OVERALL GRADE: my grade: A, wife's grade: A
Perspective My wife and I are in our early thirties and have so far vacationed only infrequently. This trip was her first cruise ever and my first cruise as an adult. My two other cruising experiences were as a child and I have only vague memories of those vacations. We chose Princess and the Caribbean Princess in particular because we liked the idea of a large new ship, we liked the ports of call, the price was reasonable, and we were leery of sales pressure, nickel and diming, and crass/cheesy activities that we anticipated on some other lines.
Stateroom (my grade: A-, wife's grade: A- ) We booked a category BD balcony cabin on the Baja deck. The room was very clean and was maintained in an immaculate condition throughout the cruise by the room steward. Storage in the bathroom was ample with countertop around the sink and three small shelves for toiletries. We did not bring and over-the-door shoe storage device for extra storage and would not have used it if we had. The shower was small (my wife had difficulty shaving her legs) but water pressure and temperature were good. The only peculiarity of the bathroom was a relative lack of cold water from the tap. The coldest if ever became was luke warm.
We found closet space and storage shelves to be much more than expected. A small safe is located on one of the shelves and it functioned well the entire week. Within the main room, there are two nightstands, a small desk, and a unit in the corner that contains a refrigerator on the bottom, storage in the middle (with two glasses and a bottle of water for sale), and a TV on the top. The only complaint I have about the room is that the location of the refrigerator within the bottom cabinet provides very little ventilation and as a result the refrigerator did not work well at all. Since my existence is absolutely dependent on cold Diet Pepsi, I was forced to find a solution. To make a long story short, one must disconnect the refrigerator door from the cabinet door my gently lifting the refrigerator door 1/4 inch to disengage the sliding connection mechanism and then keep the cabinet door open all the time (one can easily reconnect the doors at the end of the cruise with no harm done). The AC in the room is quite robust and worked nicely. The only clock in the room is a small LCD on the phone. For this reason, we were glad that we brought a full size clock radio.
The balconies on the Baja deck are the smallest of the balcony types and contain a plastic table and two chairs. The balcony is completely covered and quite private unless someone peeks around from either side. Looking down one has a view of the 1/2 covered Caribe desk balconies and the fully exposed Dolphin deck balconies (both have loungers in addition to the two chairs and a table). We liked the covered balcony since a break from the sun was frequently welcome. We never slept with the door open, however a bungee cord to keep the door open would not have been necessary. Overall, we loved the balcony and hope to get another in the future.
Dining Palm Dining Room - PC with standing reservation for 6:00 (my grade: A-, wife's grade: B+) We dined in the Palm dining room 5 nights, four of which were at the same table. The staff were clearly working hard to turnover the tables rapidly. This was great for us since we tend not to linger over meals. If you prefer a more measured pace, you might not have been happy. We usually arrived at approximately 5:50 and were out the door by 7:00. Service was excellent on four of the nights and just adequate on the other. The overall quality of the food was very good to excellent given the number of patrons. As expected, the cuisine was not "5-star". We had no problems obtaining a table for two each night.
The menu order was: Sailaway, Captain's Welcome, Italian, Caribbean, Chef's, Captain's Gala, and Landfall.
Sabattini's Tratoria (my grade: A-, wife's grade: A-) We believed the experience was worth the extra $40.00 and have no regrets. You are served small amounts of many different items (the entree is the only selection you make) that add up to a large meal at the end. Service was excellent.
Cafe Caribe & Horizon Court (my grade: B, wife's grade: B-) Dining is these venues is hard to evaluate since there was much variability for different meals and between different food items. Dinner time was the highlight and breakfast the lowlight. My wife believes that breakfast was better in Horizon Court than in Cafe Caribe. Neither was crowded except on the first and last days of the cruise. Service with respect to water, beverages, and clearing plates was excellent. Quality of deserts was variable but we were always able to find something to our liking during our late night raids.
Trident Grill & Pizza (my grade: A, wife's grade: A-) Burgers, hot dogs, and brats were very good. Whatever they pay the guys who work over the grill, it is not enough.
