Caribbean Princess Review -OutRunning Irene August 27, 2011
This cruise was an annual mother-daughter cruise that almost wasn't. We watched the progress of Irene for several days and felt confident that Princess would never put passengers and a ship in danger. Besides, if the cruise isn't cancelled, our cancellation insurance isn't much good to us! We forged ahead, caught our flights to Toronto and then onto New York. The majority of our stress, unfortunately, came from outrageously incorrect information. I plead with cruise critic members to check your sources before you post. Manhattan was not being forced to evacuate at 5a.m. the morning of our cruise nor had Red Hook been forced to close. These, tidbits of wrong rumours nearly convinced us to needlessly disembark from our flight in Toronto. Fortunately my husband, back home in Edmonton, was able to get thru to Princess, who encouraged us to keep our itinerary.
Having vented that, I'll begin my review. We had received notice via email and phone msg from Princess that embarkation would begin at 10 a.m. due to Irene. I called DIAL 7 and changed our car pickup time from our previously arranged time of 1pm to 8am. I wasn't taking any chances with getting out of Manhattan (where we were staying at the Holiday Inn Express) and was concerned with taxi and car availability. My fears were completely unfounded and we were at Red Hook in no time. Dial 7 is fabulous by the way. Embarkation didn't begin til around 11 but no matter, everyone was so thrilled to be actually going on this cruise that the mood was very upbeat.
Despite the early embarkation, the usual Welcome Aboard Buffet was ready and the ship was in usual ship-shape. They did ask that we not go to our staterooms until after 12 to give the stewards a little more time though - which I certainly respected.
New York is my favorite port to sail from and despite the mist and waves, we enjoyed lovely photo ops from our Riviera balcony. You just can't take enough photos of Lady Liberty even if you are Canadian! Mom and I had begun taking Bonine in New York - just in case - and we were glad we did. We weren't sick a minute. When I saw barf bags being hung on garbage cans I was extra glad we had taken pre- causions. Our ship sailed straight East then North for a day and a half to outrun Irene. Although some of this time was rough, most was warm and sunny and we enjoyed every minute. For the first day our balcony furniture had to stay in our room, however I did lay out on our deck in the warm wind and enjoyed it immensely.
Food - very typical Princess. I am a little weary of the menu and would be pleased if Princess would launch some new dining room items. We chose Anytime Dining and were always cheerfully accommodated within moments at our requested table for 2. We never called ahead and it was never a problem. I am a big fan of International Cafe, and always buy a coffee card. We ate most of our lunches here and we did have trouble finding a table a few times. It seems there are fewer tables in this area on this ship than on other similar ships such as Emerald, which has lots of built in banquet seating in the International Cafe area.
Entertainment - While I had seen all of the production shows before, I did enjoy Piano Man again. In the past I've enjoyed Bert Stratton but I found him quite overbearing this time. If he'd just get on with it and sing a whole song it would be more enjoyable! The Hypnotist Kelly was great - as they usually are. I had seen both comedians before as well - it may be time for Princess to look for some new entertainment. I'm not a super frequent cruiser and even I've seen them all?? Not to complain though, we enjoyed the quartet in the Piazza, the pool band and the house orchestra in Explorers.
Staff - I can't quite put my finger on it, but the staff seemed stressed. It was hard to have a friendly little conversation with any. They weren't very smiley or pleasant like usual. I'm not sure what is up with this ship but it felt like some cloud was over it. Perhaps it was the stress of having to get ready so quickly with the storm approaching, not sure what?? My mother had a 'visit' with one of the supervisors because she felt they were too overbearing and nasty with their staff. Service was fine and I have no complaints whatsoever but it just didn't feel like a happy ship. Of course there were exceptions - the staff at the International Cafe for the most part were excellent and the dining room staff were fabulous as well.
