A little background info:
My husband and I are experienced cruisers who have cruised almost exclusively on Princess for the past 8 years. We thought we would conduct a little experiment (while having a wonderful three weeks at sea) and do a back to back to back on three different ships. We have been to the Caribbean many times, so we are not focused on the destinations and don't usually do shore excursions to places we've already been many times. We are 62 and 63 years old and like many baby boomers, we enjoy an active but refined cruise experience. We like the production shows and other entertainment in the theater as well as interesting activities during the day. We do social ballroom dancing so we are very interested in the live music on the ship and the dancing venues. We also enjoy fine dining - that includes good food as well as good service from waiters with whom you can develop a rapport. We also appreciate a ship with many sitting or lounging areas -- around the pool, quiet shaded areas, different lounges at night, etc.
For this experiment, we started out on Liberty of the Seas (Royal Caribbean for a 5 day Eastern Caribbean Feb. 11, 2013), then moved to the Caribbean Princess for a 7 day Western Caribbean (Feb. 16, 2013) and finished with a 7 day Eastern Caribbean on Holland America's Eurodam (Feb. 23, 2013). I've written reviews of each of them and you can find them under my id: lovetocruisenow. It was very interesting to compare the three different cruise lines and ships in such close proximity. Here's the Eurodam review.
My husband and I sail frequently on Princess but had never been on the Caribbean Princess. The Caribbean Princess is the link between Grand Princess and the newer ships -- Emerald, Crown and Ruby. The average age of the passengers (on this 7 day Western Caribbean) was younger than some of the Princess cruises -- probably around 55-60. Here's the good and bad from the cruise:
EMBARKATION AND MUSTER: Embarkation went well. We arrived at the terminal around 11:00 am and moved through the check-in line quickly. We are Elite on Princess, so we got the royal treatment at check in. Even though we couldn't board the ship at that time, we were checked in and sent to a nice waiting room. There was a little delay in boarding while the Coast Guard conducted their regularly scheduled inspection. We got onboard around 12:30 pm and received our luggage after muster.
Muster started at 3:45 pm. I love how Princess handles the muster. Passengers do not go outside, but go to an interior location (ours was the theater) where your card is scanned for the roll card. This is so much more efficient than the old paper and pen approach. Once all of this was completed the captain spoke and we listened to a taped presentation about what to do in an emergency. It took less than 30 minutes.
THE SHIP: Caribbean Princess is a nice ship -- decorated in what I call cruise ship old world style -- lots of wood and brass. The ship was neat and clean. Since it's 10 years old, it did show some wear and tear but overall, a very nice, spacious ship. There were two large pools in the middle of the Lido Deck and a smaller "adults only" one at the back of the ship. Lots of hot tubs and even a small kiddie pool. There were lots of loungers around the pool and above the pool area. The negative part of this is that the pool area stayed very crowded. Passengers would come out early in the morning and "claim" loungers for the rest of the day. The bands onboard took turns playing music around the pool during the day and for the sail aways -- excellent "Caribbean" music.
There were a variety of bars and lounges ranging from the Crooners piano bar (that stayed packed), the Explorers Lounge (that featured one of the bands and has a nice dance floor), Club Fusion (sometimes had bands, sometimes game shows, nice dance floor), The Wheelhouse Bar (had a nice social ballroom band and good size floor), Skywalkers Lounge (a "disco" with the best view on the ship), and the Piazza (central area on deck 5 that featured many types of entertainment, including a rotation of several of the bands). As you can see, there were many different venues with different themes, spreading out the ship population so it never felt crowded.
DINING: Food and service in the dining room was good but we never found one particular waiter that we loved (we did anytime dining). Food and service in the Lido Restaurant (buffet) was good also. The buffet operated from about 6:00 am to midnight. Caribbean Princess also had the Trident Grill (hamburgers, hot dogs, etc.) Prego's Pizzeria, and Scoops Ice Cream Bar on the Lido Deck- all complimentary and all very good. We really enjoy the International Cafe, part of the Piazza on Deck 5. You can get a variety of "small plates" for lunch and dinner, as well as breakfast items, and wonderful desserts throughout the day. This is also a great place for specialty coffees. The International Cafe is open 24 hours a day! The Vines Wine Bar is also on Deck 5 and features a variety of wines and wine flights as well as complimentary sushi and tapas. Caribbean Princess also had two specialty restaurants -- Sabatini's (Italian) and Crown Grill (steaks and seafood). We didn't go to either since this was a short cruise, but we have been to both in the past on other ships and found them to be delicious!
