Getting to San Juan: Our flights were purchased thru Princess and we were booked on TWA with a transfer at St. Louis. We departed Minneapolis at 6:10 a.m. with a number of others on the flight who had Princess tags in evidence on their luggage, both for the Dawn and Sun Princess cruises. Flight time was good, allowing plenty of time for transfer and boarding. We had purchased the transfer to the ship from Princess and glad we did - very flawless and fast.
Boarding: We had preregistered and filled out all the onboard charging information on Princess's internet site and were glad we did.....took us all of 5 minutes from the time we entered the Port Authority building until we had our papers and boarding/charge cards and were going onto the ship. Very efficient process that was made even faster by our having taken care of almost all the information in advance on the Princess website. We check out the ship with a "walkaround" and grab a light late lunch. Luggage doesn't show up until about 10:30 pm, but no big deal - just had us starting to wonder as it got later. Ship is scheduled to leave at 10 pm, but that is pushed back a little at a time, as late arriving passengers keep dashing onto the ship. The bridge keeps us all informed via the public address system as to the reasons for the delay in departure and when the "new" anticipated departure time is. Quite a large group of us gather on prominade deck to cheer on the late arrivals - all in good fun of course, and those arriving late take it all with smiles as well. They are happy just to see the ship still there, I'm sure!!! Ship finally departs about 11:30 pm.
Room observations: First time on a Princess ship and we are not displeased by the room. Room is on Plaza deck #242 way up in the bow. Generally this turns out to be fine except we are awakened a couple mornings by the whine of the winches in the bow as the mooring lines are played out at port. The winches are 2 decks above us and probably another 75-100 feet forward, but the sound is quite strong and loud enough to wake a sound sleeper like myself. As a "J" catagory outer room, we find the layout of the room to be fine, if a bit compact - no big surprise on a cruise ship...lol. Closet size was very good for our needs as was the dresser area. Bathroom area is like every one I've seen in a ship - squeezed. Your butt WILL get familiar with the shower curtain...lol.
Cabin steward: Average cabin service and cleanliness, but nothing above average. I did need to have a "discussion" with him, as a couple times he threw away papers from our desk are that he deemed to be garbage - items from excursions that we wished to keep.
St. Thomas Up at 7:15 in order to catch our excursion at 8:20 a.m. Cruise ships Carnival Fantasy and HAL's Amsterdam are in port as well. We took the "New Waves Expedition Snorkeling" excursion to snorkeling sites at Great St. James Island and St. John's Marine Sanctuary. Well pleased with this excursion - good crew and the sites offered excellent viewing of coral, fish, sea turtles, etc. NOTE: Those with any back problems may not wish to take this excursion, as the twin 3.0 litre Mercury outboards on this boat really hammered you across the waves. It was a fun ride for the rest of us, but one gentleman suffered greatly from a very sore back every time we came down hard after a larger wave. Back to the ship and then took a cab to downtown area for $6. Sunday, so not much action around town except at the Hard Rock Cafe area and in the Haversight Mall area near the pier.
St. Kitts Despite things I had read from other traveler reviews, I found St. Kitts very interesting and I hope to come back here another time. The St. Kitts pier was damaged in a hurricane a few years back so all landing was by tender boat. Reconstruction of the pier and construction of new and more mooring "islands" was in evidence. We took the "Off the Beaten Track Island Safari" offered by Princess, riding with 4-6 others in the back of 4 x 4 Jeeps through the countryside viewing sugar cane plantations and the countryside, rainforests and villages. If viewing the countryside closeup and learning some of the history of St. Kitts interests you, then I would highly recommend this excursion. I found this VERY interesting with beautiful views all along the way. We heard grumblings from other passengers about their shopping excursions into town, wishing they had decided to do something else instead. Our guide on the excursion said that sugar cane (government run) may die out in the next couple years, as the government is looking towards development of the tourism industry and condominium/resort complexes and going away from their agricultural base.
Martinique Took the "New Waves Snorkeling" excursion and found it okay, but not near as satisfying as our snorkeling at St. Thomas and St. John. Clear waters, but garbage in evidence at the snorkeling sites. The two excursion guides were very inattentive, with one of them going off and snorkeling on his own away from the group. The other guide did not pay much attention to what was going on - mainly 1/2 snoozing during the time and not noticing that one of the 2 anchors had pulled loose and had the boat swinging around. A few of us who were snorkeling back towards the boat nearly were pinched between the boat and rocks when it suddenly spun around towards us. Only when the boat bounced off a rock and a couple of us yelled up from the water did the guide become aware of what had happened. Tired out upon return to the pier and elected to go on board and rest up on deck rather than walk into town.
