Booked the cruise with our local travel agent and initiated Cruise Critic Forum about 11 months in advance of our sailing to get a head start on our Meet & Mingle and prevent multiple forums for the same sailing.
This forum was the most active and enjoyable thread I have ever created as a direct result of a group of extraordinarily helpful and kind people. We had well over 100 active participants on our forum and it really added to the overall vacation in a positive way.
Anticipation is often the highlight of many things we look forward to (especially a Cruise) and starting a Cruise Critic forum thread is an excellent way to build anticipation with fellow cruisers and learn much about cruising along the way. Example: Did you know that using a "chip clip" used for closing snack chip bags can also be used to prevent the shower curtain in your cabin bathroom from hugging and groping you while you shower?!?!?!? (Start a thread before your cruise and you too can learn as I did from veteran cruisers. CC is a great place for first time cruisers to get answers to all your questions from people who are thrilled to help you on your first cruise adventure.
So let's get started !
My crew consisted of a party of five (Wife and I, along with three single friends)
Pre-Cruise Friday 1/25
We live in Chicago and always build in a "snow day" in case we are delayed by weather and never have to worry about "missing the boat".
We usually stay at the Embassy Suites on 17th St. as it is one of the closest to Port Everglades. It is a rather pricy $249 per night and yet found most hotels were all about the same and this includes a 2hr happy hour and a full breakfast as well each day.
We rented a car through the hotel and spent the morning of our departure in South Beach and were a bit disappointed as it has seemed to really have fallen on hard times with many vacant store fronts and far to many head shops.
Cruises lines recommend "ARRIVE AFTER 1pm TO AVOID LONG LINES AND DELAYS"
I have arrived as early as Noon and on this cruise we arrived about 1:30pm to an absolute ZOO ! We have sailed out of this terminal many times and have never seen it so crazy, so backed up, so late in the day. My wife and I are Platinum and are friends were not.
We offered to wait in the BIG line with them and yet they told us to go through our loyalty line which we did and learned Princess preferred it this way.
First thing I noticed is there was only one security line open for general boarding of three available checkpoints. Platinum, Elite and Suites also had one checkpoint which is where we entered.
There was something not right about this Embarkation as if something seemed to not go as planned and after talking with one of the Princess check-in team I affirmed my suspicions. They were dealing with a very high amount of flight delays and although they usually allow guests to board well before noon, Princess did not accept the first passenger until 12:30pm. I was not able to find out why or verify if there had been a policy change etc...
We were on the gangway to board within 15 minutes and I did notice that all three security checkpoints had now been opened for general boarding. (Took our friends just over an hour)
Our cabin on LIdo was spotless as always and looked completely refreshed and ready for her new guests to arrive. We usually opt for Lido and this is where we spend most of our time. Always choosing a balcony or a full suite if the price is right (which it usually is not).
Our friends chose a Ocean-view and an Inside; I found both to be just as comfortable and well cared for.
Our life boat drill was well organized as always and in no way a burden...
We were on deck meeting our Cruise Critic members with drink in hand for an on time sail away.
THE GOOD: (Anytime Dining)
* Food was good to excellent - Would like to of seen more dessert variety each night
I have always enjoyed the meals, the food is always prepared well and with proper temperature. The dessert menu offered little change and only varied by one item twice. (Monday & Thursday was Formal Night)
Horizon Court Buffet as always offered a great selection and was always our breakfast choice. We did not visit specialty restaurants this time as we have been there multiple times.
* Bar/Wait Staff was wonderful - these are some of the hardest working people you will ever meet. They work for 10 months (used to be six) seven days a week (12hrs or more) with about 4 hours off each week to themselves. If you find an individual that goes the extra mile for you "Reward Them" - you would be amazed how much $10 means to them.
* Activities & What to Do On-Board - You can do as much as you want or nothing at all. There is something for everyone
1) Princess Cays aka Eleuthera Bahamas (1/27/2013)
I have always enjoyed the beach of Princess Cays and find the water is to rocky to really enjoy. We did rent a private cabana and really enjoyed the area they took us too via ATV down toward the end of the island.
2) Curacao = See "THE BAD" below
3) Aruba (1/29/2013)
We have been to about every island of the Caribbean multiple times except Aruba and it was an absolute delight and friendly island. The north side of Aruba is incredibly picturesque and offers many breathtaking view. For our amateur photographers like myself it was "click" heaven.
I highly recommend Sonny Binns Tours (This is a private well known tour operator - he is all over cruise critic if you search his name) I was lucky enough to get on this tour courtesy of one of our Cruise Critic friends on this cruise who had room in her group.
Here is the supplier's information:
"SONNY BINNS TOURS". Cell: 297-592-6535 and 297-568-2028
Tour Cost $30 p/p for a brand new A/C bus that Sonny recently purchased (I believe it holds 24 people) and Sonny earns every bit of the tour price and is the essence of customer service.
