This cruise was top notch! I booked two inside staterooms, because the prices were so low, and my wife and I are building points towards becoming Elite members in the Captain's Circle. Sailing as a solo, you get double cruise points. Since we live in Florida, we just drove over on the same day, so we had no hotel stay. We usually park at US1 Airport Parking or United Airport Parking, which uses the Embassy Suites on SE 17th Street parking lot. Both shuttle up to 4 people to and from the port as part of the fee, which ranges from $5-$7 per day. I've never had an issue with either service. Both are about a mile from the ships, which are usually at Cruise Terminal 2 and/or 21, depending on how many Princess ships are in the port at the same time.
Two days before the cruise, I received a call from AL at Princess. He saw that my wife and I were in separate staterooms, and he asked if I would mind sleeping with my wife in the same stateroom? LOL! He said he needed some inside cabins, and he wanted to move us into a suite. It didn't have a balcony, but neither did the inside cabins. Before I said yes, he sweetened the deal with some added onboard or "move-over" credit. That was definitely more icing on the cake. Plus, we had full "suite benefits" to enjoy. You should look those up on Princess.com. I've listed most throughout this review.
We've learned to pack light for these Caribbean Getaways (3-5 days), so now we just carry our own luggage onboard by ourselves. The porters will usually try to take them from/for you, but it's not required. If you do drop off your luggage, it's nice to tip a buck per bag, but tipping is not required since they are paid employees. It is simple and easy if you just have one suitcase each. You have to go through the security screening, but since we are eligible for Preferred Check-in, the lines are short and we were onboard and in the suite in just 15 minutes; that's from shuttle to suite, including the check-in, embarkation photo and walk up the ramp. We boarded on Fiesta Deck 6, the same as our suite, and we just had to cross the Piazza/Atrium and we were there. Princess has done a great job of streamlining their embarkation processes. Everyone is willing to help and get you pointed in the right direction. One issue folks experience on the CB, which we didn't have to deal with this time, is the slow elevators, and during embarkation, Princess employees commandeer half of the elevators to manually take folks to their deck/stateroom. If you dropped off your bags with the porters, they do a great job of delivering the luggage fairly quickly. The latest we've waited is 6pm.
If you've never been in a suite before, you get spoiled really fast. First of all, the Window Suites are hidden behind a wood-paneled, soundproof wall, so you are separated from all the Piazza noise and traffic. We opened the suite door, and we were home in the Santa Monica Suite. The 300+ square footage (about 18'x18') is great and featured an outside wall with two large (6'x6') picture windows. There were three closets and lots of drawers, a desk and credenza and a small sitting area with a sofabed. There was a nice, fresh fruit basket waiting for us, as well as a fully stocked mini-bar. Unlike regular staterooms, in the suites the first round of items in the mini-bar is complimentary. It had 10 small bottles of liquor (2 each of 5 kinds), plus 2 beers, 2 tonics, 2 Pellegrino, 2 spring waters, 2 Cokes and 2 Sprites. You can swap out what you want with the steward on the first day to stock it to your taste. We don't know if there is a sensor or a camera, but soon after entering the suite, the steward appeared, followed shortly by room service delivering canapés. In another 30 minutes, room service stopped by with a plate of chocolate-covered strawberries. Oh yeah! Now we know why folks spend the extra $$$ for a suite. Other amenities include unlimited use of the Thermal Suite at the Lotus Spa, canapés delivered daily, corsages for dress to impress/formal nights, the cover charge waived for one dinner at a specialty restaurant, a 100+ DVD library, and Lotus Spa bathroom amenities.
Our suite was an accessible suite, so the bathroom did not have a jetted tub like they have in other suites. It had a roll-in shower (5x6) with a fold-down shower seat and lots of handrails around the bathroom walls. My wife enjoyed the fancy, lighted makeup mirror, but the blow dryer was located next to the vanity/makeup mirror out beside the sitting area. The bathroom floor had long drains to capture the water, but until we learned the right spots to put the bath mat and a towel and angle the showerhead, the bathroom floor got flooded. We never saw it, but we think the steward had a squeegee or a fantastic mop, because when we left the room to eat or play, when we returned, the bathroom was clean and dry.
