Crown Princess: Western Caribbean-April 14-21, 2012: Crown Princess Cruise Review by JimmyVWine

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Crown Princess: Western Caribbean-April 14-21, 2012

Sail Date: April 2012
Destination: Western Caribbean
Embarkation: Fort Lauderdale (Port Everglades)
Saturday, April 14
Arrived 11:40. People already boarding. Lengthy line that snaked around the terminal but moved reasonably well. As my daughter said: "we've waited longer for Dumbo". Got through security with my rolling wine carrier filled with 8 bottles with no problem. Waited all of one minute to be assisted at the check in counter and were processed immediately on board. We were on the ship by 12:15 or so. First pieces of luggage arrived by 1:30 and the last at 3:20. After some preliminary unpacking, we headed to the Da Vinci MDR for a sit down lunch. The hall monitor at the entrance tried to usher us away from the dining room but we ignored him and plowed past. The matre sat us without issue or the anticipated confrontation.

Had an antipasto and cup of Chick pea and vegetable soup. The only disappointment was that the antipasto was advertised as a "selection of meats", but instead was four slices of one single type of salami. Not bad, but I would have preferred a More mix. Wife had hamburger. We did not ask for any special temperature knowing that it would be futile, but received it with the slightest hint of what one could call pink, which was better than expected. Certainly done more than we would have cooked it at home, but not nearly as well done as we feared. Daughter had ravioli with cheese and spinach in a rose sauce. Similar to what one would expect in an " a la vodka" sauce. A nice dish. Iced tea in the MDR was very good.

After lunch we headed for the International Cafe for Espresso and a little dessert. Service was slow with a little too much theatrics by the bartenders. They were running around as if this was PJ Clark's at 5:30 pm instead of a moderately crowded bar at 2:00. Very little organization as to who got served when. Took us about half an hour to get our espressos and desserts. Back at our cabin, we met our steward, Apolinario (Pol). Made a request for a third balcony chair since we had three people in the cabin. He said he needed to speak with his supervisor. He returned a while later with the complimentary Sparkling Wine (no way was it Champagne, and it was worth every penny we paid for it), and at that time he informed us that we could not have a third chair as there are no extras on the ship. He sort of stumbled on his reasoning alternating between the ship being filled to capacity and the rule that permits only two per cabin. It was clear that he understood the inequity of the rule but said that his supervisor will not allow him to add a third. He invited us to use our cabin chair on the deck. Since my daughter was fine with this, I did not make a stink. (More on this to follow, so stay tuned.)

Time to prepare for muster. We were assigned to the Princess Theater. Entry was fairly organized and we were scanned. Returned to our cabin for final unpacking of our formal clothes that had arrived just before we headed out for muster. Phoned the dining line and got all the Specialty reservations that we wanted.
Enjoyed sailaway from our balcony and immediately braced what Captain Proctor promised would be "lumpy seas".

Dinner at Sabatini's. Very few people dine here on sailaway day, so this presents a great opportunity to enjoy a rather intimate dinner as a way to adjust to being on board with thousands of others. With so few people to attend to, we received a healthy dose of personal service and some great food and wine conversation. After talking about the menu for some time, our server Djordje decided that he should just present most of everything for us to try. The Twice-baked Artichoke souffle was a winner as was the calamari. The mushroom tart was just so-so. But the Soft-Shell Crab made up for that. The middle course pasta was spaghetti carbonara. Excellent, and filling. My daughter commented that she would never again be able to eat the "Smart Ones" version found in your local grocer's freezer. We barely had room for the main courses, but we soldiered on. The Veal Chop was the real winner, and the Branzino in the salt crust was terrific as well. The Steak was quite good, but if choosing only one red meat, the Veal Chop would be the way to go. Finally, a plate of langoustines was brought out just to gild the lily. A nice touch as an extra, but had I ordered this as a feature of the meal, I would have been disappointed. Having had a dessert earlier in the day at the IC, we opted to call it a night after the langoustines. All in all, this meal exceeded expectations. While the menu has changed over from the prior "family style" service, on this particular night we were more or less treated to a tour of 75% of the menu with very professional service that was neither too familiar nor formal. Just right for our style of dining.

