Background: My husband and I have been married for 15 years, have no kids, and are 41. This is our 7th cruise, 2nd on Princess. We have been on 5 with RCCL and chose Princess for the itinerary since we had not been to Grand Turk yet. We were cruising with a total of 5 couples (no children). My in-laws, SIL and her husband, husband's uncle and his girlfriend, and the in-laws best friends. Age range is from 41-70. We have cruised with the same bunch of people 2-3 times before, but they have never been on Princess, only RCCL. The in-laws and SIL +hubby arrived in Florida before embarkation day, so they were already in town at a hotel. My husband and I were the only ones flying in that morning.
Embarkation day Sunday March 3:
We flew from Baltimore to FLL on Southwest with no issues, arriving in FLL around 10:30 am. We collected our luggage and took a taxi directly to the port. Taxi for 2 with tip included was $20. We arrived at the port around 11 am, dropped our luggage off with a porter ($20 tip for 4 bags) and proceeded into the terminal. Have your boarding pass document ready to show in order to get in the door. We were assigned a color coded number on a laminated card -- this is the boarding group we will be called with. We sent our carry-ons through the xray machine and waited in line to check in. Once we checked in, we grabbed a seat and watched for the rest of our group to make their way into the terminal to check in.
Embark took about 1 hour to get on ship, around 12:30. Once they started calling colors, it went quickly. Go sit next to where they start calling colors so you can be ready -- it is the first big room, look to the left and that is where the entrance is for boarding.
Once we were on the ship, we went to our room to check it out. We were in Riviera 334, our first balcony room. After booking, I read that rooms on this floor get a lot of noise from the Lido deck chairs scraping above. We did hear it some, but were not bothered by it and were usually awake in the morning around 7 am so it was not bad unless you like to sleep in late. The balcony is shaded at all times, which was fine with me. There is also no one looking down on you, since the floor of the Lido deck extends beyond your balcony edge, making it very private, as long as your neighbors are not home ? We will definitely get a balcony room again on future cruises, we felt it was worth the extra money. We slept with the door open every night and heard the waves as we drifted off to sleep. I also enjoyed taking a sunrise picture each morning from the room, and having breakfast and pre-dinner drinks on the balcony throughout the week. We also spotted a whale from the balcony one day and saw dolphins too, so it was cool for wildlife viewing and we loved watching the ship come into port from there too. We met our cabin steward Franky and I asked him for an egg crate topper for my side of the bed and gave him a $20 tip right away. He had it put on the bed before that evening and it made a big difference in the hardness of the bed. He was very good at keeping things clean/tidy throughout the week and was a nice person overall.
Next thing I did was go to the Crown Grill to make a reservation for our party of 10 for Wed night at 7 pm. We found a staff member setting up in the Crown Grill and he took our reservation with no problem. Then it was off to lunch. Horizon Court was a nightmare - the area for getting the food was too small and generally people were milling around willy-nilly, or "bumbling" as I like to say. Skip Horizon Court and go to Cafe Caribe all the way in the back- the people flow was linear and more organized, much less crowded. You can also sit outside and have a nice view off the back of the ship. In both Horizon Court and Cafe Caribe, the staff set the tables with silverware and bring you drinks. Numerous times throughout the trip we had to sit at a dirty table and wait for a busboy to clear the dishes, and had to wait for drink service. At either end of the dining area you could also self-serve iced tea and water, tea and coffee, but if you wanted lemonade, you had to ask a waiter to get it for you. For breakfast in the Horizon Court, there were nice omlettes made to order daily. I also had fruit and tea, yogurt parfait, cottage cheese, etc. in an effort to eat healthier at breakfast. A small annoyance is that they serve the fresh fruit in large slices such as slices of watermelon and pineapple, not cut up into bite sized chunks. It would be nicer for the passengers if they could just scoop out bite sized pieces without having to dissect their fruit one it's on the plate. Minor and nit-picky, I know, but a convenience that I missed as I eat a lot of fruit for breakfast and lunch. One morning they had a Chocolate theme for breakfast and there were berries and choc fondue, choc chip pancakes, etc.
Intl cafe on deck 5 had some nice breakfast sweets and could make egg sandwiches, so that is a quick easy stop. Also had nice dessert snacks - tried the macadamia brownie and the pb choc cup, both were excellent and not too big- just enough to satisfy the craving for chocolate.
Muster drill was at 3:30pm and we were assigned to the Wheelhouse bar, so we grabbed our lifejackets and headed there. We listened to the drill, then everyone had to put on their life jacket and practice the motions of jumping off the ship in case we had to abandon the ship. That was a first for me!