We had our 6yo granddaughter with us. She loves the Kids Club and being a Princess Pelican. Even though Princess isn't known for their young family cruising, they do a great job of educating and entertaining the kids. We've never heard an "I'm bored" from her, just "when can I go back to the kids' club?" At sea, the program is open 9am-12pm, 1pm-5pm and 6pm-10pm for free. There's a late-night program, 10pm-1am, for a fee (usually $7-$8 per hour). For parents with younger children, they have pagers to beep you if they need you. If the pager goes off, you can call and find out what they need. Other ships have phones that operate on the ship's wireless network, which is nice. Part of the program is educational, teaching the kids about things like sea life, conservation and recycling. They colored t-shirts, made lanyards for their cruise cards, danced, played games, etc. On formal night, they had their own "kids' dinner" or the kids can eat with their parents, or both. I won't mention that after we picked her up at 10pm, she had to have a vanilla ice cream cone with chocolate and rainbow sprinkles and a cherry on top AND a slice or two of pizza. Of course, just water to drink to stay hydrated and save calories, right? And it would have been rude of us to let her eat alone. On a personal note about children, cruising with your own kids or grandkids gives you a great opportunity to find/see/catch any gaps in their etiquette and manners, and it's a great place to teach them how to eat a formal dinner. You'll get questions like "why are there so many forks and knives on the table?" Who knew there was a table knife, a butter knife, a steak knife, a fish knife...?
Something new this year is Discovery at Sea. For the Caribbean cruises, the focus was on the night sky. It was very interesting to see the stars (weather was cooperative) and hear about the various things to see. They even lowered the lights on the upper deck areas for better viewing. This is definitely a plus for Princess. Now I'm curious about the Discovery at Sea programs in other locations on other ships.
This was also our first time eating at one of the specialty restaurants. We've always had the "we already paid for the food" mindset, so we didn't spend extra, but this time it was free as one of our suite amenities. We enjoyed a wonderfully delicious Italian dinner at Sabatini's. I failed to mention earlier that suite guests can also eat breakfast in their own separate dining room, which is Sabatini's. The maître d and waiters/waitresses were super, a cut above the main dining room. You felt like royalty as they catered to your every need. Once you see what's on the menu, hear about the Chef's "special" creation, and taste the food, too, you know why you pay an extra cover charge. Superb! I just may pay next time. There are lots of fancy choices, including "lobster 3 ways" or lamb shank or NY Strip steak. Like the Main Dining Room, you can eat as much as you want. If you can't decide between two choices, get both. Don't know if you like something or not? Order it and try it. Escargot? You can love it or leave it. Cold soup made with meat, fruit and veggies that you've never heard of before? Go for it! It's your own fault if you leave hungry (or leave sick from overeating).
I've always enjoyed the entertainment on the Princess ships; this was no exception. This cruise had a comedian, a comedic master magician (great up-close magic, too) and two wonderful Broadway-style shows featuring the Princess Singers and Dancers. There were also other entertainers and musicians at the various lounges and bars around the ship. Also, various shows/activities in the Piazza throughout the day and every evening. All did a great job.
Our shore excursion (semi-submarine) was cancelled due to murky waters, so we just went ashore and enjoyed browsing in the stores and playing/lying on the beach. The weather was perfect in the mid-80s, and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. I enjoyed a shared margarita and jerk pork tacos with the family and the masses at Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville in Grand Turk. I took advantage of their guest Wi-Fi to check on the real world and send a few pictures to other family members in the chillier regions around the globe. And yes, it generated a little envy seeing the beach, clear blue/turquoise-colored waters and cloudless sky that framed the cruise ship. My brother commented that it was a long walk back to the buffet from there. LOL I was a lot closer than he was, 12 time zones away on the other side of the world. There's an interesting, free NASA display about the Mercury splashdown and astronaut retrieval on the island. It's hidden behind the shopping area, over to the right after going through the duty-free store. It's a nice photo spot, or you can play a game of chess with the 2- to 3-foot tall chess pieces. That's Check and 'mate!
