My flight arrived in Ft. Lauderdale 10 minutes early (10:05am instead of 10:15am), much to my delight. Since I was seated in row 7, I was able to get off the plane quickly and reach carousel 4 before our luggage appeared. I waited about 5 minutes for the belt to start moving and luggage to start passing by. It was probably another 5 minutes before my huge, red suitcase showed up. I grabbed it and headed outside to find Go Airport which I had reserved over the internet for my delivery to the port. The driver informed me that even though the port was close to the airport, he would have to deliver all the other people in the van before taking me to the port since non-cruisers were not allowed past the gates. He assured me it would only take about 20 minutes, so I happily agreed. Well, his 20 minutes actually turned out to be an hour and 5 minutes. I got in the van at 11:00am and I was delivered to the port at 12:05pm. Surprisingly, I wasn't the least bit irritated. It had been a long time since I had been in Ft. Lauderdale and I enjoyed seeing all the sights during my hour long 'tour'. I figured the $15 I spent on the van service was cheap for over an hour long tour of the city!
As previously mentioned, I arrived at the port at 12:05pm. There was no line and I easily breezed through the few steps of embarkation and stepped on the ship at 12:15pm. Yes, 10 minutes is all it took and I was grinning from ear to ear. My first stop was my cabin. This was my first solo cruise and I couldn't wait to see where 'home' would be for the next 7 days. I was in E702, Empress Deck 8, ocean view cabin. I was thrilled to find a very comfortable cabin with a huge window. The beds were set up as a queen size, with a night stand on either side. There was also a desk and chair which could also be considered a dressing table. The hair dryer was attached to the wall in the corner above the desk. Since I brought my own hair dryer, I never used the one in the cabin but it looked like it might have been o.k. In the corner opposite the desk was the small cabinet that contained the refrigerator. Inside was the ice bucket, two bottles of water (one large, one small), a can of Coke, Diet Coke, and Dr. Pepper. I never touched any of the drinks but did use the ice daily. My cabin steward, Henry, was fabulous and my ice bucket was never empty. The location of my cabin was absolutely perfect for me. It was 3 cabins away from the aft elevators which took me almost every place I wanted to go. The only exception was when I wanted to go to the Princess Theatre or the Casino. Since those trips weren't frequent, I absolutely adored my cabin location.
After my inspection of the cabin, and dropping off my very heavy backpack, I took the elevator up to deck 15, Lido, to grab some lunch. Two of the three buffet areas were open and there was absolutely NO wait for obtaining my lunch. I thought the selection of foods was really outstanding at the buffets throughout the week. It was also interesting to see that the selections at the 3 areas were never identical. The two buffets in Horizon Court had very similar items but the Cafe Caribe almost always had a totally different menu. I found myself eating in Cafe Caribe much more than Horizon Court. I found all the food at the buffets to exceed my expectations. I have read reviews where people complained and said the food was not even as good as Applebee's. I did not find this to be the case. The selections were huge and everything I ate was absolutely delicious. Nothing I had would have ever been found in a cafeteria. Over the years, I have eaten at many, many fine restaurants and most of the food on the Lido deck was every bit as good as what I've had in those restaurants. The exception to that statement was the hamburgers from the Trident Grill. They were just so-so and nothing to rave about. I've had much better hamburgers on other ships that I've sailed. Unfortunately, I never made it to the Pizza and Ice Cream Bar to sample the pizza so I can't comment on it. It looked and smelled good, and I had planned out sampling some late at night, after dinner. I just never made it back to the Lido deck to try it.
After lunch, I went back to my cabin to decorate my door (yes, I'm one of 'those' people) and check on my luggage. My suitcase had arrived so I unpacked after decorating my door. Since my room was set up as a double, I had twice as many hangers as I needed. I decided to hang everything up, including my shorts, t-shirts and bathing suits. I still had leftover hangers. I put all my toiletries on the 4 shelves provided in the bathroom and stored my empty suitcase in the bottom of the closet next to the cabinet containing the safe. When I cruise with DH, we store the empty suitcases under the bed. However, since it was just me, there was plenty of floor space in the closet for the suitcase.
