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Copyright © 1995-2004
Linda Coffman

 

Caribbean Princess
Eastern Caribbean

August 14-21, 2004

By Sue & Jim Adam 

Itinerary: St. Thomas, St. Martin and Princess Cays

Before I begin this review, I should at least tell you that we first learned about this new ship’s design last November at a future cruise presentation onboard the Star Princess. After we heard about the extra deck of staterooms and the number of extra passengers that this ship would hold, we were not in the least interested in ever sailing on the Caribbean Princess. But having a week free, and needing a break with little notice, our choices were slim. In some ways our skepticism was right on and in other areas, we were very pleasantly surprised at what we had found. 

THE VERY GOOD: Flights down to Florida were great and on time (for a change). We met with friends in Atlanta during our two hour layover and were able to share a nice drink and some great conversation as they arranged to meet us at the baggage claim area in between flights. 

We arrived in Fort Lauderdale at around 5:30 PM. A quick trip to the Embassy Suites for a pre-night stay and we were ready to roll. Since a hurricane had moved through only a few hours before we arrived, we were just a bit worried, but there was no need to be, the weather was great and, except for a few limbs down on the palm trees and a few wet streets, we would have never known that a storm had passed through. 

The REALLY BAD: (sorry Princess, I know this was a rare case, but it still needs to be reported just in case it should happen to someone else in the future) Embarkation! We arrived by taxi, as usual, at the pier in Port Everglades around 11:15. Even though boarding is to begin at noon, we always arrive around 11:00. This time we were glad we did as those arriving at noon had to stand out in the sun for over three hours before boarding began. The terminal building had lost half the power, the power to the half that the elevators, escalators and computers were in. We were told this was not related to the Hurricane but they would not say any more about it. So they were not able to disembark the previous week’s passengers or check us in for boarding. 

It was very hot outside, in the mid 80’s to lower 90’s by mid-afternoon with very high humidity. The line grew and grew until it wrapped around the parking area. The elderly were the worst hit by this wait and wheel chairs began showing up for them as they were passing out right and left. Princess did bring out water after about an hour or so but it quickly disappeared and it took them a very long time to finally bring out enough for everyone. Princess distributed small info sheets telling of the power outage and that there would be approximately a three hour wait for boarding today. Lots of unhappy faces out of that one. The Princess rep told me that they had no contingency plan for something like this and they were trying to figure out what could be done, it had never happened to them before. 

Finally after about two hours the crowds were getting very restless so Princess handed out numbers and placed you in different numbered groups for boarding. We had number three, and there were many in groups 10 and above. Around 1:15 they began to board group #1 They were walked to another terminal a block a way where there was power to the computers and security scanners. Once there the check in process was painless and there were restroom facilities for use, something that they had no way to provide while waiting in line for hours at the usual Princess terminal. After check in and security scanning they then loaded us onto buses and drove us the two blocks to board by way of the crew entrance of the ship.

Check in went on past sailing time and we sailed about an hour or so late. I felt so sorry for those at the end of that long line as I am sure they were totally spent before they were able to get onboard the ship. Not a nice way to start a long anticipated vacation for some and there was a lot of grumbling going on. Princess did the best they could with a very bad situation. But I agree on one thing, they should have had a plan for something like this, but as mentioned above, I was told that they were just figuring it out as they went. Personally, I think they did a pretty good job of getting things organized. The worst part was the heat, lack of water and no restroom facilities for everyone. 

THE GOOD: We were able to go directly to our mini suite D629 and our room steward ‘RIZ’ (the magnificent, we dubbed him, I might add) was waiting on our arrival. Great steward, he knew our names as we walked into our stateroom and addressed us by them each time we saw him during the cruise. He kept our cabin neat and clean and managed to take care of any and all requests we made no matter how large or small they were. The mini suites onboard are identical to those on the Grand Class ships, so nothing new to report there. Very comfortable with enough space to relax and not have to walk over each other to get around the stateroom. We always take some little things from home to make our stateroom more inviting to us. A crocheted doily for the coffee table, crocheted coasters so we don’t leave rings from glasses (I know OCD, can’t help it) and our little four cup coffee maker for good coffee during the cruise (something Princess is not known for). Also we again took our little battery operated candles for the table, just for a little touch of romance in the evening. 

