by Fun Cruiser
November 4, 2006
We arrived at the San Juan port at 2:25 on Nov. 4. Embarkation was a disaster. The line was out of the building, out to the street. We were told that due to problems with Customs when the ship arrived in the morning, embarkation had not yet begun. People stood in the blazing sun with no cover over them. No water or drinks were provided. There was an empty soday machine. To top it, people that arrived via cab were dropped at the front and allowed to cut the line, until one passenger went to the Security Guards and complained. Then people who arrived were told to drop their luggage and go to the end of the line. Once we got into the pier building (which was not air conditioned and had no fans so it was also terribly hot) the process went smoother - we were lined up in rowed seating and rows were called in order to embark. You went to the deck you were assigned to and check in took 3 minutes if your had express check in. Then it was another 10 or so minutes to get through security. The entire process took 1 hour and 10 minutes. However, our disembarkation was quick, so I would think the problems on Nov. 4 were due to this being the first cruise out of San Juan and hopefully, it will not happen again.
We had a balcony room on the Baja deck. We loved the room. The room was the largest of any ship we've been on. The balcony was comfortable for two chairs and a table. The bed was super comfortable - better than my bed at home. We had asked for a foam mattress topper, which we weren't given but didn't need at all. The bathroom was small as any cruise ship bathroom - I quickly learned to shave my legs before I got in, cause you can't do it while in there. The water was hot and plentiful and the water pressure was good. The room and bathroom were spotless. The t.v channel changer didn't work so well - we had to bang it to put the t.v. on and it came back on a few times after we turned it off and there was no sleep timer. It took awhile to get the safe thing down - we found that if you closed it gently and didn't bang it closed, we had no problems closing it. Our room steward was Alfredo and he was terrific - he would get ice if we asked quickly and extra towels and brought us a top sheet quickly, as the duvet was too warm for us.
The ship is just beautiful. The ship is classy looking with beautiful wood, plenty of places to sit, and gorgeous marble tiling. We thought too many elevators were reserved for embarkation - if you didn't have a suitcase, you couldn't find an elevator to move around the ship. I was with my 75 and 77 year old parents, who just could not walk the stairs to see other areas of the ship. And I heard that some people had problems with the employees on the elevators being very impolite when they asked if they could take one of the reserved elevators, although I personally did not experience that. It seemed that some of the employees were stressed during embarkation. We did find a kind English girl who allowed my parents to get on one of the reserved elevators at about 5:30, saying that there were already 2700 people on board the ship and she didn't understand why they were still reserving so many elevators at that point.
We had ordered gifts to be delivered to all of our clients who were traveling with us. One couple who had their room upgraded never received theirs and it took three trips over three days to passneger services before it was recitified. We also asked for robes on our cruise personalizer for all clients - no one got them unless they asked for them during the cruise from the room steward. The couple who had their room moved also received a delivery of flowers to their room for someone named Tammy for her birthday. They called passenger services to report the error and no one ever came for them and they felt that passenger services didn't really care. They went down to the passneger services desk as well and then went to the table where the flower service was located to try and ensure Tammy gother flowers. Even the flower desk didn't know who Tammy was or where the flowers needed to be delivered. We do hope Tammy got the flowers that someone paid for.
Several of the people we traveled with asked about church services on Sunday. There were none. Passenger services told them that unless that had a volunteer on board who would hold the service, they had no religious services. These cruisers said this was the first cruise line that had no services onbaord.
FOOD - we found the food to be only okay. My husband is a travel agent and we polled over 40 passengers while on the ship - only a handful enjoyed the food. the rest thought it was only okay or poor. Many of those who cruised on Princess before said that the food is much better on other ships and that the food was the worst on the Crown that they have encountered. On the first night, we ate at the buffet which featured shrimp, lobster claws and crab legs. It was fine. They did have excellent calamari!! The second night, we ate in the DaVinci dining room (as well at dinner Tuesday and Thursday). We arrived at 6:00 and there was no wait, we immediatley were seated. The menus in the dining room are heavy on fish, which is a problem for people like me who just don't like fish. I had filet mignon and it was fine - it was a little well done - it seemed the filet was cut in half in order to cook it better and it looked like liver but tasted delicious. Two people had salmon and didn't care for it - they thought it tasted too fishy. I happen to love the cold fruit soups on cruises and ordered them each time we dined at the restaurants - they were okay, but very thin. Dessert was great and the appetizers were good. When we ate there on Tuesday, there were three fish meals on the menu, which totally turned me off - I had the steak that is available at all times, which was good. SOme of the items that our fellow travelers mentione dthey liked on the dining room menus were the Fettucini Alfredo, some of the soups, and the steaks. After that, we decided to try the Cafe Caribe buffets - more on that later. I did eat there again on the last formal night because my parents wanted lobster, which they enjoyed. I again had steak that night. We also had breakfast there, which was the only place you could get oatmeal! We did enjoy breakfast - the eggs were cooked as you asked and hot, the pancakes were fresher and you got real toast that you didn't have to wait 10 minutes for to go through the one toaster in the buffet.
