I know I'm really late in getting this posted, but I've recently returned from the Caribbean Princess 12 day cruise of Norway and Iceland, and thought I'd submit a review of both the ship and the itinerary. I'm fairly new to this board as well; I joined to get information about Princess and this cruise. So many folks here were so helpful, that I thought I might 'pay it forward' by writing this review. I hope it will help someone else looking for answers, as I was a few weeks ago.
Let me first put my review in context by giving you a bit of information about myself. I think that's important because we all view a cruise through our own lens. This was my 10th cruise, but my first with Princess. I'm a middle-aged (ouch; that hurt to write) woman who was traveling with a friend. (also a woman) So I really can't speak to the quality of programs for kids or how lively the DJ was at 2:45 AM or any of the other things we didn't do or weren't interested in. Neither of us purchased much of anything extra on board. We're not drinkers, we can live without the pricy specialty coffees or tea, and we don't see the logic of paying for food when there's great food in huge quantities being offered 24 hours a day for free. (well, you've already paid for it, but you know what I mean) Other than a little shopping on board ($10 for an evening bag--c'mon, who can resist??), my final bill had nothing extra except the excursions and the tips. And I realize that's not the same for everyone. But I can only write about the things that impacted myself or my friend, and I'm including the kind of information I was looking for myself when I joined this message board. We were on the Caribbean Princess, but I guess much of this would applicable to all the ships in the same classification.
We flew into Heathrow from JFK, and though the Princess folks were waiting for us, the transfer to the ship was long (just doing all the pickups in Heathrow took over an hour) but well-organized, and eventually we arrived at Southhampton. Our bags were taken from us in the airport and we didn't see them again until they were delivered to our room. The embarkation was smooth and very quick; I would say within 30 minutes of arriving at the ship terminal, we were processed, given all our documents, and in our staterooms. That gave us nearly all of the afternoon to explore the ship. My friend got her luggage around 4:00 PM; mine was delivered sometime between 5:00 and 7:00 P.M. Unfortunately, my suitcase had been damaged in transit from the airport, so that became the first test for Princess Customer Service. I went to Passenger Services and I'm pleased to say that it all worked out great. They offered to try and fix the suitcase on board, and in fact, that's just what they did. I got it back a couple of days before the cruise ended and it was completely repaired. I didn't have to navigate home with a broken suitcase, or fill out forms and wait for a check after the cruise. No muss, no fuss--and it made a great first impression on me.
Overall, I had a wonderful time, as did my friend. As a first-timer on Princess, I was generally impressed with the quality of service, activities, and food--and of course, the boat itself. We were in a standard balcony room, and while not luxurious, even with the beds separated into twins there was still room to maneuver around without tripping over each other. The bathroom was a bit small, particularly the shower, but I've had smaller on other cruises. (though it did have those 'magnet' shower curtains where water somehow always manage to leak onto the surrounding floor) We were on the Caribe deck, and as I found out, those balconies have the advantage of being a bit bigger and having half open to the sun (and other passengers) and half covered (and private). From what I could see, other decks had balconies that were either completely open or completely covered. So if you can, you should opt for the Caribe deck. This was the first time either my friend or I had ever had a balcony room (always opting for the standard Oceanview), but Princess was offering a deal when we booked and it cost us the same money to get the balcony, so we grabbed it. I can see now the point of that sale. It's kind of like when a drug-dealer gives a free sample the first couple of times hoping to get you hooked and make you a full-time customer. Because that's what happened to us--we're hooked! Knowing we always had this private space to sit and just enjoy the water and the glorious views were wonderful, and changed the nature of the cruise for us. I was always one of 'those people' who insisted it doesn't matter about the room because you're rarely in it. Well, that might be true when you don't have a balcony, but I can't imagine cruising now without one--though the extra cost might have something to say about that! Anyhow, if you can afford it, or if they're offering a deal for balconies, grab it.
The population of the ship seemed a bit on the older side. (and remember, I'm middle-aged myself, so that's saying something). There were young couples, and even some teenagers and young children, but I would say the average age was mid to late 60's, with a number even older. (not HAL old, but older nonetheless) That in no way affected my enjoyment of the cruise, and the older crowd may have been more a manifestation of the itinerary and not the ship or cruise line itself, but as this was my first cruise with Princess, I have nothing to compare it with. This crowd was also predominantly British, obviously a result of the Southampton embarkation. For me, it was fun being in the minority and my friend and I really enjoyed being the only Americans at our table nearly every day--it made for lively and interesting conversations. (the Olympics and the US elections were the two popular topics) But it must have been odd for all those Brits, being on a ship out of England where everything was American-based; the money, the voltage, etc.
