It was great to return to Princess after sailing our last two cruises on Carnival. We had forgotten how much nicer Princess is in so many ways. Having said that, this cruise was not without its negatives, although the positives did outweigh the negatives. I will discuss both as I proceed.
Before taking any cruise, I spend hours on Cruise Critic, reading reviews of the particular ship and itinerary we plan to sail. When I find useful information, I copy and paste it into one main document. Then, I print the document before we leave home, so we can familiarize ourselves with it and refer back to it during the cruise.
This was our 11th cruise and was taken to celebrate our wedding anniversary. We specifically picked it for its itinerary since neither of us had been to Curacao or Aruba. We also liked the 3 sea days as we wanted to have time to relax on a less port-intensive cruise.
We flew in a couple of days early to Ft. Lauderdale and rented a car. The day before the cruise, we had a seafood lunch along the Intercoastal waterway and then drove down the beach road toward Miami, just gawking at all the monstrous condos. Yes, Virginia, there is still wealth in America!
We got a great deal on Hotwire at the Hyatt House. We had a very nice 1 BR apartment with small kitchen, sitting area with flat screen TV and huge bathroom. All was very modern. Monday through Thursday nights, they have an evening "snack" buffet with things like salad, chicken wings, soup, chips and salsa, cheese and crackers, cookies and soft and alcoholic drinks--all included in the price. There is also a full hot breakfast in the mornings with eggs, bacon or sausage, breakfast potatoes, pastries, cereals, yogurt, etc. Very nice. There is a small store in the hotel where snacks and microwaveable food can be purchased. Nearby (within walking distance) are a Burger King, McDonald's and fast food Mexican restaurant. Also, there are shops nearby but not sure what kind. The hotel shuttle will take you pretty much anywhere within a mile or two. Their shuttle also goes to the airport and cruise port.
We took the hotel shuttle to the cruise port, but we would not do that again as it took forever! Yes, it was cheaper than a taxi, but the van stopped at EVERY ship (and there were like 9 in port). We had to sit and wait for passengers and their luggage to be unloaded before heading to the next ship. No, on cruise day we just want to get there!
This embarkation was a nightmare. We arrived early and stood in a long, serpentine line in the heat waiting to get into the building. Once through security, we were herded with about 500 other passengers into a plain, ugly, warehouse-looking, noisy waiting area where we sat in long lines of chairs facing one another for more than an hour. Once the doors to the embarkation area opened, there were more lines to stand in for about 30 more minutes until our documents were process and we were allowed to board. This is one area where Carnival and other cruise lines we have sailed previously have Princess beat hands-down.
Even once we were onboard and seated in the dining room having lunch, we looked out the window to see a line waiting to get into the embarkation hall that must have been 1,000 people deep. And the line was barely moving...standing in the heat and the sun, it was horrible.
We had sailed the Caribbean Princess several years ago before its last renovation. We were pleased with all that has been added--especially the Piazza and International Cafe.
Contrary to what other reviewers have said, we did not notice any area of the ship that looked particularly worn. All appeared clean, in good repair and we had no complaints.
Our cabin, an inside on Caribe deck, was very adequate with plenty of storage. We needed a few more hangers, and our cabin stewardess cheerfully brought them, along with terry cloth robes. Our only complaint was the size of the shower--the smallest we had ever seen on any cruise line. It had no place to sit even the smallest bottle or container except on the shower floor. But getting anything off the floor during your shower took the skill of a contortionist! By all means, bring some type of holder to hang from the shower head so you will have a place to put shampoo, conditioner and soap.
This ship always felt crowded to us. We probably sailed at capacity, but it seemed everywhere we turned we were dealing with crowds. We waited at elevators, buffet lines, lines for tenders, lines to get into the theater. Sometimes we felt like we almost had to push our way through crowds of people to get anywhere.