We had opted for 6 pm assigned dining in the Bottecelli dining room, so I checked our table and our group of 10 was accommodated. For dinner the first night I had red snapper mojito ceviche, shrimp cocktail, sea bass, and for dessert, the delicious Love Boat Dream (choc mousse on a brownie). All food was delicious. Prasad was our waiter and Maria was the asst waiter, table 118. We had excellent service, fun interactions and joking around, and Prasad made great food recommendations all week. He even steered me away from some things on the menu, which I appreciated, too.
Monday: Our call at Princess Cays (Bahamas) was cancelled due to high winds and unsafe tendering conditions from the unusual cold front that came thru Fla earlier in the week. That was a bummer as I was hoping to check out the conch shells and graves down the beach to the far right, as I had read about on CC. I went to the gym and ran 2 miles on the treadmill -- the gym was busy around 7:30 am, seemed to die down around 9 am. We spent the day at the pool, and drank too much. I ate curried chickpeas and rice for late lunch at Cafe caribe, as it was Indian food theme. I barely made it to dinner due to the drinking by the pool, but I made it, thanks in large part to my husband's help. My dinner was a salad, pot roast, and hazelnut ice cream, all food was also excellent. We all went to sleep early since we were drained from the sun and drinking all day.
Tuesday: Today was a scheduled sea day then formal night. Back to the gym for more treadmill. I attended the Cruise Critic Meet and Greet at 11 am in the Outrigger Bar overlooking the Terrace Pool at the back of the ship. CC meetup was attended by 10-13 ppl and we did a small gift exchange, which was fun. Spent the rest of the day by the terrace pool -- this is a nice area but there is not a lot of room for loungers, and we ended up laying out on the wooden stadium seating area, which is not the most comfortable place, but there were no available chairs. We did see a fair amount of chair hogging, with no one coming back to sit in the chairs for a long time, but we did not try to kick anyone out. The pool water was "refreshing", meaning chilly, but did feel good when you got too hot. The lunch theme at cafe caribe today was Mexican, and the food was awesome. I wished that was available all week. I made a huge salad and topped it with the homemade guacamole, and it was my favorite lunch of the week.
Since it was formal night, we met our party in the Wheelhouse Bar at 5 for a formal happy hour. Everyone was nicely dressed. I actually saw more men wearing tuxedos on a ship than ever before. Dinner was very good, I had the barramundi as recommended by Prasad. We did not see any shows while on this cruise - my SIL did not seem impressed with the Stardust show she saw one night. We all went to the casino to do an informal slot pull at $10 per person, did not win, but it was fun anyway.
Wed: St Maarten. We enjoyed watching the approach and docking from our balcony. We got into port 3 hours early so we got off the ship and took a cab to Grand Case to Octopus Divers, since that is what I had arranged for my hubby and I to do. The taxi was $25, less than I expected -- I had heard it was $40 from previous reviews. We gave a $5 tip. The taxi ride is up through some winding roads, and there are no stop signs or traffic lights, so there is a lot of horn honking and squeezing through some very narrow roads. Gasoline was approx $6 per gallon, so it's tough to be a taxi driver! I booked our dive in advance, online, based on the excellent reviews this company got on Tripadvisor. We met Jade at the dive shop, and since we had some time to burn, he recommended we walk over to Grand Case Beach Club, so we did go over and checked it out. Very pretty views, nice beach, there is a small cafe there on the water if you want to have breakfast before diving or lunch afterwards. At 10 am, we walked back towards the dive shop and up Grand Case Blvd to see what shops were open. Most places were cafes, restaurants, and lolos, and did not look very ritzy or swanky as I had expected from this being "the French side". We walked all the way to the roundabout, then walked back down on the beach. We stopped at Calmos Cafe for a lunch snack and a couple of beers. The location is very nice with beach loungers, shaded seating, and picnic tables right at the water's edge. We ate shrimp sate, calamari, and cod fritters, all from the tapas menu. All the food was good, although anything else was pretty pricey, and they did not give the 1 euro to 1 US dollar conversion that some others were offering, so we paid the normal exchange rate. After we were done, we walked back to Octopus Divers, got checked in, and walked over to the dive boat boarding area. There was a dog named Roger and we met our dive guides Jade and Dave. They fitted us for gear and we met the others who would be on the boat. There were 3 snorkelers, 2 new divers and 3 certified divers, including us. We set out on a very short ride to Creole Rock and did our first tank dive there, about 35-40 minutes