Age: 41 to 50
Number of Cruises: 3 to 5
Cruise Line: Princess
Ship: Sea Princess
Sailing Date: January 27, 2001
Itinerary: Western Caribbean
t will probably help to know a little about us before you read our review of this cruise in order to get a better feel for our experience because there is no doubt that everyone looks upon their cruise experience in a unique way.
This was only our fourth cruise, and our first on Princess. Previous cruises include: Carnival Inspiration - Southern Caribbean, HAL Veendam - Western Caribbean, and HAL Veendam - Alaska Inside Passage. Our previous cruise experiences were wonderful, but we were excited to try Princess, and would still like to try Celebrity and Royal Caribbean. We have friends that swear by both of these other lines.
I approached this cruise with a desire to compare it to our previous experiences with HAL. Especially since we had cruised this same itinerary on HAL. So I looked for some definite comparisons. My bottom-line conclusion: Princess offers a great cruise experience, especially if you do not mind the larger ships. I suspect that when cruising was invented, the Princess experience is what they had in mind. Nevertheless, we probably prefer HAL because of the smaller ships. We will however, never hesitate to cruise Princess again.
We booked our air through the cruise line so that if we had any problems along the way, it would be their problem. We always fly in a day early, which I would recommend to anyone. We will never fly in the day of the cruise again. We also booked a hotel package through Princess. The whole family was going, so there were three of us were flying Delta from Tulsa through Atlanta to Fort Lauderdale, and our two college kids were flying Delta from Salt Lake through Atlanta to Fort Lauderdale. The SLC kids made it fine. Our Delta flight in Tulsa was canceled, (won’t it be nice when Delta gets back to normal) so they switched us over to Continental and we connected through Houston. This only cost us an hour, so we feel very fortunate. We met up with our two kids at the Fort Lauderdale airport and easily found the Princess rep and our baggage. She led the group to the bus to the Embassy Suites Hotel. This hotel is in a nice location, only five minutes from the pier and there are plenty of restaurants within walking distance.
In the morning, our bags were to be left in the living room of our suites by 10:00 a.m. These were picked up and taken to the bus for us to identify before boarding at 11:30 a.m. The bus left the hotel at 11:30 a.m. and we were in our staterooms by noon. This was easily the quickest and most painless embarkation we have ever experienced. The Princess staff were well prepared and helpful in every way. Things were starting out well.
The Sea Princess - as beautiful as the HAL ships are, the Sea Princess is a cut above. This is a beautiful ship. The Atrium area is spectacular and the public rooms are comfortable and tasteful. The stateroom hallways are light and seem much more inviting and elegant. All around, I give Princess the edge for attractiveness, even though we found the Inspiration and Veendam to be beautiful ships. Since there were five of us, we had two Inside Staterooms on the Caribe Deck (C708 and C716). The Inside rooms on the main hallways are smaller, but comfortable and efficient. I think all of the triples and quads are in these main hallways. If there are only two of you, I would suggest trying for one of the Inside rooms on the smaller halls that run perpendicular to these main halls. They are a true rectangle shape and appear to be noticeably larger. This was our first cruise with an inside cabin, and I’m not sure I will ever book an outside or balcony suite again. We found them very comfortable. The bathrooms are small, but functional, although a larger person might have an awkward time in the shower. There was plenty of drawer and closet space for a 7 day cruise. If you have larger bags though, be advised that they don’t stow them. You have to keep them in the room and they may not fit under the bed. Our room steward was excellent, but this ship more closely resembles a nice hotel with the stewards maintenance carts in the hallways almost all day, every day. I can’t remember this happening on other cruises. (Okay, so I notice small things.) It was a nice touch to see your names posted nicely on the stateroom, and there is a nice holder for the Princess Patter and other information being delivered to the room, rather than simply sliding it under your door.
