Once again my husband, Manny and I drove south from Atlanta to enjoy a 10 day winter cruise leaving from Fort Lauderdale. This time we chose the Sun Princess. Destination is important and this trip included islands we hadn't seen before. On the Dawn Princess to Alaska in 2001 we were impressed with the soothing décor, the entertainment, the staff and the "Personal Choice" seating which allowed us to meet new people every day. These are the reasons why we chose the Sun Princess cruise. Much to our surprise, because this was our second cruise with Princess we became gold card members which entitled us to a few extras like on board credit and a lovely cocktail party for frequent Princess travelers hosted by the captain. No matter what we did on this ship, including going through customs, it was handled quickly and efficiently.
It took us only 20 minutes from curbside drop off to embarkation, which was well organized and hassle free. We grabbed a bite of lunch at the buffet while our luggage was being delivered to our room. Among the papers in our stateroom was information stating that the Norwalk virus had affected (or should I say infected) the previous cruise and the ship had been completely disinfected stem to stern and released by the health department to sail again.
We're not worriers or complainers and the fact that most viruses are brought on board by passengers gave us no hesitation about our forthcoming cruise. At lunch, we discovered that dispensers had been installed in front of all food service areas and passengers were instructed to hand wash with an alcoholic disinfectant that dried instantly and was not at all unpleasant to use. It's a small price to pay for keeping a relatively germ free atmosphere.
During the cruise, the buffet was staffed by servers wearing plastic gloves. Passengers were not allowed to touch anything including the sugar packets or self-serve drink machines. This proved a wise decision and our cruise was virus free. It was obvious that the staff worked extra hard because they usually don't serve in the buffet. I know for a fact that they get little time off daily normally, so it's safe to say this crew worked extra hard, never showing anything but patient, courteous service. I was impressed with the serving staff in the buffet and in the dining rooms. If I requested something not on the menu or on the buffet, someone invariably went searching and fulfilled my wishes.
The food on the extensive menu in the dining room was exceptional, including the desserts which (unfortunately for any hope of watching my diet) were as tasty as they looked. The buffet, which on most ships usually tends to be less inviting than the dining room, was surprisingly good. High tea in the afternoon was lovely in the dining room but if we wanted it later, it was also available (as self-service) in the buffet.
Many handicapped folks, young and old, like cruising and the halls were filled people using walkers, wheelchairs, canes and scooters. Their attitude impressed me. It appeared that everyone was there to have a good time and they did just that. We met lots of happy people, with a good sense of humor about ageing and life in general.
One night there was much excitement on board because a helicopter flew from San Juan and landed on our ship to pick up a passenger and fly him to a hospital for emergency surgery. In the morning, the captain gave us the good news and the bad news. The good news: The patient was in San Juan and survived the surgery. The bad news: Because the ship had changed course to meet the helicopter, we were unable to make our scheduled port of St Vincent and would be at sea for another day before arriving at St Lucia. (They returned our port fees, which amounted to $7.50 per person, which was both considerate and amusing.)
Naturally, all 2000 passengers were relieved to hear that a medical emergency was handled so competently, but still we joked among ourselves about being at sea for two days since leaving Fort Lauderdale, anticipating our first stop and suddenly it seemed like a third day in a row without seeing land meant we were on a trans-Atlantic crossing and surely we'd wake up in England. Of course the entertainment on this cruise ship is non-stop and top-notch. It's a floating resort and many passengers cared not at all about ports of call. We met some who stayed on the ship for the entire cruise, swimming, sunning, eating and enjoying all the shipboard facilities, entertainment and activities.
The Caribbean was warm and sunny and offered all the tropical beauty we expected. But what we were not aware of was the fact that Hurricane Ivan did immense damage to several islands wiping out 80% of the homes plus destroying tourist hotels and spice crops, their two main industries. Anyway we visited the weather-beaten but still beautiful, St Lucia, Grenada, Martinique, St Thomas and Princess Cay located on the southern tip of Eleuthra. We learned that Princess Cay was completely wiped out and extensively rebuilt as quickly as possible. We were the first Princess ship to visit since Ivan's wrath. Looking at the beauty of the island, the docks, the pavilions, the piers, the beach and the landscaping, one would never know that it has been severely damaged only months before.
The ports of call were interesting because they were unfamiliar to us. We took tours of St. Lucia and Grenada and were left with a sad feeling for the islanders who are still trying to rebuild their homes and scramble for an income at the same time. Our desire to take the semi-sub in St. Thomas to view the coral reefs was thwarted because the tour was full. We had wanted to see them without having to do a long day of snorkeling. As it turned out, the day was cloudy and a little choppy and most water tours were cancelled after all.
The ship's internet café had 30 computers and reasonable charges for internet use which made my husband, Manny happy because amid all this fun he could stay in touch with the outside world. All shipboard activities and entertainment were superb. The shows were professional and the performers in the lounges were excellent. One comedian did different shows each night and was so good that we went to see him again. Actually every performer was impressive. We were busy most days partaking of the various activities. For quiet time, sometimes we sat in the library, sinking into comfortable window-facing soft leather lounge chairs alternating between reading books and staring at the turquoise waters or distant peaks of small islands jutting into the horizon. Occasionally fellow passengers emitted soft snores, mesmerized to sleep snuggled down in a bliss of comfort.
To sum things up I would say the Princess ships are run very efficiently and truly have the passenger's best interest in mind. The daily newsletter is clear, concise and well planned, offering a wide variety of activities and plenty of information on ports of call. The staff is friendly, helpful and considerate. I also like the fact that the tip is automatically charged our bill. Because we're never required to use cash on board, we don't usually have much on hand. The Princess solution makes it much easier than gathering and dividing up cash into envelopes and then searching out the individual recipients. Also it guarantees that passengers won't "forget" to tip the hard working staff. The money is divided equitably by the ships accounting office making the whole experience more pleasant in our opinion. I commend the Princess lines for their two best innovations: Personal Choice dining and tips automatically included.
In conclusion, at the captain's cocktail party, we learned that of 1800 passengers on our cruise, 1,080 or 60% had been on two or more Princess Cruises. Three couples had amassed over 300 days of cruising with Princess Lines. That is a tribute to the satisfaction Princess earns with their passengers. Hubby, Manny is an arithmomaniac and he was so impressed with this information that he asked me to include it in our review. Honestly, we do not work for or have any connection with Princess other than being satisfied customers. email@example.com