Princess Cruises Caribbean Princess By Annette and Irving Rudy Eastern Caribbean - February 4, 2007
This was our first cruise, and our overall experience far exceeded our expectations. This cruise was the closest we could ever get to the perfect vacation. The ship was exquisite, our inside stateroom was equally elegant, the service was superb, the food was equivalent to eating in a fine restaurant, and most of the entertainment and activities were first-rate.
We are both business and health care professionals, ages 57 and 60. While Annette is the more easy-going spouse, I tend to be more particular in my travel preferences. My positive reactions to this cruise speaks volumes for its high quality and good value.
Flights and embarkation
We were unable to book our own flights to arrive in Ft. Lauderdale a day earlier due to heavy bookings for the Super Bowl, which was taking place on our day of departure. Princess came through with a good schedule, although the transfers at Newark (inbound on Continental) and Chicago (outbound on American Airlines), made each trip much longer than a direct flight.
The heavy Super Bowl air traffic caused an arrival delay of just over an hour, and the Princess airport-to-pier transfer was handled very efficiently, bringing us on board at about 3 p.m. -- an excellent time to avoid line ups (there were none) inside the cruise terminal. Pre-registering our passenger information on-line helped speed things up, and the entire embarkation procedure took less than five minutes.
The ship and staterooms
The Caribbean Princess can only be described as an elegant ship. It's less than three years old, and still looks brand new. We saw little evidence of wear and tear from the constant flow of 3,100 different passengers every week. The ship is finished throughout in beautiful wood paneling with gold trims and a liberal use of marble; the bars, lounges, dining rooms and buffet areas are tastefully decorated, and even the elevators and vast carpeted staircases provide the feeling of a luxury hotel.
What also really impressed us about the ship was its sheer cleanliness. Every area, including its many washrooms and all public areas, were always spotless.
We took an inside stateroom, having heard that it's the best value on the ship, since you have the same food, same facilities and same entertainment as people paying much higher fares. (For example, about $600 more for a balcony room). We weren't disappointed. Our mid-ship room was finished in rich wood veneers and wood trims, along with a wall-to-wall mirror behind the bed, and had better lighting than any hotel room we have ever stayed in. I counted 7 recessed lights in the ceiling alone. There was ample room, and we never felt that we were getting in each other's way, especially since we spent very little time in the room. (We heard that passengers with balcony rooms tend to spend more time on their balconies and eating in their rooms, and less time using the ship's facilities.)
The bedroom itself was about 10 x 11 ft., with the hallway, closet area and bathroom accounting for roughly another 50 sq. ft. The closet area was well designed, at least six feet wide with lots of room to hang clothes and store luggage. The bathroom, although compact, was well-finished, well-ventilated and functional. The shower (with a great showerhead) posed no problem, although a large passenger might have a problem with its dimensions.
Our friendly stateroom steward serviced the room twice a day, and it was always left in immaculate condition. We really enjoyed finding the towels changed and the bathroom cleaned for a second time each day, and the little chocolates left on the pillows of the turned-down bed.
The stateroom has its own air-conditioning thermostat, which was very practical, and we never found that any area of the ship was either too cold or too hot. One of the best features is that the staterooms seem to be very soundproof. We never heard a sound from any adjacent rooms, and seasoned cruisers told us that the soundproofing was much better than on other ships they have traveled on.
The acoustics elsewhere on the ship were also very good, for example in the large dining rooms, where noise was never a problem.
We also found that the ship never felt crowded, and we almost never encountered line-ups or long waits,which is amazing on a ship with 3,100 passengers. (Perhaps half of the passengers were always on their balconies!)
Facilities and entertainment:
There was always plenty to do on the ship. We started each day with a walk on the promenade deck or visit to the fitness center. The fitness room is huge and well-equipped, with a large selection of Cybex weight training equipment, free weights, at least 20 treadmills, elliptical trainers, stationary bikes, etc. This room is in the best location on the ship: top deck, right at the front, with large panoramic windows for a super "Captain's view" of the ocean. It's worth a visit even if you don't plan to work out. In fact, it's one of the most under-utilized areas on the ship.
The pools are very attractive, and the Neptune pool at mid-ship seems to attract the largest number of users. It's fairly busy in the mornings, but it's easy to find a lounge chair during the afternoons. Shaded areas are at a premium, but we always found some area to sit in, and moved closer to the pool as the day progressed. At first I thought the pools were "wave pools," but it seems that the water moves around due to the movements of the ship. While I was never seasick during the cruise, the only time I felt a bit queasy was in the pool, possibly due to the water's sometimes intense movements.
The "Movies under the Stars" outdoor screen at the Calypso Pool is an interesting concept, but we never sat through an entire movie for a couple of reasons: during the day, most movies seemed geared towards children, and in the evenings there was great entertainment indoors.
The Princess Theatre offered one or two different shows every night. We saw two "Broadway style" musical shows, one of which (Piano Man) was really great, plus a show with a comedy hypnotist (Fernandez) that was hilarious. Another evening, a magnificent singer was on stage, and comedian Scott Wyler kept us in stitches at another show. Each show seems to run a standard 60 minutes, and if you want a good seat, get there at least 20 minutes in advance.
