We thought our Cruise Director, Lisa Ball, did a great job with activities and entertainment onboard. There was trivia about 3-4 times per day - up to teams of 6 - and the teams were HARDCORE. We joined up with some other people, but usually never even came close to winning. We watched the Oscars and Moneyball during Movies Under the Stars (MUTS), which was very cool. Kory Simon is a piano performer and did great shows at Crooners, including a fun Name That Tune game. I didn't enjoy his theater show as much, but he's very talented and extremely funny - highly recommended!
We noticed some of the events skewed older for the crowd, including a silent movie (Metropolis, 1927) for MUTS and a Name That Tune trivia session where there was only 1 song from past 1990. It was a bit annoying for us during trivia rounds, but I suppose it's the crowd they're catering to.
The 2 games shows we watched were the Newlywed Game, which was a hoot due to one lady named Judy. We participated in The Weakest One game show, which is a watered-down version of The Weakest Link. However, there is no incentive to keep smart people on the show because correct answers have no point/dollar value, PLUS votes are not written down, so everyone just starts ganging up on people when it comes to voting. Can you tell we were the first 2 eliminated, yet knew way more answers than the people who remained in the game?
We thought the crew was fantastic and friendly. Our room steward, Sandie, was excellent, and always greeted us with a smile and did a great job making sure we had ice, bath robes, pool towels, etc. We were also very impressed by the Anytime Dining waiters, who worked very hard and did a nice job. We didn't request any particular waiters for dinner, but we liked them all.
We ate a TON on this cruise and were mostly impressed by the food. The only exception was breakfast, where I didn't love the food in the dining room or buffet, but it wasn't an issue as we ate all day long. Here are the highlights of our gluttony:
- International Cafe: Fantastic concept and so much fun to stop by at all hours for a pastry, dessert, soup, sandwich, salad, or warm cookie!
- Afternoon Tea: We only made it once, but we really enjoyed the finger sandwiches and sweets. Don't miss the chicken salad and seafood salad sandwiches!
- Dinner: Other than waiting issues with Anytime Dining (more on that later), we thought the food in the dining rooms for dinner was excellent - especially lobster and king prawns on the second formal night. It was so good that we saw multiple tables ordering a second entree of it! We also appreciated that we were normally able to eat within an hour for Anytime Dining as I had heard to expect up to 2 hours for Traditional Dining.
- Pub Lunch: Offered on Monday (sea day 1) and Friday (sea day 3), we really liked the Pub Lunch, which offered 4 entrees each time. Fish & Chips was offered both days, but the other items changed. The food came out very quickly too, so you don't have to waste time waiting for your food.
- Horizon Court & Cafe Caribe (buffets): I was surprised by the relatively small size of the buffets and they didn't have as large of selection as I expected, but we always found some good items. Cafe Caribe offered themed buffets on 2-3 nights. The staff cleared tables quickly and offered drinks almost as soon as we sat down.
We thought the ship was in fantastic shape, but it takes a couple days to get used to the layout. We quickly figured out that to get to the main dining rooms mid-ship from the aft, we had to cross at Deck 7 and then go down in the Piazza area. Speaking of, the Piazza was fantastic and we spent a lot of time around there are the International Cafe or watching the periodic entertainment that performed in the space.
We really enjoyed our inside stateroom - except the tiniest shower I've ever seen and the ever-dreaded shower curtain. Otherwise, the layout of the space was really good and didn't make you feel cramped at all. Plenty of storage too! The mini-fridge was a bit bizarre in that it didn't get cold unless the ice bucket was in there, so it seemed more like an insulated cooler than a fridge.
We weren't terribly excited about this port, but it was a nice beach day. We found there were plenty of loungers available and the lunch was decent - ribs, hot dogs, burgers, chicken breast, coleslaw, corn salad, normal salad. It would have been nice for them to offer iced tea on the island though as the only free beverage was water. We also found out quickly that the Caribbean sun is very powerful, so don't forget sunscreen on your ears!
I was most excited for this port, but found it a bit disappointing in terms of the "downtown" area across the floating bridge. It was a bit dirty and the shop employees definitely were not friendly - no greeting whatsoever and they glared like you were going to steal from them. A lot of stores carried counterfeit merchandise too (FunStation 3 for $50 anyone?), which I was surprised by. The area right outside the cruise dock - Renaissance Hotel and Fort Rif - was really nice though and both areas had free wifi and nice areas to sit. The shops were more touristy (Del Sol and Diamonds International anyone?) but the area looked very nice.
However, the highlight of Curacao was the Ostrich Farm excursion we booked through Princess. It was $50 per person for a 3-hour tour of the Ostrich Farm and some "art gallery" that makes cast statues of a "chichi" woman (total waste of time, IMO). BUT - the Ostrich Farm, oh it was glorious! They took us on a guided truck tour of the grounds and we learned a lot about ostriches, then got to feed some (photo op!) and stand on an ostrich egg. The baby ostriches were amazingly cute and they had some other animals on the land as well. They have a restaurant on the grounds, but we didn't have time to eat there, plus would feel bad about eating an ostrich after having fed them and seen their babies. The ride to the art gallery took maybe 25 minutes, during which the guide narrated the history of Curacao and some of the buildings, and we spent about 20 minutes at the art gallery and then drove to the Ostrich Farm, where we spent about an hour. The drive back took at least 45 minutes as we hit heavy traffic, but the guide gave us more interesting info on the island.
