This was our second cruise for my DW and I. Our first was last year on the Star. We were celebrating our 10th anniversary and left the kids with their grandparents back home. I will try to comment on all experiences we had on the ship.
Pre-Cruise - Flew into New York LaGuardia on the 9th from Toronto. We were supposed to arrive at 3:35pm but due to a ground stoppage at LaGuardia and air traffic congestion our flight was delayed and we didn't arrive in New York until 7pm. We grabbed our bags which were waiting for us and grabbed a cab to the hotel. We were booked at the Marriott Brooklyn Bridge and the cab fare was $35. The Marriott was a fabulous hotel and I would recommend it to anyone looking for a hotel in the Brooklyn area. We were on the 20th floor with a view of the Brooklyn Bridge. We had king size bed and a large flat screen TV. We booked it online for $239. Due to arriving late we ate at the hotel bar which was very good. We had booked a bus tour in New York for that evening, but again, due to arriving late we missed the departure time. We went for a quick walk in Brooklyn where I purchased some beer for the ship. We returned to the hotel where I packed the beer in my suitcase. Went to bed and had an awesome nights sleep.
Embarkation - We left the hotel at 11am and took a car service to the pier. (Flat Rate of $15) In the end it was a good choice over a cab as we sat in traffic for 45 minutes near the cruise terminal. It was a traffic nightmare. I guess the pouring rain didn't help matters and people leaving the ship were soaked. Once we got out of the car, we were whisked into the cruise terminal where we checked in immediately (12pm) and then waited for boarding to start. We were on the ship by 12:30pm and went straight to our cabin.
Cabin - We were in the much talked about B748. For those who don't know about it, it's one of the aft corner cabins. I can't say enough about this cabin. The balcony is covered and wraps around to the side on the corner. It had two lounge chairs that reclined with a small table as well as two wire chairs and a larger table. I ordered up the egg crate mattress pad right away and we had no issues with the bed, very comfortable. There was more than enough storage space, hangers etc for two people and the suitcases tucked under the bed nicely. The bathroom is sufficient but I can see why people have complained about the shower size, it is quite small but manageable for us. Electrical outlets are limited to one but I'm not a gadget junkie so it didn't matter. Due to the cabins location, we didn't experience any noise from the hallway, its very secluded. As for the noise out on the balcony, it is louder because of the wash behind the ship but once you close the balcony doors, you can't hear a thing. Motion was no different in my opinion than any other cabin. If the seas are rough, the ship is going to rock which it did on the first sea day. Once we hit calmer waters, motion was minimal in our cabin. One other thing to mention was there was never any wind out on the balcony while the ship was moving, it was great. We loved this cabin and will always try to get it if it's just the two of us travelling.
Cabin Steward - We had a gentleman named Dodo from Thailand. He was wonderful. Very polite, friendly and looked after all our needs. He always had things done when we returned to our room and we never had to ask him for anything, everything was there for us.
Sailaway - The weather was miserable, raining, cold and windy. Our luggage hadn't arrived prior to sailaway so we couldn't change into warmer clothes so we watched the sailaway from our balcony. As it turned out, this was a good spot to watch as New York got further and further in the distance.
Dining - Always a hot topic, I gained 10 pounds so it must have been good, so here its goes, I'll divide it up as follows;
Crown Grill - We booked this for our first formal night (1st sea day). I had the 22oz Porterhouse and my DW had the Pork Chop. It had to be the best steak I've ever had. It was cooked perfectly and the taste was unbelievable. Service was impeccable and friendly.
Sabatini's - We booked this for our second formal night (2nd to last sea day). I had the veal and my DW had the chicken for our main course. The rest of the menu they just bring you a sample of everything. It was a huge meal, I think I counted 15 or so courses. Waaaaayyyyy to much food, we were stuffed and could barely finish the main course. Again everything was delicious. It took 2hrs 20 minutes to complete so plan accordingly. One minor criticism here, the waiters assistant was very slow getting us drinks. We actually ordered our meal before we ordered our bottle of wine. By the time the wine got to the table we were well into eating our meal already. He was also not very attentive at refilling the wine glasses. Other than that minor detail everything was excellent.
