After having combed this web site for weeks before we took this cruise (6/17 - Western Caribbean), I thought I would try my own hand at helping to prepare future Grand Travelers. Hope this review helps you plan for your cruise in as many ways as other reviews have helped us. This is my first experience at this so please bear with me.
First of all, a special hello to Maria, Chris, Patty and Brad (our table and "adventure" mates). ! We miss you guys and thanks again for helping to make our trip so much fun. We WILL be in touch. May all of you future cruisers be as lucky as we were to meet and share this trip with such great friends
Before I start, I wanted to list some of the more helpful hints that I wish I had known or paid more attention to. These are the things that stand out most in my mind as MUST HAVE's or DON'T BOTHER
1) Instead of a beach bag, bring a backpack instead
2) Find a neoprene or some sort of waterproof pouch that you can take your cash/travelers checks, etc.... in while you snorkel/swim or scuba. The plastic cases on the neckstrings are too bulky and the ziplock baggies did not work for us. We never could find one and we are pretty convinced that if we made them and sold them through cruiselines, we would be millionaires. In any case, make sure the husbands' swim trunks have velcro or zippered pockets to hold this sort of stuff.
3) Make use of the safe in your cabin and get into the habit of checking with your cabin-mate upon leaving your room that you have your cruisecard and that the safe is closed
4) Bring water bottles and fill them up with water and ice from the Horizon Court machines - otherwise it's 2.95 every time you ask for bottled water
5) Go to the Pursers Desk at least twice during the week to get a print-out of your account. You will thank yourselves later and also better pace yourself with the power that the little cruisecard holds.
6) READ YOUR PRINCESS PATTER every morning. My husband and I are avid newspaper readers and the Patter became my morning paper. Lots of great info and worth the time.
7) Watch Graham Seymours' morning show every morning. Very funny and very informative.
8) Bring more bathing suits and cover-ups than you think you need
9) Bring hats or visors and LOTS of the cheap cameras - Princess will develop them right on board. - pretty reasonable.
10) Check out your ship photos on display every night before/during/after dinner outside of the Wheelhouse Bar. We didn't spend alot of money on souvenirs or in the ships boutiques but we did splurge on these photos and an album to store them in. These we will have and look at forever and are worth every penny
SUNDAY - Sunny Upon arriving in Florida around 11am and taking the Princess shuttle to the ship, we were in our balcony stateroom at 11:45. Absolutely everything that you have heard about the easy embarkation is true. Truly painless and so quick. We unpacked our carry-ons, threw on some bathing suits, admired our extremely spacious balcony (everyone who said the Caribe deck balconies are the biggest and best were RIGHT), and headed out to explore this beautiful ship. Again, taking the advise from cruisemates.com, we made our Sabatinis' reservation and spa appointments right away - no problem getting the days/times we wanted. We left the ship at 1pm and took a cab to the liquor store for some wine and beer. Very easy, no problem bringing it aboard. Had a little trouble with the dining arrangements. Although we were confirmed for 2nd seating traditional, our cruise card reflected Personal Choice. when we inquired about it, we found that we were 157th on the wait list for 2nd seating and were given a pretty hard sell for Personal Choice. We didn't really mind and decided to try it. After being on deck for the "sail-away" at 7:30, we took our time getting ready for dinner and found that we already appreciated not being rushed to make a particular timeframe. The "sail away" was so awesome!! DON"T MISS THIS!! The music, the Fort Lauderdale lights, the ships horns, ----it is very special and the perfect beginning to a great cruise. We had dinner in the Michaelangelo Dining Room which was very good. The only small glitch was when we presented our own bottle of wine to our assistant waiter. She frowned and told us that there would be a $10 corkage fee. We told her that we understood that and that it was fine, but she kept her frown, shrugged her shoulders and looked like she wanted to continue with a debate. She eventually walked off to "un-cork" the bottle and, we hoped, her attitude. We then went to the opening night "review" of the Grand Princess Entertainers in the Princess Theater. It was really very well done and we enjoyed it very much.
