We cruised on the Caribbean Princess November 10-17, 2012, and celebrated our first wedding anniversary on the second day of the cruise (we married on 11-11-11). For background, we are both 37 years old, and have previously sailed on Carnival Imagination and Celebrity Solstice. I'll probably end up making comparisons to the Solstice since I think they're on the same level of service etc. Carnival was a fun four days, but the ship just can't compare, and it wouldn't be fair to compare the two!
We did a pre-cruise stay the night before at the Embassy Suites in 17th St. in Ft. Lauderdale, using Hilton points. We asked for a room facing the port and were told if we were willing to wait for one, we could have one that was being cleaned, so we went to lunch next door, picked up supplies (wine!) and Publix, and checked into our room on the 9th floor. It was perfect the next morning, I opened the curtains and the Caribbean Princess was staring right back at me!
We were going to take a taxi to the port, but there was a shuttle for hire leaving right away for $7 per person, so we took that, and were the first ones dropped off. We did take a taxi from the ship to the airport at the end of the cruise, and the fare was a little over $12 (both prices are before tip).
We stayed in a Suite, so this experience comes from the viewpoint of having received those perks. We stayed in the Nevis Suite, C748 on the Caribe Deck, facing aft. I think it's safe to say I'm spoiled now.
Since I wanted to get into The Sanctuary, I went to the terminal early (around 10:45). If I was doing regular embarkation, I would definitely be posting a different embarkation experience, because the line for regular passengers snaked the entire length of the outside of the building. Thankfully, we had preferred embarkation, which had ZERO line, and went right on in!
One note, there were no porters outside when we got in line, so I ended up carrying my large suitcase throughout the entire embarkation process. It meant that we got to unpack right away (nice!), but I couldn't figure out why there was no one to take the bags when they had the large metal luggage racks all set up and waiting. We had a delayed sailaway, the captain said, due to an issue with baggage handling, maybe the lack of porters at the beginning was a sign of that?
We only had one person in front of us getting their cruise card, and quickly checked in and sat in the suite/elite area. Again, the process for non-preferred people seemed to be going slower.
When it came time to go upstairs to get the welcome aboard photo taken and get on the ship, even though I'm not elite and should have gone after them with the rest of the suite people, I ended up being probably one of the first 10 or 15 people on the ship because I kept chatting with the security people (what else is there to do in that terminal?) and when they opened the doors, they motioned to me to go through with the others. I wasn't about to protest that!).
The downside to having no porters came when I got on the ship, because I was determined to get a pair of loungers in the sanctuary, so once we got off the elevators on the Lido deck, I sprinted carrying my suitcase to the sanctuary. I'm sure it looked hilarious! Anyway, except for a couple who were on a back-to-back, I was the first new passenger up there and had my pick of loungers. They did eventually sell out for the week.
Overall Ship Condition
I have read others comments about the CB being thread-bare, and did not find that to be the case at all. I found one or two rust spots on the ship, but that was about it, and on Friday they were painting on the upper decks. While the furnishings on the ship didn't look brand-spanking-new, they looked in good condition to me. Carpets were clean, etc. Overall I thought the ship was in very good condition.
We were in an Aft Suite, and I think I'll never go back! C 748 had its own little vestibule area before the actual doorway, I should have taken a photo of it but didn't think to. When the outer door was shut, you wouldn't know there was a guest room back there because the outer door blends in with the wall (except for the handle), but the door to the actual room was just like all the other doors. The suite had a sofa bed and sitting area, wet bar, walk-in closet, jetted tub and separate shower in its own room, and a toilet and sink in its own room. There were two flat screen TVs. I was ECSTATIC that they played reruns of The Love Boat on Channel 24, and probably watched more episodes than is healthy LOL.
The Balcony was gigantic! We had the balcony next to The Dreaded Vent. Yes, there is noise from the vent, but it wasn't noticeably louder than any other random ship noise you hear outside. And when the ship was moving, the sound of the wake drowned it out. As the The Dreaded Smell from The Dreaded Vent, it was there, though I imagined it being much worse. When the ship was moving, you couldn't smell it, but when we were still, you could. Of course, I leaned over the railing and stuck my head around the divider to check out the vent, and the smell when you're directly facing the vent is much worse LOL. The smell (kind of like a kitchen smell) would NOT stop us from booking this room again.
