We sailed on Caribbean Princess on 12/14/2013 and were really looking forward to getting away and enjoying some warm weather! We'd been set to sail with RCCL out of Galveston that week, but changed when we learned that Princess was to be sailing out of the Port of Houston, and it's significantly closer to where we live in NW Houston. For whatever reason, the Houston area’s been unseasonably cold ever since Princess first got here in November, and the 14th was no different. We had some last-minute errands to run, so we left our house around 9 a.m., thus missing the email that warned us that boarding would be delayed – about the only true message Princess sent out during the cruise! We got to the Port of Houston around 12:30 p.m. since we board early due to my disability and were directed to a loooonnnnngggg line of cars that ultimately reached the auxiliary lot, where we started Row 6. No reason was given, but at 2:00, we were told that if we wanted, we could go into Kemah for lunch because there was plenty of time before boarding would begin as the passengers returning had not yet been cleared to leave the ship! We decided to wait because it was sprinkling and nasty out, with a bitter cold wind blowing as well. We finally began moving around 3:45 a.m. but once we parked, it took little time to go through embarkation and board the ship.
Our Cabin was A303, a disabled cabin with no threshold and enough space for “Nascar Nellie” my scooter – who was wearing her Christmas Finery and twinkling with LED lights – one set of batteries lasted the week…thanks QVC! We had ordered a soda card for my husband but that was it. Next time, if there is one – we’ll also get a coffee card, not because he drinks specialty coffee but because except for the dining rooms and buffets, you had to pay for the privilege of getting not only coffee, but also tea and hot chocolate, UNlike our prior experience with RCCL. Once again, just as I said with our last trip on Princess, we felt as if they nickelled-and-dimed us to death on the cruise. It seemed like everywhere, something cost extra, and it's amazing how much those little things add up.
We chose Anytime Dining because my husband is diabetic and is used to eating at 6 p.m. so we felt that would give us the chance to eat close to the same time. WRONG! The first day, since boarding was delayed (and so was our departure), we didn’t get to the buffet for lunch until almost 5 p.m. and we didn’t feel like having another big meal. The food in the buffets was plentiful and tasty much of the time. Everywhere were hand-sanitizer units, and it was good to see everyone using them! There were even signs in the restrooms urging people to use paper towels to open the doors when leaving. I had only one gripe with the restroom facilities: because there are handicapped stalls when you first get in there, it doesn’t mean that you should use them instead of regular ones – every time I had to wait while one or more people who did not appear to be disabled in any way, shape, or form, took advantage of the extra space. There wasn’t enough space for me to leave Nellie behind, so I just waited. I could understand if there weren’t enough regular stalls, but there were, and most often, they were vacant. It’s just a courtesy thing, ladies!
The second night, we were directed to the Coral Dining room, where we learned that we wouldn’t be able to dine until at least 7 p.m. (actually 7:30 before we were seated) because it had fixed seating until then. It wasn’t until Day 5 that we learned of the existence of the Int’l Dining Room, but ironically, IT didn’t have availability for us until 7:30 as well. We asked about making reservations, but were told by not only one, but two people, (and a phone recording) that they weren’t taking reservations. Each night, as well, there was a huge delay between our salads and our entrees. On virtually every night in a dining room, my meat was too tough to eat, and since we had such a delay, I didn’t ask about a replacement. Not only that, but the entrees we did get were not even warm, but tepid. This was a huge difference between our last trip on Princess. That time, we had poor service on the first day, and they switched us to Anytime and gave us the same seats and waitress for the rest of the trip – marvelous!!! Twice, we chose to eat in the Caribe Buffet and enjoyed it almost as much as the regular dining rooms.
We thoroughly enjoyed our Meet & Greet event, but it was a good thing that we’d made sure everyone knew when and where because it wasn't mentioned in the Princess Newsletter that day. We had a great time and many of us exchanged grab bag gifts themed “What we wouldn’t sail without.” Some of the gifts were really clever and everyone had fun. On Thursday, we met again and swapped “Tall Tales” with prizes provided by one of the members who was from Calgary, Alberta. Raoul claimed to be afraid to sail, but seemed to be enjoying his time at sea!
Unfortunately, our bad weather followed us throughout the Western Caribbean. We did leave the ship for awhile in Cozumel, but it began to rain, so we returned. Roatan, Honduras gave us some sunshine, but much of the day consisted of torrential rainfall. My husband joined another couple to go to the Cameo Factory, but Nellie and I stayed behind because she doesn’t like rain very much. We did get to go out on our balcony for awhile when they got back and we enjoyed not one but two rainbows. The second one was so close that I’d swear you could see just where the pot of gold was – and it WASN’T in the Casino! In Belize, they won’t tender scooters, so we remained onboard as well. We enjoyed people watching, and spent some time in the casino – where I actually won almost $40 playing a 2-cent slot machine! I gave $20 of it back, but spent a long time doing it.
