Underwhelmed and a Tad Disappointed
Fort Lauderdale (Port Everglades)
We were excited about taking a Christmas Cruise, believing that it would be special. However, in our opinion, it fell far short of anything special. Christmas Day at sea was incredibly flat and we truly were disappointing. There were four of us travelling together and our ages varied from 37 to 71 and although we enjoyed our trip, we all felt it wasn't as exciting as we had envisions. We took an Alaskan Cruise last year and everything about that cruise was 90% better than this one. Please be advised however, that we only have that particular cruise to compare with - although one of our group members has other cruises to compare with. We will stay at this point that we will cruise with Princess again but likely will try others. The issue is, however, if you stay with one cruise line, you build up perks for the next cruise - so it becomes more difficult to change to another cruise line. Question to ask is whether this is important or not and if it is, how important is it. More
Embarkment: Booked transportation from the hotel through the cruise line and won't do that again as it took an incredibly long time to board the buses (3), load luggage, travel to the ship and line up to embark. It reminded us of the long lines at Disney World! We believe it would be faster (much) and cheaper to take a cab to and from the ship and to do it on your own.
Cabin: on 10th floor and we were satisfied with our cabin and very large balcony. Our Steward kept the room spotless and did everything he could to make sure we were well equipped with whatever we needed. He was warm, gracious and happy and always interested in our day. The job is a thankless one and I think we all should give more attention to them as persons and as well to express our gratitude for what they do...if they do a good job.
Service: Some really great and some not so much. Activities like games, flash mob dance, etc. were led by excellent and enthusiastic people. Personnel Devinci were excellent, from Michelangelo's not as much, from Horizons was really mixed and other areas relatively good. As mentioned, our steward was truly wonderful.
Food: The food was hit and miss with some exceptional items and some not so great. "They" say people gain a couple of pounds a day (?) but my husband lost 4 and I remained the same. So if you don't make food the central part of the cruise, you needn't worry about putting on weight.
a. Michelangelo's Dining Room (where any time diners could eat prior t0 7:30 p.m.)was extraordinarily slow and on some nights, some of us just got up and left. b. DeVinci Dining room (fixed dining time) appeared to be more efficient without rushing you, and appeared to have better quality of staff. We had any time dining but when they were too busy at Michelangelo's, they would bump us up to DeVinci.
c.The Horizon Buffet wasn't the best although there were lots to choose from. Personally, I primarily ate the fruit, porridge and salad because I found the other items too greasy to consume. Will admit the buns were good!
d.Other areas: We didn't eat at the speciality restaurants that cost $25.00 extra per person so can't comment on the quality of food there. Near the pool they offered pizza which we didn't try and ice cream that believe it or not, didn't care for. We did like the bakery in the piazza but tried not to indulge there too much. What we didn't like was that we had to pay for a so called better cup of coffee if we wanted to have a coffee with our dessert item from the bakery. Drinks from the bar were expensive.
Entertainment: We all thought that the entertainment was very flat and frankly boring. a. Theater - The Princess Cruise Productions were very antiquated and although we don't fault the singers and dancers, we do question the producers thought process in creating these productions. We did, however, enjoy the comedians and the some of the Christmas program that included letters to Santa and Santa's 'response'! b. Piazza - truly a hit and miss! We enjoyed the steel drums but then when he appeared over and over again, it became a tad repetitive. Enjoyed the dancers but it was too short and they left the ship. The piano player (over and over again) was very uninspiring and not great. A cruiser took to the piano one day and was fabulous. Should have hired that person. Other areas: illusionist and others were nothing to write home about.
Activities: Games and Mob Flash Dance were fabulous and helped make the cruise much better - thanks to those cruise members who had energy, humour, laughter and creativity!
Excursions: Personally, we don't like to book excursions through the ship. On this trip one of our party did at the last minute and it worked out but it still was more expensive than if they had done it on their own. We find the ship excursions are too crowded, too expensive and too impersonal. If you do your research, you can find great tours before hand on your own. Also, you can find approved tour guides at port side and should be less expensive, more intimate and more relaxing. If you do it this way, I think the key is to book through approved people at the countries information center....at least that is our experience.
