Princess Cruises Caribbean Princess Eastern Caribbean July 22, 2005
Embarkation We stayed at the Sleep Inn in Dania, Florida the night before the cruise. We highly recommend them and they pick up at the airport and drop off at Port Everglades free of charge.
Embarkation was smooth and took about a half hour when we arrived at 11:30 am. After a short wait in line, we were ushered into a waiting room and issued a number. When the number was called we proceeded through security and check-in. The check-in lines were arranged by deck. If you have express check-in, the Princess representative checks your ID, collects the relevant documents, scans your credit card and you are ready to pose for the obligatory boarding photo and then board the ship. A pleasant surprise was that our cabins were ready for occupancy upon boarding.
The Ship The Caribbean Princess is huge at 116,000 tons and 19 decks. It is relatively new, having been commissioned in 2004. The central focus is on decks 5 through 7 which contain a nice atrium, most of the entertainment venues, restaurants, shops, casino, lounges, theater, photo gallery and the purser's desk. Decks 15 through 17 contain most of the pools, hot tubs, gym, sports and recreation facilities. The adult pool in the aft is on Deck 14. The children's facilities are located on Deck 18 and the spectacular Skywalker's Night Club is on Deck 19. One oddity of the ship's design is the Palm Dining Room which is accessible from the aft staircase and elevators only. If you have anytime dining this is a "best kept secret" as the wait times tend to be less than for the Coral Dining Room which is on Deck 7 adjacent to the shops and main elevators. Although with a capacity of 3,114 passengers and 1,200 crew members, never once did we feel crowded, except perhaps in the photo gallery, which even occurred on the Celebrity Zenith, which is much smaller.
Our Cabin Our cabin was an inside cabin on the Aloha Deck exactly at the center of the ship. The cabin was more than adequate to suit our needs and was well designed and laid out. The cabin attendant, who never introduced himself, was attentive and greeted us by name. There was no closet as in previous cabins, but there was a dressing area between the bath and the sleeping area which has very adequate space for hanging clothing, a small cupboard which also contains the safe. The dressing area also contains more than adequate space for storing suitcases. The television has CNN, TNT, Headline News, ESPN, movies, classic television shows and several channels dedicated to ship activities. Beware of the shopping lady, it became a running joke that she was on every channel as the TV automatically turned to that channel when you turned it on. Watching her too much can lead to an overdose of "perky." I would also take their shopping recommendations with a grain of salt as we have found better prices at other establishments in some, but not all cases.
Food Service Food was excellent both well prepared and presented with style in the dining room. Every evening there was a choice of four entrees, soups and appetizers. There are also four alternative always available appetizers and entrees as well as a light "spa" selection and a vegetarian selection. The Horizon Court Buffet is available 24 hours a day with fairly standard buffet fare. Twice during the lunch hour sushi was featured, with a good variety presented. We chose breakfast at the Horizon Court because of the greater variety available over the sit-down restaurant. Decent burgers, including turkey and veggie burgers are available adjacent to the pool on Deck 15 as well as very good thin crust pizza with margharita, pepperoni and a special of the day. We did not choose to eat at either Sabatini's or Sterling's Steakhouse. Afternoon high tea is served in the Coral Dining room on Deck 7 and is good fun. The buffet served on Princess Cays was good featuring burgers, ribs and chicken. But no cheese for the burgers? They also had lots of fruit and salad items available at Princess Cays.
Entertainment and Activities The Caribbean Princess offers a variety of entertainment in a variety of venues throughout the ship. The main theater offered production shows as well as the employee's talent show which was not only entertaining, but great fun. Three very good comedic acts were featured both in the theater and at the Explorers Lounge. Bert Stratton, who receives great acclaim on Cruisemates among some members, is not everyone's cup of tea. While he is very talented, we found a little bit of his act goes a long way. After a while his seeming inability to finish a song wears thin. He was featured in the very tiny Crooner's Lounge on Deck 7 and once in concert in the much larger Explorers Lounge.