Ports -this is absolutely one of my favorite cruises. Next to Hawaii it rates as my number 1. The ports are clean and safe, you can confidently go any where, the sites are amazing, the history is so rich, the little towns so quaint and picturesque. Sadly we had to miss St John due to our 'outrunning' Irene, however we all understood and I'll save that for another time. Here is a little run-down of what we did:
Halifax. Our ship arrived late afternoon and stayed overnight so we had an evening of bonus time in this beautiful city. Disembarkation took us thru a huge building full of little shops which sold a lot of Maritime and Canadian made souvenirs. There is an excellent boardwalk that goes on for several kilometers with little shops, restaurants and lots to see. Both days we walked a good portion of the length of it, enjoying the great weather and ambiance. On the second day we visited the Maritime Museum (at the far end of the boardwalk) most particularly to see the Titanic displays. As well we went to Pier 22, the Immigration Museum (right near the port). Both are very reasonably priced and worth a look. Of course we had now gone 2 days without a Tim Horton's coffee so we were glad to find that oasis as well! I might add that it was a real thrill as a Canadian for me to arrive at a Canadian port - strange perhaps - but I was really proud to see the Canadian flags waving and to see our military helicopter fly past our ship as we docked.
Bar Harbour. An amazing, quaint little town! We walked up the main street to the park and then over to the very scenic ocean side walking path. We followed the path the whole length along the ocean and then up the side street and back into town. You won't need any maps - it's all very straight forward. Then we took the Oli's Trolley 2.5 hour tour which I had pre-booked on the internet. This is an enjoyable tour, but a little long. The trolley stops several times for photo ops - the best being on top of Cadillac Mtn where you can see your ship way off in the distance - beautiful!
Boston. I had prebooked the Old Town HoHo Bus online here as well. There is a little booth set up about ½ block from the cruise terminal which you do have to walk to, to first catch the bus. This bus is actually a shuttle that takes you to the main HoHo line. We ended up taking a tour of the whole city to begin with although they didn't recommend you do it that way - not sure why - but there really weren't any stops that we were dying to get off at. Our main goal was to see the city and this is a great way to do it. We were extremely impressed with all the parks in Boston, the well preserved old buildings, beautiful architecture and the spotlessly clean streets. We got off downtown and enjoyed walking the Freedom Trail for a while, ending up at Quincy Market and Faneuil Hall. From there it was an easy walk back to our cruise port HoHo shuttle.
Newport. This is a tender port and a rather lengthy one. Although the ship anchors close to shore, the tenders have to make their way around a breakwater which takes a bit of time. We made the easy walk up to the Visitors Center and bought our $6 all day pass for the city bus and took the #67 to the end of Bellvue Ave where we got off to begin our Mansions Tour with Marble House. I had pre purchased the 3 mansions package on line which is good value. Trust me, after 3 mansions you'll be all mansioned out anyway! We planned to bus to the next two mansions but ended up walking to RoseCliff and then The Breakers which are both a reasonable walking distance from each other. After the Breakers we caught the bus back to the port area and did a little shopping. Newport is another delightful quaint town which I look forward to returning to someday.
I would have loved another sea day at this point but alas the cruise comes to an end.
Disembarkation was exactly on time to the minute! I prefer to do a walk off but this time being I had my mom with me I had booked the Princess bus transfer to the airport for simplicity. This was apparently a mistake. We were directed to the transfer bus with no difficulties, all was organized very nicely as always. However after we pulled away from the port it soon became apparent that something was greatly amiss. We literally began to do circles. After about 15 minutes I began to think I had accidentally boarded the Back Alleys of Brooklyn Tour instead of the LaGuardia transfer bus! After HALF AN HOUR we arrived back at the port and we passengers were getting irate. It was obvious that our driver didn't have a clue where to go and no disrespect but he didn't even speak English! A couple passengers pulled up a GPS on their iphones and began directing him! What a fiasco. I thought I had left ample time to get to the airport but I was seriously beginning to wonder if we'd make our plane! This hapless driver almost took the wrong freeway entrance for the second time and he had a whole bus load of passengers yelling at him - it was quite surreal. It was a full hour by the time we actually made it to the freeway entrance that we should have been at in 5 minutes. In the end we made it just fine but I'll think twice before I book a Princess transfer again however hopefully it was a one off experience and surely the driver was reported and given some drivers training!
In conclusion, this was a fabulous cruise despite the rocky start and finish! The ports are some of the most beautiful I've ever seen, I was very happy with how Princess handled the Irene situation, and once again I enjoyed my over all Princess experience.