Princess Cruises Caribbean Princess Western Caribbean May 6, 2006
About Us: Jim (64) and I (59) have been cruising for about 10 years. This is our 18th cruise; Seawind Crown, HAL (6 on Zuiderdam, 7 on others), Celebrity Century, NCL Norway, RCI (Enchantment, Brilliance, Majesty), and this Caribbean Princess. We have been spoiled by HAL, and have come to expect certain amenities that Princess could have, but did not offer. We went into this cruise with the notion that this bigger, newer ship would offer at least as much as HAL does, and perhaps that was our mistake. The only reason we booked this ship is because our favorite HAL Zuiderdam is in Alaska, and we do not care to go there. Period.
Overview As expected, the Caribbean Princess is a beautiful ship. The color scheme, art work and furnishings in general were lovely, and flowed beautifully. The physical layout is somewhat clumsy, as there are two spots where 'you can't get there from here', if you know what I mean. Some elevators only went to certain floors, and you have to navigate to the other end of the ship to get the right elevator. Even the convenient pocket-sized ship map didn't help much. We still had to go to the Atrium to see where we were. With the exception of Ernie, our cabin steward, Raj, the waiter, and the entire Casino staff, the level of service was way below par. I believe 'Anytime Dining' impairs the bonding necessary to attain that 'homey' feeling.
Embarkation Travel to Port Everglades was uneventful, and we arrived at the Pier at around 11:30. We waited outside in a looooooong line for the terminal doors to open at noon. Crying children, complaining passengers, rap music and constant ear-shattering fork-lift noises did not make this wait any easier. Once inside, we waited another 20 minutes in line for check-in, and stood in the boarding line for 10 minutes when the I-Pass computer system went down, stopping the boarding process. Another 20 minutes later we were allowed to board, and were directed (not escorted) to our cabin location by attendants in the elevator lobbies. Somewhat disappointed by our Jr. Suite and the dingy balcony, we went to the Horizon Court for a bite and had a very hard time finding a table. We ended up outside in the heat and humidity for our first uncomfortable taste of CB.
Cabin We were in Dolphin 628, a Cat AB Junior Suite just aft of midships. We had seen photos online, and were pleased by the color scheme in the bedroom part, but did not realize how long and narrow the room would be. The mirror behind the bed did help to enlarge the room visually, but did not make it any more comfortable. We found the walk-in closet to be nice, but almost all clothing had to be folded up on shelves. The only drawers in the cabin are not appropriate for clothing storage. The cabin is divided by a console housing the refrigerator and TV in the bedroom and another TV in the sitting room (both Panasonics with front jacks for DigiCams). Both are on the top shelf and while it's OK in the bedroom, my neck still hurts from watching it from the couch. Of course, you can't watch two different channels because the TVs are 12 inches apart and the sound from the other one is so annoying. We never used the rest of the console space. They should have put some DRAWERS there.
The desk is big enough to write on, but when you open your laptop (no dialup connection), there isn't room for anything else (I moved the phone to the floor). The hair dryer is decent and is right next to the desk with pretty good overhead lighting and another outlet for your curling iron. I guess the desk is really a dressing table.
The balcony is dismal. Four chairs (two that have dingy pads and recline, but not as long as loungers) and a dining table too high for the chairs. We used it for a footrest the few times we went out there. If the chairs had been comfortable, this uncovered balcony would have been great to sun on while you're waiting for a lounger at the pool. I think we used the balcony no more than 30 minutes.
Dining Traditional dining is being kept alive in the Island Dining Room for those of us who prefer it (but not for us, as we were too far down on the waitlist) in one of 3 dining rooms. The Palm and Coral Dining Rooms offered 'Anytime' dining, meaning you can show up at any time and be seated with friends or strangers or alone, and are served by a different waitstaff every time. If you click, you can arrange the same table - same waiter each night, but if you do, please either show up or call to cancel. They will hold such reservation 30 minutes before filling it.