Sunday, April 15-Sea Day.
Promised our teen that there would be at least one day to "sleep in" so we didn't get a real early start. As a result, I have no idea how early one needed to get up top to secure a shaded lounge chair or what the situation was like for the Sanctuary. We missed those "deadlines" by a mile. Instead, we decided to eat an early (for us) lunch in the Wheelhouse, so at 11:00 we headed up to the Horizon buffet for some fruit just to hold us over until noon. Fruit there was all very good. Did not try any of the other items. Wife tried the coffee just to see how necessary it was to use remaining punches on our old coffee cards for "regular" coffee instead of specialty drinks. Her verdict? "It's not horrible. I don't like Starbucks but drink it in a pinch, and this is no worse." Take that for what it's worth.

Arrived at the Wheelhouse at noon and were seated 5 minutes later. Our order was taken a minute after that and the food came 90 seconds after that. I commented: "Sort of like pre-plated cafeteria food" to which my wife replied: "Or exactly like that." That said, we ordered a Fish and Chips, a Prawns and Chips and a Chicken Curry. Despite the lightening speed of delivery, the food was clearly not "warming light cafeteria food" and instead was hot out of the fryer and/or rice pot. The Chicken Curry was pretty tasty and the shrimp were very well prepared, not that frying shrimp is rocket science. But it is surprising how many people botch it up. The only average-to-below-average dish was the signature "Fish and Chips". Just didn't care for the batter.

After lunch we toured the rest of the ship that we did not explore the day before and then relaxed at various outside decks while my daughter made friends at the Teen Center. Later we grabbed a snack at the IC to hold us over until our late dinner. Daughter really wanted to see the Champagne tower (having seen that done as a task on Amazing Race a few seasons ago). So rather than fighting the Anytime crowds at the early times, we opted to dine late.

We made our way down for some portrait photos in our formal wear around 6:30. The lines were not large but moved slowly. Once we finished there, we took a position on a stair case for the Champagne pour. We only stayed for the first several minutes. Once they started to hand the task over to passengers for a three ounce pour per person, the ceremony became tiresome. So we headed for the Da Vinci Dining Room for dinner. By now it was around 7:45.

First, a word on attire, as this always comes up. Of course we could not observe everyone, but based on what we saw in the Piazza for photos and the Champagne tower, coupled with what we saw in Da Vinci between 7:45 and 9:15, there were no more than 5% of men in tuxedos. Women were dressed for a cocktail party. Not complaining or editorializing. Just reporting.

Dinner in the MDR could not have been more different than the night before at Sabatini's. The night prior, the service staff quickly picked up on the fact that food and wine is our passion. In the MDR, the servers approached the Formal Night meal as if we were at the early seating of a New Year's Eve dinner, eager to flip the table in 45 minutes. This would be more understandable at 5:30. But at 8:00 in a half empty dining room, did they really need to process us in and out so quickly? We had to tell them several times to slow things down. If you rested your fork down for a moment to catch a breath, someone was at the ready to pull your plate away. I don't like the added tension of having to spin my head around like Linda Blair to check for my server to see if the coast is clear before setting my fork down.

Aside from the very rushed and banquet hall service, all I can say is that the meal was average. Nothing was "this-is-so-bad-that-I-can't-eat-it" bad. But nothing was "this-is-so-good-that-I-want-more" good. Except maybe for my daughter's Fettuccini Alfredo. She cleaned that plate. The rest of the meal consisted of Crab Quiche, Tri-color salad, Smoked Duck Breast, Halibut and Cornish Game Hen. The duck app was tasty but too small. The halibut was OK, but the "sidings" as they are called on the menu were hospital quality veggies. Really bad. My recommendation, if there is one, would be to go with the Game Hen.

My daughter and I changed clothes and headed up top to catch the 10:15 showing of The Artist" on MUTS. A glitch caused a delay until 10:40, but all in all, it was nice to end the day out under the tropic stars.

Monday, April 16-Grand Cayman
Started the day with room service breakfast out on our balcony. When we returned from dinner the night before, our room had been made ready for bed with the curtains pinched closed by our sitting table. So we could not spy the surprise that awaited us as we opened the drapes to head out for breakfast. A THIRD CHAIR!! Yeah!!! It was not a new (and uncomfortable) mini-suite chair, but instead was a bright blue "old" chair. But who cares. It was a third chair, and it fit without issue and our entire family was able to dine in a civilized way together as a unit.

After breakfast we headed down to the Michelangelo MDR to line up for a tender. Between the line and the wait, it took about 40 minutes to get off the ship. Once on land, we carried our snorkel gear about a half mile down the road to Eden Rock Dive Shop, rented a locker for $5 and took to the water. Entry is by stairs and the snorkeling was really good and free. There really is no need to pay for a snorkel excursion here. Several tour boats arrived at this reef later in the day, and for the price they paid, those folks saw nothing more than we did for free. After collecting our gear from the dive shop, we walked back to the tender pier.

