long winded review! Preface - We are a 40"s couple travelling with our 11 year old daughter. This was our 4th cruise - but 1st with Princess. DH is a dentist, I'm the office manager in his office. We are just middle of the road people - not too fancy, fairly easy to please. (just giving this info so you can base my opinions on food and quality by "who" we are....) My opinions are only that - opinions! :) We like nice things, but don't require a certain 'caliber' to be happy!
Ft Lauderdale - Arrived early - on Friday! Had reservations at the Hyatt Place/Plantation, so we picked up our rental car (Budget through hotwire $42 for 2 full days!), set our GPS with the address and off we went. Check in went smoothly - we were offered a choice of rooms - We chose what they said would be a quiet room on floor 5 - they were right! We were given a quick tour of the facilities. Got to our room - it was fantastic - King sized bed with a pull out couch for our DD, HUGE big screened TV (which my husband loved for NCAA March Madness). The room was clean, roomy, the bed comfy. Some more notes about hotel: *Pool - it is heated - but just a bit - it was fine for us, but there were a few people discussing it amongst themselves that it should have been warmer - it could have been, but it was definitely heated. It was unseasonably cool for FL this past week, too - I guess which may have added to the chill! *exercise room - it's small, but mighty! No weights, but for cardio machines - they were top notch! One elliptical, 2 (or was it 3) Treadmills, and a bike. These were new high quality machines that you could watch TV on, listen to FM radio, or just watch your progress on a picturesque screen. *Breakfast - this may have been the only downfall of the hotel. Keep in mind - this was spring break. It was chaotic in the breakfast room every day. We learned quickly to try and avoid the prime times - and our second day was definitely better than the first. They do have a nice selection of bagel, english muffin, fruits, cereals, yogurt, juices. If you wanted hot foods - they were available for order at a nominal fee (eggs, waffle, omelet) they also served a small selection of food for any time of the day. *Dining - we ate the most fantastic pizza ever at a wood fired pizza restaurant very close to the hotel. It was called Anthony's Coal Fired Pizza http://www.anthonyscoalfiredpizza.com/ The best pizza - bar none - that I've had since I was in Italy - and the salad (its HUGE! They say enough for 2, but probably enough for 4 - we all three ate on it and had loads left over) was the BOMB! We also ate at Smoky Bones BBQ on University (again, only a couple of miles from the hotel) for dinner and it was good food - typical to what you'd expect from a chain BBQ joint. Good service. We did eat Ole Ole Mexican for lunch one day - it was good food - but want to mention that it was a bit pricy - we could have eated at anthony's again for cheaper and been just as happy! Good food tho! *Mall - just want to mention that there is a nice big mall within walking distance of this hotel, as well as a Walgreens, a liquor store, and a grocery store all within a mile or two of this location. *Beach - there is a beach about 20 minutes or so from this hotel - straight down broward - nice clean area - parking is easy if you get there early - but later in the day good luck! :)
Sunday - we checked out of hotel, dropped rental car back at the airport, and grabbed a taxi to the cruise dock. We'd been told we could probably get on the ship about 10:30 or so, and arrived about then to the cruise terminal. (cab was $13). We were about the 4th person there! :) We were given a #1, and sent to wait. *friendly staff everywhere *Pictures are NOT allowed in the area - it wasn't really posted well, and many people were getting in 'trouble' by the security. *Staff told us they don't hardly EVER board by 10:30! LOL People began filliing up the seats, and at noon, group one was called to go through registration. I'd say it took us 5 minutes TOPS to get on the boat. And that was only because our guy checking us in was chatting up our daughter about how excited she was, and because we stopped to get a picture! It was a BREEZE! *If you are early boarding - you do not have to go to your designated check in gate for your floor - you can go to whoever is open *If there is a line - migrate towards the right of the lines - it's closest to your embarkation route! We went straight to our room - Minisuite D715 on the Dolphin Deck. Completely uncovered balcony. I literally DUMPED