Caribbean Princess Cruise Review by jtmalt: A Nearly Perfect Week
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A Nearly Perfect Week
Embarkation: We arrived at the Pan American Pier at around 12:30. Boarding was pretty smooth, the line moved in batches to an indoor seating area, then row by row to the check-in line. Very smooth, no hassles. Duty free after check-in offered wine, liquor, soda, and water, I didn't see any beer. We were in our rooms by about 1:15, so only 45 minutes from drop off. I think that qualifies as a pretty quick check-in procedure.
Ship condition: The public areas are in very good condition, comparable to the Crown. International Cafe was great, although it lacks the freezer case and equipment for gelato, and doesn't offer the various candy apples and such that were available on the crown. Stateroom was equipped with a flat screen tv, but I didn't see video inputs available.
Stateroom was a little worn, particularly with regards to the carpeting and the shower enclosure (which was cracked in a number of places). Beds were very firm, but an egg crate quickly More remedied that. Air conditioning in the stateroom worked properly and kept the room cool even in port. Some public areas were quite warm at times.
Food and dining: Food is subjective, but we found the food to be varied and well prepared. We ate in the Horizon Court for breakfast and lunch, and in the Coral and Island dining rooms, as well as the Cafe Caribe for dinners. While breakfast service was fine, dinner service in the dining rooms and the Cafe Caribe left a lot to be desired.
In the dining room, the waiters almost seemed annoyed, and service was very slow. In the Cafe Caribe, dirty plates were allowed to pile up and beverage service was ignored, but as soon as you left your seat to retrieve a salad or dessert, your table was immediately cleared, even if you left personal items on it. I don't know if a better system is needed, or if the personnel are just not attentive to their sections.
Staff were frequently discussing their schedules with their supervisors, and I got the impression that they were understaffed and unhappy. Again, we felt like we were an annoyance, and frequently saw staff making faces at diners behind their backs. If there was any negative at all on this cruise, the attitude of the dining staff was it.
Other staff: In contrast to the dining staff, all other staff we encountered were friendly and helpful. This is especially true for the International Cafe, and our room steward.
Theater: We attended only one comedy show in the Princess Theater, but didn't have any trouble finding seating. We didn't go to any of the production shows.
Sanctuary: We didn't use the sanctuary at all.
Lotus Spa: We signed up for a week pass to the thermal suite. My wife found it to be absolutely lovely. The Lotus Pool was deserted during port days.
Movement: We were in a forward cabin on Aloha deck (12). We didn't find the ship to move any more or less than any other ship we've been on, big or small. There is, however, a definite vibration in the stern section. I guess motion is a subjective thing, because we ran into someone who complained about how this was the worst ship she'd ever been on for motion. Honestly, we didn't feel it.
Disembarkation: Our group was called promptly at the expected time (8 am). Down to the terminal to collect our luggage, then a short pause at customs, and immediate access to a taxi. We arrived at the airport, went through USDA and security at terminal A and were at our gate by 9:00. I had expected a madhouse with Adventure of the Seas and Caribbean Princess unloading at the same time, but it wasn't really a big deal.
Overall, the trip was fabulous, and we enjoyed the ship very much. Less
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Cabin review: BDA255 Balcony
Good cabin, very little hall traffic, but could hear the elevator bell when things were quiet. Air conditioning was fine.
Port and Shore Excursions
We were met promptly at our cruise ship dock by our driver, who transported us on the quick ten minute ride to the Marina. Captain Ben and First Mate Nick met us and escorted us on board. A total of 10 people were sailing that day.
Silver Moon II is a 45' catamaran that takes a maximum of 12 people (there is plenty of room, as this is the craft they originally used for their 24 person excursions). The cat is in excellent condition, scrupulously clean, with a roomy, shady cockpit and a spacious bow with a large trampoline.
As soon as we started motoring out, Nick served up our choice of beverages accompanied by warm banana bread. As soon as we cleared the harbor, Ben set full sail.
Weather conditions were near perfect as we headed over to Payne's Bay for our snorkel with sea turtles. The bay was crowded with other day sails, since two cruise ships were in port, but Ben anchored off to the edge of the area, and Nick jumped in to attract some turtles over to our spot away from the crowds.
A few large turtles accomodated us, and one of them had to remoras attached to its' shell, munching on whatever remoras munch on. Visibility was great, and we really enjoyed the snorkel.
Next, we headed over to the shipwreck and reef. Visibility was much better this year, and we saw a wide variety of fish and coral formations. I should note that Nick was a great snorkel guide, guiding us to the best areas, keeping himself visible, and making sure we were following whenever he moved on.
We sailed over to Sandy Lane and anchored for lunch. The catered lunch was delicious, with Mahi Mahi, chicken, salad, and sides, along with some of Dexter's famous hot sauce (I wish we could buy this and bring it back to the States with us!). The food was delicious, and although I missed the flying fish we were served last year, the new caterer did a great job.
Finally, the beautiful downwind sail back to Road Town. Carrot cake and pina coladas were served as we enjoyed the beautiful sail back.
Once again, a great excursion. Ben made us feel like valued friends, and Nick is a fine addition to the crew and a top notch snorkel guide. Once again, a very highly recommended trip!
We were met at the Vendor's Arcade in Castries, and boarded the Island Diver's dive boat for the 40 minute trip to Ti Kaye. Ti Kaye is a resort located above the beach at Anse Cochon, with a restaurant, dive shop, and other facilites on the south side of the beach.
