Since we live in the northeast we went to FLL the day before the cruise; we stayed at the Riverview Hotel downtown on Los Olas Boulevard. People bid to get rooms near the beach and cruise port, and initially I thought I'd like to be near the beach so that we could go there on the morning before the cruise. I got the room at a great price through a Priceline bid and was very glad I ended up downtown because it was cool on Saturday AM, so I would not have gone to the beach anyway. The upside was that we had a great meal right next door at the Cheesecake Factory, which was great because we got to the hotel a little late (almost 8:30 PM) so we didn't have to go in search of a meal. We have a Cheesecake Factory where we live and it's not where I would typically eat (I prefer small, local restaurants) and I was pleasantly surprised. In the morning I got a walk in on the boulevard and found a nice coffee shop for espresso and breakfast rolls. The hotel staff was fun and upbeat and we enjoyed them very much. On Saturday AM we got a cab from the hotel to the cruise port, and we had the driver take us to Total Wine, where I made a mad dash through the store getting a couple of bottles of wine and some beer to carry on. When we got to the port about 1 PM we got right onboard; it took about 10 minutes total to drop our bags with the Princess dock staff, fill out the medical clearance form, go to the check in desk and present our boarding documents and credit card, get our cruise cards, and board the ship. If there is one thing Princess does well it's embarkation and disembarkation at the beginning and end of the cruise (not so much at the tender ports, but more on that later). We had an aft balcony cabin on Caribe deck and this was the best cabin I have ever had. It was large and there was a suite to our right and no cabin to our left, so we had a view in two directions off the balcony. Even on our most rough periods on the ocean I didn't find this location challenging in terms of upsetting my stomach; there was a hum from the engines that we found pleasant. Since everyone comments on the beds I'll say we found it very comfortable and we sleep on a futon mattress at home; I thought the sheets felt like a high thread count soft cotton that were great at the end of the day or for a couple of lovely afternoon naps. I went to the sail away party to get the drink special (yummy mango and rum) and listen to the band for a bit; my husband and I sat on our balcony together for the actual sailing and enjoyed watching the port disappear and the sun going down over Fort Lauderdale. We were on our way! We had dinner in the buffet which was fine, but not memorable and went to the Welcome Aboard show, which was an overview of the entertainment of the week to come. We are not big on the production shows and this show served to convince us not to go to those events throughout the week (although the house band is quite good in all its incarnations), but we did enjoy the portion by comedian Miguel Washington and made a point to see him later in the week. We spent some time wandering the ship; I had been on the Caribbean Princess before and the two ships are similar, so it didn't take me long to get oriented, but it took my husband several days to feel like he knew the ship well. We went to sleep pretty early, but spent some time additional balcony time before we went to bed.
Sunday was a sea day, and we went to the buffet for breakfast. I love the muesli cereal and ate a portion almost every morning; I wish I could get mine to have that creamy yet grainy texture plus crunchy (previously dried) fruit. We ate on the deck behind Cafe Caribe and it was sunny, but cool; this trip made me realize that other than Mexico, the Western Caribbean itineraries are too cool for me at this time of year. The first day is a straight run down the Atlantic around Cuba to Grand Cayman and of course it was sunny, but I needed a light jacket to enjoy the deck. We had a Cruise Critic gathering in the Adagio Bar, where we were provided with a location to meet only; guests purchased drinks of their choice. We did have a lovely surprise in the form of a drop in by Captain Nick Nash, who was very personable and happy to allow his picture to be captured. He mentioned that he used to get an invitation to CC gatherings aboard ship, but that he only happened upon our occasion while making the rounds of his vessel. I have arranged CC parties before and recall one occasion in which I took the time to send notes to a number of the staff the day before (the party was on a second full day with more time to get notes out) and we had a very nice turn-out including Captain Nash, some of the purser's and Cruise Director's staff and a senior chef. Certainly there was a member of the ship's staff who arranged for our party's location and she may have actually let Captain Nash know that we were meeting. It was fun to meet people that I'd been talking to for weeks, and to then see some of them throughout the ship as the week progressed. I had a massage planned for the afternoon, and my husband enjoyed the balcony and found his way to the first of many art auctions while I got the massage and spent some time in the hot tub and spa pool. This was our first formal night, and we enjoyed dressing up for dinner; I haven't seen my husband in a tux in a long while! We had dinner in the DaVinci dining room (anytime dining) and the place was in chaos getting people seated. We were given a buzzer and told the wait was about 30 minutes; after about 40 minutes wandering the art gallery we went back to the dining room because we had not been recalled yet. We found couples who had