We are first time cruisers and chose a back to back 14 day cruise on Princess going to both Eastern and Western Caribbean. We were celebrating our 10th Anniversary and wanted a vow renewal as well. We got that, and MORE.
On the advice of our travel agent we booked a “guaranteed” room, obstructed view. It's a bit of a gamble as you might get an upgrade, and you might not. The worst that can happen though is that you get what you reserved. We got lucky and were given a HUGE upgrade. Perhaps it was also the vow renewal package we purchased, I don't know, but whatever the reason it made our first cruise amazing!
We stayed at the Embassy Suites the night before embarkation. I was disappointed to find out there is no shuttle from the airport to the hotel. NOWHERE on their website did I find that information and for such an “upscale” hotel I expected better. I could have stayed at the Day's Inn and gotten a shuttle. I was also disappointed in the “buffet” breakfast. It took forever to get your food, and then there was nowhere to sit. However, this was the last thing in which I was disappointed, although one other event I'll discuss later happened, but like the hotel it was not the fault of Princess.
From hotel to stateroom was all of maybe 30 minutes? Princess has certainly figured out how to move people quickly and efficiently. Once you are through the terminal and check in process and board the ship, they reserve all but one elevator both forward and midships to move people with their luggage and have an attendant giving you directions. Our luggage arrived about 3 hours later, but as we were off having drinks and meeting friends this wasn't a big deal.
Our stateroom was on Lido deck (deck 15), right up at the front of the ship, one level above the bridge. We had an amazing view at every port. The first week we stopped at Princess Cay, then a sea day, then St. Maartin, St. Thomas, and Grand Turk, a sea day and back to Port Everglades. The second week was Ocho Rios, Grand Cayman, and Cozumel. (Also a 2nd stop at Princess Cay.)
At Princess Cay we shared a cabana with friends although we ended up spending most of the day in the water, so I'm not sure the cabana was necessary. The lunch was “bar-b-Que” - pork spare ribs, burgers, hot dogs, sausages and all the trimmings. It was QUITE good. They have a nice covered area with picnic tables and a nice breeze was blowing making it rather pleasant. The beach right at the dock is mostly sand. The beach down by the cabanas is mostly big round rocks making entry and exit from the water rather difficult. We heard several people fell there, but none of us had a problem. Mostly that was sheer luck I think.
Tuesday was a sea day, and we had received a letter in our stateroom the day we sailed that our vow renewal was scheduled for 4:30 pm. This was just fine with us – we didn't care when, just that it happened. Several of our friends from Cruise Critic came which we appreciated. My husband's brother emailed us a song he wrote for us and if we'd let the crew know ahead of time they could have played it from my iPod. Instead, we solved the problem by bringing my laptop and using it. The Captain was very tolerant of all this as well. After his little “set” piece for a vow renewal, he gave us the time to say things we'd planned. I wrote a poem for my husband, and he had a memory he wanted to speak about – it was a very sweet moment. Afterward we returned to our stateroom to find a lovely bottle of champagne and some delicious chocolate covered strawberries. The flowers the ship provided we placed in the champagne bucket and they stayed nice all week on our window ledge. Later, we had dinner in the Crown Grill to celebrate.
In St. Maarten we wandered around and shopped a bit, then met friends at the Blue Bitch Bar for a drink. My husband and I have dogs, so the name of this bar was hilarious to us. Right across the street was a small band that ad libbed lyrics about the tourists and people at the bar. We very much enjoyed them. Their sense of humor was very funny.
In St. Thomas we took a Princess tour – the Catamaran sail to Turtle Cove. This turned out to be “the” excursion for us although we enjoyed them all. We saw lots of turtles and marveled at their grace and beauty in the water. Somehow the idea of “turtle” and “grace and beauty” don't quite go together til you see these animals up close. And our tour boat crew made sure we did, however, they warned us the animals are very protected and there is a huge fine to even touch one. It was difficult not to reach out, but I hid behind my camera and took lots of photographs instead. The turtles for their part were remarkably unconcerned about all of us hovering over them and would surface very near us. I watched one bob up, then down, then look back up and come up again as if to see what we were.
The next day was Grand Turk where we had booked a stingray swim. For sheer grace these animals outshine the turtles but I wasn't so thrilled with them later. Our handler helped everybody that wanted to hold a stingray and touch one do so, which was very cool. We held one, then got a “stingray massage” and then if you wished you could kiss the barb. I don't kiss fish, so passed on that part. I more enjoyed the swimming around and watching the rays and taking pictures. Stingrays it turns out have a very oily substance on their skin that smells very, very strongly of fish. We took the handlers advice and scrubbed with sand, but when we re-boarded the Emerald I was suddenly overwhelmed by the smell. I got on the elevator and strangely, people moved away from me. I admitted it was me and got a laugh. But it took 2 washings and hubby scrubbing my back to stop smelling the fishy smell. Worth it, but when we did another stingray tour later I didn't touch them, just took photos.
