Background: I am a 41 y.o. male with a European/South American upbringing and have been living in the U.S. for a total of 27 years. I see myself as a person of refined tastes but do not necessarily live everyday life that way. I consider myself as someone who knows (both by upbringing and then personal experience) what "is good" and what "is not so good". As a consumer, I enjoy and seek out good value which does not mean cheap; there are times when a $50 entree represents better value than a $2.99 fast food meal.
My previous cruise resume reads: Renaissance Cruises (1x), Princess (4x), and Royal Caribbean (3x). Reviews on cruise critic are as follows: Royal Caribbean's Adventure of the Seas (AOS) on 07/07: http://www.cruisecritic.com/memberreviews/memberreview.cfm?EntryID=30616. The Caribbean Princess Western Caribbean on 09/07: http://www.cruisecritic.com/memberreviews/memberreview.cfm?EntryID=32829. The Crown Princess Southern Caribbean on 12/07: http://www.cruisecritic.com/memberreviews/memberreview.cfm?EntryID=35864. The Caribbean Princess Eastern Caribbean on 04/08: http://www.cruisecritic.com/memberreviews/memberreview.cfm?EntryID=40724.
This cruise was booked simply in order to achieve platinum status which I wanted to have for my January '09 booking of a full Panama Canal on the Island Princess (Acapulco to Fort Lauderdale). As a secondary goal, I wanted to see how the Princess experience, which I enjoy immensely, translates into a shorter cruise.
My cruise reviews are written in diary style, often with several entries per day. I attempt to give as much detail as possible, when required, and try to separate fact from opinion. This time around, I did not take the computer along to make actual 'live' entries but instead relied on the old fashioned "pen and paper" which I am now transcribing.
April 30th/May 1st Fort Lauderdale Pre-cruise
Took the late flight out of SJU on American Airlines which was thankfully empty and I was able to get the $90 instant upgrade to business. Other than a tad more room, this $90 charge also got me half a turkey wrap! What a bargain!!! Although we left late, we arrived on time and thankfully, there were still taxis around the airport something I always worry about when arriving somewhere in the last flights of the evening.
I had a reservation at the Ramada that's on SR 87 and the electronic lock was having electronic trouble at 1:30am which necessitated an on the spot room change which turned out to be a pool side king.
It was a very large room, clean, and the A/C was on upon arrival. There was also a pack of chocolate chip cookies which I found to be a nice touch. The room had a large mini fridge, a huge safe, TV with the usual assortment of local/cable channels, coffee maker with your standard issue regular/decaf coffee packs (plus 2 Lipton teas - yuk), iron & board, and a shower massage head which came in handy. Overall the room had a modern look to it but the two chairs looked dated (but only on their style, they were fairly new too).
The hotel rooms are located on two floors around a central courtyard area which has the pool, a tiki bar, and loads of vegetation. It's your typical 70's courtyard hotel construction.
A breakfast buffet (6-10am) was also included in the price and featured your standard hot breakfast that's now included in many mid-priced hotels (scrambled eggs, pancakes, bacon, breads, fruits, yogurt, danish/donuts, coffee, cereals, even grits). The breakfast was very well attended at around 9am and most of the people I saw had "tourist" written all over them.
For $107.11 tax included, it was a very good deal in my opinion. Please note, that the price includes an automatic daily charge for the safe. Whether you can dispute that charge or not I don't know.
After breakfast, I bummed around the room for a bit and ended up checking out at 11am.
I then took a taxi to visit my travel agency. My past trips to the area tended to be over the weekend and I never got a chance to visit the good people I was sending my money to!!! It was terrific meeting them in person and we spent a good hour taking about cruises, trips in general, those bogus travel agencies ("be your own travel agent"...) and generally getting to know each other. I had a great time and it was way overdue. Thank you ladies - you are awesome!!!
May 1st Fort Lauderdale Caribbean Princess
3pm My TA was then kind enough to drive me to the port and I got to the Caribbean Princess at 12:30pm. I had wanted to go at this time, because I truly wanted to go through check-in at what I assumed was peak time.