The Caribbean Princess offers a great variety of activities and entertainment for all tastes, unless your tastes run to relaxing inactivity which they have well covered also. We participated in the ballroom dancing classes and I was proclaimed by Jason, the Assistant Cruise Director, to be "the Train Wreck in the Hawaiian Shirt." I preferred to call my dancing style "Oaf Dancing." We found the Newlywed Game to be predictably hilarious. The Cruise Director's staff does their utmost to ensure that the passengers have fun. There is a fairly large casino on Deck 7 which also seems fairly empty at most times. The casino offers the requisite variety of table games and slots from 5 cents to a dollar. For some reason, the poker craze has not caught up with Princess. Bingo is also conducted daily as well as the ever popular horse racing game. Movies Under the Stars (MUTS) is at once both a great entertainment innovation with the 300 square foot screen visible even during the daylight and great stereo sound, as well as an intrusive curse for those seeking peace and quiet by the pools as the movies and concerts blare forth all day. There are plenty of places to sun and enjoy the pools and hot tubs out of earshot. While we had no such in tow, the children and teen programs seemed well organized and well liked by the participants.
The Ports The Eastern Caribbean itinerary is not particularly port-intensive for a seven day cruise visiting but two ports, St. Thomas, USVI and St Maarten/St Martin. Additionally, there is a beach day stop at Princess Cays in the Bahamas. The cruise commences with a very leisurely two days at sea with a third sea day between St Maarten/St. Martin and Princess Cays.
St Thomas On St. Thomas we chose Princess' "Ultimate St. Thomas Tour" excursion as it gave a good overview of the island as well as beach time at Magen's Bay. We found the beach at Magen's Bay to be beautiful and delightful for swimming. Showers and changing rooms are available at Magen's Bay. The tour terminated at Blackbeard's Castle with return to the ship on your own. After a leisurely decent down the 99 steps into Charlotte Amalie, we shopped until we dropped. My wife particularly liked and recommends Mr. Tablecloth which offered substantial savings on beautifully crafted table linens. The cab from downtown to Havensight where the ship docked was $4. Havensight also has much of the same shopping available in town.
St Maarten/St Martin On St Maarten/St Martin we opted for the semi-submersible underwater tour with an island tour. The tour, which included a shopping stop in Marigot on the French side, featured a ride on a semi-submersible boat, which features underwater viewing on the lower deck. Once at the reef after departure from Grand Case, a diver attracted fish using sardines in tomato sauce as bait. Once done with the semi-submersible, we continued on the circuit around the island with an obligatory souvenir stop adjacent to Orient Beach and continued on back to the Dutch side where we had the option to terminate the tour in downtown Phillipsburg or go back to the ship. Since it was early, we opted to shop downtown and take the water taxi ($5) back to the dock area. Liquor by the bottle can be purchased at very cheap prices. We tasted the local Guavaberry Liqueur and decided it to be a "must".
Princess Cays Princess Cays is a wonderful beach day to relax and enjoy the water. Various water sports are available and there are plenty of places to lounge and relax. The lunch buffet was well prepared except for the previously mentioned lack of cheese for the burgers.
Debarkation Debarkation required us to vacate our cabins and assemble in public rooms and wait, unlike Celebrity. We grabbed seats in the Crooner's Lounge which along with the Explorer's lounge are closest to the stairwell through which we would disembark. Once called, we passed through immigration and then joined the scrum for our luggage which took about 10 minutes to locate all four bags. We then engaged a porter to speed us through customs. This is not a good time to try to save money as you will wait in line much longer if you decide to tote your own bags. We had opted for Princess transfers back to the Ft Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport and we were quickly ushered to the waiting bus which departed as soon as it was filled (about 10 minute wait).
Conclusion We had a wonderful time and plan to sail again on Princess. I would recommend this cruise for just about any age as only the true curmudgeons or terminally jaded could fail to have a good time.