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William Schwartz

Age: 55

Occupation:Judge

Number of Cruises: 11

Cruise Line: Princess

Ship: Sun Princess

Sailing Date: January 10th, 2004

Itinerary: Eastern Caribbean

Introduction

My wife and I are 54 years old. This was our eleventh cruise. Our previous cruises have been:

Princess - Eastern Caribbean, Alaska, Panama Canal, Bermuda, Mediterranean Royal Caribbean - Western Caribbean Holland America - Mexican Riviera

Getting there

We made our own airline arrangements with Southwest Airlines and arrived the day before the cruise. Arriving early has plenty of advantages: you do not have to worry about airline delays; if your luggage is misdirected, there is an additional day for it to catch up; and, you can decompress from traveling before starting the cruise. We stayed at the Comfort Suites Airport & Cruise Port. We have stayed there numerous times and have not been disappointed. The hotel provides shuttle service from the airport and to the cruise terminal. There are many restaurants, grocery stores, liquor stores and at least one pharmacy within walking distance.

Embarkation

Our shuttle was scheduled for 10:30 a.m. and we arrived at the terminal sometime before 11:00. We handed our luggage to the longshoreman and watched as it was placed in the transport bin. There was quite a line at 11:00 even though the boarding process would not begin until 11:30.

We had preregistered on the internet which made registration simply checking forms and signing documents. Unlike last year, there was no Bahamian immigration form to complete. From the time we entered the terminal until the time we were headed to our cabin not longer than 20 minutes elapsed.

The ship and our cabin

The ship is beautiful and not showing her age (1995) a bit. Captain Bob Oliver was in command of the ship. I am again amazed that a ship can transport 2,000 passengers every week of the year for more than 8 years and still look as good as the Sun Princess. There is an ambience of comfort, class and reflection throughout the ship. The ship is incredibly well designed as are all the Sun class ships. There are very few moments during the cruise when you have any sense that there are approximately 2,000 other passengers sharing the experience with you. The dining rooms are designed with dividers and level changes mixing tables of different sizes to create a feeling of intimacy even though there are about 500 other diners present.

Our cabin was located on the Baja deck, B316 which is an interior location. The cabin was small but, considering the amount of time we spend in our room, it was more than adequate. The cabin can be made up into a queen bed or twin beds. Due to the configuration of the cabin, the shower was the largest we have ever had with an inside cabin. It took longer than normal for the luggage to arrive. I heard security screening was causing the delay although I have no first hand knowledge of that fact. There were no storage problems. The suitcases fit under the bed and there is ample closet and drawer space for clothing.

Each cabin has a television with limited programming including recurring programs on the ports, shopping and excursions. The televisions have a video port which we used to review our digital photographs. Unlike the verandah cabins where the desk, dresser, night stand, and television/refrigerator area are all the same height, there was a floor to ceiling cabinet which holds the television at the highest level, the refrigerator at the lowest level, and a shelved section with a door in the middle which contains the safe and a fair amount of storage space. The hair dryer is located outside of the bathroom on the wall next to the desk area. There is one outlet over the desk and that is it in terms of regular outlets. There is a plug designed for multiple shaped plugs in the bathroom which is marked for shaver use only.

The ship is 857 feet long. After looking at the hallway outside of your room and realizing how many times you are going to walk that hallway you might want to spend some time considering your room location before booking your cruise. There is a laundry room on each floor. Each laundry room has two washers, two dryers, an ironing board and an iron.

Food

The food was consistently very good. There were a few occasions when the food was outstanding but, more importantly, there were no occasions when the food was not good. Each night the menu contained an excellent variety of items. I am spoiled, living in the Midwest, by the quality of beef that I have grown accustomed to eating. The beef onboard was not bad, it just does not rise to the level of the beef I am used to eating at home. On the other hand, the quality and variety of the seafood served at dinner was excellent!

There are only so many things you can do for breakfast but each day the kitchen staff was able to come up with something new and interesting on the breakfast menu in the dining room. The menu for lunch in the dining room included fuller meals that would be considered dinner as well as contemporary lunch items. Again, the variety was excellent and the food was well prepared. To be honest the service at breakfast and lunch in the dining room was not the same quality as the dinner service. We enjoyed having breakfast and lunch in the dining room whenever time permitted. Being served while meeting fellow cruisers is a lovely way to enjoy breakfast and lunch. The conversations with the other passengers seem to add to the entire cruise experience.

