April 3-10, 2004
by Robert and Margarett Downie
We did our level best to contain our enthusiasm as we descended over Fort Lauderdale and Port Everglades two days before our cruise. Our efforts failed entirely. Those on the right side of the aircraft got a great view of the Caribbean Princess as we settled into final approach. Unfortunately, we were seated on the extreme left and our reserve crumbled as we clambered over each other to catch a first glimpse of the Caribbean Princess.
Even more impatiently we collected our baggage and found a porter to help us out of the airport. We strained again for a better view of the ship as we drove to our hotel, the Renaissance on 17th street. Once checked in, we grabbed our cameras and walked partway up the causeway to take a long look at the Caribbean Princess. Passers-by also stopped and took long looks at the ship. Of course, we couldn’t help but mention that we’d soon be aboard.
Adding a deck to the proven Grand-class pattern greatly increases the stature of the Caribbean Princess. The ship has a profile that is grand, and more. After taking in the view, we returned to our hotel for a quick bite to eat and a drink before retiring to our dreams of the upcoming cruise. Friday passed all too slowly. We returned to our viewpoint on the 17th Street causeway in the evening to see if we could catch any glimpse of inaugural festivities. Sadly, we witnessed very little activity from our perch. After dark, we were treated to a view of the Caribbean Princess putting out to sea for the combined wedding and naming ceremony cruise. The ship looked absolutely stunning as it headed out to sea with lights blazing. Sleep refused to come easily as we looked forward to embarkation. I was tempted to get up very early and catch the ship returning to port, but the better half overruled that plan. Instead we slept in as best we could, ate a leisurely breakfast, walked over to the Publix store to pick up some last-minute supplies, and (im)patiently awaited the arrival of our shuttle to the port.
We arrived at the port just after 11:00 AM to find an already lengthy queue of excited passengers. By the time boarding started, the line stretched back and forth three full lengths of the terminal, and a fourth wrap was forming. In typical Princess fashion, we were inside quickly in spite of being near the end of the second line. After a quick review of documents at the Platinum check-in, security screening, obligatory embarkation photo, rush up the gangway, and security picture we were on board! Princess has boarding down to a science, and the whole process took less than 10 minutes.
Somehow we seemed to have gone through the embarkation process much more quickly than most, and we are among the very first passengers aboard the Caribbean Princess. There is a certain scent in the air, one I’ve never encountered. It’s got to be that “new-ship” smell. We both stopped to enjoy the moment before boarding an elevator and checking out our cabin. The carpeting was noticeably soft and springy.
After quickly dropping off our bags, we grabbed our cameras and set about exploring the ship. Princess has done a great job tacking the issues imposed by having an extra 500 passengers on board. Club Fusion is a huge room that feels as intimate as the Wheelhouse, with lots of little nooks for large and small groups. Large plasma screens are mounted all over the room so that everyone can see what is happening on stage, no matter where you happen to be seated.
The open decks are more thoughtfully laid out and provide the sunbathing crowd with lots of space to soak up those rays. Within minutes of boarding, the pools were already in use. Of course, a large number of Princess employees, guests of Jill Whelan, and other invitees had remained on board following the naming ceremony. By all accounts a good time was had by all during the overnight cruise. The Sun and Lido decks are also home to Movies Under the Stars, featuring a 300 square-foot LED video screen. In addition to movies, the screen can be used for sporting events and other live feeds.
The Palm dining room has been enlarged to allow more people the opportunity to participate in traditional dining. For the first time, tables for two are included. Those who wish to dine with just their S.O. might find traditional dining a better choice than
Personal Choice. The décor of the Palm dining room is strikingly different than the standard Princess pattern. Dark woods and changes to the lighting make this room feel slightly more formal than the
'anytime' dining rooms.
The atrium on the Caribbean Princess feels much larger than similar spaces on the Grand Princess and Golden Princess. The stairways have been rearranged in such a way that the space is much more open. The effect is quite dramatic.
Sadly, my favorite area, the Horizon Terrace, has mostly been consumed by the addition of Café
Caribe. This functions as an additional buffet station for breakfast and lunch, and serves Caribbean-themed buffet meals in the evening. A great deal of extra seating has also been added.
Many of the favorites still remain, unchanged. Explorers’, the Wheelhouse, Sabatini’s, and the casino are just as they are on the previous Grand-class ships. The Desert Rose has been replaced by a Sterling Steakhouse. Make your reservations early if you want to dine there.