And we remembered from our previous sailing on Caribbean Princess that it is hard to find your way around this ship. Even after 6 days, we found ourselves heading in the wrong directions, looking on the wrong deck for a venue or event. We've never had this problem on any other vessel. Yes, there are maps posted everywhere. But honestly, they didn't help a lot because some areas could not be accessed unless you went to certain elevators or stairways.
The staff on this cruise were exceptional! From our cabin stewardess to waiters in Lido to the front desk personnel, we felt we received excellent service. Actually, these were the most courteous, pleasant and efficient front desk staff we have encountered on any cruise. They handled each question or issue with grace and expertise, even calling us to leave a message on our cabin phone that a request had been fulfilled or issue resolved. We did not see a single staff member anywhere on the ship who looked unhappy or had an attitude.
We felt there were far more entertainment options on Princess than our previous two Carnival cruises. And the entertainment on Princess was cleaner and classier. The production show, "Do You Wanna Dance," is exceptional, covering the gamut of dance styles. On the particular evening this show was playing, we were in pretty rough seas. A lot of folks did not make it to dinner that night. How the dancers even stayed on their feet, much less performed such intricate footwork, was a wonder! The other two production shows were not so good, somewhat boring actually as it was hard to figure out a theme or story-line. The illusionist was pretty good, sort of the same thing over and over though. The group of guys who sang "oldies" one night did a pretty good job. It too was a little repetitive. But at least Princess had no shows we had to walk out of like we did on Carnival.
There are 3 show times each night. You can almost forget about going to the middle show time unless you get there half an hour early as it was always packed. Even arriving 30 minutes early, there were often only poor seats left. We changed up our schedule to attend the early show and normally got a pretty good seat. Probably, the late show is the least attended but it was around 10:30--too late for us. One night we almost ended up seeing a boxing match as a couple of guys near us got "testy" over one saving several seats. There were words exchanged, pushing and shoving, one taking a swing, until finally some other folks went and got security to break it up. We were ready to sell tickets to the match and pay for our cruise!
We enjoyed Movies Under the Stars, watching NFL Monday Night football while munching popcorn and pizza. We intended to go to a movie on another night but got busy inside the ship at another venue.
There were a number of good movies on TV in our cabin. The schedule for each upcoming day was printed in the Princess Patters.
There were about 4 special events during the cruise--the captain's champagne waterfall on the first formal night, a Caribbean deck party, a sailaway party when leaving Aruba and a country-western theme night. We attended a couple of these events and thought they were fun.
There was some kind of entertainment going on constantly in the Piazza, and we enjoyed several different types of performers--jugglers, bands, soloists, classical piano and a special jazz concert of Christmas music. It was also nice to be able to grab something to nibble on from the International Cafe while enjoying the performances.
A guy was playing piano and holding sing-a-longs at night in one of the bars on the upper level of the Piazza. He was good with a crowd and always drew a standing-room-only audience.
Game shows and karaoke were available every night, although we only attended one game show. Karaoke is not for us; don't want to suffer on vacation through someone singing who can't carry a tune but think they can! Ha.
One of the funniest things all week, surprisingly, was the cooking demo and galley tour. Half the ship must have been there. If you think you want to tour the galley, sit on the left side near the exit on the lower deck. The line was so long by the time we got out of the theater you couldn't even see the tour guide anymore, much less hear anything that was going to be said. So we gave up on the tour. The cooking demonstration was a comedy act, however. The head chef and maitre'd went after each other with wise cracks. They cooked a few dishes and also gave a handout of recipes from the ship.
Our biggest complaint about entertainment was that on sea days there was virtually nothing to do that interested us, for hours at a time--unless you wanted to shop, go to an art auction or gamble (which we don't). But the schedule on a couple of port days was full of interesting things to do. Of course, we had shore excursions already scheduled so missed the things on board. Why couldn't the cruise director flip-flop the schedules on sea and shore days?? On the last two sea days, we pretty much sat around all day with nothing to do but read on deck or stay in our cabin watching TV (and we can do that at home).