bottom time. Jade was the guide for the certified divers for both tank dives. Lots of nice things to see especially on the back side of the Rock. The reef looked nice and healthy. I tried out my new underwater camera the first time and kept turning it off by accident, since the photo button is right next to the on/off button. I still managed to get some cool pics though. The camera's battery was used up before the second dive, and I was stressing out since the second dive was going to be at Turtle Reef. I desperately wanted to take pics of sea turtles, but as it turns out we didn't see any turtles there, so in the end it was OK that I didn't have the camera for the second dive. There were tons of Black Sea urchins, and lots of big blocky rocks that made for cool looking structure and everything was covered with life. We also saw 2 huge puffer type fish and barracudas. Lots of sea fans, soft corals, etc. I pointed out a huge sea cucumber about 2 ft long, brown with spots, to our guide. We also saw one small moray eel. All of the 3 Octopus Divers staff were excellent and had everything ready with our gear for the dives. Jade kept a good eye on us and showed us lots of neat stuff underwater. He also took 2 pics of us scuba diving using my camera on the first dive, which I have not had before, so I was really happy to have a picture of my husband and I scuba diving together. After the dives, it started to rain and we were cold as we got packed up and took a taxi back to the port. Again, taxi ride back to the port was $25 and a $5 tip. Took about 30 min but there was no traffic, just some steers (cows) in the road. When we got back to the port, some people were looking at a sheer rock face and taking pictures. I looked to see what they were looking at and saw some goats climbing around on this seemingly vertical slope, defying gravity up on the rocks, it was crazy to see! I didn't get a picture, but I have no idea how they could maneuver like that without falling right off. We looked around at the port shops but did not buy anything and got back on the ship. We stopped at the International Cafe Deck 5 for shrimp salad and a ham and cheese croissant. Both were good, but I would get the croissant toasted next time. The make paninis there, they looked yummy too. Dinner was our reservation at Crown Grill tonight. We arrived and were seated at a large table in an almost empty restaurant, which was suprising for 7 pm. The waiter brought plates of all the side dishes for us to share and he even brought out a platter of lobster tails for everyone to have with their steaks. Everything was delicious and perfectly cooked, no charge for all that lobster ( I had read previously it was an extra $9 for lobster, but that was not true for us), and was well worth the $25 cover charge. It did take around 2 hours though, and my husband is not fond of sitting and waiting between courses, so that was a downer for him. Everyone was overstuffed with food, so we ended up retiring early to sleep off the food coma.
Thurs: St Thomas Whenever we go on a cruise, I usually pick one port and we do a private charter on a boat to get out on the water and swim, sun, snorkel, etc. So, this time we had a private day sail with Tribal (www.tribalvi.com) scheduled. I had researched this daysail provider online and conversed with him via email numerous times, and felt that based on the Tripadvisor reviews and my communications with him, that they would be a good fit for our group. It was my husband and I, my SIL and her husband, and their uncle and his girlfriend (6 passenger max). She had never snorkeled before, and I made sure to let the owner at Tribal know that beforehand. We met Matthias (owner) at the windmill as we had prearranged. We walked to a small commercial harbor about 10 min away to board the inflatable dinghy. We rode to the catamaran, which was moored off Water Island, and boarded. Matthias gave us the safety briefing, a tour of the vessel, and soon we got underway. We sailed around Water Island, past the ship, and out to Buck Island. We were offered drinks right away, the opportunity to drive the sailboat, and we enjoyed a leisurely sail to our snorkel location. When we arrived at Buck island, there were numerous boats there already, so we moored off to the right side and entered the water with our guide Travers. They helped bev adjust her mask and snorkel, and showed her how to maneuver in the water while using a couple of pool noodles as floatation devices. She took to it right away and was happily paddling along in no time. I had re-charged my camera battery overnight and had it with me during the snorkeling. We swam over the reef, Travers brought up some wildlife for us to see up close: a live conch, a conch shell with a huge hermit crab in it, and an anemone for us to hold. He put everything back carefully where he found it, and you can tell they have a lot of respect for the ocean creatures. He fed the fish with some crushed pretzels and a colorful swarm of fish came up to eat. We then swam over to the turtle area by the sea grass beds. We saw many