Once back on board we grabbed small plates of food at the IC, but our appetites were too big for the small plates, so we headed up to the Horizon Buffet to graze a little bit more. Nothing special, except I will say that the Eggplant Caponata (with peppers and tomatoes) was a very well composed dish. The girls headed back to the cabin to shower off the Caribbean salt whist I roamed around the ship taking photos. Cleaned and rested, we were ready to tackle the Crown Grill and put it through its paces.

Dinner at the Crown Grill put us back on track. This meal reinforced our conclusion that in the MDRs you eat while at the specialties, you dine. David, the sommelier who we met on Saturday, appeared again and treated our bottle with respect. As ship's rules prevent the sommelier from using a decanting candle, David resorts to holding a butane lighter under the neck of the bottle to serve the purpose. My daughter got a thrill when David asked for her assistance and she got the honor of tending to the flame.

We enjoyed heirloom tomato salads, seared scallops (that were a tad under seasoned--they would have benefited from the "selection of sea salts" that did not appear until the mains were served). But plain ol' table salt helped the cause. The Rack of Lamb was plentiful and flavorful. The Sterling Beef Chop was pitched as a bone in ribeye. It wasn't. But it was still a good cut of meat and the temperature arrived at a perfect medium rare as requested. The Lobster Tail entree is listed as a "4 oz tail" but that seemed to be an unnecessary limiter as it appeared as if one could get one's fill. My wife asked for "one if they are running large and two if they are trending small." She received three. More than she needed, but I was there to pinch hit. Cruise ship lobster tails are the target of many slings and arrows, but I must say that at least on this night, the kitchen hit all the notes. And I grew up in a coastal New England town where lobster pots hung in the waters the way stars hang in the southern sky. I've eaten ten times my weight in lobster and these tails were good. The only "miss" of the night was the Berry and Apple Cobbler. Books have been written about the definition and differences between cobblers, buckles, Bettys, and everything in between. But however one describes a cobbler, this was not it. What arrived was essentially a big, thick blueberry pancake. Solid all the way through. Tasty enough, but sorely lacking in the fruit-to-batter ratio. Didn't stop me from eating it.

After dinner we caught the second half of the "Yes and No" game put on by our CD Samantha Hawker-Thomas. Pretty funny and entertaining. My daughter wanted to keep going, but we were set to set the clocks back yet another hour and the two hour time change was catching up to us. 10:30 on the ship's clock was really 12:30 for our bodies, so off we headed to rest up for a fun day in Roatan.

Tuesday, April 17-Roatan, Honduras
The sun rises early in Honduras. Despite being south of Wisconsin, Roatan is on Rocky Mountain time, which means that sunrise was 5:30 on the day of our arrival. Since my body was still on East Coast time, I woke to greet the sun. It looked like a great day. We went down to the IC to load up on pastries and coffee and along with the fruit that had been brought to or cabin the afternoon before, we had a lovely breakfast on our three-chaired balcony. After breakfast we headed down to Deck 5 to line up for disembarkation as we were to meet our private tour operator. We opted for a zip lining and beach day with Island Marketing (conducted through south Shore Ziplining). I won't go into great detail here but suffice to say that this was a winner. In addition to the zip lining and beach trip, we were treated to a narrated tour of a good half of the island which could have served as a excursion of its own. My wife and daughter could not stop beaming all day, and we have some great photos of my daughter zipping upside down among other "tricks". This was a very full day and highly recommended especially to anyone who is skeptical about porting in Roatan.

After returning to the ship at 3:30, we were primed for espresso, gelato and showers, in that order. Our port side balcony was in full shade by the time we got back and we enjoyed our time out there catching up on emails and magazines until it was time for dinner. It was "Italian Night" in the MDR, but we opted for real Italian food in Sabatini's.

Our second dinner at Sabatini's did not disappoint. We did our best to try everything on the menu that we had not had the first time around including the Burratta (excellent), the Lobster Three Ways, the Duck and the desserts. The special pasta of the day was a homemade pasta filled with ricotta in a truffle butter sauce. A very well composed dish complete with whole slices of black truffle instead of merely specks. Again the wine service hit the right marks. A decanter and Riedel stems appeared without a second thought for our wine. We were scheduled for an early excursion the next day, so we called it a night soon after dinner.