Friday the 20th marked probably the worst day of the trip. We were told to have our luggage outside our doors by 9 p.m. On other cruises, it’d disappear almost as quickly as you put it out, but not this night. We went to join some friends, and then came an announcement from the Captain, telling us that due to bad weather in Houston, they were going to make a run for it, and would hopefully arrive before it did. They anticipated a 9 pm arrival on Friday, the 20th (luggage?), but would not be disembarking guests until the regular time on the 21st. Still no luggage disappearing…
About an hour later, there was another announcement from the Cruise Director (more on him later.) NOW, the fog had arrived and they told us that we could not arrive until Sunday, the 22nd, with docking taking place around 11 p.m. on the 21st. We were to retrieve our luggage. They advised anyone who had air reservations to make their changes themselves, UNLESS they had booked through Princess, same with transfers. They provided only complimentary phone and Internet service to enable this. The ship had pretty much stopped in place and that was the situation when we went to bed. We hadn’t been able to get a copy of our statement, and none was ever placed under our door.
The next morning at 7:00 a.m., my husband woke up and told me that we were moving again, and that it appeared that the fog had lifted. Just moments later, the mysterious Cruise Director came on and told us that, contrary to what they and we had been told, we were now about to enter the Houston Ship Channel and would be docking, not on Sunday, but on Saturday at around 11 a.m. (or noon). We should put our luggage out as soon as possible and then go for breakfast. Disembarkation would occur as soon as possible after we docked, and wait for your floor to be called. So, we had breakfast and went to the public areas to wait for disembarkation directions. We said goodbye to our Steward, Raymond, who had been wonderful to us all week long, and we gave him extra gratuities – he was the only one we did that with. After we’d waited for almost an hour, they told everyone to please go and wait in their cabins and disembarkation information would be provided. It was maybe 11:30-ish and we were still moving.
When we got to our cabin, it had been prepped for the next cruise. We ended up sitting in the little chairs provided in the room – and it was nasty outside again, so the balcony was of no use. There we sat until 3:30 p.m. when we were told to disembark. We were among the last and by then the wind was howling and it was pouring down rain. Ed ran through it to get our car from a handicapped parking spot, but they didn’t want him to drive under the Departure Portico to load my scooter, so he ended up getting soaking wet – and so did Nellie! I had plastic covering her tiller, but everything we had ended up wet. We finally got to our home in NW Houston about 5:00 pm…and were we ever glad to be home!!!
I don’t have a whole lot against Princess – it’s certainly better than Carnival. What we did see was a staff who didn’t really care a whole lot. In all our our dozen cruises, we’ve always been able to recognize the cruise director, yet this one we never even caught sight of. Due to the mess with dinner times, we didn’t get to enjoy any of the entertainment (and we don’t play bingo!) There weren’t towel animals, chocolates or so many of the little touches that we’ve come to enjoy when cruising. I won't even comment on gratuities. We didn’t get sight of the captain, either, because we didn’t get our invitation to the returning guests event until AFTER it happened. There was one person in one of the shops who was friendly. Those behind the Purser’s Desk appeared no less than surly the one time I did make a request. We’d heard so much from our M&M friends who were “Elite” but I think they were the only ones to matter to Princess. Frankly, we cancelled an RCCL cruise to be on this one and we’re sorry we did. From rumors we’ve heard, another captain has left the Caribbean Princess due to Port of Houston issues – but Princess KNEW what it was like before they ever returned there! I don’t understand why there are all these problems, but it’s affecting those who are cruising. We felt worst for those who changed reservations and then ended up having to pay for another night’s lodging if they hadn’t purchased travel and insurance through Princess. No, the weather wasn’t their fault, but the way Princess reacted TO the weather WAS. We’ll think long and hard before we sail with them again.
Our cabin was probably the best part of the entire trip. For whatever reason, Carnival's accessible cabins are smaller than their regular ones, so we had to park my scooter in the shower or else try to crawl over it to get to the closet or balcony. This had a decent-sized bath with a shower seat - it was easy to shower there, better than at home! There was room in the cabin for my scooter plus room to move about. There was no sofa or table however - just a small round one too small to hold a tray. The other problem was that the desk with the makeup mirror was too high for me. There was more than ample room to stow belongings. Princess gets an A+ for their accessible cabins. Hopefully, only those who really need them will ask for them - please, make the right choice!