my bags and dashed to the Sanctuary to get a seat for the week! (more later in bullet points) Once seat secured - I flew downstairs one level and then signed up for the thermal spa for both DH and I. Then back to the room to actually look at it! LOL Minisuite was great - LOVED the layout compared to Carnival's suite - I like the longer, narrower layout a lot! The bathroom is smaller than what we were used to a little bit - and darker?....but who's spending the week in the bathroom! I loved the big closet - and then the wall of shelves to organize your clothes on!. Two TVs - nice added bonus (I think we only had one one once the whole trip tho!) Dinner that night in the Anytime Dining was great - Prime rib for DH, Barramundi fish for me, and Spaghetti and Meatballs for the Daughter. We picked the Michelangelo dining room and had Ralph from the Phillipines (side note - he was awesome, and inadventently - we sat in his section 4 times! It was funny! The final time we did request him, and gave him a tip, he'd been such a nice guy all the times we had him!) *Sanctuary - Okay - it was fantastic - don't get me wrong - but I'm not sure I'd spend the money again. I don't think I personally utilized it enough to make up for the cost for the week $105.00 I used it for a couple hours every day - and on one day I was there for about 4 hours. I figured it cost me about $8/hour. It's so nice and swank up there - those chairs are so comfy - and they treat you like royalty - bringing you cold clothes, special snacks, turning your chair for you, covering it each day with a super nice towel! The spa pool was a level down from here and although some people say no one was ever in that pool, this week it was fairly crowded all week. And - to get there from the sanctuary - you had to go all the way out of the sanctuary, down a level into that area. Too bad it couldn't have been a little different layout maybe? Anyway - really really nice - probably worth every penny - but for me, I'd probably take that money for something else next time. *Thermal Spa - first day special $149 for two people for the week. This facility is awesome also - ceramic hotbeads, rainhead showers, steam rooms with different scents, very private! We loved, loved, loved this. But again - we didn't utilize it as much as I thought we might - I'd say one of us used it every day - and maybe twice we both went on the same day. That being said - it made it about $17 a visit for us - not terrible really - it was so relaxing. I only shared the room a couple of times with anyone. I'd probably spend the $$$$ on this again - before I'd do the sanctuary again - although after typing all this, I think the sanctuary might be worth it again! LOL
We rented a bungalow at Princess Cay - Had we not - it would have been sunny and 100*. Since we spent the $199 on the BB, it was 70 and rainy! LOL Such is life! We made the best of it - Some people love princess cay, and some don't - we liked it - would we pick a cruise because of it - never! HOwever, if the weather had been nicer we'd have enjoyed the beach day loads (We are beach and ocean junkies!). The bungalows are awesome - roomy with a table for four - an airconditioner, shelves to put your stuff on. Lots of towels to use - the outside shower head would be nice on a hot, sandy beach day! We swam - YES - we were a few of the idiots that actually made it into that cold water! LOL *DD got her hair braided - $30 for half a head. Cheaper than some of the places we've had it done before. *If you like to shop - don't come in with an expectation of it here - you'll be disappointed as there isn't a lot of shopping here - there were several little kiosks - but many had the same or similar items. *The BBQ is okay - burgers, hotdogs, baked beans and potato salad. Pretty much it - again - had it been a hot sunny day, we might not have been searching for 'snacks' so much! LOL *music - there was some live music - which I love! It was relaxing to sit and listen to him while shivering from the rain We made the best of our day - and headed back to the ship towards the end of the day. While it certainly didn't compare to the other stops, it was an adequate stop - I think we'd have liked it towards the end of our trip better. I think people are so in anticipation of shopping and restaurants, and tours, and whatnot - they are disappointed with Princess Cay - where if you were doing at the end of the trip - you could use it for a relaxation and unwind day from all the go go going of your trip - I think it would be better received that way!
