Since we did so much on this two week cruise, I'm going to subdivide things into some sections that people might find interesting.
Those sections are:
1. The back to back experience 2. New Waves SCUBA certification program 3. Captain's Circle Platinum Benefits 4. Tours 5. Review of ship/food/entertainment
Back to back cruises
We were able to do back to back because the rates were down because this was hurricane season (we knew this, and so does Princess). You take your chances. The cruise on the Grand the week before us skipped Grand Cayman because of hurricane Lili. We lucked out with no weather problems whatever for both weeks. We originally booked a cabin on Carribe deck with a balcony. Later, Princess changed rates, and a mini-suite guarantee was as cheap as the balcony cabin we originally booked, so we changed to that. Even later, for the second cruise, all mini-suites went for the same price, no matter the location. So with that we asked for, and our travel agent got us, a category AA mini-suite right in the center of the ship. It was to die for!
We had the same cabin for both weeks, so we didn't have to re-pack. At the end of the first cruise, we waited until all passengers had been called ashore (approximately 9:30am) and then we walked off in a group (there were at least 20 of us on back to back), checked with customs, and then walked back on! We left the ship in the afternoon of that Sunday to make phone calls home, and stop in the "Publix" supermarket for more sunscreen and other "supplies".
At the end of the first cruise, we were asked by the dining captain whether we wanted to keep our same table and waiter. We said yes, but that didn't happen. When we got our new cruise card, we were at a table a couple of tables over from the original one. However, instead of a table for eight which we asked for both cruises, we were now at a table for 11set up like a long Thanksgiving table. It was impossible to carry on conversations with both ends of the table, and one end had a woman in her fifties with her parents in their eighties who were kind of out of contact (she ordered everything for them and they didn't talk throughout the meal). This kind of took away from the dining experience for us, and the table was so crowded against one wall, the waiter couldn't get around to serve the passengers. So for the first time ever, (and this was our 5th and 6th Princess Cruise, and 8th cruise in total), we asked the dining captain if it was possible to change to a table of eight for the rest of the cruise. The next day, we got the new assignment delivered to the room, and immediately hit it off with the other six people and had a second wonderful week "at table"! by the way, the entire dining room staff rotated between the two weeks, so we didn't/couldn't have had the same waiter for both weeks. I think this happens often.
New Waves SCUBA certification programI'll also post this part separately, as many people have asked about this program. Certainly, because we live in Southern California, I could have gotten SCUBA certification here. But with work, etc., there didn't seem like there ever was time (and Southern California Pacific Ocean temperature is 65 degrees, rather than the 85 degrees of the Caribbean!). So I signed up in advance for the certification program. They sent me the official PADI CD-ROM interactive textbook which I used on my laptop. I went through this twice before we left for the cruise. Filled out all of the "knowledge reviews" before we left. On board the first two days were at sea. So each morning with unshine, the instructor, I and five others went through the knowledge reviews, and then took an exam on the subjects covered in each of the five sections. Each session was about two hours or so.
Each afternoon from about 3pm to 6pm, we did the pool training with all of the SCUBA equipment in the Conservatory pool. Finally, we did the qualifying dives in St. Thomas and St. Maarten. Both Sunshine and David, the instructors were wonderful. Sunshine couldn't dive with us as she caught a cold, so David did all of the pool and qualifying dives with us. I learned a whole lot in a concentrated period of time, but it made everything immediately make sense.
I wasn't their best student, but did qualify, and had a wonderful time with it. Since we were doing back to back cruises, I did the regular Princess SCUBA tours on Grand Cayman (they use Don Foster's for that), and Cozumel (they used Dive House for that tour). Both of these were spectacular, especially Cozumel with a reef dive with a vertical drop of hundreds of feet (we stopped at 70 feet), but could look down forever into the ocean when we weren't looking at all of the color and life of the reef itself. Was wonderfully peaceful. The second Cozumel dive was Paradise Reef and it was a "drift" dive--you just kind of stood still and the current carried you around as you passed by wonderful reefs and fish. I thought the program was great, although others on this board have said to do the program onshore. I had the luxury of back to back cruises, so I could relax more on the second cruise which others can't always.