The third night we ate in Sabatini's and the food was delicious. Our server was Joseph and he loved my Dad - kept calling him Mr. Calabria, as he was born in Italy. There was so much food, I skipped soup and just asked for a taste of the macaroni and ravioli, which were delicious. Two people at our table ordered the fish soup they had and did not enjoy it - they felt the soup tasted more like a fish sauce then a soup. The rest of the food was magnificent, especially dessert.
We had our lunches in either the Horizon Cafe or Cafe Caribe. I enjoyed the pannini and specialty sandwiches, the salads and fruit. One day, there was an Asian theme to the food, which I also enjoyed. But the rest of the meals, the menu was heavy on Caribbean flavoring and food choices, which many people aren't crazy about. By the end of the cruise, the group of 14 we were with finally figured out that there was a real lack of American food - plain meat and potatoes. Someone longed for turkey and gravy and mashed potatoes - you could get turkey scollopini and coconut mashed potatoes. We felt the Caribbean menu just went too far and would have preferred mor eAmerican food. I found the hamburgers and pizza at the grill more to my taste. Many people we asked felt the same way.
As many people have mentioned, the set up of the buffet is not the best. For instance, for breakfast, the single toaster that took a long time to toast a piece of bread was right in the middle of the hot food. It would have been better to put that on a back counter along with the ketchup, jellies and jams, etc. You had to go back in through people who were getting food to get to sauces, etc. On the last night, I saw that there was horseradish sauce at the entrance to the buffet, so I figured they must have beef somewhere and I was right - it was in the middle of the buffet. This was a slight inconvenence they should look to correct as it doesn't take a rocket scientist to arrange the food in a more efficient manner. The prime rib served was very good in the buffets.
ISLANDS: First stop was Barbados. We did the 4 WD and Monkey Encounter. When we were ready to go, the last guy that got on our open truck told us he worked for the cruise ship (he was a deejay) and that Princess sends a ship employee on all excursions. That was a first for me on any cruise line and I think it was a good thing. The Monkey Encounter was awesome - monkeys ran right through and around your legs. It was a great encounter. There were other animals and the most tortoises I have ever seen. It was quite comical to see them lumber down the path in single file when the food was brought out. We then were taken on a tour to the East side of the island to see where the locals surf. Our driver took us to a high mountain top and drove partially down a dirt road. We asked her if she was taking us down what seemed like dirt on a cliff and she said she was indeed, this was the 4 WD part of the tour. I tried to tape it - all you can see as the truck went down the path is the camera being jostled and people screaming bloody murder. I really thought the truck was going to tip over, but we arrived saely on the other side. We spent a half hour on the beach (but were told not to go in the water) at a small souvenier table and small restaurant.
Next stop was St. Lucia. We took the Best of St. Lucia by Land and Sea excursion. We had a lovely catamaran cruise to the Pitons and a swim of about an hour. We were accosted by several Island residents on canoes trying to sell us souvenirs off the canoes which was annoying. They were pretty persistent. We then were taken to a bus to drive to the volcano. Unfortunaely, the bus drops you off near the mud baths and they then tell you to walk down a steep hill to a souvenirs stand. This was impossible for several elderly and handicapped people on our tour, but the tour guide kindly got a bus to come and pick us up and take us down. We then went to a plantation for lunch and a tour of the plantation. Food was very spicy. In fact, we were offered what we were told was Creole Chicken and my Dad swore it wasn't really chicken. He found the cook later and she told us it was the native chickens on the islands, which taste and look slightly different than the fat chickens we are used to in the U.S. Then we got on the bus and took it back to the ship. That was a long drive and took nearly an hour to get back to the ship. I would recommend a catamAran cruise only on this island, but we spoke to others who did the cat cruise only and they felt they only got a short amount of time in the water.
Next stop was Antigua. Some of us were too tired to do any excursions and went into town for some shopping and then we went back to the ship. That was the first time I actually had time to go swimming on the ship.