The only time we had room service was at breakfast on the two days we had early excursions. Both times, it was delivered promptly at the time we had requested. We wish Princess offered a hot breakfast like Holland America does. But we were glad to see that they have at least added a hot breakfast sandwich (like an Egg McMuffin) that was pretty good.
We thought the buffet food on this cruise was a lot better than the dining room food. To us, it was a lot tastier.
Evening food was kind of bland and boring. After about two nights of beef (and not good cuts of it at that), we wanted something different. None of the soups we tried was worth eating. After trying three different soups, we gave up. They all tasted the same--like water with thickener added. Lobster night was the best. The shrimp they served with the lobster tails were the biggest we have ever seen. They almost looked (and tasted) like lobster. Delicious! But the Beef Wellington was awful. The lamb was so-so, not bad but not really good either. That was the case with most of the meats and seafood. Nothing really stood out. And it seemed that the same 3 or 4 veggies with the entrees were repeated throughout the week.
Salads were great. We don't know how they kept the greens so fresh and crisp all week long. On our first day, we tried their house made balsamic dressing. It was not like any we've had before as it was creamy. But it was fabulous! We never asked for anything but that for the rest of the week.
The bread on Princess is the best afloat. We could make a meal of just their bread. Kudos to the baking chefs!
Desserts were hit-or-miss. Some were pretty good; others were nondescript.
We found ourselves waiting almost every night at the Anytime Dining restaurants for at least 15-20 minutes for a table for two. It didn't seem to matter if we went early or late. There were long lines and beepers to deal with. Only one night during the entire cruise were we ushered right in to a table and that was a night when we were running very late and arrived about 15 minutes before the restaurant closed.
Behind the Lido buffet is Cafe Caribe, the best kept secret on the Caribbean Princess. We didn't realize it until the next-to-last day of the cruise that they serve an entirely different menu at lunch than the Lido. They have theme days like Italian, Chinese, Mexican. On Mexican day, they served some of the most delicious salsa and guacamole we have ever tasted! We grabbed plates full with chips and took it out back to the deck chairs overlooking the back of the ship. Also, on the last sea day they had a chocolate buffet. We just stumbled on it or we would have never known. Normally, cruise lines announce the chocolate buffet, but we never read or heard anything about this one. The white chocolate dip with fresh fruit for dipping was fabulous!!
We enjoyed the pizza the night we watched MUTS. The pieces are very large, and it was the best we have tasted on a cruise. We also tried the ice cream at Scoops but did not care for it. It's too creamy or something. Not to our liking. Even the ice cream served in the dining room at night was not very good, in our opinion. The sorbets were great, but the ice cream was not as good as what we can buy in the store at home.
We really liked the International Cafe. The small fruit tarts were wonderful, as were several other pastries. We looked all week (like 3 times a day) for the chocolate glanduja pudding that so many people rave about. They never had it--even one time...not only that, but none of the workers seemed to have a clue as to what we were talking about. So we missed out on that...too bad. Many people rave about the salads. We tried them and thought they were very bland, so we stuck to the sweets. Others touted the beignets served in the morning. Sorry, folks. If you've ever had beignets at Cafe du Monde in New Orleans, there is no comparison. The beignets in the IC are like cake doughnuts with powdered sugar, so we only had them once. It was nice that there is a coffee shop with specialty coffees right there by the IC as well as a bar with a nice seating area...all very handy to one another.
Now for the BEST food news...we purchased two of the UKP packages (Unlimited Soda and More). Wow! Did we ever have fun with that and came out way ahead of the game money-wise. We must have had 5-6 "virgin" drinks a day, plus cherry cokes made in the bar, shakes, smoothies, etc. Some of the virgin drinks were pretty bad because they start with a mix. The pina coladas were so-so, the virgin banana daiquiris were downright nasty as were the mai-tais. So we experimented a day or two until we found our "faves"--Miami Vice and Virgin Mojitos. And we scarfed them down like water. It was great to sit out on deck or on the private island, ordering one after the other and knowing it was all already paid for. ? Unfortunately, our waistlines showed it upon our return home. But then...that's what vacations (and diets) are for!!
