As way of background, my husband and I are 59 and 62 and have cruised many times. This was our second TA and our third time with Princess. We booked a guaranteed balcony with our travel agent almost three months ahead and received our cabin assignment (Riviera deck, starboard side) a month later. We were very happy with virtually every aspect of the cruise.
We booked the Hyatt House Ft. Lauderdale Airport South through Hotwire. I used www.betterbidding.com to know, with reasonable certainty, which hotel I would be bidding on. We got the hotel for $87 ($105 with tax). This hotel is all suites, which was unnecessary for our brief stay, but the room was spacious, modern, well-equipped, and very clean. The buffet (free) breakfast was substantial, and the dining area is huge. We slept terribly on an extremely soft mattress, and I was miffed that the front desk would not provide me with a cheapie toothbrush (forgot mine) but would certainly sell me one! The hotel is within comfortable walking distance of a few fast food restaurants and a strip shopping mall, with K-Mart and BJs, if you need to pick up, say, a toothbrush. We bought sodas to take on board.
We arrived at the ship ($8 hotel shuttle) at 12:30, and long lines snaked in and out of the sun. I never heard what the problem was, but within an hour, we were on the ship, skirting the photographer, dropping off carry-ons, and enjoying a meal in the Lido. New to us was the scanning system for the ship card -- no more ka-chunk of inserting it into the podium as you enter and leave the ship.
The ship is tastefully beautiful and, aside from some carpet stains in a few hallways, quite clean. That cleanliness only improved as the norovirus broke out again on the Crown a few days into our cruise, and we were not allowed to serve ourselves any food the rest of the trip; nor were salt and pepper, bread, or sugar even allowed on the tables. This made for a tremendous increase in the amount of work for the staff. I wish Princess followed Holland America's procedure of not allowing anyone to serve any food for the first 48 hours; then assess the level of outbreak. Princess has it backwards. Once the virus appears, I can't imagine how it can be brought under control. Passengers may think the hand sanitizer is a catch-all and even neglect hand-washing, when the sanitizer does nothing for this virus. Other passengers may not report illness or adhere to quarantines. One woman boarded a Princess excursion even though her roommate was quarantined, and not fifteen minutes into the trip she was desperately needing a bathroom. We left the ship in Livorno, but word was that all passengers were going to have to disembark in Civitavecchia for a deep-down scrubbing of the ship.
We experienced a power outage one afternoon during the crossing. While lights and some power were restored fairly quickly, most power was out for an hour, and so we drifted at sea. The captain was very good at explaining and updating the passengers.
We were on the Riviera deck, almost at the front of the ship. We had easy access to the Lido deck and gym. Our balcony room was on the small side. With other cruise lines, we had been used to a sofa in our balcony room (standard balcony, not a suite), so we missed the extra room and a couch to sit on or use as a shelf! We do prefer Princess's style of closet though, and we had plenty of room for our clothes and shoes. Everything else in the room was standard, and our steward kept it meticulously clean. While I do enjoy towel animals, we had none, and I think that is for the best -- the stewards have other things to do. We used the self-service laundry three times. Only one day close to the end of the cruise was it crowded. ($2 to wash, $2 to dry)
We opted for traditional early dining, and we enjoyed our table of 8. Juan Carlos was an attentive, friendly waiter. I requested some extra spice for my meal one night, and thereafter, I had a small bowl of chopped jalapenos every dinner! His assistant waiter was equally conscientious, always remembering what we all liked to drink with and after the meal. The food was consistently good, sometimes great. The menu is weighted heavily in favor of meat, but there was always one vegetarian dish (few very tasty, I am sorry to say) and one or two fish. Salmon and fettuccine Alfredo were always available, as was the Princess love boat for dessert (yum). Oddly, French onion soup and escargots were offered only once during the 14-day cruise. Many on these boards have said one could get it any night, but we asked. Nope. We had three formal dinners, lobster (and enormous prawns) for one of those. We spotted some tuxedos, some suits, but plenty of casual (and sometimes quite casual) wear for formal nights. If you like entertainment (table tricks or singing or napkin waving), you won't find it on this sailing.
We did not try either specialty restaurant, and no one at our table did either. The specialty steak place was never crowded. We never had a chocolate extravaganza or midnight buffet, but honestly, we never went hungry, and if you crave sweets, the Internat'l Cafe is always open as is room service.
The breakfast buffet offers the standard fare. The lunch buffet is served in a confined space with no set pattern of traffic flow, which can be annoying if it is crowded. Again, standard fare. I would have liked a fresh pasta bar or a deli sandwich fixin's bar. But that's being picky. The 3:30afternoon buffet offered superb guacamole, assorted cheeses, fruit of course, even scones/clotted cream if you didn't want to go to the formal tea. The 24/7 International Cafe looks expensive, but everything there is free! Try the fantastic chicken salad or Greek salad. The dried fruit, nuts, and cheeses make a lovely snack. Cookies, puddings, and desserts were always available, and at breakfast, the parfaits, donuts, and beignets were crowd favorites. The adjacent coffee bar charges, but the Internat'l Cafe does not.