Wednesday, April 18-Belize
Today we had our one and only ship-sponsored excursion. I usually try to venture out on my own, but we really wanted to do the trip out to the Lamanai Mayan site and the puzzle pieces that have to fit together left too much to chance for me to risk being left behind, so we paid the premium to join the ship's tour. After a quick breakfast on our balcony, we made our way to the holding area (Explorer's) to await our tender. The wait was painless and soon we were off for the shore. Upon arrival we immediately boarded one of several buses and made the hour long ride to Lamanai Landing. Along the way our excellent guide, Simone, gave us an oral history of Belize as we traveled what must have been 40 or so miles along the Northern Highway. I am very glad that we got to see so much of the countryside as the immediate port area leaves much to be desired. After a quick pit stop at the Landing, our now-staggered group of three buses boarded boats for a rousing (and wet) ride up (or was it down) the New River. Rain had set in and the partially covered boats offered little relief from the pelting rain.

After enduring the 45 minute ride we arrived at the Mayan site for our guided tour. Despite the statement in the ship's brochure that climbing the ruins is not permitted, Simone told us that we could climb the largest and highest temple, so my daughter and I went to the very top while my wife stayed at the mid-point to take photos. Climbing a Mayan temple has now been crossed off my bucket list!

The tour reverses course and my decision to take the ship's tour proved to be a good one as our boat died on the way back to the Landing. We were picked up by a replacement and made it back to the ship in plenty of time. But had this happened on a private tour, I would have stressed out. But make it back we did to shower and dry off from what was a very wet, tropical day in the jungle. But oh so worth it. On the bus ride back we passed many schools letting children out for the day. The kids looked so cute in their uniforms. And we even saw one group playing cricket still in their school uniforms. You really haven't "seen" a country until you have seen the smiling faces of school children in uniforms. Playing cricket.

Dinner was back at Da Vinci for Chef's Night. I must say that this dinner was ten times better than our first formal night. The twice-baked goat cheese souffle lived up to the billing (though we preferred the twice-baked artichoke souffle at Sabatini's). The quail terrine was perfectly fine as was the off-the-menu French Onion Soup. I wouldn't rave about it as many do, as the crouton was beyond soggy and had a distinct rubber texture. But overall the soup was satisfactory. We ordered shrimp cocktail for the table to share as a mid-course and we received a dozen shrimp with cocktail sauce. These proved to be watery and bland, much as you might get from a pre-packed platter at a grocery store. Just OK. My wife's Pork Tenderloin was cooked beyond recognition with the temperature probably hitting 175-180 as opposed to a perfectly acceptable 155-160 leaving a bit of pink. Other than that, the entrees were fine. I had the scallops and my daughter had the lamb/veal/chicken trio. The cheesecake shared by the girls was deemed very good and I had a scoop of ice cream which would be hard to mess up. All in all the meal was satisfactory if not overwhelming. Again David the sommelier appeared as if out of nowhere to chat and share a taste. He must have a great nose for wine, because he managed to sniff us out six nights out of seven!

After dinner we headed to the Princess Theater where Fernandez the Mentalist/Hypnotist was performing his mentalist show. I didn't really care for the show, and apparently many others didn't either as many folks left mid-show. I bet the mentalist didn't see that coming! My wife commented: "If I can figure out how he does most of the tricks, then it has to be lame".

After Fernandez was the crew talent show. This was very enjoyable, and it was a treat to see so many talented crew members surface from below the waterline. And the closing act, "If I Were Not Upon The Sea" was a hoot. After the show it was off to bed.

Thursday, April 19-Cozumel
Finally, a day when we did not have to get up early. We had a private excursion for a two reef snorkel trip to Palancar and Columbia reefs scheduled for late morning, so we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast consisting of IC pastries and fruit that had been delivered the previous afternoon. I'm not sure I would ever grow weary of the IC's Custard Beignets. After breakfast (and after the masses had cleared) we were able to disembark with no line or wait. We grabbed a taxi to our meeting point and enjoyed the snorkeling despite the threatening skies.

We got back to the ship around 2:00 and opted to try the pizza and Trident Grill as we had yet to visit these eateries. The burgers, fries and pizza were all pretty good. However, for all the chatter we have heard about the food being too salty, we found the reverse to be true. None of us habitually salts our food, but we found ourselves adding salt to many items on board, and the burgers, fries and pizza were no exception. The pizza crust was a fine texture, crisp with a bit of char on the bottom, just the way we like it. But it could have benefited from a touch of olive oil and salt, as it had little flavor on its own. Still, it is recommended. After lunch we hit up the IC again for espresso and cookies. If I haven't said it enough, the IC is the single best feature afloat. Very high quality and no extra charge.

