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Copyright © 1995-2004 
Linda Coffman

Caribbean Princess
Inaugural Cruise
April 3-10, 2004

Part Two

by Robert and Margarett Downie

We sailed through absolutely calm seas to Montego Bay in Jamaica. We were both disappointed that the Caribbean Princess’ itinerary does not include Costa Maya, but were willing to experience Jamaica with open minds. We docked in Jamaica precisely on time. Our room service order was not delivered that morning, so we went ashore to meet our privately-arranged tour on empty stomachs. Missing a meal is not necessarily a bad thing while cruising, but when your first planned stop is a rum distillery, a little nosh is highly recommended.

Normally we will not consider an independent tour or unescorted trip in a port we’ve never visited. However, we went against our instincts and booked a private tour with two other couples in Montego Bay. We should have known we were in trouble when the driver, who was not the person we expected, took us off the intended route and through the back country of Jamaica on the way to the Appleton Distillery.

We arrived well behind schedule at the Appleton Estate. There, we were treated to a rum punch that consists of rum, more rum, even more rum, and ice. If you finish your complimentary glass, they’ll gladly refill it. The tour is brief but informative and includes a visit to the distillation rooms, aging sheds, and to a tasting room where you can sample as many of their offerings as you like. Of course, there is a store, too, which we made good use of since Margarett’s recent discovery that rum is a great drink. 

I was happy to have had the chance to visit the Appleton Estate, for we will not likely return their way. To make a long story very short, we finally convinced our driver that we needed to return to Montego Bay before our ship sailed, not after. It was only after assurances that he would be “taken care of” that we returned to Montego Bay. Jamaica is a beautiful country, and has friendly people, but we won’t be getting off the ship should we pass that way again.

Grand Cayman and Cozumel were refreshingly predictable after the somewhat nerve-wracking Jamaican sojourn. A day of snorkeling in the warm Cayman Islands waters, and a fascinating visit to Mayan ruins on the Mexican mainland helped us recover that wonderful “being on a cruise” feeling, as did the improvements to the level of service on board the ship. Tendering was still a bit of a problem in Grand Cayman, but only because our time there was short and several tours arrived back to board the tenders simultaneously. We even started getting chocolates on our pillows! Thank you, Grand Princess, for supplying us with the necessities.

We were very pleasantly surprised by the new Caribbean-themed evening menu that replaces the French menu. There were so many interesting items to sample that I never had time to regret that I wouldn’t get my favorite French onion soup during the cruise. We were also able secure a reservation to the Sterling Steakhouse with the help of a very kind person at the concierge desk. Word spread quickly throughout the ship as to the very high ratings this restaurant was receiving from those who tried it. By the end of the cruise reservations were almost impossible to get.

In other respects, service aboard the Caribbean Princess improved noticeably. Three port days in succession gave the crew a chance to catch their breath, evaluate, critique, and learn from their early experiences. Slowly, but surely, the Caribbean Princess was starting to feel like a Princess ship.

Our last full day on board the Caribbean Princess was spent packing and preparing to leave. The ship and crew had come a long way in just a week. A few minor problems, such as the nightly power fluctuations, continued to take place. Overall, everything seemed to be running smoothly, and we felt a twinge of regret that we would have to disembark in the morning. Since we were lucky enough to be boarding the Golden Princess for an Eastern Caribbean Cruise, it was just a twinge.

Much of what has been described, and more that I’ve chosen not to list, would only be truly noticeable to those who have experienced previous Princess cruises. On a couple of occasions I witnessed Princess reps comparing notes about shipboard operations and making suggestions for improvements. It was encouraging to see that problems were being addressed as quickly as possible. The results were immediately apparent.

One thing that made some of the rough spots a little worse was the relatively low number of repeat passengers on this cruise. 75% of the people on board had either never cruised at all, or were first-timers on Princess. In many cases I observed people over-reacting to very small problems, or complaining about things that are part and parcel with the cruising experience. There were many calls for senior supervisors when an amicable solution could have been achieved by speaking directly to the person responsible. Experienced passengers showed more understanding when events took an excursion from the intended plan.

Room for improvement:

  • Staff levels did not seem high enough for the number of passengers on board. Long waits for drink orders were common and room service seemed overwhelmed
  • Better control of alcohol use by and sales to minors, and requirements that parents and guardians be responsible for the behavior of minors
  • Managing crunch situations such as tendering, and allowing people on and off during port calls
  • Video and sound quality in Club Fusion
  • Restore some degree of playability to the casino games and reduced coin-in requirements for jackpots

What was done right:

  • The Caribbean Princess absorbs the additional passengers without creating any feelings of crowding. The layout of the ship has been well thought-out
  • Constant improvements to correct problems as they were identified
  • The quality and selection of food at all meals was fantastic
  • Décor of the ship is very pleasing
  • Caribbean-themed dinner menu unique to this ship
  • Sterling Steakhouse is a huge hit

We will return one day to the Caribbean Princess and have every confidence that anything we might have found lacking during the inaugural cruise will be present. We greatly enjoyed our time aboard the Caribbean Princess. There is a lot about this ship to like. All that is needed is a little time and practice to get things right.

More Caribbean Princess Inaugural Cruise--> Back to Part One

First Impressions from the Maiden Voyage

Copyright © Robert & Margarett Downie

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