After a 6-hour drive we arrived at Berth 29 at Fort Lauderdale. There is no car parking at this berth so I had to drop off my wife, a friend and our baggage and drive to the Midport Parking Garage and take the free shuttle back. So it was 1pm before we joined the check in line. After a delay to fill in a Bahamas landing card that we ultimately never used because our call at Princess Cays was abandoned because of rough seas, we checked in and were on the Sun Princess by 1.30pm. After a leisurely lunch in the buffet we explored the ship until it was time for lifeboat drill and the sail away party on deck.
We had interior cabins on Caribe Deck 9, my wife and I in C415 and our friend in C419. The cabins, while smaller than we have had on Holland America, were adequate for a 10-night cruise and were clean and in excellent condition with pleasantly light decoration and soft furnishings. We had booked for early traditional dining and were allocated Table 169 in the Regency Dining Room. It was a table for 6 and we had three delightful dinner companions. Our waiter Cris from Grenada and his assistant Homer from the Philippines were models of friendly efficiency. The food in the dining room was better than we remember from our Princess cruise to Alaska in 2003 and better than either of our recent Holland America cruises, though not up to Celebrity standards. We only had dinner in the dining room, as we prefer the flexibility of the buffet for breakfast and lunch. The buffet choice though was not up to Holland America standards, e.g. you could not get a sandwich for lunch or pizza by the slice other than on one day and the cold table meat and fish selection was poorer.
An atrium spans decks 5 to 8. Deck 5, the lowest has the Marquis dining room and purser and tour desks. Deck 6 has the Regency dining room, and the duty free shops. Promenade Deck 7 has the Princess Theater at the bow, then the Wheelhouse Bar followed by an Atrium lounge with a bar and small dance floor where Glenn Radcliffe, a very talented keyboard vocalist sang romantic American songbook music from 9pm each night. This was our favorite after show spot. Towards the stern from the Atrium is another bar, the disco, photo gallery, library and Internet café, plus the Vista show lounge. The promenade has nice teak padded steamer loungers for a quiet spot either in port or at sea if the wind is not too blustery. Deck 8 contains the Casino and the Verdi Café that serves pizzas cooked to order but without any accompaniments such as salad. The remaining public facilities are on Riviera deck 12, which has three pools, the gym and beauty parlor and children’s area. Lido deck 14 has the Horizon Court buffet at the front of the ship with three sided panoramic windows providing excellent views while you eat. Part of the buffet on the starboard side was roped off each evening for the a la carte Sterling Steakhouse at a supplementary charge of $15 per person. The terrace grill serving hot dogs, etc. at lunchtime is outside the Horizon Court overlooking the pool one deck below. Sun Deck 15 over the Horizon Court offers more sun bathing area with another splash pool. Despite the ship carrying slightly more than 100 passengers over its 1,950 two lower berth passenger complement the ship felt spacious and we were always able to find sun loungers or a seat in the bars. Only getting a seat for a show proved to be a challenge as the shows were so popular.
We had four production shows: Curtain Up, C’est Magnifique, Tribute and Piano Man. All were enjoyable, but we felt the first two were definitely the best. Other entertainers included an exceptionally good vocalist Darren Lynton, a politically incorrect comedian Philadelphia, a ventriloquist Dan Horn, a magician Garry Carlson (who we did not see), comedy juggler David Deeble and musician/comedian Bayne Bacon.
We chose this cruise because a number of the ports were new to us. The first stop after two days at sea was an afternoon in St Vincent. We chose to take a taxi to Fort Charlotte overlooking Kingstown that also gave us a tour of the town. We felt it is a friendly commercially undeveloped island. The next day was Grenada. It is nine years since we vacationed on the island and we were sad to see how much hurricane damage the island suffered. We took a ships half-day tour with a very friendly and informative taxi driver who showed us around St George’s and a rum distillery where we bought a delicious bottle of Grenada Spiced Rum Liqueur before we enjoyed an hour on Grand Anse Beach. St Lucia was new to us. The attractive cruise terminal shopping center and the town of Castries was interesting. We took a ships tour that took us to an old mansion providing spectacular views of the harbor, then on to Marigot Bay. We then passed through Anse La-Raye, a small fishing village that vividly demonstrated how poorer St Lucian’s live, on our way to an old Sugar Mill with a botanical garden. The tour whetted our appetite to return and see more of this pretty island, and also made us appreciate how long it takes to get anywhere on the narrow, winding, hilly roads. Martinique struck us as being just like any large French seaside town, so very untypical Caribbean! We nevertheless enjoyed a ships tour to St Pierre, the village that was totally destroyed in a volcanic eruption in 1902 killing all but one of its 30,000 residents. Then on to the Depaz rum distillery for an interesting factory tour and rum tasting before heading back inland via Balata on roads so narrow, winding and hilly (with precipitous drops) that we sometimes thought our full-sized coach would be unable to make it. Our old friend St Thomas was our next port. This time we just explored the stores in Havensight Mall before taking a taxi to spend the rest of the day on the beach at Magens Bay. As mentioned earlier what would have been our first visit to Princess Cays was canceled because of a tall swell that Captain William Kent decided was too dangerous for tendering. So we had a day at sea instead.
Disembarking at Fort Lauderdale’s Terminal 2 was the fastest and smoothest we have ever experienced at a US port. We had just sat down to breakfast at 8.30am when the first group was called. We disembarked at 9.15am and despite having to get the shuttle to fetch our car, we were loaded up and on the road home by 9.50am. Gratuities had been automatically charged to our cabin account at $10 per person per day which we are happy with, and it had been charged to our credit card so there had been no hassle finalizing matters.
In summary we had an enjoyable cruise on a beautiful, spacious, relaxed and comfortable ship. We prefer the décor on Princess ships to Holland America, and the Princess dining room food was better, but Holland America has a better buffet and much more spacious cabins. If only you could combine the best of each! Our next two cruises are on Celebrity so it will be interesting to see if our previous experience of Celebrity still sets them apart from Princess and Holland America, though we would choose any of them for a particular itinerary.
Cunard QE2 1984 & 1990
Carnival Fantasy 2001, Inspiration 2003, Glory 2005,
Celebrity Horizon 2004, Galaxy 2005, Summit 2006, HAL Zuiderdam 2004, Veendam 2005
Princess Star 2003, Sun 2004
P&O Oceana 2004
RCCL Nordic Empress 2002
Regal Empress 2002
RCCL Legend of the Seas Apr 2006
Saga Ruby June 2006
P&O Arcadia July 2006
Carnival Miracle Oct 2006
RCCL Navigator Apr 2007
P&O Aurora Sep 2007
QM2 Sep 2007
Sapphire Princess Apr 2008