Shopping: Well this is a dicey subject! For those who are interested in buying expensive jewellery (get it less) than you likely will appreciate what the ships and ports have to offer. You likely also will appreciate the information sessions offered on board for onboard and port shopping. However, we quickly got tired of it and as it wasn't high on our priority list, we bypassed as much as we could. We did like the clothing offered on board and purchased a fair number of pieces and were very happy with that.
Costs: The cost for the trip was quite good but we didn't appreciate the nickel and dime approach to some areas. All inclusive resorts (and we have done many) include alcohol in the package but on the cruise ship are charged for and are expensive. There was also an up charge on coffee and soft drinks outside of the restaurants and of course the specialty dining rooms to the tune of $25.00 each. I mention this because people should be informed if they haven't cruised before. One irratating aspect of cruising is that they take photos for every occasion, post them and encourage (lol) the purchase of them. You constantly pass them on your journey somewhere else and at the end of the day, if you don't buy them, they are thrown away! What a waste and we found the costs for the pictures very expensive. We suggest that if they reduce the price, they likely would sell more and there would be less waste. Personally, we would be willing to pay a bit more for the cruise if there was less nickeling and diming involved.
Appearances of Public Rooms and the Piazza: Excellent
Overall: We were a tad disappointed but we believe life is what you make it and we are people that choose to have fun so that is just what we did. We met wonderful people including crew members, we participated in whatever we could with great energy and humour and we embraced the journey - worbles and all. We will do it again so please use our comments as a guide, only, to make your trip even better. Less
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Port and Shore Excursions
This was the best excursion on our 10 day cruise but you won't find it mentioned through the cruise line. We looked on line for what other fellow travellers experienced as the best adventure in Aruba and found Tribes Aruba at www.trikes-aruba.com. Boy were they right! We had an absolute blast and would do it again in a flash. There were four of aged from 37 to 71 and we all agreed this was incredibly fun way to tour and see the island. We were up front and personal with the topography, flora and fauna, (amazing and huge cacti); sights (lighthouse etc.)and people of the island and it gave us a real flavour of what the island had to offer. It was very hot on the trikes, but, the wind mitigated the effects of the heat and we were very comfortable -- should wear suntan lotion however! Now to the trike -- which is a motorcycle with two back wheels. Things to consider before booking: know how to drive a standard car and /or motorcycle and you should adapt quickly. The manual transmission is a four speed stick shift with brake and clutch -- similar to a car. However the throttle is on the right handgrip. They provide you with clear instructions and a test drive before leaving on your tour. We toured for 3 l/2 hours, ending up with a ride through the city of Oranjestad that drew a lot of attention. People were taking pictures of us including tourists on tour buses so that was kind of a hoot. Our daughter has and rides a Harley and loved every moment of the experience! We had a blast and you should try it to -- you won't regret it! Thank you for the opportunity and experience!
This was the one occasion that a cruise excursion was booked. We hadn't planned anything for this island but the night before two of our group decided to go snorkeling and booked through the ship. They went on a glass bottom sub to see the fish and then went snorkeling at Bonaire Marine Park. The area is pristine and the coral healthy and alive which is a reflection on Bonaire's commitment to conservation and preservation. Our daughter is an experienced snorkeler and found this was an incredible place to snorkel because of the clear waters and the abundance of fish which speaks to the conditions of the coral reef. She swam with a huge grouper fish and barracuda (before she realized it) and had a fabulous time. Her added comment is that if you snorkel, don't touch or get near the coral as it will die. Support Bonaire and its commitment to preservation.
