I was the ultimate cruise skeptic. I have always thought that a cruise wouldn't compare to some of the nice vacations we have had on land. Furthermore, I had a long list of concerns that I thought would make me miserable on a cruise. Now that we have cruised, I've changed my mind. Yes, some of the things I worried about were in fact true. No, the ship is not as luxurious as some beach resorts we have been to. But what I learned is that the positive aspects of cruising far outweigh the small negatives. The ease of cruising, the fun of being on a ship and most of all the magic of the water combine to make cruising unique and special.far more than the sum of its parts. The weather was glorious, the ship lovely and the service attentive. We had a great time. Although it was our first cruise, I'm sure it won't be our last.
First I should say that we weren't typical in that we didn't take advantage of many of the choices listed everyday in the ship's newsletter, The Princess Patter. Most days, we hung out in lounge chairs near a pool. Reading, napping, eating and planning our next margarita were the main activities. The aft pool behind Horizon Court was our favorite - what a view! I also liked the main pools on Deck 14 - the tilework was beautiful and since there was always music, it was a great place to go if you were in a festive mood. I kept meaning to get to bingo but never did. I thought the galley tour was interesting, and I attended one art auction just to see. The game room and library were well-stocked, but we didn't get to them until the last day. I had a very nice "hand treatment" and manicure with Rachel in the beauty salon, and my husband got a great haircut there too. I also used the well-equipped gym on four of the days. Although there were sign-up sheets for the treadmills in the mornings, I never had a problem getting one in the late afternoon. Two times I watched the sunset off the bow of the ship from my treadmill - pretty spectacular.
In the evening, we generally ate late - after 8 p.m. on personal choice dining. On one night we had to wait in line. We were traveling with another couple, and our request for tables for four was always granted. I loved having the choice of when to dine, but the service varied -- from merely polite to warm and wonderful. Our favorite waiter and table were our very first night, and if I were doing it again, I'd make a reservation for that waiter, that table every night of the week. We did enjoy the casino and found the dealers to be patient and friendly. Our group had luck with both blackjack and roulette. Although I didn't care for "Da Beat," I thought the comedians were pretty good. One night there was a comedy juggler that my husband liked a lot. We heard some nice lounge music but never did go dancing at Skywalkers. I preferred that room during the day when the view was spectacular and the seats were quiet.
As a first-time cruiser, who had many concerns about whether or not I would like a cruise, I think the best way to describe my trip is with a few lists:
Things I worried about that weren't really a problem
Crowds: As I mentioned, we had a line one night for dinner. You had to get there early to attend shows or presentations, and finding a deck chair was sometimes challenging, but it always seemed to work out. Tendering in Cabo was easy in the morning, but there was a long line in the afternoon when everyone was returning. Check-in took almost an hour, but was smooth, and you were so excited about embarking that it didn't matter. Disembarkation was very organized. We were in a later group, but didn't mind waiting in the lounge and watching CNN with a cup of coffee. Clearing customs and getting our luggage was a breeze. In general, the ship was big enough to absorb huge amounts of people, and having our own balcony made it easy to escape if you wanted privacy.
Seasickness: I brought medicines but never needed them. Everyone told me I wouldn't even feel it, but in fact, the ship did move quite a bit. Not sure if it was the Pacific, or just the time of year. No one in our group had a problem, and in fact, I slept like a log every night. Loved being lulled to sleep by the waves and the hum of the engines. When we got home however, it took me about three days to get my land legs back - and I think that's longer than average.
Gaining weight: Athletes had plenty of places to jog or walk on the ship. The health club was very nice too. Using the healthy choice or vegetarian menu was always an option. Despite all this, I confess. I gained three pounds.
Being much younger than other passengers: Not a problem! Although there were a number of older cruisers, I would say that the average age was about 50. My husband and I, in the 40ish range, felt perfectly comfortable. There were younger couples, honeymoon-types and young families too.
Annoying announcements: On our ship, announcements could only be heard on the decks and on balconies. If you were in your cabin, you were not bothered by announcements. Perfect. (And in fact, the announcements were kind of cute.)
Feeling forced to participate in goofy activities: First of all, there were no "goofy" activities. Second, no one ever forced me to do anything. There was something (or nothing) for everyone.
Pleasant Surprises These are the things that made the cruise special.
Water water everwhere! Nothing could prepare me for how wonderful it was to just look up from every deck and see sparkling blue water. Several times we saw dolphins. Gazing at the water was instantly relaxing, always exhilarating and the best part of our trip.
Walking the decks. The promenade deck (deck 7) provided a great walking spot down close to water level. There was also a jogging deck higher up on the ship. One early morning I walked the promenade deck in heavy fog, and watching it lift as I circled the ship was one of my favorite memories. On the last night, when the seas were a bit rough, my husband and I had Decks 14 and 15 to ourselves, and watched the pool water slosh around, whitecaps in the moonlight and the stars in the sky. Very nice.
