We booked this cruise in November 2001 for the kids' spring break. Princess wouldn't take the booking for a quad room, as they were trying to limit the number of children and teens on the sailing. They were happy to book the same kids as long as we booked two adjacent cabins. We did and got a good price. We flew Southwest for the first time from Norfolk to Ft. Lauderdale, less than $100 each way. Called the Holiday Inn Express, Convention Center, shuttle and were delivered about 1115pm the night before sailing.
Saturday we had breakfast at the hotel, walked 1 ½ blocks to the bridge overlooking Port Everglades and could see Golden Princess, Celebrity Century, A HAL ship, and RCCL ship. Walked back to the Publix which was on 17th, a block from the hotel and purchased 12 packs of soda for the kids to carry aboard. We took the 1230pm shuttle to the pier (a 5-minute ride) and were through check in by 1:10pm. They x-rayed everything, and took a photo which is used to check faces and ship ID cards. They were confiscating for safekeeping all hard liquor. We were on Caribe deck 725 and 729, two adjacent inside rooms, but not connected. Refrigerator with filled ice bucket, ample space, end tables, dressing table with drawers, mirrors give the room a feeling of spaciousness. There is a closet with 7 feet of hanger space, a cabinet with 8 shelves and a save, and the entrance to the bathroom. No trouble storing all luggage under the bed, and the case of wine under the dressing table, with several bottles of champagne in the fridge. This was the largest three inside cabins we have had on Princess. Muster in cool lounge where they instructed everyone on how to put on lifejackets.
We had opted to try Personal Choice dining. We have normally been traditional late seating on all previous cruises, with or without kids. We had read that 7-8pm was the busiest time so we sent down at 8:30pm and were told there was a 15-20 minute wait in both PC dining rooms. We got to a table at 9:05. The show was a comedian who toned down the late show due to the large number of children in the front rows. The Princess pools are fresh water and open 24 hours, so we did a late night dip before turning in. Many of the hot tubs are closed and emptied, however, at night.
The first at sea day was Easter Sunday. There were Protestant and Catholic services at 9, and huge chocolate eggs decorated in the atrium. I attempted to make a dinner reservation for PC dining but was advised at 10am that only one PC dining room was taking reservations and had only 5:45-6:15pm available. With that, I went to the dining room captain in the traditional dining room and request late seating. He said if we had not heard from him by dinner, just show up at 8:30 and he's find a place. From that point on, everytime he saw us all week he was able to call us by name. 16 years with Princess, starting as Asst Waiter. We checked out the four pool choices: Terrace Pool, aft, which is adults only, the spa pool which is a lap pool with artificial current, the Calypso Pool with the retractable roof, and the Neptune Pool. Family preferred the more secluded Calypso Pool, but seldom could find an empty chair due to inconsiderate passengers marking their spot with towels and disappearing literally for hours. This was the first formal night. Ordered rose corsages for my wife and daughter for $8 each, delivered to room. The 11 year old was thrilled! Captain's Welcome Aboard reception, formal photos. The dining room seated the four of us and two others at a table for 10, and by the next night had us at a table for 6 with a good wait staff, Jun from the Philippines and Flavio from Acapulco. They were great. The show that night was Lights, Camera, Action, a Vegas style show. Afterwards we tried out Skywalkers, the disco suspended high above the stern, accessed by escalator from deck 17. Lots of current top 40 hits, a conga line, we had it all.
The second at sea day we had made a lunch reservation in the Desert Rose, the southwestern theme restaurant with an $8 cover charge. We had ample salsa, chips, guacamole, fajitas, empanadas, quesadilla's, and the first drink free (great Margarita's). Much of the day as spent at the pools, but I spent time exploring the library (not only books, but computers with games, and other programs), shops, the exercise gym where I rode stationary cycles and they had many other machines, walking track. Tried out the pizza, which is available by the slice on Lido Deck only 11am -6pm. Also great burgers, hot dogs, brats, etc..all just off the Neptune Pool area. The evening show was Shake, Rattle and Roll, an anthology of music/songs from that era with singers and dancers.
We took our own wine each evening to the dining room. The first three nights, we were not charged the $10 corkage fee. We had heard that it was sort of up to the waiter to write it up. They wrote it up the 4th and 5th nights, because they said it was apparent that the ship did not carry these wines, and the dining room captain would notice. I told them we would be bringing champagne the 6th night and they said to wrap in it something and they wouldn't charge us. We did and they didn't. Nor the last night. So we paid $20 corkage and had 7 bottles of wine of our favorites that I had purchased at discount wine shops and had shipped as luggage. Total expense for 7 bottle: about $91, which would have cost about $26 each, or more on board for a total of $182. We saved 50%. While we did attend wine tasting ($5 each refundable if you purchased dinner wine), the ship's wine list is poor. Sure they have a few $60-110 wines, but most are $10 wines that cost $28 each onboard.