Afternoon Tea in Coral Dining Room (my grade: A-, wife's grade: A-) Tea, scones, little pastries, and little sandwiches. All very good.
Coffee everywhere (my grade: N/A, wife's grade: D-) Watered down and bad tasting according to my wife.
Room Service (no grade) We attempted to order dining room items to our room but were told by the person who answered the phone that this was not possible (only a limited menu available). We were disappointed since other reviews had mentioned that this was an option. We asked at the guest services desk but did not recieve a clear answer.
Other Public Areas Pools & Deck Chairs (my grade: A-, wife's grade: B-) The two main pools always attracted a crowd. Likewise, until near the end of the cruise the hot tubs at these pools always seemed to be filled. We were able to find quiet times in the aft pool and the spa pool/hot tubs during the early evening and at night. Deck loungers around the pool were difficult to obtain but there were always many empty loungers in less prime locations. My wife noted numerous instances of saving loungers and was mildly annoyed.
All other areas... ... were very clean, well maintained, and tastefully decorated. Club fusion and the wheelhouse bar were underutilized by the passengers but the explorers lounge on a few occasions had standing room only.
Perhaps our only complaint is that the forward portion of the Promenade deck is closed after sunset for "safety reasons". One neat location that was relatively undiscovered by most passengers was a deck on top of the bridge that is accessed by going all the way forward on the lido deck and through two sets of doors. Great views but sometimes closed for high winds.
Entertainment We do not have much to say about the entertainment since we did not attend many events.
Caribbean Caliente Show (my grade: C-, wife's grade: C) I dislike this type of thing even if it were Broadway quality so you may want to disregard my opinion. My wife thought it was cheesy and the sound was loud beyond the point of distortion. She did however like the dancing and the props. Not enough seats on the first night (Thursday), but plenty on the second night.
Skywalkers Bar (my grade: B+, wife's grade: B+) Wonderful location and decent crowds on both formal nights. A bit too much hip-hop and rap music for our dancing taste. The new college grad crowd liked the hip-hop (60%) but we prefer more 80s (20%) or trance (10%) or techno (10%).
Movies Under the Stars (my grade: A, wife's grade: B+) Well organized and a fun way to spend a few hours. The blankets were not needed and the popcorn was not the best but we had a great time. If you see "Starsky and Hutch" we recommend going a little drunk. The other movie was "Calendar Girls".
Ports of Call
St. Thomas We did not participate in ship tours and chose to remain on St. Thomas since we felt the travel time to St. John was more than we were willing to devote. We split our time between Coki beach, Sapphire beach, and Magen's Bay beach with taxi rides in between.
Coki Beach Dive Club (my grade: A++, wife's grade: A) We booked the discover scuba tour by calling Coki beach dive club directly, this saved us $30.00 each compared to the same activity through Princess. We were met at the gangway by an employee who directed the ship's excursion people onto a bus and then drove us over to Coki in her car. Once there we received very brief instruction on scuba diving and the people on the ship's excursion went out first in groups of 6. We occupied ourselves by snorkeling and were very pleased my the numerous fish. When the people on the ship's excursion returned after about an hour, we went out with the next available dive master and had him all to ourselves since we were the only two who booked independently (despite three ships in port!). In anticipation of this activity, my wife did a discover scuba class at our local dive shop and thus had about two hours of pool diving experience under her belt by the time we got to Coki (I am certified), this worked out very well and put her at ease. Coki is not the best reef in the world but it is good for beginners since the sandy bottom slopes gently downward and there is no need to go deeper that 40 feet or so. We saw many fish, an eel, and much coral. We liked the experience so much that we went for a second dive before the next cruise ship group arrived at 1:00. The people at the dive club were friendly and made sure we had a great time. They provide secure storage of personal effects for their patrons.
Sapphire Beach Great beach with OK snorkeling. Fresh water showers to wash off the sand. A few iguanas wandering about. One of the culinary highlights of the entire trip was a blackened Mahi-mahi sandwich (grade: A++) at the beach-bar all the way to the right (as you are facing the sea) near the little jetty . The bar has pools on two sides and is associated with a resort of some type. No secure storage of personal effects.