As for the cleanliness and upkeep of the ship, I did read on one of the other threads about some 'sanitary mishaps' that another passenger experienced, but that certainly didn't happen to us, or to anyone else we spoke to on the cruise. All public areas were tidy and shipshape (pun intended) and we never noticed anything amiss during the cruise. Our room itself was clean and well-maintained throughout the cruise. We requested, and received, without any problem, extra pillows, towels, and toiletries. (c'mon--2 women with only 2 bath towels a day?? Pleeeze....) We did need to remind our cabin steward to replace the ice daily, but that was minor. There were even beach towels in the room as well, and those were replaced when used. Our cabin steward Sonia even learned our names and greeted us whenever we met in the halls. The cynic in me figures that was part of the game to get extra tips, but I don't deny it was nice not to be anonymous, whatever the reason. The mini-fridge in our room had plenty of room for our stuff as well. (fruit, chilling water bottles or a sandwich overnight for tomorrow's day-long excursions, etc.) There was a phone system to reach your steward if there was a problem. Overall, I'd rate the room experience fairly highly, especially relative to other cruises I've been on.
I really liked the boat as well. I admit I'm a 'big-ship' person. My first priority in choosing a cruise is itinerary, but if given the choice, I'll always go with the hustle and bustle of a big ship. I like the idea that there are always new nooks and crannies to explore, and that there are lots of things to do all the time. Yes, there were sometimes lots of people at different events, and it could occasionally be tough to find a seat, but it was no big deal. (perhaps being from NYC has inured me to large crowds, but it just didn't seem a problem to me) So while not a 'mega-ship' by any means, the Caribbean Princess was certainly big enough to satisfy me. (Wait...that sounded vaguely dirty, didn't it??) But if you prefer a more intimate setting, this class of ship might not be for you.
The facilities were quite good. There was a large and well-equipped fitness room, a hairdressing salon and barber shop, and a full-service spa. (only one of which--the gym--I used, so that's the only one I can personally vouch for) I did miss having a running track on one of the decks; here you had to use the Promenade Deck, which did not go completely around the ship. (you had to go up to the next deck and then cross around) It was fine, but you had to dart around strolling passengers. Either that, use the treadmills inside; there are certainly plenty of them. The fitness center offered some free exercise classes, some that required a fee, and a number of 'lectures' on health and fitness. Best of all, there was a certified Zumba instructor on board, and those 8 sessions were free!
There seemed to be plenty of pools and hot tubs, but as this was a cruise to Norway and Iceland, the weather was certainly not summer-like. So while there always hardy souls in the hot-tub and even the pool (I was not one of them!), there certainly wasn't the crush you would expect on a warm weather cruise. No need to worry about 'chair-hogs' here. But it also means I can't give an accurate read on whether or not the pools get overcrowded or if there's enough chairs for the crowds that come when the weather is warm.
The food was generally very good. Our habit was to eat breakfast and dinner in the dining room, and lunch at the Horizon Buffet, or at the pizza or hot dog/hamburger stand. Unless you have kids or another reason to need to be on a fairly strict eating schedule, I definitely recommend 'Anytime' dining; it makes scheduling the day's activities so much easier. (large parties might find it easier to do traditional dining, for seating purposes) We were told that you can make nightly reservations if you're eating very early or very late, but not otherwise, you just had to come and wait, if necessary. (they give you a vibrating thingy, like restaurants) We always got there between 7:15 and 7:30 and only one time in the entire cruise did we need to wait for a table. (we were always willing to share a larger table) I like the dining room because it's a more leisurely and relaxing experience and it's really nice sitting there and having someone else do the serving. Plus, it gave us a chance to meet lots of other people. I found the food to be excellent, and the wait staff was always willing to 'mix and match' the menu selections (or bring more if you asked--lobster tails, yum!) if you asked. And my friend needed a low-sodium diet and every night the head waiter came and sat with her to choose selections for the next day. With 'Anytime' dining, it was rare to get the same wait staff twice, and some were better than others, but there no one who was bad. The buffet was fine, and the selections were varied and quite tasty. But it suffers from the same problem that every buffet in the world has; you often end up eating cold food. Even if it's hot going onto your plate (which it sometimes wasn't), it wouldn't be by the time you finished wandering around the buffet making all your choices, and then would be really cold by the time you found a seat. (this cruise was sold out and it really showed in the crush at the buffet) I guess this is where the 'salad' folks had it easier; that stuff doesn't get cold like the pasta or meat dishes. Yet, there are folks who ate all or most of their meals there, so maybe there's a secret strategy of keeping food hot while you wander around that I haven't figured out yet. There were lots of wait staff in the buffet who kept things clean, and brought you tea, coffee, etc. The other food venues (hot dogs/hamburgers, pizza, ice cream, and the International Cafe) were all quite good as well. (not NYC pizza or hot dog good, but good nonetheless...) The Cafe was a bit disappointing only in that it was made to seem huge, and it's just 2 small display cases and a coffee/tea facility (with some very long lines at meal times), but they have great salads, really nice little sandwiches, and good pastries. And they're open 24 hours a day, which nothing else (besides room service) is. In fact, one of my few complaints is that the 'snack-food' stands closed at 10:00 and 11:00 PM, which is when we were in the Princess Theater. So if you eat late and go to the last show, and then want a little ice cream cone or a slice of pizza after that, you're out of luck. (yes, I know you can order room service, but that's not the same thing...)
