Our stateroom was a mini-suite, very spacious and it had balcony twice as large as normal, due to the location as the last stateroom aft on the port side. The stateroom below ours, and the two corresponding staterooms on the starboard side have the same configuration, so, if you're looking for a roomy balcony, those are the ones to pick. Our steward was efficient and unobtrusive and took great care of us. The bed was tolerable, but just barely. Every night, it would part like the Red Sea, so there was always a gap between the two twins pushed together. First time we've ever encountered that situation.
The food was mixed. We ate at the buffet most mornings. On HAL, we always had breakfast delivered, but the Princess choices were limited and only a true continental breakfast. The coffee was wretched. I heard that it was not brewed, but a concentrate? Anyhow, I'm sure this was to push people to buy coffee cards for the cafe, the only place you could get a real cup of brewed coffee. The choices on the breakfast buffet were the same, every single day, which got old pretty quickly. We visited the dining room one morning only to find that they had the exact same choices, just served to you instead of self-service. Lunch was pretty much the same at the buffet, though we did have an excellent lunch in the dining room, and we also enjoyed the fish and chips and curry at the English pub. We had an early dining option with the rest of our party, and the food in the main dining room was very nice and our servers were outstanding, with the exception of them forgetting my father-in-law's milk every evening unless reminded once or twice. We visited both Sabatini's and the Crown Royal, the specialty Italian and chop house restaurants. Both were well-worth the fees. A very civilized dining experience in both places had some superb food. You must make your reservations right away upon boarding the ship, otherwise, you can't get in. On one last note, the pizza was outstanding!
The shops on board were OK, though I didn't buy anything, I definitely looked. We did some shopping for high-end watches, and the sales lady was most helpful and patient, even though we didn't buy anything from her.
We really enjoyed the Adagio piano bar. That became our special place after dinner each evening. There was hardly anyone there, so there was always a nice couch and table to sit at. It was quiet, the service was outstanding, and they had some excellent and reasonable specialty drinks that we enjoyed sampling. Sometimes they brought us things to try (I guess as the regulars?). Most nights there was a pianist, and some nights a jazz group would come in later.
My biggest complaint was that there were 5 ports in a row. I could have used a sea day in the middle to recover a little. Otherwise, it was a very nice itinerary, visiting several islands we had never been to.
Just a note on Princess Cays, the private island: OUTSTANDING. We rate it a 5. We rented a cabana, which I highly recommend. We also got an upgrade for an extra $25 per person, which meant that we supposedly got priority tender, but no one told us where it was. Also, they waited on us with special meals. TOO MUCH FOOD, but it was fantastic, and the lobster salad was worth the $25 upgrade on its own. We snorkeled, and it was probably the best underwater viewing we had all cruise. There were cuttlefish, which I'd never seen in the wild, and a very vibrant fish population. My husband saw crabs, lobsters, and one lion fish, which he notified the lifeguard about, since they are not native to the Caribbean and are spreading like wildfire.
The zip lining itself was fun. First time for all of us from our group. The zip-line operation locking up our belongings safely, which was great. The people running the operation were somewhat grumpy, in my opinion. They were rather short with people who had trouble with the harnesses, but they did come around and help every single individual to make sure that the harnesses were donned correctly. They added a back harness to me, guess I'm overweight enough to need the extra support, LOL. When they handed out gloves, they got really perturbed if you needed a different size. They did an excellent job of explaining how the zip line worked, how to keep straight, how to slow down, how to be safe, how to take off, how to land, how to get to the platform if you stop too soon. They refused to allow any cameras, even ones you could clip on and not have to handle at all. We had each brought little clip on video cameras to record our adventures, but they made us take them off. My husband and I both actually ended up using ours, mine surreptitiously clipped under my shirt, my husband just clipped his to his helmet and no one said a word. I guess the point of this was to make people buy the photos and videos in their shop.
The zip-lining scenery wasn't spectacular, is was sort of just going to and fro across a big gully, not what I thought it would be at all. But it was fun, the operation was well run, even if not super-friendly. The operators who were friendly were very encouraging and didn't complain when people either didn't stop on time or stopped too soon. They helped haul people onto the platforms and caught them without complaint.
We did look at our photos after, but were taken aback by the high prices. When my mother-in-law (who's idea this had all been, to celebrate her 70th birthday!) came in, it was already time to get to the buses, and she didn't even get a chance to look at the photos or videos, which disappointed her very much. So there really wasn't enough time at the end for everybody to do what they needed to do at the end of the tour.
The port in Antigua very convenient to town, you basically were right in downtown St. Johns. We had a little time after our zip-line adventure to do some shopping. Maybe it is me, because I'm at the point now where one Caribbean island looks pretty much like the next, but the same old jewelry and souvenir shops that are on every other island were here, too. There was a little marketplace, but it didn't look appealing. I did find some very nice local carvings called "sitters" in a shop, and frankly, these were the only items besides jewelry I bought on the whole cruise.
It was a nice trip. The tour operators were very friendly, funny, and ran a good tour. They took us to a local bay, within sight of the port. There, they reviewed how to snorkel, explained that we couldn't wear fins (we'd have killed each other converging on those poor turtles), and we all hopped in. Turtles popped up as soon as the boat pulled in, since the guides feed them to attract them. At first it was nasty, because all these people were pushing in to see the turtles, but there were enough of them to satisfy everyone. I noted that several people on the tour were not strong swimmers, and one guides had them gathered together and was giving them a great deal of personal attention (it probably didn't hurt that they were mostly young, attractive girls from the cruise staff). The guides actually showed a great deal of respect for the animals and made sure that the group gave them respect also.