After our exploration, we prepared to meet a group of people for a pre-arranged sailaway party. Suitably attired in tropical gear and purple leis, we headed for the upper decks. There was a short delay for some late arrivals at the airport, then we were soon underway. We were closely pursued by the Golden Princess and several local TV helicopters. The Fort Lauderdale condo-crazies did not disappoint us and put on an exuberant display as we sailed past. Before long, the pilot had exited the ship and the Caribbean Princess was on her way towards her first destination, Princess Cays.
As we toured about, we began to get the idea that perhaps the crew was not quite ready to have more than 3200 passengers on board. Little things were amiss, such as bars not being properly stocked in preparation for the sailaway party, empty glasses from the previous night’s festivities occasionally visible, and cabins were not quite ready to be occupied. Our cabin steward was doing some last minute tidying when we arrived.
Only two glasses had been provided to go with the mini-bar set-up. We asked our steward to have champagne and more glasses delivered, and were told to call room service instead. This is the first time I’ve ever been told anything but, “I’ll be happy to take care of that, sir.” After 15 fruitless minutes listening to a recorded message telling me that my call was important, I gave up on room service and headed to our upper-deck sailaway party.
There seemed to be very few waiters circulating on the open decks prior to sailaway. The bartenders seemed to be falling behind as the demand for foo-foo drinks increased, so while Margarett waited patiently for a rum punch, I enjoyed some cold beer. In the meantime, a lovely bottle of champagne and flowers were delivered to our cabin, the gift of a valued friend. Unfortunately, we had no glasses to enjoy it.
Later we dressed for dinner and found we had a little time to kill. We decided to try the casino. We gave up Las Vegas in favor of cruising some time ago, but still enjoy the click of casino chips while challenging probabilities that we know are stacked against us. Our first major disappointment was with the video poker. In addition to the notoriously bad pay scales compared to land based casinos, the minimum bet required to win a Royal Flush jackpot has been doubled on 25-cent machines to $2.50 from the standard $1.25. Continuing with the poor first impression of the casino, we found that several blackjack tables have been replaced by versions of the game sometimes referred to as “Fun” or “Super-Fun”. Those games are neither, and fool less-knowledgeable players into playing a game that gives the House a higher advantage. The only standard blackjack table that was open had a minimum bet of $25. That’s a little too much money given that you still have to pay for your own drinks. There were other subtle alterations that would be noticeable only to those with more than a passing interest in gambling. The changes imposed by the Carnival merger are most evident in the casino, and are not for the better. We played much less than usual as a result.
On the other side of the coin, so to speak, our first meal on board was a very pleasant surprise. The food was delivered hot and very tasty. The quality of the offerings has been greatly improved since our last Princess cruise, and we had no real complaints about the food then. Try as we might we could not resist the fresh rolls delivered to our table, nor could we pass on the deserts. Princess serves simply the best ice cream in their dining rooms.
The sailing to Princess Cays was a bit rough. That’s perfect for us, since a little motion seems to help us sleep. The seas continued to be very restless as we arrived at Princess Cays. I considered the conditions for tendering less than optimal, though not dangerous. We got on an early tender and headed ashore, though for some reason our pilot mysteriously stopped part way in and allowed the boat to drift in six-foot seas. This made things rather uncomfortable. He also had difficulty docking once we reached the island and nearly collided with some rocks. What should have been a five-minute trip took more than 20 minutes. At the same time, lines for the tenders stretched all the way back to the Princess Theater. Although the Cruise Director assured those on board that tendering was proceeding smoothly, it clearly was not. Inexperience and high winds were combining to make the process look very confused.
The service ashore was up to normal standards. Waiters, conspicuously absent during sailaway, suddenly appeared in profusion. Bar service was quick and friendly. There were long lines at the barbeque buffet stations and it seemed that everyone was taking a little more than normal. I later found out that Horizon Court had run out of food in the morning, and many had come ashore without being able to get breakfast.
The return tender trip went more smoothly. The problems encountered during the day had upset a large number of people, who were making their opinions known on board. I decided instead to order some drinks to the cabin. Again, room service was not responding, although my call remained important.
Since this was the week before Easter, Margarett was interested in attending services on board the ship. These were usually conducted early in the morning. For the first three days of the cruise, we did not receive our Princess Patters the night before, as usual. Therefore, Margarett missed three opportunities to attend Mass because the time had already passed before the Patters were delivered.
Still, we were enjoying ourselves and by the third day of the cruise my diligence was rewarded by an answered call to Room Service.
Princess Inaugural Cruise--> Part
Impressions from the Maiden Voyage
& Margarett Downie
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