My partner and I decided to stay closer to home this summer. Airfares to Europe were significantly higher this year, so we chose to do a 14 day B2B, Western /Eastern Caribbean cruise. After reading many of the negative reviews we were a bit hesitant, but in our opinion the earlier reviews were way off base. This was my 27th cruise and my Partner's 28th and we are both (especially me) are quite fussy.
Embarkation was fast and easy. The Princess Representatives were courteous and efficient and we were onboard within 20 minutes. The ship, just out of dry dock, was fresh and beautifully decorated.
We went to our balcony cabin on the Lido deck which we booked for the 14 days. We met our new steward, Gabriel. He was wonderful throughout the entire cruise and took care of all of our requests.
Our next stop was Sabitini’s to make reservations for dinner. We usually make it for our least favorite night in the MDR. We had late seating in the Palm Dining Room (traditional dining), so we checked out our table which was by a window in the rear of the dining room – a perfect location. After lunch, we went back to our cabin and our luggage had already been delivered, so we unpacked and were set for the cruise. After Muster Drill, we met our fellow Cruise Critic members at the Outrigger Bar for a Sail Away Party.
We were fortunate to have a nice table for 8 (both weeks @ Table 99) in a good location with Zen as our Waiter and Rizal as our Assistant Waiter. They did an excellent job and were happy to bring you whatever you wanted. The food in the dining room was very good to excellent. They had Prime Rib, Medallions of Beef, Lobster Tails, Lamb Chop (mixed grill), as well as fish and chicken dishes etc. Don't miss out on the Goat Cheese Soufflé, Fettuccini Alfredo, Wild Mushroom Soup, or the Pasta with Fresh Clams (ask for extra clams in the shell). Also, the Head Waiter Rafael was fabulous. He stopped by our table every night and assisted the Waiters and Assistants and took care of any request we had.
If you are going to make a reservation for Crown Grill or Sabatini's, the specialty restaurants, do it as soon as you get onboard. We dined in Sabitini’s the first week. We were disappointed with the new menu, as well as the dishes. The menu was limited and really needed more substance and more authentic dishes of veal, eggplant, shellfish, etc. The menu was more show than substance. Recommended dishes would be the artichoke soufflé and the Veal Chop.
On the other hand, we dined in the Crown Grill during the second week and highly recommend it. The food was excellent, and the service was very good. In either venue ($25 cover charge), you can select whatever you like. In the Crown Grill we shared several appetizers, but the Spicy Shrimp with the Thai Chili Sauce was outstanding and we had the Scallop appetizer and a half portion of the mussel entree – both very good. My partner and I both had the Filet Mignon and added a lobster tail and did have most of the side dishes, which were properly portioned for two. I had a sampler dessert and my partner had a Molten Chocolate dessert – both excellent.
The buffet was generally good to very good, but at times crowded. The buffet area at the back was only open on sea days. It should be utilized more often, as it is used on the Ruby or Crown Princess. We never went away hungry; pizza and burgers at the outside grills were very good. On the last day of the cruise at lunchtime, the entire back buffet was filled with delicious desserts. Soft ice cream is available mid-deck.
We did not take the liquor package, though many did and appeared quite happy.
The production shows were adequate, but not exciting. The shows “Do You Wanna Dance,” “Caribbean Caliente,” and “Piano Man” tend to have musical numbers linked together with little rhyme or reason. Illusionist Landon Swank had a sluggish act, but we thoroughly enjoyed and were amazed by Mentalist Wayne Hoffman. Many activities took place in the Piazza --The Champagne Fountain, The Captain's Welcome Party, various entertainers throughout the day, etc. Cruise Director Lee Childers was unimpressive and less than sincere (to be kind) but his deputy, Duke, was friendly and visible. The Officers were not as visible and mingling with guests, as we always see on the Ruby Princess. Captain Heikki Laakkonen was at the helm and was a very nice young Captain.
There were several other venues for entertainment-- the Crooners Bar was a wonderful Martini Bar in a great location. One of our favorite bartenders, Jery, was there nightly. We have known Jery for several years and always enjoy seeing her.
The Skywalkers Disco was active every night though the music caters to the crowd that does not buy drinks. Princess has a policy that you can be 18 years of age to enter Skywalkers, but you cannot drink alcohol unless you are 21. In our opinion, this is sending the wrong signal (mixed message) to the kids and they need a different venue for that 18 to 20 age group. They dominated the music and the dance floor with Hip Hop (which turned off people in the 30-50 age demographic), and they were unable to purchase liquor to support Skywalkers. Many people who would buy a drink walked out. As we have said before, Princess should address this issue. They can place the 18 -20 year olds in the Fusion Lounge in the late evening and keep Skywalkers for the adult crowd who can purchase liquor.
At Skywalkers, our favorite bartender was Cyril. He did a wonderful job. Manager Franky entertained us at Elite Cocktail Hour with his ukulele. The waiters were warm and personable; all were sad to say goodbye on our last night. Other lounges had piano players and smaller ensembles, which was nice. We really enjoyed cocktail hour up in Skywalkers and then moved to Crooners before dinner.
Casino staff were also quite welcoming. Black Jack tables were busy and amounts to play were generally $5 - $10 per hand. They also had Three Card Poker, Caribbean Stud, Let It Ride, Dice, etc. I didn't win, but had fun losing. My partner enjoyed the slots, but didn't win either. Another favorite Bartender was at the Casino Bar, Joel. We’ve known Joel for several years on other Princess ships.
Princess Cay - Always a pleasant day at the beach with a nice barbecue.
Jamaica- This as our first visit to Jamaica and were pleasantly surprised at what a beautiful island it is. We did an excursion which included a chairlift ride through the canopy of a rain forest and Dunn’s River Falls. I climbed all except the last part; my partner chose to see it from the stairs. It is best to take a planned excursion. Going on your own can still be somewhat dangerous on this island.
Grand Cayman- We had planned to spend the day at the Royal Palm Beach Hotel on 7-mile beach, but decided to take a quiet stroll around town instead.
Cozumel- We did a fun catamaran excursion which included snorkeling and visit to a beautiful beach.
Ft .Lauderdale- As continuing guests, we had to disembark for about 30 minutes, go through customs and then we chose to return to the ship, as we live in S. FL.
Princess Cay- We had another great day at the beach.
St. Thomas - Our favorite shore excursion is to St. John for snorkeling at Trunk Bay. It was a scenic boat ride over and the water is the clearest in the Caribbean. We've tried all the other snorkeling excursions, but none compares with Trunk Bay.
Puerto Rico- We’ve been in San Juan many times but this time we decided to go to a rain forest. After a 30-minute van ride we arrived at El Yuque National Rain Forest. It was a good choice; very pleasant bus tour with some time for walking and exploring.
Grand Turk - We really love Margaritaville. It's big, there's always entertainment and contests going on. Best of all it's free. We bought frozen drinks at $10 each, but that’s O.K. Others went down the beach to Jack’s Shack which we’ve heard has fantastic Conch Fritters.
The service overall was very good to excellent. There were some wonderful standouts on the ship, as noted above, and they were rewarded accordingly, beyond the daily automatic tips.
Overall it was a wonderful trip and we highly recommend the Caribbean Princess. The layout of the ship is very good though appeared a bit smaller then the gem class ships. We were disappointed that more Cruise Critic members did not show up for the Sail Away parties. The first party was at the Outrigger Bar at the back of the ship. The second was at the Tradewinds overlooking the pool. It was very nice meeting all of the people that did turn out.
Debarkation was smooth and we were off the ship quickly and on to our 40 minute trip home. We look forward to a return to a Princess Cruise in the future.