Ultimate Balcony Dining - Booked this for our last sea day. This was undoubtedly the best meal of the cruise and the most romantic. It cost $100 and you get a four course dinner, your own private waiter for the meal, a half bottle of champagne, two cocktails, and a photographer attends to take photographs which you get one 8 X 10 included. We are not huge seafood fans so we ordered the beef tenderloin as our main course. The steak was obviously prepared in the Crown Grill because it was as delicious as the Porterhouse I had earlier in the cruise. The first course was crab cakes and a plate of canapes. Then a wonderful salad with homemade balsamic dressing. Main course next and to finish off dessert was fresh berries and 4 kinds of mousse. We booked this for 7:30pm which was right at sunset. We have some great pictures with the sun going down. Definitely worth the extra cost. Having the large balcony and no wind also made it unforgettable.
Anytime Dining - We chose this because we like to go with the flow and not have to rush to get to dinner at the set traditional times. This worked very well for us. All our meals we ate at the DaVinci Dining Room. Some nights we had to wait for a table but never longer than 15 minutes. As some people have stated service is hit and miss. Some nights our waiters were very good and some nights not as good. I would rate the service overall as Good to Very Good. Again, we are fairly laid back people and on vacation, so slow service doesn't really bother us. We also had several breakfasts and lunches in the dining room, all were very good. Overall the food was very good, there was always something on the menu that we liked. I couldn't see anyone not being able to find something they didn't like unless all you eat are burgers and pizza.
Horizon Court - What can I say, a buffet is a buffet. I thought the food was okay, there was nothing bad about it. I always found something I liked and it was good. We ate at the buffet more out of convenience when we had an excursion to go to or were out by the pool and didn't want to get changed to go to the dining room. Overall I would say the food was Average to Good.Entertainment - I don't have much to say about this as we missed most of the shows. The reason we did, was on the first night we went to Crooners for a drink. They had a pianist Heather Sullivan who was performing. She was awesome and we were hooked. We went to Crooners every night except two from 9:15pm until midnight while she performed. My DW, who is also a singer, got up on the stage one night and sang a tune with Heather. Heather was very entertaining, unfortunately this was her last cruise for now after being onboard for 4 straight. The only other show we saw was Carl Strong, a comedian. He was hilarious and it was good fun. That's about all I can comment on about entertainment.
Sanctuary - We went to the Sanctuary on all four sea days. Very relaxing atmosphere and the loungers were very comfortable. The $40 bucks a day may not be worth it to some, but it was to us. Quiet, no kids and limited access so no chair hogs. I always went before they opened at 8am and there was never a line up. It usually filled up by the afternoon session. So if you're looking for a nice quiet, comfortable place to relax and don't mind paying for it, this is the place.
Thermal Suite - We purchased the couples pass which was $130 for the entire cruise. Well worth the cost. Very nice way to end the day after out sunning or after coming back from an excursion. The thermal suite has two steam rooms, one dry sauna, 5 heated tiled beds and two mist showers. The only drawback to this area is no windows. They limit the amount of passes they sell so it is never crowded.
Spa - We booked two couples massages during the cruise. Both were in the cabana in the Sanctuary. Excellent massages, very relaxing. No high pressure sales pitch at the end. They asked politely if we were interested in their products, we politely declined and it was never brought up again.
On the first sea day it was very rough and the ship was rocking all over. I don't normally feel sick but I did this time. I tried the Dramamine but it just made me sleepy. We happened to go to one of the spas acupuncture lectures on the first sea day and the acupuncturist had these things called Ear Seeds that were supposed to stop the effects of sea sickness. It involved placing three seeds in one ear at specific pressure points which were held in place by tape. It only cost 7 bucks so we tried it. Well let me tell you, my sickness went away almost immediately. I'm not sure if it's all up in my head or not, but it worked and I didn't feel sick again for the rest of the cruise.
