We took the 7 day Canada/New England cruise on the Caribbean Princess from New York. This will be a little lengthy review because I want to cover everything and address frequent issues brought up by other reviewers. First off let me put this all in prospective. We are a couple with me being 41 and my partner 39 and this was our 5th cruise with Princess. This was a vacation so you should relax and enjoy. And know going in that not everything will go perfect.
New York: We took Amtrak from DC to NY very early on the morning of the cruise to give us plenty of time in case of issues. There were no issues and we arrived at Penn Station just before 9 am. We walked across the street and down a block to the Affinia Manhattan where we had a nice leisurely sit-down breakfast at Niles. Food & service wasn't bad and standard NY prices. The car service arrived a little early and we were off to the port by 1020. We managed to pass the new One World Trade Center and a couple other sites on the way to the port. The car service ran us $43 which included the tunnel toll verses the $25 for the cab after the cruise. So in the future , we will probably just use a taxi both ways as the trip was only 20 mins.
Embarkation: We arrived at the port at about 1040. The port entry was chaotic as departing passengers were still leaving so there was a little confusion as to where to drop us off. We took our bags over to the porters and they were loaded in the luggage crates. Don't forget to tip your porter. In the terminal, there was no line for security and we walked right though. We filled out our health questionnaires and proceeded to the check-in queue. We used the priority check-in where we had only 2 couples in line ahead of us. The standard check-in line had no wait at all at this time. After check-in we waiting in the priority lounge until boarding began. The wait wasn't too long and we started boarding about 1140. We were on the ship by 1200 so this was a quick and efficient check-in process.
Ship: The ship was in good shape and I really didn't see any major issues. Everything was clean and in working order. And you routinely saw crew out painting and doing other maintenance stuff. Other reviews said it was in bad shape but I didn't see it. I believe it will be going in for dry dock the first part of 2013 but not sure what changes or upgrades they are expecting to make.
Cabin: My partner and I had was in D602 (AB mini-suite) on deck 9 with our friends up on deck 14 above us. It was the typical mini-suite layout which gave us plenty of space without becoming too pricey. I would say the best choice for size and price for the amount of time we are in our cabin. The location was close to the center of the ship. We had no problem with motion and noise was minimal. Our cabin steward was probably the worse one we have ever had. Upon arrival the floor hadn't been vacuumed, the luggage pad wasn't on the bed, and other things weren't done. We weren't upset as we had boarded pretty early. However, our cabin was never vacuumed the entire week, balcony was never cleaned, and we had to ask for more soap and shampoo when we ran out. Not sure if it's a change in procedures or it was just our steward but there was no soda in the fridge either. Normally there's soda in the fridge and they just charge you for what you drink. Needless to say, he didn't receive any envelope at the end of the cruise. We really never used our balcony except for watching during pulling in or out of port. So the fact if was never cleaned really wasn't an issue.
Food: Over all the food was really great. For breakfast we normally had room service or grabbed something quick in the buffet as this was a port intensive cruise. Room service was on time and hot except for the last morning. The room service never showed up. Unlike previous reviews, the buffet had a good selection, food was warm, and we had no problems finding a table to sit at. Beverage service was always prompt and they were quick to remove plates you were done with.
For lunch we were normally ashore in port. But on return we would grab a snack either at the buffet or International Cafe. On the one sea day we had we did the pub lunch in the Crown Grill. The pub lunch is always a good Irish change of pace. The International Cafe had great sandwiches and soup. Never did the pizza or the grill on the pool deck. With the weather, we were never out at the pool.
We had traditional late seating in the Palm dining room for dinner and enjoyed it every evening. We normally like to do early seating so we're not so tired after dinner but with being a port intensive cruise I didn't want to have to rush back to make dinner. We were however tired by the end of dinner and didn't do much after. Both our lead and back waiter were quite attentive and a lot of fun and made dinner a great experience. The lead waiter quickly learned our liking, gave good recommendations, and wasn't afraid to tell us not to order something. The head waiter visited every evening and provided a couple special appetizers throughout the week. We were never visited by the sommelier but could have asked for him.
We ate at the Crown Grill once and had outstanding food and service. Like previous visits here, the waiter brought out every side dish and included lobster for all of us which allowed us to eat way more than we wanted. It's well worth the surcharge. We didn't try Sabatini's this time as we still weren't ready to give them another try since the bad experience there on our last cruise.
The highlight of our dining experience and possibly the cruise was the evening at the Chef's Table. We called and signed up as soon as we boarded and found out a day later we were selected. That evening we met the matre d and the other 8 lucky passengers at Vines at 7. We dawned our white "lab coats" and headed to the busy galley. In the galley we met the head chef and were tantalized by 4 appetizers while drinking Champagne. Once complete we were escorted to the dining room to a nicely decorated table with center pieces, lighted candles, and black linens. Here we had a risotto, the main course (that was finished table side by the head chef), cheese plate, and then desert. Each course was accompanied with wine pairings. It was a lot of food and great wine. At the end of dinner the head chef and matre d signed Princess Cookbooks for each of us and then took a group photo and an individual photo with us that were delivered later to our cabins. The chef's table runs $95 per person but I thought the experience was well worth it.
We ate just about everything offered on this cruise which is why our pants are now tight and we hear the gym calling. There is just too much to choose from to eat in my opinion. I've read from other reviews that on days there was nothing good to eat. Not sure which cruise they were on because there's always something good to eat and if you don't find something you want on the menu, just ask, they will no doubt make it for you for the following evening. They have for us in the past and on this cruise.
Entertainment: Over all we found the entertainment good. There's a wide variety of stuff to do in order to please a wide range of people. Key being there's a wide range of people on board with diverse tastes. With this cruise being port intensive we spent a lot less time on the ship and was tired far earlier than on previous cruises. We attended the art auction where I bought some art one afternoon. We did the second wine tasting which was fun and informative. We saw the start of the martini demonstration which was fun and the guys doing it looked as if they were really enjoying themselves. The piano player at Crooners was pretty good as well as the live music acts up on the pool deck. A couple in our group attended one of the shows and enjoyed it. And I think the shorter show times allow for more passengers to enjoy the shows and still fit dinner in. We attended the daily GLBT get together which was a nice chance to meet new people and have some good conversations. We also attended the elite/platinum happy hour one afternoon. They had half price margaritas and they put out a big spread of nibbles. Over a few evenings I managed to give my donation to the casino. Didn't lose much but didn't see a lot of winners either. We like to relax a lot on our cruises but there were enough options to keep everyone as busy as they wanted.
Bars: There are 14 bars on Caribbean Princess and I wanted to hit all of them. But because of the weather on deck, not all the deck bars were open. It made sense since there weren't many people on deck lounging around. Our favorite bar has always been Crooners, the martini bar, on deck 7 and still is. We became regulars there at the bar and Jack the bartender was the best. He would even bring out a stool from the back if all the ones out were taken. Great service and always had good conversation. The whole staff there generally wanted to help everyone and worked well together as a team. It was our Cheer's. We did the Wheelhouse bar nightly for our GLBT mixers. Nice bar and sometimes they already had a band playing for some music. We went to Sky Walkers once for the elite/platinum mixer. It was good service and they had drink specials and munchies out. I went once in the evening after dinner but didn't stay long because of being so tired by after dinner. The wine bar Vines, on deck 5, was a nice place to sit, have a nice glass of wine, and watch the waves go by. We went there a couple times. The sushi seemed ok but I never tried it.
Ships Staff: The ships staff was all very attentive and nice. From our favorite bar staff, Purser's desk staff, to random staff in passing, everyone smiled, was friendly, and helpful. I've read reviews of buffet staff not providing drinks to Purser's desk staff being argumentative and rude but we didn't encounter any of that on our cruise. I think a lot of that has to do with us being nice to the staff and not treating them as subordinate servants. The new kiosks that allow you to print out your room bill are great. And help keep the lines down at the Purser's desk.
Ports: We stopped at Halifax, St John's New Brunswick, Bar Harbor Maine, Boston, and Newport RI. In Halifax we took the Titanic 100 year anniversary excursion. The cemetery was ok but the Maritime museum was walkable from the ship. So hind sight I should of did this on our own rather than through Princess. St John's we did the Market and Tower tour though Princess. It was ok as we also got the see the reversing falls and got some history of the town. Bar Harbor we did Arcadia National Park and Cadillac Mt. This would have been a nice tour if we didn't have intense fog. Boston we had an all day tour taking us out to Lexington, Concord, and all around Boston. The guide was really knowledgeable and it was interesting. Problem was, by lunch time I had my fill of history and was tired. Although it was a good tour, in the future we will not do an all day tour. As a tip for this excursion when they say the tour will return at 330 they mean it, even though we were supposed to be onboard by 330. Our bus was the last people onboard. In Newport we just walked around a bit, had lunch, and returned to the ship. It was cold and rainy so I'm glad we didn't pay for any tours. Half the group had been here before so it was fine. Both Bar Harbor and Newport were tender ports. Bar Harbor was pretty organized since we had a tour. We reported to the theater, grouped, and off the ship pretty fast. But Newport we anchored pretty far off shore didn't have a tour scheduled, so it wasn't as smooth. We went to the dining room, got a tender ticket, and waited a little over an hour before getting off. Returning both times was pretty efficient.
Disembarkation: Disembarkation was pretty easy. We changed from our assigned debarkation group to express walk off. Oddly this time they didn't ask you what you wanted to do like on previous cruises. Close to our express walk off time we just took our bags down to the gangway and walked off. No trouble what so ever. Only issue was elevators getting down. We waited a few minutes then I just carried the bags down the stairs. If you physically unable to do that be prepared for a long elevator wait. There was literally no one in line for customs so we managed to walk right through with no wait. Once outside, taxis were lined up across the street and we were in one and off to Penn Station in no time. Our intent was to catch an earlier train. However, the price difference was not worth the cost so we had a 3 hour wait for our train. Hind sight we will book an earlier train now knowing we can get off the ship and to Penn Station pretty fast on a Sat morning.
Last thoughts: I know I've run on long enough but just a few last thoughts. Even though all cabin were occupied the ship never felt crowded as some had mentioned in many reviews. We never had any issues with long lines or crowding. We never ran across any crew that wasn't totally friendly and helpful. There was never any hard selling of stuff. You have to remember it's a vacation so relax and have fun. And things can go wrong, it's life not your dreams.