On the 2nd formal night we asked to be seated anywhere and were installed at a nice table for 8. The other six chairs stared at us unfilled for the remainder of the meal. I have never felt so uncomfortable! There was no effort to find us table mates, so the waiter, Raj from India, did his best to make our meal as pleasant as possible. When the lobster was served, very undercooked, and we sent it back, Raj came back with a double-order cooked perfectly! There was a comment card on the table, so we gave kudos to Raj and suggested that 'whoever' seated this couple at an empty 8-top be retrained .
Horizon Court / Cafe Caribe: This 24-hour 'dining restaurant' is very nicely decorated with lots of big windows. That's the best thing I can say about it and Cafe Caribe as well. The service area is divided into stations which more or less contain the same-course foods. The exception is maybe the hot desserts which are by the teriyaki. There is no traffic organization... two entrances mean two directions (or more) and creates a swarm of piranha-like diners who must elbow their way to the front of the station only to find there's nothing they like. The little signs on the sneeze guard are not always taken down when the dish is exhausted, so don't be disappointed if your favorite dessert isn't there after all. I personally found the selections to be nicely varied, and there was always something I loved. Drink selections are regular/decaf coffee, hot tea, iced unsweetened tea and water. Lemon slices are thin and unsqueezable, so you must ask (find) an attendant for WEDGES. Straws must also be requested.
Sabatini's: We dined on 'Sampler Night' which meant we were served several bites of EVERYTHING on the menu (except we chose one main course and one soup). I loved the variety and had a taste of dishes I probably wouldn't think of ordering, but now I know I will. I had the Grilled Sea Bass which was absolutely excellent! Please make time to enjoy this dining venue... you will not be disappointed. Sterling Steakhouse: Based on negative reviews, we didn't dine there.
Room Service: We had Continental Breakfast every day; pastries, juice, fruit, cereal, coffee and tea are offered and delivered in 30-minute ranges, each one delivered on time, and re-checked for accuracy before the steward left. One afternoon I ordered a roast beef on rye with the best potato chips I ever had in my life. I can only assume other offerings are equally satisfying.
Ship FacilitiesAs previously said, the ship itself is quite beautiful. We found all show rooms, restaurants and lounges to be well-planned with very good acoustics and sight-lines. The Atrium area is gorgeous and enables you to find shops, bars and Ship Services easily.
Pools: The 4 pools were very nice, although the Pizza and Burger areas looked institutional, and the servers not very friendly. Every pool was crowded; every lounger occupied or 'saved'. We didn't use the 'swim-against-the-current' pool. We like to swim and sunbathe when the sun is out, not at 4:00 when we have other things to do. We spent NO time there.
Spa: The asian-themed facilities are typically decorated in relaxing natural textures and New Age music. There is a sauna, a traditional steam and an herbal steam (good for you sinus sufferers), and heated stone chairs which drain the tension right out of your bones. Aaaahhh. I had my usual 3 Ionithermie treatments with Leanne from South Africa. I only lost 9" this time, but the thighs are primo!
Warning... the spa pass includes only the 4 things above. Even though there is a door to a pool, it is NOT a HYDRA-THERAPY pool! There are no bubbling warm therapeutic seawater aquajets for your shoulders... It's cold, the hot tubs are cold, it's public (!), they sell alcohol (!)
Disco: Skywalkers Nite Club can only be accessed by a people-mover way up in the shopping-cart handle. Lots of neon and chrome enhance this space-age disco... huge windows reflect the lighting back atcha. We enjoyed the '70-'80s music 'til about midnight when the 'wangstas' came in and they changed to rap music, at which time we left.
Showroom: We only saw one show in the Princess Theater. The seating is comfortable and acoustics and sightlines are excellent.
Photo: Although they were all conveniently labeled as to which DR, sitting, port, etc., we couldn't find most of the photos taken of us. We did notice that the attendant really, REALLY didn't want to be there. When someone couldn't find the cast-off box and handed the unwanted photos to him, he threw them across the counter onto the floor. He needs a cruise.
