Let me tell you a few things about our wonderful week on the Caribbean Princess from 10/16-23 in the hope that they may make your next cruise better or bring back some good memories of your own. Since so many reviews have been written, I will steer clear of an exhaustive review, but will give you our impressions based on our unique experience. First and foremost, I have never had a bad cruise, and certainly this was a great one. I greet each cruise with much anticipation and my expectations are always exceeded. For me, the best part of the cruise experience is not the ship or the food or the entertainment, but the people. The camaraderie and espirit on a ship is simply wonderful.
With that, here are our thoughts:
OUR GROUP: Bob and Kathy (40s) and Judy (MIL), all from suburban Indianapolis. We are all veteran cruisers of Princess, Celebrity, RCI and Carnival. We are pretty typical midwesterners--we appreciate good service but are low maintenance; we like good food, but are not gourmets; we like to be entertained, but have two left feet when it comes to dancing; we dabble in games of chance on board, and occasionally would like to win.
EMBARKATION: Nonstop Indy to FLL morning of cruise and in line by 11 a.m. We had filled all forms out online. CSR passed out form asking us to sign and confirm that we did not have flu-like symptoms (form was more descriptive!). We heard later that if you indicated yes, you could be quarantined to your room. The doors finally opened at noon. Even though there were probably 800-1000 in line by that time, things moved very quickly. Once the doors opened, we were onboard in 15 minutes.
CABIN: We were in Aloha 740 and 744. These are inside aft, Cat. JJ. This was a "bonus" vacation for us. The fall rates were so low that we decided to cruise on the cheap. With credits and discounts, we were able to cruise for $50 a day. Of course, the MIL paid more for a single, but still very good. We chose this cabin because we had been in this location on the Grand last year and really liked being able to walk out the back door to the aft pool. Guess what? When Princess inserted the Riviera Deck between Aloha and Lido on the Caribbean Princess, that eliminated the backdoor on Aloha. As a result, we had to double back and go up the stairs to go out the back. No big deal. As for the cabin, it was identical to Grand and Golden insides except that the closet/bath area had been redesigned and was a bit more functional. Of course, everything was in great shape. We especially appreciate the refrigerator and safe. We brought a few drinks of our own and added to our stash during the week. We met Ruben, our steward, and requested fresh fruit and robes, which were quickly brought. One note...two essentials are an alarm clock and an extension cord. The only clock in the room is on the phone, which is on the desk. While it is great to sleep in, if you have an inside cabin, you have no idea what time it is with no natural light. the extension is needed because there are few outlets, especially in the bath.
POOLS: The Personal Choice concept applies to the pools more than anywhere else. There are four pools/areas, each of which takes on its own personality. All have hot tubs adjacent and bars close by. The forward spa pool has a very "resort" feel, with marble and stone figurines and fountains, tiered wooden benches and a very quiet sedate tone. This pool also is accessible from the spa and gym. No kids...very upscale. The party pool has the ubiquitous pool band (Cruze Control in our case), pool games and two levels of lounge chairs. This is where we spent most of our days. (Tip: when you are cruising, watch along the bow of the ship for flying fish to skirt along the water.) We are not huge party people, but found lots of great people on the upper deck and kept coming back every day. The service also was absolutely great. We did not find any drop off because of the automatic gratuity. MIL had a drink sticker and had no problem at all with it either. (Bar tip: Dos Equis and Beck's were $12.60 for a bucket of 5....cheaper than at my local bar.)
The MUTS pool showed movies all day and night. In the morning, there were cartoons, then older movies during the day and first run features at night (more later). This was very nice for those seeking an alternative. The only problem I noted was the volume level. The MUTS pool is adjacent to Horizon Court, i.e. many outside tables are located there. If you like to enjoy breakfast outdoors around the pool, you must endure the decibel-drilling shrill of cartoon laughter. Not a complaint, as there are other places to eat, but Princess may want to consider turning down the volume or having a quiet time until 10 or 11 a.m. (at some times, they ran a volume-free video of deep sea diving or other nature film....very engaging without the noise).
Finally, the Aft pool presents a very peaceful alternative, especially for those wanting to avoid the sun. Since this pool is located under the "shopping cart handle" aka Skywalkers, there is usually shade. If you want a nap, I guarantee this is the place. It is mesmerizing to sit aft and watch the wake of the ship....you will be asleep in 6 minutes or less!