Isla Margarita Arrived at the port of Gaumache about 2 hours late, as the ship had to detour for a SOS call during the night. However, it was announced that the ship would depart 2 hours later than scheduled in order to make up for the late arrival. We took the "Macanao Peninsula 4 Wheel Drive Safari" and enjoyed it greatly. Macanao is the very rural, undeveloped half of Isla Margarita. Tour took us thru small villages, dry river bottoms, along the ocean shore with numerous "beverage" stops along the way. We stopped for swimming or sunning at one spot for an hour or so and continued on, seeing the countryside. I very much enjoyed this tour, but would note that seeing nature and the countryside is my kind of "thing", and those looking for excitement might not find this very enjoyable. I did talk to a number of people on the ship who found this port of call to be the most uninteresting of the cruise.
Curacao Whine of the winch motors woke us up to the fact that we were ready to tie up to the Megaship pier outside of the harbor. We elected to have a leisurely breakfast and then to walk the 4 blocks into town. Very bustling harbor area, with ships moving in and out all the time. We took the ferry across the harbor, as the floating bridge was opened up for ships to come in and out of the harbor. ferry is free, by the way. Carol went off and did her shopping, snagging quite a number of excellent buys along the way - least that's what she told me. I took a walk around the government buildings and other parts of town and just took in the sights, along with multiple stops at street and harborside sidewalk cafes. A very enjoyable stop to do as much or as little as you want.
Day at Sea Sun, sea, snoozing, reading, eating...you get the idea...lol
Disembarkation Got up late - about 9 a.m. and went up to the Horizon buffet area and had a nonrushed breakfast and then proceeded to leave the ship...darn. I can't imagine ever having a quicker disembarkation. Time from leaving the ship to getting on the shuttle bus for the airport was no more than 15 minutes at most!! We should have gone and done some sightseeing in San Juan, but we elected to go right to the airport and so were bored for the next 4 1/2 hours before our flight, which in turn was delayed for an hour after we boarded because of mechanical problems.
Ship Entertainment The only entertainment that I did not enjoy was a dance/musical called "Le Magnefique" and that was entirely because it just wasn't my kind of entertainment. Carol enjoyed it immensely. Comedy acts were excellent!!! The piano player on Promenade deck was excellent, but after hearing him for the 10th time as you walked by, he began to wear on me more and more...lol. That is the only negative comment that I will make about any part of the ships layout - that the piano player location was very poor on Prominade deck. To get from the forward area going back, you had to walk right through his area (felt like you were walking across his stage) or make a detour outside, around the area and then back inside. No big thing, but people walking thru his act had to be a big distraction for everyone. The Wheelhouse bar had good entertainment and dancing. One night the ships Activity crew put on "Liar's Club" which was enjoyable, but the Liars Club that we attended on the Norwegian Wind was much better done and much more hysterical. The main theatre song and dance shows were well done, even though you could readily notice that the supporting singing was NOT live, but lip synched.
Dining Room Meals were well done and enjoyable. Quantity and quality were very good and no special requests were turned down. Our head waiter and waiter were outstanding. The asst. waiter was a bit of a fumbler...lol.
Other food and comments If you love thin crust pizza, you will LOVE the Pizzeria!!! I developed a real habit of stopping there about a 1/2 hour before it would close in the evening, and then taking the pizza up top and relaxing in the evening air or watching and taking part in activities there. As one who consumes mass quantities of coffee, I found the coffee on board to be pretty poor. I did find one separate coffee maker near the bar by the main pool which had pretty good coffee in the mornings. I spotted that one by figuring out where the early morning crew was getting their coffee refills from, by following them...lol. Midnight buffets seem to be almost a thing of the past. We had one moderate buffet on Tropical night. If there was any other midnight buffet, we somehow missed it.
The ship itself This was the first time we had been on a Princess cruise, and we were VERY impressed with the ship itself. A very agreeable layout with easy access to most points on the ship. We never felt like we were part of a "cattle drive" when departing at ports or even when going to or from main entertainment events on the ship. Greatly enjoyed the design, layout and decor of the ship. Our previous cruise was on the Norwegian Wind and the Wind definitely suffers by comparison.
Bon Voyage!!! Overall, we enjoyed the whole cruise with a few minor exceptions. The ships crew was excellent on the whole. In retrospect, I might have elected to take one of the shore days to have relaxed more and not gone on an excursion. Age mix on the ship was very wide - from the 20's up into the 70-80's range. I would guesstimate the main age group to be in the 40's on our cruise. The only problem would have been to pick which one NOT to go on!!! Not taking an excursion at Curacao and then having the day at sea right after that proved to be a good move on our part - providing us with a relaxing pace to end up the trip with. Cruise #3 for myself and #4 for Carol.....hoping to hit the Canal next winter if this year goes well for us!!!
ETC: Carol purchased a video tape of the excursion that we took in Isla Margarita. One of the guides was video taping much of the excursion and the people and activities that were going on. The tape did arrive in our mailbox about 4 weeks later, BUT it was of the other 4-wheel drive excursion that was going on at the same time as ours!!! Numerous attempts to contact the tour company and messages left have not even yielded a response as of this date. I'm afraid that money was wasted. Oh well, looked like the other excursion had a good time too! hahahahaha