To make this review more useful, I'll try to write in sections.
OVERVIEW: I love cruising, in general. My room is cleaned 3 times a day, my groceries bought, meals planned, cooked, and cleaned-up, entertainment choices laid out, etc. ... Read More
To make this review more useful, I'll try to write in sections.
OVERVIEW: I love cruising, in general. My room is cleaned 3 times a day, my groceries bought, meals planned, cooked, and cleaned-up, entertainment choices laid out, etc. What's not to like? Well, several things. Too many passengers means that entertainment/lectures are not available to everyone wanting to see them. Getting on and off the ship requires extra time, which shortened every port day by 90 minutes on average. But a large ship also has more offerings than is possible on a small one.
FOOD: The dining options were plentiful, and you could eat 24 hours a day, if you wanted. The quality varied. On Deck 15 are the Horizon Court and Cafe Caribe. For breakfast, they typically offered similar fare, although CC is smaller, so cannot offer as much. But they are adjacent, so if one was lacking, it was easy to go to the other. During lunch, the options were a bit different. For example, one day CC offered a sushi bar while HC had the usual variety of salads, fruit, sandwiches, hot foods, and the ever-present desserts.
We had "anytime dining", which was in the Islands restaurant. The Maitre d' was difficult to deal with until the absolute last day, when he was suddenly pleasant and accommodating (looking to improve his reviews or tips??). We only had dinners in the restaurant, so I cannot comment on breakfast or lunch there. Quality was variable, but overall was like a moderately-priced chain restaurant. Steaks were sometimes good, sometimes tough and flavorless. Fish was the same, and often overcooked. We expected the pasta dishes to be outstanding, since the head chef is from Italy, but I suppose "corporate food" cannot be expected to be special, and it wasn't. Not that it was bad, it was just ordinary. Desserts required translation from the menu! What we expected to see, from the description, was often not even close to what arrived. The creme brulee, however, was quite good, as were the ice creams.
The PIZZA bar was actually very good. I had only had pizza on a different line (Celebrity) and was not impressed, but this pizza was good! The crust was thin and crisp (despite the poor cook having to stand out in freezing weather to cook/serve it), and the toppings were tasty and not overdone. We didn't try the burger/hotdog bar. The ice cream spot served mostly soft serve, but had 1 or 2 flavors each day (like strawberry and vanilla) of regular ice cream. The offerings at dinner were much better.
COFFEE/DRINKS: The coffee is awful. The special "coffee card" you can buy gets you the same coffee without having to go to Deck 15, plus some "fancy" coffees. Our friends bought the coffee card, and seemed happy with it. I drank water or iced tea, which were free, but required going to Deck 15 (except for water).
Wine was priced at about double the price of a similar bottle on shore, and ranged from about $26 up. I did not find the mark-up amount surprising (the lower end bottles seemed to have a higher mark-up, but I cannot confirm this). Beers were about $5.75-$6.75, and all bar drinks have an automatic 15% added on. We did not purchase mixed drinks or soft drinks.
SERVICE: This is one area where the Caribbean Princess did truly shine. Nearly every staff person we saw appeared to be happy and friendly. Most greeted us with a "good morning" or at least a smile. Our cabin steward was less cheerful initially, but brightened up once things got underway. In the dining room, no request was too great, and there was never a "no, you can't" from the wait staff. They even went out of their way to secure a recipe about which I had inquired. One of the bartenders went to the other side of the ship to find the answer to a question I'd asked, and then brought another wine steward back to further answer the question. Service gets a 5-star from me!
ENTERTAINMENT/VENUES: The Princess Theater is a very nice venue, but can only hold a fraction of the people on board. For evening shows, which are repeated 3 times, this was not a big problem. Most people tended to prefer the earlier times, and they were more crowded, but it was possible to attend the 10:00 performance and have a choice of seats. The size of the theater was a huge problem at other times, though. Some of the lectures were taped and available on the ship's TV (channel 49, I believe) during the day, but other presentations were not available at all unless you arrived at least 30 minutes early to secure a seat (and no saving seat!). At one point, a brawl erupted when 3 men were saving seats for their wives who were in the restroom (probably in a long line), and another man wanted 2 of those seats! This is not high-class behavior guys. Toward the end of the cruise, the kitchen/restaurant staff put on a show with comedy, cooking demos and a galley tour, but the theater was packed beyond capacity more than 30 minutes early. I had another event beforehand, so I was completely out of luck to see that one.
One complaint I have about the theater is the shining of searchlights/strobe lights onto the audience. It is annoying, potentially harmful, and does not add to the show, so please stop, Princess! The other complaint is that it is too loud. The cruise director (Neil) is the loudest. Bring your earplugs.
OTHER VENUES - the other lounges and performance venues seem to work well. Entertainment in the Piazza was visible/audible from 3 levels, and most people who wanted to see could. If you wanted to sit, however, it would be a problem. The lounges were comfortable, and pretty much identical to every other Princess ship, so if you've sailed on one, you know what it's like.
The actual ENTERTAINMENT was also variable, which is probably a good thing. I especially enjoyed the Princess singers and dancers and their production numbers. This team had apparently just boarded with us at Southampton, and initially seemed a little stiff. But as the cruise went on, they got smoother and better. There were a variety of other entertainers, from a violinist to a ventriloquist, with comedians and jugglers and other acts mixed in.
One of the house bands, Retrospect, was excellent. They mainly performed in the Explorers Lounge, and were a very danceable band with music from the 50s to the present. One thing that impressed me was that Erin, the lead singer, said if there was a request she didn't know, she would do her best to learn it before the next night, and she was good to her word. They were a highlight for us. There were other venues with recorded music and DJs, but once we found Retrospect, we stuck with them.