This was our second formal night and we decided to book a photo session in the Platinum studio. My wife had been bugging me to do a family portrait for some time so I opted to seize this opportunity as the sitting was free. We cleaned ourselves up and met Paul the photographer at the photo center on deck 7 and he ushered us up to his studio on 19. The sitting took about 30-40 minutes and he got some great shots. This is a far more professional setting than the typical faux background shots that they do on formal nights. We would meet up with Paul again the next day to see what we would purchase.

After the sitting, we still had some time to kill before Da Vinci transitioned over to "Anytime" dining. In past evenings, there was some flexibility in the changeover and we were not turned away at 7:20. But on this night, the guards were not letting anyone storm the castle until 7:30 at the earliest. It didn't bother us one bit as we had had a late lunch. But we heard several people grousing. With time to waste, we thought we would have a cocktail at Crooners. Turns out we were not the only ones with that idea. The place was standing room only. I offered my ladies the alternative choice of Adagio, where I was certain we could get a seat, or the Wheelhouse, the closer option. They chose the latter, so we made the short walk there and found the lounge to be nearly empty. Odd how so many people were crammed into Crooners whilst the Wheelhouse was empty. There's a lesson in there for those of you keeping score. Our cocktails were fine as was the service.

At around 8:00 we headed over to Da Vinci and encountered our only wait of the cruise. And this was a sold out cruise, so I consider our experience to be representative. Had we agreed to join other diners, we would have been seated straight away. But opting to be seated as a threesome, our wait was a whopping 5 minutes. So short that they did not bother to give us one of those UFO blinking devices. We were seated at a wonderful outside table in the back left alcove. Table 485, I think. I am not recalling our server's name (Gerard?) but he was the most polished and professional of our MDR servers. Our formal night meal this evening far surpassed the first one with only a few misses. Escargot was offered, though not on the menu. We all enjoyed this, even my escargot snob daughter who has far more opinions on escargot then a teenager ought to have. The Veal Ravioli in Porcini Cream Sauce was very good. The only misstep starter was my Caesar Salad. The poor romaine needed a life raft as it was literally drowning in a sea of dressing. My lobster tail (singular) with prawns (plural) were very well prepared. I came aboard half expecting overcooked rubbery shellfish, but this was not the case at all. My daughter had the Rockfish which was excellent. The only issue with this dish were the "sidings". (We still chuckle when we think of this term. "Should we ask for aluminum or vinyl sidings?"). The composition of her dish was simply too white. The only failure dish was the short ribs that my wife ordered. Her plate came with two pieces of what was supposed to be meat. One was fine. Tender and full of meat. The second piece was more of a chunk of the cow's skeletal system, all bone and connective tissue with nary a morsel of meat on it. Oh well. That left room for dessert. I tried the Love Boat Dream which was just OK. Nothing wrong with it, but I don't get what all the fuss is about. My daughter had the semi-frozen cookies and cream cake. That was a fine dish. And my wife had the Floating Islands--an odd composition of soft meringue balls swimming in a sauce. Not bad, but I have to believe that full baked melt-in-your-mouth-like-cotton candy meringue clouds would have been a far more pleasing dish. The texture here was just wrong for our tastes.

After dinner we headed over to Explorer's to watch the Newlywed and Not-So-Newlywed Game. Bawdry and very funny. Deputy CD Stu did a great job as emcee. The crowd was in stitches. After the show, it was off to bed.

Friday, April 20-Sea Day
Ahhh. Another day with no need to get up early. Again, breakfast was taken on the balcony consisting of a pot of room service coffee, pastries from the IC and fruit that had been ordered the day before. The sea was dead calm and the view was great. After breakfast we spent the rest of the morning packing so that we could enjoy the afternoon and evening with no worries.(I did sneak out for a bit to check out the outlet sale at Michelangelo's, but it wasn't worth much of my time. Seemed to be a lot of themed stuff from every cruise except our own.

My daughter wanted to hit up the Pub Lunch again, so at 12:45 we made our way to the Wheelhouse and were seated immediately. The menu had changed, with the only holdover from the first sea day was the fish and chips. Gone were the Shrimp and Chips and the Chicken Curry. Too bad. The Bangers and Mash and Ploughman's Lunch were poor stand-ins. This will be noted for future cruises. Still a little hungry, we chose to try the free ice cream up on Lido. They had soft serve cones and "hard pack" scoops. I'm not completely sure about this, but it tasted more like frozen yogurt, especially the "hard" scoops, which were really semi-hard in texture.

