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J.K. Ripley

Age: 31 to 40

Occupation:Airline customer service agent

Number of Cruises: 3 to 5

Cruise Line: Princess

Ship: Dawn Princess

Sailing Date: n/a

Itinerary: Southern Caribbean Voyager

Background:   This was my fourth cruise.  I have previously cruised with Carnival and twice with Celebrity.  I am an airline employee and I booked through an interline travel agency about one month prior to sailing.

Embarkation:   We flew nonstop between Atlanta and San Juan.  I had not affixed the Princess luggage labels to my baggage as I wanted to see them at the airport in Puerto Rico.  San Juan Airport was quite chaotic since Saturday afternoon is a peak arrival time.  We bought a taxi voucher from the booth outside of baggage claim and proceeded to the ship.  We arrived at the ship at about 3:30 p.m. and there were about 20 people in line for check-in.  We left our luggage in a corner beside the x-ray machine hoping that we would see it again.  The check-in process took less than five minutes.  Once on board we were led to our cabin.  We waited nearly five hours for the last of our bags to show up.  We were later told that baggage left at the check-in desk was the last to be delivered to the room.  It would have been much easier to have attached the Princess luggage tags and not dealt with the baggage at the airport.

Cabin:   Our cabin was a small, inside twin cabin, D333 on the Dolphin deck.  As I had booked through an interline agency I had no choice as to the exact location, only inside or outside.  The location turned out to be ideal.  The pizzeria and casino were on the same deck and the large lounges were one deck down.  I would not have wanted to be any closer to the bow of the ship, though, as the ship's movement was more apparent the further forward one went.  The cabin could have been converted into a queen bed configuration if we had desired.  There was a mini-fridge, TV, very good lighting, and adequate drawer and closet space.  The bathroom was very small but the shower had good water pressure.  I liked how the mini-fridge was not a mini-bar.  It was empty and could be used immediately for our own beverages.  We had purchased the "Special Occasions" package and the bottle of Moet et Chandon Champagne was waiting in an ice bucket.  This package was an excellent value.  For $79 we received the welcome Champagne, full breakfast with a bottle of Korbel sparkling wine one morning, hors d'oeuvres one evening, and a framed portrait.  The portrait alone would have been about $45 and the first bottle of Champagne $36.  Our Filipino steward kept the room spotless and we saw him only three times ... outside of our room waiting when we were late going to dinner! There are complimentary washers and dryers on most decks (bring your own detergent or buy some from the machine).

Ship:  The Dawn Princess is a very large ship (77,000 tons).  Since the public rooms are spread over six decks it took nearly a full day to find our way around.  At first I thought that having the lounges, restaurants, and spas in so many different places was poor planning.  I later realized that this made the ship always feel uncrowded.  Although the ship was booked at or near capacity (2000 people) it never felt full.  The Sun, Lido, and Riviera decks are especially well-designed.  Scattered around these decks are four pools and five whirlpool spas.  We never had any problem finding a well-located deck chair, whether in the sun or the shade.  My favorite was the freshwater pool in the aft of the Riviera deck.  It was flanked by spas and away from the bustle of the central pools.

     There are two main lounges, the Princess Theater and the Vista Lounge.  The theater was set up with tiered cinema seating facing a large stage.  The lack of tables here meant that one could enjoy the show without having to look around  cocktail waitresses.  The large production routines were performed here as well as recently released movies.  We felt the most motion in this room, though.  One evening after the show I felt like I was waiting to get off an airplane as it took 15 minutes to climb the stairs behind the elderly people barely keeping their balance.  The Chinese acrobat troupe nearly landed in my lap on the front row as their human pyramid was not designed for the motion.  The Vista Lounge was a more traditional setup with cocktail tables placed among the seats.  It was smaller than the theater so it was used more for comedians or individual performers.

     Jammer's Disco is well-designed but under utilized until late at night.  The Horizon Court is a very institutional looking cafeteria but with outstanding ocean views.  The Venetian and Florentine dining rooms are identical rooms which feel smaller than they are.  The Wheelhouse Bar is the nicest of the lounges but unfortunately it is full of "unwanted" auction artwork.

     The Salon and Health Spa is run by the cruise spa conglomerate, Steiner's.  I know why I have recently gotten good haircuts at home - all of the no-talent stylists are cutting and burning the hair of clients they will probably never see again in international waters.  One day Steiner's will actually train its workers to style hair.  Needless to say I was not happy with my haircut.  I got my hair cut on Celebrity's Century (in another Steiner's Salon, no less) on my last cruise and it was just as bad.  Adjacent to the Salon is a nice-sized, if underused gym and also an aerobics room.  I walked around the Promenade Deck six times (two miles) a day so I never felt compelled to use the gym.