Renewal of Vows Package - We were celebrating our 10th Anniversary and I purchased the Deluxe package prior to sailing and surprised my DW.(Guys, I scored huge points here) Everything that is listed on the website is what you get but I will highlight some things;
- I was able to chose the night for the ceremony which was the first formal night. The ceremony was conducted by the Captain, Andy Proctor. The ceremony was private. That evening there were several other couples getting remarried but each received a private ceremony which lasted approx. 5-10 minutes.
- Robes, the robes you receive in the package are not the thin cheap ones provided in the cabins. You get the thick turkish robes, at least we did.
- Trip to the bridge was done in a group of approx 18 people on the last sea day and lasted approx. 30mins. The Captain was present at the start but had to leave for other duties.
Everything was top notch and we were very well looked after. The cost of the package was $485 but well worth the memories and pampering.
Bermuda - We booked a shore excursion through Princess. We did the Restless Native Catamaran tour. Excellent tour and would recommend it. You get picked up at the pier and you sail over to a quiet cove where you snorkel and then sail back. Saw lots of fish while snorkeling. The crew was friendly and as mentioned on these boards, the cookies were delicious as well as the rum swizzle.
San Juan - We booked a shore excursion through Princess. We did the Rainforest Hike. Picked up at the pier for a one hour drive to the rainforest. Once there it's a 45 minute walk down the mountain to a waterfall, spend 20 minutes for a swim and then a 45 minutes walk back up the mountain. You board the bus and they do one more stop at a lookout point overlooking the ocean, then you drive back to San Juan. This tour was very good and the rainforest is a must see. As far as the difficulty of the hike was concerned, if you have young children, elderly or not in average physical shape, then you may want to avoid this tour. The hike is long, on uneven ground and the walk back up is gruelling.
***NOTE*** This tour started at 11am and ended at 4:15pm. There is no stop for food during the tour so bring your own food, whatever is allowed off the ship. All we got was a small bag of chips to eat. Needless to say we were starving by the time we got back to the ship.
We didn't explore Old San Juan, we were to tired. Next time.
St Thomas - Booked a tour with Henry of EEE Tours. This was the best tour of the cruise. Henry is a retired police officer who has lived on the island all his life. He is very knowledgeable and gives you a complete history of the island while on the tour. The tour begins by driving up the mountain. Henry stops along the way giving you a history lesson as well as showing you all the different fruit trees and plants. Once you get to the top of the mountain he stops at lookout point over Megans Bay. There is a place there that claims to have the best banana daiquiri. We bought two to try. It was very good but I'm not sure if it was $15 good. Anyways, the tour continued down the mountain making stops and more lessons along the way. Henry took us to his house and explained how life is on the island. He then took us to Sapphire Beach where we spent two hours. He picked us up and took us shopping and then back to the ship. Henry is very flexible and will gear his tour to your liking. His cost is $35 per person and law enforcement officers get a reduced rate.
Grand Turk - We booked a shore excursion through Princess. We did the Dune Buggy tour. I will start off by saying that this is a fun, thrilling ride around the island and recommend the tour. I did encounter a problem with the Princess shore excursion staff that was annoying and the only negative thing I encountered during the cruise. I had originally booked the tour online when the shore excursion bookings opened up. It was from 2:30pm until 4:30pm and $199. We received our shore excursion tickets when we boarded but I didn't look at mine closely. Anyway on the morning of the excursion I look at the ticket and it showed departing at 5pm. Well the ship was leaving at 7pm and we had to be on by 6:30pm so I knew the excursion was going to be shortened. So I head down to the shore excursion desk to try to cancel because I didn't want to be rushed getting back to the ship. End result, they wouldn't cancel because it was past the deadline and apparently anyone who was on the wait list declined the tour when contacted. My fault, I should have checked the ticket. So we meet for the tour and the guy in charge on the island says the tour is going to be shortened by half an hour because the ship was leaving. I asked if it is normally 2 hours and he said yes. So I go over to the Shore Excursion desk onshore and speak to MATT and inquired about a discount for the shortened tour. Well he pretty much flat out lied and said the tour was advertised as 1.5 hrs for $199. I told him that the website shows two hours and the tour operator says its two hours. He said well this is what head office sends us and thats what it is. After a few more arguing points put to him, I saw I was getting no where and I was basically blown off. He showed no concern for my issues and offered no alternative to the problem. So I sucked it up and took the tour and totally enjoyed it. I wasn't going to let some knucklehead ruin my vacation. By the way, I took the time to write a long letter about my negative experience and attached it to the survey at the end of the cruise. Hopefully this guy is spoken to.