signed in behind us being seated when we arrived, and expected to be seated with them as we had volunteered to be seated with others. We were not asked to join the group however, and when the headwaiter returned to his station my husband questioned him; we were asked to step aside for a couple of minutes while he consulted his seating chart, then we were led to a table for two. His assistant for the evening, a young woman, seemed to be quite distraught over the wait people were experiencing, and the headwaiter admonished her for not following his direction; I thought he was a little bit harsh as she was clearly learning the role, but they both seemed stressed by the situation. I have read that recently Princess has allowed people who have chosen traditional dining to go to their assigned dining time or to drop in on the anytime dining if they missed or chose not to go to their assigned time (and therefore assigned dining room). IF this is true, then one can imagine how this stresses the ability to seat the anytime diners within the capacity of the room; in my opinion (again if this is being allowed and is causing the problem) then Princess should not allow fixed dining time passengers to eat in the anytime dining room, but should send them to the buffet. They were tracking our room number when we signed in, so I wondered if they were checking anytime dining room use by passengers who were supposed to be eating at a fixed time in the Michelangelo Dining room. This was one of only 3 nights that we ate in the main dining room; the other two were a night when the menu appealed to us and the second formal night. The rest of the time we went to the buffet, because we felt that a consequence of over demand of the dining room was that we were rushed through our meal. I want to linger over each course for a few minutes and enjoy the company of newly met passengers, but felt that overly aggressive table service was intended to move us along. One benefit of the buffet was the ability to go back and forth and serve our own courses at the pace we desired and in the evening the tables in the buffet dining rooms were dressed with cloths and utensils so it was pleasant. We began a strategy of finding a bigger table than we needed and inviting others to join us; this resulted in some very pleasant and unhurried meals. One other comment about the food in general; I believe that overall the quality of food that I have experienced over 4 Princess cruises since 2006 has declined. I found much of it to be unimaginative, found fewer ethnic options, and thought much of it was very salty (I don't avoid salt to any great degree at home, but I salt food to taste at the table and don't use much while I cook). In my previous experience one could ask for something like escargot every night if they wished and although one might not get it the first night, once the waiter had the heads up for your desire you could have it every night for the rest of the cruise if you asked. Requests such as these were met with a pretty blunt no we can't do that, not the previous attitude of do anything one could to make the passenger happy. Between the level of service, the beauty of the food's presentation and creative options in the dining room on past cruises I would have always gone to the dining room; this time I felt that the buffet was an equal and often better option. We didn't choose to eat in the specialty dining rooms; we are not steak house kind of people and my husband thinks that we cook Italian quite well ourselves, so Sabatini's didn't appeal to him. I have eaten there on a previous cruise and enjoyed the tastes, but felt it was too much (very delicious) food. Before I close my discussion of the food, let me say that I recognize several things: first, that I am eating in a situation where food is being mass produced for a large number of people and second, that food quality is a very subjective assessment. Most diners around us seemed very happy with their meals, and you may be too. We were happy at every meal to have so many options, to be served, and not have to clean up! That said, I am basing my assessment on previous Princess cruises, two on this size ship, and I felt there was a decline in quality based on my own experience. Between this and the rushed service, we have decided to try another cruise line for our next cruise, before I decide that I am going to become a lifer on Princess.
On Monday we were in Grand Cayman; on a previous trip there I went on a very nice snorkel and kayak excursion. This time we went on the pirate boat excursion; it was silly (nicely appealing to the kids on board). I would have preferred to have some actual information imparted about the pirating history in the region mixed with the silliness (which got better over rum punch), and I would have been happier if we'd been taken somewhere to swim that was actually also a good place to snorkel. I had my gear with me, but we were only a short distance from the ship in an area too deep to see much in the way of sea life. Afterward we did a little shopping to find my husband some swim trunks, and then went back to the ship for tea, which was lovely as always. If you haven't discovered the daily tea, it's a great way to have a decent afternoon snack after an excursion without over-eating too close to dinner time. On this evening we went to see comic Miguel Washington; he and my husband got into a bit of banter which we thought quite funny. We enjoyed his performance very much and afterward we retired to our balcony with a bottle of champagne that my husband won at an art auction; it was Valentine's Day and we had a lovely evening under the stars.