Went back to our stateroom and took Mactarheel's advise to set the air-conditioning to "hanging meat" cold and throw open that balcony door for a great nights sleep listening to the ocean. .............heaven.
MONDAY - Sunny Princess Cayes is absolutely beautiful. After a room service breakfast (pretty decent, right on time, great coffee), we took the tender to the island and had an absolute ball all day long. No cash, no credit cards, no travelers checks necessary - just your cruise card. Cruisemates. com was right again. For quiet and peace go to the RIGHT. For fun and games, go to the LEFT. We intended to go to the RIGHT but never made it - had way too much fun on the LEFT. This is not the place to do some intensive snorkeling, but it is the place to relax, get some sun, swim and start to meet your fellow passengers. This is where we met some great folks who invited us to sit with them that night at their 6 person, 2nd seating, traditional dining table that had 2 empty seats. Ok, so we ended up there everynight until the end of the cruise and wouldn't have traded it for anything but the point being that no matter what, you will have the opportunity to meet wonderful people and the whole Personal Choice deal makes it that much easier to adjust dining companions accordingly. After all day on Princess Cayes, we got back to the ship at around 4:30 and headed to our spa appointments. Seaweed massage for hubby and a facial for me. Both were nice but not worth the high prices. In hindsight, we wouldn't have done this. The product push was on throughout the facial and at one point, I just came right out and said that I was not interested and to please stop. We then got ready for dinner and joined our new friends in the Boticelli Dining Room. Again, the food was wonderful and the waiter, Miguel, (whom we had to the end of the cruise) was excellent. We went to a variety show in the Vista Lounge. It was pretty good but not as good as the first night. BRING A WRAP OR SWEATER because they really have that airconditioning blasting and it feels downright cold at times. We then experienced Skywalkers Nightclub. Had a great time and danced until 1am. But, this is a nightclub with a bit of an identity problem. Since it is open to teens that are 18 years and over, the crowd tends to be pretty young. We are in our early 40's and pretty young at heart, but didn't find many other 40-ish solemates up there too often. As the week went on, Skywalkers had different theme nights that, I am sure, were a decent attempt to bring in all different ages but if you were already soured by the very young atmosphere that personified this club at the beginning of the week, then it was probably unlikely that people would return on other nights. We liked it though, and went alot.
TUESDAY - Sunny Again, room service and again it was fine with great coffee. Having breakfast on the balcony every morning was a treat I will NEVER forget. This was a sea -day for us, so we planned for some relaxing time. Hubby went with new friends to play a round of simulated golf. He said it was just "ok" and you hard-core golfers out there probably should skip this. The 9-hole putting green, on the other hand, was a great challenge - and FREE. After lunch at Horizon Court we walked around the decks to find a good sun/read/snooze spot and ended up where Cruisemates.com suggested we go. The Terrace Pool in the very back (aft) of the ship, under the Skywalkers nightclub. Incredible view, pretty laid back and we always found lounge chairs. It's also very close to hot tubs, the Horizon Court for food and an outdoor bar for drinks (although I never had to leave my chair for a drink - poolside service was excellent). The other pools all had personalities of their own. Calypso Pool was the "rockin" spot. Always crowded with great music and a great party atmosphere. The swim against the current or "spa" pool, as we called it, was definitely adult and definitely private. The Neptune pool seemed to be where the families with younger kids were. It is also very nice, partially covered, but very airy and tropical. Food and drinks are available everywhere and everything is good. Dinner was excellent yet again on this first Formal night. We headed to Deck 6 for pictures - didn't have to wait at all and met our tablemates at the Wheelhouse Bar for drinks beforehand. This is a wonderful place to relax and feel pampered. Different entertainment every night and always good. My husband decided to try bringing our own bottle of wine again to dinner since we were now firmly tied to and very impressed by Miguel, our waiter. Miguel not only complimented our choice of wine, he waved the $10 cork-age fee without a word from us..........Played some slots and blackjack in the casino - didn't win a thing but enjoyed ourselves anyway. Went to Karaoke (sp?) in the Explorers Lounge and had a ball. Hint..... go there with someone who is a professional singer and have them sing to the crowd. All the attention you get afterwards is alot of fun!! Turned in early since we were scuba-diving the next day in Grand Cayman.