At 2:15 we headed to the Princess Theater to listen to a concert put on by a high school band that was on board. The theater was half filled with folks who had no connection to or investment in the band at all. Good for them. It was very heartwarming to see the large crowd.

At 3:00 my daughter went to the Teen Center to participate in a game of "Amazing Race" with teams of other teens. She had a blast. Meanwhile my wife and I headed up to the Platinum Studio on 19 to review our photo proofs and pick out a package of photos to enlarge. Happy Mother's Day a little early. My wife now has that large family portrait that she has been wanting, along with several other photos, and my daughter has her new head shot.

Our last official act was to buy our Future Cruise Credits. $100 each for me and my wife as we were informed that my daughter would not need one unless she traveled with only one parent.

Back to the room for showers and a bit more packing. Then it was off to the Crown Grill for our 7:00 reservation. Another terrific meal here. First courses were a couple of salads and the Shrimp and Pancetta soup. My wife's salad was supposed to be the Marinated Goat Cheese and Heirloom Tomato Salad over spinach. But they had run out of spinach and told us as much. Lettuce would be standing in on this evening. We assumed that it would be a mesculin mix, but alas, the kitchen subbed in iceberg. Ugh. This did the salad no favors. Oh well. My "Grill Salad" was very good as was the soup. We then requested a mid-course of Lobster Tails for the table and three perfectly prepared tails appeared plated and slathered with clarified butter. The winning streak continued. Every lobster dish that we had this week was very well prepared. For mains we had the "real" Rib Eye steak and this was indeed the cut that was advertised (as opposed to the Sterling Chop that I had had on the earlier visit), a Filet Mignon cooked precisely as ordered and a rack of lamb. We all enjoyed our meals along with some Garlic Fries, asparagus and mushrooms. The Molten Chocolate dessert was rich and tasty. And my daughter enjoyed her cheesecake dessert.

Toward the end of dinner, David, the sommelier stopped by to say hello, and good-bye. We shared some wine with him and had an interesting discussion about the wine list. Inasmuch as the Crown was headed over to Europe in a week, I asked if he changed the list over to a more Old World style list. "I wish!", he replied. We both agreed that mass-marketed American wines would be a hard sell to the more European-based passengers during the summer European cruises. He conceded that his job becomes much harder during such times, as Europeans are far more interested in Old World wines, and value wines from Australia, Argentina and Chile than they are in Duckhorn, Franciscan and Mondavi. We enjoyed his company and I think the feeling was mutual.

After dinner we strolled for a while, watched the balloon drop, listened to some music and then headed for the cabin. Later that night my daughter went to the Teen Center for the "farewell party" and had a good time. Meanwhile, we finished our packing and turned in.

Saturday, April 21- Disembarkation
We were scheduled to fly out of Miami and had purchased Princess transfers. We were assigned to congregate in Explorer's at 8:50, so we had time to vacate our cabin at 8:00 as instructed, have breakfast, and head to our meeting place. Prior warnings to grab an "up" elevator rather than waiting for a "down" one were heeded wisely. Folks on Dolphin and/or Emerald have little chance of piling onto an elevator with luggage during departure hours. So up we went for a few floors and then down to deck 5 and the IC. No line for coffee or pastries. However my daughter wanted something savory instead of sweet so she and my wife went from 5 to 15 to check out the Horizon Court. Huge line. And poor drainage on deck that was unable to keep up with the rainfall. We had experienced this on our Cozumel day when the rains were torrential at times, but then we were in flip flops and water shoes. But on departure day, they were wearing more substantial shoes and the two inch deep puddles were not a welcome sight. But they survived. With food in hand and not a table to be found, they hopped on the elevator to rejoin me on the Plaza deck.

Fed and resigned to the fact that our cruise was over, we made our way to Explorer's at precisely our appointed time only to be greeted by a "last call" for our departure assignment (Red 7). So we made a u-turn out of there and headed for the very elevators that we had just gotten off. After a frustrating wait for an empty "down" elevator, we finally made the trip back to where we had been ten minutes earlier. From there, departure was a breeze. No line to get off; a short line through customs; no trouble finding the bags that had been taken away the night before; and no trouble finding the transfer bus to MIA. The only oddity (and use this bit of knowledge at your own risk), no one ever asked to see or collect our transfer tickets that had been delivered to our cabin on day one. We just marched our luggage over to the bus, confirmed with the driver that this was the correct bus for MIA, gave him our luggage and got on board. At least on this day, anyone who acted as if they knew what they were doing could have gotten on board without incurring the fee. Or so it seemed. I suppose they could have taken a silent head count and since the numbers added up, elected not to collect ticket. Not sure. We got to MIA in plenty of time and headed home.