A superb jazz singer entertained on various nights in the Wheelhouse Bar. An excellent Caribbean band, Onlyne, played and sang every day at the Neptune pool, and often appeared in certain lounges at night. Same for Cruisin' Steel, a one-man steel drum singer and musician.
A couple of the comedians weren't fantastic, but we always found something else interesting to do.
Food, food and more food
We ate only two meals at the buffets: on our day of arrival for a late lunch, and on the afternoon after visiting the beach at Princess Cays, only because the dining room had already closed. While word has it that the same food in the dining rooms is available at the buffets, we didn't find the quality to be the same, and it was not as relaxing as having table service.
Since there is so much choice, buffet plates tend to be a mélange of many different foods that don't really belong together. Making individual choices in the dining room seems to make the food taste better, and in the rare instance where we didn't like something, the waiters were always happy to replace it with something else. This very accommodating aspect of eating in the dining room was a big plus.
If you prefer buffet-style food, one very positive aspect is that the view from the window tables in the buffet area is spectacular.
We chose "anytime dining" for dinner, and never had a problem getting a table or the waiters we wanted. One suggestion: find a waiter, assistant waiter and head waiter that you really like, and build a relationship with them during the week. The waiters enjoy chatting with the passengers, and you may find that service improves as the week progresses. We did this for breakfast and lunch in the Coral Dining Room, and dinner in the Palm Dining Room. A large proportion of the waiters and stewards were from the Philippines and Mexico, displaying a strong work ethic combined with excellent customer service training. The top notch service we received from the hard-working staff really added to our overall experience.
Each of the two art-deco style dining rooms holds about 600 persons, although only the Coral Dining Room serves lunch.
The food was usually delicious and always plentiful. A three-course lunch was sometimes much more than we could handle, and how about five courses for supper? Highlights of our dinners: roasted rack of lamb, lobster tails (I ate four!), delicious grilled jumbo shrimp, a variety of fresh fish dishes, excellent low-cal salad dressings, cheesecake and other great desserts.
We never ate in the specialty restaurants, since the food in the dining rooms was much better than we ever expected. Other passengers said they immensely enjoyed the specialty restaurants, where they were served huge meals with many courses.
Wine prices were very reasonable, such as a Caliterra Chardonnay from Chile ($26), Rosemount Estates Chardonnay from Australia ($28), and the best of the lot: Pouilly-fuissé Gerald Duboeuf 2005 from France for $32. Liquor prices in general are not too high: a very good Mexican Beer, Dos Equis, was $3.95; flavored martinis were $6.50.
One of the best values on the ship is the large glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice, which seemed to be available only from the waiters at poolside: $2.75
The pizza at poolside is not too great, and the hamburger/hot dog/fries stand didn't look much better. But who needs it after all the great food in the dining room? And forget about paying for ice cream at poolside. There are always different flavors of ice cream available as a dessert choice in the dining rooms, at lunch and supper.
One last note: the buffet lunch at Princess Cays was not very good, so get to the beach early and head back to the ship for lunch!
Areas for improvement:
If this review sounds a bit too positive, we should mention that Princess could make some improvements to enhance passengers' overall experience and safety:
*Smoking is still permitted in various areas of the ship, which is strange, considering that 75% of the population in most industrialized countries no longer smokes. It's also a great hazard, judging by the serous fire caused by a cigarette onboard the Star Princess in March 2006.
The Princess Answer Book says smoking is not permitted in the show lounges, but at least two show lounges reeked of smoke so badly that we never set foot in them. And in the Wheelhouse Lounge (great jazz singer), although there is a separate smoking section, the bar is also a smoking area -- and it's right next to the non-smokers! Passengers, and sometimes staff, smoked on the promenade deck, on the upper decks, and adjacent to the pool area. The casino was a smokers' den. And of course, passengers are still free to smoke in their rooms, in their beds and on their balconies (where that Star Princess fire started). The only solution is to restrict smoking to enclosed "safe areas," only for smokers. Let's hope the cruise lines finally see the light of this growing trend.
*We noticed that the two lifeguards at Princess Cays, both employed by Princess, were napping at mid-day, and faced the sand, not the water, when they were awake.
*Pricing for casual Internet use is excessive: It cost us close to $12 to send a very short e-mail ($6 for 8 minutes, plus $4 registration fee, plus 15 percent service charge). If you type very slowly, wait until you get to St. Thomas: 10 cents a minute with a $1 minimum.
*We were able to block out most of the incessant sales and photo programs on the ship, but we felt the ship went too far by setting up tables in the atrium filled with watches and jewelry. The elegant atmosphere of the ship is compromised by this daily "bazaar atmosphere," since the atrium is the jewel of the ship and provides much of its class.
We picked the Caribbean Princess because it was one of the few ships that received mostly positive reviews in CruiseMates. It's a great ship, with much to offer, so don't hesitate to book a cruise. Bon voyage!