I would say this has been the best vacation ever and look forward to cruising with Princess again.
Everything went very smoothly and quickly. We arrived at 11 AM, and were group 6 to board the ship at noon. I'd say we were on the ship about 12:10 am. Our first stop was the front desk to sign up for the Ultimate Ship Tour and to our stateroom to call and make reservations for Sabatini's restaurant as well as the Chef's table. We followed up by going to lunch in the Horizon Buffett, which was crowded, but this was the only day it was crowded. The other sit down restaurants would not be open until the evening.
We do recommend getting to port early and getting on board as quickly as you can. You'll be able to reserve dining as soon as you enter the ship and you will get lunch.
As American Express Platinum card holders booking via American Express Travel , one of the perks from this 450 dollar annual fee credit card is that you get a free night for all accompanying passengers at either the Crown Grill steakhouse or Sabatini's Italian Restaurant. We opted for Sabatini's. This would normally be $25 dollars extra per person, but AMEX pays for this, but oddly only for the first night of the cruise (I have heard -- but unconfirmed you can ask for a different night -- but at least I was told it's only guaranteed for the first night). The food was especially good! We really enjoyed our meal! I do regret not bringing more slacks as I felt dressed down wearing jeans, but no problem getting served. This is a very elegant establishment. American Express Platinum card holders cruising via AMEX travel also get a free bottle of champagne and a $25 dollar per person stateroom credit. The waiter asked us if we wanted to replace wine with the champagne, for which we would receive a $14 dollar credit and pay the difference for the wine. We accepted this idea as wine with fine Italian food was much more preferable (I never saw a 14 dollar bottle of champagne anywhere on the menu -- but I digress). We did run into our first of several problems as the promised credit never appeared on our billing statement. I did happen to catch that as we were charged full prince for our wine selection but the credit was nowhere to be found (thanks to the automated statement kiosks). I felt rather cheap having to stand in line and explain all this to the passenger service representative, but I did manage to later get the 14 dollar credit I was promised.
Cabin Room and Cabin Steward
We stayed in a balcony room, on the Caribe Deck 10. I think this was a nice area of the ship to be in. We had an excellent cabin steward, Arnel, who attended to our every need and always addressed us by name (amazing how he can do that for all his passengers, with a new bunch arriving every week). Arnel was sooo good, I nominated him for employee of the month as well as rewarded him with an additional gratuity over and above our daily billed amount.
We were very pleased at our room and all its amenities. We absolutely loved our balcony. The room represented great value. I can't find anything to nit-pick over the room.
All the dining was excellent -- all of it. We elected for our evening meal to have a set time with late seating. I recommend people do this over the anytime dining. We never had to wait for a seat. Just walked right to our table. Table 71 was 'ours' at 8:15 pm each night. Same table. Same wonderful waiters. Same excellent service. The food was awesome, plentiful, and delicious. I love how they will allow you to buy a bottle of wine and 'save' the bottle for the next night, saving you money. I also nominated our waiter, Katrina, for employee recognition and gave her and her assistants additional tips at the conclusion of our cruise.
We 'loved' all the shows. They were top rate. From the comedian (AJ Jamal) to the magician (Jonathan & Trisha Hawley) to the CP dancers. Cruise director, Neil Roberts and his staff were really great. Plenty of musicians , acrobats, and other entertainers. You could not get bored on this ship if you tried. We also really loved movies under the stars!
Well, I guess I enjoyed the casino. I would have liked it a whole lot more if I hadn't lost a lot of money there. But it was good. Smokey place -- even when they have selected smoke free days -- the smoke is in the air, but otherwise there are lots of machines and tables. Video Poker (pretty good odds) too, which is my favorite, but I seemed to have the worst luck this week. It is what it is.
(Disclaimer -- I believe this is as true as it is but may not be exactly precise -- and of course this could all change) Let me tell you about Blackjack -- now I think this is with all their blackjack games, but I played at a particular table called "Fun Blackjack". Fun Blackjack is really the same as regular blackjack, except they have a side bet to make a pair or something that people usually drop a dollar every hand. These are what people from Vegas affectionately call "sucker bets", so people who are gamblers and in the know -- know enough to stay away from these optional bets. But here's what is really interesting -- at least to me as a blackjack lover. Believe it or not, having lived not far from Atlantic City, New Jersey, spending time in Vegas, and playing in casinos all over the world, I may have found the very best odds for the player no place else other than onboard the Caribbean Princess (except perhaps one deck hand dealt blackjack in old town Vegas)
Here's why, first surrender is permitted. Surrender is not found in most places. So when a player has a hard 16 with the dealer showing a face card, most likely that hand is going to be a total loss to the player. Usually the player will hit a hard 16 and bust or if the player stays, usually the dealer will have a 17 or better. But if you surrender, you lose half the bet. I like those odds.