Saturday is a sea day, and we filled it easily. There is so much to do on the ship you could do nothing else all week and still be busy. We had dinner in the dining room with our friends who were leaving the next day, then gambled a bit in the casino and turned in rather early for us.
Sunday we arrived back at Port Everglades. For those remaining on for another cruise you meet in one of the dining rooms, then the staff takes you as a group to the terminal, a visit to customs, then back on board if you wish. I heard later there were about 500 people remaining and from start to finish was a total of 35 minutes. I was extremely impressed.
Monday we again visited Princess Cay, and this time we shared a cabana with another friend in The Sanctuary area – no children allowed. The beach there needs steps down to it, but at least not all of the entry area is rocks. It was much easier to get in and out. Again, we spent most of our day in the water so I don't know why we bothered with the cabana. However, there were way fewer people in the water at that end and so snorkeling was much nicer. I wasn't always running into people and saw a lot more fish.
Tuesday, another sea day and this week we had arranged a couples massage, and then I had a Mani-pedi. Ohhh the decadence of it all. It was so fun to feel so pampered.
Wednesday was Ocho Rios, Jamaica. I was up early and went to breakfast while my husband slept in. It was only 6:15 am and the humidity was really bad already so I decided not to take my planned tour but to stay on the ship and enjoy some quiet time. My husband went on the Chukka Canopy Zipline tour and positively had a ball. He enjoyed the jungle and saw some lizards fighting over territory in one of the trees. I'd never have been able to step off the first platform, so it was just as well I didn't go. However, I also did not leave the ship. I thought I might do a little shopping, but the security officer at the gangway told me I shouldn't go alone, so I went to the end of the pier just to see, then went back on board. I took a very long, luxurious nap though so didn't feel at all cheated. Hubby was hot, tired and sweaty when he returned, but I was relaxed and refreshed. I'll take the relaxing over hot and sweaty any day.
Thursday we visited Grand Cayman. We again had a tour booked to visit the stingrays and also the dolphins. I remembered my last visit with stingrays however and instead of handling one I just snorkeled about the area and took pictures. I found a conch that was inhabited and quite large and brought it up to share with anybody else wanting to see it. The kids seemed particularly interested. Everybody who wanted to got to handle it and take pictures but I then made sure it was put back into deeper water by the crew. On the way back we stopped for one of the crew to dive for starfish – that was pretty neat. They brought it around for everybody to see and handle, then put it back in the water afterward. I liked this stingray excursion better. There were many many more rays to see. The dolphins are in a pen at Dolphin Cove, and are trained, captive animals. We were divided into groups and everybody got a chance to visit with the dolphins, but it wasn't...like the turtles or rays, so I ended up being a bit disappointed. I also didn't like that we couldn't take our own photos but had to purchase one if we wanted it. We elected to just take our memories and a couple of stuffies home with us.
Friday was Cozumel, Mexico. Our booked tour was to visit the Mayan ruins at Tulum, which was a religious center rather than a residential city. It was still quite impressive. Our tour guide gave us a rather quick 45 minute or so guided tour and pointed out things we shouldn't miss and then let us explore on our own. The ruins sit right on a bay of the Caribbean sea and if we'd known we could have snorkeled for awhile. My bad for not doing my homework. It was fascinating and I was impressed with our guide's knowledge of the site. He told us, among other things, that the site is rapidly decaying since it's been cleared of the protecting jungle and opened for tourism. Good intentions gone awry. The Mexican government is doing what it can to restore and protect the site however so hopefully it will continue to be a place others can visit and enjoy. I will say though, it's a very very hot, long day. Very worth the time and discomfort of the heat.
We were returned to Playa Del Carman by bus to catch the catamaran ferry back to Cozumel and this was where our ONE problem happened. The air conditioning on the ferry had stopped working. The crew boarded everybody, then waited another 20 minutes for one couple that was late and finally closed the doors and we left the pier, only to turn around to pick up the last couple and leave a second time. With over 400 people on the boat it quickly became unbearably hot. Most everybody was already dehydrated from the excursion. By the time the crew got permission from the captain to open the doors one man had fainted and shortly after, a woman. Quite a few people suffered from sea sickness. In all, a miserable trip. Thankfully a Spanish speaking nurse was on board and quickly gave instructions to the crew on how to help the ill. Nobody seemed in any great hurry however, which dismayed me. When we finally docked, the ferry crew had informed our ships medical staff we had “one” ill passenger. So the ship sent ONE medical team and ONE wheelchair. This was not their fault and they remedied the situation as fast as they could. Then, I was extremely dismayed by our fellow passengers more concerned with their own agenda who clogged the aisles trying to be off the ferry faster. This hampered the medical personnel and many of us had to keep yelling to “make a hole” so they could reach the ill passengers. It's one of very few times in my life I've been very very glad to have a rather LOUD voice and no reservations at all about using it. Princess staff lined the pier and ushered us as quickly as possible back on the ship. Later, we checked on the ill with the Purser's desk and were glad to hear all were recovering nicely. Princess's actions here were most impressive. Everybody on that ferry received a 50% refund of their tour fee, which honestly was the last thing on my mind. I did complain about the ferry crew however and I sincerely hope they are no longer part of the transportation offered. My complaint was more for my fellow passengers sake than my own as neither of us were more than uncomfortable from the heat nor bothered by the motion of the boat.
