This is a long review, so feel free to skip around! By way of introduction, we are a family of four from Maryland. Our two adult (20, 23) children sailed with us. My sincere apologies, right from the start, to the Roll Call crowd and especially the one who made name tags. I did write down the time of the first Meet 'n Greet, but after the muster drill, we wanted to watch the Statue of Liberty fade away as we passed under the Verazanno. I did want to meet all of you, and I am sorry for the wasted name tags! I hope all of you enjoyed finally meeting each other!
This was our 5th cruise, 2nd on Princess (2 with Carnival, 1 with Celebrity). We drove from Frederick, Maryland, to Red Hook in just under 5 hours. Parking is easy, and the lot is fenced, gated, and secure. We paid $174 for the 9 days, and we gave the porter $11 for 7 bags.
Embarkation - This went very smoothly. We arrived about 1:30, and while the lines were long for initial ID check, security, and check-in, they all moved quickly, and we walked onto the ship.
Rooms - Son and daughter had an interior room, L237, quite near the food, which worked out for them! DH and I had C753, a balcony on the aft "corner" of the ship. The advantages to this room are several, starting with the large covered balcony (Caribe deck has the largest balconies on the ship). We had only one neighbor (to our right in the mini-suite), and our room was located at the end of a short corridor of its own, affording us quiet and privacy. However, while my husband loved this room, I would not choose it again because of the noise. The aft cabins obviously overlook the wake, and noise is constant unless you're in port. Forget sleeping with the balcony door open to hear the sounds of the ocean - all you hear is "white noise." Again, this did not bother my husband. Room stewards for both cabins were outstanding: excellent, unobtrusive, friendly service. With the egg crates, our beds were quite comfortable, and we had down as well as foam pillows. The rooms have plenty of closet and shelf space. The hair dryer, it is true, is not terrifically powerful, but it did fine for my short hair, and I liked not having to take my own. The shower is pathetically tiny, but we knew it would be.
The Ship - We frequently saw workers cleaning, vacuuming, and painting. They were never bothersome, though, and we felt the ship looked exceptionally nice. Every employee spoke whenever we passed by. We don't use the pool, but even we noticed how many lounge chairs were occupied by towels only. Away from the two main pools, though, it is easy to find a place to sit - either a padded chair or a lounge chair. The gym offers plenty, and we never had trouble getting an elliptical or treadmill between 7-8am. (Treadmills are not available before 8am.) The running track is well-used but never too crowded. If you work out, take your change of clothes and use the spa shower; it is huge!! My husband continually complained about how warm the ship was. From our past 4 cruises, I have learned that I will freeze, so I pack long sleeves and a sweater. They were definitely not needed.
Entertainment and Activities - We found so much to do on this ship that I joked with DH that I wanted to stay on board and repeat the itinerary so we could take part in activities we missed the first time. Several times during the day we found we had to decide between equally intriguing activities. So that is a good thing - you can be as busy as you want. But it is also a bad thing - I wanted to do it all!! So, having four sea days was wonderful for us. If you play bridge, I recommend the lessons, and I'm sure the bridge games are nice, but they conflicted with line dance lessons! Sam and John teach ballroom and line dance, and they both are terrific! Musical venues are plentiful, both music to listen and dance to as well as the karaoke and Princess Pop Star events. We enjoyed almost all the shows, and it is definitely true that you need to arrive in the theater at least 30 minutes early if you want a seat. Just take a deck of cards or a magazine! While I know the dancers work very hard, the "production" shows did not do much for us, and that assessment includes "Piano Man." We enjoyed the comedian Sarge, the comedian Gary Delena, the comedian impersonator Jason Neistadt, and mentalist Wayne Hoffman very much. If you like rock music, you'll enjoy the husband/wife act, Kamika. The crew show was most enjoyable. Our son said the organized sports events were, for the most part, good. I recommend all the trivia contests, poolside games, and game shows for fun and silliness. Our son was chosen for "Weakest Link," and with a very drunk contestant next to him, the game show was hilarious. While we did not watch any movies, the Movies Under the Stars screen is amazing. Plenty of movie choices, too, although with kids running around until very late, I question the wisdom of showing "R" movies even at 10:15pm. Get to the champagne waterfall early (even 11pm is not too early) if you want a good line of sight.
Cruise Director Kelvin Joy is terrific. I am not an experienced cruiser, but I have never seen a CD so visible and involved. He is also pretty funny!
Food - We all enjoyed the food. Was it spectacular? No. Was it well above average? We thought so, but we are not food snobs. The Sailaway Seafood Buffet is very nice, and while the crab claws are difficult to tackle, the crab legs are plentiful and split. We chose traditional 6pm dining and were very happy getting to know our table mates and waiters. One night we came back late from our excursion, missing our dinner, and asked if we could eat in Alternative Dining. The maitre d' was most kind and said, "of course." We ate in Sabatini's one night, and there the food and service were noticeably superior. Sabatini's does something unique (to us anyway) - you choose only your entree, and the waiter brings samples of every other appetizer, antipasto, and pasta dishes. This is a dinner to linger over; we were there 2 hours. Buffets could get crowded, but all 3 (both sides of the Horizon as well as Café Caribe) have two entrances, so if you see a long line, go to the other side. That worked very well for us. Food was good, not great, in the buffets, but the assortment is impressive. You can certainly find something to like! The pizza is outstanding. I hated the veggie burger, and DH said the hamburger was average. I heard so many people complaining about having to pay for ice cream that I delighted in telling them about the 3:30 free ice cream (and toppings) and warm chocolate chip cookies (this board is so great!!). I did, however, want to go into the kitchen and say, "If you would just take those cookies out of the oven two minutes earlier, they would be so much better!" Crispy, almost-burnt chocolate chip cookies did not impress, although the fact that the were available did impress me.
