I am a female in my early 50s who often travels solo and this time was no different. I was in Ft Myers area for a wedding and decided it would be a good time to take my 12th cruise. I got a great single rate, about 150% instead of the normal 200% that's normally paid to cruise alone. I've cruised with NCL Majesty, Norway, Sun, Sky 3X and (same ship) Pride of Aloha. With Carnival, I've cruised Destiny, Fantasy, Inspiration and prior to this cruise I was with Princess on the Golden. Most of my cruises have been to the Caribbean, tho I've also cruised full transit Panama Canal and Hawaii. That's my history, here's my review:
I drove to the Ft Lauderdale airport via rental car from Ft Myers Beach, an easy 2 hour drive along Alligator Alley (I love my Garmin!). Turned in the National rental car and took their free shuttle to the pier. I timed this since I'd read how easy Princess' embarkation process is. The shuttle left the airport at 1:25 and I was in my cabin (!) by 2:10. The fastest embarkation I've ever had.
Cabin - I was in P206, Plaza deck (deck 5) in an outside cabin. The cabin was about the same size as the outside cabin I had my last cruise (Jan 2008) on what was then, the Pride of Aloha - now the NCL Sky. A rather small cabin but fine for one or two people. Plenty of closet space, so you could hang everything. Not that much in drawer/shelf space, but, like I said you could hang everything. There was plenty of room for shoes, hats, etc. in the closet. A fridge in the cabin is great. My window was large - I can't imagine being without one. My cabin steward, Bong, from the Philippines was very efficient and unobtrusive. He brought me anything I wanted - feather pillows, a top sheet and a robe were very nice. He kept my ice bucket full and the cabin very clean. If he was in the hall working nearby, he walked me to my cabin and opened the door for me. He was always pleasant - you can't expect more than that!
I went to the mandatory lifeboat drill, which with Princess is also handled quite nicely. Instead of lining up outside in the hot sun, wearing a life vest, Princess holds their drill in various rooms on the ship. Mine was in Gatsby's Casino.
With that out of the way, I began exploring the ship. As others have noted, the layout is somewhat difficult and I'm terrible knowing up from down, port from starboard, forward from aft. There were very good maps at each stairwell indicating which way was forward and you could figure out the port and starboard from there. I'm embarrassed to say I got lost going to the Botticelli dining room on, I think, the fifth night. I didn't feel too badly, though since the people I ate dinner with got lost on the fourth night. :) A hint - to get there go to the Piazza on Deck 6, walk aft as far as Club Fusion and take the stairs down. I don't think there's any other way to get there. I'm not terribly observant either, and someone has since posted that there's a difference in the border on the carpet to indicate port and starboard...I never noticed this, but it will be a great help, if true, on my next cruise.
Other than my difficulty keeping straight which way was which, I thought the ship was very pretty. It was different in that the hallways were not all just long, straight lines. The area leading into the Piazza from my cabin had an art gallery you could walk thru for a change of scenery.
By early evening, the first night, I still had not received my large suitcase. I'd luckily packed one day's clothing in my carry-on, so I was ok. I mentioned to Bong that I hadn't received my case so he went in search of it. I don't know exactly when it got there, but when I started to leave to explore some more, the case was outside my door. I unpacked and noticed my suitcase was badly ripped. So bad, I'm not certain how all my things got to my cabin. At the suggestion of another passenger, the next day, I went to the customer service desk and told them nicely about my suitcase and asked if they could help me fix it enough that I wouldn't lose all my belongings when I disembarked. A very nice gentleman there told me to bring the case to them and they would have their upholsterer try to fix it free of charge! I did that and the case was returned in perfect condition two days later. I was very happy with the Purser's desk to say the least.