I liked the entertainment on board. The Princess Theater ensemble shows (there were 4 different ones on this cruise, plus the first night 'intro' and the last night talent show) were pretty good; not Broadway caliber of course, but as good as most and better than many other cruise ships. (obviously, this was my first time seeing any of them--for repeat cruisers, they may wear with age...). I had read on this board that some people on the Caribbean Princess had problems getting seats for the show, or with the scheduling of the shows versus dinner. I can only say that on this cruise there were 3 show times, and even if you ate dinner as late as 8:00 in the dining room, you could eat without rushing and find a seat for the show without a problem. We normally got to the theater somewhere between 9:50 and 10:00 (for a 10:15 curtain), and we always got good seats. The other nights had featured entertainers; a couple of comics, a musician, a magician, etc. We tended to skip those, so I can't really offer a review. The various clubs had some really fun things going on; there were bands and/or DJs doing 50's/60's/70's/80's/90's nights, with lots of dancing and sometimes with accompanying themed trivia contests. There was a lounge pianist doing show tunes and standards every night, and that was nice and mellow. Plus the music in the Piazza, which was a lovely touch. And the casino always seemed busy. (and they had a couple of 'non-smoking' nights, which I found interesting)
We started with a sea day, had one in the middle of the trip and then 3 more to end it. That many sea days are either relaxing or boring, depending on your point of view. Personally, I really enjoyed them, which surprised me because normally I like a port intensive itinerary. But it was really nice to have this time to just unwind and relax. (and having the balcony made that easier) Plus, the ship had a tremendous amount of activities going all day. The activities staff was quite good. Dan Styne was the CD, and if you're looking for Julie McCoy personally greeting everyone, and then running bingo while simultaneously fixing you up with the guy in the cabin next door, it's just not happening. I saw Dan every morning on the 'Wake-Up' show, and from afar as he made his way into the theater and onto the stage. Other than that, I never saw him once in person on the ship. (except when the entire Cruise staff was outside the theater on the last night; I did get to shake his hand then....) I'm sure other people did see him; perhaps he even led an activity or two---I don't think he was hiding in his room. But I never saw him 'in real life' as my students would say. But, having said that, he was very funny and charming on the morning show and on stage, he organized a large number of activities, and ran a very professional and competent staff--which is, I guess, what the job of a modern cruise director is now. All these activities gave me the chance to do some things I never have onboard a ship. There was the Zumba of course, and I took a tap class, and line-dancing, did lots of trivia (I'm the proud owner of two first place fridge magnets!), went to a couple of the 'Scholarship at Sea' lectures, watched a cooking demo, took a backstage tour of the Princess Theater, worked out in the fitness center, watched a 'movie under the stars' (and froze while doing it!), and even got crafty! (hands up everyone who still has their salmon magnet or bead necklace!!). And of course, I spent a lot of time on my balcony reading, or just watching the water and the glorious views. And then there was the time spent eating. And then eating some more. And then, maybe going to the lovely afternoon tea--but just to 'try it'. And wait--there's warm cookies and milk every afternoon. Well, milk is healthy and what harm could a cookie (or 2, or 5) do??? (now you know why I spent so much time at Zumba and the gym!)
