great prices and a wonderful steel drum band is playing while you walk around and shop. It’s called the “Craft Centre.” You must have your cruise card to get in and out of this area. NOTE: Some places on Princess Cays only take your cruise card and some only take cash, so do make sure you take some cash with you, although don’t leave it in your beach bag when you go to lunch. We made the mistake of doing that and had some money taken from our bag while we were eating. The buffet is OK and plentiful – grilled chicken breasts, salad, hot dogs, bratwurst, hamburgers, ribs, corn on the cob, desserts, tea/water, etc. It closes at 1:00 p.m., so watch your time. The lines got long around 12:00, but there are 4 of them (at least), so they moved quickly. There are plenty of covered picnic tables to eat at. We rented the floats for $8/day and that was great – floating in the beautiful, Caribbean water all day – heaven! The girls did the Banana Boat ride but said it was boring. The boat pulling it seemed small and I don’t think it could go very fast to give a fun ride (like teenagers like!). Several in our group rented snorkel equipment and snorkeled right off the beach. They said the fish were plentiful and beautiful. This is a great option if you don’t like snorkeling in deep water. We went back to the ship on one of the last tenders, anxious to make the most of a beautiful day.
Dress Codes: On the two formal nights, we did dress in formals/tuxes, but any nice dress and a suit/tie are also fine. The other nights, casual dresses or skirts for the women and casual slacks and an open neck, collared shirt for the men were pretty much the norm. They do enforce the dress code of no shorts in the dining room for men. If you prefer to dress more casually for dinner, you can always go to the buffet. It’s great that there are options for everyone. During the day, all you really need is a bathing suit and cover up, both on the ship and in port.
Entertainment: In general, we thought the entertainment was mediocre. The Princess singers and dancers were not very good. I didn’t see the magician, but some of our friends did and said he was excellent. We all went to the comedy hypnosis show. My husband, son, daughter, and several of the girls in our group were hypnotized and it was hysterical! We went back for the second show and several more of our group were in the show. It was great!! Bert Stratton was as good as everyone says. He reminded me of Jim Carey in terms of his animation, facial expressions, etc. He is VERY talented! The only problem is that his show lends itself to a small lounge and there are not enough seats for all who want to take in the show. We never did get seats to see a whole show – just stood in the back for parts of a couple of shows. He is worth the effort to get seats, if you can!!!
Stateroom: Most of us had inside cabins. The girls had 3 cabins, 4 girls to a cabin. Needless to say, it was tight and they blew fuses all trying to get ready at the same time, but they managed. My son, husband, and I shared a triple inside cabin – R712. It was small but adequate. The shower is very small, as others have mentioned (only a problem if you drop the soap!). Storage is fairly plentiful for the size of the room. We were near the back of the ship and did feel quite a bit of the ship’s movement, but it didn’t cause us any problems. Beds were much more comfortable once we got the egg crate mattress cover we requested. You can also ask for feather pillows which were much more comfortable than the foam ones that are in the room when you arrive. We used the free in-room safe for all our cash which we definitely recommend. The kids talked to a man who had $1100 taken from his room which he didn’t have in the safe. We registered our preferences on-line before we sailed and I requested a robe in my room (and in my daughter’s room). Neither of us had a robe when we checked in and had to request one. That was rather annoying. Our biggest complaint is what sounded like roller skating elephants over our head off and on 24 hours a day. We think it was one of the kitchens that serve the restaurants on the Lido Deck above us and it kept us awake every night – VERY annoying! Our friends who had rooms on lower decks said it was very quiet. Our steward was the biggest disappointment of the trip. From all the reviews I had read before we went, I was expecting excellent service from our room steward. He left wet, used towels in the room the first night when he serviced the room while we were at dinner. Frequently, he forgot to leave beach towels in the room (which you need to take off the boat when you’re in port). I had asked for some extra pillows and although he did bring them, one night, one of them disappeared (very strange!). One night, I tried to page him, according to the instructions on a card in our room and he never responded. Everyone else in our party seemed very happy with their stateroom steward. We did not reduce his tip, but not leave him any extra as we did for the wait staff in the dining room.