Sea Day! We had a great day - lots of activities! *Bingo - $20 for a three card pack that gets you 4 games. These are cards that you mark - unlike carnival. We bought dabbers - but you could have used just an inkpen if you wanted. I think it was offered twice this day - special note - the time posted is the time that the game Begins - get there before that time so that you are ready and not missing out! *cruise director staff is loads of fun - first time I really witnessed them around the ship, involving people all the time. For example, I was sitting in the explorer lounge watching Evolution (one of the ships bands) and here come some of the crew - one of the guys got my DD up dancing, one of the girls sat down by me and chatted me up some. The rest of the trip when they saw us, they spoke and remembered us. Nice touch that we hadn't really witnessed on carnival! *casino - won a little $$$ in the casino - started the week with $20 and by today was up to about $178 in my casino account. The cruise card system is so easy - not sure what all the hub bub is about it - put your card in - it asks you to set up account - pick a pin number, enter it again and voila - you are in business! St. Maarten - We went into port - not a lot to do at this dock that we were at, and since we had a tour scheduled in a short time, we didn't have time to do much else, as far as taking the water taxi to shopping, etc. - bought a hat (good parenting = sunburnt daughter! LOL), bought a couple cute trinket stuff, and headed off on our excursion! *Golden Eagle Sail - This was a good trip - efficient crew. We were supposed to have gone to tintarre beach (that isn't right, but if you've been on here you know which beach I mean) Because of the roughness of the water, we went first to a snorkel location that was okay, then to mullett beach. The snorkelling we saw was not the greatest I've done, but it really wasn't the crews fault. The water was a bit choppy, and it was a good distance away from the boat before you could see anything. We did see some fish, and a little bit of coral, but had more fun just floating around in the ocean by the boat. Next stop mullet beach - where my daughter was traumatized by the lack of clothing! LOL (side note - HILARIOUS day at the pool after - listening to all the kids talk about their experiences at the clothing optional beaches - really was one of my more entertaining afternoons/evenings by the pool! LOL) We saw a pod of dolphin as we were leaving - which was really really neat - a baby and several others - and I understand that seeing them in that area is fairly rare! We watched them for about 15 minutes swim right around our boat - great ending to a nice day! My all time faves of the trip - both of these days were amazing!
We'd been to St Thomas before - love love love the shopping there, but since DH drop a jackload of money on a gold Rolex the last time we were there, I opted for an all day cruise to avoid him spending more than a used car of something stupid again! We picked the Full Day Sail with lunch. This excursion might well be the highlight of our trip! I honestly did it to keep my husband out of the shops, and couldn't believe the day we had! We were on a catamaran - the Dancing Dolphin http://www.thedancingdolphin.com/index.html The crew was Ian, Lilly and....(gawd, I've forgotten his name! LOL) We started out of St Thomas on the boat - only about 19 people on the boat to Turtle Cove. This is in the wild - out in the ocean, where you can snorkel above sea turtles swimming - they would come up right beside you for air - it was awesome! Even more so - they did a guided snorkel tour for the first half hour or so, where Lilly would explain about what kind of fish we were seeing, bring sea urchins up for us to see and handle, all the while explaining how to protect them and treat them, and how to help the ocean. Lots of interesting different facts about the ocean, where sand comes from, etc. Best snorkeling tour ever that we'd taken - lots of info -lots of free time to do our own thing! Then, with the rum punch flowing after the snorkeling - the second half of our day was spent at honeymoon beach, with BBQ ribs and chicken, salad, etc. More rum punch, soda, beach volleyball, more snorkeling if you like. This crew was the perfect combination of fun and professionalism. We ended up tipping them $50 at the end of the day - the most fun 6 hour excursion we've done! I cant' say enough about this day - its an expensive excursion, but well worth the $$$! Grand Turk - WOW. We loved it here. It was just beautiful! The prettiest water and sand of the cruise! We did the 'ultimate snorkeling tour' and loved it. This was a shorter, inexpensive tour - but had lots of bang for your buck. Fun crew, LOTS of people on the boat tho! We went to two different snorkeling stops - the first there were tons of the huge stingray like Grand Cayman - that the guides would go