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Barbara Foster

Age: 41 to 50

Occupation:Librarian

Number of Cruises: 3 to 5

Cruise Line: Princess

Ship: Dawn Princess

Sailing Date: n/a

Itinerary: San Juan, At Sea, Barbados, St. Lucia, St. Kitts, St.


Background:
My husband and I are in our late 40's and now living in Minneapolis. This is our 4th cruise, our first on Princess. The other 3 were on RCI (Song of Norway, Monarch of the Seas, Sovereign of the Seas). We travel with another couple our age from California. We had taken our teenage daughter on the previous two cruises, but this time she stayed at college and we took our 13 year old twin boys (their first cruise).

We used Frequent Flyer miles from Delta to purchase our airline tickets to San Juan. We left Minneapolis at 5:50am and arrived in San Juan at 2:40pm. This is our first time making our own flight arrangements and we think it is the best way to go. Once at the SJ airport, we were able to bypass all the other Princess cruisers waiting for the bus, grabbed a cab to the ship ($20 and quite the exciting ride), and were at the pier at 3:10pm. Princess still handled our luggage. We arrived at check-in before the busload of people, walked right up to the counter, and were in our room on the Dawn Princess by 3:30pm. The phone rang almost immediately, it was our friends from California, so we met in the Grand Plaza in 5 minutes. 

Ship:
We thought the ship was beautiful, very well-cared for without any signs of wear, tastefully decorated and spotlessly clean. We had a difficult time all week knowing which direction we were headed on board, often making wrong turns, but that is because we were too lazy to put much effort into figuring it out. The ship does offer a couple tours to orient passengers, so we think perhaps getting lost or turned around is a common complaint. We did find that if you want to get from one end of the ship to the other, the best way is to go to the Promenade Deck (7) and walk outside - by far the easiest way to get to either the Theater or Lounge, and to the elevators both fore and aft. 

Stateroom:
This is our first time with a window and we enjoyed it immensely. We needed a quad room and there don't seem to be many available. There was adequate closet/drawer space for all our stuff with all the bags sliding under the beds. The room was certainly larger than RCI rooms and the shower larger. It was nicely decorated with a refrigerator to store Cokes and Island beer. The two upper beds are stored in the ceiling so during the day there is plenty of room to move around. The room steward would bring them down while we were at dinner. The only down side to this is that there weren't four beds for afternoon naps, something we could have used a couple days! We thought the tv was much too small - the shelf it sits on would certainly accommodate a 19 inch and I think the tv was only a 12 inch. Lying in bed the picture wasn't large enough. Our friends had an inside room with the bed made into a queen. They also thought the room much larger than before but after our week of describing what we viewed out our window, they have definitely decided to get at least a window room next time. Our stateroom steward, Ronald, was excellent. I don't think we are particularly messy but he kept our room spotless and always called us by name.

Food:
We thought Princess food, while beautifully presented, was bland and forgettable. There were several soups that were excellent, but the desserts were just very good and we missed not getting Key Lime Pie. Very few entrees made an impression, although all beef dishes came exactly as ordered (medium was medium; medium rare was medium rare, etc.) The wait staff were very accommodating, especially to our boys. The pasta was very good and the boys often had it as their entree. There was never a problem substituting a different sauce (e.g. tomato instead of mushroom). Most nights our waiters, Leo and Armando, would bring several extra desserts so that we could try everything. They were really outstanding, always having the boys' milk at the table and refilling it throughout dinner. After the first night they figured out which twin was which, calling them by name, and always giving Ryan chocolate milk and Alex white milk. Princess had two bottles of wine in each of our staterooms, which we chilled and brought to dinner on four separate nights, and we were never charged a corking fee. Our water glasses were always kept full and after dinner coffee served promptly.

At this point I would like to bring up a distressing situation we had in the dining room. A large family (14 adults, a boy about four and a girl about 2) were at the other two tables serviced by our waiters. After the first night, this family would come to dinner over the space of 1-1 1/2 hours. One couple arrived right at 6:15 each night, then the other 12 would drift in, some arriving as late as 7:50. You can imagine how difficult this was for our waiters who would have to play catch-up. Often our Head Waiter, Mario, would actually have to go to the kitchen to prepare their entrees (just because they arrived late didn't mean they didn't order EVERY course). The nights they had Bananas Flambe or Cherries Jubilee, the dessert items had been shut down so Mario would have to fire it up again just for this group. 

I am sure that on Royal Caribbean the dining room doors were closed 30 minutes after dinner started, to prevent this type of abuse of the wait staff by inconsiderate passengers. I think Princess should do the same. While I must admit our service was incredible the first 45 minutes of our meal (before the majority of the others came in), we often had to wait 15-20 minutes between entree and dessert while Leo and Armando hustled to wait on the others. The only real upside to this was that this family was quite loud and boisterous, so we had a nice, quiet meal to start. By the time we did receive our desserts, the noise level was so loud we were grateful to escape. However, I must also say that their two children were the best behaved I have ever encountered, certainly with better manners than the parents.

We didn't try the Pizzeria until Friday and were sorry we waited. It really is some of the best pizza and calzone we have ever had. Don't miss it! The outdoor grill food (hamburgers, grilled chicken, bratwurst, etc.) was fine both times we used it but the service was really bad, the only rude staff we encountered. We ate at the Horizon Court for breakfast and one lunch (most days we were in port so skipped lunch) and it was typical buffet food. This cruise is marketed heavily in Britain as a two-week trip and the food at the buffet reflected this - baked beans, English bacon, English sausages, etc. (we were told there were 800 British folk on board and it certainly seemed like it). 