By now, it was time to start thinking about Muster Drill. I grabbed my PFD (Personal Flotation Device), aka Life Preserver, and headed to my Muster Station. This is where I think Princess is superior to other lines, the way they handle Muster Drill. My station was the Crown Grill. Yep, I went down and sat in one of the booths, with my PFD sitting on the table. You listen to a recording telling you all the information you need in case of a real emergency. Then, at the end of the recording, the staff who are spread throughout the restaurant, demonstrate how to put on your PFD. After the demonstration, they ask everyone to stand up and put on theirs. You are then dismissed. It was definitely the easiest Muster Drill I've ever attended. Best of all, there is no sweat involved.
After Muster Drill, I ran back up to the Lido deck to meet all the people in my group. It was wonderful to finally meet people I'd been talking to on the boards for the last 6 years or so. We were cruising as a Group and were supposed to all be seated together at dinner. Somehow, Princess had messed up our reservations and only half of the 19 people were seated together. There was not adequate time to fix the problem before early seating (6:00pm) so they arranged for us to have two tables next to each other in the Anytime Dining Room just for that evening. So for our first dinner, we all ate together in the Da Vinci Dining room. I must say, the service we received in the anytime dining room far exceeded our expectations. It was an absolutely delightful experience. I did see a stack of the 'dreaded' pagers so I now know for certain they do have waits for some of the cruisers assigned to anytime dining. I had planned on keeping a journal of the foods I ate so I could mention them in my review. Unfortunately, my laziness prohibited me from doing that. I can only say every meal I had was wonderful. I was not disappointed in anything I ordered the entire week.
After dinner, I found myself extremely tired. I'd been up since 3:00am to make my early flight out of Boston. So, instead of going to the Welcome Aboard Show, I headed to my cabin for the evening. I have had nicer bedding on another cruise line, but it was certainly adequate and I must admit, I slept soundly the entire night.
Monday - Princess Cay Monday morning, I woke up, dressed in my bathing suit and cover up, and headed to the Lido deck for breakfast. I love the fact that they open the buffet at 6:00am for those of us who are early risers. There was never a problem for me to find a table by the windows in the morning for breakfast. The selection of breakfast foods was huge. I can't imagine anyone wanting anything that wasn't provided. There was a variety of fresh fruits, cold meats, cold cereals, hot cereals, pastries, and hot items such as French toast, scrambled eggs, fried eggs, omelets, stewed apples, bacon, sausage, hash browns, and several other choices that I don't recall. After filling my plate and seating myself by the window, I began eating my wonderful selection of foods. The wait staff showed up almost immediately to ask if I'd like coffee. They go from table to table, filling coffee cups, or providing hot water for tea, as well as pouring ice water for anyone who wants it. If you forgot an item from the buffet, they'll even run and get it for you. The wait staff in the buffet were the best I've seen on any ship. I must remember to write a letter to Princess to compliment them.
After breakfast, I waited for the rest of my group to ready themselves for the tender trip to Princess Cays. This was one of the times it came in handy to have a nice selection of books to read. I never sat idle. I simply read my book and sipped more coffee. Let me stop here to say, the coffee on the Crown was not the horrible mess that has been reported on these boards. Yes, I could tell it wasn't 'fresh brewed' but it did not taste bad. I drank a LOT of coffee and found it to be o.k. In fact, I can even say I enjoyed it. Back to my story, when my group was ready, we made our way down to the Explorer Lounge to pick up our 'tender tickets'. Here again, Princess has a very civilized process for tendering. You get a ticket and sit comfortably in the lounge, waiting for your number to be called. When your number is called, everyone stands and follows the 'guide' down to the tenders. You load and leave immediately. I'd say the entire process took less than 15 minutes and it certainly beat waiting in line. When we arrived at Princess Cay, part of our group was loaded on golf carts to ride over to the bungalow they had reserved for the day. Since I had not planned on staying on the Cay all day, I did not include myself in the use of the bungalow. Instead, I walked over to Davey Jones' Locker where I had read the best snorkeling was. I always travel with my own mask, fins & snorkel since I'm more comfortable with my own equipment. I found a table under one of the huge pavilions to leave my water shoes, beach towel and cover up and proceeded to the water with my gear. The beach was beautiful and there were many lounge chairs available for those who wanted them. They had all kinds of water equipment for rent as well. There were also plenty of trees for shade for those who didn't want to spend the entire day in the sun. I only wanted to snorkel so I didn't bother finding a lounge chair. While not exceptional, the snorkeling at Princess Cays is certainly acceptable. I saw many beautiful fish and had a terrific time during my two hours of snorkeling. When I got out of the water, they had begun serving lunch in one of the pavilions. They had hamburgers, hotdogs, bar-b-que chicken and ribs as well as a variety of salads and fresh fruits. The food looked wonderful but I wasn't really hungry yet so I made my way back across the island to the tenders to return to the ship. I understand from my friends in the bungalow, they had servers who brought the food to them from the pavilion so they did not have to leave the bungalow. They also had air conditioning which I know was appreciated. It was HOT on Princess Cay.
