Background: Last year, my hubby’s 40th passed virtually unnoticed. In the 2 months before, we’d lost my Dad to a terminal illness, moved into a new home we were sharing with my mother, and done a lot of additions to our part of the house. So, we just didn’t get to do anything spectacular for his. But, he’d done so much for me on my 40th. So, I was determined to make his 41st rock. I booked the cruise in August as a surprise. Prepaid all the stuff I could, including booking the excursions and everything. He had no idea. I finally told him on Christmas, so he’d have a little bit to prepare. He was blown away and super-excited.
We flew in a night before the cruise. Since I had a gift card I won for a Best Western, we stayed at the Best Western Plus Fort Lauderdale South/Airport. It had iffy reviews, but we are not very picky. We were VERY pleasantly surprised! We got a King room, and it was huge, super-clean and very well-appointed! It had a mini-fridge, microwave and coffee maker. The bathroom included a Jacuzzi tub, giant rainfall shower from the center of the ceiling and a very nice vessel sink. The room itself had a desk with an ergo chair, a nice sofa, a huge king bed and a mountain of pillows. Across a rather busy 4 lane (but still easy to cross) was Las Vegas, a Cuban restaurant. Out of this world good food! The next morning, we did the breakfast buffet (included). It was pretty good, and they had plenty of seating. Lots of folks we waiting for the cruise port shuttles, and it was chaos. Not the hotel’s fault. They’d be calling out people’s room numbers, and no one would answer. They’d go up to each group and inevitably, they’d be standing there with no clue, because they weren’t listening. I felt so sorry for the poor man running the shuttles. They were $11 per person. We called Yellow Cab Broward, gave them our location and my cell number. They sent me a text as to what cab number was coming for us, and a followup text as he was pulling up. $22 from there to the port for me and my husband. So, same price as the shuttle and we didn’t have to put up with a bunch of waiting and other people. Total win!
In line, thru the scanners, thru check-in and on to the ship and to our rooms in less than 30 minutes (we got there at about 12:10). I am absolutely AMAZED at how quickly, efficiently and friendly the boarding/embarkation process is with Princess. They have it down to a fine art. Other companies and ports could learn a lot. We did carry-ons only, so no waiting on luggage. Us and all our goodies just strolled on board. We dropped our bags, checked out our room and called to make dinner reservations for the week. We got Sabatini’s for DH’s birthday (Sunday) and Crown Grill for Valentine’s Day (Friday). It’s a good thing we did this quickly, as by Sunday night, neither place had any reservations left open for Valentine’s! Then, we took off to explore the ship!
A note about the cabin. We were in L105, which is a plain old inside cabin at the very, very front of the ship. It’s sideways at the end of the Thermal Suite and has no cabins that share walls. It was WONDERFUL!!! After looking at other inside cabins, I’m pretty sure it’s a little bigger. Never heard any noise from the gym above. The only complaint we could possibly have made was an odd, little mechanical sound. It reminded me of hydraulics. It’d go for about 15 seconds, then nothing for a minute or two. It didn’t bother us at all, as we use a white noise app on our phone to keep us from hearing ambient noises at home, and bring it with us when we travel. But, just a warning for those with very good hearing, it might bug you! Another plus to this room is that there is a tiny, unmarked hallway just in front of the room that goes out to a small deck on top of the bridge. It’s closed a lot, but when it is open, it’s a great place for pictures of the ports, etc. Also, having the pools, grill, a couple of bars, etc just down the hall is great! Our cabin steward was Ismael and he was a delight. Super friendly and fixed anything the second we mentioned it. He was just a gem!
That afternoon, after the muster drill we met up with our cruise critic group at Outriggers on the aft for sailaway. It was so nice to have faces to go with the names! We also had a “formal” get together later in the cruise. But, this one had mardi gras beads (Thanks, Tom!), umbrella drinks and a lot of laughter. You can’t beat that!
Hubby and I are not big on the main dining room, so we didn’t utilize it at all this cruise. We either hit the buffet, the pizza place (holy cow, the pizza is as good as everyone says. I was so sad to leave the pizza behind!!!), the specialty restaurants, or the International Café. This worked out great for us, as the food was truly good in all the venues. More on the specialty spots later.