But wait! It gets even better; you actually win if you hit 21. No matter what, reach 21, you win! You don't push when both you and the dealer have a blackjack -- you win! And you win 3 to 2 payout (think time and a half overtime payout). Unbelievable! But you also get a blackjack payout if you make 21 with 5 or more cards! WOW! You win even money on 21 if you do it on three or four cards -- regardless if the dealer has 21 (or even blackjack!). There are also very favorable rules regarding splits. Finally, this one really shellshocks me. You can double down on your first two cards, but after doubling down, you have the option to surrender! Say what ? That's right. So any basic strategy BJ book will tell you to always double down on an eleven. You do that and score a two for a total of 13 (with the dealer having a face card showing). In just about every place, you just lost double your money. But you have the option to surrender! The dealer will wait for you to say "stay" or "surrender". So if my dumb luck gives me a 13, I'll just opt to lose my original bet rather than double my money. I am not a mathematician, but I know the odds have to be so favorable to the player.
But even player odds being super favorable to the player doesn't make one immune to bad luck. Playing at the best BJ table in all my life, I still managed to lose. When I would have 20, the dealer would have 21 -- this went on and on during my bad luck streak. Go figure. I do plan to save up a nice bankroll for the next cruise. Hey, I hit a royal flush on the Las Vegas strip recently, and they had some of the worst odds for the player -- so I guess all things are relative.
I liked the casino. Sometimes it would be crowded and other times it would be dead. They did have all kinds of contests and competitions that we never had time for on this cruise. Drinks are not free in the casino while gambling -- which is a bummer. Figured out later my ultimate drink sticker would work there however.
If you only listen to me on one thing, you MUST do this. You MUST.
There are about 3000 passengers on this ship, and only 10 people will get to do this. So your mission is to get on board as early as possible, proceed directly to your stateroom, call the dining reservations line, and make your reservation before you do ANYTHING ELSE. This will be all filled up after the first hour or so of the cruise.
The cost of this experience is $95 dollars per person, but friends, trust me, this is a bargain. Keep reading.
Once you get on the reserved list, you'll be invited to the chef's table and the invitation will be delivered to your stateroom. There is a meeting with all your fellow diners the day before with the matre'd who will go over some basic rules (you're not sick, you're not allergic to anything, etc) and explain what will happen. This is a three hour affair, so you should plan your excursion appropriately (this is way better than any excursion, trust me, plan to be back on ship with plenty of time to refresh yourself)
One this night, you will meet up again with the matre'd who will give all those attending a white coat, and you will be escorted to the galley. You pass by all the passengers in the dining room wondering just who are these VIPs coming through are! You will now go into the kitchen (galley) and see the interworking of the complex operation of serving three meals a day to three thousand passengers (and 1500 crew). You can take as many pictures as you want. Staff is happy to pose with you! You will get to meet the executive chef, the boss of the whole operation. Our chef was legendary Chef Antonio Cereda.
After our tour, we were escorted to the back part of the galley where a place was made for us to enjoy at least five different appetizers, including champagne and caviar. I must have had at least 3-4 glasses of champagne, my glass was never empty and friends, this wasn't the cheap stuff, and this was all included in the chef's table experience! I felt like I died and went to heaven!
After our appetizers, we were escorted back to the dining room to an especially prepared table. Chef Antonio Cereda himself personally served us a seven course meal. What I write just doesn't do what we experienced justice. Let me just say, it was the very best meal I ever ate. If I died tomorrow after eating such a meal, I'd die a happy man. That is how thrilled I am!
During our meal, we were indulged with at least different three wines from the wine steward. Again, the good stuff, and our glasses were constantly filled. We drank as much as we could possibly consume!
When it was all over, the chef presented each of the ladies a rose, each couple a cookbook of what was served at the meal, and complementary photos of us and the chef as well as a group photo. All for 95 dollars. I would have paid at least three times this -- at least -- because it's worth that and so much more! This was the highlight of our entire cruise.