Back at the ship, I spent the rest of the day in the Terrace Pool. Anytime I was on the ship, and the sun was shining, you could find me either in the Terrace Pool or on one of the loungers around the Terrace Pool. It was much quieter than the other pools since it was 'adults only'. The waitstaff and bartender at the Outrigger bar made sure no children utilized the Terrace Pool. I had planned on spending sea days in the Sanctuary but found the Terrace Pool so pleasant, I never made it to the Sanctuary. After several hours of relaxation at the pool, I made my way back to the cabin to get ready for dinner in the Botticelli Dining Room at our assigned table.
Tuesday - Day at Sea As previously mentioned, when the sun is shining, and I'm not eating, I'm at the Terrace Pool. I spent the entire day at the pool. Since I'm an early riser, I was up at 6:00am and went to the Horizon Court for breakfast. The food was wonderful and the service was far superior to any I've had on any other ship at the buffet. By 7:00am, with coffee in hand, I made my way out to the pool, selected a lounger and plopped down for the morning. I alternated time reading, time in the pool and time napping until noon arrived. At that point, I abandoned my lounge chair and headed to the buffet for lunch. Let me stop here to say I witnessed many, many chair hogs. I HATE chair hogs but nothing was being done about them. There were signs up stating that a chair left empty more than 30 minutes would have items removed and placed in lost in found. However, that never happened while I was watching. Even though I could have run to the buffet, grabbed my food and come back to my lounger, I didn't want to associate myself with the chair hogs. So, I gathered all of my items and left. I was immediately accosted by someone asking if I was really leaving my chair. When I assured them I was, they immediately grabbed it. I sat inside in the cool air conditioning to enjoy my lovely lunch. Once finished, I went back outside to the pool area and sat in a chair in the shade for the remainder of the afternoon. Let me pause here and say during the early afternoon, the Captain announced that due to a hurricane, we would NOT be sailing to St. Thomas and St. Maarten. There were quite a few complainers around me but, since I sail for the ship and not the ports, I didn't care one bit about the change. We were heading directly to Grand Turk and then we would go to Ocho Rios and Grand Cayman. While I hate Jamaica, I really didn't care about this change since I planned on staying on the ship and pretending it was another Sea Day. Around 4:00pm, I went back to the cabin for a shower and to dress for dinner. Around 5:00pm, I made my way down to the casino to make my obligatory contribution. I love the slot machines. I don't consider myself a gambler since any money I win just goes back in to the machine so I can play longer. To me, it's just a charge for entertainment. I love watching all the people around me while I'm playing. From the looks of those around me, I'm pretty sure I was the only one who didn't care if the machine gave me extra credits or not. Everyone else seemed anxious to win! After finally losing my daily allocation, I wondered the ship until it was time for early dinner. Rather than try to remember what I ate each night, I'll just say I had a nice variety of either steak, seafood or lamb each night of the cruise. Every item I ordered was absolutely delicious. The soups, appetizers and salads were also wonderful. I was not disappointed in any of the meals I received in the dining room. Tuesday was our first Formal Night and everyone I saw was appropriately dressed for dinner. There were about an equal number of tux as suits. All the ladies were very nicely dressed. After dinner, I headed back to my cabin to read my book until I fell asleep. Traveling with DH was really nice. He always wants to go to ALL of the shows which usually bore me. Then, whenever we were in the cabin, he wants to watch TV. Since I really hate TV, the one in my cabin was only turned on if I wanted to check the weather or watch one of the informational presentations by the cruise staff.