I thought that I would conclude with some stream of conscious thoughts that touch upon some oft- asked questions and issues that pop up on Cruise Critic. There is little order here. I just noted things as they came up.

Water on Board-Shower pressure is good. Taste of tap water in the cabin and in restaurants is excellent (when cold). No chlorine taste at all. The only issue is temperature. Bath and shower temperature is plenty hot. But we could not get cold water from our tap. It wasn't even luke warm. Indeed, it bordered on hot. We had to have ice on hand to make the tap water cold enough to drink.

Refrigerator-Ours was plenty cold. Cold enough to store leftovers even, though we did not. But if you choose to, you can easily put a modest size leftover in your ice bucket, cover with ice and place the whole thing in the fridge. It will keep cold enough to be safe. The drinks that we put in were very cold after a day.

Bringing Wine On Board-We wheeled on a specially designed case that holds 8 bottles. It was full, and went through the x-ray machine without incident. No questions asked.

Waiting Times For Anytime Dining-Our cruise was sold out, so one would expect waits. We dined in the Da Vinci MDR on three nights, the two formals and the Chef's Dinner. Here is our scorecard:

Formal #1: Arrived at 7:35 with no line and were seated immediately as a party of three at a table for four.

Chef's Dinner-Arrived at 7:25 with no line and were seated immediately in the same manner as before.

Formal #2: Arrived at 8:00 and with a line of about three groups in front of us. We waited five minutes and were seated in our usual arrangement as a private table for three.

As for Specialty restaurant reservations, we made four such reservations and got the times we wanted (sometimes 7:00 and sometimes 7:30) and were always seated right on time.

Cabin Location-We were on Dolphin, just a bit forward of the forward elevators. No extra pitching or rolling noticed and no vibration. Conversely, vibration was noticed on every deck when we walked to the stern. I find it hard to imagine how anyone would not notice this difference. We were on the Port side and did not notice any smoke wafting up from the Promenade onto our deck.

Smoke Issues-While we are on the subject...we noted considerable smoke in the hallway on Lido, Port side. We did not go into any cabins there, so cannot speak to the condition inside. But the smoke from the smoking area outside on Lido definitely made its way into the hall. Unmistakable.

"Hidden Doors" On Lido-The doors that lead out to the viewing area above the bridge that is such a popular place to be during sailaway on many ships was locked and blocked by yellow police tape throughout the entire cruise, good weather or bad.

Internet-I bought a prepaid plan of 190 minutes and used about half. Speed was so slow that it was not worth the trouble of surfing the web on my Kindle Fire except for a few minutes each day to check the news and weather. Perhaps if we had had more sea days, it would have been a winning proposition. But on a port intensive itinerary, the lack of time coupled with the frustrating slow speed made this purchase questionable.

Horizon Buffet Seating-Again, for a sold out cruise, we were always able to find seating except for breakfast on the last day. We did see some people using tables for card games, soduko and word search booklets. But still, they did not seem to have a visible impact on the ability of others to find seats.

Theater Seating-We only went to a couple of events in the theater and always went to the late show. Seating was available on the middle and top mezzanines without fail.

Travelers Checks-My bank sells American Express checks and there was no problem cashing them as Passenger Services.

Power Outlets-In our mini-suite, there was an open US three-prong plug behind each TV. We brought aboard a 6 foot extension cord and plugged that in to the open outlet, and then plugged a small surge protector into the extension cord. The surge protector had room for four plugs and two USB inputs that also charge certain newer devices. With this system, we were able to keep everything we needed ready for use.

Teen Center-There were 85 teens on board and the times that my daughter went up to Remix on 17, she always had a good time. The organized events were sometimes a hit, but for the most part, teens make their own fun when they get together.

Chair Hogs-Yes they exist, but chairs could always be found. Maybe not in your favorite or preferred location. But we were never shut out.

Boarding Time On Embarkation Day-Honestly, there seems to be no limit to the time when people arrive. We got to the port at 11:40 and upon arrival, were given a slip of paper informing us that Princess was going to allow earlier-than-normal boarding. Not sure who that helped, as you didn't get this information until after you already got there. On departure day, folks were in the queue to board the next cruise by 8:30. Not sure when they actually boarded. But if you want to be among the first folks on the ship, you have your work cut out for you.