wonderful turtles munching on sea grass, some even coming up for air close to us. I got some great pictures and this was the highlight of the cruise for me. We also saw a stingray and a barracuda. We spent quite a while in the water, probably almost an hour. We got back on board and had snacks and rum drinks, Carib beer, and water/sodas, as we soaked up the warm Caribbean sunshine. Travers was an excellent bartender and Matthias slowly steered us back towards Water Island under sail. Previously I figured we would get dropped off back at the port and go to Tickle's Pub for lunch, since it was a waterfront restaurant on a marina right next to the ship that god good reviews on Tripadvisor. Matthias suggested we be dropped off at Heidi's Honeymoon Barbeque for lunch, which is a quaint beach bar on a pristine slice of white sand ringed by palm trees on Water Island. We moored the Tribal in her berth, all piled in the dinghy and staked out a spot on the beautiful beach and went to the BBQ. The cheeseburgers there are HUGE, and come with a side of pasta salad. There are plenty of choices and a nice drink menu too. What a great recommendation that I never would have known about!! We spent some time bobbing in the turquoise waters and checking out the shells, then walked a short distance to the water taxi that would take us back to the port. We paid $5 per person and got on the 2:15 pm water taxi. We were back on the ship with an hour to spare, so we went to the pool for sail away. This was the second formal night and we were all getting a bit tired of 2 hour dinners (and being so full after each dinner), so we skipped Formal Night in the main dining room and tried the tapas and sushi at Vines. Both were delicious and a good appetizer. We went up to Cafe Caribe to see what they had and got a few things to round out our meal. Just enough food, and we were done eating in 10 minutes. Later we tried the gelato at the International Cafe- 3 scoops for $1.50. It was delicious! After dinner, we went to the Wheelhouse Bar, found some family members and talked for a while then went to bed.
Friday: Grand Turk. We got to sleep in and do laundry since we didn't arrive at port until 1 pm. The laundry is a very nice thing to have available -- I wish other cruise lines had this. Went to the gym again and had a leisurely brunch, repainted my toenails, and we packed up some clothes we weren't going to wear the rest of the trip. Cleaned up the cabin a bit and packed the beach bag for the afternoon. We saw some dolphins and a humpback whale from the balcony, which was pretty cool. At 1:15 pm, we got off the ship quickly and headed through the main building, then turned left and walked down the beach to the Local Village beach bar. We were the first ones there, so we chose lounge chairs and had 2 umbrellas set up. As I knew from my research online, they supply free chairs and umbrellas if you are there to eat or drink, and we did both. We had the conch fritters and jerk chicken plate, both were good! We also had their island passionfruit rum drinks and they were divine. $5 for a small and $10 for a large. We brought some rum from off the ship and added floaters to our drinks, which made them extra yummy. They have a resident dog named Rufus, and he is obsessed with watching shadows on the ground. He is very friendly and as soon as we had an umbrella put up, he dug a hole in the sand under the umbrella and laid down in the hole. The water was a refreshing counterpoint to the sunny, warm day. We hung out there for a few hours, then moved to Margaritaville and the pool bar, then hit the port-area stores to shop for a few souvenirs. We got back on the ship around 6 pm, and ended up in Horizon Court for a late dinner. We tried the slot machines and won $80, so that was fun. A note of warning to others- my in-laws took a taxi to Cockburn town (not arranged through the ship), and instead were taken down the beach to an area set up with tents and the locals were setting up makeshift shops. The taxi driver tried to tell them this was the shopping area, which was a scam. They had to find someone else to take them to the real Cockburn town center, and they felt very upset that the taxi would take them somewhere they did not want to go. They wanted me to warn other people not to use the local taxis because of this.
Saturday: This was our last full day, and it was a scheduled sea day. The captain altered our course home by adding 85 nautical miles to give us smoother seas, and the boat was calmer as a result. We have felt the ship moving each day, but it has not been bothersome. Went to the gym again this morning in an effort to stave off those lbs. Spent the day at the pool, then met the group for our final pre-dinner drink at the Wheelhouse Bar. We ate our last dinner as a group in the main dining room and food was tasty as always. Last Love Boat Dream of the trip... We had an after dinner drink and then said our goodbyes. We went to the casino and won an extra $50 on the slot machines which was fun. We promptly stopped by the Purser's desk to put it towards our bill.