Captain's Circle Platinum Benefits
I'm just going to summarize here, as bits and pieces of this have come out. September began the new categories of "gold" and "platinum" Captains Circle benefits. Gold are passenger with 1-4 cruises, and platinum are 5 or more. This was our 5th and 6th cruise with Princess so we were given platinum benefits. There was a platinum checkin line separate from the quick checkin, and by deck check in lines. Internet access was charged, but then deducted from our room charges (kind of a paperwork exercise). We used the laptops from the pursers desk, but the business center PC's seemed a little faster. Surprisingly, we did receive the $10 credit for filling out our Captains Circle profile online when they opened that up in September. We had thought that we would only receive this on a cruise in 2003, but there was a card in our room announcing they gave it to us on this cruise. Finally, the morning of disembarkation, we had access to the Wheelhouse bar exclusive for Platinum passengers to wait. They had Sunday morning copies of the New York Times available to read.
I'll be quick here as most of my tours were covered by the SCUBA training program the first cruise, and New Waves SCUBA dives the second cruise. My wife went on snorkeling trips mostly. She loved the St. Thomas snorkel to St. John's. She had a small accident and bumped her head getting off the St. Maarten's snorkel, so she didn't really have a chance to do that one well. We both did the swim with the dolphins tour on Cozumel. It was a real kick! Only 24 passengers about of 2,700 got reservations, as it is a small group experience (and they divided us into groups of six at the water park). They take a great video of you as you actually interact with the dolphins, and the dolphins push you around twice while you are in the water with them.
Review of ship/food/entertainment
I'm not going to go into great detail in describing the ship as that's been done many times. We like the arrangement (wished the main central staircase went through all the way as we had a room in the center of the ship and couldn't use the staircase, so had to use the ones in front or back, or the central elevator bank). The production shows and movies were the same on both cruises, in slightly different order. The lead comedy/juggler (James Michael) was on both cruises, but the other comedians seemed to change between weeks (and one got off in the middle of the first cruise). We enjoyed "Lights, Camera, Action", but have seen "Rhythms of the City" two years in a row, and while the singing, dancing, sets and costumes are great, it's lots of music you never remembered before. We didn't catch the newest production as it was never offered after late seating dinner. They only showed it at 7pm for late seating passengers, and 8:45 for early seating passengers. That night we had dinner at Sabbatini's so we didn't get a chance to see it.
I'm a little disappointed in that like last year on Sea Princess, they think that showing movies in the Princess Theater or Vista Lounge in the evening counts as "big" entertainment. It's certainly cheaper for them, but I look forward on a cruise to entertainment I can't really get at home easily, but many passengers love them (My Big Fat Greek Wedding was the big hit onboard).
We loved the food in the dinning room. The menu's were largely the same. On the second week, the "English Dinner" from week one which was crab legs, prime rib with Yorkshire pudding etc, became "Chef's dinner" the second week, and the prime rib was changed to lamb chops. Otherwise the themes were the same, but in a different order. Sabbitini's was a lot of fun and had all of our Italian favorites and we didn't mind the 2 and 1/2 hour experience. We treated it as our entertainment that evening.
I didn't gain a pound for the two weeks! Swam laps in the conservatory pool each morning at sea, and we went for 1 mile walks around the Promenade Deck each day too. Had light breakfast on the balcony each morning and we brought wine onboard that we bought at Publix in Ft Lauderdale so we could have "happy hour" at sunset on the balcony. We raided the Horizon Court for crackers, cheese and cold cuts for our snacks.
We also did a renewal of vows ceremony with the captain of the day (not the Italian chief captain). Was very nice. Had a glass of champagne before the ceremony while they pinned the boutonniere on me and gave my wife her orchid bouquet. Then the ceremony which was about five minutes and then photos. There was a bottle of champagne in our room upon return. It was done at 6pm on the first formal night so everyone was dressed up. They had three weddings and five renewal of vows that day.
I just hope everyone going after us has as much fun as we did.
Thanks Norm and Maureen Reeder