The thrill of embarcation. Nothing can compare to the delicious anticipation of waking up on the day of our cruise. We loved the drive to the port, checking in, greeting our friends, seeing the ship (wow!) and even the line to check in. (Check in took a little less than an hour start to finish.) Walking on the gangway, stepping on the ship, getting our key card, finding our cabin, meeting our steward - all exciting. We even loved the lifeboat drill.
Sail-a-ways: Leaving the ports at the end of the day was always exciting. People gathered on upper decks, cocktails in hand, and watched the land slip away.
Exploring the ship. Even the most jaded traveler would have to admit that it's neat to be on a big cruise ship like this. Although I didn't necessarily think the ship was ultra-deluxe, I found it to be pretty, fun, spacious, clean and tastefully appointed. Once in awhile, on the elevator, or snuggled in a cozy lounge, I would have a sudden spark of new realization - I'm on a ship!
Days at sea. Our itinerary had three days at sea, and I was surprised to find that these were my favorite times. The incredible luxury of a whole day with no agenda was a treat. Sleep late? Coffee on our private balcony? Take a nap at 3? Eat lunch twice? No problem.
Socializing with our friends: Being on a cruise was a perfect way to travel with friends or relatives. Plenty of activities to satisfy everyone, and lots of chances to come together during the day.
Cabo San Lucas. What a nice port! Lovely marina, friendly people, and a good feel to the whole place. Beautiful view from the ship too. We took a water taxi to Lover's Beach - secluded and gorgeous - a must see.
Hiding out in my stateroom. We were in a category BA outside double with balcony (C606). We were pleasantly surprised at how comfortable our room was. There was ample storage space, a roomy refrigerator and very convenient desk, tables and lighting. Our balcony provided gorgeous views and I found myself waking early to peek outside. An especially appreciated touch was room- darkening curtains that actually overlapped, making it easy to be in total darkness even when it was bright outside. (If you've ever stayed in a hotel and been awakened by that bright sliver of morning light between the curtains you know what I mean.) Our room and balcony provided a great respite from the activity up on deck, and I loved reading there in the mornings, napping in the afternoons and watching movies.
Quibbles. Let's get them over with, since none of them affected my overall experience. We had a wonderful time and would go again in a minute!
--Our steward happily brought us bathrobes once we requested them, but why make us ask? Why not put them in all the rooms? Similarly, why no clocks in the rooms? Next time, I'll bring a travel clock for middle-of-the-night time checks. --Toiletries. Shampoos, etc were provided in odd little cardboard containers that were hard to open with wet hands. --Our private balcony was huge - plenty of room for 4-6 adults to relax comfortably. But, not absolutely private - deck above us could see down. Also, furniture on deck was inadequate. No lounge chairs - only uprights, and tables were a bit flimsy and small -- even for continental breakfast. --Food. Even though the head chef coached us to say it was "overall excellent" during the galley tour, I would say it ranged from "okay" to "very good." A few meals in the dining room were wonderful, but mostly the food was a disappointment. The fish, in particular was often overdone. The Horizon Court buffet, while convenient, pleasant, clean and plentiful, featured average quality steam table fare. Nothing fresh or delicious (except desserts). However the selection and variety of both the dining rooms and the buffet were excellent. --No midnight buffet! Our traveling companions were full of stories of amazing midnight buffets that cruises are famous for, but it wasn't offered. (Although to be honest, I'm not sure we could have waited up even if it was!) --Lines being occasionally held up in order for pictures to be taken. This was especially annoying in Cabo San Lucas, where a 45 minute long line in the sun was made even slower by photographers. Who wants their picture taken after a hot, sweaty day on the beach, loaded down with packages and wet towels? If the line is long, the photographers should suspend their photo taking. --Explorer's Lounge was one of my favorite spots. Cozy chairs by the window were a great place to read or relax between activities. But every afternoon, the art auction completely dominated this otherwise quiet space. Too frequent, too loud and too many pieces of art strewn about, making it impossible to find a chair for hours at a time. --On-board shopping. The shipboard shops were ho- hum. I had expected to be sorely tempted, but instead found myself searching for something interesting to buy as a ship souvenir on the last day. Even the art gallery was disappointing since no prices were posted, and art could be purchased only through the tedious auctions. --Atrium. Also ho-hum, though tastefully so. Think lobby of a very nice Hilton Hotel. We used it every day, but nothing to write home about. The lobby bars with cocktail music were, however, especially nice just before or after dinner. --Shore Excursion staff. To be fair, when we needed to make a last-minute change to our pre-booked shore excursion in Puerto Vallarta, they were courteous and kind (even though we were doing so after the "cut off" time for changes). But in both Mazatlan and Cabo San Lucas, we were going off on our own. I asked the excursions desk for advice on a nice beach to try. Both times I was told "I don't really know" or "I couldn't tell you." That's ridiculous. I think the excursion staff should be ready and willing to help you whether you have purchased a Princess excursion or not. --Peddlers on the beach. In Mazatlan and Cabo we were pestered by hordes of vendors selling silver and trinkets on the beach. Most un-relaxing. Next time, would research places where vendors were not allowed. Perhaps private resorts?
All quibbles aside, I can't imagine someone saying that they didn't enjoy this ship and this cruise. It was a delight.