10-Day Eastern Caribbean C402 - Covered Balcony Traditional Dining Late Seating 4-8-05 to 4-18-05 St. Vincent, Grenada, St. Lucia, Martinique, St. Thomas, Princess Cays Charles and Judy Crain - 47 and 50, engineer and homemaker, respectively Western Caribbean (Star Princess) - 12/2004 Panama Canal - Partial Transit (Island Princess) - 1/2004 Mexican Riviera (Sea Princess) - 1/2002 Alaska (Ocean Princess) - 6/2001
OVERVIEW OF REVIEW:
Since this was the last Caribbean cruise of the Sun for this season, a detailed day by day log would not be applicable. Instead I will concentrate on things that will probably not change on the Sun and that will be of interest to future cruisers on this or other itineraries.
SUMMARY - THE HIGHLIGHTS:
Overall, a very good cruise. Better than the Star in December, but then 10 days is better than 7 anytime, but still not quite as good as the Island in 1/2004.
The highlight of the cruise was the CC people on board. From the meet and mingle during sail-away to debarkation at the Horizon Court we were running into people we knew from the sail-away.
Embarkation was handled well. It only took 25 minutes from curb to get on board to our cabin. A new record. Debarkation was its usual madhouse, but it was customs fault, not Princess. Only one agent was collecting declarations forms.
The ship is in excellent condition from top to bottom and stem to stern. She has held up well and yes a slight sewer smell was evident in certain places, but I think that was due to wind directions. After all, the black water tanks must be vented and eddy breezes can do strange things.
Our Caribe deck balcony cabin had the smaller opening, but we also were up against a structural bulkhead so the wall forward was solid. This layout allowed for maximum protection from wind and rain and allowed us to keep the sliding door open every night of the cruise. Storage, while small, was adequate and even the shower was bigger than I remembered.
Entertainment was hit and miss. Some comedians were good, other just ok. We didn't make any production shows. Island night was great, country night was hot. We never made it into shooting stars (disco). Just way to much to do and not enough time.
Ports of call ranged from ok to wow. St. Vincent was pretty hectic when we arrived. Grenada still had major damage from the hurricanes. St. Lucia was very pretty and fun. Martinique had some surprises for us snorkelers, but St. Thomas was gorgeous for snorkeling and shopping.
Food was good to very good, only a few things that were bad and a few things that were excellent (lobster tails for one), but well above average on the whole. Verdi's pizza was a great find for lunch and would have liked to try dinner, but we were having too much fun in the dining room.
Service was overall excellent. Our cabin steward was very efficient and personable, our waiters, after the changeover, were full of energy and engaging, although somewhat too touchy or afraid of making a mistake - they needed to loosen up some more.
NOW FOR THE DETAILS:
HIGHLIGHTS OF THE CRUISE:
The highlights of this cruise were the CC people on board and our two table mates for dinner. Cookie and Barry (61 and 68) will be married in September and this was their first cruise. It was great for Judy and I to contribute to their overall experience. They really enjoyed themselves and even when things weren't perfect, they still were awed by the overall experience. (A refreshing attitude that some more "experienced" cruisers forget when their martini is not quite dry enough!)
The CC people were awesome and the experiences we had were way too much fun. From Smilin Bob's ascension to Mr. Sun Princess (and his dive certification as well) to gvre's gift to Judy of the official cruise critic hat (thanks again Richard and Deb), to the breaking of the 18 lobster tail record and to the many conversations, lunches and meals, traveling with a fellow group of NUTS is the only way to go.
This was a much younger crowd than our previous 10-day cruise. Probably only about 10-15 kids on the whole ship, but the average age looked more in the 35-50 range, rather than the 50-60 range.
The princess embarkation at Terminal 2 was almost flawless. Yes, two additional forms had to be filled out (Bahamas and noro screen), but no big deal. The only line at the door was the line due to passing out the two new forms. Once filled out, it was a 15 minute walk to our cabin. We arrived at the terminal at 12:25 and were in Verdi's pizza for lunch at 1:15.
Debarkation was its usual hectic mess and looked pretty bad, but the main reason for the exit lines was the sole customs agent collecting the declaration forms instead of the normal two. All of those people channeling through one person. In spite of that, our color was called at 0945 and we were at the Frontier check in counter in the airport at 10:35.