We had a GREAT surprise when we got back to our room. Our travel agent had sent us a gift! A soda and more package for me and a coffee card for DH. Believe me, we wore those things out! I cannot drink alcohol, so the mocktails were a GREAT gift! My favorite was the Key West cooler, followed closely by the Nojito! Yum! DH fell in love with the white chocolate mochas. They knew us quite well in the IC.
That night, we went to see several concerts at the Movies Under the Stars, which we loved. I know a lot of folks have complained that it’s too loud, but it never seemed that way to me, and I’m not someone to blare the TV at home. It was just a comfortable volume to me, and I was always able to easily converse with someone when it was on. I also loved the popcorn. That and the blanket just made it the ultimate lazy experience.
Our first “real” day was Princess Cays, and also DH’s 41st birthday. I got him this cruise as a surprise and to say the least, I got some major good-wife-points! He had a blast! I think this was his favorite or 2nd favorite day. He’s been wanting to try a stand-up paddleboard, so I’d pre-reserved him one. He loved it. Paddled all around for about 45 minutes, I think. I see one of those being purchased for home soon! We also got a 2 person kayak. It was my first time kayaking, but hubby does it all the time, so he paddled most of the time while I was geeking out and taking pictures (BTW, if you are an iPhone user, I cannot say enough how awesome our LifeProof case was. We used the phone to take underwater pictures without a hitch. AWESOME). We then paddled back in, and hung out in our clamshell for a while, then had some of the BBQ (I seriously think I ate the equivalent of an entire chicken. That was the best roasted chicken I’ve had in ages. Between that and the fresh pineapple… I was in heaven). We headed back at about 2, with the ship leaving at about 4pm. I’d used spray sunscreen before going on shore and reapplied a couple of times. When we got home I did some research and have found that many have the same issue with it that I did. As in… it didn’t work AT ALL. I looked like a lobster. I had been SO careful, because I know I am fair skinned. Sigh. Oh, well. I spent the rest of the cruise glopping on aloe gel and moisturizers. It helped a lot, but was really frustrating to have done the right thing and not gotten the right results.
A hint on Princess Cays. As you exit the tenders, to your left is the water sports rentals, the musicians, kids area, lots of shops and the Cabanas. Dead ahead and lockers and bathrooms. To the right, over a bridge and around is an area that has the loungers, clamshells and another roped off swimming area. It is MUCH less crowded. For the first 2 hours there, I had a whole corner of that beach to myself, while DH went paddle boarding and such. It’s a little harder to hear the band, but other than that, it’s a great area! It has a BBQ area and bathrooms and a bar of its own, so you aren’t really missing anything on that side besides noise and crowds!
Back on ship, it was Sabatini’s time! I know everyone seems to prefer Crown Grill, but honestly… I liked Sabatini’s best! We had a lovely waiter. I got a bisque soup for my appetizer and hubby got the calamari. I loved my soup, but his calamari was perfect. Needless to say, I may have snuck a couple of bites. We got the Lobster Trio (or something like that, I forgot to take a picture of the menu), and it was amazing. Earlier, we’d gotten a card in our room wishing DH a happy birthday and telling him to present the card in the dining room and he’d get a special dessert. I made sure to snag it and take it with us. The dessert was WONDERFUL. After us demolishing it, they brought us 2 more (our regular desserts that we’d already ordered). I felt like a big, fat tick. But, a happy tick! On our stateroom door, they had a Happy Birthday sign for DH. Also 2 birthday cards from the staff. I was amazed, as we mostly have cruised Royal Caribbean and you have to pay for door decorations and such. Pretty neat! I was smart and bought him a gorgeous birthday card and valentine before I left, so I could give them to him on the ship. And, forgot to pack them. Oh, well. I gave him a post-it note. Good enough, right?!