Entertainment:
This is where we were really disappointed. Princess has horrible shows, a real disappointment. The magician, comedian, and jugglers we saw were fun and very good - the stage shows were boring and unimaginative. The final stage show was cancelled due to a dancer being injured - we were lucky (according to those who had seen it the night before) and got to see "The Sixth Sense" instead. 

There were several other movies shown in the Princess Theater including "Notting Hill", "Arlington Road", and "The Thomas Crown Affair." They were usually on at 3pm or 10:45pm, not really convenient times. And they did not show these movies in the staterooms, which I am sure RCI did. There were other movies shown in the rooms, older ones like "You've Got Mail", "The Haunting", etc. 

The string quartet in the lobby before dinner was great. The different lounge singers/bands were very good so these are worthwhile. We participated in Trivia and Passenger Feud, made a lot of fun by the cruise staff.

Service:
Really outstanding. We thought the overall service much better than RCI. The Cruise Director was very good (Paul Burns) as were his staff. They were always very friendly when you saw them in the public areas. On RCI the cruise staff seemed more interested in talking to each other, ignoring the passengers. Everyone was very accommodating and polite, except for those guys at the Grill. 

The wait staff were all impressive. At the Horizon Court one morning, Larry had gone to get more coffee, leaving Ryan at the table alone. A huge group of Greeks or Armenians, travelling together and speaking a foreign language, started moving in on Ryan, sitting at his table even though he told them the seats were taken. Quite intimidating for a 13 year old. A waiter found Larry right away, telling him Ryan needed help, so Larry hurried over. This was not our usual waiter, but one near us in the dining room, who not only knew who we were but knew that Ryan and Larry were together. And took it upon himself to help Ryan. Quite impressive!

Islands/Tours:
We have been to Barbados before so rented a van and headed out. We wanted to visit Harrison's Caves again, which we enjoy, and saw most every back road of Barbados since I kept getting lost. But the islanders are very helpful and friendly so we had lots of fun. Driving on the left with the steering wheel on the right was a challenge but the boys listed "Mom's driving on Barbados" as a highlight of the trip. The Volendam and Galaxy were also in port here.

St. Lucia was a delight. We all agreed it is the most beautiful island we have seen, very tropical and lush. We did the Land and Sea Tour to Mt. Coubril Estate and were delighted. The bus was new and comfortable, the driver and tour guide very good. The volcano was interesting, the Estate fascinating, and the Catamaran back to the ship a highlight. The Captain played great Reggae music, had the rum punch flowing and the passengers dancing. It rained the whole way back but we never cared. Great fun. 

St. Kitts - we hired a taxi driver who gave us a tour of the Fort, the batik factory, the botanical gardens and an hour at Turtle Beach where the boys snorkeled. Very good tour and nice day. Cost was $120 for five of us.

On St. Maarten we shopped a little in the morning then did the America's Cup Regatta in the afternoon. This is some of the most fun we have ever had. Three boats raced and we won! It's a lot of work, although I was just the timekeeper and my friend Judy was the bartender, so while we didn't work hard, our jobs were VERY important! I highly recommend this tour.

Since we have been to St. Thomas twice before, we took the ferry to St. John's and spent several hours at Trunk Bay. Absolutely gorgeous and we felt it was just the amount of relaxing we needed after five pretty hectic days. The boys all snorkeled and loved it. The most beautiful water we've ever seen. The Nordic Empress and an NCL ship (sister to the Wind but I don't remember the name) were also in port.

Disembarkation:
We had a 1:00pm flight on Delta so were the third group off the ship. We found our luggage right away, checked it at the Delta truck, grabbed a cab and were at the San Juan airport at 8:45am. Here is another advantage of making your own reservations - we didn't have to wait for the bus to take us so were able to get on the 9:30am flight to Atlanta, made that connection, and were in Minneapolis at 2:45pm. We did have to wait for our luggage which was on the 7:00pm flight, but found waiting in the Crown Room in Minneapolis for 3 hours preferable to waiting 3 hours in San Juan airport. We could have driven home and come back, but decided we would watch football and drink Cokes instead. 

Final thoughts:
We had a great time. We missed the dancing waiters at dinner - Royal Caribbean dinners were just more fun. Princess was a very nice cruise line and we have no complaints. We found the level of cruisers to be classier, which we liked, but because the entertainment was so lacking, we doubt we would kill ourselves to do another Princess cruise. We did decide that you just have to try different cruise lines to discover what matters to you when you cruise. The robes in the room were lovely, but we hardly used them. We would rather have a larger tv. We missed the Viking Crown Lounge - we never did find a good place on the Dawn Princess to sit and watch the ship arrive in port or sail out. The boys enjoyed the video arcade but didn't spend a lot of time there. They had a great time, even though there weren't many children on board, and can't wait to cruise again.

By the way, Larry rents a tux for cruising because it's so convenient - he likes to pack less stuff. I went to a rummage sale last fall and found the boys each an almost new, double-breasted suit (for $4.00 each) so they looked quite spiffy. They are growing like crazy so I wanted them to dress appropriately, but didn't want to spend a lot of money for a one-time dressy occasion. They loved dressing up. Goodwill and Salvation Army stores also have suits for cheap! There is no financial reason that everyone can't look good. About half the men were in tuxes and looked very nice.

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