Having sailed to the Caribbean a few times in the past, mostly on shorter cruises, we decided to visit the Southern Caribbean on our longest cruise yet, 10 days. We enjoy port intensive trips, so this one fit the bill with six stops in all. While we had been to St. Thomas and Grand Turk previously, the other four stops (Antigua, St. Lucia, Barbados, and St. Kitts) were new to us. This was also our first cruise with Princess, after previous sailings with RCI and Carnival. With all of that said, let's get on to the review...
Embarkation/Debarkation - We found this area to be extremely impressive, by far the best we've ever experienced on any cruise line. The original embarkation was a little cluttered at the port (we arrived around 1:30), but we found everything else to be a breeze. Even on days when we we arrived early for disembarkation, we found that we didn't need to wait more than a minute or two...and in some cases, not even that long, to leave the ship. We didn't have a single issue of dealing with a long wait at any of the ports or with the final disembarkation. I give Princess an exceptional 10/10 in that area.
Food - We found the food to be an overall good quality, but we over the last two days had trouble finding choices in the buffet or main dining room to eat. Most days, we would find choices that would suit us, but on the final two days specfically, we had trouble finding a single option in the lunch buffet that either of us enjoyed. My fiance doesn't eat pork and had a very hard time finding items on those days that didn't include some kind of pork in the dishes. On my end, I am an overly picky eater, so most likely there will be options that suit most passengers. When we were able to find options that we liked, the quality and taste was very good.
Specialty Dining -
Crown Grill - We tried to Crown Grill one night during the cruise and found it to be fabulous. The steaks were cooked very well (which we didn't find to be the case in the main dining room), and the sides were quite good. Specifically, I found the Black and Bleu Onion Soup to be fantastic.
Sabatini's - The best night of the cruise overall in the main dining room was Italian Night, so this gave me hope that Sabatini's would really impress. Unfortunately, I did not enjoy my dinner at all. Not only was the service slow (they advised us when we came in that dinner typically takes longer, but things like filling water glasses were also slow). I tried to chicken marsala, and found the chicken to be dry and poorly cooked, while the palenta side was bland and tasteless. The shared table pasta dish (spaghetti with mussels) was decent, but nothing stood out about it.
International Cafe - We went her many times during our cruise and always found the quality and taste to be great. Obviously the desserts were wonderful, but the sandwiches and quiches were very good as well. Many times, I chose to go here for either a late lunch or quick snack. I'm also happy to report that the gellato machines were fixed during the cruise, so this is now an option as well.
Wheelhouse - We tried to pub lunch once, and enjoyed the fish and chips.
Stateroom - We typically spend very little time in our rooms, so opt for a standard inside stateroom. Our room was fine, and we had a wonderful steward who took care of everything we needed during our trip. We were at the very front of the ship however, so the motion of the ship was definitely noticeable. I believe next time we cruise, we are going to go with either a balcony or mini-suite, after seeing a few of these room types.
Entertainment - Entertainment on the ship was a mixed bag. We enjoyed the numerous daytime activities like trivia and enrichment lectures, along with the outside activities like pool volleyball, ice carving, etc. The nightime activities in Club Fusion and The Explorers lounge were also enjoyable, with things like karaoke, comedians, gameshows, and other fun options. The main shows at night were disappointing, to be honest. The Beatlemaniacs were fantastic, and one of the three comedians was pretty good, but we found the other options to be geared toward a much older crowd. Obviously as the average age of the ship appeared to be in their 60's or older, this was to be expected, so I don't fault the ship too much for these choices. Of the shows we attended, I Got The Music was the only one that featured the Princess singers and dancers. To be frank, I found their performance to be embarrassing. The main female vocalist couldn't carry a tune and was out of key the entire time, while the main male vocalist was average at best. The secondary female vocalist on the other hand, was fantastic and vastly underused. The last night, they had an "International Crew Show" which we loved. The cruise staff performed a few skits, while various crew members from the ship performed their individual talents. Sarah, a worker from the Lotus Spa, sang for us, and put all of the official Princess performers to shame.
Overall, the entertainment options were good, with the noted exception of the main nighttime shows.
Cruise Director - I added this section to make specific note of the cruise director, Lee Childers. As a cruise director, he was by far the worst we've ever had on a ship. Other than appearing on the morning television show, and introducing the night time act, he was invisible. We never saw him at any other events during the day or at night. His assistant Marshall (spelled in a different manner that I can't remember) was just as invisible, and typically only appeared when Lee did, which was almost never. With that said, the other cruise staff was EVERYWHERE. One person in particular, J.J. was at almost every event and was always willing to take time out to speak to people as he saw them in public areas. To a blind eye, you would assume that he was the actual cruise director...and it's our sincere hope that the powers that be see this and give him a promotion in the near future.