Later during our cruise, we would see Chef Antonio Cereda in passing several times, and he would greet us like we were old friends. My wife was just enthralled by the chef. She would say -- "oh honey -- I just love the chef! I LOVE LOVE LOVE him!" He really is a wonderful person and a fantastic chef -- every meal on board the CP was fantastic -- but at the Chief's table -- even the chief outdone himself. Again, the greatest meal I ever had the pleasure of eating. WOW. Hope we get to do this again!
Ultimate Ship's Tour
Another in demand experience is the Ultimate Ship's Tour. Here you get a tour of some of the area's most passengers never get to see, including the medical center, engine room, and the bridge. But even though we painstakingly made reservations way in advance for this tour, the ball was dropped somehow and we missed out. I was pretty upset as I really wanted the comprehensive tour. We didn't get to do this, but the ship's hotel manager did try to make up for it and we did get a complementary tour of the bridge on the last day of our cruise. I was satisfied with the apology and the abbreviated tour (along with saving 300 dollars as the UST is 150 per person). The bridge tour was super. Fantastic view from that vantage point.
Ports of Call
I thought the excursions offered by Princess represented good value
Our first port of call is the private beach owned by Princess called Princess Cays in the Bahamas. We walked the beautiful beach enjoying the complimentary buffet consisting of hamburgers, hot dogs, ribs, and the like. Warning - this is only open from 11-1, so if you want a free meal ashore, be sure to plan your excursions accordingly. We opted to going kayaking, which is a bargain for 2 people for 30 minutes at 29 dollars. Please follow my advice people -- don't bring anything in the water that you don't want to get wet. We provided the beach goers ashore some free entertainment when our kayak capsized and everything in my wallet got wet (and ruined my wallet). Very luckily, my wife handed off her high speed camera to a passing boater to take our photo when we went into the water. So, I learned my lesson, use one of the lockers --(yeah pay 5 dollars for the privilege) before doing any kind of water activities. We were darn lucky she passed the camera off before taking our swim. I will say the water was warm for April.
We took the Distillery Tour, Hato Caves, and Museum tour. This was OK. We enjoyed it. We especially liked the caves. Tour was sort of rushed as our ship arrived late to port. Make sure you bring water for the tour. They were closed at the end of the tour and we were dying of thirst (they DID warn us to buy water before the tour -- which we did not follow -- so this is our fault). Incidentally, they do have someone selling small bottles of water when you get off the ship for 2.50 each (a little too high for water)
We elected horseback riding which was fantastic. I never rode a horse before, so I was able to cross this off my bucket list. It was a real treat. I had no problem. Staff was wonderful at the Ponderosa ranch. The ride was three hours, and we had a beautiful ride through the countryside and on the beach. Very nice. I will always remember.
Princess cruise line had a really good deal to transport us to the Miami airport. A taxi ride would be about $80 from Port Everglades to Miami Airport. But Princess charged us $24 dollars per passenger, which is very reasonable. The problems came when we were a bit delayed waiting in the dining room for about 40 minutes. Then, our bus did not take off for an additional 45 minutes. The bus' air conditioning was not working, so we just sat there roasting away. The bathroom on this bus was disgusting -- looked broke and looked as if it hadn't been cleaned in ages. The lock mechanism on the bathroom door was also broken. Finally, we had such a charming driver. He instructed us "you will stay in your seat while the bags are off loaded from the bus". I had a basic training flashback right then and there of the drill sergeants barking out orders to us new recruits when we arrived to the military reception center for basic training. Oh, at the end of Mr. Driver's tirade -- he said he would appreciate any tips. You have got to be kidding. He got nothing at all from me.
What I really liked about this cruise:
I really liked most of the staff. I liked the cabin stewards, waiters, assistant waiters, bar staff, entertainers, and security personnel. All were very nice, even when dealing with poorly behaved passengers.
I really liked the food. All the food. The snacks in the international cafe, the short order, the pizza, the buffet, room service, and of course, our evening dinner meal.
The entertainment was FIRST CLASS. Awesome job. We had a GREAT time!
The value of the cruise was great. We feel we got a lot of fond forever memories for a fair price. You can't put a price on that.
The shore excursions and our ports of call were fantastic.
When the front staff mishandled my ultimate tour reservation, management made amends for us. This is greatly appreciated and does not go unnoticed.
And of course, the Chef's table was the absolute best meal we ever had. Ever.
So this would have been a perfect cruise. So perfect in fact that it pains me to write what we didn't like, because, Princess Cruise Lines, you are so darn close to being completely perfect, you just have a few tweeks to iron out.
What we didn't like:
We didn't like that we didn't go on the Ultimate Ship Tour because of an employee error. All is forgiven as management saved the day for us and at least we still got to see the bridge (and saved 300). Still, I hope to see the engines and other 'restricted areas' of the ship sometime in the future.