Next day was a sea day. We slept in, then had breakfast at the buffet. I found that Princess has great bacon and smoked fish. So, every day I pretty much had the carnivore platter for breakfast! For lunch, it was Pub Lunch day! I love the wheelhouse bar, because the décor is so nautical, and the room itself has a cozy feel. The meal was great. We both got fish and chips and mushy peas. Yum! I ate every bite! They had British beers featured, but could get you anything. I had my usual Key West Cooler and I think DH had a Boddington’s. Get there early! We did and got a table straight off, but folks were waiting by the time we left! We went the 2nd day they had this, and it was even more crowded! But, still worth it. The menu changes, so it was nice to try something different. The second time, hubby got the curry and I got the shrimp. Again, they were both wonderful. Oh, and get the bread pudding. Oh. My Goodness!!!
That same day we had our Meet and Greet with our fellow CC members in Skywalkers. Great views of the ocean from up there. Just so happened the ballroom dancers were giving lessons and we got to talk to the male dancer, Noel. Turns out he is from Virginia and we had a great time talking to him. We had a bartender running drinks for us and we hung out for probably a couple of hours. Tom of the mardi gras beads also had us custom name tags made. We were quite fancy, I must say! I can’t stress how much enjoyment I have gotten from the roll call groups thru the years. You can meet some amazing people and I always think it contributes so much to my “fun” on the cruise.
Curacao was our next port, and we had SUCH a great time. First off, let me tip my hat to Curacao’s port for doing the most wonderful thing I have ever seen. They have a little EZ-UP tent cover that is roped off and all the “tour hawkers” have to stay under that. They can’t come out, they can’t sell from anywhere else. So, you can walk right past them un-harassed, or if you’re looking for a tour, you know right where to go. It was wonderful!!!! We had a tour that left about 2:30 and we’d gotten off the ship at about 1:40, so we just hung around the little group of shops on the pier and had a drink at the bar there. The lady at the bar was a hoot! She was cutting up with everyone and we just had a blast talking to her. DH has started a small collection of old license plates in his shop. He gets them whenever we go to a different country. Apparently, this is becoming a thing, as the shops there had one! So, for $3, he was a happy boy!
At 2:30, we met up with our ATV buggy group. We’d booked thru the ship, but the group that does the tour is Curacao Buggy Adventures aka Scooby’s Tours. They were great. They had 2 vans to get us to the site. We got to cross the tallest bridge in the Caribbean on our way. The driver told us a lot about the areas we were driving thru. We met up with the actual ATV guys, signed the usual waivers, let them gander at our drivers licenses and away we went. The crazy thing is, the ATVs are also street legal, so here we are on Razr Buggies, tearing down the roads. The guide that brought up the rear would zoom ahead to intersections and block them so we didn’t get separated. Locals were very friendly waving and smiling. There is a LOT of restoration of the old houses going on. Nice to see! We got to the actual ATV trails and they signaled us to put our goggles on. Thankfully, they provided those. It kicked up a ton of dust and sand. Next time I’ll know to bring a bandana to cover my mouth, too! I think I swallowed/inhaled a lot of Curacao! The trails were a blast, and the guides did not baby us! It was pedal to the metal and we loved it. You wind up popping off the trail to a beautiful stretch of ocean with a blow-hole. You also wind up skirting some gorgeous shoreline, and even hiking up to a small cave that spits out out on top of a cliff with amazing views. The guides were really great to make sure we all go pictures. I can’t say enough wonderful about these guys!!! The tour ended at an ostrich farm that was pretty much a let-down. They had a handful of rough-looking ostriches, a tapir-looking animal, and some really mean geese. One bit me, but I’ve fought with geese before, so I won that round. We loaded back up in the vans and they dropped us off right across from the pier. I knew we had gotten dirty, but when they handed us the little cool, moist cloth, I wiped my face and came back with pure mud on it! Ick! But, again, totally worth it! We had planned to go into the shopping district, but had played a little too hard, so we stayed onboard after showering and just took a nap!
Later, as we were leaving Curacao, the Ultimate Deck Party started up. I’m not much of a disco-dance-club kind of girl. But, this was a blast. The Cruise Director and all her staff went all out. They were getting people involved with dancing (even doing the zombie dance from Thriller, much to my amusement). I even got out there and did the YMCA. Although, I think I made my C backwards. I at least tried! When they threw all the streamers, it was beautiful! We stayed there and listened to the band and watched everyone dance for hours. Finally, I wimped out and we went to bed. I slept like a stone that night. Major excitement!