I think it was on Tuesday (sea day) that I very suddenly got a cold...Really, one minute I was fine, the next I had a sore throat and everything that goes along with a cold. For that reason, I probably didn't do as much as I'd normally do during a cruise. Since I didn't keep a journal this time, I can't give a day by day description of what I did do, but here is a general overview of things I did at various times/days during the cruise:
MUTS (Movies Under the Stars - Deck 16) - I watched Sex and the City. Didn't like the movie all that much, the TV version is much better written, but lying in a recliner on the deck of the ship (they hand out blankets in case you're chilled) was wonderful! I am NOT a big movie fan, but I can't imagine a better way to watch one. I'm not a popcorn or candy either, but I did see them getting those things ready. I assume there's an extra charge to partake in the goodies.
International Cafe (Deck 5) - went there most days for my lunch. They have the same foods every day pretty much, but I fell in love with the shrimp salad. Basically a plate of shrimp with oil & garlic. I was trying not to gain too much weight this cruise and other than the oil, this was a really good lunch idea. It helped that my cabin was just down the hall, so I'd just walk there, get my plate of shrimp & take it back to the cabin for later. This dish was available from noon til about 5 pm.
Crooners Martini Bar (Deck 7) - a Grey Goose martini on the ship is $8 (including tip), so I found this a great place to go every night before (& sometimes after) dinner. I normally sat at the bar, so got to talk quite a bit to the bartenders, Paul & Adi. Paul left the ship at the end of our cruise for a trip home and 3 months off. Both guys were great, got to know what I liked and I had fun talking to them.
Princess Theatre (Decks 6 & 7) - I often am not motivated to go to the production shows when on a cruise, so I did not go to see any. I did attend the magician's show. The act was very good if you like that kind of thing. Really impossible to tell how he did his magic, that's for sure.
Gatsby's Casino (Deck 6)- slots were VERY tight. I would normally spend a couple of hundred dollars and be there at some point every evening. This cruise, I think I might have spent a total of two hours in there. Decided I could put my $$ to better use. I did see one guy win $500 on the $1 slots and a woman win $400 on one of the penny slots, but other than that, nada.
Explorer Lounge (Deck 7) - briefly watched the comedian (don't know his name) and he was pretty funny. That was the extent of my time there.
Botticelli Dining Room (Deck 6) - Since I was travelling alone, I'd chosen traditional dining. In retrospect, this was a mistake. I assumed that I'd be seated with a large group and probably bond with at least one couple or at least have another group of people to say hi to. However, the first night, I was seated and waited and waited but NO ONE else arrived to my 8 person dining table - how embarrassing! It would have been nice for the maitre'd to see this and get me seated at one of the less than full tables, but no, I ate dinner by myself. When I was almost finished, a couple in their mid-60's ran in and apologized profusely. They'd gotten locked out of their cabin and had to wait for a technician to come let them in. They were very nice people and I enjoyed their company, but thru the week, none of the other people seated at our table showed up. Since I'd met other people on the ship, I really wish I'd left my options open to dine with others in the Anytime dining rooms or even in the Traditional dining room, when invited. I didn't feel like I could abandon my 2 tablemates to do this. If there'd been 6 or 8 people there, I would not have had a problem accepting invites to eat with others - I'd just let my normal tablemates know I wouldn't be joining them that night. Oh well, lesson learned. We did have 2 female waiters, one from the Ukraine and one from Poland. They were very sweet and attentive. I didn't think the food was really anything to rave about, but certainly good enough.
Outrigger Bar and pool area (Deck 15) - good place to go for quiet relaxation in the sun. It's the adults only pool. It could get very crowded around the pool, but I was always able to at least find a seat up by the bar.
I love the sun, so did at least a couple of hours every day lying on the pool deck, watching the pool games, etc.
...are you still with me? I know this is a long-winded view, but if you're like me, you want to know as much as possible before you go. If not, I won't be insulted if you don't read it all :)
Princess Cays - took the tender to shore, found a recliner in the sun and relaxed, swam, went to the bar for drinks and music, had lunch. The normal stuff for a private island. All the drinks can be charged to your ship card, so you only need $$ for the vendors who have little huts along the beach if you decide to buy anything. Lunch is free and is basically grilled burgers, hot dogs & chicken with side dishes. Water is available at various places, so you don't have to buy it unless your prefer the bottled variety.