On Tuesday we docked at Roatan; unfortunately most of the excursions had been cancelled due to 36 hours of rain which had washed out many roads. We were supposed to go to an area of mangroves to kayak and snorkel and I was very disappointed to have our tour cancelled as I had never been to Roatan before and it was a factor in my decision to take this particular cruise. Unfortunately no one can control the weather or its resultant issues; I didn't try to book any other excursions so I can't comment in whether or not they were able to accommodate people into other trips. Roatan has the requisite shopping area at the dock, but there is a real effort to mix big chains (Diamonds International, Del Sol, and etcetera) with shops owned by local people. I bought a beautiful pottery vase and my husband bought a few local items as well. We then walked to the beach (not a far distance and a pretty walk with lots of sensitive plant and flowers along the way) and sat on the dock for a couple of hours. We chatted with a couple who work on the ship; they pointed out to us that the water was very muddy from the rain, and that usually they are able to sit on the dock and see a variety of fish. We returned to the ship early and had lunch; after that I went to have a workout in the gym and hubby enjoyed the balcony. After dinner we went to watch "The Social Network" movie at MUTS, then went to the "Have You Seen It?" trivia game. This was enjoyable, but we were in over our heads; with many teams having up to 10 people it was easier for them to come up with the answers than the two of us and after the game we retired to our stateroom.
On Wednesday we docked in Cozumel; for the two of us this was our most enjoyable day. We took an excursion booked through the ship with "Sun and Fun Tours;" our guide was a young man named Miguel, who was absolutely delightful! We went to a group shop full of work by local artisans, then to Tulum for a tour that was too short and to a beach in the afternoon for a swim. Our guide was clearly knowledgeable about Mayan history, as well as other cultures such as Native Americans, Incans, and Egyptians and how their cultures compared to one another. He was also clearly very proud of his Hispanic culture, and as disappointed as we are that his country is generally unsafe for tourists at this time in its history. When I do feel safe there I will enquire about Sun & Fun Tours and request this young man as our guide-he was that fabulous! We knew the tour would be too short, as all the ship's tours are; this is only a "taste" of a country and culture, and in my opinion one must approach cruise travel that way or otherwise be frequently disappointed. We spent several hours in the afternoon at Playa Paridiso, a beautiful beach with minimal waves, and a reef not far offshore. There were boats willing to take one to the reef for an opportunity to snorkel, but we didn't have enough time. We had a lovely swim and lunch was provided; if you wanted an alcohol drink it was available from vendors walking the beach. If you take this tour and have a problem with seasickness, go prepared for the ferry ride between Cozumel and mainland Mexico, which made me a bit green in the AM; on the way back I took a seat outside which was much better. In case you don't know it, being outdoors in a breeze and/or looking at the horizon can both help if you have a bout of seasickness, but best is a dose of anti-nausea medication before you depart. This evening after dinner we went to see comedian Tony Daro; he was also very funny and despite his banter with Miguel Washington, my husband actually thought that this comedian was slightly funnier. We are not both late-nighters, I tend to be up later than my husband at home, but in general we didn't stay up late on the ship. We so enjoyed our balcony that we frequently went there after a show (9:30-10 PM-ish) and had a drink on the balcony under the stars; we had beer and wine in the cabin and our delightful stewardess was happy to provide us with appropriate glasses daily.
Thursday was a sea day, and our second formal night. During this day we spent time at the art auction and I worked out and used the spa facilities. We went to tea and the afternoon trivia challenge, and had a lovely dinner in the dining room with four delightful folks we met that evening. We went to try to play the newlywed, not-so-newlywed game, but apparently you had to go sign in and appeal to the CD staff to be allowed to play. They chose 3 couples, one who were relatively newlywed (less than 2 years), another couple who'd been married about 7-8 years and a couple who'd been married a long time (40+ years) to play. Although the game was quite funny, I was very disappointed that the questions were the same ones that I'd heard the last time I'd watched the game being played 2 or 3 years ago. If my husband and I could have played we might have done well because I could have told him what to expect. Seriously, is the CD (who led the game at both of my viewings) or whoever planned the game so unimaginative that they could not come up with a new set of questions once a year? It was a cute game, but not as fun as it would have been with new questions for those who'd seen the game before. We were back on our balcony enjoying the breezes and sky by 11 PM.