DINING: We usually do PC, but elected for the late seating this time because of the increased pax load. We really enjoyed it. This is not a knock on PC, which we still appreciate, but there is something very nice about getting to know your tablemates and waitstaff over the course of the cruise. We will probably do fixed seating again for this reason. We also enjoyed late seating because it gave us a chance to see an early show, have a nice dinner and then see a later show. As well, we were never rushed to get ready for dinner and could enjoy sunsets. That was a very nice pace. As for cuisine, we found the food to be very well done. We always found many good choices, our selections were well prepared and the service was impeccable. On several occasions, I ordered an additional entree to share. The portions are small enough so that this is possible and encouraged. Highlights? That is a matter of personal taste, but the fettucine is excellent, and we usually ordered that as a side to split. The Beef Wellington and lobster were wonderful. Desserts were very good, although the selection seemed to be a bit more limited than on prior cruises. As far as the MIL is concerned, as long as the Love Boat Dream is offered, everything else is irrelevant. We also had dining room lunch and did tea on a previous cruise...each of these should be done once if you have the chance.
Cafe Caribe is a wonderful addition. We did not fully understand the set-up until late in the week, but there is a completely different menu in here for lunch and dinner from Horizon Court. Especially for lunch, it is far superior. On one lunch occasion, the Mexican-themed lunch included fajitas, chili con carne with huge chunks of beef and garlic shrimp...outstanding. The nicest thing about Cafe Caribe is that it is a serving line....you pick up a plate and proceed in order through a line. The only problem is that the line is convex, so that you cannot see what is being offered. Princess could solve this (and save a lot of food) by posting the menu at the start. Otherwise, people tend to grab the first thing offered and then find other items down the line.
Finally, since I promised not to dwell on the negative, I will not talk about Horizon Court or the coffee! (Note to coffee drinkers: go to the lobby bar on 5 in the morning for complimentary real fresh-brewed coffee.) If you do go to Horizon for breakfast, bypass the lines and go to made-to-order omelet station on either side of the eggs. It takes a few minutes, but it well worth the wait. The pool grill and pizza parlor are both consistently good. (Note to Princess: Add some additional "ballpark" choices for poolside munching, e.g. popcorn, hot pretzels, nachos.)
Finally, we dined at Sterlings. While others raved, I found the cut of meat to be no better than in the dining room and the service not as attentive. Please note that others did not share this view. It was good for a change of pace, in any event.
ENTERTAINMENT: This was the highlight of the cruise. The selection of lounge acts was outstanding. In our case, Fernandez (a hypnotist), Scott Weyler (a comedian) and Bert Stratton (piano man) were tremendous. We did not miss a show. Each had us captivated. The quality of these entertainers amazed us and was far greater than we had seen on previous cruises. We had heard a lot about Bert on these boards and he certainly lived up to billing as a first-rate entertainer and very personable musician. See www.bertstratton.com. The others were new to us, but will certainly be making the circuit on other cruises. Because the entertainment is such a hit-and-miss thing, we hope that our experience is evident that Princess is raising the bar with the level of entertainment generally.
Three other notes in this regard. First, the International crew show should not be missed. This was begun to fill time when the ship had extra sea days during a recent hurricane. It features crew member performances a la Star Search. Great show. Second, the cruise staff was very good at encouraging passenger involvement. This is a fairly young staff (Graham is gone; James Lay is in charge), but they make up in enthusiasm what they lack in polish. Third, the production shows just don't cut it. We went to them. They were technically proficient, but wholly uninspired. I wonder if time has passed by the need for these. It just seems that Princess may be better off investing its entertainment budget in other directions...for instance, I would love to see a play on board or more individual entertainers. I should also mention here that Kathy and Judy were pleased to find nickel slots and gave them quite a workout in the casino before finally surrendering to the inevitable.
SPORTS: A somewhat off-topic note. The selection of TV channels is very limited. The treatment of sports fans is even more limited. Churchills, the former sports bar, is now a cigar bar. As a St. Louis Cardinals fan and NFL fan, I was disappointed to learn that I could not see the NLCS or NFL games on the cruise (Monday Night Football was shown, as was the ALCS). In talking with a crew member, he explained to me that this is a common complaint of passengers. Princess has a satellite, of course, but they choose not to buy the feed. Instead, they get ESPN International. As a result, you can watch Spanish soccer games till the cows come home, but little else. Princess does not understand Americans affection (affliction?) with our brand of football. Princess, get a clue. This is a moneymaker. Pax will go to Churchills and pay for drinks while watching football. On an even-more off-topic note, I am surprised that the TV system does not offer pay-per-view options like this. Since this ship is sailing exclusively in the Caribbean, the satellite coordinates would not be an issue. This could have been a revenue producer for Princess, just as it is for almost every hotel. For a new ship with a dedicated sailing path, Princess dropped the ball on this technology.
