April 19th - 29th 10 Night Caribbean Cruise
Background: I travelled with my partner Jimmi (jmcal123). I am a lifelong cruiser (#34) on everything from Crystal to Carnival. While I am not loyal to any one line, this is my 16th cruise on Princess since 2003. So, this is my first cruise with Elite status. We were originally booked on the same itinerary in December on the Ruby, but when we saw the same cruise earlier for half the price, we could not pass it up. This was my choice for cruises because of itinerary and ship... I wanted to see the final evolution of the Grand Class ships and visit a few ports I have not been to in the Caribbean. While there are many positives about this cruise, there were a few disappointments as well... Enough for me to choose Royal Caribbean for my next cruise, but nothing to deter me from Princess in the future, in fact we purchased an open booking. So with that being said, take my opinions with a grain of salt, as I do of everyone else's.
Pre-Cruise: We did not have long in FLL, so chose the Ft. Lauderdale Grand (Hilton). It was close to the port and you can walk to stores, dinner, etc. I was able to go for a run along the beach prior to boarding which made it even better. We found it for $149 and thought it was a good price for the quality of the facility. I have stayed here once before when it was a Marriott I believe and would choose this hotel again if the circumstances were the same. If we had full day, we would however choose the beach. We chose to eat at the "Authentic" French Bakery for breakfast before boarding the ship. This was a mistake. For a mere $27 we received 2 croissants, a coffee w/ no refills, and a small bottle of water. It made realize exactly why I choose a cruise over a land vacation. This stop also put us checking out of the hotel right at 11, which was chaotic... about 15 families waiting for cabs. This in turn put us in Port Everglades at 11:30, which was even more chaotic.
Embarkation: Because it was Sunday, the Crown was berthed at Pier 2 and we were forced across the way. When we arrived at the Port, there was a large line of cabs and an even larger line of people waiting to get into the building. We joined a line and started waiting. We quickly befriended the people around us and then tried to start using our Elite status to get out of the waiting. This did not work. So we waited and chatted. When we finally reached the building, Port Security closed our door and told everyone in the line to join an equally large line at a different entrance. So, after 1.5 hours we finally entered the building. Once it, it was a piece of cake. We were second in line and on the ship within 5 minutes. Princess as usual did a phenomenal job getting people through their lines. We were thankful for this because the Port Security was absolutely awful. Anyone who questions about alcohol, we carried on 4 bottles of wine, a bottle of vodka, and a 12 pack of Coke Zero. No questions asked.
Cabin and Sail away: We booked an inside guarantee cabin which put us in A212... way forward. This was not our ideal location, but it is the chance you take with the GTY. We did get a lot of exercise as it seemed like we always wanted to be in the back of the ship. The first thing I did upon entering our room was to call down and try to get setup for the Chef's Table. I was told by the woman I spoke to that there were a lot of people who signed up from the previous cruise and that I would be put on a waitlist. This turned out to be a disappointment as we were looking forward to this as I am a trained chef and work in the field. On the bright side, we saved $150... maybe next time. I did not see the Chef's Table mentioned in the patter at all and some friends were able to get in when they called (very early). We met up w/ some CC folks for sail away and a few beverages. After an unnecessarily stressful morning, our relaxation began. It was warm, sunny and we had a bucket of Dos Equis... LIFE IS GOOD. We were the last to leave and we set sail for Aruba right about 5:30.
Cruise Critic Get together(s): We had a very active cruise critic roll call and it carried over easily to our cruise. Having been meeting people on cruises for 6 or 7 years, this had to be the best group of people I have met. At our meet and greet, there were about 75 people in Skywalker's. It was the start of many friendships. The next day we did a wine tasting in candydane's owner suite. There was A LOT of wine and even more SPIRIT. This was a very fun event. With so many people, it seemed like we ran into someone ever hour. It was great to know so many people on board. In fact, when I returned to work, I was still expecting to run into someone I knew from the cruise as I was walking around corners. Meeting so many great people was the highlight of our cruise.
Aruba: I have been to Aruba several times before so have done an island tours and shopping downtown. This day we chose to take the bus to the Radisson and have a beach day. The whole day cost us $36 for the two of us. In Aruba this is a steal! For $16 each we had use of the pools, towels, grounds, and beach chairs, cabanas. It was well worth it and the trip. It was a great day of sun and sand w/ a little cabana for some shade. It kind of changed my opinion somewhat of Aruba.
