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Maureen Smith

Age: 48

Occupation:Registered Nurse

Number of Cruises: 4

Cruise Line: Princess

Ship: Sun Princess

Sailing Date: November 21st, 2003

Itinerary: Eastern Caribbean

This was our 4th cruise and our 3rd with Princess. Our first and second cruise with Princess were actually back-to-back 7-day cruises aboard the Grand Princess in celebration of our 25th wedding anniversary. We loved the elegant décor and services Princess had to offer and decided to try one of their smaller vessels for a 10 day cruise this time.

There were some minor problems on our back-to-back cruises, namely Princess’ failure to deliver some of the on-board gifts our family had ordered for us as well as Princess’ forgetting to acknowledge our 25th anniversary day. They usually send a small complimentary gift of some kind and decorate your cabin door with balloons and congratulatory messages.

When we discovered these omissions after returning home, we contacted Princess and were told that the gifts were ordered too late to be processed in time for sailing (all of the gifts were ordered at the same time and paid for and we did receive half of them) and they made no comment about forgetting to acknowledge our anniversary.

When booking the Sun Princess, we again contacted them to see if Princess would agree to some sort of token gesture, but did not hear back from them until after we returned home despite more than 3 conversations and 2 faxes being sent prior to sailing. However, on with this review. And be patient, I love to give details.

Getting There:
We arranged our own airfare because one’s arranged through Princess usually involve a stopover. This way, we could fly direct to Ft. Lauderdale, and we went a day early to be able to relax and have no worries about flight delays causing problems on the day of embarkation. Many Ft. Lauderdale area hotels will provide pick up from the airport to their hotel and to the port the following morning free of charge and that is what we did. If you take a taxi, it costs about $12 U.S. from the airport to the port, so don’t book transfers through Princess because they charge way more.

The customs area in Ft. Lauderdale airport was crazy, small and inadequate. As well, the senior officer thought she was instructing people in the army or something and was quite rude and abrasive. The line-up was long and very slow until another flight arrived. She started yelling at passengers to move faster and these poor seniors are struggling with walkers and carry-on luggage. Not a nice welcome to the USA. Preference was given to US citizens and the rest of us were treated badly as far as I was concerned.

The departure area is equally crowded and the lineup long and slow again. In fact, they had to go through the line and check on people’s flight times and putting those ahead whose flights were departing soon.

There was a slight delay when we arrived at the cruise terminal. Hotel staff told us that Princess was having an earlier check-in time than normal, but they had a bit of a snag and didn’t open the terminal doors until the usual 12 noon. However, once the line started moving, we were checked in and on-board within 20 minutes. Be sure to get a Bahamas visitors card (they hand them out while you are in line) and fill it out prior to going to the check-in wicket. This speeds up the process and avoids delays for those waiting in line behind you.

We had previously had a balcony on the Grand Princess (splurged for the anniversary) and this time decided to try an inside because the deal was too good to pass up. We should have passed it up and there were no balconies available. We booked this cruise sort of last minute and felt the extra price for just an outside cabin wasn’t justified. We will never book an inside cabin again, but that is just a personal preference and probably because we know how nice a balcony is. The cabin was so small that with the beds pushed together, one side of the bed was against the wall, so we had to separate the beds to provide a common space in between to be able to get out of bed without performing acrobatics. As well, the cabin we had on the Baja deck, squeaked and groaned when the ship was not docked. It started as we left the port, and got significantly worse by the 4th night, so much so that it awakened me (admittedly I am a lighter sleeper than my husband but even he found it very noisy) and I couldn’t sleep at all. The sea was not particularly rough that night, so I am not sure why it was so noisy but it was as if the panels on the walls were shifting constantly and rubbing together. The ship was fully booked, but at 4 am I finally gave up, got dressed, and went to the pursers desk to voice my concerns. Luckily, there was another cabin available because someone had to depart at the previous port due to a family emergency, and the staff helped us move the following morning to the Aloha deck, inside cabin. Why couldn’t they have had a balcony?? This cabin was quiet and free from any noise, and although it had a slightly different layout, we again had to request the beds to be separated. I have never heard anyone have this problem with noise from the cabin walls and hope they have fixed the problem so that others don’t suffer the same fate.

Otherwise, both cabins were quiet in the sense that you didn’t hear people in the hallway or next room.

Bathrobes are provided upon request, as well shampoo and conditioner. Storage space is more than adequate but a tip is to pack some extra hangers because they don’t provide a lot in the room. There is a hairdryer at the vanity table but only one electrical outlet in the entire room. No clock is provided, so bring a small travel clock with you, although wake up calls are offered when needed.

We have read cruise reviews claiming that Princess’ food is only mediocre. However, we are not gourmets and found that the menu is varied enough that you can always find something you like for dinner in the dining room. We opted for Personal Choice Seating, and always agree to share a table with others, which avoids delays. On two occasions, the dining room for Personal Choice was quite busy and they quickly took us upstairs to the other dining room, which was for traditional seating because it had tables available. Same menu, and it avoided long waits.

We never have breakfast in the dining room because we prefer a buffet style. There was a wide selection to chose from and we never had trouble getting a table in the Horizon Court. We often ordered room service for a cold breakfast on the balcony when we were on the Grand, and missed this opportunity on this cruise. It just isn’t the same eating in a windowless room.