The other ENRICHMENT options were generally excellent. A very good lecturer was Dr. Alan Fitzsimmons, an astronomer, who gave talks every sea day. There was another speaker who told wonderful tales of the older ships (like the Titanic) and their sailings. His wife was a great foil as they occasionally acted out passenger stories - hilarious! There was also a watercolor artist who taught sold-out classes (actually, they were free, but people were turned away because it was so popular and they had only brought enough supplies for 60!).
The PHOTOGRAPHERS were well-mannered and accepted "no" for what it was. We liked several of the formal night portraits and had trouble deciding which to buy. There was also an option for a private photo session with an excellent B&W photographer. Although we loved the results, we were not prepared to pay $575 for five 8x10 prints! If that's something you're looking for, bring your wallet because she's good.
STATEROOM: We were in C250, a balcony on Deck 10, the port side near the front. (TIP: if you're going westbound to the North Atlantic and hope to see the northern lights, they'll be on the STARBOARD side - odd numbered rooms!) The cabin was comfortable for hanging out, with a desk, desk chair, and sitting chair. There was adequate open closet space, plenty of drawers (2 side-tables with 2 drawers each and 5 more in the desk, plus the closet shelves).
BATHROOM - tiny! but aren't they usually? We had the mini-shower (called that because I think it was only about 2.5 x 2.5 feet with the corners cut off). The mini-suites and up have actual bathtubs and longer vanity/sink areas. Our bathroom worked fine, but only 1 person at a time could be there (unless one was fully in the shower). There was adequate storage in the bathroom when you used the shelf near the floor. TIP: if you want a nightlight, take one of those battery-operated tea lights. It stays on the shelf and at least you can find the toilet without turning on the light.
TOILETRIES - I had been told that Princess had changed to wall-mounted soap, shampoo, etc., but that was not the case. We had bar soap and little bottles of shampoo, conditioner, and lotion. Very nice! I had also been told the hairdryer was good - it was not. It was one of those ancient ones that are attached to the wall and produce more noise than air (but they do get very hot). I begged, pleaded, demanded, and complained until I got another, more modern one. Since the original one kept pulling clumps of my very fine hair out, I was quite happy to have one that didn't.
There are only 2 OUTLETS, next to each other by the desk on the outside wall. I brought a 4-outlet extension, and we tended to use at least 2-3 nightly (charging electronics, hair dryers, curling irons, etc.). There is an outlet in the bathroom for a shaver, but we did not use it.
BED/PILLOWS - not a highlight. The bed was very hard, except where people sat on the edge, and then it was totally broken down and slumped. The 2 types of pillows were 1) a large case with a dozen or so feathers, and 2) a folded up beach towel which had served as a seat cushion before being put into a case. Not really, but that's what they felt like. TIP: buy the large Eagle Creek compression bags and pack your own standard size pillow and case. I did and it saved my neck.
PORTS: We had been scheduled to visit 2 ports that were removed from the itinerary due to predicted bad weather. I later learned that, had we gone to Shetland and Faroe Island, we could probably have gotten in without trouble. But the forecast was for rough seas, and the captain decided to take a different route. So we spent 2 days in Bergen, Norway (where the exchange rate was much against our favor), had an extra sea day, and then 3 ports in Iceland, and one each in Greenland and Newfoundland.
After our first port, apparently the cruise staff learned that 3000 people take a long time to board, so the "be back on" time listed in the Princess Patter was 90 minutes later than the official one given daily as we left the ship. So the scheduled stop that was to go until 5:30 was changed to needing to be on board by 4.
I scheduled several tours with non-Princess companies, so I cannot comment on the shore excursions offered by the ship.
EMBARKATION/DISEMBARKATION: We received the email that told us we should arrive at noon, as our deck was the first to board. We arrived about 10 minutes early, and found the waiting area was already half-full. Elite passengers were called first and had very short lines to board. It took us 2 hours to finally arrive at our room. That, I think, is another downside of such a huge ship.
Getting off the ship was equally disorganized. We had booked a Princess transfer to Newark airport, but our travel agent alerted us (only 3 days before sailing) that Princess had changed, and would not transfer anyone with a flight early than 1:30 (ours was at 1). Thank goodness she checked, as I would have assumed they would actually notify us of a change that significant! So our TA booked us a private transfer which was to pick us up at 9.
We had the choice of walking off early, taking our own luggage, and that's what we should have done. Unfortunately, it seemed from the ship's questionnaire, that there was plenty of time to take the other option. We received our luggage and "get off" tags for 8:20, which seemed perfect. But No. I have no idea why, but our group was not called until nearly 9:30 to get off the ship. Then we had to claim our 2 suitcases (from the 6000 in the warehouse), get in the customs-immigration line, and get through. And we got the chattiest customs agent in history (very nice, but we were ready to leave already!!). Fortunately, other passengers seemed to have alerted the transfer company of the issue and they did not leave us. Another big negative for Princess!
SUMMARY: I am happy to have visited Iceland and Greenland, and to have seen the incredible Aurora Borealis. I will never sail on a ship this big again. In fact, my new goal is 1500 or fewer passengers, and preferably 800 or less. The ship is not built for the number of passengers, meaning long wait times for meals and shows (if you can even get in) and to get on and off the ship. Service was excellent. Food was mediocre, room was fine, except the uncomfortable bed and pillows, and entertainment was generally good.