Caribbean Princess Cruise Review by TwoChicagoGuys: First Time on Princess -- We had a great time!
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First Time on Princess -- We had a great time!
I'll try to use the same format that I found helpful in other reviews, and break things down by section:
PRE-EMBARKATION: We flew into San Juan the day before our cruise left, and were glad for it. Our hotel was the El San Juan, which is a Waldorf-Astoria Property (Hilton Hotels). The lobby was grand, and the pools were nice. They also have a private beach, which seemed to be a theme with most of the hotels in San Juan. However, the room was run-down and most of the white furniture looked used and dirty. We probably wouldn't stay there again.
EMBARKATION: Spent the morning at the pool and had a leisurely breakfast. Picked up supplies (sunscreen, aspirin, etc) at Walgreens. We headed for the cruise docks at around 3pm. There is a very nice duty-free liquor store inside the building, once you've turned in your checked bags and have put your carry-on bag through the X-ray scanner. BUY YOUR LIQUOR THERE. The prices were excellent, and you can put things in your carry-on More to bring on board. We bought a bottle of wine, one bottle of champagne and a 1L bottle of vodka. The vodka went in the carry-on; the others we put in the store's bag. Check in was very easy. The whole process only took 15 minutes. We were on the ship by 4pm, which included 45 minutes spent in the duty-free store. They did ask about liquor as soon as we boarded, but they only checked the plastic store bag, and were fine with us having the wine and champagne.
I bought my Coca-Cola sticker as soon as we boarded (there were tables everywhere on the ship) and my partner bought his coffee card. We later found 2 coupon books in our room (FYI - we found out not everyone gets them), and it had a Buy 1-Get 1 coupon for coffee cards. We went down to the International Cafe on Deck 5, gave them the coupon, and they gave us a 2nd coffee card! That was a $27 savings right off the bat.
We went to the buffet that evening (it ranged from good that night to just OK on other days). Oddly, they had lobster claws on the buffet that first night, but they had no tongs to help you crack them open. I asked a waiter for some, and they said they didn't have any. I had to wrap the claws in my cloth napkin and smash them with my hand. I saw several other people doing the same thing -- Princess needs to get a clue and just provide the necessary tools to eat lobster. The sail away party was fun and we had a good time being out on the Lido Deck for the music and the treasure hunt giveaway.
SAILING: I'll review the ports separately below.
DINING: We had Anytime Dining and ate in the main dining room every night except the very first one. Overall the food was very good, with a couple of little exceptions. I had veal the 3rd night, and it was very chewy. Another night I had the Orange Roughy fish with lobster sauce. It tasted so fishy it was almost inedible. I will say that the desserts were outstanding! The Limoncello Sorbet and the Strawberry/Lemon Sorbet were some of the best I've ever had. My partner had the New York Cheesecake one night which was also excellent. The Pasta e Fagioli soup on Italian night was memorable, as was the Veal Ravioli on the 5th night (not sure why the just plain veal wasn't good -- who knows?). We learned to order extra of what we liked and to try something else if we didn't like what we got the first time. Most nights we also ordered a small side of Fettuccine Alfredo (excellent pasta!) to share, and they happily brought a small bowl of it out for us. Another word to the wise -- have the ESCARGOT on night 6! It was one of the best things I ate the entire trip! It will not be on the menu -- the waiter tells you about it at the start of dinner and you have to remember to order it.
As for Anytime Dining, we loved it. The first night we opted to eat with others, which was very interesting. There were 2 other couples at our table, one middle-aged and one older. The middle-aged wife and the older husband got in a debate over a conversation topic, and the older couple left very abruptly after dessert. We asked for a table for 2 every night after that. Despite the often huffy attitude of the Maitre D' in the Island Dining Room (Deck 5), he gave us our table quickly every night. Only one time did we get a "beeper" and were asked to wait 10 minutes for a table. Our other favorite dining tip is to use the International Cafe on Deck 5. We went there every single day, and often it was virtually empty at 9 or 10am. They have lots of good things in the display case (pastry, muffins, quiche, etc) and it's all included. It changes from breakfast items to lunch/snack items later on, which are also excellent. I ate several of the mozzarella & prosciutto paninis for a quick afternoon snack after coming back from an excursion. And the pizza on Deck 15 by the pool is every bit as good as everyone else says it is. We had some at least every other day.