Wednesday - Grand Turk Since I knew how devastated Grand Turk was from a previous hurricane, I really was anxious to visit this island. I had booked a ship's excursion for this day only. After a wonderful breakfast on the Lido deck, I got ready to leave the ship and join the excursion. I did the combined snorkel, swim the stingrays. It was a very short walk from our ship to the snorkel boat which was brand new. Almost all of the boats at Grand Turk were demolished during the hurricane so all the ones for the various excursions were brand new. I didn't actually count the people but I believe there were about 30 of us. The boat ride to the stingray location took us about 15 minutes. The guide pointed out many items of interest and gave us quite a bit of history of the island during our ride over. We could easily see lots of devastation which had not yet been repaired. One of the guides told us she still did not have electricity where she lived. I really felt badly for these people. The visit with the stingrays was exactly like what I had done on previous excursions but still fun. They did have a person videoing the entire excursion and since I wanted to help the economy in Grand Turk, I purchased one. It's supposed to come in about 3 weeks so I hope they got me on film when I kissed the stingray while holding it. After everyone had a change to hold one of the stingrays, and had a number of them swimming around our ankles, we all loaded back on the boat for the short trip to the reef where we would snorkel. I have to say, the snorkeling at Grand Turk was my least favorite of the three places I snorkeled on this cruise. It wasn't bad, it was just crowded. Having 30 people swimming over a reef gets really uncomfortable, especially when there were a number of people who were NOT great swimmers. I got rather tired of being kicked in the face or run over by people not watching where they were going. However, all in all, the excursion was fun and I did see a lot of beautiful fish. After 25 minutes of snorkeling, we were herded back to the boat for the ride back to the pier. At the pier, I decided to investigate the shops and the pool area. I am happy to report that over half of the stores are operational and the pool area shows no affects remaining from the hurricane. (I'm pretty sure it was Ike who devastated them but not positive) I made a few more purchases since I wanted to help their economy. The prices ranged from ridiculously over priced to quite reasonable. My suggestion is, don't purchase an item at the first store you enter. I found identical items at 3 different stores with 3 different prices. I purchased my items at the store that had a price about half of what the first store charged. I wanted to help the economy but I also wanted a bargain. Around 1:00pm, I returned to the ship and went directly to the Lido deck for lunch. Since I'd been in the sun all morning, I returned to my cabin after lunch for a shower and a nap. I didn't leave the cabin until it was time for dinner. After dinner, I went to the one and only show I attended during the week. It was an Illusionist who was absolutely outstanding. I have to refer to my Patters for his name. I do remember he was an Aussie and he selected one of our group to go on stage for one of his illusions. She was seated next to me and wasn't too thrilled about going up on stage. She has promised from now on, she'll employ my tactic of looking down at her lap and not acknowledging his presence in the aisle, trying to get her attention. After the show, I retired to my cabin for reading and sleep.
Thursday - Ocho Rios O.K., here is my opinion and, to repeat, my opinion only. I hate Jamaica. It is a beautiful island but the people there are far too pushy and drugs to readily available. We did receive warnings in our Patters as well as over the ship's intercom system that Princess had a zero tolerance for drugs and that if you left the ship, you may be approached by persons trying to sell them to you. Anyone leaving the ship 'may' be subject to a strip search. Well, that just supported my feeling that Jamaica was not the place for me so I did not get off the ship. The sun was shining so I spent the day by the pool and enjoyed the peace and quiet. I know a large number of people did get off the ship to shop and sightsee but I really can't comment on any of that because I was on the ship. I heard that the people who went on ship's excursions were somewhat shielded from the islanders pushing drugs or hair braiding and they seemed to be happy with their day. Since this was our second formal night, I left the pool after lunch time to spend the afternoon in my cabin reading, napping and dressing for dinner.
Friday - Grand Cayman
Once again, this is a tender island so refer to Monday's description of the tender procedures. It was a very smooth process and there was almost no wait to tender to the island. Three of us had already decided we would not do a ship's excursion here but would find our own place to snorkel. For this day, we truly lucked out. We had read on the boards about Cheeseburger Reef which was behind Burger King and was only a short distance from the pier. We began our walk trying to find Burger King. After about a half of a mile walk, we still didn't see Burger King so we stopped in a store to ask directions. Well, that was the smartest thing we did the whole trip. The store was called Cayman Auto Rental but the rented many things besides cars; one of which was snorkel gear. When we asked about Cheeseburger Reef, they really didn't recognize that name but said Burger King was about another half mile down the road. However, they said if we just wanted to snorkel, we were welcome to snorkel behind their store. We agreed and had the time of our lives. They had a very nice wooden walkway from their parking lot down to the beach. Once there, we had about six feet before we were in the water. The reef behind the store was pristine and the fish were phenomenal. This was, by far, the best snorkeling we had during the entire cruise. There was only the 3 of us and the reef was huge. We spent two hours of pure joy snorkeling. The people in the store were so gracious, they even allowed us to store all our bags under one of the tables in the store so we didn't have to worry about our possessions being left on the beach. This truly was the highlight of the cruise. What a wonderful time we had in Grand Cayman. After snorkeling, we reclaimed our bags from the store and thanked the lady for her hospitality. We thought about shopping but were rather tired from our long swim and time in the sun, so we went back to the ship. We heard from lots of people who had been to the beach and/or shopping and everyone commented on how much they enjoyed Grand Cayman. It was truly a delightful stop.