Aruba came early the next morning, but for some reason we woke up early! So, it worked out well. We hadn’t really found an excursion that suited us, so we declared it to be our shopping day! And, shop we did! I wound up with a Pandora bracelet (I had one that got stolen when our house was robbed several years ago, so it was nice to get around to replacing that) and some great charms, and DH wound up with a great deal on a Skagen watch. We also ate lunch near the Renaissance Aruba resort and casino at Hung Paradise. Quit giggling kids! Despite the name, it was wonderful. Some of the best Chinese food I have ever had. Their hot and sour soup is different than I’ve ever had and I could have eaten a vat of it all on my own. We sat outside and had the perfect ocean breeze. Down from there was a sidewalk that ran along the beach. It was covered with iguanas, so of course we had to take pictures. They were very obliging and posed. We followed the sidewalk down to the Renaissance Aruba Resort and Casino’s wonderful lagoon. Took some really great pictures of our ship from there. We popped in and out of a ton of shops, stopped for Gelato and drinks. Just pretty much killed the day in a great way. Much like Curacao, we didn’t have anyone approaching us to hawk t-shirts or tours every 3 minutes. I loved that! Much more relaxing!
Day 6 & 7:
Next began our 2 sea days. We made the best of that “come back new” by sleeping in, taking naps, munching on pizza and in general being very lazy and useless. We made frequent use of MUTS. Watching Gravity, Thor: The Dark World, the 2nd Hunger Game movie, Last Vegas and a ton of concerts. I’m fairly certain they sprinkle an addictive substance on the popcorn they hand out. Oh, my… that’s some good stuff!!! We attended several trivia sessions and did terribly, but had fun. We went to several shows (a bit more on shows later). We spent a lot of time hanging out the International Café, as hubby got his coffees, I got my mocktails, we both noshed on desserts and gelato and sandwiches AND we got to watch whatever was going on in the Piazza. Such fun. They had everything from the Ballroom Dancers (they were lovely), to line dancing classes, a passenger/crew fashion show, fruit carving demos, and great music. We also hit Vines a couple of times for Sushi and wine. It’s a very nice area, but I don’t think a lot of folks understand what they do in there, so very underutilized. I hate to see that, as the staff were so friendly, and really enjoyed talking to us (as did we, they were delightful). We never saw more than about 2 people in there.
On our first night on the ship, I mentioned the Ultimate Ship Tour to the husband. I didn’t even think about it before that. We ran to sign him up (he’s all about mechanical things), but he got wait-listed. They got enough to do two tours, so on Thursday he got to go. He was gone for ages. I slept in, then went and ate, then sat in the Piazza reading on my Kindle. During that time, he apparently went to every single place on the ship and talked to every single crew member. In other words, he had a blast. I was a little amazed at the price ($150 per person), but had no idea about everything they “give” you for that price. He got the suite robe ($90 in the gift shop) an apron, personalized stationery, a beautiful photo frame, a ton of pictures, including one with the Captain, which was so nice as it was his last cruise as Captain! If you are a mechanical person or just want to know how the cruise ship works, he says GO!
Our last Sea Day was Valentine’s Day. They had a wonderful surprise planned for everyone that was announced in the Patter… a group renewal of vows! They had it in the Piazza. The CD and her staff did such a great job on this. They handed out nice certificates to everyone. Veils for the ladies with I do embroidered all on the back of them, and bow ties for the gentlemen. There was a beautiful song, the ballroom dancers performed, scripture read and then the Captain did a beautiful ceremony. Then, the balloon drop when we finally got to smooch our sweeties! I also have to give Princess a huge thanks for the way they worded the Ceremony. They included the word “partner” in addition to husband and wife. Very nice way to keep from excluding anyone. It was nice! Naturally, we had our vows renewed, and I cried, and hubby smiled at me crying. It was lovely. And, no extra charge! Yay for love!