We tried the pub lunch in the Wheelhouse just once, although I know it was offered at least twice during the 14 days. It can be crowded, but the fish is hot and very tasty.
Near the pool, you can get pizza and ice cream (but only chocolate or vanilla), and the grill is on the other side of the pool. Beware the veggie burger; it is awful!
We used room service twice, and special requests (for instance, oatmeal and grapefruit are not on the menu) were honored. I did not, however, try for anything more exotic than fresh berries, which were not available.
Entertainment & Activities
We did not pay for any spa services, but every morning for the crossing, three spa ladies were available for free neck massages. They were wonderful! They, naturally, tried to sell the spa's services, but no one was pushy, and as my neck was hurting, I went 3 or 4 times (making sure I had a different technician each time, although they probably would not have minded anyway).
We used the well-equipped gym and the Promenade as a running track since the designated running track is very small. Three entertainment staff members alternated conducting free Zumba classes each sea day; that was an unexpected treat!
As with most cruises, you can be as busy or relaxed as you want. We chose the former and found the morning activities heavily outweighed the afternoon. We had conflicting choices every morning, but the afternoons activities were sparse. We could play bridge; take line, Bollywood, or ballroom dance lessons; watch a hulla-hoop dancer or a world-class ballroom couple in the atrium; listen to three different lecturers; visit the (small) library; play Bingo or trivia; tour the art gallery; watch a concert or movie (MUTS) or a cooking demo; or participate in silly poolside games. It is difficult to be bored.
Evening entertainment was also varied. The typical variety shows showcased singers and dancers; they were entertaining enough; if that is your thing, you will be more impressed than we were. We enjoyed the two comedians (esp. the juggling comedian), the hypnotist (had never seen that at sea!), the vocalist, and the piano player. Plenty of music venues (Accent is the best band I have ever heard at sea; the piano player in the Crooners Bar is equally amazing) and game show opportunities dotted Deck 7, and the karaoke was fun to watch. Don't miss "The Liars' Club"!!
On our port day in Barcelona, the ship brought aboard a flamenco dance troupe for a late afternoon show. That was an unexpected treat; they were outstanding.
Our experience is not what the rest of the passengers experienced, I am sure, for we (along with maybe 15 others) left the ship a day early in Livorno. We turned in our passports the night before, as required, but they were not ready in the morning, and we waited an hour for them. The shuttle that was advertised as available for all passengers to go to the Livorno train station was nowhere to be found. That necessitated another hour wait as a Princess rep finally rounded up a bus. We left the ship much later than we would have liked.
See the links below for my reviews of Gibraltar, Montserrat (Barcelona),Marseille, and Livorno/Florence. My Alicante is included here.
Email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) with any questions.
We had never heard of this town before booking this cruise and figured it would be a "so-so" stop. Far from it!! We loved Alicante! I had done a little research ahead of time and found several self-guided walking tours: www.alicante-turismo.com. Those were very helpful.
Alicante provides a free shuttle bus to the town. You will only have to walk a block to the exquisite Esplanada -- a promenade with a wavy mosaic pattern made from almost 7 million colored marble tiles, lined with palm trees and adorned with gorgeous flowers in the median. Pensioners sit in chairs in small groups; what a way to while away the time. We walked along it for a while but had a hike ahead of us which we wanted to finish before it got too hot.
The Castillo de Santa Barbara dominates the town, and reaching it was our goal. Anyone can take an elevator up, but we wanted to take the old city walls all the way up. We had a difficult time finding the beginning of the walls, but that was fine -- our journey took us through El Barrio, the old town with charming white-washed houses in tiny streets filled with flowers, and we were happy enough to get lost. If you want to do this, continue through El Barrio, following signs to the Santa Cruz church. Once there, follow the path in front of the church down to the street; go left , and that street will take you to the old walls. The walk is long and you have a good ascent, but anyone in reasonable shape could do this. The views are beautiful. If you prefer, you can ask directions to Ereta Park, which is a terraced park in front of the castle, and walk the switchbacks all the way to the castle (we took this was down, and it is lovely). The castle is free, and once you're there, it is quite an extensive place to explore. It is definitely worth it, elevator or hike.
After the castle, we walked to the beach and strolled the water's edge to the sandbar and back, then back into Alicante itself for some walking and sightseeing. If this interests you, El Barrio has a Nativity Scene Museum that is free and excellent. We made our way through more streets over to the Rambla, the Central Market, bought some tourron (local sweet -- kind of a dry nougat with nuts),and sat at a beautiful fountain before finding the Promenade again (the opposite end from where we began) and walking back to meet the shuttle late afternoon (the ship left at 6pm).