As traveling the world gets more complicated, we're all seeking easier. And right now, Caribbean cruising fits the bill.
The newest cruise ship at sea -- and last to debut in 2021 -- Enchanted Princess might just be the perfect vessel for cruisers looking for a friction-free vacation. The 3,660-passenger ship, a siste vessel to Royal, Regal, Majestic and Sky Princess, is the latest in the line to enter into service with Princess' Medallion technology, designed to make cruising hassle-free.
Enchanted Princess is sailing in the Caribbean through the spring, and Cruise Critic is onboard to check out what this brand-new ship has to offer. Here's why Enchanted Princess might be the easiest cruise vacation you can take right now.
Through April 2022, Enchanted Princess is sailing nothing but the Caribbean, and this ship is perfect for it. Featuring beautiful, open sun and pool decks, three distinct pool areas and indoor spaces made to be flooded by natural light, Enchanted Princess is a dream in warm weather.
Our favorite spot onboard is The Sanctuary, an adults-only for fee sundeck practically hidden at the front of the ship. It's spacious and includes lots of padded lounge chairs, cabanas and even an exclusive spa-like menu. It also has a hot tub within the complex and is a stone's throw away from the adults-only Retreat pool. It also has a lot of shade, which is perfect when you're trying to escape from the heat of direct sunlight.
It's easy to imagine yourself lazing there with a book or a download on sea days, enjoying the serenity and quiet the space offers. Passes to The Sanctuary are available for purchase for half days or full days; on our sailing, passes for sea days sold out quickly, so if that's your preference you'll need to jump on passes fast.
Of course, the itineraries themselves are ideal. Always a popular -- and easy -- destination to visit, the Caribbean is the perfect getaway, especially for U.S. travelers who want an escape that is a little closer to home.
All cruises leave out of Fort Lauderdale, but the islands visited vary depending on itinerary. We're partial to the 10-night one we did, which captures some premier ports in the Eastern and Southern Caribbean, visiting Princess Cays (the line's private island), St. Thomas, Dominica, Grand Turk, Curacao and Aruba. It's especially appealing because it has four sea days, so you can explore the ship and truly relax onboard.
Other itineraries add Barbados and Antigua, delights for those who want to do some snorkeling, or lush St. Kitts and St. Lucia. The ultimate getaway combines two 10-night sailings, with St. Thomas the only repeat in the 20 days.
These days, you can't sail Princess Cruises without thinking about the line's ubiquitous Medallion technology. Now rolled out to every ship in the fleet, Medallion is part wearable technology, a dash of high-speed internet onboard and a helping of powerful app.
It's not new -- Princess first unveiled it at the Consumer Electronics Show in early 2017 -- but this is the first time we experienced it where all aspects of it were really working the way they should.
It started with the app, now streamlined from four to just one. We used the app for check-in before we arrived at the ship, entering all pertinent info about us, our vaccination status, photo to use onboard and check-in preferences. Once check-in was completed, we received our wearable discs in the mail a few days later, complete with lanyard.
At embarkation, we simply showed our check-in QR code, and we were on our way. The only paperwork needed was our proof of vaccination, physical passport and proof of negative COVID-19 test, taken less than 48 hours before we arrived.
Onboard, we found ourselves using Medallion, either purposely or unconsciously, all over the ship. First, there's the lightning-fast wi-fi, that stood up our pretty heavy usage that included virtual meetings with the office ashore, Peloton app workouts and Netflix streaming.
Then there's the disc itself, that serves as a locator as well as your room keycard. (Your cabin door will open when you're within range of about 10 feet or so.) We twice tried ordering food and drink from the app in different spots on the ship, and both times we were able to track the status of that order, and a crewmember found us and delivered exactly what we ordered.
We regularly used the app for step-by-step directions to a restaurant or lounge, to locate a traveling companion (this requires their permission), to book and check on dinner reservations and even to place a bet using Princess' exclusive onboard sports book.
All of this demonstrates the power of the technology, which spokesperson Vicki Johnson told us fits the need of the modern traveler, who wants -- and needs -- to be connected at all times.
