This was our 5th cruise. Previously we have cruised three times with Royal Caribbean (loved all three) and once with Norwegian (decided we were not their target audience). We were celebrating our 20th anniversary, and had talked another couple into joining us for the trip.
Initially I was concerned by the number of online reviews complaining about staffing and the run-down atmosphere of the ship, but my fears turned out to be baseless. The ship is clean and glistens. There is a constant hum of staff polishing and shining! All of the staff is outstanding and will go out of their way to help you. We could not have been more pleased with Princess cruises, and the Caribbean Princess. Here is a not too complete impression of our experience.
Fort Lauderdale and Embarkation:
We booked rooms at the Hyatt Regency Pier 66. Originally I was panning on the Hilton Marina, however I stumbled on a great rate at the Hyatt. Most reviews seem unhappy with the pool view rooms, but we found our room to be clean, and well appointed. our was a king room, with sliders to a sitting area adjacent to the pool. we did not use the pool, or the sitting area as we had plans that evening, but the amenities in the pool area would appeal to many families. We saw volleyball and badminton set up, as well as soccer goals and bocce. lots of activities if you come in early for your cruise. I will say the tree frogs were almost deafening! but we have them here in NC, so eventually I managed to tune them out.
We met local friends for drinks and dinner just over the bridge at Bimini Boat House. Everyone loved the menu, however if you are not a seafood lover, you may want to choose another restaurant. I am allergic to fish and shellfish, so there was only one non-seafood appetizer option, and the usual choice of steak or roast chicken. But the company was excellent, and too soon the evening was over.
Port Everglades was a let down after previously sailing out of Miami. I am hoping that Princess will be investing in their facilities at Port Everglades. Essentially you are in a giant warehouse, following queue after queue, no atmosphere or amenities to be found. I did my best to keep my spirits up, since I knew what waited at the end of the lines. We were dropped off at 11:30, and were on the ship by 1:30, much longer wait times than experienced with RCCL or NCL. However, we were able to immediately drop off our bags in our cabin, and head to the Lido deck.
Ports of Call:
We had decided not to book excursions. Rather we planned to hop a taxi to a local beach in St. Thomas and Grand Turk. In San Juan we were planning on walking the city in the morning, and splitting up in the afternoon, hubby and I going to the Bacardi factory on our own (no excursion) and our friends heading to the beach. well that was our initial plan :-) However after spending 4 hours in the water at Princess Cay, Hubby and I were pretty well sunburnt. And so was my girlfriend. We ended up adjusting our plans.
We were careful on our sea day between ports, but ultimately in St Thomas, we chose to take it easy and skip Magens Bay. Our friends headed off to the beach, and Hubby and I jumped on a tour by the pier as it was about to leave for $25 pp. If I was not going to the beach, I was definitely going to take in the beautiful ocean views I had been seeing online. Our Driver was Jeff, and a very friendly and chatty guide! we learned a lot about the history of the island, some of the local plants and trees, as well as their uses. The mountain roads were steep with hairpin turns, and at times I thought my husband would fall out to the open taxi! but the views were incredible. I will say that I was quite disappointed with the Mountain Top. It is not quite what I expected from the pics I had seen, but the views from the back deck were incredible. No daiquiris for us (it was 9:30AM). At the end of our tour we could go back to the ship, be dropped off downtown, or ask to be dropped off at a beach. We opted to go downtown for shopping, and meet our friends for lunch. We had a wonderful lunch at Cuzzins which had been highly recommended. My Jerk chicken was well spiced, but not so hot that you could not taste it. Add a Painkiller, and it was a lunch to die for. After lunch my husband was a bit under the weather, and took a taxi to the ship, while my girlfriend and I searched the jewelry shops for the perfect souvenir.
I had downloaded a walking map of Old San Juan, and we walked along the waterfront following the Paseo de la Pricipesa to the old city gates. Unfortunately after we passed through the gates we ended up in the middle of road blocks. Apparently there were protests happening due to the decision regarding potential statehood, independent nation status or continuing as a US commonwealth. There were police and men in dark suits every where, and not knowing the roads very well, we kept hitting road blocks as we attempted to circle around to the landmarks on my map. Ultimately we opted to head out of the area, and trek over to Castillo San Cristobal. After exploring Cristobal, we decided to head to the air-conditioned comfort of lunch. We ate at Raices at the recommendation of several friends familiar with the area. Lunch was quite good, although we all agreed that the mofongo was a bit saltier than we liked. The filling however was wonderful! We again split up, the boys heading back to the ship, my friend still searching for that elusive perfect souvenir. after walking in incredible heat, we headed back to the ship empty handed.