down and grab so you could touch them. Lots of coral, wonderful visibility. Tons of conch shells - many of them empty and there for the taking! The second stop was near the surf break - so a bit more choppy, but nothing even my 11 year old couldn't handle - TONS of sealife and fish here - and a resident 'PET' barracuda that swam with us. a little creepy, but so cool - saw some very amazing and unique fish here that I've never seen on the 15 or so snorkeling tours I've taken! We spent a short time at margaritaville, and did a little bit of shopping - and then it was way too soon time to leave this GEM of an island! I cannot believe people say they don't want to get off of the ship here - its a small island - but it packs a mighty mighty punch as far as beaches, sea life, and beauty! We were out of the cabin by 7:45 - off to the zoo of the buffet. Then on to the Wheelhouse - our appointed 'waiting' spot! Within about 5 minutes they called us to leave - We did the EZ Check - let me tell you - IF YOU HAVE A LATER IN THE DAY FLIGHT - the is the ONLY way to go - and the BEST $20 you'll spend per person on your trip! People with an earlier flight, it'll make it easier for you - but not like the people who have to wait several hours for your flight. Our flight didn't leave until 4:17. Because we did EZ Check - we were first off the boat after self carry. We walked directly off the boat! Here's where EZ Check made the difference in our day - the airport was a ZOO. The airlines have a policy that you cannot check your bags until 3 hours prior to your flight. This means, you can't go through security and down where there's food, lots more chairs, etc, until you've checked your bags. because people couldn't check their bags, they were stuck in the area by check in that has very little sitting which means in every direction you looked - the floor was covered with loads of tired people and all of their bags :( We only had our carry ons - and were able to roam about, go through security and get seats etc. Looking back, I wished I had rented a car for the day to meander around, but now I know for next time! Some notes about Princess difference: *I thought the food was better than carnival - DH thought food was better, but that carnival had more choices geared towards his likes. By the way - sidenote! The Sea Bass on Grand Turk night (captains night) was the BEST I've had - it was fantastic! Also the fish on the first sea night (monday) was delicious! *anytime dining - I've read some negatives about it - we didn't experience that at all. Only one night were we asked to share a table - and ended up meeting a lively crew that we enjoyed seeing the rest of the week. We did have to wait in line to be seated for maybe 10 minutes every night, but the hostess was very friendly and kept everyone entertained. We never got a beeper - in fact - only saw one person with one the whole time. We found the michelangelo was faster, and a shorter line, so aside from one night we ate there. We ate at all different times - the line was about the same all the time. Early early, and late late seemed a smidge less crowded, but we were pleased with our dining on all nights. *I noticed what I'd call a 'quiet elegance' about the staff. My DH kept saying - they don't seem quite as attentive as carnival, and I'd say, well - what is it that you need, and he'd respond - well, nothing, it's all taken care of. I liked that not 'in your face' sort of attentiveness. I don't think DH didn't like it - it just wasn't what he was used to. If you needed help with anything - they were all more than willing to help. *I really, really loved the way Princess utilizes all of their public areas for different things. Instead of doing 'everything' in the theatre. It made me more acclimated to the ship, and I felt like I'd seen the whole ship, not just the pool, theatre and dining room! *Embarassed to admit I saw very little entertainment on this cruise! We fell in love with Evolution on first day - and like someone on here mentioned, sort of stalked them around the ship! They had such an eclectic range of what they could do and were loads of fun, too. *Don't bring books - HUGE library!! Save the room in your suitcase and check something out there - very handy! *MUTS - lots of fun, love that they bring you blankets, popcorn, and cover the chairs with comfy covers! We had a great cruise - One of our best so far - definitely will travel with Princess again as we took advantage of the $100 deposit and onboard credit for booking while we were on the ship. I also booked a European cruise for a friend and I to get the deposit discount and onboard credit for it! I have all the patters! Didn't get home until late - so no pics up yet, but I'm happy to answer questions you might have or scan those patters and email them to you - as well as the list of Muts Movies, Spa Specials, etc. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org