     The casino is a nice size in the middle of the ship and has table games and slot machines (even a few nickel slots).  It was never crowded.  The croupiers were English. 

Clientele:   The ship made announcements only in English and usually just twice a day.  Probably half of the passengers were British.  There were no more than two dozen children on the entire ship even though there was a play center and video arcade.  The few Spanish and Italian passengers seemed to be bilingual.  The average age was 50+.  We are both 34 and we were definitely part of the younger crowd.

Food and Beverage Service:   The meal service was the disappointment of the cruise.  The Italian night dinner in the main dining room was memorable but the other meals were nothing special.  The wait staff is mostly Eastern European.  They aim to please but we often felt rushed.  We had a reservation for the late seating but after the first night we couldn't stand the smell of our tablemates (Americans, like us) so we changed to the early seating.  The cruise itinerary we took really did not accomodate such an early dinner time.  The food was poorly prepared and potatoes were used with nearly every entree including chicken and fish.  In a word - bland.  Since the Princess ships are now British registered I guess they don't want to go out on a limb with their cuisine.  It's sad when one eats meals off fine china with silver utensils that could have been prepared better in the kitchen at home.  The fine dining atmosphere and service was omnipresent but the food was of the meat and two vegetables quality.  Even worse were the buffets.  They should be called leftover tables because the lunch buffets always had the soup and entree that didn't quite go over the night before.  The cafeteria-line presentation reminded me of eating in a boisterous college dining hall.  Princess really needs to improve its cuisine.  One other thing I have read about over and over again is the ice cream.  Princess has contracted this out so it is not included in the fare.  This really stinks and I was glad that we never saw anyone buy a scoop the entire week.  Ice cream is free in the main dining rooms only.  Once we went to the dining room after eating the sushi buffet lunch (semi-sticky rice around mysterious vegetable tidbits ... hardly any fish at all) just to enjoy an ice cream dessert.  For those on a diet there is a different and tasty sorbet every evening on the dessert menu.  The best items on the menu are the appetizers.  The caviar and crab cakes are good.  The pizzeria had tasty pizzas but they could add some salads or vegetables to their menu.  It stayed open until 2:00 a.m.  The only room service we had was continental breakfast and then a full breakfast one morning as part of our package.  It always arrived exactly on time.

     The beverage service was good and very fairly priced.  Most cocktails were $3.95 plus 15% gratuity.  The wine menu prices were so inexpensive that I lamented lugging my four bottles of wine onto the ship.  The waiter would charge a $10 corkage fee if your wine was not on the ship's wine list.  Two of mine were but the other times we simply walked into the dining room with one glass each and no one seemed to mind.  We could always find a cocktail waiter walking around the pool decks but we were never overly solicited to purchase anything.  This relaxed attitude was most welcome.

Entertainment:   The production shows were all very good.  The dancing girls never failed to delight their ancient audience.  We never saw the comedians but we heard all week that they were awful.  The pianist in the Atrium Lounge had a very dry sense of humor but he was musically talented.  There were two other small musical groups playing in alternating lounges.  The artwork I talked of in the Wheelhouse Bar was part of Princess' never-ending art auction series.  Almost every day there was another one.  No one seemed to ever buy anything and the junk just cluttered up a good portion of the Promenade Deck.  In my opinion the art auctions need to go the same way as the fee-per-scoop ice cream stand ... overboard!

  We left San Juan about an hour late since we were waiting on late arrivals.  The first port was St.Thomas and since it is less than 80 miles away we still arrived on time.  St.Thomas is the cruise industry's favorite island and it is jaded.  The locals are pushy and everything is crowded.  Still, it has the infrastructure to halfway handle the large numbers of tourists.  We docked at Havensight which is about 1 1/2 miles from downtown adjacent to a slum.  Since we were there on a Sunday we were told the downtown shops would close at 1:30 p.m.  We had been there once before and found that there are no bargains so we took a cab to Magen's Bay Beach ($4 per person each way but since the driver conveniently didn't have change it cost $10 for the two of us).  The beach is very nice for sunning and swimming and it is safe for children.  After returning to the ship we shopped at Havensight which stayed open as long as the ship was there.  Duty-free liquor was the only thing cheaper than back home.

