This was our first Princess Cruise trip. We picked it because of the itinerary, never having been to Curacao or Aruba, and because of the nice two final days at sea. Also, Princess allows for Anytime Dining which is more or less a requirement for us now. Finally, six other family members and friends were willing and able to come along.
Booking the Cruise
We reserved our trip directly with Princess over the phone. Deana was our contact and she did an excellent job getting us set up as we wanted. She also stayed in touch (not a sell 'em and forget 'em approach), wishing us well before departure and a welcome back note on our return.
We flew from our home city of Charlotte to Fort Lauderdale Friday afternoon via USAirways. We grabbed a cab (~ $15 with tip) from the airport to our hotel, the Embassy Suites Fort Lauderdale -- 17th Street. The hotel was fine, close enough to the port to see the ship. We had a great dinner at Chuck's Steak House directly across the street. Breakfast in the morning at the hotel was good and you could have them make anything you wanted, but it was pretty hectic with just about everyone at the hotel leaving for a cruise ship. We were fortunate to be able to hop onto a shuttle to the Port ($5/person due to having 8 people).
Being in a suite, we had preferred boarding and waited in an "exclusive" area with platinum members and other suite owners. Boarding was delayed because the Crown was the last one in that morning so they were behind schedule. We were a little disappointed that there were no beverages or snacks available while waiting -- something other lines do for ALL passengers. Minor but worth noting. At 12:30PM, the lines opened for the Preferred folks and we were checked in and on the ship easily 15 minutes later. Very smooth check-in process. Others in our party who did not have preferred check-in also said their embarkation was pretty easy.
Just a side note -- our embarkation day broke all Port Everglades record with 9 ships in port and turning over a record number of passengers in one day!
This was the first time we ever booked a suite and may be our last. Not that it wasn't excellent -- it certainly was. We just aren't sure it was worth the extra money. Anyhow, the suite was beautiful. It was an aft-facing balcony on deck 7 (Emerald) on the starboard end -- E733. It was a smaller suite than others on the higher decks but had plenty of room. There is another site that tells what rooms are good and which are not and we were warned there would be a noise factor from Club Fusion, below us. Truth be told, we never heard a peep -- it was extremely quiet where we were!!
Because one person recently was critical of Princess's handling of suite amenities, in fairness to Princess, I'll give you our impressions.
Here's the list of suite amenities:
Expedited Embarkation Process- yes, nice amenity
Preferred Anytime Dining Reservations -- we did not use -- we just showed up with no issues
Personal Shore Excursion Reservations -- we did not use -- we had booked in advance
Complimentary Laundry and Dry Cleaning -- we had some items pressed day one and laundry done on day three -- all free
Canapes -- we had six delivered almost every day -- whenever we ordered them that morning
Exclusive Elite Lounge -- we never made our way up there but it was available
Dedicated Purser's Line -- we had this though the two times we went, there was no waiting
Breakfast in Sabbatini's -- this was very nice. Did this five of the mornings
Luxury mattress, duvets, pillows, robes, slippers, towels, etc. -- all there, though we didn't really see if they were any better than any other stateroom
DVD player and library -- we could order from the library but never availed ourselves of it
Lotus Thermal Suite -- we availed ourselves of this a couple of times. Nice, but have seen better.
Flower Arrangement, Corsage and Boutonniere on Formal Night -- all done
Complimentary Mini-Bar -- yes, but you need to call room service right away to swap out anything you'd rather have
All in all, the suite, especially with the aft-facing balcony (NO wind) was excellent. Our room steward, Romeo, was excellent. Very efficient, friendly and professional.
Most breakfasts were in Sabbatini's as mentioned above. We also hit the buffet twice (good selection of good breakfast items, including omelettes your way) and had room service on the balcony once. That was VERY nice!!
Lunch was frequently just a stop in the buffet. Always a good selection of good food prepared well.
We frequently had tea in the afternoon on the balcony and a couple of times had the Afternoon Tea with not only tea but a wide assortment of finger foods including awesome scones! All complimentary (for anyone -- not just suites). This was a highlight. And, the room service steward who delivered the food, Khrystyna, was the best!
For dinner, we had Anytime Dining. We did Michaelangelo's once and stuck pretty much to Da Vinci's afterwards with the same waiter and junior waiter (Felipe and Victor). Choices were varied and the food was well-prepared. Overall, as good as any other line.
