Ratings (out of 10)
Embarkation 9.5 Food 9.3 Service 9.6 Cabin 9.4 Entertainment 9.5 Gym 10 Value for Money 9.5 Average age onboard early 50's (my guess only!)
Background: This was my wife's second cruise (Celebrity, Princess) and my third (Carnival, Celebrity & Princess). The ratings above should give everyone an early indication of the fabulous week we had on this magnificent ship.
We flew out of Toronto at 0630 on Friday January 21st arriving in Ft. Lauderdale at 0915. We took at cab ($17.00) to our hotel Holiday Inn Ft. Lauderdale across from the beach. Much has been written about this hotel mostly siding on the negative, however I can honestly say that we have had nothing but good experiences in the few times we stayed there both pre and post cruises. Now if your looking for a 4-5 star hotel this facility is not for you. If you enjoy staying on the beach (like we do) and need just the basics to get by (clean and comfortable) then don't panic if you pull this hotel when bidding on a 3 star beachfront hotel on Priceline. We arrived at the hotel at 0930 knowing full well that check in time is 3:00 PM. The staff did there best to accommodate us however there wasn't a room available to give us so early in the morning. So the bellboy secured our luggage in a lock room in the lobby and off we went to enjoy the sights.
We really enjoy Ft. Lauderdale. We took a water taxi through the intercostals waterways (wonderful trip) to Las Olas to shop and have lunch. Sometime in the mid afternoon we headed back to the hotel, checked into a nice large renovated suite on the top floor of the hotel overlooking the ocean and proceeded to get our suits on and head to the beach for the afternoon sun.
Friday evening we met up with fellow CC members Dave and Paula from London, Ontario in the hotel bar for a few (ok more then a few) pre-cruise cocktails.
Saturday January 22nd.
We arrived at the port really early (10:30 am). There wasn't a lot of people there when we arrived but it wasn't long before that changed. There was some initial confusion early on as to where to line up etc but everyone caught on quickly and managed to keep things orderly and follow suit. The doors opened at 11:15 and we found ourselves in our cabin at 12:00 pm. Painless!
Cruise Critic Get-together: We met all our CC Role Call friends at a get together just after the Muster Drill at the Outrigger Bar in the AFT section of the ship. Everyone was wearing Mardi gras beads to help identify ourselves to each other. It was really nice to meet everyone as it felt like we were on the ship with friends already always stopping when we saw each other to say hi and to see if everyone was having a good time.
Cabin: Oceanview (BC) with balcony on the Aloha Deck (A410) midship on the starboard side. This was our very first balcony cabin and now there is no going back. The cabin was clean and smelled fresh. Our cabin steward (Ronaldo) was efficient, polite (Good morning Mr. & Mrs. Rustynail) and did everything I asked of him with a smile. As soon as we arrived I called him to our cabin to give us a chance to meet. Right off the bat I requested 2 chair pads for our balcony chairs (made all the difference in the world!) and two robes. He had the chair pad and robes to us in less then a half hour to which I tipped him well. We also noticed on day 1 that the fridge wasn't working so we had Ronaldo contact maintenance to repair/replace it. The fridge was up and running early on day 2. Great service. The cabin had plenty of storage space to either hang your things and/or place them in drawers. The area was open, large and quite accessible. The one complaint we heard often throughout the ship was the size of the washroom and in particular the shower. I found it to be manageable (I'm 6'2" 220lbs) however I suggest you may not want to drop the soap while in there! We absolutely loved the balcony. It was completely enclosed, private and came with two chairs and a good size table. We sat on our balcony enjoying room service each morning providing coffee, juice fruit and croissants (sorry no write-in hot meals). Often, we'd spend the late afternoon on the balcony enjoying the sunsets and a few pre-dinner cocktails before getting ready. I can honestly tell you that not once did were we disturbed by the smell of smoke while out on the balcony. I know this has been a hot issue with some folks on the boards and was a concern of ours heading into the cruise but the topic turned out to be a non-event at the end of the day. One quick trick we learned from the Princess boards helped us find our cabin quickly. When you exit the elevator/ stairs on your deck and are standing there wondering whether your turn left or right to find your hallway - all you have to do is look at the color of the carpet. Starboard side had blue and pink carpet where the port side had solid blue. It made life so much easier knowing we were in the correct hallway.
We experienced Anytime Dining for the very first time and loved it! Now when I tell you that we had booked a standing reservation for two at the same table (#82) every night at 7:00 PM at the Palm your going to ask how this could possibly be construed as "Anytime Dining". The difference being we did have flexibility to change our mind and end up at Café Caribe if we chose to without causing any grief to our wait staff or tablemates. On a couple of occasions we actually had appetizers (my wife and her seafood) in the Café Caribe before actually heading off to the Palm for dinner. The best of both worlds! I've read many reviews from folks who didn't like PC dining because they felt the service was lacking and the banter with the wait staff was absent. We didn't experience this at all, in fact, our wait staff (Corneal and Marius) was as good or better then any we have experienced to date. The great part about a table for two is that inevitably you end up chatting with people from the table(s) around you. Again the best of both worlds - you could have an intimate dinner for two of you chose or decide to meet and share some great conversation with other interesting people dining around you. The best night all week was when our CC friends Mike and Chris from Michigan sat next to us. It ended up being a thoroughly enjoyable evening filled with great food and good conversation.
Never once saw jeans or a t-shirt in the dining room. Everyone seemed to appreciate and respect the attire rules stating that it's either smart causal or formal. Even on the smart casual nights we saw many people dressing up and looking fabulous.
The quality of the food was generally good to excellent in the dining rooms. I would have like to see more options available however the old 'staples' were always there in case nothing on the daily menu pleased you palate. The lunch buffet was good for the most part offering a variety of hot and cold food options daily. Of course the pizza was terrific however I thought it could have stayed open late to please the hungry 'after show' crowd. The grill was good and seldom had a line-up. Breakfast was good offering a 'made to order' omelet station as well as many other tasty offerings.
Room Service was also prompt and accurate. The food was very good and arrived hot. If you're planning on bringing your own wine on board to enjoy a drink in your cabin I'd suggest you bring a corkscrew. Lat year on the Century each cabin was provided one but no so on the CP. You have to call each time you want a bottle of wine opened and/or fresh wine glasses. This wasn't a huge problem as the service was prompt and courteous but again I'd rather bring my own corkscrew and not have to bother anyone for something I could have done myself.
Sterlings: This was our first visit to a specialty restaurant aboard a ship. Much had been written about the restaurant being exposed to people walking by to which I scratched my head at. My first thought from reading these comments was that Sterling's would be like eating at the food court in a mall with people passing by your table left and right. Our fears were put to rest when we saw the restaurant, realized this wasn't the case and then decided to rush off and book it for the Monday night. Sterling's was a great experience with wonderful food and great service however I don't know if I'd do it again. The steak was sooo tender if melted in your mouth and in itself was worth the price of admission however I guess I expected more when it came to everything else associated with the thought of 'specialty dining'. It wasn't as intimate as I had envisioned and there wasn't many 'extra's' to go with the great cut of meat offered. All in all we were glad we did it. Gym:
The gym was large and excellent! It had a great free weight area with plenty of new good quality free weights available. The cardio equipment all came with an individual TV and headphones so you could watch/listen to your own program without bothering anyone around you. The gym equipment was Cybex and offered a good selection including a cable station. All the equipment was in top-notch shape unlike most of the gym's I've ever been a member of.
We were really impressed with the entertainment onboard the ship. Knowing in advance that this isn't Broadway or Vegas we were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the shows offered. I think some people who are disappointed by the entertainment set unrealistic expectations of what the shows should be rather then enjoying them for what they are. The International Crew Show was a must see as well as our good friend BERT (Bert Stratton) in the Crooners Lounge. Bert was off the off the chart....... he captured the attention of most people who dared to walk by. Even if you only sing in the shower Bert's evening sing-a-long was a must do. Music from all era's coupled with some fun and wit made this a highlight for us during the week. The Princess Idol was fun and yielded some excellent talent. We saw only bits and pieces of the comedy acts because of the lack of time however what we did manage to see was first class and funny. Skywalkers was a really cool place to hang out and dance. Even if you don't 'disco' you should take a walk/escalator to the lounge for nothing else other then a great view.
I've read many comments about Movies Under the Stars both good and bad. We booked MUTS as soon as we boarded the ship for the Tuesday 10:00 PM showing of the Bourne Supremacy. We really enjoyed the 'drive-in' feeling of MUTS. The extra padding on the chairs, blankets and popcorn were all nice added touches. The picture and sound was excellent even though the Island Night was going on in the background at the other pool. During the day we often found deck chairs facing the screen where we watched movies like Shrek, Back to the Future and Grease without feeling it was overbearing, loud or in your face. If you chose to read a book you wouldn't even know it was there until you looked up and saw the movie playing. A great addition to the ship! We also watched the Tina Turner concert and thought it was fun to see it while feeling the warm Caribbean evening air and the numerous stars above us.
Overall comments: So much more to say but wanted to get this review out before Christmas 2005. All in all this was an excellent cruise without too many negative remarks to make. The Caribbean Princess is a beautiful ship with so much to offer to all walks of life. Whether it was the art action or bingo this ship had something for everyone. We didn't ever feel crowded in any of the common areas nor did we ever wait for an elevator for any unprecedented amount of time. We seldom heard anyone complaining (other then the shower, see above) and for the most part everyone I think really enjoyed this ship and this cruise. There were very few children onboard but the few that did sail with us were well behaved and a pleasure to cruise with. Also, smokers were really respectful and actually got up from their lounge chairs around the pool to go to the smoking area to have a cigarette.
We really aren't big fans of Cruise Directors in general meaning that we occasionally get tired of hearing their voice either on the TV, over the loud speakers or up on stage however Graham Seymour was as good as they come.
The one negative comment I have is the problem of 'Chair Hogs'. Generally this practice doesn't bother me because we're resourceful enough to find a place somewhere on the ship to enjoy soaking up the sun but this time was different. I witnessed towels on deck chairs for hours on end without even the hint of someone occasionally checking in. This practice was quite evident during the NFL quarterfinals on Sunday. People 'reserved' deck chairs as early as 0700 for a game that started at 3:00 pm. The chairs remained empty all day until almost kickoff time. Now I know a playoff Sunday isn't the norm but I did see this happening often. Princess really needs to address this issue before either someone loses their teeth or ends up overboard.
In closing, I feel that the Princess experience met or exceeded all our expectations. We met some terrific people during this vacation and will cherish this Princess cruise for many years to come. Thanks to everyone for all the great tips and recommendations regarding the Caribbean Princess.
The Port review will be posted at a later date! Princess Cays is AWESOME!