The third day was St. Maarten. We berthed at the new pier, across from Disney Magic, with her crumpled, fire marred funnel and smokestacks. We took a taxi from the pier to Orient Beach on the French side for $6 per person, found a beach vendor, Pedro's, where we got four chairs and 4 drinks for $20, and he tossed in a free umbrella later. Despite SPF 50, I got quite sunburned while swimming, sunning, snorkeling (got three nice conch shells). They have parasailing, jet skis, etc. Also visited the clothing optional end of the beach, although the kids remained in the more public side in the chairs. The joke back on the ship is always: "Gee, I didn't recognize you with your clothes on." Back by taxi to town to the Guavaberry Emporium, the local liqueur, and a little shopping. Ended the day by being at Every T'ing Cool until last call, which comes early since the ships are leaving. Two beers, a rum punch, and a soda for $8.25. Taxi back to ship was $3 per person. There was a nice sail away party with two bands, and that evening was Island Night. Starting about 1015pm the aft Terrace Pool was covered over with a bandstand, There was dancing, limbo contests, a Mr. Golden Princess contest, in which at the asst. cruise director's urging I joined. A great night under the stars. This venue, right below the Skywalker's lounge, is superb for this kind of evening.
The next day was St. Thomas. We were berthed at the West India Co. dock at Havensight, and walked to the pierside shopping mall to make our liquor purchases, and some other souvenirs. There is also a drug store for those who might want something not available onboard. We went back aboard with all our purchases, had lunch in the Horizon Court on Lido. The rear section of Horizon is very quiet glass all around, and my favorite place up there. After a king crab dinner was the crew talent show, with the "If I were not upon the sea" skit. Alistair was the cruise director. He and his assistant did a good job during the week.
Thursday was an at sea day. We ate in the dining room where they had and outstanding Cioppino seafood soup, and glasses of Italian wine for $3. That night was the second formal night, and the Captain's Circle member reception. I was surprised at how relatively few were present, and with 3 or 4 exceptions, most were, like us, on about their 3rd or 4th Princess Cruise. After lobster and Beef Wellington dinner there was a champagne waterfall put on by the matre'de, with photos' available for those who chose to get up and help pour, as my wife and daughter each did.
Friday was the visit to Princess Cay, by tender. It was beautiful, and I liked it much better that HAL's Half Moon Cay. The snorkeling was great, with coral fans and lots of fish. The sand was a bit rocky, the picnic lunch was a typical picnic lunch. Some local crafts, bars, music, etc. were available. But the scene must have been cut out and pasted from the Corona' "change your whole latitude" commercials where they skip their pages across the water. The green water, white sand, sun,.it was the best! But it was Friday, and time to begin filling out forms, luggage tags, and packing. They wanted bags all but one bag in the hall when you leave for dinner, with the other to be out when you turn in. Prime rib and turkey dinners highlighted American Landfall night. Wish they would spread it out more instead of having multiple stellar entrée's on the same night.
Saturday we returned to Ft. Lauderdale. Breakfast was 6:30 - 8:30 in the dining room and 5:30-9am in Horizon Court. They called the first tags away about 8:10, and we were called about 9:30, with about 30% still waiting. We had chosen to wait in the Vista Lounge after vacating our room after breakfast. Hardly anyone there. They prefer to clog the stairwells and passageways for an hour and a half in the belief that somehow that will speed their departure. Customs and immigration was painless and the bags were waiting. We hustled them to an Alamo bus and rented a van so we could store the luggage and go to the beach strip. You can't check luggage at the airport anyway until 4 hours before you flight. We drove by the Elbow Room I had visited on my own college spring break many moons ago. We parked in a lot for 75 cents and hour and walked to Sloppy Joe's, of the Key West Sloppy Joe's venue, and enjoyed lunch overlooking the beach, then off to turn in the car and to the airport for a return home on time.
A few general comments. Food is available 24 hours a day in the Horizon Court. It typically parallels what is being served in the dining room. However, sitting on a buffet line, it is usually overcooked and drying out. There was lots of steamed and pealed shrimp available on several days. There are 3 identical dining rooms. Two for Personal Choice and one for traditional dining. We did not use the cover charged Sabattini's Trattoria. Maybe if it had been a steak house. But not for Italian. The dining room food was medium, at best. It was not up to our prior two Princess cruises, and was more on a par with RCCL: good, but not exceptional. It was better on Carnival Sensation last spring. Lots of fish. Steak, Caesar salad, fettuccini alfredo are always available. Desserts did include banana flambé and cherries jubilee. Coffee was okay to me, and I drink it black. I know lots of people complain about cruise coffee. Maybe 20 years of black Navy coffee helped me adapt to any kind of coffee. They were not pushing alcohol. It was available, period. Soft drink stickers for your ship card were $17.50 for unlimited soft drinks by the glass. Same with photos. The only candids were upon arriving, leaving the ship in port (but only till 1030), and a few on Princess Cays. 8x10's are $21.95, and 5x7's are $7.95. I found not so many quiet little corners. The ship is huge. There were over 2900 people aboard but it didn't seem like it. There were laundromats on every deck: new equipment, $1 wash, 50 cents dry. Soap and bleach $1 each, 4 irons and boards in each. It cost $3.75 to have my tux shirt laundered and pressed. Motion of the ocean was greater on this ship than I would have expected. Is it top heavy? Even in mild seas it rocks and rolls.
My teenager had plenty to do with virtual arcades, miniature golf, internet café, and lots of teens to hang out with.
All in all, a nice week on a nice ship. But it is nicer with just me and my wife, than supervising the 11 and 14 year old, who thinks he is 20 and dad of course knows nothing, and times to check in are optional. We'll cruise as a family this summer, but looking forward to anniversary cruises with my wife. More romantic.
Oh, must have been a good week, as I did put down the $100 per person fully refundable till Nov 2004 deposit on a future Princess Cruise. How can you lose on a deal like that? The Love Boat....strains of music