WEDNESDAY - Sunny Grand Cayman- This was our first shore excursion day and the one and only time that I experienced dis-organization with Princess. We had pre-booked our shore excursions on-line through the Princess website and received confirmation for only one. All others were booked and we were waitlisted. No problem with that- that's just procrastination on my part - BOOK THESE EXCURSIONS ON-LINE AS EARLY AS POSSIBLE!!!!! Anyway, our waitlisted excursion for Grand Cayman "opened up" for us on Tuesday afternoon and we were all set to scuba-dive on Wednesday morning. On Tuesday at 5pm, we had a message from the Dive Master that we had to have completed Medical Forms to his office by 6pm or our excursion would be canceled. Didn't know about these, but we hightailed it down to the Tour Office, filled out our forms, handed them to the Dive Master - all well before 6pm. At 8am on Wednesday morning, we checked into our meeting place for scuba-divers and our names were called due to "missing" medical forms. I looked right at the Dive Master and asked him if he remembered me handing them to him the night before. He looked frazzled and embarrassed and pleaded with us to just quickly fill them out again and put them in the pile. We weren''t the only ones this happened to. Scuba-diving is not an event that you just wave people through paperwork so that you meet your excursions time. This is serious stuff. This paperwork should be carefully reviewed by qualified dive instructors/masters well before the scheduled dive so that questions can be asked and potential disasters diverted. Regardless of this, we had an incredible diving experience with Don Fosters' Grand Cayman Diving as our hosts. Beginner divers should really try this and Grand Cayman is the place to do it. The rest of the day was spent taxi-ing around and site-seeing. 7-mile beach is beautiful. We had lunch at the Westin Hotel with a beautiful few of the ocean and headed back to the ship around 3pm. Sorry, we are not big "shoppers" so we can't comment on shopping in Grand Cayman. This was Island Night at dinner and it seemed to me that most everyone was playing along with the dresscode so DO NOT forget your island shirt!
THURSDAY - Sunny This was the day to remember................ Beautiful Cozumel............ We got off the ship around 9am, rented a Jeep ($45) with our dinner buddies and drove all over the island. This was a great idea but BE CAREFUL. We rented from National Car Rental (pretty reputable, huh??). MAKE ABSOLUTELY SURE that you walkaround the car with the agent before driving off. In fact, if you have a video camera, take a video of the car "pre-trip" so that there is no question as to the condition of the car upon returning it. They tried to stick us with a damage claim for a dent in a door that must have been paid for at least 100 times over by poor suckers who get scammed. We, fortunately were not one of those poor suckers, thanks to our valiant travel companion Sir Lancelot (Chris) who fought to the bitter end. Anyway, we took our Jeep and ended up at an out-of-the way ocean side joint where we pulled up some chairs, ordered up the Corona's and Modelo's and watched the surf. We tried some "Snuba-ing" to get our new friends introduced to the scuba world. This was lots of fun but be careful here........... my husband and I are certified divers and our friends had never tried this. They felt safe because we were there to coach them since the SNUBA "guide" spoke very broken English and sort of flew through the instruction part. Without us there to translate and guide them, it might have been a bit dangerous. We went from our SNUBA experience back to the center of town and straight into CARLOS AND CHARLIES Restaurant. Friends from home told us we can't miss this and now we know why. Without spoiling the surprises that you will experience once you are in there, we will tell you this.............1) This is INTENSE partying. If you are a stick-in-the-mud in any way shape or form, this place is not for you 2) You will have the time of your life 3) make sure you keep an eye on the real TIME since you will easily forget you have a ship to get back to 4) Be hungry 'cause this will be the BEST Mexican food you will ever have 5) bring your camera and extra film and be prepared to rip up into very tiny little pieces, all of photos that you took or were taken of you while you were in this fine establishment 6) not a good place for kids and I mean that 7) Realize that this will be one of the highlights of your entire trip - Don't miss it.