Bonaire: Bonaire was one of the main reasons I chose this cruise. I love the water and am a certified diver. Jimmi is not, so we settled on a snorkel tour. I have to say that the snorkeling here was better than the majority of the diving that I have done. We booked the tours with Woodwind and they met us at the ship and after a short walk we were on the sailboat. The guides were friendly and informative and lunch and ample drinks were available. I did think that the boat was a little overcrowded, but the amount and variety of sea life more than made up for the slight overcrowding. Both stops were on Klein Bonaire at the southern tip of the island and for a good period of time and neither looked like they could be reached by beach so we are very happy that we chose this tour. We were in the water more than we were out. The second stop was the turtle stop and it was so incredible to see them swimming along the dropoff in the channel. I truly cannot explain the beauty of the underwater life of this island. After our tour we did get to walk into the quaint town and did a little shipping. The only disappointment on this day was that the ship departure was 2PM. Princess should really extend the say, make the next day a sea day and dump Grenada...
Grenada: Where to start, as you may have gathered, we did not like this stop and would not return here again in the future. The problem was the locals that met as soon as you exited the stores by the ship... they were more annoying than gnats. They would not simply take no for an answer and would follow you. After about ten minutes, the guy that was following us said the only way to get rid of him was to give him money. I am not sure how this is any different than theft. I am a big guy and fairly fit, and these guys were making me feel uncomfortable and did not feel safe. This was enough, we stopped at the one store to buy some spices (which the woman was friendly and very helpful), but were back onboard within an hour. I understand that we chose not to book a tour, but nothing stood out to us. Mandoo would have been the obvious choice, but the tour seemed boring and after hearing a few other descriptions, I am glad that we did not go. I just wished that local residents would realize that their pushy tactics were a complete turn off to guests on their island. We did learn one thing though and that was that locals do not like to have their pictures taken... I believe that someone said they think it steals their soul.
Dominica: Again, this was a repeat for me, but one of my favorites. When traveling to Dominica, you must leave the downtown area if you want a true feeling and beauty of the island. I did a lot of research for the perfect tour here. I had done a river hike in gorge several years back and it was awesome... I could not find one similar, but did find the Wacky Roller tour. This was a great tour. We drove around in open air army vehicles. You were able to stand whenever you wanted and it you truly got to see the entire island. There were four stops with the final being in a small swimming area that went through a cave to a waterfall... this was beautiful and I would recommend it to anyone.
St. Thomas: I have spent many days in St. Thomas on land and by sea, and we require only one thing while we are there, Bushwackers in Palm Passage. We thought about St. John for the day and Tami and Scott (Vegabay) mentioned taking the water taxi to Water Island... before we knew it however, we were sitting at the bar on our second round and both of these options were out the window. We grabbed a few beers and some snacks at the Greenhouse downtown and then after a quick stop at the ship we picked up a few six packs and headed to Magen's Bay. We did not arrive until 3:30, so time was limited, but we had enough time to get wet, drink, and stop by the bar for a shot! We enjoyed sail away on their balcony joined by some others (Michelle and Alan) and a few bottles of wine. It was another great day on St. Thomas.
Priness Cays: Been there, done that. We were not going to get off, but really wanted to see how the priority tender worked for Elite... and it did, we were on the second boat. We were back on after about 2 hours.
Food: This is a completely subjective topic and I would say it was good to very good. I think that Princess Pizza is the best pizza of any cruise line and better than most at home. I believe that I had 20 pieces in ten days... I think this accounted for the 2.5 lbs I gained. I also really enjoyed the salad options ... These two constituted the majority of my lunches. We did the dining room a few nights and the buffet a few. I seemed to be the one who had issues steaks being over cooked... all three times. I did think that the options in the Caribe Cafe were at times lacking inspiration and did not like that they had duplicate themes on a ten day cruise. I also thought it was an inconvenience that they did not change some of the buffet options when in port to accommodate the rush of people coming back on ship. All that being said, there was not anything stood out to be as amazing (aside maybe from the chocolate cake from Crown Grill) or horrible, but it was all certainly good. We did notice that alcohol prices went up from our last Princess cruise. I feel that if they are now charging what RCCL is charging they should ditch the shot glasses... For such a small price (alcohol is really cheap) they can make it up in quantity... tipsy passengers will drink more than those who do not. We did have a few really bad drinks.
Crown Grill: We ended up spending the second formal night here. You can chalk it up to Jimmi and I just not liking steak houses, but we were fairly disappointed. We also were not fans of Chops on RCI. Perhaps it was our personal preferences. There was a big mess up with our steak preparation, and I ended up with the wrong one which put everyone eating their meals for 10 minutes before I received mine. I will say that the molten chocolate cake was fantastic. All in all, the company was enjoyable, and that made our night.