Recommendations: (1) Take an extension cord and power strip. You can only plug a razor in in the bathroom and there are only two outlets in the room, so a power strip and extension cord came in very handy; (2) Take a little plastic basket (approx. 5” x 6”) to put on the desk for each person in the room to throw miscellaneous things in (e.g., cruise card, sunglasses, change, jewelry, etc.); (3) Take a shoe organizer that hangs on the back of a door (the kind with clear plastic pockets) to hang on the inside of the bathroom door. This can be used to store all kinds of bathroom stuff and other items in very little space; (4) Take a narrow organizer that hangs in the closet that can be used to store purses and shoes; (5) TAKE A TRAVEL ALARM. There are no clocks in the rooms; (6) Request an egg crate mattress cover and feather pillows as soon as you see your steward the first time (the earlier the better – they run out of these!).
The Ship and Miscellaneous Stuff: There were two formal nights on which the photographers were set up to take pictures. They had 10 different photography stations set up, each with a different background. Go around and look at the different backgrounds to decide which you prefer before standing in line. Because there are 10 stations, none of the lines were very long. Many of the formal pictures our group took were wonderful.
There are some nice deck chairs on Deck 7 that are shaded and are great for a quiet place to read or nap on days at sea. Deck 7 is also the walking track (2.7 laps=1 mile). There is also a jogging track on Deck 16.
We did not go to the casino, except to walk through it to get elsewhere. I found it WAY too smoky for comfort. They really need a stronger ventilation system in there.
We always wanted to sit together up on the deck around the Neptune Pool on days at sea. By 9:00 a.m., several of us would go put towels and beach bags on 12 chairs together and the girls would do the same. Usually someone in our group was actually sitting in one of the chairs by around 9:15. We found it easier to get chairs together on the sun deck above and around the Neptune Pool area. We had a great breeze up there and could still access the pool easily and watch any activities that interested us during the day. We really enjoyed the ship’s band Oasis that played at the Neptune Pool periodically during the day.
We loved the Movies Under the Stars (MUTS) concept, but because of our late dinner seating, could only take in one movie and that was at midnight. It is a GREAT concept for entertainment on the ship, if you like movies. Something is always playing, from early in the morning until usually after midnight. Some of the movies shown throughout the week were Calendar Girls, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, War of the Worlds, Rumor Has It, Splash, Finding Nemo, Spider Man 2, Jurassic Park, Titanic (a HUGE surprise! I can’t imagine what they were thinking!!), Monsters Inc., Old School, The Princess Bride, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Memoirs of a Geisha, When a Stranger Calls, Ice Age, Phantom of the Opera, The Greatest Game Ever Played, E.T., Eight Below, Ray, Herbie Fully Loaded, Back to the Future, Finding Neverland, National Treasure, and Failure to Launch. They also showed the NBA Finals on the MUTS screen several nights.
I only had one cocktail, but my husband had some during the week and said they were more reasonably priced than he expected. They serve cocktails in 3 sizes and the large is definitely the best bargain. He loved the Ultimate Mai Tai and said the Strawberry Daiquiri tasted like cardboard. To get a better deal, tell them you don’t want the souvenir glass.
We brought some Atlanta Braves and Falcons hats with us and gave them to our daughter’s steward and the waiters who served our three tables and they were SO appreciative! If you can bring hats, t-shirts, trinkets, etc. from home, the staff really appreciate these small tokens of personal appreciation!!!
I highly recommend bringing a lanyard with you (or you can buy them in the gift shop) and having the Passenger Services desk punch a hole in your cruise card to wear around your neck. This DEFINITELY helped us keep track of our cards.
Disembarkation: Disembarking is by colored tag, based on where your cabin is. Since we had a large group with staterooms on different floors, we couldn’t all disembark together. We had white which was called first after the groups who had early flights, so we got off pretty quickly. Getting through customs was quick and easy and we found our luggage easily. It probably took an hour for all our different colors to be called. We were pulling out of the parking lot to head home on our chartered bus by 10:30 a.m.
Overall Impression: We loved this cruise. In general, the Caribbean Princess is a beautiful ship with great staff, good food, and plenty to do (or nothing to do!). We loved our days at sea, just lying by the pool, relaxing. A lot of people prefer a smaller ship but we love the mega ships – I don’t think you feel the ship’s motion as much and there are usually more amenities/activities. We really enjoyed being together, as a group, both the girls and the parents. I really think cruising as a group is more fun than without a group. We will definitely try to organize a group again!
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