The Horizon Court is a buffet which is open around the clock. It was okay but we didn’t think it was anything special. If you were to compare the Horizon Court to the Lido Buffet served on Holland America ships, you would find that the Horizon Court pales in comparison. We only ate in the Horizon Court when scheduling required it or we were looking for a quick snack. The Riviera Grill is located outside above the main pool. It serves grilled items - hamburgers, hot dogs, grilled chicken, bratwurst etc. We only ate there once and it was fine. The Riviera Grill closes at 5:00 p.m. so that it can be transformed into the Sterling Steakhouse.

Sterling Steakhouse has increased its charge to $15.00 per person (it had previously been $8.00). We have dined at the Sterling Steakhouse on each of our three previous cruises on Sun class ships and thought that the extra $8.00 charge was not bad. We were shocked by the $7.00 increase and did not feel that what we had experienced in the past warranted the $30.00 surcharge per couple.

The pizzeria serves a very nice pizza and they have expanded the menu to include some pasta items. I have to wonder why they do not have a standard Italian sausage pizza. The pizzeria was quite busy during the cruise and has obviously become a favorite alternative dining venue.

Service

Friendly and efficient describes the overall service. This description certainly is appropriate for room steward. Our waiter, Dorin, and assistant waiter, Alex, were very good. Our waiter had a wonderful personality and dinner was eagerly anticipated each evening thanks to our dinner companions and our wait staff.

I must mention our dinner companions: Dave & Cindy, Ned & Vickie, Marvin & Edy and Ken & Cheryl. They were absolutely wonderful! The satisfaction of the entire cruise was raised to another level due to the camaraderie of the dinner table. A “small world isn’t it” story is in order here. Ten to twelve couples on this cruise had been corresponding on a cruise chat board for some time prior to the cruise. The first night at dinner while conducting introductions we learned that a couple of us from the cruise chat group had been seated at the same table for dinner!

Often overlooked are the personnel working the Purser’s Desk. These people were always friendly and helpful.

Excursions

About six weeks before the cruise, Princess sends a list of all available excursions. You can book your excursions at that time (by mail, facsimile or over the internet). We booked one excursion on the Princess home page and our excursion tickets were in our cabin on arrival. We also booked two other excursions independently and we arranged two more excursions after arriving at the port.

If you are considering a tour of a town or a tourist site that carries no risk and can be easily reached by taxi, you may want to consider touring independently. Alternatively, if the tour is unusual or runs the risk of delay or physical injury, you should consider booking with Princess. If something goes wrong, and you are on a Princess excursion, Princess will work it out. If you are on an independent tour and something goes wrong you are on your own. However, when the risk is minimal or non-existent, the Princess excursion will cost you more; it will be less personal; and, the delays will be exasperating. We have learned that when the situation is right we can see more of what we want to see in less time with a lot less aggravation at a much better price by touring independently. If you cannot decide whether to book a Princess excursion or to tour independently, you can book the Princess excursion and cancel onboard if you choose to tour independently. Be aware that canceling an excursion must be done by the deadline (usually 24 hours prior to the excursion) to avoid a penalty.

Entertainment

Dan Gibbons was the Cruise Director. He has a lot to learn about being a cruise director. He was not the worst we have experienced but he was far from the best. His morning show appeared to be directed to children on Saturday mornings rather than adults many of whom where on the far side of middle age.

The entertainment was the usual mix of production shows, singers, and comedians. The production shows were excellent. The singer who we most enjoyed was Tony Cherry. Can he sing a ballad! The comedians ranged from very good to truly terrible.

After leaving Ft. Lauderdale we encountered very windy conditions. Our first stop was Princess Cays but the chop on the water was severe enough that the Captain determined that tendering would be too dangerous and uncomfortable. Princess Cays has been a scheduled stop on three of our cruises. Only one of our ships have dropped anchor for Princess Cays.