Amazingly, the place was empty!!! In fact, the longest wait I had was entering the building when you have to go through TSA security and that was only because about 4 people were in front of me. I was in my cabin and unpacked (only traveled with a carry-on) by 1:15pm and this included the purchase of my soda sticker ($14.66 for this 3 night cruise). So much for trying to experience rush hour...
My cabin is Riviera 407. This is one of the extra large inside cabins (II Category) available and I enjoyed the extra space so much on my Western Cruise in September '07 (R 403) that I went with this one this time around as well. For a complete description of the cabin, please follow the link posted at the beginning on this review for my 9/07 cruise (you may need to cut and paste). The only difference in description between R403 and 407 is orientation; what's on the left in one is right on the other. The other MAYOR difference is that in this cabin there was no (slight) machinery noise at all at night.
In another first of mine, I decided to eschew the buffet and try lunch at the Trident Grill. I now know that I won't eat there again voluntarily since the burgers were completed dried out but the knockwurst was ok. The only thing I could point to this disappointing experience (my first bad meal on Princess) was that at that time (around 1:30pm) the Caribbean Princess was still basically empty. Maybe the Trident is better with more volume... I also cheated a bit because I ended up going to the Horizon for some of those great fruit tarts which I'm am so absolutely addicted to - they saved the meal!!!
So far, those are the 2 differences I've seen vs. the 7 day cruises: no rush to check-in early (let's remember it was a Thursday) and - as an obvious result - basically empty sun decks with loads of space/loungers available at the pools.
After lunch I headed back to the cabin and - believe it or not - found that someone had pooped in the hallway. And it wasn't a kiddie portion. This one was a hefty deposit. How in the world???????? In any case, shortly thereafter, a Princess Environmental Services team sealed off the hallway between the two nearest fire doors to the poo (where's Mike Rowe when you need him) and began clean-up. There were 3 guys I think, all dressed in full body white suits and masks; they reminded me too much of Bill Murray in the movie Caddyshack!!!
Once in the room (while the hallway was being "de-pooed") I called up to put my name on the Chef Table's list. Having done the Chef's Table already on the Crown in December, I very specifically told them that I'd do it only if an extra spot was available and not to take someone else's spot away that hasn't done it before.
In hindsight, I should have signed up for anytime dining for this cruise, especially if I end up getting on the Chef's Table. After all, tomorrow is formal (which I will not participate in this time on account of having traveled with only my carry-on) and Saturday is the Chef's Table. So potentially, I may just end up in traditional tonight... Well, let's see.
I also called up room service for a hot tea service in order to abduct the carafe. Less than 2 minutes after placing the order, they called back informing that they couldn't deliver because my hallway section was sealed. I think it's pretty cool that the poo info got to another department so quickly. Good organization!!!
Our muster drill is supposed to be at 5:15pm. This sort of puts a damper on our Cruise Critic Roll Call meeting which we had scheduled for 5pm based on information that muster was going to be at 4:15pm. I hope enough people recognize the error in the times and remember to go to the original meeting time.
5pm We had a nice turnout for the meeting!!! "The Undesirables" were smart enough to think on our feet and ended up meeting at 4pm at the Outrigger. As usual these meeting can be a lot of fun and I recommend that all who do think about going make a serious attempt to do so.
On the way back to the cabin I paid a bit more attention to the name tags on the doors. We are sailing in a sea of blue. This is a Princess first timer cruise. Oh sure, there's the occasional gold and I even saw a platinum or two, but blue rules on this cruise. In fact, on the elevators so far, I have only heard comments like "This is so much better than... (mostly Carnival)". And that, at the end of the day, is what sampler cruises are, and should be, all about. Not bad really, and they didn't even have dinner yet...
7:35pm We left about 15 minutes late and I went to the Promenade Deck to see this. The sail away party was going strong on the Lido with quite a number of people "dancing" in ways the human body wasn't meant to be moved.
On our way out I saw the 5 U.S. Navy ships that were in town. It included one of the Marine's baby carriers which was fun to see from a distance. I've never seen an aircraft carrier before.