Some odds and ends: most of you are aware that nearly all cruise lines have gone to 'automatic tipping', charging your account $11.50 (or $12.00 in a suite) every day. The truth is, it works outs to be no more than you would have tipped your cabin steward and waiters anyway, if you used the standard guidelines. And of course, you can tip extra to anyone you feel deserves it. Or you can have the charges removed and do the whole thing yourself, giving cash at the end of the cruise. I didn't mind the system, because everyone I would have tipped gave good service, but if you find that you've gotten poor service (especially in traditional dining, or the cabin),then I can understand that you would rather do it yourself. But be aware; I heard from someone on another cruise, that the computer printouts of the names and cabins of those who opted out of the tipping program have been known to be copied and given to the wait staff and/or cabin stewards.
I was surprised how many folks on the ship got really dressed up for the formal nights (and even for some of the informal ones). About half the men wore tuxedos, and the same percentage of women wore gowns. Don't worry, there were plenty of folks (like me) who wore a cocktail dress or even dressy pants or a suit and tie, but after number of cruises with Carnival, where people wore jeans into the dining room on formal night, it was an real difference. And since I like the idea of getting dressed up once in a while, I didn't mind at all! IF that's not your thing, there's always the Horizon Court on those nights. Other than those 2 nights, people generally dressed typically 'vacation casual'.
As to Wi-Fi, that was a pet peeve of mine. There is wi-fi on the ship, and computers in the 'Internet Library' for those that didn't bring their own devices. But they charge a ridiculous amount of money for it (as least from the point of view of someone on a teacher's salary for whom the cruise itself was a big splurge), and from what I've heard, a lot of your minutes (and money) is wasted on slow downloading times. I know there are many people for whom going 'off the grid' for 12 days (or even one day!) is like telling them to cut off an arm, and if that's you, then there are plenty of 'internet minutes' packages available. But I'm definitely not one of those folks. I had my cell phone in case of emergencies (mine or my family's back home) and sending and getting texts cost a fraction of what the internet packages did and kept me connected to home just as well. Plus, there was CNN to keep track of any crises. I did send out a few of those 'free e-postcards' that are on the Princess site, but other than that, I was fine without the internet. (though a couple of the tourist centers at the docks had free wi-fi, as did some local McDonald's and Starbucks, so if you really feel yourself jonesing for a fix, there is that...) But if you feel you can't go without, then be ready to shell out some big bucks for the privilege.
BTW, speaking of money, my friend and I both went the entire cruise without changing anything into local currency. The ship doesn't take cash and nearly every place on land that we went to, took either credit cards, or had an equivalent price in US dollars (or English pounds). Not having to change from US to Norwegian to Icelandic back to US made life so much easier, and is a real benefit of this type of travel.
One word of advice; if you have a nut allergy, Princess didn't seem very responsive to that problem. They don't even ask about it on the Personalizer form; it's not listed with the other food problems. My friend has a mild nut allergy, and while no one could reasonably expect the ship to be 'nut-free', there were some simple fixes they could have instituted but didn't. For example, despite the fact that my friend spoke to Passenger Services about it and they promised to do something, from the first day of the cruise to the last day, in the Horizon, the peanut butter cookies were mixed together on the same tray with the other cookies, making it impossible for her to have any at all. (which was really too bad, since the chocolate-chocolate chip was to die for!) Now how hard would it have been to just separate the peanut-butter cookies (also very good--I wasn't a very sympathetic friend, was I??) onto a separate tray? Especially after a passenger has brought it to your attention?
As I've said, I'm not a big shopper, but there was plenty of that on board. Not just in the shops, but sales being held along the Piazza and in the dining room on the last couple of days. There were also wine sales, and chocolate, and of course, the ever present art auctions. There were 3 famous (not that I'd ever heard of them) artists on the cruise, and they were like rock stars on board, moving through the ship with their own entourages. (including the requisite leggy model types trailing behind) Besides selling their work, 2 gave sessions where they demonstrated their technique, and those were always popular. (one 'could not expose his process publically', but he brought along an assistant to do it for him) Frankly, I'm not into buying art on cruise ships, but if you are, there was plenty of it on the Caribbean Princess. (the art gallery that was set up, consisting of their works before the sales was kind of cool though...)
Disembarkation was the smoothest of any cruise I've ever been on. We finished breakfast and went to the meeting place for our group, ready for the usual long wait. Instead, we didn't even have a chance to put our bags down. We were able to leave the ship immediately, find our luggage, and get on our bus. We left for the airport within 20 minutes of having finished eating. It was only at the airport that the real wait began. (Heathrow--you need more comfortable chairs!)
