Caribbean Princess - May 1, 2008 through May 4, 2008
This is my first review, so I'll try to be thorough even though this was a short sailing. My partner and I have previously sailed twice only on HAL's Westerdam, so some of my review may be comparative. This was my Mother's first sailing altogether. I'm going to do this in a diary style and then cover some highlights at the end.
Thursday, May 1
We left home at 4AM to be sure to arrive at BWI in plenty of time for our 7AM flight. At BWI, we parked in the ESP lot. For anyone who has not done this, please consider it. The cost is only $9 per day with the coupon that is almost always available online and the benefit is that they pick you up and drop you off right at your vehicle...no lugging your bags over the lot to the bus stop.
This was my first experience on Southwest...and I loved it. We took off at 7:00 with a stop in Jacksonville and then off to Ft Lauderdale. I guess I never really paid attention on the many previous flights that I have had to Ft Lauderdale, but we flew directly over Cape Canaveral...which in my opinion was pretty cool to see from above. We landed around 10:30 and were at the cruise terminal via taxi by 11:00.
When we arrived at the terminal we cleared TSA and were left in a rather crowded room until the check-in process was ready to begin. It seems that Princess does it a little differently from HAL for check-in. At the HAL terminal we always cleared TSA and then went directly to check-in and then were held upstairs in a room until the ship was ready for embarkation. At the Princess terminal we were held in the room and then checked in and went directly onto the ship. It was rather a mess when they opened the ropes because the gentleman that was doing the announcing did not have a loud microphone, so no one could hear him. He was reprimanding many people in a rather stern manner when it really was not their fault because no one could hear him. Once the initial flow got through the entryway to check-in it moved rather quickly. From the time that we left our seats it was about 10-12 minutes until we were on the ship.
Once onboard we went directly to our stateroom. I rather liked this process because on HAL your staterooms are not ready until a bit later in the afternoon, so you must lug your hand-helds over the ship with you. When we arrived in our stateroom nothing was done as it had been requested. The beds were separate and they were requested to be in the together position. There were no egg crates on the beds. There were only towels for two rather than three. I stepped out into the hall and our steward Fernando was right there to greet me. When I asked him about our requests he said that he had this information and it would all be taken care of when he readied the room in the evening. I would have rather that the requests were taken care of when we arrived on the ship...but truly it didn't make any difference and I was just so glad to be able to get into the stateroom so early that it was easily forgivable.
We left the stateroom and wanted to go to lunch. I asked the traffic director at the elevator about lunch in the dining room. She originally said that it was buffet only, but then I asked her if the dining room was open. She looked at her list and said that the Coral Dining room was open. We went directly to the Coral where we found the doors closed. Since I had read about this on here, we just opened the doors and walked in. There were about 5 or 6 servers standing around and none of them looked very happy that we were there. We were seated and the server who looked the least happy ended up helping us. At this point we asked to purchase the soda cards. It seemed that no one was really up on what the costs would be on the 3-night sailings. They tried to sell it for $29, but we said that we saw it outside the dining room for $14. They then verified that it was indeed $14 for the 3-night sailing. Lunch was fine; however we found this to be the first of many incidences of bad service for soda. It seems that there aren't specific "bar" people in the dining rooms or buffet (as they do have on HAL) and the servers had to go and get the sodas themselves...and it took quite a while to get them every time. Later on we finally realized that it was just easier to pick up a soda ourselves at the pool bar to take to the buffet.
We spent the afternoon checking out all of the various pools and hot tubs. We found that each pool seemed to have its own temperature with the MUTS pool being the coldest. The Spa Pool and Terrace Pool were the warmest.
We attended Muster, which was done much nicer than they do on HAL. On HAL, you must wear your lifejacket and meet at the actual muster stations on the Promenade deck. We always wondered why when we were on Westerdam doing muster we never saw anyone on the Princess ships doing muster...and now we know why. Being able to stay in the air-conditioned areas of the ship are much more passenger-friendly than standing out in the heat wearing your lifejackets.
We decided to go to the Horizon Court because we heard so much about the sailaway seafood buffet. I have heard on some strings that there was a seafood buffet for sailaway, however if it was there I truly do not know where it was located. We went to Horizon and to Cafe Caribe...and did not find any seafood buffet as had been described by everyone. We even asked some of the employees working there and they said "No seafood buffet on this cruise." The buffet dinner was okay. I had heard so much regarding the mess of a line in the Horizon Court. I truly liked the set up on the Horizon because everything was right there in one location. The only thing that I would change would be to get rid of the big plates and get trays instead. It did seem a little hard to maneuver your food, silverware, etc. I often had to make a few trips to get my food, soup, dessert, etc. This may sound snobbish, but I have also been accustomed to having my food served to me at the buffet on HAL. I don't know if this is an "always" occurrence or just because of some recent outbreaks on some ships...but I was just surprised that I actually served myself the foods.