Gym and Working Out: I am running a marathon at the end of May, so it was necessary to run a few times while I was sailing. I have to say that the running track is pretty pathetic. I have had no problems running on other ships, but the sanctuary has taken over this area. Further, the running track was closed for the last two days prior to returning to FLL. This was very frustrating. I tried to do the gym, but the ceilings are so low, that I could not run without hitting my head. So, my final try was the promenade deck, only to find out that it was also being blocked off for tendering into PC (more than an hour before our arrival). I also do not understand why they chose to close the running track on the final sea day and PC, when we were in port for the previous five days.
Entertainment: For some reason on cruise ships, we always miss out on the provided entertainment. We did not see any of the production show (though I have slept through my fair share in the past). We did one comedian and he entertained. If I have sun, pool, ocean, and a good book I am more than satisfied. Throw in a buck of beer and life does not get much better for me. This is why I like Princess... they do not seem to force activities down your throat. There is enough to occupy if you need help and not enough so that you are exhausted when you get home!
Ship: Well, here is where I am sure I will get some criticism. Considering this was the final evolution (that we know of right now), I was really disappointed with certain aspects of this ship. I guess my main problems were with the top decks of the ship... this is odd considering it is what I had liked so much on the Grand, Star, and Caribbean Princess.
The good, we really thought the piazza setup was great and created a nice atmosphere in the evening. However, we did not use much of it. We had drinks at wines one night and they brought a cheese plate to us. This was a nice touch. We never used the International Cafe though. It seemed that we were only there when we were full. I did like the added touches. To be honest, I expected to be underwhelmed by the interiors after being on the Freedom of the Seas, but I was surprised. I did think that Crown Grill was a little large considering so few people seemed to be using it during the week. I think they should break in half and move Sabatini's back down to the area. This would resolve the issues I had.
Our cabin was a standard inside. It had adequate storage and certainly met our needs for the week. I am a fan of inside cabins; not only for the value, but because of the quality sleep I get with no light. Our room steward was really good... never in the way and room always clean.
The bad. I personally think that The Sanctuary is a complete was of space. There is a large amount of space wasted for this area. Considering how much this was used, I cannot believe that Princess has expanded this to other ships. I understand the need for extra revenue, but this is not space well utilized. Next, the back area is completely inhibited by Sabatini's. You had to go up to go down and could only use the one side. I cannot tell you how many times I went down the wrong side only to have to back track half a ship back to get to the other side. Further, we just like the Skywalker's Lounge, well, to be in the sky. It created shade around that back pool and seemed to make more space. I am glad that they cannot change this feature on CB. And as I mentioned before putting the running track on top of here was just not a good decision for walkers and runners. And finally, I will add my vote to the bad design of the buffet areas... it can be chaotic at times.
Elite Cruising: Again, I thought there were great perks and some that were somewhat of a waste. The laundry service was excellent. We used this frequently and know now to pack even less on our next cruise. It is not that you do not have to worry about running out of clothing. The mini-bar setup was used, and quickly. Lol. We swapped out what our dislikes through room service very easily. The priority tendering worked, though would not be useful on all cruises. It is good to have though as some people waited 30-45 minutes to tender into Princess Cays. We used the internet only twice and one was to print out boarding passes. I thought the fact that you still had to pay a $3.95 startup fee was ridiculous. We ended up using about 20 minutes of our 250. I must add that if I was paying $.75 a minute for internet access and saw a $3.95 startup, I would be a bit upset. I would have liked to see Elite status being used more like a hotel's & airlines. I was aware of upgrades given to others that did not have the status. Also, why not allow elite level passengers be given a priority in the Chef's table and reservations at Crown Grill and Sabatini's. Jimmi thought that a ½ day at The Sanctuary would have been a good perk. I did not think I would use it. Regardless, the elite perks on any cruise lines are not enough for me to stay with one cruise line.
Bottom Line: This particular experience was memorable in many ways and our cruise critic group was fantastic. I really think that the people on your trip help deliver the experience and we met some great people and hope to sail with them again on our Oasis cruise in 09/10 (or at another time). We still love the Princess experience, but will choose another line for our fall cruise. I am pretty sure that I would not return to the Ruby, Emerald, Crown class, but I suppose if the price is right anything is possible. We have the Island booked next year and an open booking for a later date. We are looking forward to it very much.