Now, as to this particular itinerary, Norway and Iceland were both stark, fascinating, and beautiful. It poured in Bergen, which obviously affected the day's outing. I would recommend taking the Hop-on/Hop-off bus; it's located just across a park from where the ship shuttle (free) lets you off and you can pay with a credit card on board. It's goes to everyplace the ship's official tour does and for a lot cheaper. It even has a recorded 'tour guide', so you're not missing anything. Even with a separate charge for the Funicular (a highlight--even in the rain), the entire thing was only about $38--half of what Princess was charging for the same basic trip) We did take the Princess tour in Olden. It was listed as a bus tour and a scenic cruise. It cost $99 and would have been a complete waste of money even if it had cost a third of that. There was no bus 'tour', only a ride to the boat. The commentary by the guide was sparse to say the least. And once on the boat, the guide said absolutely nothing at all; no commentary whatsoever. To charge $99 for that was really outrageous. I would say try to find a local operator who does that same boat ride (there were lots located right where the boat docked) and go with them.
The stop in Geiranger was a source of great angst for me. I wanted to do a boat tour AND go to the top of Mt. Dalsnibba (both highlights of that port), but you couldn't do that with Princess, as the two tours overlapped. Some reading this may remember my posting questions about when the last tender leaves for the ship as the tour ended at 5:00 PM, and I tried to get that answer from Princess as well. Eventually, I decided to take a chance and booked (from home) the two separate tours from a reputable tour operator, and then kept my fingers crossed. In the end, everything worked out wonderfully. The scenic bus ride was spectacular (and cost $40, compared to the $129 Princess wanted for the same basic trip), and the RIB tour of the waterfalls was a real rush, and we got to see everything in a way we couldn't from up above. That was about $72 compared to $139 for the Princess version. And, as it turned out, there was no problem with time. In fact, we docked early, and the company (Geiranger Fjordservice) very kindly swapped our start times, putting us on an earlier tour. BUT, even if we had taken the later tour, we would still have been back in plenty of time (5:00 PM), as the Princess trips didn't return until 5:30 and we watched a long-line of people waiting for tenders until after 6:00 PM. Do not misunderstand; I'm not advocating assuming the boat will leave late, because that's a recipe for disaster (and waving goodbye to your ship), BUT, as long as you leave some cushion in your schedule, it's smart and will save you money to do some research about local companies doing tours similar or identical to Princess.
The last two stops were Akureyri and Reykjavik, Iceland. These were both highlights of the trip. In Akureyri, we took a Princess excursion to the Godafoss Waterfall and Lake Myvatn. Even overpriced, this was a great trip, especially the visit to the lake where we got about 90 minutes to bath in the geothermic pools. It was really wonderful, and our guide for this was incredibly informative. BTW, despite what the trip description says, you didn't have to shower without your bathing suit before going in the lake. I for one was VERY relieved.( the trauma of high school gym class having made a return appearance in my psyche) And don't laugh, I'm including this little tidbit because at least 5 women I met on the cruise told me they decided NOT to do that trip because they thought they'd have to shower naked! (ah....us women and our body issues....)
In Reykjavik, we once again opted for a local tour, doing the Golden Circle with BusTravel. It was the same as the Princess excursion (in fact, we kept meeting the Princess buses at all of the stops), but it was $137 cheaper than the one Princess offered! Our guide's English was a bit rusty, but otherwise she was great.To be honest, we got a late start and the trip ran a bit long, giving me a few palpitations. But in reality, we never came close to missing the 7:30 'be on board' deadline, and in fact, when I expressed my concerns to the tour guide, she made sure the cruise folks were the first to be dropped off, even though that was out of the order the tour had intended. We were back by 7:00 PM (normally, the trip would have ended 30-45 minutes earlier), and folks were still coming on board until nearly 8:15. (again, not recommending being late, just stating what happened) As I said, with some research and making sure to always leave a safe cushion of time, using local operators can really save you a great deal of money AND be just as good.
Overall, I really considered this trip a great success, as did the friend I was traveling with. There were problems of course; there always are, on any vacation. But, as a first-time Princess cruiser; I have to say I was pretty satisfied; both the ship and the itinerary met my expectations and I can definitely see myself being a repeat Princess customer.
Despite the absurd length of this entry (and thanks to anyone still reading!!!), I'm sure I left things out. If anyone has any questions about the ship or itinerary that I didn't cover, please don't hesitate to ask!