MUTS: Of course, you can't go on the Caribbean Princess and not have an opinion about Movies Under the Stars! I was really excited about this. In fact, it probably was the reason we booked. After going, I can say (1) I loved it at times; and (2) the presence or absence of MUTS will probably not impact future cruise decisions. In other words, it was nice, but not that nice. The highlight for me was watching the Monday Yankees/Red Sox game. There were probably about 500 or more pax packed into the area--there are three levels of seating plus the pool. We were in San Juan that night, next to the Celebrity Century (those people had cruise ship envy!). I also watched the Tina Turner concert one night. The picture is incredibly crisp and the sound is exceptional. Still, I am not sure Princess has figured this out completely yet. As noted, the noise in the morning is a real problem. I noted that people seemed to stay away, and I think this is a reason. As well, the movie selection was curious. During our cruise, the only "second run" films being shown were Shrek 2 and 13 Going on 30. The former was shown at least six times. By the end of cruise, I was thinking that immigration wasn't going to let us get off the ship unless we could recite the dialogue. In the morning, Finding Nemo was shown every day as far as I could tell. The afternoon movies were a hodgepodge of old dramas, etc. Old movies are great, but when I am sailing under a bright Caribbean sun, something more upbeat might be appropriate---Vacation, Caddyshack, Cool Runnings, Stripes, Home Alone, Mrs. Doubtfire, etc. Something where the plot doesn't matter, you can watch for ten minutes and move on if you choose. Also, a few hours of music videos would be great. These were shown only at dusk. Let's just say that MUTS is great technically, but Princess still needs to work on the application.
OTHER ACTIVITIES: I could write a book about everything we intended to do, but did not. Scholarship at Sea included Ceramics by the pool, computer classes, wine tastings, etc., but we never got off our b..ts! Our tablemates went to the art auctions and were very pleased with their purchases, as well as the way things were run. We did the galley tour before and wished we had again. Karaoke was high on the to-do the list, as was Princess Idol, the passenger makeover show, bingo, trivia and Skywalkers. We did do an open booking for a future cruise...a no brainer.
INTERNET: As a dedicated surfer, the new facilities were a welcome change. Unfortunately, the satellite was down for most of our cruise. Still, the facility is top notch. The 35-cent rate is reasonable. The staff was helpful when a billing adjustment was required. (Wow, the purser's desk was helpful!) The speed is slow, but this was a nice improvement.
GYM: Wow. 20 treadmills looking out over the bow from 16 stories high. If that doesn't inspire you, nothing will. Each unit also has a flat screen TV monitor (wireless headphones upon request). There also are stairclimbers, rowing machines, weights and a bunch of other stuff that I don't know how to use! There was never a wait. Lots of free classes too.
PORTS: Everyone has different ideas about what to do, so let me offer what we found helpful. First, San Juan was substituted for Princess Cays, and was a 4 to 11 p.m. call. We had low expectations, and they were met. Old Town is gradually being cleaned up, but there is not much to do on your own after dark (and before 10) here. If you have this itinerary, you can walk to Old Town, look at the craftsmen, grab some free rum drinks and return to the ship for dinner. In St. Thomas, we took the ferry to St. John and ultimately to Cruz Bay. This is paradise. Do this on your own. It is cheap, easy and safe, and you can take your time. St. Maarten is undergoing restoration downtown. Don't let the construction throw you. Take the water taxi and enjoy a nice walk through the shops....even I enjoyed it. Of course, I especially enjoyed it because there are vendors selling $1 Heinekens about every block. That makes the shopping experience quite enjoyable!
DEBARKATION: Easy and quick. We had a night flight out of FLL, so we waited to disembark, but were called by 9:30. No problems.
POST-CRUISE: If you spend the day in FLL, I recommend dropping your luggage at the Marriott Marina (or renting a car) and taking the water taxi to Las Olas. The water taxi is like a tour boat ($5 RT) and takes you past some beautiful homes on the Intercostal waterway. You can get off at Stop 12 or 18 for restaurants and shopping. This is a great way to spend the day if you have a later flight.