Sunday: Disembarkation day. I woke up at 0630 and watched us sail into Port Everglades, with 2 other ships in line behind us. The captain came on the loudspeaker and told us there were a bunch of people sick the night before (turned out to be norovirus) so the staff was serving everything to you at breakfast. I brought my breakfast back to the room and ate it on the balcony. We had to vacate the room by 8 am. We sat by the Explorers lounge with some family members until we needed to go to our assigned departure area, which was the casino at 10:10 am. While waiting in the casino, we heard about people passing out and vomiting while waiting to leave the ship. Many people needed wheelchairs to get off the ship, and the whole process was delayed by over an hour. We finally got off the ship around 10:30 am, found our luggage and stood in line for another hour to clear customs. The porter who was handling our luggage said people were coming off the elevators and puking on the floor, it was bad. My MIL started getting sick at the airport and ended up being hospitalized when she got home. No one else in our party got sick, but I heard of similar people having to go to the hospital for IV's. Not good, but at least it happened on the last day.
Likes/Dislikes/Overall impressions (my personal opinion):
- I found the overall ship layout confusing and sometimes frustrating. For example, on the Lido deck, you have to go through the Horizon Court dining area to get to the main pool or to the back of the ship. If you are barefoot and wearing your bathing suit, it feels improper to have to walk through the food area just to get to the pool. There were also numerous places where you could not get from one end of the ship to the other without having to go up or down a level, across for a while, then back up or down to the floor you wanted. There were also numerous stairways outside that led to a locked door and nothing else, and that didn't make sense. I definitely like the Royal Caribbean Promenade layout better. It is more like a normal "Main Street" which is intuitive to me.
- The bathroom is tiny - shower is the smallest I have ever seen. I cannot imagine a larger person trying to shower in there at all. The shower curtain barely stayed in the shower and there is a very small area to put your shampoo/conditioner -- no separate soap dish or ledge in the shower. If you are a girl with "products", you will end up with half of them sitting on the floor of the shower.
- Hanging space for clothes is big, but the only drawers available are in the nightstand and desk. Bring extra hangers if you like to hang all your clothes -- there are some provided.
- Suitcases do fit under the bed, which is good.
- The ship seemed smaller than it actually was -- there were waits for elevators frequently.
- Laundry rooms have irons and ironing boards available for your use.
- Professional 8x10 photos (from formal night) are $23.99 each FYI
- The English style Pub Lunch (free) was available on both scheduled sea days but no one in our group participated.
- You should really study the Princess Patter each day as there are not a lot of announcements on what is going on around the ship -- they really only announced the art auction and bingo. Everything else, you had to notice it in the Patter.
- We bought 2 1-liter bottles of water at the airport and just refilled them throughout the cruise and kept them in our mini-fridge in the room. That was enough to drink when we needed water in the room, since the tap water in the bathroom never got very cold.
- Bring a beer koozie if you drink the bottled Dos XX beer. Also bring a small bottle opener if you buy the buckets of beer (5 for the price of 4) since they only open one or two at a time, you won't have to look for a waiter to open your next beer.
- Wear SPF 30 at a minimum, right from the first day -- do not underestimate the Caribbean sun. You will still get a tan with SPF 30, trust me. Peeling is not sexy.
- Alcohol: No Capt Morgan (they substitute Bacardi Oakheart) or Bailey's (they use a different brand of irish cream that was so bad my FIL sent it back), No Corona or Landshark. They contract/promote Bacardi rums and serve Dos XX (green bottle, not amber). Only one beer on tap in most bars -- Stella Artois. Would have liked to see a better/varied selection of alcohol choices and more beers on tap.
- We used the Rum Runner plastic flasks (www.rumrunners.com) to bring in 750 ml of coconut rum onboard in our checked luggage. Had no issues getting it aboard -- I highly recommend buying a few of these for cruises as they scan through the X-Ray very well and are not shaped like a bottle. You could always bring an extra, empty one and fill it with a bottle you buy at one of the island ports of call, and put it in your carryon when you get back on the ship.
- Went to the purser's desk and got a hole punched in cruise card, then went to casino and got a bungee lanyard (free) to hang around the neck. Good for when you have clothes with no pockets, like a swimsuit cover-up or a dress.
- As a Gold member of the Captain's Circle, the coupon book they gave was pretty lame. They gave everyone on the ship a reuseable logo tote bag. I did not make it to the Welcome Back past passengers party but they did have one before dinner one night.
- All the crew members we came in contact with or even saw in the hallways, were very friendly and offered a cheerful greeting.
- Overall, I enjoyed the cruise on Princess -- food was great everywhere we went, ship was elegantly decorated, itinerary was good, weather was good.
- I think we are better suited to Royal Caribbean because the passenger demographic is a bit younger in my experience on RCCL (we are 41 with no kids) and I prefer the layout of their ships.
- Generally speaking, I feel that both lines are comparable in terms of quality and value for the $ spent, and would recommend both lines.