11pm What a record!!! I always bring a www.cruisecritic.com door magnet with me to put on the door. Usually, on a 7 night cruise, someone "appropriates" it about 4 or 5 days in. This time it lasted less than 4 hours!!! Ha ha, I think CC should hand these out for free!!!
I finally ordered tea. Well, we had the poo thing earlier, remember?
Dinner was the Sailaway. I again had the seafood terrine, the salad, the pseudo putanesca as a pasta course, the Luau pork loin, and the flourless chocolate tart. Terrific meal again. On the way out I talked to one of the head waiters to re-iterate my desire to do the Chef's Table but not at the expense of someone who hadn't had the opportunity to do it yet.
May 2nd At Sea
10am I woke up early (7am) and went to breakfast at around 9am. There was no smoked salmon, maybe due to this being a 3 night cruise as opposed to a 7 nighter.
Afterwards, I perused the watches available and couldn't decide between the two toned and the golden toned one so I did the right thing and purchased both. Being single with no responsibilities has its occasional advantages...
Great news!!! I was included in the Chef's Table. That will be Saturday night (Princess Cays). We are to meet with the Maitre D' in an hour so I just played around setting the watches up.
2:30pm The meeting with the Maitre D' went well. Ok, I did get ticked off a bit. Why do people sign up for a fixed menu event and then have the gall to say "I don't eat this or that"? It's not a restaurant with menu choices! You eat what is presented and if you are a fussy eater you have no business going to such events (or go and just eat what you "can"). Jeez... I was so embarrassed for the Maitre D'.
Had lunch at the Horizon: the herring in cream sauce (a favorite of mine since childhood and which I can't get here in Puerto Rico), salad, some rice, and the coq au vin. I feel like in a time warp: I had the same meal combination 3 weeks ago!!! The gnocchi however, wasn't a successful dish as they were falling apart. My fault really, I should have known better than to try that particular dish in a buffet setting. They did taste very good though!!!
With most purchases done I also stopped by the pursers to get a print out of my account. Just need to mentally add in the Chef's Table and 2 more auto-tips. I like to settle my account in cash and if I end up purchasing something else, well, those miscellaneous expenses can go on the card.
6pm Hooray! Just woke up from a 2 hour nap. I know I'm on vacation when that happens. Or maybe it was the slight rocking of the ship. We are having some strong winds too.
Had a couple of teas at the Outrigger Bar. The weather was slightly overcast with some passing showers. I could see a Carnival ship emerge a bit away from us returning to Miami. Those distinctive funnels do them in...
This also afforded me the opportunity to peek in the Cafe Caribe as they were setting up for tonight and I saw a couple of dishes that peaked my interest for dinner: jerk chicken, lamb curry, and flying fish (which reminded me of Barbados of course!).
8:15pm So why was I eating dinner at the Cafe Caribe tonight? Because it's formal night and I didn't bring a suit in my carry-on luggage; don't want to ruin the experience for those that did pack nice clothes. It would be very selfish of my part to do so.
In any case, the food was very nice there too. In fact, I enjoyed it a lot more than "Caribbean Night" in the dining room 3 weeks ago (where my critique was that the dishes served bore no resemblance to any true Caribbean dishes). These, however, did (for the most part).
I started with the rockfish terrine which looked frightfully similar to the seafood terrine I had last night... The chicken jerk was spicy but not overpowering - nicely done! The lamb curry wasn't very "curry" at all and probably the weakest dish but only because it wasn't curried enough - it was a fine lamb stew though... I also tried a bit of the sirloin with green peppercorn sauce (very recommendable) and the lamb chops - in honor of my mom who loves them. Hmm... I think I might have even had some vegetables - I think... For dessert I had both a fruit tart and a cappuccino cheesecake.
I'm stuffed and rolled down the flight of steps back to the cabin. Gulping for air like a fish out of water I reached for the phone and called room service for hot water. Yup - that stuffed...
I also filled out my customer service questionnaire including my usual points of upgrading the tea brands on board to something drinkable, a need to upgrade the TV offerings (plus interactivity), and that Princess should consider doing more short cruises from time to time.
