This was our 6th cruise, the last 4 being aboard Royal Caribbean ships. We opted for the Caribbean Princess because of a great price on the balcony staterooms that were offered (balcony for outside cabin price) and the Southern Caribbean itinerary. We were also interested in a comparison to the Royal Caribbean cruises that we have enjoyed (Mariner, Legend, Freedom and Oasis). So, let me first say, the Caribbean Princess and Princess Cruise Lines measured up to our expectations for the most part.
Embarkation is an area that was a little bit of an issue. I don't know if this is a usual occurrence or if there was a ship issue. We arrived at the Park & Ride shuttle at 11am and were promptly transported to the ship terminal. Unfortunately, boarding didn't begin until about noon so we waited in line at the terminal. Once boarding began, we were processed onto the ship within 15 minutes. Other passengers related that they arrived around 1pm and had a 2 hour wait to check in and board the ship.
Now about the ship...we were in a balcony cabin, #A314. Aloha deck 12 about a third of the way aft in the ship near the forward elevators. Port side. For this cruise, the port side was dock side at both Curasao and Aruba (island view) and harbor view at Port Everglades. It was a very nice room layout. We particularly liked the dressing area outside the bath. The bath accommodations are typical cruise ship, functional and compact. The balcony had two chairs and a small side table. The beds were firm but comfortable. A flat screen TV and a mini fridge with ample room for the wine and water we brought on board.
We felt the ship had a "chopped up" feel to it. There were few routes that seemed to flow from the front to the rear of the ship without going up or down a level or passing from one side to the other. The Piazza is a round area that rises three decks and is the centerpiece of the ship. It seemed a bit cramped compared to the Promenades on the Royal Caribbean ships. For a ship with over 3000 passengers, there were many "small" areas that didn't accommodate the crowds real well but overall it was only a minor issue. Entertainment played in the Piazza daily but there were few available seats in that area to sit and enjoy the music. The "Sanctuary" area is adults only and accessible at an extra fee. That it is only available at an extra charge irritated me, but I'm sure there are those that gladly pay for the "quiet" experience. That's probably not too much to concede to give everyone something to enjoy. The casino was small but I usually found a place to play although it looked like there was a lot of competition for the slots. There were 4 pool areas and all were busy, but I always saw available space in those areas. The pool outside the Sanctuary and the one on the aft deck seemed to be the least used. If you're looking for a quiet nook to relax and read, the Skywalker lounge (aft deck 18) is a real hideaway during the day.
The food was good. I had a seafood dish each night and from my observation of other dishes at the table, I'd say Princess does the best with the seafood dishes. Beef and poultry selections didn't seem to be quite as well prepared. There were 3 to 4 unique entrees each evening and a few entrees that were offered every evening. Escargot was the best I've had. Lobster was perfectly prepared. They used a mango salsa on a couple dishes (maybe mahi-mahi?) that was a hit. Service was perfect. I think this is where Princess excels. Their service staff is very well trained. We ate breakfast and lunch in the buffet. They were quite good and served the need. Be aware the two buffets offer a little different menu. Horizon Court was American cuisine and Cafe Caribe had a more international flair. One last comment on the dining is that the dining rooms are excessively noisy. I'm guessing it's the low hard ceiling surface, but conversation is difficult at times across a table.
The professional entertainment was very nicely done. The Princess Singers and Dancers did 3 different shows and all were entertaining. We saw a magician (not really my cup of tea, but well done), a Jersey Boys type show ("Walk Like a Man") was excellent, and a comedian "Sarge". I didn't think the comedian had the best material. Now for cruise director Dan Styne and deputy cruise director Chris. These guys weren't quite as polished or prepared as the cruise directors we've encountered on Royal Caribbean. Events and shows they hosted were entertaining but lacked something that would have put the shows over the top. For example, they did a show that played off the Family Feud concept. It was almost like they had just dreamed up the concept an hour earlier. I had that same feeling at other events.
The ports of call were enjoyable. Princess Cays was a very nice stop. The shore lunch was decent. It was much better than our lunch experience at Royal Caribbean's Labadie beach. It's not what you'd expect on the ship maybe, but for a "picnic" meal, it was nicely done. Curacao is kind of a quick stop. Any adverse sea conditions while crossing the Caribbean Sea will delay that arrival. We arrived an hour or two behind schedule due to heavy seas but still enjoyed a short tour of the town and a little browsing in the market near the pier. The main stores there close around 6pm so shopping after an excursion is limited at the stores typical to cruise locations. Aruba is a full day event with time to enjoy the activity of your choice. We booked a Snorkel/Sail excursion that was enjoyable with a sail along a lengthy stretch of the Aruba resort coast.
We took advantage of the express "walk-off" disembarkation. I stepped out of my cabin at 7:05am and was driving out of the "Park & Go" lot at 8:05am, one hour cabin to car. Our experience with Park & Go was excellent and I would recommend it if you want to save some money and park away from the chaos near the terminal. Our reserved, prepaid parking fee was less than $60 for the week, including taxes. We arrived early and departed the ship early so they are perhaps not as efficient at other times, that I don't know, but for us, the arrangement worked well.
So my overall evaluation is that Princess does a real nice job in providing a quality cruise experience. There was really nothing that made me think I MUST cruise with Princess again, but also nothing occurred that would cause me to avoid booking another cruise with them.