Princess Cruises Caribbean Princess& Vincent Finelli Western Caribbean September 23, 2006
We always enjoy our first visit to a newer ship and this cruise on the Caribbean Princess, launched in 2004, was no exception. This ship looked majestic in port with her eighteen deck high Skywalkers Nightclub suspended above the rear, like a race car spoiler. Capt. Manfuso was very happy to extend a real warm Princess greeting to us. We also met Passenger Services Director (PSD) Peter Hollinson and his able assistant Rebecca Lamb, who proved to have a wealth of knowledge on the Caribbean Princess. Thus, just a few hours on board, we had several new acquaintances and were about to encounter an old one when we checked on our dining reservations, Maitre D' Nicola Furlan. We had met him a few years ago on the Grand Princess. We also made many new friends including Executive Chef Giuseppe Pollara and Pastry Chef Riccardo Bellaera (both from Sicily, Italy) and more on these two accomplished men later.
This ship is the largest of the Princess ships --- picture this: The Grand Princess, plus one more deck. The old saying about the Grand Princess when she first sailed from Venice, Italy, in May 1998 was "...she presented a view so grand that only a solar eclipse is more spectacular..." must now be replaced by the idea that only the Caribbean Princess is closer to heaven!
EMBARKATION We sailed from Ft. Lauderdale, which is the closest port to our home and thus our favorite. Saturday morning traffic was light on I-95 and we arrived at the port approximately 11:00am. There were still passengers debarking from the last cruise, but we were placed in a large cool waiting room and given a No. 1 boarding pass along with other wheel chair passengers. Boarding time is listed as 1:00pm, but it actually began at noon. We had wheelchair assistance all the way to our mini suite. Later we heard that some passengers had a long wait of up to 3 hours; thank goodness we didn't.
THE SHIP The Caribbean Princess was built by Fincantieri Shipyards in Monfalcone, Italy and is hull #6067. Launched in 2004, she is registered in Hamilton, Bermuda and weighs 112,894 gross tons. She is 950.01 ft. long and has a total breadth including wings (2 folding fin stabilizers) of 165.7 ft. ; however, her moulded beam is 118 ft. with a maximum draft of 27.7 ft. Her passenger capacity is 3,740 with a crew of 1,060 (technical staff is 87 --- 23 officers and 64 crew). She has four 16 cylinder diesel engines in vee form, plus two 12 cylinder diesel engines all attached to a synchronous generator. Propulsion is provided by two electric motors activating two propellers, two rudders and six transverse thrusters, capable not only of forward and backward motion, but also of sideways movement. The only thing that surpasses her fuel capacity of 2,649 tons is her fresh water capacity of 2,731 tons. On board there are 14 passenger elevators (lifts), 13 service elevators, 4 handicapped platforms, 4 store platforms and a passenger conveyer (a movable walkway to the Skywalker's Nightclub).
Enough of the mechanical specifics and now to the decor which is beautifully subdued. When entering on the Plaza Deck 5, the most stunning design is John Richen's "Caribbean Symphony" which are three deck tall hand carved aluminum panels set between glass panes. The underwater scenes picture fishes, manatees, medusas (jellyfish) etc. and sea flora. They are truly breathtaking. When inside the elevators, Deck 8 and up have fanciful porthole bubble displays.
The handy Caribbean Princess's Passenger Pocket Guide starts with the following decks: Gala Deck 4 has the medical center, we were invited to tour it but could not make it --- from discussions with passengers who had occasion to use the facilities, we found out that they were more than adequate --- swift and complete. Aft Decks 4 & 5 have the Galley.
Plaza Deck 5 midship has the Island Dining Room with Carlos Ozzimo's "Island Series." He has also done lovely pastoral series for the Coral and Palm Dining Rooms and even the "Grand Casino Series", all of which are acrylic on canvas. The simple wood paneled walls with smoked glass and brass sconces are stately but mellow. On the starboard side near the Panoramic Lifts there is the Joker's Card room with the "Old World Maps Series" (Anonymous), beautifully reproduced on tiles. In the atrium are also located the Grand Plaza Lobby Bar and the Passenger Services and the Tour Desks. Forward on Deck 5 there are staterooms and a Laundromat.