Ultimate Balcony Dining
We did Utimate Balcony Dining for our anniversary. It was worth the cost. We had two waiters serving us all night! There were a couple of hiccups, but nothing that ruined the experience. The photographer showed up right on time, but the dinner was nowhere to be found. It came about 15 minutes late, the photographer felt really bad, and he's just standing there. We finally forced him to sit down and enjoy a cocktail and some appetizers with us. I'm sure they tell them not to do this with guests because he was really hesitant, but we insisted, and he seemed grateful to get to relax for a bit. Also, when we went to get our free photo, they couldn't find any files from our dinner, and we ended up not getting it until the last night of the cruise. I'm glad they finally found them! Maybe giving the photographer a drink wasn't such a good idea after all LOL.
The waiters were very happy to have a large balcony to maneuver on. They said sometimes it can be hard setting up and serving the dinner, but our balcony did NOT have any space issues!
Impression of the Ship vs. Solstice
The ship was a huge step up from the Carnival Imagination. We tried comparing it to the Solstice, but found it hard to compare. The decor on both could be described as upscale, but the colors and woods on the CB were more warm and inviting, whereas on the solstice they had a cooler, contemporary feel. One isn't necessarily better than the other, we enjoyed both.
We were in Aqua Class on Celebrity and missed having that smaller specialty restaurant every night, but the food quality on Princess was comparable. One difference where Celebrity excelled is in wine glasses. No matter what kind of wine we ordered on Princess, it was served in the same generic wine glass. On Celebrity, they used the glass appropriate for the wine. In fact, on Celebrity they offer a class on how wine from the right kind of glass makes a big difference in the taste. Of course, I'm not a wine snob and the wine was still good, but it was a nice touch from the Solstice that I missed.
As previously discussed, the embarkation was expedited, and you are also given an enhanced breakfast room service menu door tag. In addition to that, you can order anything off the main dining room menus for breakfast lunch and dinner. We always ordered at least coffee from room service every morning, and instead of choosing the 30 minute time window, I always wrote a specific time down, and they always came at exactly that time. Also, MUCH appreciated was the fact that suites can order room service on the morning of disembarkation, whereas other rooms cannot. I booked after they did away with free internet for suites, but I turn off all my devices on a ship anyway so I didn't miss it. Breakfast in Sabatinis was wonderful! The first morning they checked your cabin number, but after that they knew you. We did Sabatinis the first night as part of the suite perk, and it was great.
The only issue we had was the suite perk gave us our first night in Sabatinis for free, but because we paid for the cruise with our Platinum American Express card, Amex also gives you first night in a specialty restaurant for free, but we weren't able to move that to a different night because those perks overlapped. It didn't stop us from booking the crown grill for another night, but it would have been nice to have that bonus. Amex also gave us a $300 stateroom credit, so I shouldn't complain too much!
We took advantage of the free laundry twice. And even though the regular service says "give it to us by 9am, have it back at 6pm the following night," both times we had our laundry bag out for our steward to get during the nightly turndown, and it was back the following afternoon. That may or may not have been because we left a nice tip with each bag of laundry, but in any case it always came back faster than expected.
The free bar setup included vodka, gin, whiskey, and scotch. It also had cans of coke, bottles of spring water, bottles of perrier, beer, and tonic water.
Our excursion (the cooking one) in Curacao was canceled because the tour operator went out of business unexpectedly, so we just walked around and had a drink at a restaurant. Very colorful and fun port! The other excursions we would have been interested in were already sold out, but in the future if we come back we hope to do something more here. We ended up coming into port over an hour late because there were some thruster problems left over from when gunk got into the engines when the ship was dealing with Hurricane Sandy, so some other tours got canceled as well because of time constraints.
We docked at the mega pier, and it was a short walk to the swinging bridge. No taxis necessary.
In Aruba we did the SeaTrek adventure on DePalma Island and had a blast! If we come back we'll probably choose an excursion that shows us more of the island, but we had a lot of fun doing what we did!
We did not do any excursions in Princess Cays, but friends of ours had a cabana so we hung out there. We were the first ship there after Sandy, and the island looked to be in decent shape. There was no feeling that our stop there was somehow less than it could have been before Sandy. All the buildings were in good repair (except the observation pier).