Each day at sea there were two sessions of bingo. The basic pack of three cards for each of five games ran $20 per session. The sessions get more and more crowded as the cruise goes on because of a roll-over on the last bingo game. The prize reached $3000 before someone won it at the last session.

Art auctions have become as much a part of cruising as bingo. I was pleased to note that the hype concerning the art auctions was greatly reduced from our previous cruises. One of my frustrations was that the art for the auction was stuck everywhere on the ship detracting from the beauty of the ship and its own display of art. Princess seems to have heard these complaints and has greatly reduced the auction art which it has on display.

Our first port was . . . . St. Thomas - we were docked from 7:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m.

St. Thomas is a mandatory stop for every cruise ship anywhere near it. The West India Company dock, which is the dock near the Havensight Mall, can only accommodate three cruise ships. Others have to anchor and tender passengers. The old submarine base at the other end of the harbor is now being used to dock cruise ships. It is called Crown Bay and there is a major remodeling effort in progress. I suspect when it is completed it will be similar to the facilities that have been built at St. Maarten. Crown Bay is where we docked.

St. Thomas is not one of my favorite ports. It is too commercialized. The vendors have become too aggressive. There are too many visitors. I have wanted to ferry over to St. Johns in the past but events have prevented me from doing so. I was able to do it on this trip. There are no signs indicating where the ferry to St. John’s boards in Charlotte Amalie. If you walk to the ferry terminal building you have taken a fairly good walk for nothing. There are several counters for ferries located in the ferry terminal but none of them go to St. John’s. The ferry pulls up in front of the stores (Little Europe to be precise) facing the bay and they sell tickets as you board the ferry. When they leave, no trace remains.

The ferry ride over to St. John’s is 40 to 45 minutes from Charlotte Amalie. It is a nice ride with the beautiful shoreline of St. Thomas to observe on the way over. Once on St. John there are plenty of taxis. All of them appeared to be open jitneys. There is no negotiating for a fare. The fare is $16.00 per person for the standard tour which is a loop running along the shoreline and then back on the interior road or vice versa. Lots of wonderful beaches! A really beautiful place. If you want to get away from the shopping and hustle of St. Thomas go to St. John’s.

St. Maarten - we were docked from 7:00 a.m. until 4:30 p.m.

St. Maarten has constructed a wonderful new cruise terminal since we last visited. It appears to be able to dock four cruise ships at one time. A water taxi continually runs from the cruise terminal or you can walk or take a land taxi into town. There are a few shops in the new cruise terminal.

We wanted to take the Rhino boat excursion in St. Maarten. We probably could have booked it on our own but chose to book it through the ship. Our reasoning was that it was across the island meaning that we would have to get a taxi if we were to do it on our own which would probably eat up any savings. It is the type of activity which could result in problems - injuries or delays. Booking with Princess meant that any problems became the problems of Princess. Finally, when an excursion has limited numbers (I presumed Rhino boats would have limited numbers), the cruise ships usually get first availability. I did not want to risk being squeezed out by the cruise ship excursions.

What a good time we had. Rhino boats are small, inflatable, semi-rigid boats for two people. Each has a 25 hp engine and they go like the wind. Skidoos are impeller driven water cycles. Rhino boats are actual boats with outboard motors although you sit in them like you would sit on a Skidoo. Each group of Rhinos has a leader and you motor up the coast beyond Marigot. You stop for 45 to 60 minutes of swimming, snorkeling or wandering on a beach. Then you head back as a group. Everything in the boat gets wet but storage is provided at the office for anything you want to keep dry.

St. Vincent - we were docked from 10:00 a.m. until 5:30 p.m.

St. Vincent was a new stop for us and we think it is a winner! Making independent arrangements for an excursion was a little difficult because there is not much information available regarding private excursions. We were really fortunate to link up with Dani and Norris, gotalife@caribsurf.com, home (784) 457-5237 cell (784) 455-5556. They run a taxi service and have a guest house. They also provision yachts. Dani conducts the business end of things and Norris gives the tours.

We certainly recommend them.