One day Jim was on the balcony while Riz was cleaning and he asked Jim how those candles worked, he had looked all over for cords but could not figure out how they would light up and he couldn’t find a switch. Jim showed him that you just turn the bulb and he was fascinated by them. He was so fascinated that on some evenings when we returned to our cabin after dinner, he had them already lit for us with all of the lights in the cabin dimmed. Jumping to the last evening onboard with Riz for just a moment. We asked Riz if he could use (or trade) the coffee maker if we left it for him and his eyes lit up. He said, “USE YES, trade no, I would love it, I could make myself coffee in my cabin in the morning, I would graciously accept it”. So we let him know that it would be cleaned and left in our cabin at the end of the cruise for him along with any left over coffee that we had. We also presented him with the battery operated candles and the doily for his ‘special friend’. He was very happy with our gifts and thanked us over and over again. We were so glad that we could do something special for him after he provided such excellent service throughout the week. 

THE GREAT: The weather for our cruise was picture perfect from start to finish. Even though the Hurricane had moved through only hours before we boarded the ship, the seas were the calmest we have ever seen. Sun shining every day and blue skies greeted us every morning with hot temperatures for all of the water excursions we had planned. We couldn’t have asked for better if we would have known Mother Nature personally. 

THE SERVICE: Although we had a wonderful room steward and great service in some areas, we did notice a few things lacking on this ship that we had not seen before on other Princess sailings. They seemed to be working short staffed, which was a bit of a problem on a ship this size with this many people onboard. Tables in the Horizon Court, Café Caribe, and outside around the adult pool area aft would remain full of dirty dishes for long periods of time. We had cleaned off our own table several mornings as, although they were all vacant, there was not a clean table in sight. Not the norm for a Princess ship from with what we have seen on past cruises. 

Also, instead of being hounded to purchase drinks, it was hard to find a waiter, especially in the show rooms. Most times we had to go to the bar ourselves as there were only 2 or 3 waiters taking drink orders in a totally full show lounge. Again, not something we had ever seen before on a Princess ship. 

THE SHIP: After spending over 40 days on this class of ship the past two years, I have to admit that it is just too large for our liking. Too many people and nothing really new to explore, as we have seen most of it on the Grand and Star Princess. 

The one new addition that comes to mind is the Caribe Café that has been added to the back of the Horizon Court. A bit more creative then the Horizon Court, but by adding it, they have taken away a good amount of room from the deck above the adult pool area on the aft of the ship where we normally hang out during the day on sea days. 

A second addition is Club Fusion, where they always seemed to have something going on. There were also slot machines, only a few, in one corner of this club. 

The ship, for the most part, did not have the large crowds we were expecting onboard. Lines weren’t any longer than they are on the other Grand Class ships, even with the extra deck of passengers Princess has added to this design. 

There were many children on this sailing as it was right before school was to start in many states. Most days they were very well behaved but Island Night was like a high school prom in bikinis. We didn’t stay long as the groups of teens were just hanging out on the stairs and in every corner you passed. We didn’t mind them, but they were sooooo loud, yelling, screaming and just ‘acting like teenagers’ I guess. They looked like they were having a wonderful time, though, and making a lot of new friends. 

‘Movies under the Stars’ was interesting. Nice addition, but it was just way too hot in the evening on this cruise to enjoy it. Not many attended and although you needed reservations for most nights, there were only maybe 20% of the lounge chairs filled when we ‘checked it out.’ On cooler evenings, I am sure it would be a delight. The ship’s staff were passing out popcorn and selling drinks and candy snacks during the movie too. 

Aside from those three areas, the ship itself is almost the same as the others in her class. 

Tendering was only needed once and we were surprised how smoothly the tender boarding process was as we went ashore at Princess Cays. Now, returning to the ship is where the lines showed up. Long lines and long waits to get back from Princess Cays at 2:00 (an hour before the last tender was to return to the ship). Also very long lines in port to re-board the ship. Only a serious problem when the heat outside climbs to extremes, especially for the elderly. 

Now, back to the cruise... Once onboard we settled in and were pleasantly surprised when our luggage arrived at our stateroom within an hour or so after boarding. We were totally unpacked with everything put away within the first two hours on the ship. 