If you plan to be among the first off the ship at a tender port (which we only had one thankfully), you need to arrive in the assigned disembarkation lounge at least 30 minutes early with everyone in your party present. The line gets long in a hurry, and the staff will only give you a disembarkation number if everyone in your party is there with you.
We'd been there before, so it was no big deal. We will say that it has the best snorkeling of the three private islands we've been to thus far (that's not saying a lot). Go to the far end of the island from where the tender arrives. There will be a long dock with a gazebo-type structure at the end. Enter from the left side and snorkel around the rocks and continue to the right. Get there early or the water gets murky from so many other passengers in the water. There are a number of fish and some actual coral.
There is not a lot of shade. Your best bet is to pull a lounge chair up near the picnic pavilion and use it to block the sun as it passes throughout the day.
The buffet on the island is so-so, not nearly as good as it used to be. There are a few salads, hot dogs, hamburgers, grilled chicken, cookies, brownies and fruit. But at least you don't go hungry.
We had no trouble using our Unlimited Sodas and More cards to get frozen virgin drinks, but we couldn't get sodas there. And the regular soda card is not honored on the island at all because they only have sodas in cans. They're not set up for fountain drinks like they are on the ship.
Princess Cay is a pretty nice day, but it seems very short by the time you tender off and back on the ship. Next time, we may just stay on board and enjoy the peace and quiet and ship's food.
We took a ship's snorkel excursion. It took a good 2 hours or more of traveling there and back by bus just to get to and from the place where the snorkel boat was docked. The reef in Curacao was better than at Aruba, but we didn't think what we saw was worth all the time spent jammed on that bus. We were only in the water about an hour. If there is a next time, we may just go into town and shop or take a sightseeing tour. We were surprised at how developed the downtown area is compared to other Caribbean islands where we've been.
We were prepared to hate Aruba due to so much negative publicity in the past few years, but we actually liked it better than Curacao. It does not seem as commercialized and has beautiful beaches. We took a ship's snorkel excursion on a pirate ship. There was not much to see snorkeling, but at the end we pulled into a small bay and everyone took turns swinging off a rope swing. It was a lot of fun watching passengers fall in every possible direction. Also, one of the crew did some pretty amazing tricks off the swing--even with a female passenger on his back...impressive.
The only negative about this excursion was the small boat they used from shore to carry us out to the pirate ship. It was like a small john boat--way overloaded, scary actually, and there was not a life jacket in sight. Even though we enjoyed the excursion, we would never do it again because of that fact. We are both good swimmers, but if the boat tipped over or sunk (and a few times it felt like it might) and hit anyone on the head or trapped passengers under it or some freaked-out, non-swimmer grabbed you in the water, it would not be a good outcome. Princess really needs to investigate this excursion and correct this safety issue (yes, we reported it on our review following the cruise).
We did the Luggage Express where the crew takes your luggage the last night from outside your cabin and you don't see it again until you arrive at your home airport. It worked great and was well worth the extra fee, not having to lug big bags around.
We did have an awfully long wait in one of the ship's lounges until our number was called. But once we started off the ship it was very smooth.
In Ft. Lauderdale as you come out of the luggage area, if you will look before you reach the taxi area, there is a company with vans that take passengers for a flat fee to the airport (even to the Miami airport--wish we had known that before we booked a private limo and paid a fortune to get to Miami International). The van ride is a bit cheaper than a taxi to the Ft. Lauderdale airport, so hope that bit of info helps someone else.
It was an enjoyable cruise. We are definitely sold on Princess over Carnival, even though there were some glitches. Any cruise is what you make of it. We determined ahead of time to have fun and relax, and we found ways to do that on this cruise. Many thanks to the hard-working staff of Caribbean Princess for all you did to make it a great week!