My wife and I decided to go on our first cruise to celebrate our fifth anniversary, and after lots of research and investigation on the internet, we decided that Princess was the best for us. We are in our 30s, but are not big partiers or power drinkers, so we were looking for a line that was a little less nightclub and a little more focused on relaxation. We feel like we made a very good decision, and on the whole are happy with our first cruise experience. We will cruise again, but I don't know whether it will be with Princess or not. In some ways they did exceed our expectations, but in other ways they fell short.
We booked our cruise through an internet travel agency and flew into Fort Lauderdale having booked flights on our own. We stayed at the Courtyard Marriott Ft. Lauderdale Cruise Port (wonderful staff, highly recommended) the night before embarkation. We decided to wait until the afternoon to head to the cruise port to embark, and while we missed lunch on the ship, More
we were very happy with walking right up to check in at the terminal. Once on board, we immediately sought out our steward to make a couple specific requests for our room. Some - egg crate for the mattress, removal of drinks from the fridge, extra flat sheet for the bed - were done by the time we checked back into our room after the safety muster. However, some of our requests were not met. We never did receive bathrobes for our use despite multiple requests. I also requested distilled water (required for medical reasons), and was made to wait until after midnight that night (more than an hour after our second requests, and some nine hours after our initial request) before it was delivered.
This experience set the tone for our interaction with the staff on the ship over the course of the week - it was very hit and miss. We often had long waits before being served drinks in the Horizon food court, and this seemed to be the case regardless of what meal we were having. We found service in the main dining rooms to be very inconsistent as well. Sometimes service was exemplary, sometimes it was rather slow and not very welcoming. We chose Anytime dining, and didn't experience any problems with it except for the nights we forgot to make reservations for a two top (our problem, not theirs).
We had a very poor service experience at the Crown Room. We made a late reservation (9.30), hoping the restaurant would be quieter and service would be better. Well, the former was true, but the latter was absolutely not. I arrived early while my wife was looking at the picture gallery. Not knowing what time it was, I simply stated that we had a 9.30 reservation and I just wanted to know how early we were. I was very shortly told the time, followed by a stern proclamation that we were very early for our reservation and couldn't be seated yet (in spite of the three-quarters empty restaurant behind the greeter). I reiterated the fact that I just wanted to know what time it was, and left to find my wife. We returned promptly at 9.30, and were made to stand at the front entrance for ten minutes for reasons I don't understand. It can't have been for lack of empty tables. Once seated, we waited a further ten minutes before seeing a server. Once we were first visited, things got better, although they stayed confused due two two separate servers helping us during the meal. The food was absolutely fantastic, no doubt about that, but the poor service took something from the meal. If they don't want to have seatings that late, then don't offer them. Better to do that than offer late seatings and treat people they way they treated us. The multiple tables around us of staff members having dinner, some loudly, didn't help either.
Not being big drinkers, we didn't befriend a bartender as we didn't visit one often enough. And, just like the staff in the food courts and dining rooms, we found them to be inconsistent. Some were very nice, some very indifferent, and a couple were rude.
As for the rest of the cruise, we've very few complaints. We were very happy with the food, including in the food court. We were expecting it to be a little more 'cafeteria' quality, but it was absolutely just as good as the offerings in the format dining rooms. Big thumbs up for the food. The milkshakes were pretty poor, and the pizza crust was a little thin, even by New York style standards, but it was always hot and available, so it's hard to complain about it too much.
Our trip was wrapped up by two more service issues. We had the lights go out in our stateroom one evening, and it took nearly three hours for them to be restored. We were told it was as simple as a circuit breaker having tripped (we had nothing on in the room at the time but the television, so I don't know what tripped it), which made the amount of time to fix such a simple problem even more perplexing and frustrating.
Finally, there was the fiasco that was our disembarkation. We followed the instructions to the letter, and arrived at our appointed location five minutes before the time listed on the schedule. We were specifically instructed not to show up more than five minutes before the listed time, so that's what we did. Upon arrival, I found that my grouping had already been released to disembark and that we, along with the other people that had followed instructions and showed up when asked to, would have to wait until after the next group was released because our group had already left. We were confused and frustrated, and asked the staff member why our group had left already, and she said it was because they were all there already. We reminded her of the instructions we received, and she simply shrugged her shoulders and said our group was already gone. After strongly expressing our frustration for the fact that we were being punished because we followed the directions provided, she allowed us to leave ahead of the next group (i.e., when we should have been allowed to leave in the first place).
I don't want to give the impression that we didn't enjoy ourselves or find our first cruise to be very enjoyable. However, in light of Princess's promises to be a "Consummate Host," we found on balance that their service was woefully short of this promise. Less
Grand Turk overall was disappointing, and our excursion didn't help any. Very little to do on the island overall unless you're a nature lover. Decent amount of shopping options at the cruise port. Excursion check ins were disorganized and chaotic. We wasted an hour waiting for the excursion to start due to the fact that the ship was late getting into port. The snorkeling portion of the excursion was TERRIBLE. Water way, way too deep to do any enjoyable snorkeling. Add to that a very choppy sea and people who don't pay attention to where they're kicking when they swim, and the snorkeling was a total waste of time. The time at the beach was nicer, and the rum punch was tasty, but overall this excursion was by far our least favorite.
Princess Cays is beautiful, wonderful beach, great water, outstanding snorkeling. Get there early, or you'll have a hard time finding two beach chairs together. Lunch closes up early, so make sure you find out when it will be closing when you get there. We found the staff at the equipment rental and excursion desks to be unwelcoming and, in some cases, rude. Best part of our time here was when they closed the bars and most folks made their way back to the ship. With most people gone, the beach was quiet and the swimming and snorkeling were even better than earlier in the day. If Princess would get some more beach chairs, train their staff, and not close up lunch so early this would have been a 5+ for us.
Loved St. Maarten. Very highly recommend the Sea Trek St. Maarten helmet diving excursion, it was a great time and the staff is top shelf. Orient Bay Beach is beautiful but very crowded. Not many shopping options at the cruise port, but make sure you visit Guavaberry. Delicious!
Loved St. Thomas, Magen's Bay was the most beautiful beach we have ever been to. Blackbeard's Castle was interesting, and a nice change of pace from the beaches and swimming. Didn't like the avalanche of jewelry stores in downtown Charlotte Amalie, but with some searching we were able to find some other places to shop to find the things we were looking for (don't be afraid to take detours down the side streets!).