     On Monday we docked off of St.Kitts.  We wanted to take the Nevis Sailaway excursion but I had put off paying for it ($84 per person) as I thought it was too expensive.  When we decided to go for it, it was sold out.  We were put on a waiting list and the purser called us at 6:45 a.m. saying he had a cancellation! I thought the weather must have turned ugly so I ran outside to take a quick look and called him back to take him up on the offer after verifying that it was not raining.  This excursion was excellent! We tendered to the pier and then boarded a catamaran.  There were far more people on it than would have been allowed in the USA.  I was about to get set in the mood of being crammed onto a windy wet sailboat when things changed.  The crew was very friendly and waited on our every desire.  They served everyone a round of drinks (non-alcoholic) as we headed down the coast for a snorkeling stop.  There wasn't much to see in the water but the trip was just getting started.  The sails were raised and we whisked across the channel to Nevis.  During the crossing the crew served drinks again, this time whatever you wanted.  We pulled up onto a beach in Nevis to find no one except the caterers for our beach barbeque! The beach was probably two miles long and it was all ours.  The food was delicious and the atmosphere was festive.  On the way back to the ship the crew served more drinks and played island music and danced and talked with a very satisfied group of happy people.

     The next day we were in Martinique.  We did not book an excursion here.  We docked directly at the pier in downtown Fort-de-France so we just walked around a little.  Since taxis are $40 an hour I would suggest taking a shore excursion if you want to see the island.  Those that we talked to enjoyed the trip through the rain forest to St.Pierre.  We went to the fort at the harbor entrance and enjoyed looking around even though the guide's English was unintelligible.

     On Wednesday we docked at Isla Margarita, Venezuela.  The port is in the middle of nowhere.  We purchased the El Agua Beach excursion for $22 each.  The beach is about an hour from the ship and we only had about 1 1/2 hours to enjoy it.  The ship left shortly after 1:00 p.m. and Princess should either skip this stop or lengthen the stay.  Since there is nothing anywhere near the ship they should at least consider docking closer to the main town.  The beach was very beautiful but there were too many peddlers.

     Curacao was our favorite.  We docked right downtown.  Willemstad is picture-postcard pretty.  The Dutch architecture along with the bright pastel colors are unforgettable.  We took a snorkeling trip to a shallow wreck on the reef in the Underwater Marine Park.  This excursion was a great bargain at $29 per person.  The snorkeling sight was very crowded but there was so much to see that it didn't really detract from the experience.  Rum punch and soft drinks were served on the return ride to Willemstad.  We had time for lunch on board the Dawn Princess before walking around the center of the town.  As we pulled away that evening the Queen Emma Floating Bridge swung open and the locals stood on the quay and waved.  Even though Curacao is a popular port of call its residents are much, much friendlier than in St.Thomas.  Friday was spent at sea reflecting on the busy week we had enjoyed.

Disembarkation:   American Airlines and Delta Air Lines had representatives on board to arrange for advance check-in.  This was very convenient.  Since our flight didn't leave until mid-afternoon we booked an excursion to El Yunque rain forest.  We were one of the first groups off since we were on the tour.  The procedure took all of ten minutes.  Since we were already checked in for our flight we just dropped our luggage off at a truck with our airline's logo.  We had been given a sealed envelope earlier in the morning with the baggage tags.  We waited for about 30 minutes in the tour bus for a couple that never showed up but we still left at the time designated in the excursion brochure.  The rain forest was very interesting but about six hours were needed to see it and we tried to cover it in four.  After the tour the bus dropped us at the airport where we again saw a mass of humanity waiting for their flights.  I recognized a good many of the people and since they were half-asleep I'm sure they had sat around doing nothing for 4 1/2 hours.  If you have an afternoon flight don't just wait at the airport! Take a tour or walk around Old San Juan.

I would recommend this cruise for almost anyone.  The food is not so good but it would be easier for Princess to upgrade the food than change the ship! The shore excursions were all professionally handled.  The entertainment was good and embarkation was hassle-free.  I imagine that the ship is well-suited for children as well.  It has a large facility for them which was rarely used.  There was only one deck party with a buffet.  It was a nice tropical affair but the food, once again, was barely edible.  In spite of this I would not hesitate to take a Dawn Princess cruise again simply because of the ship design and lack of crowds.  The laid-back atmosphere made for an extremely relaxing, unobtrusive week of tropical vacation.

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