Although it was a fairly enjoyable cruise, there are some things to point out about the state of the Cariibbean Princess and the demoralized state of some of the crew.
Boarding the Caribbean Princess at the Fort Lauderdale was a chaotic, zoo-like experience. As more people arrived, the more frustrated and short-tempered the security staff were as people were going through the security check .Things calmed down once we reached the check-in area to get our cruise cards made. After that, we proceeded upwards to another floor to board the cruise ship. Upon entry into the Caribbean Princess, our head shot photos were taken.
The ships offers multiple shops selling clothing, jewelry, and other souvenirs. There's even a shop that sells all items at $10. By the open part of the Piazza area on deck 7 are daily sales of merchandise (handbags and watches just to name two) so no need to buy stuff on the first few days unless absolutely needed.
The space for the gym was roomy, filled with weight training and cardio equipment. There are also yoga mats and those bosu half-balls. Group classes are offered for a surcharge, which included yoga, TRX, and spinning.
There are four pools on the ship, which were all being used leisurely by the passengers so they weren't crowded at all during the cruise.
There were plenty of activities to keep passengers entertained while on board but the Princess Patter daily schedule would list most of them unhosted, meaning that it was up to the passengers to coordinate the event during the time period. Also, not every day featured a Bill W. Meeting, which would have been difficult for anyone who was a recovering alcoholic on board in an environment where alcohol runs freely.
There was even a 5-kilometer fundraising walk/run outside around deck 7 one day. A donation of $15 or more will even get you a free cap. On a ship of about 3,000 passengers. Only about 30 people showed up
to support the cause. Even the hosts didn't stick around, which was both sad and disconcerting (what if someone had fallen ill during the event?).
Cruise Director & Staff
Lee is the Cruise Director. What I would have appreciated would have been more personal interactions with him. I don't know how Lee is as a boss but his staff of Ian, Bianca, Tom, and one other person (whose name I can't recall) appear demoralized and disinterested, applying only the minimum effort. Ian mentioned that the karaoke song list is 5 years old meaning that songs up for singing had to have come out in 2009 or before. Bianca was hesitant with one of the karaoke song binders because it was broken. I guess she had mentioned it to whoever manages the office supplies but no one was willing to pay a buck or two to get a new binder!
I had an issue with my registered credit card at the start of the cruise. I managed to change it to another one of my cards but a step was forgotten, which resulted in a letter the next morning saying that my account was suspended. I had to return again to get that resolved, wasting my time. One good thing I did find near the front desk was a self-serve terminal where swiping your cruise card will generate a folio printout of all your charges incurred to date. There are 2 terminals like these. One is in a very obvious location while the other is kind of hidden away to the side.
There is an on board casino, and like other cruise ships, it is known as a voluntary donation center. Tables games such as blackjack, roulette, and craps are offered in addition to slot machines. Bingo and slot tournaments are held mostly during at sea days. If playing Bingo, play only on the final day as the jackpot is the highest on that day with the best value being the $40 pack of cards. Also, be sure to bring a bingo marker with you otherwise there's another $1.50 charge to you if you buy one. The slot tournaments are priced at $20, and multiple chances can be purchased if you wish. The grand prize for the slot tournament is only $500.
Although photos are available for every opportunity such as ports of call and dining, be sure you are proactive and flag down a photographer if you wish to have photos each and every time. There were plenty of stops where we did not realize they were taking photos of passengers and would have liked to have known of photo opportunities. 8 X 10 photo prints started at $19.99.
As we had to check-in 2 bottles of alcohol bought from a port of call, we were utterly shocked to see only one of them delivered to our room the day before disembarkation. I had to go to Customer Service on deck 6 to resolve the issue. Miraculously, after describing my missing bottle, the customer service agent went to the pile of untagged bottles and brought it out to me.
