We just got back from the March 25th Eastern Caribbean cruise. This was our 7th cruise, but first on Princess. My wife and I, 54 & 44, were traveling with three children.
The ship is beautiful and in like new condition. We had two of the less expensive KK grade inside cabins. We were impressed at the size of the cabins compared to the inside cabins on other cruises we have been on. Each cabin has a safe and a refrigerator however my refrigerator did not get very cold. The cabins have a lot of storage and a 6 foot long closet for hanging clothes. My only complaint about the cabin was no lighted clock so I never knew what time it was in the middle of the night.
The mix of passengers was the oldest crowd I have ever experienced on a cruise. I have never seen so many passengers in wheelchairs and on walkers. I'm talking a lot of 70 to 90 somethings. Three times I assisted seniors wandering around lost or separated from their spouse. Nevertheless, there was a lot for our kids to do. They have a Kids Club for each age group but they rarely went up there. The movies under the stars MUTS was a treat and they were showing newer movies none of which we had seen. The magic show we thought was great and the singers and dancers too. All-in-all, it was a much more laid back cruise than others we have been on.
If you want to get a good seat for the shows especially the early one you better get there at least 30 minutes in advance. Same for MUTS. On the "at sea" days, if you want a chair in the shade or near one of the pools you need to get one EARLY. The first sea day we went looking for chairs about 8:30 and ended up three sundecks up. All the chairs were reserved even though Princess asks you do not reserve chairs. So the last sea day I went up at 6:45 in the morning. By 6:55 all chairs in the shade were reserved. By 7:30 almost all chairs near the pool were taken. Two chairs front & center on the pool I saw a couple pile with towels and t-shirts at around 7:00 and then leave. We never saw them again until 11:30 when they came back and collected their shirts. They never sat in those chairs all morning! I guess they were reserving them "just in case" they decided to sit by the pool.
As for the food, my wife is very much into cooking so she was familiar with most of the unique items on the menu. We thought most of the food was terrific---given the circumstances--- the people that complain about the food must realize these chefs are turning out as many as 10,000 meals a day. I have been to several supposed 5 star restaurants and have had worse meals. If you want a specialty meal with greater attention to detail stay home and hire a chef to cook especially for you. Overall, I thought the food was on-par with the other cruises we have been on.
As for the dining times, we booked the 5:30 seating. I'm glad we didn't go for the Anytime Dining. Everyone wants to eat between 6:30 and 7:30. When we'd leave the dining room around 7:00 there would be a line waiting for Anytime Dining seating.
Our dining experience was enhanced by our waiter, Jimmy, from the Phillipines. Jimmy was very helpful with the children. The first two nights he suggested kid-friendly alternatives that were available like chicken nuggets and spaghetti. But the kids all ordered off the main menu. We were a bit shocked when our 10 year old daughter tried the squid and ate the crawfish. I think Jimmy got a kick out of seeing her taking the risk of ordering herself and trying new things. Jimmy, without us asking, brought us samples of some of the other entrees that he thought we might like. After he saw how much we liked the desserts, he'd bring an extra one of each and extra bowls of icecream for us to all share. We watched Jimmy interacting with some of the other diners most of whom had little interaction with him other than ordering. Our 15 year old commented how the people at the next table never thanked him when he refilled their glasses or brought items to the table. He also noticed they never were offered extra items to try. Our experience with Jimmy was so outstanding that the day we were on Grand Turk we stayed so long ashore there was little time to get ready for dinner. When we told the kids we'd just have to eat at the buffet they got very upset complaining that Jimmy would miss us. So still covered in sand and sun lotion we threw on some clothes and ran down to the dining room. The last day we all agreed that Jimmy deserved a reward so we gave him an extra generous cash tip the last night.
As for the automatic tipping, I don't like it. $11.50 per person per day automatically added to your bill. I believe tips are reserved for outstanding service. The cabin stewards kept things clean and were friendly but the kids missed the towel animals. The auto tips are divided between your steward, waiters, and head waiter who we rarely even saw. If one is subpar and another outstanding the tips are still split according to their prescribed percentages. You can ask for the tips to be reduced or eliminated but they make you fill out a form asking you to detail why you want to stiff the help. Pay these workers a decent wage and let us tip them for outstanding service.
The islands we visited were all wonderful. On St Maarten we book a parasailing excursion on our own with SXM Watersports. They were great. If you reserve in advance via e-mail you'll get a better price than if you walk up the day of your visit. On St Thomas we did the Pirate ship snorkel excursion. We all loved it. We swam with the sea turtles and saw a stingray and lots of colorful fish. After snorkeling they pass out free sodas and rum punch for the adults. I was amazed they included free drinks.
As for drinks, because we drove to the port we were able to bring supplies most cruisers would not be able to. I brought a whole carry-on suitcase packed with sodas, 5 bottles of wine, and a hidden fifth of rum. They put it thru the xray machine but never said a thing. I estimated we saved almost $300 in drink expense for the five of us by bringing our own.
Overall it was a good time and great itinerary but I think next time I'd chose a cruise with a more upbeat party atmosphere.