We didn't like a plurality of our fellow passengers. The cruise line can't control this too much. I saw passengers cut in line, outright disrespect each other, just act nasty in general. My wife took time to hold a door for an old lady who took her time moving. She didn't even acknowledge that my wife was going out of her way to be nice. My wife's kindness was repaid with a nasty scowl. This just drives me crazy. So people reading this review, if your only happiness in life comes from being miserable, please do the rest of us a favor and do NOT cruise. Miserableness is contagious. The passengers are miserable to the crew, and the crew becomes miserable to other kind passengers, and soon we have a miserable ship. Don't be a butt hole , ok? Don't cut in line ( I witnessed one passenger actually mouthed off to the chief of ship security when he tried to stop him from cutting in line when entering a tender boat, who sort of lost his cool and threated to bring passenger in front of the Captain). Also -- buttholes were reserving seats on deck and I didn't see enforcement of the 15 minute rule.
The disembarkation and especially the transfer that Princess arranged for us.
And finally, the unfriendly future cruise consultant. I don't mean to nit-pick on my review, we had an awesome time overall. In fact, this vacation was near perfect. So many people going the extra mile, clearly showing they were dedicated to putting passengers first and helping us all achieve a wonderful vacation. But then you run into someone that just takes the wind out of the sails of the entire operation. That person was the future cruise consultant.
So here's what happened. On day 3 of our 7 day cruise, after a wonderful performance in the theater, the cruise director told us all about the future cruise program, and how we could buy as many future cruise deposits as we wanted. Already sold on cruising with Princess again, we wanted to bring our three youngest children along next time. Without getting too personnel, I am serving alone without my wife and children in a dangerous part of the world. This cruise was on my break to spend some much need private time with my wife. We're planning an even bigger family vacation in November.
So, having heard the information from cruise director Neil Roberts, we rushed right to the future cruise office, filled out the form requesting deposits for the five us , and dropped our form in the drop box.
I never heard anything further about my deposit form. Surely I thought I'd get something delivered to my stateroom -- a receipt or such. Or I figured if there was a problem, they would call me and leave a message. I heard nothing. Having had a prior bad experience with a missed reservation for the ultimate ship tour, I did not want any more balls to be dropped. On the last day of the cruise, I went to see the future cruise consultant personally during his limited office hours.
This person was not particularly friendly. Remember, I dropped off my form on day 3 and this was now day 7. My form sat in a pile for four days with no attempt by anyone to contact me that there was a problem with what I was asking.
There was no apology with having my request sit there with no action taken.
"Oh, right -- yes, you asked for five deposits -- who are the five people?" asked the future cruise consultant .
"Myself, My wife and three children" I replied.
"Are your children with you?"
"No , not on this cruise." "
"Well, sorry, they don't qualify". "They also don't qualify because the future cruise doesn't apply to third/fourth berth passengers, and even if you got them a separate cabin, they have to be able to hold a credit card" (I still don't understand this).
I protested -- saying these are my young little girls.
"Unfortunately, the rules are the rules". "Do you want to do the two deposits for you and your wife?"
I was tempted to exit then and there, but I knew these deposits are fully refundable -- so I went ahead and just did two.
Incredible through -- I went from -- definitely will cruise again with princess to probably will (I was actually de-sold by the person who there to promote future cruising). This man made no effort to sell to me. I would expect a future cruise consultant to at least be like -- Welcome ! Welcome Mr. F, you say you want to cruise with your family? What a wonderful idea! Cruising with Princess is one of the most affordable ways for a family to enjoy a vacation. While you don't qualify for the future despots, let me show you just how affordable cruising with Princess can be. Instead of -- No No No , you can't do that! The rules are the rules. It's all there in the fine print. Is there anything else you need? Why are you bothering me? (ok, I made the last one up, but that's the way I felt his demeanor was when meeting with him in his office).
Princess may want to rethink its rules regarding buying deposits for immediate family members not cruising. The kids were in school -- this was just time for mom and dad to do our third honeymoon. We want to give princess our business! Princess does so many other things so nice. I am retired military, and Princess is one (if not the only one) cruise line that gives military a free $100 credit per seven day cruise (on top of whatever else you get). It's a wonderful gesture -- make me proud to have served. Why the future cruise deposits have so many rules is beyond me.
Overall -- a great cruise. Despite a few setbacks, we're looking forward to cruising with Princess again.