Hawley Magic Show - A husband & wife team who had humble beginnings on Americas Got Talent and have grown to some of the best in their field. This show was incredible and the best show we saw all week. It was a standing ovation ending and well deserved. (Don't miss this one)
Born to be wild - Great Dancing with struggling male Vocals and one gentleman not in sync with rest of performers as usual. This show was overall pretty good and would be our 2nd to Hawley Magic.
Sea Days - It is important to know you are "at sea" for a good portion of this cruise 3.5 days. If you run out of ship quickly; you may want to consider an alternate itinerary.
Cruise Critic Meet & Mingle 1/28/2013
We had over 50 people attend our Meet & Mingle and thanks to our friends at Cruise Critic who supplied us with a bag full of great prizes for our drawings.
Ultimate Ship Tour
If you are into "ships" , watch lots of TLS and Nat Geo shows that take you behind the scenes or are just nosey. The Ultimate Ship Tour was one of the most incredible tours I have ever had in all my years. It comes with a hefty price tag of $150 for a tour that lasted just under (4)hours. The tour requires alot of walking and stairs. I assure you that the $150 price is given back to you in a sense and do not want to spoil how.
They will only accept (14) people for this even and if offered for my NatGeo peep's i promies you will not be disappointed and will talk of it for a long time to come.
15 cruises and I have never experienced a better or more organized, on-time and stress free end to a cruise. Princess has figured it out and eliminated the stress, chaos and feelings of "were done with you" passengers often felt at disembarkation. Disembarkation eliminated a rough Embarkation for many I spoke too.
2) Curacao (1/29/2013)
I don't get this one at all - YOU ARRIVE TOO LATE AND ARE THERE TOO LATE
We were due to arrive by 1:00pm and was adjusted early on to 2:00pm. We then had trouble docking due to the winds working against us. Captain Kent was able to get us docked safely and was vey informative of the struggles the weather was causing.
We were off the ship by 4:00 with the shops and sidewalks rolling up at 6:00pm
We initially went to the Sea Aquarium and everything had already ended for the day so we headed downtown.
YOU DO NOT NEED A TAXI TO GO DOWNTOWN if your capable of a non strenuous walk.
The cab drivers stand well before the bridge which leads across to downtown so they can charge you $5 per person for a cab ride you absolutely do not need if your able to take a short walk.
Walk beyond the cabs and you will quickly see the short bridge to downtown is less than 1/4 mile
Shows - Overall we were disappointed with the production shows especially the Male Vocals which although better than I, left many people speaking of disappointment. This was the first cruise where we actually saw people walking out of the shows during the performances.
Hawley Magic - See "The Good" for review
Do you wanna Dance - Princess Dancers are always incredible with awesome costumes and choreography. The Vocals were quite poor compared to what we are used to on princess and almost seemed to be bad lip sync in many cases. (People walked out)
Walk like a Man - We did not attend
Caribbean Caliente - Great Dancing Terrible Vocals and one gentleman was not in sync with rest of performers (People waked out)
Tom Franek - Did not attend
Born to be wild - See "The Good" for review
Note: I am not looking for Broadway shows and am not hard to please. It was obvious something was not right with the shows and almost appeared as if they had to bring one Male Vocalist on-board last minute with little time to rehearse.
The Sommelier Wine Tasting must have been hurting on attendance as they really pushed hard this cruise which is normally not the experience we have endured. (We were approached 6x on different occasions which is roughly (5) more than I personally appreciate)
Overall the ship showed signs of some noticeable wear that are usually not visible; well painted and maintained including under balconies, anchor points and other areas of rust were present that usually are not. Wood rails were worn, brass was not well polished and many light bulbs were out and in one lounge many table lamps did not work.
This award would go to our Art Director's on-board who need to review the core value of C.R.U.I.S.E
UISE unfailing in service excellence
I sent my bride to the Art Auction to bid on a piece of artwork as I was co-hosting our Cruise Critic Meet & Mingle and the times were a direct conflict.
I had a run in with both directors who without a doubt lost what C.R.U.I.S.E is all about. long story short I have never complained to Princess about anything as I never felt anything was a problem or not immediately resolved.
I actually contacted Consumer Relations of Princess while on-board to file a complaint. I will not air my dirty laundry here and will tell you my complaint is not in any way related to the quality of the art. It is solely based on lack of customer service. Customer Relations is on top of the matter already and is not any more pleased than I was.
It is my hope you will take away from this review a 4 out of 5 stars for this cruise and consider Princess to be one of the best for customer service and overall wonderful cruising.
For my group and myself this cruise did not disappoint and was sheer delight overall with the exception of an unusual Port, Performance and a couple needing a bit of soft skill training.
Until next year in Hawaii - wishing you an enjoyable cruise vacation and hope to
"SEA you soon on the board or on board"