St Maarten - booked the tour with Bernardstours. Bernard met me and a group of Crown cruisers at the pier @ 10:30. For $35 (+ tip) he took us on a tour of the island for about an hour and a half (?) in an air conditioned van with a cooler of soda, water, beer & rum punch. Next we went to Orient Beach for 2 hours. I chose to go to the Orient Club side (to the right of where the van was parked). If you're not familiar, that is the nude beach. I didn't do the nude thing, but there's good people watching there unless you're totally turned off by naked people...then you probably would want to go to the beach area to the left of the van parking. I prefer the nude side - fewer people and a great place to relax. Next, we had the choice to shop in the downtown for an hour or so and get a ride back or just shop til you're ready to go back and get your own ride - or just walk back to the ship - it's really not that tough if you don't mind the heat (I don't). However, I was very tired after the beers and beach, so I chose to go back to the ship (around 3:30). I highly recommend Bernard - for the price, it's a great time.
St Thomas - my Princess tour was cancelled. I was scheduled for the full day catamaran sail and snorkel @ $129 pp. They didn't notify us until the evening before it was scheduled, making it difficult to figure out a different one to go on. I decided I'd been to St Thomas several times before and it's safe to just take one of the open air buses where you want to go. I thought I'd go shopping in downtown Charlotte Amalie and prepared accordingly. Once off the ship, I turned around, went back to my cabin and got my beach gear ready. I'd never actually been to Magen's Bay Beach so I decided to go there. Taxi ride was $9 pp (+tip) one-way. Entrance to the beach is $4 pp. This is the best way to get there IMO. I was able to get there by 10, a full hour to an hour and a half before the ship's tour people got there. I was also able to stay much longer...they left at 1, I chose to leave at 1:30, but could have stayed longer if I wanted to. If you go there, be prepared, drinks are pricey - I think I paid $8 for a painkiller (including tip), but you're pretty much a captive audience. The painkiller was good, I have to admit.
Grand Turk - Almost everyone else went to Margaritaville, but I had no interest. My cold was really with me by then, so I just walked the beach, swam for a little while, shopped in the pier store and walked back to the ship. I was only out about 2 hours.
Ok, so it sounds like I really did do a lot, but here are the things I missed and will probably do when I go again (yes, I'm booked again for the Crown on 1/25/09!):
Will do Anytime dining and see how that works out. At least if I'm seated alone, it won't (hopefully) be at a table for 8. Check out Skywalkers. The nightclub could be fun, we'll see. Adagio Bar looked like a nice place for drinks with great views. Not sure how much you'd see at night and I don't think it opened too much before dark, but still a nice looking bar. Drag myself to at least one production show. I'm sure I wouldn't hate it, it's just not tops on my list of things to do. See the full show of the comedian(s). Check out Club Fusion...don't really know anything about that one, but passed it on the way to dinner every night. Check out the Wheelhouse Bar - I didn't get in there at all, so I should at least visit. Use the sauna and steam room. I'm not sure why I didn't get there. What would have been better for a cold than a nice, hot steam room? Next time to St Thomas, I plan to get to Sapphire Beach (& maybe Coki, too). In past visits, I've been to St John for snorkeling at Trunk Bay, done an island tour, shopped at Havensight, shopped downtown, so I'm now going to try to get to as many beaches as possible. St Maarten, I'm always happy to shop & go to Orient Beach...I'm sure there are other worthy beaches, I just like Orient, so why change?
Obviously, since I'm booked again, I really enjoyed this cruise. I'm pretty easy to get along with, so maybe that's why I enjoyed myself so much. But I did feel I received some exceptional treatment from various employees of the Crown Princess and with only a few small glitches, it was a perfect cruise.