Probably my biggest complaint about the ship is its overall size. I really prefer the smaller HAL ships which only hold 1300 - 1400 passengers. The Sea Princess had in excess of 2000 passengers and this made for some crowding and difficulties. Crowds were noticeable in the Horizon Court for Breakfast and Lunch, trying to get a seat at one of the entertainment venues, passing through the Photo area, the shopping area and getting a tender at Princess Cays. And don’t even think of finding a decent deck chair on the sea days. People show up at 8:00 a.m. and put their book and towel in place to hold the chair, even though they may not show up for hours and then leave for several hours while their stuff continues to hold the chair. About the only place you can find a deck chair is up front on the top deck, and here it is generally very windy. I suppose this is the nature of the larger ships, because we never had this problem on the smaller HAL ships. We could always find a nice deck chair on HAL. I also wonder what will happen to these quaint Carribean Islands as the ships get bigger and bigger and dump more and more passengers in the ports every day. It was one thing to have three cruise ships at a port when they were the smaller ships. But with the mega-liners now here, can these islands really accommodate that many people without eroding the overall experience. I don’t think so. Everyone I know that has cruised the mega-liners love them, but its not for me. Even this ship was larger than I prefer.
Dining Room - the Sea Princess has two main dining rooms(Sicilian and Neapolitan) on the Emerald Deck. Both are beautiful and the table separation is close but acceptable. In my opinion, the food on the Sea Princess was superior to the food we have had on both the Veendam and the Inspiration. Dinner selections included 3 appetizers, 2 soups, 1 salad and generally 4 -5 entrees, including a featured pasta. In addition, they have several items available on any given night in case you don’t like the featured items. Don’t pass on the soups. Everyone was excellent. We never ate in the dining room for breakfast or lunch, but we heard a lot of positive comments. The service was excellent, but we felt we had equally good service on HAL and Carnival. We were pleased that there were several Eastern European staff members on this ship. Our head waiter was from the Philippines, but the assistant waiter was from Hungary. There also appeared to be many more female staff members on Princess. We had 2 - formal nights, 1 - semi-formal night, and 4 casual nights, one of which was designated as a “tropical dress” night.
Horizon Court - the comments we read in other reviews were correct. This is the most illogical and dysfunctional set-up If you get there at a busy time, be prepared for chaos as items are located on different buffet pods and you must go back and forth against traffic and then there is only one small machine for drinks and ice, the line to which backs up into the food buffets. The food was fair to good, but the set-up really is inconvenient. In addition, it is quite often difficult to find a table unless you are eating well before or after the main rush. Come early, come late, or be flexible. We tend to be flexible, so we got by, but this area really needs to be redesigned.
Other - above the Atrium Lounge on the Dolphin Deck, there is a pizzeria (Lago’s) that makes excellent pizza. We ate lunch in their twice and were very pleased. Its worth the stop and was never crowded or rushed. We also tried the burgers out near the pool at the Riviera Grill, but would only rate these fair. The barbecue on Princess Cays also rates fair, except that they serve a lot of great fruit. If you like ice cream, order it as a dessert at dinner, because the Ice Cream shop on the ship is an extra charge. We didn’t try room service, so I can’t help you there.
Sea Princess has two show areas - the Princess Theater near the bow on the Promenade Deck, where they show their featured presentations, and the Vista Lounge in the aft portion of the same deck, which is more of a large club and stage setting. We were able to see the premier of a new show “Words and Music” which is a salute to American Broadway composers as well as several other shows. (The lead singers, Casey Daniel and James Campbell are terrific.) They were enjoyable and the cast seem talented, but I did not enjoy them as much as the HAL shows. This will certainly come down to taste, but if I made a comparison, I would say that the Princess shows are more New York, Cabaret and Costumes, while the HAL shows are Los Angeles, Energy and Pop. It would probably not be fair to say one is better than the other because both are excellent, it would just be a matter of personal taste and interest. In addition to the dancers and singers, we also had an illusionist, hypnotist and comedian. The comedian, Dave Heenan, performed three times and was excellent. Apparently, he runs Rodney Dangerfield’s in New York. We also enjoyed the illusionist, Gaetano, but passed on the hypnotist. Please note, because this is a larger ship, you better get a seat early because they go fast and many people are turned away.
Beautiful spa area with excellent equipment. Plenty of stair climbers and treadmills. This is also the best place to sit in the whirlpool. There are others by the pool, but these are best, especially the one located above the spa area on the Lido Deck. What a great place to sit early in the morning with the cool air and warm water. There are two others down in the shade and out of the wind. There is also a cool pool to get in and then go back to the whirlpool. The steam room is always one of my favorite spots, and I love the steam room on HAL. The steam room on the Sea Princess is quite a bit smaller and never got hot enough. They also have a dry sauna which I did not try. Nor did we try any of the spa services, but I heard a lot of positive comments.