May 3rd Princess Cays
9:15am I fell asleep last night while watching Troy on TNT. Last thing I remember is Paris chickening out against Menelaus and rushing to Hector. Wait a minute!!! Didn't Aphrodite whisk him away from battle? Mental reminder to read the Iliad again...
Again, there was no smoked salmon for breakfast, a question I will bring up at the Chef's Table tonight.
12pm Came in a bit early from Princess Cays. You see, I had booked the hobie cat for two hours but we ended up having moderate winds (4 on the scale) which is still a tad more than I feel comfortable with a beach cat so far. I was ripping through the water getting wet all over with the spray. The water bottle I had brought along must now rest at the bottom of the sea somewhere - never having been opened. I hope a coral reef forms around it...
Nevertheless, I did push the envelope a bit and picked up valuable experience to build on. You've got to know when you're in over your head and at least I didn't have to go through the humiliation of having been towed back ashore by the guys with their jet ski...
Now that we are nearing the end of our mini cruise, how did the 3 night experience rate compare with the normal 7 night? That was an important question I wanted to answer to myself and it was also debated heatedly on the message boards.
So here's my take: Princess didn't miss a beat and the very large number of "blue cards" truly did get a good taste of what Princess is all about. Everything was pretty much the same with small exceptions in food (no salmon for breakfast for example). So take that all of you Princess snobs who naysayed these 3 and 4 night cruises.
As a side note, there was a large number of new crew members aboard but they did great. I had very uniform and efficient service in that "quiet" way that distinguishes Princess from Royal for example.
5:40pm It was an intense "do nothing" afternoon of the type required of any true vacation - even if it was just a short one. Still, I did get some things done: most of my packing, the US Customs card, returned the guest questionnaire (they do read those!) and managed to watch a movie on TV to boot.
I also stopped by the Captain's Circle hostess to pick up my Gold pin which I never received in the first place; it'll look nice in the office. As luck would have it, my Platinum Welcome Package was in the mailbox when I got back.
I suppose I'll do a whole lot more of nothing until we are scheduled to meet up at 7pm in the Lobby Bar for the Chef's Table. Vacationing on a cruise ship is hard work!!!
11pm Just returned from the Chef's Table (for a good review please follow the link to my 12/07 Crown Princess cruise). The menu was basically the same as on the Crown with just minor variations: we had the grilled goose foie gras with apple chutney rather than a duck foie gras pate (the fact we had "picky" eaters afforded me the opportunity to have seconds - their loss!!!), we had a lobster risotto (saffron one last time), and the lip smackin' Bloody Mary sorbet was served with Grey Goose vodka and was very spicy (didn't so much cleanse the palate but rather burned it off which was just fine with me).
The 'picky' eaters also got a plate of seafood served for their entree. I found it very gracious of the Maitre D' to lie and announce that the plates were being prepared because of 'allergy' reasons. Their plate turned out to be nothing more than the langoustines plate from Sabatini's re-enforced by some plain shrimp scampi and another piece of fish. I would have served them the turkey wrap I got on Business Class on American Airlines, but I guess that's why I don't work in the service industry anymore - ha ha ha!!!
A fun part was the "guest appearance" of Captain Attilio Guerrini in the galley! He was kind enough to pose for pictures with all of us. He just came aboard recently relieving the Commodore.
After dinner, Executive Chef Cereda joined us at the table for a little Q&A. Turns out he was covering another Chef who was covering Chef Diffor on the Crown who had a death in the family. This bit of news saddened me.
I'd like to add one other bit of "news" here. During the course of the evening, a high ranking crew member didn't want to get quoted but did confirm that for these short cruises, certain food items were omitted from the menus - such as the smoked salmon for breakfast. Considering the low prices we paid, I found that entirely acceptable and I think that all the "blue cards" will be pleasantly surprised on future Princess cruises when they do see them.
As usual, I will not comment on disembarkation. However, if past experiences are to go by, it will be a smooth process. Just make sure to get to your meeting place 15 minutes ahead of time in case that they call your group early and be sure to look for the Princess Staff member who calls you out. Since there are no PA announcements, if you miss the crew member - you'll be needlessly waiting longer...
See you on the Adventure of the Seas on October 5th and find out how I will survive a week of awful RCCL food!!!