We then went to the show in the Princess Theatre. Everyone said that you needed to get there 30 minutes out in order to get seats. This may be the case on the longer sailings, but you pretty much could have arrived right up to the time of the show and still have gotten pretty good seats. The place did fill up, but there was no rush far ahead of time. The first night show was a sampling of what was to come, with a sample from the production show and then a small sample from the comedian. I will say that this was our first chance to hear anything from the Cruise Director Dan Styne...and we were not at all impressed. He should stick to being a cruise director and not try to be a comedian. He was not very funny and was rather insulting to the line regarding a few things. I know that small bathrooms are common on ships, but he also was commenting on how small Princess Cays was...which really left a bad taste for us. It is their private island and he should have been talking it up rather than making fun of it.
After the show we decided to have a snack...so since we already had the buffet we went to the Palm Dining Room. We had appetizers and dessert. I will comment more later on the food.
Friday, May 2
This was Sea Day. We decided to have a very leisurely day and spent most of the day by the pools. We started the day with breakfast in the Coral Dining Room and then went out to find our deck chairs. After walking the decks a few times, we finally found three chairs together. We watched parts of a few movies on MUTS, which I must say is a great feature. We never did it by the trademark (under the stars), but it is something that if it were a longer sailing I would certainly be out there on the deck watching movies at night...a great concept very well executed.
Not much else to say about this day until evening. This was formal night. Since this was a very short sailing, we opted not to bring formal attire. We did, however, bring very nice very smart casual attire. We went to the Captain's Cocktail Party and were pleasantly surprised at the complimentary cocktails and appetizers. We had a very nice conversation with Kristy who is one of the assistance cruise directors. She shared a wealth of information about working on the ship as well as seemed very interested in learning about us. She was a wonderful person.
We struggled with whether we would go to the dining room or buffet. We decided that we would go to the dining room and if they wouldn't let us in because of our attire we would be happy to go to the buffet. We went to the Palm and were granted access to dinner without even the bat of an eye. On HAL we had seen people turned away from the dining room if they were not attired correctly, so we assumed that they would do the same if they did not want us in the dining room as we were attired.
After dinner, we went to the production show...Piano Man. I will say that this show was a very big disappointment for all of us. We were all expecting more than what it was. Overall it seemed like not much more than a high school production. The dancing was off, the singing just average and the lighting was incredibly bad. At the end when the group was center stage for the finale, they were standing there in the dark.
Saturday, May 3
This was Princess Cays day. We started with breakfast in the buffet and then off to the Princess Theatre to be tendered to go ashore. Since we were meeting in the Princess Theatre, we assumed that we would be tendering directly from there. When we were shuffled out of the theatre we were walked back through the casino to the midship stairway and down to the medical center area. We were then sent down another set of stairs to the tenders. We all thought that this was a very inefficient and non-passenger-friendly way to get off the ship. For those who have any trouble walking, this was a lot of unnecessary walking when we could have been meeting somewhere closer to the tender area.
Princess Cays was just okay. For us, HAL's Half Moon Cay is much nicer than Princess Cays. We were really surprised that it was not nicer than it was. HMC seems much more lush and about being a beautiful island and destination itself...PC seems just like a beach area for the ship to sail up to and use. We had a clamshell (or whatever Princess calls them) and the people (or should I say person) that was setting them up was nowhere to be found, so we ended up setting it up ourselves. We had also rented floats...and when we got on the island we saw that we had to walk halfway down the island in the opposite direction of the cabana rental office for the float rental office. After doing that and lugging the floats down the island, we found that we could have gotten the floats from the cabana office (would have been nice if it would have said that on the map). We got into the water and it was very cold...I guess it is still early in the season for the water to be really warm, but we were expecting warmer (but that is certainly not within the control of Princess...that is a higher power). The buffet there was just okay...nothing special. I did, however, enjoy that there were coolers of cold water placed many places over the island.
We came back to the ship and went to the pools for a while and then to the Explorer's Lounge to watch Sweeny Todd. It was fun to see this movie again. It was funny to me...we had seen Charlie and the Chocolate Factory outside the previous day on MUTS...so it seemed like there was a Tim Burton, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter mini-marathon going on during this sailing.
We did dinner in the Palm Dining Room again on this night. It was a good dinner and we enjoyed doing the "Vanna White" showing our desserts to the next table.
We did go to the Guest Services desk to settle our account in cash around 9:00. There was a charge on our account for the Tradewinds bar that was put on there at 8:15, which was when we were in our stateroom packing. It took about 20 minutes of waiting, but Corey was finally able to speak to someone who had the charge removed. He didn't seem to want to do anything about it, but we made it very clear that we were not moving from that space until it was resolved. Not only were we never at the Tradewinds bar, but we didn't even know where it was located...and we had not even purchased any drinks on that day. Moral of the story...always look over your statement to be sure that everything that is there actually belongs to you.
We went to the Explorers Lounge for the Big Band and then on the Club Fusion where my partner sang Piano Man at Karaoke Power Hour. It was fun and really nice to see a lot of people at the karaoke since the disco on HAL is just a fraction of the size of Club Fusion and it was never full for karaoke on our sailings, but Club Fusion was pretty full of people. It was a very good set up for karaoke.
Sunday, May 4
It was time to leave the ship. Our disembarkation station was Club Fusion. This was a little painful for us because it seemed that there was misinformation given to us and rather than having to be out of the stateroom by 9:00 our steward said we needed to be out by 8:00. This just meant that we had extra time and we actually spent it out on the pool deck. I don't know if it was the actual time that we had to leave the stateroom of if our steward just wanted to get a head start, but either way it was okay with us. When it was getting closer to 10:15 (which was our time), we headed down to Club Fusion. I found it rather confusing because there were no announcements over the loudspeakers regarding disembarkation. I rather like the way that HAL does it...being able to stay in your stateroom until you are called to disembark, however if it means that I can go directly to my stateroom upon embarkation, then I am able to sacrifice this extra time in the stateroom at disembarkation for that.
When we were called, once again we were paraded down to the midship area and in one door of the dining room and out the other and off the ship. We had our luggage and cleared immigration and customs and were on our way to our Ft Lauderdale hotel within 10 minutes of getting off the ship.
We decided to stay in Ft Lauderdale for the remainder of the day and fly home on Monday. We stayed at the Ft Lauderdale Hilton Beach Resort...and I would highly recommend this hotel to anyone looking to enjoy a nice stay by the beach.
Dining/Food We have decided a few things about dining on this ship. It seems that dining on HAL is more of an experience than it is on this ship. First, on Westerdam the dining room is two floors and seems much grander than any of the dining venues on Caribbean Princess. When you sit down on HAL, you have the whole spread of flatware, chargers, wine glasses, water goblet. Sitting down on this sailing, there was a knife, fork, wine glass and water goblet. We thought that perhaps this was just in the Anytime dining rooms, but we saw that is it the same in the Island as well. Although we never had trouble finding anything to eat from the menu, it seemed that there were not as many main course selections on the Princess menu as there are on HAL.
The verdict is still out for us on Anytime Dining. We chose to try this option since this was such a short sailing because we thought it would be a good time to try it. We did like the fact that we could go to eat whenever we wanted to (even if we had already eaten dinner in the buffet). What we did miss, however, was the familiarity that comes with traditional dining. I know that if you find a server that you like in Anytime dining, you can make reservations and sit at this same table, but this would have been defeating our purpose for Anytime dining on this sailing. We enjoy knowing that when we sit down, my coke and wine and my Partner's diet coke will be waiting for us at our seats. After observing in the dining room, it seems that these are run more as restaurants than dining rooms. I'm not saying that the servers in the traditional dining rooms do not work hard, but it seems that this Anytime dining makes them work much harder because they are constantly doing different thing for different people. In traditional, they are on a pace where they are serving all appetizers at once, all salads at once, all soups at once, etc...but in the Anytime they may be serving appetizers at one table and main courses at another and yet dessert at another. I would think that this is much harder on the servers.
All of the food was very good on this sailing. It does seem that Princess likes to use the small canned-type shrimp. I saw them in the Horizon Court and in the dining room a few times. Actually, the shrimp cocktails were not very impressive because the shrimp were rather small. We were also very surprised that the crab that was used in two of the crab dishes that we had actually seemed to be the fake crab that you can get very cheaply in the grocery store...not something that I expect to be served on a cruise. I can't say that the Love Boat dessert is the most wonderful thing around. It was pretty good, but it was very, very rich. I know that people have raved about the Pizza by the pool...once again, it was okay but certainly not the best pizza I've ever had (and I've had pizza everywhere throughout the US and Italy). I never did find the chocolate chip cookies that people raved about...I had some at the Horizon, but I would say that they are very similar to frozen cookies that you can buy at the wholesale store and bake yourself. I will, however, say that the Beef Wellington was very good and the Ice Cream Bombe is just that...it is the bomb...you should order this any change that you have. The waiter described it as similar to a Baked Alaska...and he was right...but in my opinion the best part of it was the meringue. I think they actually put some marshmallow cream in it...it was the creamiest meringue that I ever had and was wonderful.
Experience We were rather frustrated that some of the things that we had read to be normal on Princess did not happen on our sailing...Lobster, Seafood Buffet, Champagne Fountain. I may sound ignorant by saying this, but I've heard some people say this was because we paid less for this sailing. Actually, it doesn't matter what we paid (which actually we paid the same per day for this sailing as we did on our Westerdam sailing this past December), things that the cruiseline is known for should happen no matter the length of the cruise. Some people (including ourselves) were using this opportunity to see if we like Princess. It did give us a good gauge but honestly by them not including this they were only hurting themselves because not everyone may be as open-minded or may read CruiseCritic.com about it and may think that to be the norm.
Stateroom We were very pleasantly pleased with our mini-suite. I must say that I really do not care for the decoration of the stateroom, but I'm assuming the light colors with wood are a "Caribbean" theme based on the name of the ship. To me, it just looks a bit 70's-ish, but just my opinion. The layout of these staterooms is great. Since it was myself, my Partner and my Mother, the small hallway right inside the door where the closet and bathroom was located provided a nice dressing area out of view of the rest of the room (our staterooms on HAL did not have this layout). I also enjoyed that the bathroom seemed like a real bathroom with tile on the walls, etc...and not one of the molded bathrooms. We have always had a bathtub on HAL, but this bathroom was much roomier than on HAL. It didn't really matter to us, but we thought they might have had a pull-back curtain that would separate the living area from the bed area, especially since I'm sure we were not the only people who sleep three in that stateroom configuration. The balcony was nice; however I thought that having 4 chairs out there only crowded it...although I'm sure I'm in the minority on this one. Outside of the stateroom we liked the way that the doors are offset from the hallway...on HAL it is just a hall with the doors and I think this offset helps to deflect some of the noise from the hallway. I must say that even though I had read about this prior to sailing, I was disappointed that there were no towel animals...HAL does provide this "entertainment" every night.
Entertainment I previously mentioned about the production show. Other than that we were very impressed with the availability of entertainment on the ship. It seemed that no matter where you went there was some kind of live entertainment. Every evening there was a piano player in the atrium, Burt Stratton in Crooners, some sort of band in the Explorer's Lounge and another band in Club Fusion. I'm sure I've missed something here...but my point it that there seemed to be something for everyone on the entertainment level. There were many more venues and things going on than on the HAL sailings that we were on...and we really liked this.
Ship I have to admit that I was a little worried about the size of the ship, the amount of people on the ship and the fact that the dry-dock was postponed. Well...obviously my worries were unnecessary because none of them were a problem.
The size of the ship could be a bit overwhelming for someone who never sailed before. My Mother found herself with us most of the time because although she knew she had to go to deck 9 for our stateroom, she really wasn't comfortable going other places without us. Having only sailed on Westerdam, which for the most part is 9 floors, having areas of the ship that were 19 floors was a bit much at times. One evening I just could not seem to make my way to the Palm Dining Room. I must have walked up and down those stairs three times until I got to the right place (I do understand why, but I find that location rather odd). Other than that, we never had any problem navigating the ship.
Even though I understand the ship was at capacity, it did not seem crowded. In the evening it was very busy around the atrium area, but that can be expected anywhere. Westerdam only holds around 1800 or so passengers, so this was a concern for us, but it certainly was not a problem because there are so many public areas that it really was not crowded anywhere.
After reading a few comments about the dry-dock, I was concerned that there may be parts of the ship that may seem rundown. Once again, I was pleasantly surprised. I know that they are constantly working on these ships...after all, most areas of the ship have between 3000-5000 people (passengers and crew) walking through them several times a day. We have come to find out that for the most part, the dry-dock which has been rescheduled for December or January is really for more of a remodel to certain areas than for renovation of the entire ship. I'm sure they will "spiff up" some of the areas that need it, but we were told that the biggest things being done will be the complete redo of the atrium area into the piazza and the sports area into the sanctuary as well as some restaurant changes.
Overall Overall we very impressed with Princess and this sailing. It seemed that the crowd was very nice. On our previous sailings for whatever reason there seemed to be many people who went through the entire cruise with a great sense of entitlement. I didn't seem to see people like this on this sailing...everyone just seemed happy to be there and be enjoying themselves without making the crew's life miserable. I do not know if this was the normal demographic for Princess or if it was because it was the short sailing, but the crowd was much younger than on HAL.
If you've made it this far, you really deserve a reward for reading the longest review of the shortest cruise...lol. I know I've been lengthy, but if I've shared anything that will help anyone or influence anyone to sail on Princess, then I've accomplished my goal.
We thoroughly enjoyed this sailing and will definitely look to Princess again for future sailings.