We usually used Horizon Court for lunch as well and found the selections adequate. Outdoor grills provide excellent beef and chicken burgers etc. and were tasty.

The usual complaint about Princess remains in that they charge for “designer” ice-cream, available out on the pool deck. However, we never felt the need to eat ice-cream in addition to all of the other tons of food we consumed.

The Steak House is reportedly excellent, but you must make reservations as we sadly discovered too late. They do charge an extra fee to eat there, but it was well worth it according to other passengers.

The Italian Pizzeria provides good food too, at no extra charge. However, it is located in an open walk through area, adjacent to the casino, so people are constantly passing by as you eat.

They also had an Italian sweets buffet in the Horizon Court one day, with delicious desserts.

The entertainment was quite good for the most part. Only one show was not, so we just left early. They offer the same show two nights running in the show lounge and theatre, so if you can’t make it one night, there is always a second chance. The juggler was by far one of the best I’ve seen. And the magician act, which we had seen on the Grand as well, was equally as enjoyable the second time around.

The lounge and the theatre fill up quickly, so go at least 20-30 minutes prior to show time, order a drink, and relax while you wait.

The pianist who put on an almost nightly show in one of the open lounge/bar areas of the atrium was quite a hit with the older passengers.

And the piano music performed in the atrium during the day provides a very elegant background on the ship.

The casino took our money, more so after the first two days. The slots were really “tight”, but the nickel ones were fun and seemed to pay out a little better. There is a slots tournament you can enter as many times as you like for $20 each turn. The highest winners go on to the final round and the prizes are set for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place.

Carnival has taken over Princess and it is starting to show in some subtle changes, which were noticed more so by passengers who had sailed Princess numerous times. They were grumbling a lot about the absence of a lot of the free activities such as the scavenger hunt. But what was available, such as trivia games were fun and a great way to meet other passengers.

We went to one karaoke night, but we must not have been blessed with talented passengers because in all honesty they were pathetic for the most part. But at least they tried.

And don’t miss the champagne waterfall in the atrium. It was loads of fun.

Bingo is offered, but again is expensive at $10 per single card, or $20 for 3 cards, five games in total each session, but fun to do a couple of times. We finally shared a package of 3 cards to cut down on the cost.

The horse race sessions are fun and not so expensive to participate in the betting. We don’t use the Spa services and from the price list, look over priced compared to back home.

Island night on deck is fun with an outstanding buffet if you can stuff any more food into yourself.

Keeping in Touch with those back home:

We always e-mail our kids, who are in their early 20’s but still living at home, to make sure everything is okay. We could access the internet in their café by just swiping our cruise card and the charge is about 50 cents per minute. There are 5 computers for use, but sometimes some of them were so slow it was impossible to get on-line. But there was always at least one that was working well.

I also phoned ship-to-shore a couple of times to contact my father who is elderly and lives on his own. The cost is around $7 per minute, so keep your calls short if you use this service.

Shore Excursions:
We have found on previous cruises that the cost of these excursions is not justified unless there is no other way of participating in a certain activity. We did take a snorkeling tour in St. Thomas, which was quite nice. Otherwise, we went to the crew staff and asked for advice on the best beaches, shopping etc. Grab a taxi at each pier and negotiate the price before getting in. It is always cheaper than the organized tours.

They do conduct information sessions about each port, and you can also view them on the TV in your cabin as they replay them many times.

Ladies, be sure to get your free pair of diamond stud earrings at some of the ports. Just ask the staff on board.

Laundry Facilities:
On the Grand, they charged for self service washers and dryers, and there were 4 of each on each stateroom deck. However, on the Sun Princess, there were only 2 on each deck, but they were free!!

There is also use of a single ironing board and iron. Plan your time to do any necessary laundry and ironing because there often was lineups later in the afternoon with everyone returned from shore and getting ready for dinner.

Cruise staff:
The cruise director was noticeably absent throughout the entire cruise. We were into our 5th day before we laid eyes on him and then only saw him once or twice after that. The assistant director seemed to be doing his job for him.

Out on deck:
We found that deck chairs were not as hard to find this time, but we are not sun worshippers, so we weren’t trying for ones in direct sunlight. The pools are seldom filled to capacity, so swimming is enjoyable.

One of the nicest places to lounge is on the promenade deck, especially later in the afternoon/evening to watch the sunset. However, it can be windy at times, so hold onto your hat!!

At St. Thomas, you have to go to one of the main dining rooms on the day you port there to have a US Customs clearance since 9-11. The lineup was long, but moved fairly quickly and took about 30 minutes. You must go whether you’re planning to get off the ship or not.

Final disembarkation went smoothly, with passengers called according to the luggage tag colour you are given and they do give first preference to those who have flight departing prior to 11 am.

In Summary:
Did we have a good cruise? How could we not? Cruising is definitely the ultimate relaxation type of vacation and I can’t imagine why any cruise would be not being enjoyable.

Would we sail Princess again? In the future, probably yes, unless Carnival makes drastic changes. However, we would prefer to try a different line the next time just for a change. Also, we are very disappointed with Princess’ response to the concerns we did raise on the Grand, with a letter waiting for us on our return that basically said in a nice way, “tough luck if you didn’t like our response, we felt it was adequate”. What would it have taken for them to give us a couple of free drinks or something and to apologize for ignoring our 25th? I think that Princess has a large number of repeat customers, so perhaps they don’t try as hard as they should to insure your future business.

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