Ultimate Ship Tour
I signed up for the ultimate ship tour, which was on Thursday morning (first of the two consecutive sea days on the way home). I was the first one to sign up for the tour when we embarked (they couldn't even find the list yet at passenger services!). I was afraid of the tour selling out, but there were only 7 of us (an eighth had to cancel). The tour is pricy, but worth it (I wouldn't do it every cruise, especially on the same class ship, but would be interested to see behind the scenes on other class ships, or the new Royal when it comes out!). We saw the infirmary, the theater, the mooring station (I think that's where they call where they store the ropes and the anchors), the engine control room, print shop, kitchen, photo lab, food storage rooms, we went up inside the funnel (the assistant CD was our guide, he said in his experience they don't normally take people as far up in the funnel as we went, maybe because we were a smaller group?), the laundry area, and the bridge. I think those were all the places.
It was amazing seeing how hard everyone works! I think before anyone is allowed to removed auto tips, they should be required to go on this tour, and they would never remove a tip again. What was also amazing was how it seemed the workers were so proud of the jobs they did. The workers in the laundry area, their eyes lit up and they were so excited to show us how they folded all the sheets and towels. The butchers were all excited to show how the chop up the meat, etc. I really came away with a sense that the workers were proud of their job, and I only wish more people could see what goes on behind the scenes to make our vacations so special.
One change from what I've read about previous ultimate ship tours, they no longer give out a chefs jacket, which I suppose is good because who wears one of those at home cooking? Instead, they give you a princess apron. You still get a bathrobe, some goodies from the kitchen, and a big pad of personalized stationery from the print shop, as well as group photos from the mooring station, backstage in the theater, engine control room, funnel, and bridge.
The tour info said it would last three hours, it ended up being almost four hours, but totally worth it! The captain spent a LOT of time with us on the bridge explaining things and answering all of our questions. It was a great overall experience!
THE SANCTUARY IS HORRIBLE! DON'T SPEND A DIME ON IT! IT'S NOT WORTH IT!!!! STAY AWAY!!! At least that's what I'm trying to tell everyone so I don't have to worry about getting a spot in there. Please don't let out the secret! We spent SO MUCH time in the Sanctuary, it was well worth the price of a week pass. The attendants will cater to your every need! They have complimentary citrus water whenever you want it, and serve you high tea in the afternoon. They would bring me diet cokes all day long with my soda sticker. It was so quiet and peaceful up there! And right next to the adult only pool that I think, until the last day or two, other people thought was a sanctuary only pool, because no one was in it until the last sea day!
Each day we would leave our chairs at lunch to go down, get some food (pizza, burgers) and bring it back up to eat in the sanctuary, and our attendants (Nely and Putri) would say "why don't you let me get that for you!" I know some things would have delivery charge, but they said they would get us anything and not to worry about that. I felt bad though, and never had them bring me food ( drinks, on the other hand.....)
I guess one example of the service in the Sanctuary was after I had been walking around on Princess Cays and had a small blister on my pinky toe that was rubbing against my sandal, so I asked if they had a Band-Aid I could put on my toe. All of a sudden two or three attendants are at my side wanting to help me, whipping out all sorts of band-aids, and they would not hear of letting me put it on myself, they insisted on taking care of it! I felt bad because my feet were dirty, but they were intent on taking care of me. I thought that was above and beyond.
-While there were chair hogs, at least on the upper decks when I was walking around, I always saw a bunch of empty loungers
-There were VERY few children on board
- I didn't go to any of the shows so I can't comment on them
- The suite/elite disembarkation lounge in Club Fusion was a nice touch. OH, speaking of that. I was concerned that I saw other cabins getting their luggage tags but we didn't get ours. It wasn't until later that I found out because we were in a suite, they would ask us when we wanted to get off the ship, and would then give us those luggage tags that met OUR needs.
- Also, we didn't go to the elite lounge before dinner until maybe the third night. How dumb are we. I didn't know there were drink specials up there! From then on it became a top priority LOL.
- Princess Pizza is hands down the best cruise ship pizza out there. No comparison.
- We had a Cruise Critic meet & greet with about 20 people there. A bunch of officers and staff were invited, but only one showed up... the Captain! That was pretty sweet to have the Captain of the ship come talk to us for a half hour or so! So I ended up getting to meet him twice: at the meet & greet and on the ultimate ship tour. Getting to put faces with cruise critic names was great!