Magen's Bay Somewhat crowded but quite beautiful with clear water. We are glad that we took the time to at least see this area. No secure storage of personal effects.
Driving on the island was anxiety inducing and we are glad that we did not rent a car.
Rhino Rider Excursion (my grade: A, wife's grade: A-) We started the day with the ship's Rhino Rider excursion from 8:00-11:00. We were loaded on a tour bus and driven to the dock in Simpson's lagoon. The Rhino's are a little beat up but all seemed to function just fine. We went out in groups of 7 boats, one of which was the guide. We followed in single file to the north end of Simpson lagoon and then crossed under a bridge to enter the sea. At that point we spread out a little and proceeded north along the coastline, past Marigot, to a beach with no other visitors but nice condos in the immediate vicinity. The boats were quick and a lot of fun. The views were unique and quite memorable. Overall, we had an excellent time. My only complaint was the price: for cruise ship passengers, one boat (two people) is $179.00, if booked independently it is only $84.00. They do not allow independent booking if you are on a cruise ship. Secure storage of personal effects is available at the dock in the form of plastic laundry baskets that they store inside the business while you are away.
Marigot (Tropicana Restaurant: my grade: A+, wife's grade: A++) After we completed the Rhinos, we decided to not take the tour bus back to the ship but instead called a taxi and proceeded to Marigot the long way past Maho beach and Mullet bay. We did not stop at either location but did see the unrepaired damage to the time share condos at Mullet from a hurricane several years ago. Apparently there is ongoing litigation between the time-share patrons and the owner of the property who received the insurance settlement but then refused to repair the damage!!! On our way to Marigot we saw several impressive mansions that our driver claimed belonged to celebrities such as Governor Schwarzenegger and others. Once at Marigot we walked around the Marina and stopped for lunch at the Tropicana restaurant (recommended in another review). The Tropicana was the second culinary highlight of the trip with an A++ special of Tuna and Swordfish (total bill for 2 $41.00 US). After lunch we looked for a taxi, but had difficulty finding one until we went over to the straw market on the seaside.
Orient Beach We then went to Orient Beach where we were greeted not by beautiful naked French girls but by a rainstorm. The rain cleared after about an hour and we walked down to Club Orient and then back to our starting point (rain was again threatining). We hailed another cab (actually a private car posing as a cab) for the ride back to the dock. We liked Orient but do not have much to say since our time there was limited.
Princess Cays We were in line for tender tickets at 8:15am and went over on the second boat. Shaded chairs were plentiful at that time and we enjoyed both the beach and the nice BBQ lunch (long lines around noon, and also longer lines on the right side as you are standing on the beach facing the sea). Our last activity was a much better than expected snorkeling adventure on the right side of the beach near the jetty with the covered gazebo. Fish were plentiful and there were many sizes and varieties.
Weather & Seas Seas were calm and we had only two short lived rainstorms.
Selling Pressure on the Ship They obviously want to sell pictures, various trinkets, bottled water in the staterooms, and after dinner drinks (a special waiter comes around everyday during dessert and asks if you would like an after dinner liqueur in a special glass). I have little tolerance for sales pitches and found these to be non-intrusive and easy to ignore/decline.
Obstreperous Children Generally none. A few ill-timed cannonballs into the pool here and there.
Crowds The only crowds we encountered were in the buffets on the first and last days. In our opinion, crowding was definitely not a problem.
Sabatini's Reservations We arrived at Sabatini's at 1:00 to make our reservation for Monday night (they do not take phone reservations until after 5:00). The line was already long and agonizingly slow moving. The two employees were confused and were telling people different things with respect to whether or not Sterling steakhouse reservations could be made at the same time. Our complaint was that the employees made no effort to find out what should have been happening.
OVERALL GRADE: my grade: A, wife's grade: A
Any prolems I have mentioned above were small and overall insignificant. We had a fabulous time and would sail on this ship again in a hearbeat