CABIN: We booked an inside cabin for this cruise and did not get upgraded. We've stayed in an inside cabin on Princess before so we knew what we were getting into. It's pretty small, but it does have everything you need to get by and the price was great. We don't spend much time in our room and prefer to be out and about the ship. We had one of the best cabin stewards we've every had. He took excellent care of. I hated to leave him behind.
ENTERTAINMENT: Princess has added two new production shows to the mix, which is very good since the old ones had been going for several years and had gotten kind of stale. We also had a comedian who was okay and an illusionist from America's Got Talent. He was pretty good but he over-did the disappear/reappear in the glass box thing.
The bands were GREAT! A keyboard/steel pan duo named Sugarcane was very good and played a variety of songs as well has classic steel pan Caribbean. The quartet in the Wheelhouse Bar, Tempo Quatro played very good social ballroom music. There were two additional bands -- Solutions (4 member) and Ephani (5 members) who played terrific rock and Motown. Many of the bands took turns playing in the Piazza, around the pool, or in one of the lounges. There was lots of live music and it was wonderful. We also had a talented pianist (Rudy) who played mostly in the Piazza (easy listening and classics). Bert Stratton had SRO in the Crooners every night and a DJ played different themes in the Skywalkers nightly. Live music usually started around 5:30pm and continue throughout the night. There were several live music sessions in the Piazza during the sea days and lots of live music around the pools.
ACTIVITIES: There were the usual cruise activities everyday -- trivia, spa seminars, travel seminars, fruit carving, ice sculpture, towel folding, dance lessons, etc. The fitness center is pretty good but features mostly basic equipment like treadmills, bikes, and ellipticals, with some weight stuff. In addition to the equipment, staff members offered many fitness opportunities including Yoga, Pilates, Spin classes, bootcamp, etc. Some classes were free, some had additional fees. The spa offered everything you would want in a spa at sea including acupuncture and cosmetic enhancements. There were also the usual "sales", photography studio, Bingo, and other activities some people look for on a cruise. Bingo was available almost everyday but it was done quietly. A wide variety of shore excursion were available for all ports including their private island Princess Cay.
DISSEMBARKATION: Princess does a nice job with this. About two days prior to disembarkation, you receive an information form that lets the Princess folks know what you need in order to disembark -- what time you need to leave according to air travel, if you need airport transfers, etc. The day before you leave, instructions, colored luggage tags, and everything you need for disembarkation arrives in your cabin. Disembarkation is very civilized and runs like clock work. Since we were moving on to the Eurodam, we stayed onboard until "last call" - about 10:20am then found a taxi to take us to the Holland America terminal (which happened to be on the other side of the port).
Princess Cay - This is a nice place for relaxing and for doing those "beach" things like snorkeling, relaxing in the sun, etc. There are also things available for those who choose to be more active. Unfortunately, we were having high winds and the waves were too rough to attempt tendering for this visit so the Captain canceled the day at Princess Cays and moved on towards Curacao. This was a big disappointment for some.
Curacao - Because we were unable to visit Princess Cays, we arrived at Curacao ahead of schedule and had a full day there instead of the 6 hours originally scheduled. It was nice and sunny with temperatures around 80 degrees.
Aruba -- We had quite rough seas getting to Aruba and arrived to overcast skies. It rained on and off during the day but the showers didn't last very long. It was nice and warm -- about 82 degrees -- so the rain wasn't cold. We left Aruba heading back to Port Everglades in rough water for most of the trip.
Even though the seas were rough and we ended up missing a port, we really enjoyed this cruise. We met a lot of nice people (which we usually do on Princess) and the onboard experience was very nice. The food, service, and entertainment were very good. I would recommend this cruise to anyone looking for a relaxing vacation (if they so choose) or an active one without a lot of noise and frenzy.