Passengers, for the most part, dressed very nicely on formal nights. I saw many tuxedos and evening gowns.
Ports of Call Bermuda - Thanks again to these boards for all the helpful advice. Unfortunately, we were in Bermuda on a Sunday, and it is true just about everything is closed, but I knew that ahead of time. We purchased transportation passes ($12/pp for unlimited ferry and bus travel) - just walk off the ship and over to the ferry boarding area to a trailer which sells individual tickets as well as passes. We took the ferry to Hamilton for a walking tour (I just used Fodor's), ending at Fort Hamilton. Fodor's says the walk to the fort is fairly exerting, but we did not find that to be true. The views are amazing, and if you go, be sure to walk the moat - it's like being in a rain forest. We then got a bus (do not go back to where the ship is - there is an open-air bus terminal off Church Street) to Horseshoe Bay. The beach was very crowded, but we walked well to the left to get some sand to ourselves. We rented an umbrella ($10, with additional $5 deposit), but with the winds, all I did was hold on to it, it seemed! Water and beach were beautiful!! We did spring for the $1 to take the small van back up to the top of the hill. On this Sunday, more buses were running (I presume because of the cruise ship being in port), and we were back to West End quickly. The stores at the Clocktower Mall were open.
San Juan - Since we had been here before and walked around Old San Juan, we rented a car (through Enterprise ahead of time - $29 for a compact car). Unfortunately, immigration took a very long time, and we were not off the ship at 10am, more like 11:15. Frustrating, and even the cruise director apologized profusely. So we were not on our way until noon. It is almost an hour to the rain forest, and then the road winds and winds - be careful!! It is, however, beautiful! I had printed off information about El Yunque, so I knew which trails we wanted to hike. The waterfall is definitely worth hiking to, and by the time you get there, that cold water is refreshing! The trails were crowded - school was out, and everyone was in the rain forest!! With our late start, we didn't have time to check out Luquillo Beach, and we didn't get back to the ship until 6:30. Our son decided to skip dinner and walk around Old San Juan. We were at Pier 4, so he had a little bit of a walk.
St. Thomas - What a gorgeous island. Three ships were here, and I cannot imagine the traffic with 7 or 8 ships; it was crowded as it was. We have snorkeled Coki Point before, and while St. John's was definitely a draw, we decided not to hassle with the cab/ferry/cab and went to Sapphire Beach ($11/pp one way) instead. The beach is breathtakingly gorgeous, and the snorkeling was good. The beach resort there seemed to be partially open with a resident iguana. Clean bathrooms are available. Chairs are for rent ($7) as are all sorts of water equipment, and while we did not eat there, I did see several menus to choose from. The water was definitely warmer than Bermuda. After the beach, we took a cab ($10/pp) to Charlotte Amalie to shop. When I commented on a particularly pretty view, the cab driver immediately pulled over for me to take a picture. The weather was suffocatingly hot and humid, and we did not last long. While I overheard a cab driver showing a family of 4 how to walk back to the ship ("ten minutes," she said), we opted for the $4/pp cab. As the cab took us back to Crown Bay, I was so glad we did not opt to walk. You'd have to be a speed walker to make it in 10 minutes, and the area is industrial. Crown Bay does have some shops open, so you don't have to trek into Charlotte Amalie unless you want a fuller shopping experience. Grand Turk - The desert-like nature and flatness of this island surprised me, but I knew the real beauty lay under the water. Actually, though, the beach by the pier is pretty, but it is rocky even as you wade out into the almost-bath water! We spent a couple hours on this beach before meeting our guide for Ultimate Snorkeling. This was a great excursion. We snorkeled at two reefs, and our guides were very helpful. One shouted out that he saw a sea turtle, and when I started to take a photo, he kindly took my camera and dove way down to get a shot for me. They told us where to swim and snorkel and how to avoid the shallow parts of the reef. We saw plenty of fish including a nasty barracuda, that turtle, and a stingray. The water was a bit cooler since we were in deep water, but we adjusted immediately. We like to manage excursions on our own, but all the snorkeling excursions I could find were available only through the ship. This one cost $49 a person.
Disembarkation - Everything seemed to go smoothly until 9:30. Our kids got off right on time (9:15), but our 9:45 time was not called until 10:45. We were kept in a holding pattern until 10:30 when we were told immigration was "backed up."
We give the entire cruise an "A." The only difficulties we encountered were with immigration officials, and that was not Princess's fault.