Casino: The Casino is the biggest cruise ship casino we have ever experienced. While they still have only one Craps table, it IS open during the daytime. You'll also find low rising gaming tables designed to be handicapped-accessible, but were occupied by any and everyone, and are much more comfortable than bar stools, in my opinion.
Internet Café: I'm still fuming there is no dialup access in my suite. I'm accustomed to composing emails and logging on just a few moments to send them, then disconnecting, for a minimal charge. On CB, it's 35˘ per minute for surfing, composing, downloading... everything! I could have dragged my laptop to a hotspot, but it's so far and so much trouble.
MUTS (Movies Under the Stars): This innovative outdoor theater was visited by many passengers, although we never saw SRO... the screen is huge and displays beautiful crisp color even in daylight.
Putting Course: This is an insult. It is very small and shabby, considering its age of 2 years. Don't waste your time.
Staff Ernie, our cabin steward, was the single most important crew member... he managed to keep our cabin neat and stocked despite our ridiculous sleep schedule Leann from the Lotus Spa (series of 3 Ionithermies) was very personable and understanding when I insisted on NOT purchasing any 'product' The Casino Host and many of the dealers were very friendly and pretty much made the cruise for us Raj, our waiter one formal night, was very attentive CD Dave Cole was funny and endearing (sorry, I never got to meet him)
Excursions This is my stock advice. I print it with every review. If you haven't already booked online, when you arrive at your cabin you will find a Shore Excursions brochure listing the various activities available shoreside. You may fill out the order form at your leisure and deposit it in the Express Drop Box at the Shore Excursions Desk. Please keep in mind that the most popular trips sell out very fast. If you are traveling with friends and want to go together, put all the tickets on one room card. One time we ordered separately and one couple got the tickets and one couple didn't.
Ship Activities We found the schedule of activities to be difficult to coordinate with other activities and dining times.The Rest
Passengers: Average age around 40, almost no children underfoot, and no unruly drunks.
Smoking: Bring your own cigarettes. Only a few brands are offered at the bars. If you smoke something simple, like Winston, you're outta luck. Smoking is very limited in public areas.
Motion: Seas were smooth (barely a ripple) so I can't comment on CB's ability to handle rough seas. Personally, I found something missing in the lack of motion, and I didn't have that 'rocking' for 3 days afterwards. Rules and Regs:
Parents and Guardians are responsible for their children's behavior; are asked to restrain them from loud or disruptive behavior, running in public rooms, open decks or passageways and playing in elevators; must encourage all children to conform to the suggested dress code, and wear cover-ups in interior public places
Gambling: Pax under the age of 21 may not attend cash prize Bingo unless accompanied by a parent or guardian and are not permitted in the Casino Skywalkers Nightclub is off limits to pax under 18 or without valid photo ID Alcohol is served to pax at least 21 with valid photo ID Gym & Hot Tubs, sauna, steam rooms or golf areas are for pax 16 and older unless accompanied by a parent or guardian
Pools Spa Pool on deck 16 and Terrace Pool on deck 14 are for adult use only Children are not permitted to use the pools without an adult to supervise No diving, jumping and running Stay off all safety netting For health and safety reasons, CHILDREN IN DIAPERS WILL NOT BE ALLOWED IN ANY OF THE POOLS Evening Shows: Teens and children are welcome to attend the evening entertainment with their parents/guardians, but may not sit in the front 3 rows of the
Debarkation: Beginning at 8:30, debarkation went very smoothly. I did not like having to wait in the public areas (all seating space taken), but the wait was not too long, and we took turns going to the bathroom. Luggage was easily found, although OUR TSA TATTLETALE LOCKS WERE CUT OFF ! Regardless, we were outta there in plenty of time for our noon flight.
- 1. Offer a place to sit while waiting outside for the check-in doors to open. You have seating on the way out, why not on the way in? Bad first impression.
- 2. Have stewards in the Horizon Court help the 3.000 passengers who are carrying a platter, plate and bowl full of food, silverware and a drink to find a place to sit. While you're at it, give them a tray to make it easier to carry.