Back on board, Paul, the Cruise Director, announced a change in activities. Due to forecasted inclement weather, the evening's On-deck Disco Dance Party had to be cancelled. Instead, they changed it to their '50's Rock & Roll Party indoors in the Explorer's Lounge. The Captain did a fantastic job of punching through the weather, which just involved light rain.
In addition to the onboard entertainment, our Sea Days were occupied with all sorts of activities on the ship. We watched others participate in silly, fun games. We watched the paper plane contest. We attended an art auction, went to a movie, made crafts, sat in on a couple of lectures, browsed through the stores onboard (they're making changes to the boutiques), participated in drawings and giveaways. Everyday, we took advantage of the Thermal Suite in the Lotus Spa.
We had to spend our "you can't take it with you" onboard credit, so I indulged myself with a Royal Shave at the Lotus Spa, and I'll do it again on a future cruise. That included a double shave (one with gel and one with oil); a scalp, neck, face and arm massage; and aromatic facial. I purchased a few items and added additional tip. My wife enjoyed time at the casino and saved some $$$ with some duty-free shopping, buying items she would buy at home anyway. The cost was about 50% of the price she would pay in FL, so.... That's a perk of international travel.
Disembarkation was a breeze. As a suite amenity, Princess has a special Disembarkation Lounge setup for Platinum, Elite and Suite passengers, that has coffee, tea, juices and pastries available. This one was setup in Club Fusion, Deck 7 Aft, so we didn't use it this time. Princess asks that all passengers that are disembarking vacate their staterooms by 8am. You can fill your time by attending breakfast or catching a few last-minute sunrays, or looking through the photos one last time. Some folks were taking a nap in their deck chair. We were able to disembark directly from our suite, just right across the ship, one last scan of the cruise card and down the ramp to Customs. We chose a "walk-off group" which allows us to carry off our own luggage. The "walk-off groups" are great if you want to disembark the ship early, soon after arriving back at the port once Customs is ready. We took a later group so we could sleep in an extra hour, since we were only headed home. Sometimes I have to go to work the morning we arrive, so I'm able to disembark quickly and make to work in Miami by 9am. The Customs line was fairly short (maybe 50 people), and they had 5 stations open, so it just took 15 minutes to get through the line.
Back on land, Port Everglades does a pretty good job of keeping vehicles moving. Transportation is split up, with some folks going to get on buses to go to the airport, some going on local excursions before going to the airport, others that are parked in the cruise terminal parking, which is close, but costs $15 per day. Those with independent travel arrangements (taxis, hotel shuttles, private shuttles, off-site parking shuttles, limousines, personal vehicles, etc.) are shuffled down to a pickup area that is managed by local security and county sheriffs that direct traffic and keep things from backing up and creating a gridlock. Just make sure you follow the instructions given by whoever is picking you up and be watching for them. The security officers and sheriffs don't let anyone stop for very long, so shuttles will stop, load luggage, and then leave with only one person on it if that's all that is there or paying attention. Some are running scheduled loops, and others, like taxis, are summoned or "on-call" private shuttles. Anyway, we made it out and back to our waiting vehicle and safely made it back home.
That same day, Monday, we received a survey via email. Throughout the cruise, you'll hear about giving everyone a 10 on their section of the survey. What are you going to give them? "10!" cheers everyone. I say, rate them fairly, and take the time to tell Princess about both the good and the bad. That's how they know where to make changes and how some employees get rewarded.
In summary, I really would have to give this specific cruise a 10. I don't know if it was what I'll call the "suite-effect" or something else, but most everything exceeded our expectations. The upgrade to the suite, the added move-over credit, the suite amenities, the royal treatment by everyone who served us, the dining experience, the spa experience, the entertainment and activities: ALL contributed to a memorable, nearly perfect, cruise experience. I wish everyone could have this kind of cruise at least once in their life. Read Less