St. Vincent has yet to succumb to the influence of tourism and the corrosive nature of tourist revenue. Our tour started with a drive to Montreal Gardens. The drive provided us with a good idea of the island and its population. We drove through small communities, around mountains, though valleys and saw persons in their daily routines farming, shopping and carrying produce to market. We drove up the Mesopotamia Valley to Montreal Gardens. Montreal Gardens are privately owned by a Welshman who takes great pride in maintaining, expanding and improving them. Originally, the gardens were a plantation but have been transformed by their owner into a delightful garden spot in the mountains. There is a collection of flora and fauna reflective not only of the island but the entire Caribbean. The walkways throughout the gardens are well maintained.

>From the gardens we drove to the windward side of the island and observed the black sand beaches. The black sand is the result of lava that has been ground into pumice by the action of the waves. The color of the sand causes it to absorb and retain heat making it uncomfortable for beach use. The wave action and tides make swimming on this side of the island dangerous. Our tour looped south along the shore until we returned to the villages on the outskirts of Kingstown. We stopped for lunch at a lovely restaurant directly across from Young Island before returning to the ship.

Barbados - we were docked from 7:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m.

We visited Barbados during our cruise in January, 2003. At that time we booked an all day excursion with Glory Tours (www.glorytours.org). We were so pleased with our tour we booked them for this trip. We were picked up outside the entrance to port. We arrived at the Signal Station before the tour buses arrived which gave us extra time to explore and take pictures. We then went to Earthworks Pottery and watched as the pieces were being made. We crossed over to Bathsheba and Cattlewash. This is one of my favorite places! What a breathtakingly beautiful spot! We stopped for lunch at a local eatery near the beach where we had a very good lunch.

We then moved on to Orchid World. Orchid World is a large complex devoted to the growing of orchids. There are more orchids located in this one place than you can possibly imagine! Our last stop on the tour was the wildlife preserve. The monkeys, deer, tortoises, and agouti all run free. The place appeared to have run down a bit from our visit the previous year. A word of caution - the roads returning to the ship get very busy around 3:00 with a mix of business traffic, school buses and tourists running to their ships. Do not cut your return time to the ship too close.

We left Barbados and sailed to . . . . Antigua - we were docked from 8:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m.

I had loosely arranged to meet a cab driver/tour operator to drive us around the island. We were late disembarking and I learned that he had left on a tour. He had, however, left us in the hands of a great tour guide, Lawrence of Antigua, http://lawrenceofantigua.com/. I was excited about returning to Nelson’s Dockyard which I had experienced on an earlier visit to the island. It was a living history museum recreating the time when Admiral Nelson maintained a major shipyard here to keep the very young American government in check. There were two other similar bases one in Bermuda and the other in Nova Scotia (I think). To my shock and dismay, the living history aspect has been replaced by businesses catering to the luxury yachts which now anchor in the harbor. Of course, the historical aspect is still present but it is now more like an afterthought rather than being the soul of the place.

Shirley Heights, which was part of the base, remains another of those places that are breathtakingly beautiful. In the vicinity of Shirley Heights, do not miss the Dow’s Hill Interpretation Centre. There is a nice animated presentation encapsulating the history of the island.

Lawrence took us out to Devil’s Bridge which is an interesting geologic formation created by the pounding surf. It reminded me of the natural bridge in Aruba but I found it much more interesting because of the way the water has honeycombed the rock of the entire area.

Returning to the ship we stopped at Betty’s Hope. This was Antigua’s first sugar plantation dating back to 1650. There are twin windmills which you can explore. One of the buildings contains exhibits regarding the plantation and sugar production.

Two days at sea before we returned to . . . .Ft. Lauderdale

Debarkation was very smooth. We walked through the various check points collected our baggage and we were on our way.

Conclusion

The Sun Princess is a wonderful ship! Of course, we are a bit biased as we love the Sun class ships of Princess. This is our fourth cruise on one of the Sun class sisters. She has been tastefully appointed with an understated elegance. The staff is friendly, efficient, and first class. If the opportunity presents itself, we would certainly cruise on the Sun Princess again.

Princess is a wonderful cruise line which does so many things right. When you spend as much money as you do on a cruise and take hard earned vacation time you expect the experience to be something very special. Princess understands this and does not disappoint.

We would be happy to answer any questions. Just drop us an E-mail. Bill & Lu Schwartz


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