This is somewhat of a long review, but since this was our first cruise I thought I'd comment on quite a few things.
First of all, I would like to thank this website and all of those individuals that helped with so many things along the way. I would have gone into this with no idea whatsoever if it wasn't for this site and the many people who leave comments, reviews, suggestions, etc... THANK YOU!
We arrived into Fort Lauderdale, FL the day before the cruise and had the cruise & port package through the Embassy Suites. We were picked up at the airport within 5 minutes of arrival and whisked away to the hotel. On Sunday we get down to the lobby of the hotel at 11:15 a.m. and headed to the port.
The hotel itself you can tell was a bit old. The atrium and lobby were very nice and the rooms were clean, but you can just tell it was old. The only negative that I'd have to say was that there was a waste water treatment plant close by and every now and then in our room we could smell it, which wasn't pleasant.
There were various restaurants nearby to have a nice meal. We ate at a place called Chuck's Steakhouse. The food was very good, but the place smelled musty and old. The hotel was very convenient to the Wine Store and other shops. We didn't use the outdoor pool, but it did look very nice and well maintained. Would I stay there again? Probably not. I don't think it was worth the amount of money we paid for it. We didn't attend the evening Manager reception, but did go to the free breakfast in the morning, which was nice.
Upon arrival at the port we waited in line for about 20-30 minutes before embarkation. The process went smoothly. We were shown which way to go to get on the ship, but once we were on the ship there was no one there to show us where to go. So, I found someone that worked there and asked where we should be going and she kindly told us which elevators to take to get to our cabin.
We stayed on the Caribe deck, mid-ship and found the room & balcony to be bigger then what we expected. After looking over the room we then headed to the Horizon Court to have lunch. It was a chore trying to find our way around the ship at first, but after 3-4 days we finally got the hang of it. The Horizon Court had a wide array of selections for lunch. Of course, there were quite a few people already there and sometimes, not sure why, when people go on vacation they do forget their manners and commonsense. We had quite a bit of line cutting and people walking around like they were clueless.
After lunch we went exploring for awhile and attended the free orientation tour of the ship. The gentleman that led the tour was very nice, but all in all it ended up being a way for them to try to sell you on their spa and fitness classes/programs, which kind of rubbed me the wrong way.
After the orientation we decided to head back to our cabin for the sail-away and finally met our Cabin Steward, Carlos. The one thing I couldn't figure out is why Princess asks you on their Cruise Personalizer if you'd like a robe, fruit, drinks, etc.... in your room? We got there and there were no robes, no fruit and no small bottles of water, just sodas and one very large bottle of water. It's a little useless filling out all that information on their website and ending up not having it done by the time you arrive. I did end up asking for some fruit, different pillows and a bed topper because the bed & piilows were a bit hard and it was taken care of immediately, which we were very thankful for. It was very nice having our room cleaned every morning and every night with fresh towels and such.
We found that the 6:00 p.m. Traditional Dining in the Boticelli dining room worked well for us and was very good. The first night I was a bit surprised of how small of a portion you get so, after the first night I made sure I ordered an appetizer, salad and/or soup, main entrÃ©e and dessert every night. Some of the food offerings were a little too "gourmet" for me, but there was always something available. The service was very good, but I'd have to say I was a bit irritated by our waiter. We weren't aware of the water that was offered to us and the first night he comes up with two bottles of premier water and asks us which one we'd like so, I pick one then go to tell him that we'd like to order wine too so, he asks us if we'd still like the water and I said, no thanks then he brings us out tap water. It would have been nice if he would have just brought out the tap water and asked us if we would prefer bottled instead. To me it was a sly way to get money out of the customer. After ordering our wine for the next 3-4 days all he kept trying to sell us on was the wine tasting classes. It was really annoying. The other annoying thing that I found was that during formal nights they had photographers walking around in the dining room taking your photo while you're in the middle of the meal or right afterwards, which I found quite rude. There were plenty of opportunities to take your photo prior to sitting down for dinner.
Speaking of photos, we were bombarded with photos from the time we stepped on the ship until the last day. To me it's a total waste of paper and trees to print off hundreds of photos that people are probably not going to buy. We ended up buying one and only one because they were $ 25.00 a piece for an 8 x 10.
The entertainment varied throughout the ship. The comedian, magician and musicians on the ship were very, very good. The theater style type of entertainment was alright. Some of the shows I found were good and some not so good. Some reminded me of amusement park entertainment. I think we thought that it would be a bit more of a production.
We didn't spend that much time at the pool, but did get an opportunity to use their whirlpools on the ship, which we found very well maintained. We also played putt-putt and ping-pong on the ship and found it to be hilarious trying to hit a ball with the boat swaying and the wind blowing.
Speaking of swaying, our boat had two rough days where we were being tossed around a bit. I was told that it wasn't the "norm" for a cruise ship to do that in the Caribbean. Luckily, we started taking Bonine the Saturday before the cruise and just took one a day while we were on the ship and didn't get sick.
Ports & Shore Excursion Reviews -â€"
Princess Cays - We did the beach clamshell and loved it. We also rented a regular paddle boat for two and found that to be very relaxing, but very hard to steer with the location of the steering mechanism. Princess Cays all in all was a nice relaxing beach day with a very nice BBQ offered. Though I found the amount of waiters/waitresses walking around asking for drink orders got a little old after awhile.
St. Maarten -â€" We did the sightseeing tour with photo stops. To me there wasn't that much to take photos of compared to other islands and the tour guide was somewhat hard to understand with the heavy accent. I wasn't aware that they were going to drop us off on the French side of the island where they mainly took EUROs so, we ended up not doing too much shopping. We also did the segway tour on the boardwalk and really enjoyed it. The guide "Wellington" was amazing and went above and beyond to help me out since it was my first time on one and I was scared to death.
St. Thomas -â€" We did the dolphin swim excursion that went to the B.V.I. Tortola and had a blast. The tour guide "Ericka" was wonderful. The dolphin swim was very nice and orderly. The only negative is that the photos were very, very expensive that they take of you while you're doing different poses with the dolphins, but I'm sure all the monies go to help them maintain the care of the dolphins.
Grand Turk -â€" We did the dune buggy excursion and really enjoyed it. The guide was wonderful and we got to see the entire island. We were surprised by all the wild animals roaming around (i.e. cows, donkeys, horses, dogs, chickens, etc....).
We opted to do EZ Check with our luggage through Princess, which was well worth the extra monies and we also did a disembarkation excursion to the Everglades and Flamingo Gardens. It was well worth it too and the guide was great. It saved us from sitting in the airport for hours upon hours waiting for our flight.
All in all it was a very pleasant and relaxing experience. We really enjoyed not having to drive all over on vacation and packing/repacking every day. Would I do it again? Sure, but I'd like to explore other cruise line options and see what else is out there. Since this was our first one there really isn't that much to compare it to.