When we initially checked in the alcohol, the people checking them it didn't leave me with a sense of confidence. They seemed untrained on how to tag bottles properly which resulted in this mess for me and I'm sure for a lot of other who did the same thing. There are some alcohol shops at the ports of which deliver to the ship. Be sure to take advantage of this service as I notice they are tagged very clearly in secure boxes preventing this sort of missing bottle mishaps.
Drinkwise, the cocktails on the menu were enjoyable. However, note that there is automatically a 15% gratuity tacked on to the final cost. The bill presented to you for signature will also say Gratuity on it so if you happen to fill that section out, the server is getting 2 tips for your drink.
24-hour food service is available at the International Cafe counter, located on deck 5 of the Piazza atrium. The Neptune pool deck area on deck 15 offers separate pizza, burger grill, and ice cream counters on one level. The pizza was terrific, freshly made in front of you and baked to perfection. I also liked the fact that fresh pizza was available between 11 AM to 11 PM.
Also on Deck 15 are the Horizon Court and Cafe Caribe food areas. Horizon Court offers plenty of breakfast choices in the morning whereas Cafe Caribe is more like a continental breakfast but did offer
scrambled eggs and bacon. Be prepared to be disappointed by the rotating toaster for your bread and english muffins in Cafe Caribe, it is already set rather high but winds up hardly toasting whatever you put in there. Don't bother running it through twice as it hardly made a difference.
Sitting by at either Horizon Court and Cafe Caribe beings the server who offers orange juice and coffee in the mornings. Some servers were more on the ball than others.
The main dining rooms are called the Coral, Island and Palm, with Palm reserved for specific seating times. As we were a group of seven, we did not have to wait to get a table, remarkably. We did see
some couples at the entrance patiently waiting to be called. The ship's Maitre D', Mario Propato, was cordial but he also look very tired with a weathered face. He is nothing like his photos that I
received in preview e-mails prior to the cruise. Like the cruise director's staff, he too looked demoralized. The wait staff does offer some additional drinks at dessert time. I took an Irish coffee on night,
which apparently rewards the wait staff for each sale like this.
Skywalker's on the highest part on the back of the ship is the only late night option on the ship, which is designed like a small night club. It appears to cater to young adults. I would have liked other late night options as well.
Ports of Call
Princess Cays is a port of call requiring tender transportation using the ship's life boats. Each tender can take just over 100 people at a time and we saw 3 in use when everyone was returning at the end of the day. It's a short ride but be warned it can also be a very wavy ride in a small boat. There wasn't much to do on Princess Cays, it's an opportunity for beach activities. The food offered on Princess Cays
is part of the cruise at no extra cost but it is nothing more than simple barbecue fare.
St. Thomas, USVI requires either paying $4 for a pick-up truck ride to town (Charlotte Amalie) or walking 20 minutes on foot. Our party chose to walk as it wasn't too hot. Be sure to have a government-issued photo ID BEFORE you leave the ship at this port. They were very stringent in verifying your identity here.
San Juan, Puerto Rico was a nice town to visit, especially the national historic site. There is a CVS pharmacy near the port where we were able to get a lot of stuff we needed.
Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos is similar to Princess Cays, it's a port more devoted to the day at the beach and some shopping. There is a Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville here, which even has the challenge of eating
a 4 patty cheeseburger in 15 minutes of less for free.
State of Ship
On our last day, which was at sea, there was an announcement that we'd arrive back at Fort Lauderdale 6 hours earlier than scheduled. This was due to the need for some emergency maintenance. I was not surprised after seeing things like one panoramic elevator out of order all week, leaking plumbing with water gushing down from the ceiling of the Coral dining room, and deck closed signs regularly due to welding.
Getting to the Island dining room for our disembarkation from deck 14 to deck 5 was a true challenge. We made to deck 6 via elevators but the wait to go one more flight was too long that we had to carry our luggage down using the stairs. We had luggage as we chose the express disembarkation option as we had to get to the airport in a hurry for out flight back.
The Caribbean Princess is not a terrible ship but what concerns me the most is the state of the ship and the morale of the staff. Keep that in mind if you choose to take a cruise on this ship.