After the swim, we were treated to rum drinks, which were very nice. We then went to a nearby beach for a little sun and surf and more rum. I hadn't expected this, but it was very pleasant once I found a little shade to protect me from the sun. We spent a little over an hour there.
It was a very nice tour, but I would have liked to have been able to snorkel on a reef rather than over sand.
Once back at the ship, I grabbed some lunch and waited for my husband to come back from his dive, which was excellent. Then we explored the shops right at port. We didn't have time to get the shuttle into Bridgetown, though I would have liked to. Again, no merchandise not available every place else in the Caribbean, though I will say that Barbados seems better organized, cleaner and more tourist industry oriented than most of the other islands we visited this cruise.
Since our flight was so late, you'd think they'd run a tour up to Miami to see the art deco hotels, or maybe have a day on the beach somewhere, but no, it was swamp boats and alligators and flamingos.
The plaza immediately outside of the port gates was filled with men hawking having photos taken with their capuchin-like monkeys. Monkeys give me the creeps, but if you like little furry animals dressed up in diapers and baby clothes, they are there by the score, and I didn't hear of anyone getting bitten.
We didn't have time to see anything of Basseterre.
There were a couple of jewelry shops at Port Zante that weren't part of the Diamonds International and Little Switzerland conglomerates. Many of these shops are owned by the same Indian or Russian families, and run back and forth between the shops to get you exactly what you want. I did end up buying myself a bracelet and pendant of mystic topaz, replacing a stunning pendant I'd bought several years ago in Curacao that had somehow been "lost". The shop was called Passion's, and they are connected to Noble. Anyhow, the salesman was good, because I had no intention of buying a bracelet. He was upfront about the pieces, explaining that they were gold-plated, not gold, and the diamond accent on the pendant was cubic zirconia. He worked very hard to find me what I wanted.
There were 3 tours using the same boat to get to their destination. Getting on the boat was an adventure by itself. The water was a little rough, and the boat was a very high step upwards onto the edge, then a jump down. Not exactly fun with dive equipment (we brought our own), and one elderly passenger was in tears trying to board. They finally brought her a step, and assisted her, but not before it became a problem.
The boat left the dock, and headed around the island to La Soufriere and the Anse Chastanet Hotel, right at the base of the Pitons. There was no safety lecture at all. Still, it was a lovely ride, as the rain had cleared up and we had a gorgeous day.
At the hotel, we had fun disembarking and divers were herded over to the dive shop run by Scuba St. Lucia. This may be a 5 star PADI operation, but you couldn't prove it by me. They offered no place for our belongings, which just sat there on the ground or strewn around the outside of the dive shop.
First dive was a shore dive. They had dive equipment laid out nicely, but nobody assisted those who brought their own. I just like the comfort of someone double checking my set up. The reef is right there off the beach, but it is no fun to walk it in full regalia. There was heavy boat traffic and mobs of other divers and snorkelers. My husband lost one of his weights and went straight up to the surface; the dive master kept motioning him to come down; it was quite a while before they got that figured out. The dive itself was interesting, not spectacular. When we came up after the dive, we had to make our way to shore through some heavy surf, which was not fun with my weighted BCD. The dive master just stood there and watched me struggle out of the surf and offered no assistance at all. My husband finally waded in and assisted me by taking my weights. Second dive was a boat dive. I struggled to carry everything to the boat, and finally, one of the dive masters gave me a hand. I actually tipped only her at the end, because she offered me the only assistance on the trip. This second dive was deeper than the first, which is backwards if you know anything about diving. Also, again, there was no boat safety lecture, and barely a dive plan, though the dive master did say something about if you have a computer you'd be OK. What? On the way back to the shop, one of the tanks was unsecured and fell over. This is a major no-no, an unsecured tank. Those things are heavy and can hurt someone.
After the dive, the same dive master helped me lug my BCD back to the shop. We were told then that we needed dry clothing to get our lunch, which was included in the excursion. OK...NOW they tell us. I went to hand in my weights and pick up my dining voucher and was refused the voucher because I wasn't dry. Meanwhile, the men on the dive (everybody else, I think) all got theirs. What was that all about? I had my husband pick mine up for me a couple minutes later. I was as dry as anybody else.
The meal at the Anse Chastanet Hotel was fantastic. They had a large covered veranda and a large, tasty buffet. All sorts of delicious, local foods, well-prepared and copious quantities. It was a delightful lunch.
We returned back to Castries with no incidents, and had a little time to shuck our gear and breeze through the shops at the port, but there was nothing new except for some local hot sauces that my husband just couldn't resist.
The dive was organized through the ship, and Underwater Safaris is a good operation. We did one reef dive and one wreck dive. We saw a shark, the hind-end of a green eel, and the usual suspects. It was a very comfortable dive experience, with the operators asking permission to do our set ups. Our Dive master was very personable, but I can't remember his name for the life of me!
After the dive, we hurried to have some lunch and catch the shuttle into Charlotte Amalie. This was a new port in St. Thomas for us, last time we were South of Charlotte Amalie, this time, we were North. It was a short ride into town on a locally owned taxi shuttle. We were on a mission to buy ourselves some new watches, which we did. Didn't get much time to do any other shopping, though I did manage to find the Belgian Chocolate place, which is still as good as I remembered it from 2006, just a new location. The smell in there is intoxicating!
For anyone planning to buy jewelry in St. Thomas, I have only one word of advice: RESEARCH. We wanted higher end watches, and while I'd sort of looked, I didn't really do a lot of research. The store where we bought did not negotiate much on the pieces we selected, and while my husband got as good a deal as you could, I found mine in the states for a few hundred less. Of course, I never would have bought this at home, so, I'm OK with it, but if you're the type who gets upset by finding something for less later, make sure you know exactly what you are looking for. The stores seem to negotiate more on jewelry than on the watches.