Next stop was St. Maarten. Several of the guys did the Bubba Bottom fishing tour - almost all of them caught fish. I stayed on the ship to enjoy swimming again and when they came back, we took the ferry to Phillipsburg to shop. We found that of all the Islands, St. Maarten was the cheapest. Forget abnout St. Thomas - the shops were twice as much at they were in St. Maarten. Absolute vodka was $6.99 a bottle and a carton of ciagrettes was $10 and change here. We don't smoke or drink, but you could not beat those prices anywhere on any of the other islands.
Last stop was St. Thomas. We took one of the open air taxi's at the dock into town in the a.m. I am not certain what the deal is with those - they would not take any money from us until we got outside the gates. They then stopped and collected $4.00 from each passenger. Make SURE you tell them you want to be let out near the P.O. - we spoke to people who were on the prior cruise and they didn't know to do that and were let off in a part of town that wasn't near the major shopping area. We stopped at a few stores and found the prices to be more than twice what we paid for items in St. Maarten. We took a regular cab back to the ship (make sure you tell the driver back to Crown Bay). In the afternoon, we did a ship excursion to St. John to swim at Trunk Bay. The beach was magnificent and the fish were plentiful. We had eight with us and we all felt that was our favorite excursion off the ship. We were also the last excursion back to the ship - the ship was waiting for us to leave. But it was the fastest we got an elevator coming back to the ship that day!
Several of our group of 14 took cabs at each port to various beaches rather than do excursions through the ship. Their excursions probably cost half of what ours were going through the ship. They asked cabs to pick them up at certain times from the beaches, and the drivers did it on all islands. They were able to rent chairs and canopies or umbrellas at each beach. They did have a problem trying to get to St. John though - the cab they took from the ship wouldn't take them to the dock for the ferry to St. Johns - it dropped them in town and they had to get another cab to the dock. They then missed a ferry and had to wait another hour for the next one. By the time they got to a beach in St. John, they didn't have a lot of time to spend. That time they said they wished they had done the St. John's excursion with us.
ENTERTAINMENT - we felt the shows started out good and kind of went downhill as the cruise went on. We saw the Motown Review the first night and enjoyed it. We arrived at the theater at 8:00 and had no problem getting seats. The place didn't really start filling up intil 8:15 or so. The next few nights, we went to the Explorers Lounge for the comedy shows. Get there early - we had a tougher time getting seats there than at the Princess theater. We found you needed to get there at least a half hour or more before the shows. No Sarge and by the end of the cruise we were sure sorry he wasn't on. The first nights, we enjoyed the comedians - Tony Daro was excellent the second night and Rodney Johnson the third. After that, we felt the comedians went downhill. One night the comedian showed a boring 10 minute video or himself with various Hollywood celebrities before he even came on. On Friday night, we went to the half filled Princess Theater for the final show. That was the first time I saw the cruise director, Omar, in person (saw plenty of him each morning on the Princess channel in the room.)
The last night, the show was terrible. They left the house lights on in the theater during the comedians show and as soon as the lights went out, half of the audience left - had the lights been extinquished, I am sure we would have seen the audience walk out during his show. We left when the lights went down as well and went to one of the lounges.
We enjoyed the singers in the bars and we really enjoyed the theatrics in the Piazza during the day and night. There was a great accapella group, a funny juggler, a funny Italian comedian, a piano player. Don't pass these up - if you are in the area, stop and see what is going on. On the last formal night, there were more people watching the entertainment in the Piazaa than almost anywhere else. We made a Dance Heads video one day - the grandkids are still laughing about their Grandma in a cartoon bikini!
We did some dance lessons with Lisa, the Deputy Cruise Director who was always out on the ship - she was lovely.
We felt that the formal portrait process was set up in areas during formal night that really were inconvenient to passengers trying to get around the Piazza. They were set up in between some of the elevator banks and in front of the restaurants.
We had a few winners in the Casino in our group as well. On the third night of the cruise, two people sitting next to each other at two slot machines each won $250 within minutes of each other. Someone won at the slots on the second to last night and one player of Let It Ride won all his money back on the last night of the cruise.
Disembarkation was fine. We were red 4 and our color was called at 9:15. Finding your bags in the terminal was a problem - they just put the bags in color order, not numbers, so you do have to hunt through all of the color to find your bag, but this is not any different than any other ship we've been on. We took a porter (who also helped find bags) and he took the Customs Forms for us - all we had to do was show our i.d.
We took the Princess transfers to the airport. We were on a bus quickly, but had a bus driver was was very loud and continually beeped the horn trying to amuse us.Cabs ar eplentiful and lined up in the road outside the pier if you'd prefer a cab.
I loved the ship, the ports and excursions. The food and enterainment wasn't a deal breaker for me, I would not hesitate to recommend Princess to others. In fact, we have another Princess cruise booked for March of 2008.