- 3. Sell different brands of cigarettes.
- 4. Replace that putting course.
- 5. Lower the sitting room TVs. There's plenty of room on the shelf below.
Saturday, Embarkation: [As above] We waited outside (in the heat and humidity) in a looooooong line for the terminal doors to open at noon. Crying children, complaining passengers, rap music and constant ear-shattering fork-lift noises did not make this wait any easier. Once inside, we waited another 20 minutes in line for check-in, and stood in the boarding line for 10 minutes when the I-Pass computer system went down, stopping the boarding process. Another 20 minutes later we were allowed to board, and were directed (not escorted) to our cabin location by attendants in the elevator lobbies. Our cabin was a bit disappointing, but acceptable, and after gathering some reading material, we headed for the Horizon Court for what we hoped would be a wonderful Lunch Buffet.
What we found was a swarm of like-minded cruisers trying to balance a platter, bowl, napkin and tableware while elbowing in to the 'stations' of what you would think were different courses, but are really only divided into hot things, cold things, saucy things, dry things and wet things (like pastry with hot vanilla sauce next to the stir-fry). The beverage bar offered unsweetened (ugh) iced tea and water, coffee and hot tea. Lemons were sliced thinly (impossible to squeeze) and no straws were available. Soft drinks are available from cocktail stewards.
Once we had selected all that we could comfortably carry, we started the search for a place to sit. We went around twice, through the Cafe Caribe and back, and finally went outside in the heat and humidity to an uncomfortable plastic table... no salt & pepper, sugar, steward... a total turnoff. The food was decent, but for seconds, one person has to stay and save the table. Disappointed again, we went down for a nap.
The safety drill is held inside instead (thankfully) of outside on the Promenade, and you don't put on your life jackets until they give you the instructions. After touring the ship, we skipped the Sailaway Party and tried the Sailaway Buffet, which was the cold lobster, crab, shrimp and other seafood. We thought the food was pretty good, but had a hard time finding a table. We skipped the Grand Adventure Showtime, but caught a few minutes of Princess Pop Star, which was somewhat entertaining. Nothing else of interest, so we retired early after a long day of travel and disappointment.
Sunday, Princess Cays We had reserved 2 Floats online, and got there just in time to claim them. Fortunately, there were two unused loungers way in the back, and we were able to drag them down to the shoreline. We ordered the frozen NADoD, and were surprised when they came in a large plastic cup with no top or straw. I asked the steward if there was a lid of some kind, and he said, "No, but I'll get you something" which turned out to be another large plastic cup to be turned upside-down on top of the other. WHAT? How do you keep the sand out of your drink? At every other beach I've ever visited, they have hard plastic cups with TOPS AND STRAWS. Can you tell I'm still mad?
At 4:30 I had a 55 minute Ionithermie with Leann. She is a wonderful therapist, and the cool strawberry/cucumber water, low lights and new wave music gave me the most relaxing few moments of the cruise, so far. Monday, Sea Day Highlights of this day were Josh's Live Cocktail Demo, Battle of the Sexes Pool Games, Piano Man matinee, Survival Challenge (round 1), Captain's Welcome Party, Rock 'n' Roll Party, and 3 showings (we couldn't find seats in any of them) of Steve Moris' Comedy Showtime. Jim signed me up for the "Princess Price is Almost Right Game Show" and I was chosen to "come on down". I received a prize for participating (a certificate for a waterproof laptop case).
We tried to fit a formal night dinner in between shows, but couldn't get the timing right. We were seated with two other couples and a family of four, and had a pleasant, if unremarkable, dinner.