The Sun class remains our second favorite class - a very close second. The Coral class is our number one. (The additional deck on the Coral class that contains the explorer's lounge, Sabatini's and the Bayou café is the major difference.) The recent dry dock also involved a total change-out of the gym equipment, a large internet café, new carpet and fresh paint on everything that doesn't move. The ship is simply in great shape and she is still gorgeous. I think she looks better than Celebrity M-Class. The all white exterior just sparkles.
We had a Caribe deck balcony cabin. The sun class balconies were an afterthought and were actually cut out of the hull plating. The Caribe deck openings are smaller than the ones on Baja and Aloha. This smaller opening allows much less wind and rain into the balcony and makes it much more private. This allowed us to keep the door open at night throughout the cruise. The Dolphin deck mini on the Island and the Baja balcony on the star allowed too much wind into the cabin if the door was left open. In addition, our Sun balcony cabin was near the front stairwell and low, just above the lifeboats. This meant the bow slicing through the waves made a sound like waves whispering onto a beach in your backyard. One of the most romantic sounds, but relaxing as well. We slept the best on this ship we have ever slept.
We requested the egg crate mattress, based on tips from this board. It made a HUGE difference. I have never slept so well on a ship's mattress before.
We also had the opportunity, thanks to Richard and Debbie (gvre), to tour the Sun class mini-suite. An awesome cabin to die for. Two cabins wide, with the corresponding double wide double door balcony, has one side (one cabin's worth) dedicated to a couch and entertainment and part of the walkthrough bathroom. The sleeping side (another cabin's worth) has a walk in closet and bathroom with Jacuzzi tub. They charge a lot more for a sun class mini than all of the other minis on the coral and the grand classes, but you get a whole lot more.
The comedians will change throughout the next year and we did not go into any production shows, but the entertainment staff is top notch. Cruise Director Gavin will be gone soon, replaced by Trevor Bradford (he was on the island with us and is a great guy), but the activities planned are excellent. There is line dancing with Rachael, ballroom dancing with Mandy, pool games, trivia, putting contests, wooden horse racing and a host of other activities. We were never bored, unless we wanted to be.
Country night started too early at 9:30. Late seating dinner did not get out until 10. Regardless, we joined in late and had a blast line dancing on the Riviera deck. The party pretty much petered out around 1100.
Island night was a real blow out. Dancing, conga lines and the Mr. Sun Princess contest. After previously competing in a Mr. Sea Princess contest, I opted out, but ole Smilin Bob joined in and based on the cheers from the CC group and his friends we got him anointed. We had a 230 person conga line to close out the Sun Princess 2005 Caribbean season.
PORTS OF CALL
St. Vincent was a short stop. We only walked into town, no excursions, and looked around for a couple of hours. The vendors here were not too aggressive.
We snorkeled in Grenada and gave the tour operator very poor marks. A lady slipped and fell on the deck of the catamaran and split her lip wide open. There was no first aid kit on board, nor was anyone trained in first aid. Our group included 5 nurses and they had to administer ice and a towel until we got her back to the ship. She might have had to have stitches, but we never found out. The snorkeling was good with a large variety of trumpet fish and coral. I got some great underwater shots and the tour would have scored much higher, but safety should have been a higher priority.
In St. Lucia we did the pigeon island kayaking and then hiked to the top of Fort Rodney. On a clear day you can see Martinique. The kayaking was fun, but wet. We had the option of snorkeling or hiking. We hiked with a local guide who showed us a variety of nut and fruit trees everywhere we went. The view from the top was pretty awesome as well.
In Martinique we snorkeled off a quaint little village with a topless beach. The view was pretty awe inspiring, both above and below the water line. We snorkeled with two schools of squid. I got some great underwater shots and video of the squid. Then we moved to the bat cave where you can snorkel into a cave with bats. Not recommended to snorkel too close to the guano zone, but you can definitely hear, see and smell them. We didn't go into town, but heard the shopping was pretty expensive.
In St. Thomas, we shopped and BOBed. The shopping was very convenient and some things were reasonably priced, some bargains (booze mainly) and some prices much higher than the states. The little shopping mall is handy for last minute things not available on the ship. BOBing was pretty cool, but a once only deal for me. I'd rather scuba dive. Judy got a little claustrophobic in the helmet, so she didn't care for it. But the crew was a lot of fun. However, the fish life in the water, the water clarity and warmth rivaled Grand Cayman. Large jack fish, a 30" barracuda, sea turtles and a school of bait fish 100 yards long and 20-30' thick was just simply incredible. Snorkeling through this was great. Diving would have been awesome. BOB is a good compromise if you want to try something different.
