First, a little background information about us. My husband and I are both young professionals, no children, who have cruised before, and are well traveled in North America/Caribbean, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. We have cruised previously with Holland America and Royal Caribbean. We enjoy cruising because we like the no-hassle, no-stress of having everything (meals, lodging, etc.) taken care of. This was our first time cruising Princess, and we were very keen on experiencing the product that Princess sells-- the mentality to "escape completely." In many ways, this week at sea would contain many first for us, including a meet and greet, guarantee cabin, and impressions re-evaluated!
We drove to Port Everglades, parked our car at an off-site lot, and were at the terminal, through check-in and on board the ship in about an hour. This was the first cruise that we booked a guarantee balcony stateroom. Normally, we like knowing where on the ship we'll sleep, but since we booked fairly last minute, the most economical option was to book a guarantee. Princess assigned us cabin C223-- on the Caribe deck, starboard side, forward. A larger-than-average balcony was a nice perk to this cabin, but the location, being so far forward, was a bit of an inconvenience. Knowing that a guarantee is a gamble to begin with, I think we got lucky. However, I'm not sure I'd book a guarantee room again... I really do prefer choosing my own cabin.
As mentioned earlier, my husband and I were looking forward to trying the Princess product, and so in choosing this particular cruise, we were attracted to the line, but primarily to the itinerary. Aruba and Curacao are so far south, that being able to cruise there from the mainland, and being a seven night cruise (perfect for our work schedules!)was a real boon! (Princess Cays was our third port-- I'm not a big fan of private islands, but Princess Cays was lovely, and our day under the clam-shell relaxing.) Aruba and Curacao did not disappoint. They are gorgeous islands! We loved the history, unique arid climate, shopping, beach, and water excursions that both islands offered. I would not hesitate to cruise to either island again! In Curacao, we did a one hour ship-sponsored historical train trolley tour. In Aruba, we did a second ship-sponsored excursion, this time a sailing and snorkeling trip to a reef and the Antilla shipwreck. Both excursions were great, the staff friendly and professional.
The Caribbean Princess is a lovely ship. The public spaces on deck and inside were clean and well maintained. We did find the ship a bit annoying to navigate. There are several banks of elevators, but not every elevator accesses every floor. Also, you cannot walk from one of the ship to the other on several decks, so you have to plan your route with care. The cabin was adequate, and the extra large balcony divine. Service was unobtrusive and professional. Our fellow passengers, for the most part, were very kind, and we enjoyed dinner every night with fantastic table mates. However, my husband and I were not completely satisfied with the Princess product.
I know that food and drink is entirely subjective, but we found the majority of the food uninspiring and even bland. Several times at dinner I had to send back my entree because I was unable cut my steak, lamb chop, or veal (prepared medium to medium well). The texture tended toward the rubbery side. The pizza from Prego being the exception-- wow! Great pizza! We dined one night at Sabbatini's, and the food was fine, but nothing extraordinary. Mixed drinks seemed to be low on alcohol, high on mixers, so we ended up drinking mostly wine. Again, an exception were the martinis. The gin martinis were wonderful!
The staff and service were great. Activities planned on board were either not to our liking or highly desired by us but poorly planned by the staff. Moreover, the cruise director and his staff were not visible at all. I never saw them except for five minutes before an activity, where they'd swoop in, set up the microphone and then begin the activity. Afterwards, they quickly departed. Many of the evening activities were poorly planned. For example, the popular marriage/newlywed gameshow and mock-TV gameshows were held in smaller lounges or clubs and not on the mainstage, resulting in long lines, no seats, and/or no where to stand. We also found the majority of evening entertainment to be geared toward listening to music in the form of a solo act or an ensemble. The musicians were excellent, but there was not a lot of variety. We spent several nights in the casino at the tables, found the dealers to be friendly, and enjoyed the smoke-free nights that were offered.
The disembarkation procedure was initially off to a rocky start. My husband and I filled out our form on the requested night, requested self-disembarkation as early as possible, submitted the form at the passenger services desk as stipulated, and then were surprised to find on the penultimate night that we'd been assigned a 10:20am departure time! We were able to sort out the misunderstanding, and were re-assigned a 7:20am departure time. We were off the ship, through customs, back to the car, and on the road by 8:10am.
In summary, we had a relaxing week on board the ship, with several firsts for us, generally enjoying our week at sea and the islands we visited. It was enjoyable attending our first Cruise Critic meet and greet. We would not hesitate to cruise to Aruba and Curacao again. However, while we would cruise Princess again, I'm not sure it would be our first choice of cruise lines. We were looking forward to being impressed at the product that Princess offers, and left the trip with a more lackluster impression.