Ports of Call - We elected to take private tours on a number of the islands, and chose to not book anything directly through princess.
Antigua - We took a tour with Gordon, and he was by far the best tour guide we've ever used. He took us on a tour of the island, including the beach (great snorkeling and beautiful calm water), Nelson's Dockyard, Shirley Heights, Devil's Bridge, and other places along the way. He took the time to learn all of our names, while providing stories about his life growing up on the island and showing us unique areas throughout the trip. He offers a number of tours, and we will definitely take another one with him when we return to the island again.
St. Lucia - We had another great tour guide in St. Lucia, as we chose to use Cosol. While we didn't get Cosol personally, we were guided by his brother, Yellowbird. We went to the drive in volcano, Marigot Bay, a banana plantation, the Pitons, and a local beach. While the volcano and other stops were quite interesting, the trip as a whole was very draining, spending probably four of the six hours of the trip in a van, driving around the poorly maintained road system. The beach was the worst that we visited during the trip, with jellyfish stings and large rocks being the theme of the day. I should also note that as part of the tour we were provided with local food that was cooked by Cosol's family. It was a large four table spread and we found it to be delicious. As a whole, I recommend this tour to others because it is a great way to see the island, but I don't believe we'll do it again.
Barbados - We had trouble locating a tour, so ended up going with an unknown in Sweet Barbados, with our tour guide named Raymond. As it was a private tour and entrance to the two places we went were over $40pp alone, the tour itself was the most expensive we took, but we found Raymond to be extremely professional and a solid guide. We visited Harrison's Cave, which was a fascinating. I enjoyed being able to see the rock formations and natural pools during our drive through them. After that, we visited the Barbados Wildlife Reserve, and saw tons of turtles, peacocks, deer, etc. While we didn't see any monkeys because of the time of day, we did see the elusive "Mara", which looks like a mix between a deer and rabbit. We were told that these are hard to spot, so we were happy to get a few photos. Following that, our final stop was at the beach. While the beach itself was nice, it was very wavy that day, so we didn't get a chance to swim as much as we usually do. Upon our drive back to the ship, we passed by another beach (locally it's called Brown beach, although I believe it has another official name), that we will go to next time. It was completely calm and looked like a great place to spend the day.
St. Kitts - We elected to not book a tour in St. Kitts and decided to just get a taxi to a local beach. We chose Shipwreck beach and couldn't have been happier with the result. In the woods near the beach, we saw a large amount of green monkeys. They would come very close to us, as they have a feeding area near the beach. The beach itself was perfect. The water was calm and the snorkeling was great. We were able to follow the reef for an incredible long way, seeing all kinds of marine life. Be careful if you snorkel to not get too close to the reef, as there are a number of sea urchins along the way.
St. Thomas - We took a tour with Sunny Liston and weren't tremendously impressed with the service as a whole. Our first stop was in the shopping district where we stopped for two hours. This stop was miserable as we were in heavy downpours or rain most of the time and were pretty much stranded in jewelry stores between the downpours. After that, he took up to Mountain Top to see the view of the island, which was quite nice. Then, he took us to Sapphire Beach. It was still lightly raining at the time, so most of the group we were with decided to go back to the ship. We chose to stay at the beach for the remainder of our two hours, which didn't seem to make our guide too happy (our guide was Elvis), but he did pick us back up. The beach was nice, but because or the rain, it was cold and wavy...so we didn't get to appreciate it as much as we normally would have. The tour itself was basically a glorified taxi trip, and we could have just gotten individual taxi rides at the different stops for less money. Fortunately we've been to St. Thomas before, so we didn't feel like we missed out on experiencing the island.
Grand Turk - This was our third trip to Grand Turk, and it seems to get better every time. This time, we took a taxi to a beach on the far end of the island that we were told was great for snorkeling. While we didn't find that to be true, the water was great for swimming and the area we were taken to was relatively quiet, with a cozy beachside bar. Unfortunately I don't remember the name of the beach, but it began with a P. Following that, we spent some time at the margaritaville pool, before deciding to spend our last hour or two in the ocean near the ship. This turned out to be a fantastic decision, as the snorkeling in that area was amazing. There is a large drop from just 5-6 feet deep water, to several thousand over a small space called the "wall". In this area, we saw massive amounts of fish and other sealife which turned out to be the best snorkeling experience of our trip.
Overall - Our overall impression of this cruise was a very positive one. We found the hospitality of the crew and staff to be great, and we enjoyed the entertainment options as a whole. The food was hit or miss, but there were a lot more hits than misses, so I consider that a win as well. The true star of this voyage however were the ports of call.