Princess Cays was simply lovely. A great way to end a cruise. Rather than snorkel, we beach combed to the north. You can actually go for quite a ways, probably several miles if you want. There are coral and sand beaches and small tidal pools to explore. The BBQ was great. Hamburgers, huge hot dogs, chicken, ribs, salads, what more can you ask? New sand has been brought in so the beaches are a little sparse. I would highly recommend water shoes while snorkeling or wading.
My philosophy on a cruise is to taste everything I can't pronounce. This cruise was no exception. I found out several interesting things on this cruise. By being on the Star in December, I know that the menus are identical across the fleet. What I didn't know is the latitude a ship's chef has in making the dishes. The tastes for the same menu items were totally different - except for the lobster. That was excellent and did taste the same. One specific example was the eggnog ice cream. On the Star the flavor was light and very good, on the sun the spices were heavier and overwhelming - same menu item totally different result.
The cream soup's were the highlights for us. European style cream soups heavy with the vegetable's flavor (broccoli, asparagus) were all very good.
The head waiters still cook pasta on Italian night, cherries jubilee on Continental (ne-French) night and other times as well. The pasta on Italian night was perfect, but the next night he tried smoked salmon over fettucini with a heavy cream sauce. The smoked salmon overwhelmed everything. The dish was simply too fishy for us.
Verdi's pizza was a great find for lunch and would have liked to try dinner, but we were having too much fun in the dining room. Verdi's menu doesn't look too varied, but they will mix and match anything on the menu. Judy liked the vegetable pizza, but wanted meat on top, so she ordered double pepperoni on the veggie pizza. It was great. I stuck with the Calzones, which were fresh and very good.
The buffet was fair, but not unexpected. It's a buffet for pete's sake! Unlike the Star and the Island, there were no special taste treats on the Sun. This repeated our experience on the Ocean Princess buffet on our first cruise as well. Remember though at 3:30, they have a 2 hour ice cream buffet line in the Horizon court. At 3:20 the sharks start circling, and by 3:29 they're looking for blood in the water.
Lunch in the dining room was good. Service was a little impersonal, but efficient. Food was of better quality than in the buffet and there were some tasty bites here and there.
Overall food was good to very good. Only the head waiter's pasta on Italian night would be categorized as fantastic/excellent, but then maybe the free bottle of wine helped. Only a few things were "bad". The beef Wellington tasted spoiled. The cut of prime rib was too dry - she thought I said well done and it was. The fruit tartett's in the buffet were a major disappointment. They were so good on the island and the star, but not good at all on a couple of days. But the good outweighed the bad by a long shot.
Service was overall excellent. Our cabin steward (Bethoven) was very efficient and personable. He did a great job and only missed ice once. We tipped him extra when we left the ship.
Our waiter (Fernando) got hurt on the second day. He was proper, efficient, but stiff and formal, not very personable and hard to understand through the thick accent.
Gabrielle, the asst waiter, took over and her new assistant (Kasha) stepped in. These two girls were full of energy and much more personable, still a little stiff and afraid to make a mistake, but the energy level at all three tables went up. We did tip them extra because they did contribute to a very enjoyable dining experience. So much so that when Barry offered to take us to Sterling for a dinner, we declined because we were having so much fun in the dining room.
Francisco, the head waiter, was personable and a pretty good cook. On the second night, the matre' de asked if we could move to the table near the window for 4, from our table for 6. We said no problem, and then Smilin Bob's group shows up to take over the table for 6. We then had this parade of people thanking us for moving a whole 3'. They were going to buy us champagne one night, but I already got a free bottle from our TA, so I negotiated a free bottle of wine for Italian night that was really good stuff.
Since this was Judy's b-day cruise, I ordered flowers and a bottle of Absolut. They were in our cabin when we arrived. The flowers were absolutely gorgeous. I also popped for a sea weed wrap and massage for her. I called it her sushi massage. She loved it.
For workouts, Judy did cycling (spinning) and I basically ran on the ellipticals. The gym opens at 0600 so I was able to get in two workouts a day on sea days, one on port days and only missed 2 days on the whole cruise. No problem getting a machine whenever I showed up. Judy's spinning class did a sunset bike on the deck one evening which she really enjoyed.