Then, we headed to Crown Grill. It was a great meal, but as I said, I did prefer Sabatini’s. I must say, though, I am blessed with a hubby who can grill a hunk of cow that will make you cry tears of joy. So, my bar for excellent steaks is pretty high. And, I live in TN, so great seafood is a little scarce, and we did the seafood at Sabatini’s. That being said… the NY strip I got at Crown Grill was wonderful. Juicy, tender and perfectly cooked to my order. I enjoyed the different salts you can choose from, and used a little each on different bites. The creamed spinach was so good! I also really enjoyed the bisque for my soup. We were so completely full, but managed to get the dessert sampler. The lemon meringue was my favorite. Good stuff!
We had intentions of going to the new production show in the theater, but by about 8pm, husband’s little cough had turned into a big cough. We figure it’s probably from all the dust he inhaled in Curacao, but regardless, he was feeling rough. So, we actually returned to the cabin and just lazed around the remainder of the evening. Of course, we had to pack. Ick. That’s always the worst part. It means you really are going home! Boo! Hiss!
We had an early flight, by cruise standards, at 10:30am. So, we did self-disembark. We left the cabin with our 2 carry ons and a tote bag. We had a last white chocolate latte for him and a fare well Key West Cooler for me and a couple of muffins from the International Café. Then, on to the Dining Room to await clearance. At about 7:30, they told us to head out. We walked straight off, thru customs, and to the taxi line. We were outside the building before 8am! Very quick. There weren’t a lot of taxis, which sort of made my heart jump. But, within just a couple of minutes, a full-on herd pulled up! We were to the airport by 8:30, quickly thru the hoops and awaiting our flight by 8:45.
Bits and Pieces:
Entertainment: This ship has everything! We truly couldn’t manage to do it all. We somehow managed to miss all the production shows, which is very unlike us. I love music of any kind, so we caught the bands on the pool decks, we saw Tom Franek every chance we got (he actually got to play in the main theater one night and it was lovely, not having to fight for a seat or attempt to hear over the folks chatting LOUDLY at the bar. Crown Princess, please take note and have this guy in a good venue every night! Crooners is great, but WAY too small for the crowd he attracts). We also saw the “Almost Elton” show. He didn’t sound that much like Elton, but was close enough in appearance and in action that it was still a good show. The magician/comedian was absolutely hysterical. I am so mad that I can’t remember his name! I knew I should have saved my patters! The Marriage Match was funny, as those type always are. The Piazza was one of my favorite places for entertainment, surprisingly enough. Line dancing lessons, cha-cha lessons, a fashion show, a pianist, a reggae-type band, ballroom dancers and so much more. Grabbing a seat there and enjoying a drink always seemed to have a good end result, as something would start, and we’d stay to watch.
Internet: We got the smallest internet package. If you purchase before you sail, they waive the $3.95 fee. We had almost 60 minutes left at the end of the cruise. I’d compose my emails on my iPhone in airplane mode, and just turn it on long enough to send and receive the emails, then turn it back off. We were vacationing to get away from it all, so I didn’t check often! The Internet Café was good to let you know if they were having more trouble than usual with signal. If they were, you better wait. You’d never get logged on. But, for satellite internet, it was quick.
OnBoard Shops: We aren’t that into shopping onboard, but naturally I realized I’d forgotten face wash and lip gloss, so we bought some Clinique the first day. VERY reasonable prices. About what I pay at home. Then, when I got sunburned, we had to buy aloe and some better sunscreen. A little steep, but I’ve seen worse at beaches in SC and NC, so I couldn’t complain. No one was pushy, and even though there were sales tables outside the shops, I never felt too crowded or “pushed.”
Princess versus Royal Caribbean. Most of our cruises have been on RC up until now. I was very impressed that so many things are included with Princess that are extra on RC. For example, those stunning desserts in the International Café. The door decorations on hubby’s birthday. I was also much more impressed with the food on Princess. The service was also more top-notch. Would I cruise RC in the future anyway? Of course. They’re good in their own way, too. I just have to say that, to me, Princess feels like a step above. Could also be that I’m getting older (ugh) and have no interest in rock climbing walls or wave surfing on-board and definitely prefer ships with fewer kids.
Kids: There were very few onboard, no rowdy ones that we saw.
Pools: We aren’t pool folks, but you could tell the chair hogs were in full force. At least half the chairs were just towel covered and unoccupied with maybe 10 people in the pool at the time.