Our group had reserved dinner at the Crown Grill for Friday night and had been looking forward to it all week. Unfortunately, this was our only disappointment for the cruise. While the food certainly was good, none of us felt it was any better than what we had received in the dining room. It was tasty, but not exceptional. We had read about how outstanding they food would be but that was not our experience. In fact, those of us who ordered steak, thought it wasn't as good as the prime rib we were served in the dining room. We were all glad we had the experience of dining in the Crown Grill but we agreed we wouldn't waste the $25 per person again. It just did not stand out enough for our tastes.
Saturday - Sea Day
I really don't have much to report on Saturday since I did exactly what I had done on Tuesday's sea day. I will say, the Terrace pool was considerably more crowded on Saturday than it had been on Tuesday. I believe a lot of people had not found my little oasis by Tuesday but had by Saturday. Even though it was crowded, I still had a delightful time and got plenty of sun. After lunch, I took a little time to visit the ship's library and drop off a couple of paperback books that I had read and didn't feel like dragging back home. I hope future cruisers will enjoy them as much as I did. Saturday was a sad day since everyone was packing and preparing for debarkation the next morning. I noted at our final dinner in the traditional dining room, over half of the tables were empty. I know the food on the Lido deck was outstanding but I still wouldn't want to miss being served on our final night. The dining room was decorated very festively in red/white/blue with balloons on each table and the waitstaff in red/white/blue vests and bow ties. Even though it was a sad time, the dining room looked great!! I slipped extra tip money to our waiter and assistant waiter since they had done such an outstanding job during the week. After dinner, I went back to my cabin to finish packing and organize my paperwork for the trip home. I also took down my door decorations and completed my customs form for the next day.
Sunday - Time to leave
Since I had an early flight and was doing self debarkation, I got up at 6:00am so I could enjoy my final breakfast at the Horizon Court. After breakfast, I returned to my cabin and found my room steward, Henry, so I could give him an extra tip as well. He took outstanding care of me and deserved the extra money he received. I made a final check of my cabin to be sure I wasn't leaving anything behind and made my way down to the Da Vinci dining room to wait for the announcement that the ship had cleared immigration and self debarkation could begin. I believe the announcement came about 7:30am (if I remember correctly) and I was off the ship before 8:00am. After leaving the terminal I walked down to the area where the taxis were. One of the workers grabbed a taxi for me, put my luggage in the trunk and sent me on my way. By 8:15am, I was being delivered to the airport. I easily checked in for my 10:30am flight and sat at my gate, reading a book until we boarded the plane. It was a very easy flight, non-stop, back to Boston, where we landed at 2:00pm. My DH and two dogs were there to pick me up as soon as I retrieved my luggage. My first solo cruise was officially finished.
A few random notes that don't really fit anywhere else. The Explorer Lounge has the best drinks. Order one of their frozen margaritas. They are all delicious and are huge. They are the best value on the ship. Honest. At the other bars, always ask for a large when you order drinks. The large are considerably bigger and only cost an extra dollar. They are a good value. Several people in our group bought the soda cards and found them to also be an excellent value. I don't drink much soda so I can't give you a first hand experience. However, I saw them being served many, many times out by the pool and also in the dining room. After the first night in the dining room, they never had to show their sticker or ask for soda again. The waiters brought them automatically every night. I had planned on purchasing a coffee card but after trying the coffee the first day, I realized what was served on the Lido deck was perfectly acceptable. I know many people complain about the coffee but I couldn't find any fault with it. Many people in our group went to the Purser's desk to ask for the free Princess cards they give out. I never play cards so I didn't bother. However, I saw theirs and they are really worth the trip down to the Purser's desk. Next Princess cruise, I'll be going down to ask for mine. The shopping on board was not outstanding. I've found a much better selection on other ships. Of course, the stores stayed packed with people buying what they had. Unfortunately, I couldn't find anything to spend my money on.