One evening (the second formal night) we ordered the Ultimate Balcony Dining. A little pricey but you only live once. The lead waiter, Leticia, comes Â½ hour early and sets up your balcony. She had ours set up perfectly to take advantage of our aft-facing balcony and the setting sun. Then, a photographer comes and takes several poses. (One photo is complimentary and they are ready at the photo desk the next morning.) Then, along comes the food. First is two cocktails (or wine, in our case) of choice with a series of appetizers. Next is a salad with excellent dressing, goat cheese, etc. Then, the main course, which is either lobster tail, filet mignon or a combination for surf and turf. You can also swap out something that is available in the dining room that night. Audrey, for example, had salmon. Finally, a chocolate mousse combination that is out of this world.
The only real "negative" comment we have about dining is, given all the issues that the Crown has had fairly recently with norovirus, we were quite surprised that there are not REQUIRED hand sanitizers at the entrance to ALL dining venues.
In general, we found the entertainment to be about average -- maybe even a little below. Two comedians, Alfred and Seymour, were outstanding -- probably the best we've ever seen on a cruise ship. The rest of the shows were good to average. Marcus Jefferson did an "okay" tribute to Lionel Ritchie, another comedian, Rollin' Jay Moore was average, Kory Simon (piano) was average at best and we were surprised they used up a night in the theater with him. In fairness, we didn't get to see the ship's production of "Destination Anywhere", which we heard was good and they did a good job with the Motor City tribute.
We went to a couple of the karaoke sessions which were quite good. We also went to the Newlywed game which, as usual, was good fun. The late night stuff was not all that appealing to us. We played the slots a few times and it was nice to have a couple of smoke-free nights. (Why they can't just make casinos smoke-free is beyond me!)
We attended a trivia game and wish we would have done more.
We had a couples hot stone massage done outdoors in the canvas cabanas in the Sanctuary area. This was another of those "you only live once" things and it was very nice. We also hit the thermal spa a couple of times (complimentary with the suite) but found it to be rather busy. Audrey did meet with the Chinese Medicine specialist (not just an acupuncturist) and got some good tips.
Getting ashore was pretty easy for us as we had preferred tender tickets due to our suite and the fact that we had signed up for a "shore excursion". We rented a couple of the private cabanas for the eight of us and had lunches delivered to us. This was very nice. It was a relatively quiet area -- maybe too quiet as we probably would have liked to hear the music in the background. If we had been alone, we probably would have gotten a beach clamshell but the cabana was nice -- providing some shade and even air-conditioned. All in all, Princess Cays was a great, relaxing time on the beach!
The ship doesn't arrive in port until about 1PM. We hopped off (easy off and on) and did a little shopping in town. After dropping our bags off in our suite, we headed back off ship for our excursion, a Sunset Cruise on a catamaran. This consisted of a nice ride from the pier to the catamaran's dock, about 25 minutes, giving us some opportunity to see more of the island. The voyage was VERY nice, with free rum drinks, background music, and nice views of the island from out in the harbor. The weather didn't cooperate (cloud cover) on the sunset (though we had sun earlier) but I think all on board would agree that it was an excellent excursion. Of course, the green stuff (a shot to take at sunset) probably helped a lot, also!
We had an early excursion in Aruba on a pirate ship to three snorkeling stops. The ride from the pier and back was an excursion in itself aboard a party bus! The ship was an old pirate vessel. Free drinks, once snorkeling was complete, music, sun and fun made for a great trip. The highlight, however, was the rope swing off the vessel. Most folks tried it and it was a fun event. We'd also recommend this tour.
We did a little shopping then headed aboard.
Similar to the comment on dining, we were surprised there were no mandatory hand sanitizer stations for those going back on board. These little things would go a long way in preventing problems!
Days at Sea
The two days at sea at the end of the itinerary were just what the doctor ordered. Relaxation on our balcony, some fun events and more relaxation was pretty much how we handled those two days.
Because we had a fairly late flight, we decided (six of us) to do the Everglades Airboat and Flamingo Garden excursion. The excursion groups waited in the Crown Grill and, once called, disembarkation was a breeze. We were off the ship, through customs and baggage collected in less than 10 minutes. We boarded our bus and had a terrific ride to the airboat area. Our tour guide was extremely knowledgeable, explaining the history of the Everglades and later, leading us on a tour of the Flamingo Gardens. The airboat ride was quite fun and we spotted several alligators and other wildlife. We were also treated to an alligator "wrestling" (a real misnomer) exhibition by folks who rescue "nuisance alligators". The Flamingo Gardens tour was fantastic and we could have spent a lot more time there. We were then dropped off, luggage and all, at FLL with plenty of time to spare before our flight.
To sum it all up, we had a great cruise. Many of the folks we dealt with on a personal level on the ship were excellent. We've been on 5 different cruise lines in 9 cruises and, quite honestly, we have yet to find one that stands taller than the others. Though we are more inclined to use NCL (we like the true Freestyle Cruising, including optional formal nights!), we would certainly be willing to cruise again with Princess if the itinerary -- and the price -- is right.