Fiesta Deck 6 aft has the Palm Dining Room, the Gallery and the Coral Dining Room midship. Going toward forward again are the Boutiques and the Grand Casino. All the way forward is the Princess Theater with its warm Tuscan red walls and comfortable seats, with an excellent view of the stage from everywhere.
Promenade Deck 7 aft has the Club Fusion with a Southwestern motif: dark woods, leather, surround bars, and a sunken dance floor and bandstand. Cowboy murals, one wall of old tint types and a mechanical bull complete the aura. Midship is the Photo Gallery, and Trattoria Sabatini, the upscale Italian Restaurant with murals by Istvan Bernath. Next, are two great rooms, the Explorers Lounge with its travel the world motif and the Wheelhouse Bar with its nautical theme.
Midship are more boutiques and the Crooners' Bar with a grand piano and the interesting stained glass panels "Crooners Glass Series" by Janick Arts. >From here there is the best view of the stunning light fixture shaped like a huge pendant flower: its petals of mysterious smoked glass edged in pewter. Look down on the wonderful round mosaic centered on the floor (oops deck). Next go forward to the Sterling Steak House and the Internet Cafe (Vincent and other Captain's Circles platinum and elite members have free internet access). Forward is the upper level of the Princess Theater, with a ramp for wheelchair access. There are many reserved seats for the handicapped and even ushers to make sure everyone is comfortable.
Emerald Deck 8, Dolphin Deck 9, Caribe Deck 10, Baja Deck 11, Aloha Deck 12, Riviera Deck 14 are all staterooms and suites with a laundromat located on each deck. There is also ship's laundry service which is reasonable and prompt. There is a Terrace Pool aft on Deck 14.
Lido Deck 15 has the Horizon Food Court midship, the Horizon Terrace aft, the Calypso Pool/Bar, Scoop's Ice cream, Neptune's Reef/Pool, Blackbeard's Bar, Prego Pizza and the Trident Grill.
Sun Deck 16 forward has the Lotus Spa with another lovely "Japanese Fantasy Series" by Ozzimo; this is a very peaceful, restful area. There is also the Gym & Spa here. Aft are located the Fun Zone for children and the Off Limits for teens.
Sports Deck 17 aft has the moving walkway up to Skywalker Night Club. Deck 18 forward has Cyber Golf, the Jogging Track, and Center court. Deck 19 has the Skywalker Night Club which is suspended high over the seas like a "Spoiler" on a racing car. Daytime its serene and quiet way up here, at night it's a whole new world.
Over all the ship is lovely with many art works in stairwells and on walls and all tastefully done.
FOOD & SERVICE We had high expectations for our 8th Princess cruise and we feel that they were met. Service always radiates down from the top and Capt. Manfuso is a serene, solid Commander who has well placed confidence in his crew. PSD Peter Hollinson has high standards and he ensures that they are met. Service throughout the ship was gracious, prompt and smiling. Especially helpful on a daily basis was Jr. Asst. Purser Hernan Cicchini (Want a daily paper? Times Fax? La Stampa? Money changed? Postage stamps? Ship information?, etc.). He is always pleasant and prompt, just incredible. Vincent also spent some time with the cordial Environmental Officer Tibor Filipovic to discuss the various on board activities, such as waste disposal, recycling, regulatory compliance, etc. The last CDC Vessel Sanitary Inspection made last March yielded a great score of 99/100.
But, of course it is in the restaurants and dining rooms where the quality is most evident. Executive Chef Giuseppe Pollara was always on his toes: He made some potato gnocchi that were so light that they floated off the plate straight into the mouth. The menu was broad, diverse, and the "Always Available" items were excellent: Appetizers of shrimp cocktail, Fettuccine Alfredo in a cheese basket, and Caesar's Salad; and Entrees like Beef Filet, Salmon Filet or grilled Chicken breast. During the week there was succulent Swordfish, Pheasant, Lobster Tails, Ossobuco, and Rack of Lamb, etc. The desserts were great under Pastry Chef Riccardo Bellaera. A freshly made Torta Millefoglie e Crema Inglese was wonderful not overly sweet, just delicious. The piece de resistance was a strawberry crostata made in an almond tart crust with layers of cream, mascarpone, and chocolate --- topped with a rose of thinly sliced fresh strawberries. Ah, Heaven! The ice creams are made on board Italian Style (gelato); try the nocciola, fragole, stracciatella, or the terrific sorbets.
Maitre D' Nicola Furlan is magnificent. His assistant Vitor remembered us from the Island Princess. It was like "Home Coming Week." Our Waiter Eduardo (Portugal) and his Asst. Waiter Pat (Thailand) were perfect. The pace was just right. Princess Cruises have distinctly Italian cuisine, since circa half of their executive chefs are Italian born and trained. We love it. The breads are properly cooked, crunchy crusts, white, whole grained, dark rolls and bread sticks.
Dinner at Trattoria Sabitini ($20 per person) is a must, since the ambiance is lovely and background music included Italian songs by Venditti, the Italian star singer and his guitarist Maurizio Perfetto. The music here was especially welcomed, since the dining room did not have any. The Restaurant Manager is the smiling Loredana and our waiters Florin, Barrio and Roberto served the seemingly endless courses. There is a menu from which to select an entree of Lobster, Jumbo Prawns, Veal Cutlet, Filet Mignon, etc. The rest of the meal is served course by course from platters: antipasti, grilled vegetables, soups, pizza course, salad, pasta course and entree and desserts. A terrific evening --- Ladies you will feel like a queen. The other upscale restaurant located on Deck 7 is the Sterling Steakhouse ($15 per person) which requires reservation and it is renown for prime quality meat. We have not been there, but we'll make it next time.
Dining Options are traditional seating in the Islands Dining Room: a fixed time and table each night. Anytime Dining in both the Palm and Coral Dining Rooms. This latter style is based on available seating, just like shore side, or reservations made through a concierge service by telephone in your room. There is also the 24 hour Horizon Court Buffet and room service. We always use room service for Continental Breakfast. Room service was on time and the food was quite good. If you desire American Breakfast then use the dining room or the Horizon Court.
CABIN We had Mini Suite #D528 on Dolphin Deck 9. The design is long and narrow and the colors cool and restful beige, white and willow green with nice wood accents. The bar and cabinets have granite tops. When entering the suite there is a long narrow hallway, so narrow that the wheelchair had to be folded to get in. On the left is a bathroom with a single sink, tub/shower and shelves for toiletries. Exiting, there is a long walk-in closet and a cupboard with shelves and a personal safe. On the left wall is the king size bed and two end table with dimmer lamps. Next there is a desk with mirror and drawers, and then a long green hide-a-bed sofa, a coffee table and a leather arm chair.
On the opposite wall is a double bar, two TVs, one facing the bed and the other the sofa, and a refrigerator. There are three rather nice prints on the walls reminiscent of Monet (a flower garden, a country home and a small European harbor town). The ceiling has a recessed double wood framed square with rounded edges: Rather interesting and effective. The far wall is all glass with a door leading to a small square balcony, on which are four chairs and a table. Deck 9 balconies are all open to the elements, since there are no covers or tops, cruisers are exposed to the view of others and the elements of wind, rain and direct sun. Deck 10 has partially covered balconies and 11, 12 and 14 are all covered. We were the recipients of strange flotsam, among which a dead rose (we are still pondering the meaning of such "gift").
Our cabin was always neat and well attended by Ernie, and we appreciated it.
ENTERTAINMENT This is s huge ship and there are many venues --- simultaneously every night were several shows in the Princess Theater, the Explorer's Lounge, and the Club Fusion. Cruise Director David Cole keeps it all sailing along smoothly. In the theater the "BIG" shows were good, but not spectacular. The most important innovation is "Movies under the Stars", an outdoor cinema on Calypso Deck 15 by the pool, with a giant screen visible during daylight and at night (now installed on other Grand class ships and on Carnival Liberty, etc.). There are also Scavenger Hunts, dance classes, Scholarship at Seas Programs, Trivia, Bingo and Casino games. There is nice music all around the ship, but alas none in the dining rooms--- only on the last night during the parade of the flaming Baked Alaska. Every evening at the Lobby Bar on Plaza Deck 5 there was great piano music. Bravo to the pianist Si Bi.
DEBARKATION This was a cinch. We are always amazed that passengers are in such a hurry to end their vacations. They bring hand luggage with them to breakfast; even though, they are informed that debarkation only begins after the ship's clearance by Port Authorities. They are so anxious to be off first that they disobey rules and clog the central exit areas of the ship. We always go to breakfast without luggage. Then we return to the cabin and get our hand bags. PSD Peter Hollinson arranged for wheelchair assistance to meet us in our rooms at 8:45am. We were assisted through passport check, baggage pick up, customs and were outside on the Pier at 9:10am awaiting our car. The system was entirely efficient.
PORTS OF CALL Day 1. Ft. Lauderdale, FL Sail Away 6:00pmDay 2. Princess Cay, Bahamas Arrive 9:30am Depart 4:00pm
The Island of Eleuthera was discovered by Columbus in 1492. Tender from the ship to the island. A great day at the beaches with swimming, snorkeling, water sports and BBQ.
Day 3. At sea We sailed through the "Windward Passage" between the islands of Cuba and Haiti. This is the first "Gala Night".
Day 4. Ocho Rios, Jamaica Arrive 7:00am Depart 3:30pm A favorite excursion here is the climbing of the famous Dunn's River Falls. We did that when we were younger and able, now we limit our visit to the nearby shopping area.
Day 5. Grand Cayman Arrive 7:00am Depart 3:30pm Interesting tours are Stingray City, Butterfly Farm and Helmet Dive. A few years back we explored the Coral Reef on the SeaMobile Submarine (a personalized dive for two persons); however, we do not know if it is still available. This is the second "Gala Night".
Day 6. Cozumel, Mexico Arrive 8:30am Depart 6:00pm We docked at the new Pier, just finished since the devastation of last year's Hurricane Wilma. There is a nice shopping Mall close by the pier where we found excellent values for gift and souvenirs. Here the most interesting tours are the Mayan Ruins at Tulum, the Eco-Archeological Park at X-Caret and some of the best reef snorkeling in the Caribbean.
Day 7. At sea.
Day 8. Ft. Lauderdale, FL Arrive 7:00am
CONCLUSIONS We have enjoyed a great cruise on this enhanced version of the Grand class ships. We are looking forward to cruising on the Crown Princess, launched this year, and the Emerald Princess (2007) to enjoy the newer ships of Princess, which remains one of our favorite Lines. However, we'll make sure not to book a cabin on the Dolphin Deck 9, since on this cruise we were not satisfied with our uncovered balcony. We feel the cuisine is among the best at sea, especially in regard to the Italian dishes, which we found simply delectable. Another suggestion we like to make is in regard to the Princess Patter format which is too wordy and difficult to use. Some other cruise lines offer a summary guide for quick reference to the daily activities, which can be detached from the main paper and carried in the shirt pocket when folded. However, there is a nice handy Quick Reference Dining & Bar Guide.
Our schedule of future cruises for the end of this year is the following: Freedom of the Seas on Oct. 15th, Carnival Legend on Nov. 8th, Norwegian Jewel on Nov. 26th and Queen Mary II on Dec. 9th. Happy Cruising!