Tuesday, Ocho Rios We had high hopes for our River Tubing Safari which was to go from 11:30 - 3:00. We lined up on time at the pier, only to find there was no one there to greet us. Jim had forgotten his sunglasses and tried to buy some at the only store, finding only items of the lowest quality for TEN DOLLARS EACH. The first pair broke after 5 minutes, and the only good thing I can say about these people is that they gave him an exchange. I guess at a markup of about 1,000% they can afford to. Someone finally showed up at about noon, and we filled up a few vans and headed out. The ride up the hill should have taken about 20 minutes, but we had to stop and put air in the tires on the way. The road is narrow and rocky and full of potholes, and I'm glad I took my Dramamine. Once there, we stood at the launch area for about 45 minutes... 100 degrees IN THE SUN ... WITH NO DRINKING WATER ... and the tubes were finally brought back up from the bottom. This was to be a leisurely 2-mile float through scenic areas, but we were pushed and herded and directed to one side or another by 'guides' and were not at all relaxed. We had to hold onto the other rafts, and Jim's shoulder hurt for 2 weeks. At the end we were directed to a shack where we were able to get a drink while our photos were being processed. They had 6 or 8 laptops working, and all the people in our group had to look through all of them, find their photos, decide which ones they wanted to burn to disk, and we were among the last when they had an equipment failure. Our guide was sweating 'cause we wanted our photos and he needed to get us back on time or lose his contract. We made it, but after experiencing the downhill ride of a lifetime! I wouldn't do it again.
Highlights of Tuesday were Comedy Showtime with David Orion, 80's Disco Daze, 80's Princess Pop Star (very good) and Tropical Island Night Deck Party. We chose the Casino.
Wednesday, Grand Cayman Jim stayed aboard while I went shopping. Fortunately I have been there before and knew just where I wanted to go. GC is a very good shopping town, and I try to walk around for at least a couple of hours when I'm in the neighborhood.
I relaxed during my Ionithermie treatment (feel those inches falling off). I had purchased a week of spa passes, and Jim was going to meet me after my treatment so we could enjoy the spa pool, which wasn't at all what we thought it would be. It's not a thermal pool, or even part of the spa! It's a public access pool! Even the water in the jacuzzis was cool! We went straight to the spa desk and spoke to the Manager, who politely agreed to refund the week's fee, less fees for one full day, which we didn't even use. At least we got something back.
We skipped the Ice Carving Demo, Comedy Showtime with Miguel Washington, "Caribbean Caliente" (the Ultimate Party Show, Golden Oldies Princess Pop Star and a Spelling Bee Qualifying Round. After dinner we visited the Skywalkers Nightclub, which was fabulous! Great music, seating, lighting effects, views... we even got up and danced! We left when the gangstas came in and the music changed, then went down to close down the casino.
Thursday, Cozumel This is usually my favorite port, but it was uncomfortably hot and humid, and our bed was so cool and comfortable... we played it lazy all day. We missed both showings of Spotlight Cabaret with Comedy Juggler Adam Kario, Country & Western Hoe Down, Concert with Bert Stratton, Country Princess Pop Star, and an International Crew Show.
Friday, Sea Day My last Ionithermie report showed I lost 9˝ inches (my record is 13˝), and I was very pleased with the way my skin looked. We started to pack it up, collecting our shore-boughten liquor and filling out our Passenger Questionnaire (we needed extra paper for this one). We're usually sad to leave a ship... not so this one.
We didn't see any of the Culinary Demo/Galley Tour, Survival Challenge Finals, Maitre d' Wine Club, Farewell Variety Showtime with Miguel Washington and Kimika or Spelling Bee Final, but the Princess Pop Star Final was very nicely done.
Saturday, Debarkation The Caribbean Princess is a pretty big ship, but can you imagine 3,000 pax and all their carryon gear sitting in the public places (floors) waiting to get off? We had an early flight and did not feel like waiting, so we went to the gangway and when they called the next number we left. No one was checking tickets (most pax don't even know they're supposed to tear off the stubs). We then found our luggage and discovered TWO LOCKS HAD BEEN CUT OFF. One TSA tattle-tale lock and one TSA regular lock. Nothing missing, but the locks are pricey!
We won't be sailing Princess again, unless a group of friends forces us to.