Now it was time for the vacation to begin as, until I am unpacked, I am not relaxed and in the total vacation mode. We visited the Horizon Court for a little snack to get us through the afternoon. The food was quite good as is the usual on Princess. We didn’t really explore the ship much until the second day, which was a sea day. 

FOOD: We had decided to do what is now known as ‘Anytime Dining’, changed recently from ‘Personal Choice Dining’. If you like seafood, this is the ship for you. Even if you decide not to go to the main dining rooms, there is seafood available on most nights at all of the buffets in the evening. The first evening there was a cold seafood buffet at both the Horizon Court and the Caribe Café. Lobster, Crab Legs, Shrimp and everything in between. The second evening a variety of seafood was also offered at the Caribe Café. The Horizon Court was closed after the afternoon snack on most days but the Caribe Café has plenty of space and we rarely found it crowded. During the cruise the items offered in the buffet varied, and most were excellent. Again on the final evening seafood was offered of every shape and size from fried shrimp, boiled shrimp, lobster tails, crab legs, and always a beef (Prime Rib, Beef Wellington etc.) or other alternative if seafood is not to your liking. We did try the beef tenderloin one evening and it was some of the best we have ever had on land or sea. 

Several afternoons for lunch we visited Prego Pizza by the midship pool and took it back to the cabin with us. Princess does serve some great pizza and I am a picky pizza eater. 

We dined at Sterling Steakhouse on the third night and as usual we weren’t disappointed. The filet was so tender you could almost cut it with a fork. Well worth the $15 cover charge that Princess charges. And the Raspberry Crème Brulee was perfect, as they caramelize the sugar right before it is served. Often in the dining room it is very cold by the time it reaches you, but this is served immediately and is as it should be, cold on the bottom but slightly warm on the top. To me it makes or breaks a crème brulee when it is served at the correct temperature. (I know, picky picky) 

THE ENTERTAINMENT: I normally don’t go to many shows onboard anymore, but I did go to a few on this cruise. Sarge the comedian was very funny and Kimika was quite entertaining in her first show, although I was a bit disappointed in the final show she did. It did not compare at all to the first one and more so featured her husband’s guitar playing for a good part of it instead of her wide range of talents. Hubby saw one of the productions shows, as he usually enjoys them. But he reported that he has seen much better on other ships and was not impressed with the singers and dancers that were featured. 

ITINERARY and EXCURSIONS: Our first two days were at sea and it was nice to just kick back and relax while enjoying the perfect weather and remembering our way around the ship. We made a visit to the casino on those evenings and were surprised at how generous the slot machines were being to us. Even hubby had a go and won the first night, which never happens to him, he isn’t much of a gambler. 

First port was St. Thomas and we decided to again take the full day catamaran tour with lunch to St. Johns. We were pleasantly surprised when we found that they have finally finished the pier in St. Thomas and the water excursions can be boarded right next to the ship instead of having to be bussed to the nearby harbor. We boarded the ‘Heavenly Days’ for a wonderful afternoon on the beautiful water over to St. Johns. We were able to snorkel for several hours and then back on board for a great lunch buffet. Open bar was also included in this excursion which made it very special. The weather again did not disappoint us and it was smooth sailing the entire way, not even a hint of spray over the bow. A note about St. Thomas--since this was our first port of call and we had not stopped anywhere else, we did not have to go through the immigration process that can be so irritating on other itineraries. It was nice not to have to get up very early and stand in yet more long lines for them to check our passports. But if you have any stops before reaching St. Thomas in a foreign country, you must go through this process before they allow you to leave the ship. 

Our second port day in a row was a stop at St. Martin. We had an early tour booked on the Golden Eagle Catamaran and by 8:30 AM we were already sipping on rum punch and enjoying our sailing over to Tintamar. This was the third time we have sailed on the Golden Eagle (guess one of these times we should buy a T-Shirt or something). We were happy to see that one of the crew onboard we had sailed with on the Golden Eagle twice before. We had a lovely chat and he remembered our first excursion with them well, as one of the main ropes snapped on the ‘Golden Eagle One’ out from the deck and we were castaways on Tintamar for several hours awaiting another boat to arrive to return us to port. They were very sorry for the inconvenience, but we sure weren’t. They entertained us well with all we could drink that day while we swam and snorkeled and it now makes this excursion seem too short in comparison. Tintamar has a beautiful secluded beach and the only other occupants are normally the nudists that frequent this French (clothing optional) beach on their own catamarans. The Golden Eagle has recently taken delivery of at least one new mid sized catamaran which is a bit smaller than the first one we were on. The layout of the new Cat is even nicer than the older ones and carries fewer passengers. 