Back at the boat and after some serious recuperation efforts, we met our buddies at Snookers Bar before dinner. Great little place and expertly placed right next to the Casino. Dinner was again, wonderful. I think this was English Pub Night in the Vista Lounge - don't miss this. It is truly hysterical. Graham Seymour (Cruise Director) is an extraordinary entertainer and I find it hard to believe that he hasn't been scooped up for "greater" things.
FRIDAY - Sunny This was our Playa Del Carmen stop and my personal favorite. The town is clean, lovely and easy to maneuver through. We took the Tulum/Xel-Ha Lagoon excursion. It was wonderful. Tulum was very hot so bring lots of water. The bus ride was fine, about an hour. Here is a tip,......... your guide that you will meet on your bus ride is also your guide in the Mayan ruins park. If you can't understand him/her (broken English, etc...) as they make announcements on the bus, you can bet you won't understand him/her explain the Mayan culture as you tour the park. Once in the park, hook up with another group where the speaker is understandable. You have almost 2hours at the ruins site and it is worth it. There is a beach there that is accessible to the tour and you can just run in and out of the water to cool off. Your bags/purchases are safe on the bus. We then went to Xel-Ha (pronounced shell-ha) for another 2 hours. This is a beautiful lagoon snorkel park that is simply fabulous. I am frankly shocked that no other Cruisemates.com review mentioned this in any detail. 2 hours here is a crime. This should be an all day excursion in itself. I would suggest trying this on your own if you want to skip the ruins portion of the trip. Upon leaving the ship, I would inquire at the Continental Plaza Hotel right at the dock if there are tour buses/shuttles going to Xel-Ha and go that way. A taxi might be steep since it is about 40 minutes away. The beaches at Playa are the best I had ever seen. I heard the shopping was decent as well. This was another Formal night and the night for the baked Alaska parade. Just lovely. Formal nights this week were very well attended and there was a nice mix of suits and tuxes for the men and dressy to very dressy outfits for the women. Not a pair of jeans or shorts in site. Hit it BIG at the casino tonight. Hubby won $400!! Hint - seemed like the winners started winning at the end of the cruise. (Hmmmmm). Took a last dance turn in Skywalkers and turned in.
SATURDAY - Sunny Nice relaxing day. Grabbed our usual spots at the Terrace Pool, opened our books, ordered our Mimosa's and slept the morning away. We were invited by our buddies to have lunch at the Painted Desert so we thought why not, since we had canceled out Sabatini's reservations and still wanted to see what all the fuss was about with these "on-board restaurants". Bottom line for us......... don't go. The menu was extremely limited and the food was nothing special. We were not impressed. We packed up our suitcases in the later afternoon and got ready for dinner with very heavy hearts. Dinner was again, fabulous and our waiter Miguel, made the night very special for the six of us who were now almost like family to each other. We took one last turn in the casino, put our suitcases out in the hall at 11pm, spent one last night taking in the breathtaking ocean sounds and view from our balcony and prepared to say good-bye.
SUNDAY - Sunny As easy to leave the ship as it was to get on, although we wouldn't have minded hanging out for a bit longer. This trip was too wonderful. The crew was very nice, the food was very, very good, the ship itself is elegant and very easy to get around. The itinerary was just perfect. We just can't say enough good things about the entire experience. My husband and I are seasoned travelers and have been fortunate to stay in some incredibly beautiful places. This trip, for us, met every expectation that we had and then some. Grand Princess is grande cruising and we hope they never change. Bob Voyage to the next group sailing......... you are in for the time of your life.