We booked another Princess excursion of a snorkeling trip on a catamaran - $50 per person for a 3-hour tour again. The crew were very nice, but the snorkeling was tougher than we expected. The first snorkel spot was very close to the coast and we saw some coral about about 3 kinds of fish. TIP - take a bagel or other kind of bread with you to feed the fish. I know technically you're not supposed to take any food off the ship, so proceed at your own risk, but you will see a TON more fish that way. The second snorkel spot was further off the coast where the Antilla shipwreck was located, but the waves were much rougher. We spent most of the time choking on seawater and emptying our masks, but did see some of the ship. We were definitely tired after that though! On the way over, they served soft drinks and on the way back, you could also get rum punch. The sailing part was beautiful and a nice way to see the coastline of Aruba.
After lunch on the ship, we explored the area outside the cruise dock a bit. The shopping area seemed nicer and cleaner than Curacao and the people friendlier. There was an expensive mall with designer stores, but we found a Starbucks in it that had free wifi. If you proceed out the back of that mall, there are also some souvenir shops behind. As we walked back to the ship, we stopped at The Paddock, which is a waterfront restaurant/bar on the harbor. I only tried a Balashi beer (tasted like Amstel Light to me), but the food prices seemed reasonable and it was a great view. We looked at the shopping stalls nearby and found some souvenirs before we went back to the ship.
Issues & Non-issues
Disclaimer: These are the items I was worried about based on discussions on Cruise Critic and my opinions and perceptions of our experience. Please keep in mind that your mileage may vary.
- Anytime Dining: This was the worst. On the first night, we started waiting in line at 7pm at the one MDR that was open and by 7:20pm, decided to move to the line for the MDR that opened at 7:30pm because the first MDR line wasn't really moving (it was past the International Cafe). However, the MDR that opens at 7:30pm absolutely REFUSED to let any Anytime Diners in until 7:30pm, even though I had to assume that some people were done from the 5:30 traditional dining seating. We waited until 8pm to get into the dining room - a ONE HOUR wait. To eat dinner. We weren't waiting for Splash Mountain, just a basic service included in our cruise fare. To me, that is unacceptable.
On Sunday, I tried to make a reservation at 8am when the dining reservation line opened. However, they wouldn't allow any reservations between 5:45pm and 7:30pm and so the reservation times didn't work for us. We waited for 45 minutes to get a pager, after which we had to wait another 15 minutes. We were told on both nights that it wouldn't be any faster to share a table, so we just went for table of 2.
On other nights, we made a reservation, dined early (~6pm), or got lucky on Curacao day, when we were in port until 10pm, and didn't experience a wait. If we go on Princess again, I'm not sure if I'd do Anytime Dining or not - we liked "choosing" what time we dine at so that we didn't miss certain activities, but when you have an hour wait, that defeats the purpose. I was very angry about this and hope Princess tries to fix the issue, even though you'd think they would have figured it out by now...
- Coffee: We thought the coffee in the dining rooms was perfectly fine, but the coffee in the buffet was undrinkable. They may have been the same coffee, but that was my experience. I also brought Starbucks Iced Via and made that a couple times.
- Movies Under the Stars: Yes, MUTS was going on most of the day, but it was no louder than the music/games/band at the main pool. We usually sat out near the Lotus Spa pool and could still hear the noises from both the main pools. The aft pool didn't have noise issues that I noticed though. We enjoyed MUTS, but it got very windy at night, so a coat and the provided blanket were necessary.
- Noro: We didn't hear any issues of Noro during the trip. There were signs all over the bathrooms to wash your hands and use a paper towel to open the door, plus they required you to use the hand sanitizer before entering the buffet. They handed out salt and pepper packets, but left sweetener and sugar on the tables.
- Beds: The beds were fine.
- Chair Hogs: We didn't care about sitting close to the 2 large/main pools, so didn't have any issues finding loungers on deck 16 or 17, but we definitely saw a lot of the chairs unoccupied other than towels or flip flops. Princess crew members really should try to enforce the no-reserving chairs rule better.
There were also children in the aft pool, splashing around, and when a waitress was told, didn't do anything. The parents of those kids should have been thrown overboard. There are 2 large pools that kids can be in - stay out of the adult pools!
Nice Princess Touches
After those complaints/issues, I found several nice, small things that I appreciated Princess doing:
- A log of the cruise on the last night, recapping the ports and ship information of the cruise.
- Fruit basket order form each day
- Champagne Waterfall
- A folding map of the ship provided at embarkation
- TV stations had a good number of TV shows & movies and a schedule of the stations was provided
- Disembarkation was very easy - by telling people where to gather at certain times, it avoided pile-ups and multiple PA announcements. We did easy walk-off and had no issues getting an elevator and were off the ship by 7:45am.
That's it! We had a great time and enjoyed the ship, food, and most of the ports. I will try to post some pictures later and if anyone has any questions, feel free to ask in my message board thread at: