May 13- Houston to Ft. Lauderdale - arrived at 2:00pm, no transfers, just took a taxi (approximately $10). 15 Minutes to board, upgraded to a mini-suite on Emerald (deck 9). The whole deck 9 is mini suites. Stocked mini-fridge with beer and diet cokes. Mini-suite was nicely appointed and spacious. They must have done away with the butler, because all we had was a room steward. Deck 9 balconies can be seen from the upper deck balconies, so if you are looking for privacy, go up.
Bring your collapsible cooler for more storage. It also comes in handy if you are planning on going to the beach on St. Martin or St. Thomas. Get ice from your room steward and buy beer, sodas off the boat for the day. We also brought insulated beverage holders and made drinks in the room to take to the pool. Ice melts very fast out in the sun. If you like to munch on Doritos or that kind of junk food, bring it with you. I was dying for potatoes chips and could not find any.
The ship was full. We only saw a minimal number of children (<20), but school was not out yet.
If you would like to eat at Sabatini's or the Painted Desert make your reservations the first day. In your cabin they have a Restaurant Hot Line to make your reservations. We tried later in the week and they were all booked up. I heard the food was excellent in both locations. Overall, I thought the food everywhere was above good. There was a good variety of beef, poultry and seafood on every menu. A few times, we were still full from lunch, so we went to the buffet and just had a salad a soup. All the soups were out of this world. I am a big soup eater and I did not find one that did not seem home made. They had mushroom, lobster bisque, vegetable, minestrone, potato, etc. All were to die for.
May 14 and May 15 at sea - just lounging, eating and drinking. We had great, sunny weather, mild temperatures. I really enjoyed the fresh water pools vs. salt water ones on Carnival. We were up and out by 9:00 and had no trouble finding lounge chairs on the upper deck (deck 15). Put our stuff down and went to breakfast in the horizon court. Anyone trying to get a chair right by the pool needs to be out by 7:00. We were on the upper deck and it did get crowded around 11:00 am.
We never went to sit down breakfast in the dining room. We always ate at Horizon Court. There was always a good variety of foods (eggs, French toast, fruit, bacon, hash browns, corned beef hash, etc) for breakfast and never waited in line.
May 16 - Docked at St. Thomas. We did not opt for an excursion. We hired a cab driver to take us to Sapphire beach. A beautiful beach with a good restaurant, beach chairs, bar. Had the cab driver come back at 3:00pm to pick us up. Afternoon was for shopping. Walked through Havensight mall, but from past experiences, went to downtown (Drake's passage) for shopping. You will need to take a cab to Drake's passage. They really compete for business, so do your homework before you leave home if you are looking for a watch or jewelry. We found a Tag Hauer watch that lists for $1895 in Houston and on the internet that we really wanted to purchase. Went to three dealers in Havensight and the lowest price we found was $1250. We went to downtown and purchased the watch (after much haggling) for $1050. The savings was definitely worth the taxi fare. Just a FYI: If you plan to make a large purchase on your Visa or MasterCard, let your credit card company know before you leave home. I heard several people say that their credit card was declined because of the charges and you will have to talk to your credit card company in the middle of a store confirming who you are,etc. It seemed like a pain.
May 17 - St. Martin. We docked on the Dutch side and shopped all day. We did not go to Orient beach or Cupecoy like a lot of people did. I had been before. Orient beach is nice, but when we had been before, due to high winds, the surf was very rough, so swimming was out of the question.
This was the only day/night that we went to any shows. We went to see the Newlywed/Not so Newlywed game and Karaoke. It was very entertaining and the whole crowd seemed to have a good time. This was one of the places that seemed to not have enough places to sit. It was over flowing with people. Servers were sparce and we had to go to the bar a couple of times to get drinks. We did hear that the hypnotist was very good, but we just never made it to any other shows.
May 18 - At sea -
May 19 - Princess Cays - very nice setup on a okay beach. I think this is the only time it felt crowded to me. We did not get off the boat till around 10:00am and had trouble finding chairs remotely close to the beach. The sand is very soft and deep, and makes it hard for older guests to navigate. Finally found two beach chairs and called it a day. The weather was very nice is in the shade, with the cool breeze blowing. Food was okay, bbq and such.
May 20 - departure. Getting off the boat was a breeze. Waited for about 20 minutes for a cab to the airport since we did not purchase transfers.
It was a fantastic vacation. Very relaxing. I think it is a very good value for your money. We are hooked on Princess and will only go on that line. I really enjoyed personal choice dining vs. a fixed seating table/time. It is very flexible and you get the same food plus it only takes about an hour to eat vs. 1 1/2 to 2 hours when you are seated with 6 or 8 other people. My boyfriend just wanted a table for two and we got one every time. I did not mind the $6.50/pp per day for gratuity and left it on the bill. We tipped over the recommended amount for our room steward.