We did a bit of shopping in St. Martin for the usual duty free items and were walking down to find the new location of Every’tings Cool, but never made it that far. The beach was only a few steps away and it was very hot that day. So we just cancelled our plans of finding the new EC and headed straight for the water to cool off. 

We arrived back at the ship to more very long lines to re-board. We decided to just stay on the ship the rest of the afternoon and relax as it wasn’t worth the line up to again get back onboard. 

Another sea day, a few more shows, and another trip to the casino, where I again kept winning. 

Last stop was Princess Cays. We had never seen such a perfect beach day here before. Every time we have stopped at Princess Cays it was either rainy, or very rough, or the water was quite chilly, but today made up for it all. The sun was high in the sky, the water was as warm as a baby’s bathwater and we spent the entire day just floating around in the calm fabulous ocean. 

The last night onboard was back to the casino for a few hours after the show with a few more hours of fun and games. Again, to my amazement, I won twice with 4 deuces on a deuces wild poker slot. Not a bad way to leave a casino after a week of winning and going home with much more in the gambling fund then I arrived with. 

Our week was just about over and since we did not run around like crazy people trying to do everything, it really was a nice week. When we try to do too much on a weeks cruise, they seem to go by so fast that before we blink our eyes it is time to leave for home. That didn’t happen this time and it was delightful. 

POST CRUISE: For our last day in Fort Lauderdale we needed something to do as our flight home did not leave until 5:35 PM. We had never visited the Everglades before so we booked a tour through Princess that would take us on an airboat ride through the Everglades, to a wildlife preserve, and then drop us off at the airport afterwards. The tour was $48 pp and well worth it. They need a minimum of 30 people booked on these tours before they will issue the tour tickets so it was a couple of days before we knew for sure that we would be able to take this post-cruise tour. They offer two tours, the first for those whose flights leave after 1:00 and the second (a longer tour that includes the wildlife preserve) for those with flights leaving after 2:30. We were one of the first groups to disembark the ship and it took only a few minutes before our luggage was loaded onto the bus and we were off. The airboat ride was about 45 minutes and since it was again a hot day, there was not a lot of wildlife to see. But we finally found a baby alligator swimming along that somehow had survived the larger alligators in the area. The airboat ride was quite exciting I must say. We then proceeded to the wildlife park for a tram ride around the compound. We were able to feed flamingos by hand and watch as large (two foot) lizards hurried up the trees. Beautiful peacocks were wandering everywhere. There was also a very nice gift shop with reasonable prices and I made a few purchases there. 

We were dropped off at the airport at 1:00 and the porter went ahead and checked in our bags even though they aren’t supposed to until a minimum of 4 hours before your flight ($$$ came in handy here and worth it to turn our luggage over and be rid of it). 

We decided to enjoy a leisurely lunch at Chili’s and before we knew it we were on the plane headed for home. 

OUR THOUGHTS: I have to say that although we have had our fill of the mega ships, this was a very enjoyable week for us. The weather being perfect, the seas being smooth as glass in some areas, and the great food and wonderful service we received. 

We will continue to book with Princess whenever possible as they just seem to balance out all of the good things that a cruise line could offer their passengers. PLUS, after October, we will only have two more cruises to go before we reach that coveted Elite Status and the benefits that come along with it. (Like free laundry and dry cleaning YEA!) 

If you like larger ships, I can highly recommend the Caribbean Princess and all it has to offer. BUT, if you enjoy the smaller ships and the more personalized service they often offer, then this ship would not be for you. Also, if you are not traveling with children, sailing on this ship during the holidays or during summer break from school can bring many hundreds of children to a ship like this, so plan accordingly. 

Overall a great week to the Eastern Caribbean with perfect weather and wonderful service.


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