Post-lockdown, as travelers are taking trips that combine work and vacation, Medallion can keep them connected at home and work. Additionally, the technology can help with contact tracing, in a scenario where someone becomes ill and the line needs to identify who had close contact. The wearable technology can even provide proximity location ashore.
This isn't to say Medallion is perfect yet. Our embarkation was not quite seamless, with longer queues and wait times than we've experienced on other cruises this year. The app itself is huge (Johnson said it has the power of Google maps, Uber and more, all rolled into one). And that means it lags some. It also lacks suffers some because it isn't always intuitive; we found that it was hard to find where to track orders or locate other passengers, and often, multiple taps and swipes were required. But still, Medallion provided the best overall app/internet/technology experience we've seen on cruises this year.
One of the things we love about Princess in general is the cruise line's approach to dining. No matter where you eat, you can expect good food. You don't have to pay for it, but if you do, it won't cost you more than you'll pay on date night to a fancy restaurant ashore.
On Enchanted Princess, we've enjoyed trying a little bit of everything. On our first day, we visited Gigi's Pizzeria for lunch, an included spot that offers some of the best pizza you'll find on a cruise ship. (On the line's other ship's, it's called "Alfredo's, but the menu is virtually the same as at Gigi's.)
We also enjoyed meals at the main dining room and the World Fresh Market buffet, all included. We especially like the World Fresh Market's approach to buffet in the pandemic era, where it offered many pre-plated grab-and-go options as well as crew-served hot choices. This method smartly cut back on the lines and waits for food; we grabbed a yummy pre-portioned salad, a small cheese plate and pear for lunch without waiting in line and were completely happy. Plus, it was open for breakfast, lunch and dinner; several other cruise lines have opted to shut down the buffet option at dinner as cruising returns.
If you do want to spring for something special, you've got a few main options on Enchanted Princess: Crown Grill (steakhouse), Sabatini's (Italian), Salty Dog Gastro Pub (comfort food) and Bistro Sur La Mer (French). All come with a cover charge of less than $30 per person and offer great meals and wonderful service. They're easy to book: We did so using our app before we even boarded the ship. And they round out the variety of options available, especially as Enchanted Princess is offering longer cruises in the Caribbean.
We also tried out Ocean Terrace Seafood Bar, a tiny venue in the heart of the ship's beautiful multi-story atrium, dubbed the Piazza. Here, we had nice-sized portions of sushi and sashimi, made while we watched. We ate a full meal here, but it also would work for a spot to grab a nice appetizer ahead of a dinner. Prices here are a la carte.
Our daily planner was packed with a solid array of activities every day, from trivia contests to staged shows, dance lessons to cocktail parties. And what we really loved was that guests were participating in them all, whether indoors or out.
The best-attended events seemed to be the trivia sessions taking place in Enchanted Princess' Princess Live venue. This space offers a big stage, large video screens and plenty of seats (next to a lively coffee bar). It also is wide open, so anyone who happens to be wandering by can pause and watch the action. This spot also hosted hilariously fun dances lessons and solid lectures, like "What's it like to come face to face with a great white shark?"
In the evening, cruisers could take in MUTS -- Movies Under The Stars -- on the ship's pool deck. We saw a number of guests enjoying newer movies like "In The Heights" and "Jungle Cruise" from the comfort of red-cushioned lounge chairs, eating popcorn and keeping warm under cozy plaid blankets.
We were most impressed with the production shows, including the stunning "Rock Opera," a high-energy display that combines modern and not-so-modern music, excellent vocals and dancing along with stunning costumes. It leans heavily into musicals, especially the "Greatest Showman" but puts a poppy spin on them. Guests at our sitting gave a raucous standing ovation for this one.
The simplicity of finding the right activities that fit your taste is further enhanced by the app, which gives passengers the ability to scroll through the offerings and bookmark their favorites. It also tells you how many other passengers have bookmarked the same event, so you can decide if you want to go or if you should plan to go early because it looks like it will fill out. It's a unique real-time feature that makes cruising on Enchanted Princess a personalized experience.