Saturday was another sea day, and after all of our exertions of the previous two weeks we needed a nice day of rest and relaxation. We also spent a few hours pulling out the suitcases and buying a few last minute gifts to pack away. We had a lovely dinner in the Michelangelo dining room and said good bye to our wait staff who were awesome throughout the cruise.
I want to detour a bit here and tell you about various things. The first is our room steward. That man worked so hard, and we enjoyed him so much. I don't know if he was aware of a little battle I waged with him or not because I never mentioned it. Apparently there is some rule somewhere that the room trashcan must be under the little table. I found that extremely awkward to use so every day I moved it where I wanted it. And when we left the room, even for just a few minutes, in would sneak Dani to put away anything we might have gotten out, and replace the trashcan under the table. I got annoyed with this once, then became greatly amused. So I tried putting the trashcan in various places just to see what he'd do. Every time it was back under the table when we returned. Our room was only less than immaculate when we left it. Any time we returned he'd have straightened it up again. I'd requested towel animals and every night but the one night he was ill I had some. I kept all of them and at the end of our trip I piled them all on our bed for a group photo. It was just silly how much I enjoyed them. Of all the wonderful crew on this ship, Dani was the most important to us. He never failed to fill our ice bucket, replace used towels, get me an extra pillow when I asked...no matter what it was Dani had the answer or the item I needed. I still haven't quite figured out how he did it, but when we wanted him he appeared, and other than that, we never saw him. I never paged him. He was just amazing and I've only been home a day and already I miss him. Some days we showered twice – once before leaving the room and once before dinner after our excursions, and never once did we have wet towels as he replaced them almost before we'd finished using them.
The second thing I want to mention, as does everybody on a cruise I think, is the food. The dining options on board are nearly endless. Hungry at 2 am? Room service. Want to eat in your swim suit?? The buffet line, the pizza place, the burger or hotdog counter...all are available. Want to be waited on and dress up in your finest glitter? The dining rooms will fit the bill. Our first week we enjoyed the buffet for most of our meals. The second week we ate in the dining room every night. I'm not much for dress up, but found myself looking forward to choosing my outfit and jewelry to match. We discovered part way through the first week we could make a “standing” reservation for a table in the “anytime dining” dining rooms (there are 2) and we found a wait staff that suited us. There are 2 restaurants on board, Crown Grill and Sabatini's that have a surcharge for them and while we never made it to Sabatini's everybody we spoke to who did raved. I know we loved the Crown Grill.
The last thing I want to comment on are the passengers. Many mornings tables were hard to find, so my husband and I took to walking up to a larger, partially full table and asking to join them. Nobody ever told us no, and we enjoyed talking with whoever we happened to find there about their week. We always enjoyed the conversations. We might then see these people later around the ship and stop to chat. 3000 people sounds like a lot, but we found it quite comfortable. The elevators were the most fun for me. One day I got on and found two people with plates with something gooey and chocolatey on them from the International Cafe. I went OOHHH and one immediately pulled her plate closer. So I turned to the gentleman who immediately surrounded his with his arms and told me to find my own. Everybody laughed. Another time we encountered an older lady in a gorgeous sequined wrap after dinner. My friend and I were admiring it and her husband piped up with “With the lighting in here, why don't you spin around and give us the disco ball effect.” She stared right at him and without missing a beat said “But of course.” And spun several times. His eyes were so big, and I thought I'd fall over laughing. Alcohol is abundant of course, but only once did we encounter what I'd call a rude drunk. It was so bad we left the pool. The pools are another joy we found. On the aft deck is the adult only public pool (not the Sanctuary one), and we discovered going there after dinner for an hour or so of just floating around in it was a very pleasant way to unwind. Another night we climbed higher and sat in a hot tub for awhile. Another night we watched a Tina Turner concert from a hot tub amidships and got in the pool once in awhile to cool off. Basically, there is fun to be had almost everywhere, even on elevators.
Our disembarkation day arrived all too soon. Princess has this down to an art. From stateroom to airport was maybe 45 minutes. This being our first experience we had planned a later flight so ended up sitting at the airport for quite awhile, but we read and chatted and had some lunch so it wasn't all bad. We were able to check our bags at the pier too, so we didn't have to lug them all over with us, and the next time we saw them was our home airport. We're already planning our next cruise but we're having trouble deciding between the Eastern route again, or trying the Southern Medley for 10 days. I wish all our problems were so difficult.