***NOTE*** I'll pass on a little secret we got from Heather Sullivan in Crooners. If your looking for a quiet beach and cheap beer there is a place down the beach from Margaritaville that no one knows about. It's called Jack's Shack. When you get off the ship turn left and walk towards the other piers north of the cruise terminal. Its a small beach bar with some umbrellas for shade and a nice beach. The owners operate a dive/snorkel business from the same place. Prior to our Dune Buggy excursion we spent several hours here and only a handful of people were there. Beers are 4 bucks for Red Stripe, Corona etc. Rum Punch is 5 bucks. It's nothing fancy but it beats the overpriced, overcrowded Margaritaville anyday. Check it out, you won't be disappointed.
Crew and Staff - Except for the shore excursion staff, I found everyone to be polite. Whenever passing crew or staff we always got a polite hello or if we initiated the contact we also got a polite response. No issues with the crew or staff including the purser's desk. The areas where we frequented, specifically Crooners and the Sanctuary, the staff was especially accommodating and polite learning our names etc after a few days.
Formal Night Dress - We dressed up for the occasion. DW had full length gowns on both nights and I wore a suit. For the most part everyone appeared to follow the dress recommendations. We ate in the Crown Grill and Sabatini's on the formal nights and everyone we saw were dressed up. No track suits or jeans. Hahaha In my opinion, if someone chooses not to dress up, that is their choice, it doesn't effect me and what I choose in any way.
Adagio Bar - Only got there once. Definitely try the olives and Tirimisu martini.
Sewage Smells - Never in our room, but I did smell it once on the day we embarked on the Baja deck midship. Could have something to do with the ship getting pumped out while docked.
Air Conditioning - No issues in our room. I think the key is to keep your blinds closed while your not in your room to keep the sun out. Our room was always cold enough. The public areas were hit and miss. Sometimes the elevators were hot but other times not. I didn't find the air conditioning to be a big issue anywhere on the ship. Whenever you get a large amount of people in one area, it's going to get warm, no matter where you are.
Weather and Sea Conditions - We had a lot of cloudy weather and some rain during this cruise. The sea leaving NY was very rough but calmed down when we neared Bermuda. We didn't encounter rough seas again until the last sea day but it wasn't bad as departing. When down around the islands it was sunny, hot and very humid.
Disembark - Well we wanted to do the self disembark but we couldn't. Only U.S. citizens are allowed to do the self disembark. Our flight was leaving LaGuardia at 11:45am so I also tried for an early tag color but was denied that as well. Non-US citizens have to disembark together at a specific time regardless of ongoing transportation or flights. We were given Green tag colors. The order of disembark was as follows, Self Disembark, Transfers to the airports arranged by Princess, a church group, then Non-US passengers, from there they started at the Lido deck and worked their way down the decks on the ship. Disembark started at 8:25am and our tags were called at 9:30am. Immigration for us (Canadian) was quick and we were in a cab and on the way to the airport by 9:50am. Arrived at the airport by 10:15am and had lots of time to spare. For those wondering about cabs and car services. There were at least a hundred cabs or more waiting when we got off. $35 for a cab, $58 for car service to LaGuardia. Traffic didn't seem as congested as when we arrived but we left earlier than when we arrived so that may have changed.
So there you have it, I hope this helps cruisers with future cruises. I think I included everything that we did. I will answer any questions you may have. Overall, this was the best vacation we have ever had, cruising or land based. It was the perfect way to spend our 10th anniversary.