The Sea Princess has a Business Center back by the Spa with four computers and access to the Web. The system runs a little slow, so I would use it only sparingly. The library on the Promenade Deck is beautiful and don’t forget to bring your favorite CD and headphones, as each library chair has a CD player to plug in and listen. The Wheelhouse Bar is as nice a setting as we’ve seen on a ship, but I wonder how they got so much furniture into one room. Lots of couches and stuffed chairs. Rocky’s is the lounge and karaoke bar. Our kids loved the karaoke and the staff made this a fun show. It’s a louder bar and quite different from the Wheelhouse Bar which is dark wood and overstuffed chairs. We don’t gamble, so I can’t tell you anything about the casino, other than that they have one and I’ve walked through it many times.
Our first Island was the Princess private island of Princess Cays. You have to tender into the island which is beautiful and has plenty of beach chairs and lots to do. If you want to avoid the crowds, go to the right side of the island away from the shops and eating facilities. Hardly anybody went over there. Unfortunately, if you want to eat, shop or snorkel you need to be on the left side. The snorkeling on this island was excellent, certainly better than that offered on HAL’s island. There is a beautiful beach, but also a lot, and I mean a lot of people. The beach to the left is very crowded and snorkeling can also get crowded. We rented snorkeling gear through the ship at $18 per person, including vest. You pick up the equipment on the island.
This second day of the cruise, Sunday, January 29th was Superbowl Sunday, and I want to give kudos to Princess for their efforts on this. They arranged with ESPN to broadcast the game and they even set up extra TV’s in the Wheelhouse. We grabbed a seat in Rocky’s and they set up snacks and burgers for all those that wanted to watch the game. It was even a formal night, so I didn’t have to dress up and still got dinner while we watched the game. Princess really went all out on this and they did a great job in letting us not have to miss the big one.
This was our second trip to Jamaica, and it is much better than it was two years ago. We were pleasantly surprised that they have just about eliminated the “gauntlet” of insistent cab drivers waiting just off the ship. Some are still there, but it isn’t anything like it used to be. We walked to the Taj Mahal shopping center, then walked through town to Soni Plaza and also shopped at the downtown flea market. All without any problems, other than the occasional insistent hair braider. That afternoon we caught a cab and went to Dunn Rivers Falls. We have always done this on our own to avoid the crowds of the tours and their insistence that you hold hands while climbing the Falls. How dumb is that! The can ride is a set fare of $20 for 4. Entrance into the falls is $6 pp. What a beautiful adventure. Better yet, we discovered from chatting on the net that you can by-pass the exit through the “gauntlet” of kiosks, by staying to the left at the exit and going out the same way you came in. They may say something to you, but just keep going. Grand Cayman:
Again, this was our second time here and we booked the Catamaran Sting Ray City tour. Last time we went on the regular Sting Ray City tour. We enjoyed the Catamaran ride and rather than giving you one piece of squid, they put an entire bucket in the water for you to use as desired to feed the Sting Rays. The sting rays recognize the bucket and crowd around it, so if you want the “up close and personal” experience, that is where you hang out. We love this experience, and I still have the bruise and hickey on my wrist where the sting ray over shot my hand and went after my wrist. It hurt a bit, but I wear it proudly. In my opinion, do something fun on Grand Cayman. Shopping here is a waste of time.
This was actually our third visit to Cozumel, and my son and I did the Novice Scuba dive through the ship. I had done this before and enjoyed the trip again. If you’ve never done scuba, this is a great way to try it without certifying. 30 minutes of instruction and you are in the water doing scuba at 30 feet. Great experience!! We always like to shop in Cozumel, and recommend you walk several blocks East and South of the main plaza to the local market. This gets you away from the tourist area and into the real local experience.
As simple and quick as embarkation. We were up and having breakfast when they called our color. A quick walk down the gangplank, through a customs checkpoint and into the luggage area. Bags are separated by an assigned color. Once you grab your bag they direct you to the appropriate shuttle and off we were to the Miami airport for the ride home. As painless as painless can be.
Needless to say, this was a great cruising experience, and we are already planning our next cruise. I would like to try a 10 + day cruise, because I’m just not ready to go home after only 7 days.