I made a major error in planning for this port but in the end, we had a fabulous day. We had planned to book one of the "Indian River boys," through the Portsmouth Indian River Tour Guides Association to go down the Indian River once we arrived in port. However, what I failed to realize was that this was not a port where our ship was located but rather it was one hour away and we decided not to do it. However, we later realized we should have just done it-especially since we heard how fabulous it was from others. We instead went to the tour information place in the port we were and arranged an amazing tour through a guide that was stationed there to facilitate tours. We had asked the woman inside the building behind the desk but to put it bluntly, she was very unhelpful and very unfriendly. The Guide outside was friendly, extremely helpful, humorous and happy to find the perfect person to provide us with a private tour. He was a very nice and sweet man -incredibly knowledgeable, creative, resourceful, and gracious and the best tour guide we have met on any journey. Unfortunately he neglected to write down his name but we think it might be Pippin (sorry)? He is 50 but looks much younger and is genuine! His van was comfortable and air conditioned but the tinted windows made it difficult to fully appreciate the beauty when driving. The top opened and we could pop out and take a picture whenever we saw something we wanted to capture. He would stop wherever we wanted and at no time did he make us feel rushed (one price no matter length of tour). Along the way he would just stop and show us something - i.e. a leaf that if touched would shrivel up and die (would revive however later), picked a grapefruit then jumped back in, peeled it and gave us some to eat and again with a star fish. He stopped and got us a feast of bananas and that was what our trip was full of. We stopped at many of the tourist places that we wanted to see and he explained in great detail everything about the island. The roads are reasonable and although they drive on the opposite site it feels doable -- as long as you honk going around corners. The island is incredibly beautiful, lush and the rain forest is truly amazing. At the end of the day, we all decided that of all the islands we have visited over the years, this one was our very favourite and we haven't seen it all so it will be the island we will return to.
I contacted Allen at AJ Meddy Tour and Taxi Service Grenada for a private tour to see the island because he had great reviews. He was very professional and gracious in his communication with me. He was going to be our tour guide but because it was on a Saturday, he was unable to do so. However, he arranged a great alternative. Neil Dominique met us right as we exited the security area in port. He was young, energetic, fun and knowledgeable about the island and the people. His van was comfortable and air-conditioned and it was an incredible personal tour with only the 4 of us and our guide. The roads are narrow, winding, and go up into the mountains while driving on the opposite side of the road as we do. However, we were not concerned with our safety and felt very much at ease throughout the day even though some of the drivers we encountered were a tad sketchy. This is the spice island and so this truly is the place to buy all of your spices (and don't forget the pure cocoa) but only ones that are FDA approved. The island is beautiful and being able to see it on a personal tour with a great tour guide like Neil (or Allen) is the only way to see and appreciate the island, the people and what it has to offer.
Two of our group disembarked that day and sunbathed on the beach. They indicated it was a very relaxing day. Also advised there was good food and drinks on the island as well as some shopping opportunities - didn't find they returned with anything however. There also was a lot of water sports equipment but like everything else, there was costs involved so they didn't bother to rent any.The only way to get to and from the island is by being ferried by ship boats. It seemed to run smoothly with no delays. They enjoyed the day but I can't comment further as we remained on board, out of the sun while relaxing...already had too much sun.
Overall, we were really disappointed with St. Thomas. From the time we got off the ship until we returned, we felt this was not a port we wanted to return to. Getting a cab to town from the ship wasn't a nice introduction to the island. The fellow who we got assigned to was very unpleasant and grumpy. They charge $4.00 a person and with 8 in the van, he made $24.00 for a relatively short ride into town. Don't make the mistake we made, just grab one of the open air buses and you will be better served. Other cab drivers during the day were much better and far more gracious and reasonably priced (sort of). What we didn't like was that by far, the majority of stores were jewellery stores and by now, like others, we were sick of it. If you are into that, you will find there is a plethora of stores to pick from so for you, it is the place to shop. We did find one shop we really liked and it was called Mr. Tablecloth. Now don't be fooled by the name because inside Jeanne (spelling?) has many items that are reasonable and quite beautiful, including clothes (jackets are exquisite). We did not take a tour of the island so it is possible we missed a lot of wonderful things to see. However in town, you can walk to see some interesting things (outside of shopping). We took a cab up to Blackbeard Castle and then walked down 99 stairs to town. You see the Castle (well, tower), the Rum Factory (LOL), Rum purchases (free samples of flavoured rum was delicious), and shops and antique museum type homes during the decent which is quite lovely and easy to do. Oh yes, don't miss the dinosaur in one of the shops. We had a lot of fun and it was very pleasurable. We also went to Ice Magic for $20.00 and we thoroughly enjoyed that experience. If you go, take socks for your feet if you are wearing flip flops! Our best experience on the island was that the day we were there, a very large group of youth were playing the steel drums all day and they were incredible. We sat and listened and observed that they played for hours. Once you are done in town, you can easily get an open bus to return you to the ship - just remember which port you arrived in as there are two and we were at the far end.