Anse Cochon itself is a relatively small pocket beach, embraced by a north and south reef. The sand is dark, the surf is gentle, and the beach is fringed by foliage. Our package included two beach chairs and an umbrella, and locking cage for our gear. Snorkel equipment is provided, as was a voucher for lunch (either a starter and entree or entree and dessert, as well as a non-alcoholic drink for each of us). Use of the single and two person kayaks was also included.
The south reef seemed to be in a bit of cloudy water due to recent heavy rains, but conditions at the north reef were ideal. The reef was in very healthy condition, with an abundance of sea life. You can snorkel from the shore out to the point very easily, there was no perceptible current on the day we were there.
Several vendors were on the beach, selling carvings and coconuts. They stopped by to chat and show us their wares, but were not persistent or annoying. Whenever boats would sail into the bay, they would hop onto their kayaks and paddle out to offer their goods.
The bay was busy, as this is a prime stop for cruise ship and hotel excursions. A number of large catamarans would pull up periodically to disgorge great quantities of snorkelers. In between these excursions, there would be peace and quiet.
Lunch was delicious (I really enjoyed the creole style chicken breast). Beware of the frozen alcoholic drinks...they are quite potent!
The staff is very friendly, and if you have the ambition you can climb the 117 steps to the hotel to view the rooms, if any are vacant. Return service to Castries was included, promptly at 3pm.
A sweet spot, and a beautiful day if you want to get away from the typical tours in St. Lucia.
High Pockets is a 42 foot sloop that is in absolutely beautiful condition. Kathleen takes out a maximum of 6 passengers at a time, and for this day my wife and I were joined by a group of 4 young ladies who were vacationing together. Kathleen transported us over to High Pockets in a dingy, and we relaxed on board.
The ship is obviously lovingly maintained, and Kathleen and Paul are wonderful hosts. Aside from his duties as first mate, Paul kept us supplied with drinks, helped with snorkel equipment, engaged in easy conversation, and generally kept a constant eye out for our comfort. Kathleen explained the islands and cays while we sailed through Pillsbury Sound, and told us the history of the area, and the history of the ship. The weather was as near perfect for sailing as it could be.
Paul kept our glasses filled with our choices of exotic juices, soft drinks, and adult beverages (including rum swizzles with freshly grated nutmeg!)
Eventually, we moored at Caneel Bay, and we enjoyed a long snorkel along the reef there. The reef was in great condition, and sea life was abundant. Paul was always unobtrusively keeping an eye out for our safety while we snorkeled.
Kathleen served up a delicious lunch of linguine and marinated chicken with fresh garden herbs, accompanied by a wonderful salad with fresh fruits...she was even kind enough to prepare a separate portion to accomodate a food allergy for me. Lunch was topped with a scrumptious homemade rum cake.
We made a second snorkel stop at Levongo Cay, where we snorkeled a very healthy reef, as well as the turtle grass flats. We saw dozens of rays at that stop, and our companions spotted some sea turtles as well.
Then, alas, under the blue Caribbean sky, we had to make our downwind sail back to Red Hook. The conditions were just awesome, the colors of the sea constantly changing. Kathleen chatted with us about our hometowns, and about her life in the Caribbean. This was our first time in a monohull vessel, all of our previous excursion had always been in catamarans, and we just loved the feeling as the ship gracefully cut through the water.
After experiencing this daysail, it's no mystery to us why Capt. Kathleen gets such uniformly excellent reviews, and is so highly regarded. The ship is a beauty, with open area for sunning and a shady cockpit for sitting an chatting. Kathleen is the consumate hostess, and we look forward to joining her again!
We were shuttled to the east end by a Carlson, a driver sent by Patouche to meet us. Julie, the owner and first mate, and Captain Branson met us at the marina, and we boarded Shamwari. Drinks were served, and we headed out under sail through the BVI. Cushions and a trampoline were available on bow of the ship, so we relaxed and enjoyed the weather and the scenery.
Branson and Julie pointed out the islands, giving us history and commentary as we sailed by. We eventually moored near the caves at Norman Island, and Branson joined us for a guided snorkel tour of the caves and the nearby reef. Rather than steps off the rear, Shamwari has a hatch leading to a dive ladder.
Branson was great, pointing out sea life and answering questions for us. We finished up just as a larger excursion, the White Squall II, pulled in.
We sailed around the point to a spot in the Bight (possibly Miner's Hole?) for some more snorkeling. Snorkeling conditions were great!
Next, we motored over to the William T. Thornton, a floating restaurant, for lunch. Lunch was not included in our excursion price, and the Willy T. was pretty quiet while we were there, but the burgers and fries were hot & tasty.
After lunch, we started our sail back, but unfortunately the weather was uncooperative, as some rain squalls started to chase us. We wound up motoring back rather than sailing for much of the way. Carlson met us at the dock, and we paid our own way back to Road Town.
It was a fun excursion, with great snorkeling. Branson did a great job guiding us, and both Julie and Branson were good hosts. Shamwari itself is a retired racing catamaran, so it is a little cramped in spots and doesn't have the expansive open areas I've seen on other cats. The cockpit area is also kind of crowded, as we found during the rain squalls, and I don't know how comfortable we would have been if the craft had more guests on that day. If it matters, it didn't have a standard marine toilet, making due with a little plastic camp toilet behind a curtain instead.
All in all, it was a fine excursion, and we had a good time.