Sailaway Lunch-Da Vinci was open, but you had to be among the cognoscenti to know about this as no one working for Princess was going to clue you in. But our persistence resulted in our getting in.

Room Service-Only ordered breakfast and coffee a couple of times and it arrived on time to the minute. Your delivery time is broken down into half hour increments (such as 7:30-8:00) and it always arrived precisely at the earliest minute. We also ordered fruit each day. You get whole pieces, uncut as opposed to a cut fruit platter. Options were apples, pears, bananas, kiwi and oranges. Good quality, but the bananas arrived two days from being ripe. So plan ahead if you want those. What arrives on Monday will be ready on Wednesday.

Beds and Pillows-Princess has come under attack for hard, uncomfortable beds. But apparently new pillow-top mattresses are making their way on board. We had those, and the bed was just fine. Pillows, however, were to squishy soft such that your head sunk all the way to the mattress. We each needed two pillows to achieve proper balance.

IN CONCLUSION-Did we enjoy ourselves and will we sail with Princess again? Well, we bought FCC's, so doesn't that just about say it all? Less

Published 04/24/12

Cabin review: ME Mini-Suite with Balcony

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Port and Shore Excursions

My rating here is entirely dependent on what you choose to do. If you hang around the shops at the tender drop area, I would rate this port a "1". But we signed up for the ship's excursion to Lamanai Mayan Ruins, and the day was fabulous. A one hour long bus ride is made tolerable by the fantastic narration of the history of the country. You will learn so much. Then, you arrive at a boat landing for a snack and bathroom break, and then it is off for a 45 minute boat ride to the ruins. The boat speeds along the New River where you can see beautiful scenery, birds and wildlife. Once at the site, we had about an hour and fifteen minutes of a guided tour of the site complete with history and culture lessons. We even had the opportunity to climb to the top of the highest temple. It is steep, but so worth it. Afterwards, the tour retraces its steps, first with the boat and then back to the bus. After the boat ride back to the landing, we stayed at that location for about an hour to enjoy a buffet lunch. The cuisine was probably not authentic Belizian fare, but it was fine. The bus ride back did not include narration, so folks could nap if they wanted to. If you leave the port area to explore Belize, you will not be disappointed. But if you stay at the port area just to shop, you will probably wonder why the cruise ship stops at Belize at all.


We booked a "Two Reef Snorkeling Tour" with Cozumel Water Sports. It was mpstly positive, with one big negative that we were able to overcome and overlook. We had a pre-paid reservation for a 10:30 departure. We took a taxi from the ship to the appointed meeting place, and found the 10:30 boat. But when we arrived, it was already filled with people who did not have reservations, and who were headed out on a one our tour. So instead of getting us another boat, we were forced to hang out at a very dumpy beach club for over an hour for the boat to return for us. Our 10:30 tour did not start until 11:50. But once underway, everything was fine. We were taken out to Palancar reef and led around by a guide. We didn't really need a guide, but he was there for safety and to make sure that we stayed with the current which was very strong. In fact, the current was so strong that they did not allow us to go to the second reef, (Columbia). Instead, we got extra time at Palancar, which was fine. The guide, boat driver and reef were excellent. Our only issue was with the messed up reservation time, but it all worked out in the end.

Our intention here was to snorkel, and based on the "Ports of Call" chat board here at CC, we took the advice of others and simply walked half a mile down South Church Street to Eden Rock Dive Center. The folks there were helpful, and we rented a large locker to hold our personal items as we headed into the water. Entry is by stairs and from there it is a short swim out to Eden Rock and Devil's Grotto. And close by you can fine a very nice coffee shop and some decent shopping all out of the way of the very touristy landing area where the tenders drop you off.

Here, we took a non-cruise ship excursion through Island Marketing for zip lining and a beach break. We were given a narrated tour of much of the island as we made our way from the port to South Shore Zip Lining. the bus was air conditioned and clean, and our guide was very nice and knowledgeable. He remained with us (or the bus) at all times. The zip lining was great. Really fun, safe and courteous guides at South Shore. Afterwards, the bus took us to Foster's on the Beach where we had lunch. We had about 2 hours of free time, so after lunch, we walked along the beach to Infinity Bay resort where there is an access point to snorkel out to the fantastic reef. We brought our own gear, but if you don't have any, rentals are readily available on the beach. After our time was up, we boarded the bus again for another narrated tour of more of the island. The guide had us back at the ship in plenty of time. This was a great day.
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