I had every intention of checking out all the beach bars listed here on Cruise Critic, however, the lure of the loungers under the palm trees in front to Margaritaville was too strong to ignore. By now the heat was doing me in, and I needed the shade. From the ship I scanned down the beach and saw my only option for shade was at the cruise center, so the decision was made! We camped out in the shade, and at 2:30 had lunch at Margaritaville. Honestly not a good decision. Not because the food was bad, but because after lunch we all decided we were beached out, and headed back the the ship! where of course lunch and beverages were available minus the credit card!
For the past 4 months or so we had been discussing the beverage package amongst the 4 of us. My husband and I felt that since we were traveling with another couple, we would most likely do well with the package. Our friends were split. My husband's buddy would be drinking beer most of the day, with a few mixed drinks at dinner, so the plan was definitely a good option for him. My girlfriend however is not a heavy drinker, however she decided that factoring in bottled water, soda and specialty coffees, she should be able to about break even, so they also signed up. We made good use of the plan every day except for when we were in port in St Thomas, as we were not back on the ship until almost 6PM.
I was always impressed with the food on RCCL. Not so much with NCL, where I found myself wandering around the buffet at breakfast and lunch pretty much uninspired. So I was interested to see how the food was with Princess. Again the reviews were mixed. So please believe me - I cannot say enough good things about the buffet and dining room service. We ate breakfast and lunch at the buffet. While there was a bit of waiting, the only time I actually had to stand in any line of consequece was for lunch on embarkation day. The set up is not the best, I will admit, but I never saw any backups that were worth complaining over. In the evening, our dining room waiter and assistant waiter were wonderful, the assistant waiter especially light hearted, and always ready to make a joke. The food was outstanding, and the portion sizes were just right - not too big after spending long days in the sun drinking and eating.
On Wednesday Night (our anniversary) we opted to try the Crown Grill. Cover charge was $25 per person. The food and level of service was in my opinion higher than any high end steakhouse I have been too. The steaks were incredible! All sides are served family style on a platter, with portions large enough for 3-4 ppl easily. Both of the guys opted to add a lobster tail (for an add'l $5), and I am told they were perfection. At the end of the meal we were serenaded by the restaurant staff with a large piece of chocolate mousse cake. We girls of course still ordered the molten chocolate cake as well ;-)
My husband and I enjoy a nice glass of wine with dinner when we are on vacation, so I was very interested in trying the wine bar out. I cannot say enough about this venue. Our two wine stewards - Joseph and Amel - were incredible! Every night they greeted us like old friends! By the end of the week, when we passed them by, they were asking if we would be stopping in. There is an extensive list of wines by the glass to try, and our new friends made wonderful suggestions based on our likes and dislikes. they never led us astray. Only a few of the options were not available with the beverage package, but there were more than enough to sample throughout the week. After ordering your wine you will be offered either tapas or sushi to enjoy with your beverage. Due to my allergy we opted for tapas, which was usually 3-4 bites. Just enough for a before dinner snack. There was usually one shrimp in the offering, and when Joseph asked if I did not like it, and found out about my allergy, he disappeared, and re-appeared with a plate of assorted cheese!
I was planning on an outside cabin, hoping maybe to find a good price on a balcony, but my girlfriend pretty much was only interested in booking an interior cabin. It was not a bad option given that we were almost never there. The room was larger than either the interiors I have been in on RCCL or NCL. the cabin layout was wonderful, and the closet size puts every other ship I have been on to shame! I will say however that if we were cruising just the 2 of us, I would have enjoyed a balcony of my own to sit in the morning with my coffee and iPad. Hubby likes to sleep in, and I am an early riser, so I ended up wandering the ship from about 6 till 8 most mornings, stopping wherever there was coffee available.
I am 100% sold on Princess. Up until now I was pretty loyal to Royal, but can easily see more Princess cruises in my future! The service levels and ship is well above any other cruise I have been on, and I am looking forward to booking my next cruise with them!