Friday was our day at Princess Cay; the first bump in the day was the overhead announcement that there was an hour-plus wait for a tender to shore. My advice if you hear this is to go to the assigned location to pick up your tender tickets; you must go with your entire group together to get them. After receiving your tickets go have breakfast and by the time you get back you might be close to your assigned tender time. We made the mistake of going to breakfast when we heard the announcement then went to the assigned dining room assuming that the lines would have cleared. Unfortunately we got tickets but were told that our wait was going to be 45 minutes; we went back to our room for about 40 minutes and when we went back we got right into line because they had just called our group. Based on observation I would guess that if you returned after your tender group had been called then you'd be allowed to get into line, but I can't be certain of that. If you are very concerned about that I would ask if they will allow you to get in line when you return if you group has already been called, or if they will make you get new tickets. As a result of the long lines we didn't get to the island until about 11:00; when we got there we walked the area's boardwalk and found a spot in chairs on the beach and fairly close to the buffet. I went into the water with my own snorkel gear and saw a lot of great fish and coral, but unfortunately there were a lot of people in the small snorkel area and they were kicking up a lot of sand. This greatly diminished my visibility at intervals and since this was my only good snorkel opportunity this trip I was disappointed. I came out of the water for the two of us to get lunch; it was a pleasant but routine experience of salads, barbecued meats and vegetables, and desserts. My favorite part was the fruit salad, which had a lot of watermelon and mango. After lunch I had planned to go to the other snorkel area where I thought there might be fewer swimmers, however it began to rain. My husband took shelter with his iPod, and I wandered through the shops. By the time that the rain cleared it was a little after 2 PM, and the ship's staff was planning on our last tender leaving the island at 3 PM, so I felt it was unwise to go into the water again. The line to the tender was very long and we sat on a bench as the sun returned and listened to the music and watched until the line diminished. Once we got into it we were on a tender within 10 minutes and back to the ship in another 10-15 minutes. I had heard a lot about how wonderful Princess Key is and had actually been scheduled to go there on two previous cruises, but had gotten there neither time because the weather prevented tender use. Having been there now I would be inclined not to go there again as I felt there was nothing special about it and I would have been just as happy on the ship, but it wasn't an unpleasant day. I thought it strange that the island's bars closed at least 1-1 ½ hours before the last tender given the potential income from drink sales, because this caused people to get in line (which may have been the point); we weren't drinking, but when the bars closed the tender lines became very long immediately. I think leaving them open longer might have helped to smooth the flow into the tender lines. Another comment about the tender situation; there was passenger-driven discussion on the island suggesting that the reason for the slow transport to the island in the morning had to do with the ability to get only a few tenders into the small dockage area with a tide that was low. Many people were angry and frustrated with the long wait for a tender to get to the island; I certainly would have preferred to have gone at 9:30 AM when I was ready rather than wait so long. Like the dining room situation I think that Princess misses opportunities to improve customer satisfaction; information helps people to understand the reasons for waiting and what is being done to resolve it. IF it were true that the low tide and limitations of the dock area prevented the flow of tenders then telling us that and what was being done to improve the situation would have gone a long way to assuage the anger in the dining room at being asked to wait so long. All I saw that morning was a lot of chaos (like the dining room on the first formal night) and a lot of angry people without any effort to provide information to the customers. As a nurse practitioner in the emergency room I know full well the impact of making rounds to each of my patients once an hour to give them an update: they feel as though people care about their needs and their wait time, and want them to feel included. If Princess used this customer model I would have been a much happier passenger. We had a lovely final dinner after packing for departure and when we returned to the cabin after our meal our luggage had already disappeared from the hallway. Went spent a delightful last evening on our balcony.
On Saturday morning we had breakfast at the buffet. We then waited at the international cafe and got one last cappuccino on our coffee cards. This was well worth the expense to have great coffee; you could order a specialty coffee in the buffet and the wait staff would retrieve it from the International Cafe, except on the morning of our departure. When it was time to leave we went into the dining room and got into the line for our disembarkation group as it was called. We got into the building where our luggage was in an area by color groups and had only minimal difficulty find our suitcases. We passed quickly through customs and were directed outside to a bus that would take us to the airport. FYI, if you need to use a restroom as you are getting off the ship do so before you disembark; the bus had a restroom but it was not to be used and when we got to the airport we were asked to stay on the full bus while they unloaded the luggage. In frustration I finally got off the bus and walked a long way to find one within the airport-so don't make my mistake, LOL!
Overall we had a great vacation and there were many things to be enjoyed; we came home having purchased a few paintings at the art auctions and these will be lasting and cherished items from our vacation. My husband had a great enough time that he can't wait to cruise again, and we are staring to investigate a trip in February of next year. I hope that this review will be helpful to you and I am happy to answer any questions you may have if I am able.