ENTERTAINMENT: We only went to one production show, "Caribbean Caliente". Great dancers, pretty excellent singers, but yet it was very cheesy for our taste. Everyone said the hypnotist was great too, but we missed him. He gave a 2nd show late in the week that was in Spanish.
The first night we caught The Juan Carlos Show in Explorer's Lounge (Deck 7), which was fun, though he told most of his jokes in Spanish, so they were lost on us.
We met other gay couples on board and ended up making some good friends. Our favorite thing to do was to meet up after dinner for drinks either in the Wheelhouse Bar or Skywalkers. Both always had plenty of space available, though the music in Skywalkers can be very loud and you really feel the ship bobbing up and down from there.
The ship did host 2 GLBT get-togethers, one on the 2nd night and the other on the 4th night. Paul, an Associate Cruise Director, was our host both times. He provided free champagne the first time, and we got to meet some nice people, including one couple that ended up being part of our social circle for the rest of the cruise.
STATEROOM: We had a balcony room on Deck 14 (Riviera). It was terrific! LOVED having the balcony for evening sailaways and for just sitting out there to have coffee and pastry in the morning. We both highly recommend getting a balcony if you're thinking about it. Also, Deck 14 was the near perfect location. While Caribe Deck (Deck 10) has the biggest balconies besides suite rooms, you can look down at everyone else and see what they're doing. The Lido Deck (Deck 15) hangs all the way out over Deck 14, so we had complete privacy from above.
The bathroom was very small, but perfectly adequate. I'm 6'1 and I fit in the shower just fine -- no complaints.
There was also more than enough closet space. In fact, there was much more than we were expecting.
Our room steward was Bryan from the Phillipines. He was nice, but quite shy. We also thought he was a bit thrown by our request the first day to have the beds pushed together. However, by the end of the cruise he would chat with us in the hallway and he always said hello and goodbye when we saw him. He did a great job keeping the room neat and tidy all throughout the day.
CASINO: I was there almost every night. My partner only spent about a total of 15 minutes in there as he is not a gambler. I had fun, but beware, the odds are even tougher than a normal casino. If you like Blackjack, be careful of the "Fun 21" table. The rules seem very liberal, but they take all of the queens out of the decks, leaving far less 10's than a usual 8-deck Blackjack game. This means the dealer frequently does not go bust, meaning you lose a lot more hands.
Some guy did win $60,000 at Caribbean Stud Poker during our cruise by hitting a Royal Flush. Bottom line -- you CAN win on the ship, but you probably won't.
DISEMBARKATION: Very smooth and well organized. We put our big bags out the night before, and the morning of disembarkation, we went to the Int'l Cafe for breakfast. Got our food and waited at our assigned exit lounge. They called our group about 5 or 10 minutes after the scheduled time, and we walked off. They had the luggage in a large building that was grouped by your tag color. We had our bags in under 5 minutes and customs was a breeze. Princess did a great job with this part.
SUMMARY: Our overall impression was a very good one for this being my first cruise. The food gets high marks for most nights (although the buffet was never "great", usually just "good" or "average"). Sometimes the dining room staff was a bit cold, especially the Maitre D' in the Island Dining Room. The casino dealers were very friendly and knew my name within a day or two. Our steward was good, and the bartenders and roaming waiters around the ship were great -- particularly in the Piazza on Deck 5. We had no trouble finding people our own age to hang out with, and the ship never felt crowded until the very last day, which we spent at sea. I would recommend Princess to my friends. Less
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Cabin review: BBR523 Balcony
Great closet space, excellent balcony. Small bathroom, as expected. R523 is midship and is completely private from above, due to the Lido Deck hanging out over it. Nearly perfect!