Route: 14 day voyage: Miami – St Martin – St Kitts – St Vincent – Tobago – Barbados – Martinique - Antigua – Virgin Gorda - Miami
1. General Comments: We are regular cruisers, but this was our first Princess ship. It was an interesting and pleasant trip; we chose this for the itinerary (5 stops were new for us) and to spend both Christmas and New Year’s in the tropics. Weather was warm (80s) and humid with plenty of rain showers and rolling seas. We were a full ship with ca 680 passengers. Most passengers appeared to be seasoned cruisers, and a good number of languages were heard. While there were a small number of children on board, there were no facilities or activities for them; that was their parents’ responsibilities.
We had a suite (7th deck) that made for a most comfortable cruise. However, due to the small size of the ship, you do hear and feel the ship’s engine, especially when the speed is adjusted up or down. Also, the rocking and rolling of the Atlantic Ocean is much more pronounced on this ship, compared to any of the “regular” size ships of 2,000 – 3,000 passengers.
2. Travel to Miami and Embarking: Because we booked so early, we were among the passengers who were caught when Princess changed the port from Fort Lauderdale to Miami. We were unable to change our plane or hotel reservations, but our cruise agent worked with Princess so that we could take a bus from Fort Lauderdale airport to Miami port and reverse. A nuisance, but it worked out, and we were not alone. Check-in at Miami port worked smoothly, and we got on the ship quickly. Our suite was ready, and luggage appeared – piecemeal - in the afternoon.
3. The Ocean Princess: An attractive ship, enhanced by its smallness. Yes, it is being sold to Oceania effective in early April, and the ship may have had a slight tired look about it. However, the facility was still top notch and the crew was the same. Our suite was a delight with all the space and storage drawers/closets. Details can be seen in the cabin descriptions on the Princess website. The bathroom had a tub shower. There was a small safe and a small refrigerator. The balcony is spacious; however, we hardly used it due to rain showers, rocking and rolling, or the sun beating down on clear days. When we could sit outside, it was very pleasant. The flat screen TVs (set up for DVD movies) received the usual news, movies, music, etc. You get a daily planner in your cabin the night prior. You need to read it carefully as there are practically no announcements on the PA system. The Captain does a daily report from the bridge, and the Cruise Director may make a daily announcement on activities. There is no daily newspaper; you have to receive your news from BBC, Fox; financial news from CNBC or MSNBC; and sports from two ESPN channels.
4. Meals: As often on past cruises with other lines, we ran into problems in trying to get a table for two at dinner. Due to the ship being small, it had no “my time” dining. On boarding we learned that the first seating was changed from 6PM to 5:30 (nursing home hours). Next, we learned that although our cruise agent had been assured that our request for a table for two was confirmed, we were placed at a table for eight (nursing home group therapy). My wife and I both groused at the maître d, who finally backed off by telling us, “come see me at 5:30.” At that time we were shown a table for two, obviously hastily arranged, as were other tables for two around the dining room. We later received a card formally informing us that our table was permanent for the cruise. As for meals in the dining room, they were very good. There was clearly some talent in the kitchen, and we appreciated it. As we always had the same table, our wait staff did get used to our tastes. The wine list was also good, whether you wanted a bottle or a glass. We should note that no matter what ship or line you are on, including the Ocean Princess, the first night’s dinner is disorganized as diners and staff sort out who sits where and when.
Panorama Buffet: We used it for lunch and a couple times when we wanted just a bite for dinner. There was quite a variety of good food, whether you wanted a meal, sandwich, or salad. The dessert area was equally varied.
We did not use the two specialty restaurants (Italian, and steak), only because we are not big eaters.
5. Princess dress code: There were three formal nights; the rest were all “smart casual.” “Formal” for men meant mainly suits and sport coats; tuxedos were a minority. Casual was just that; most men did wear shirts instead of t-shirts.
6. Shore Excursions: Make your shore excursion reservations on-line! This saves you standing in line at the ship’s tour desk. The on-line billing goes direct on your credit card and not on your shipboard account. If you know the ports of call and want to travel by yourself, then, of course, you don’t need the ship’s tour office. Tour prices are not cheap; you are paying for the convenience of having the ship organize the tour rather than you doing it after you get ashore. Also, if you obtain your tour through the ship’s staff, you have support when there is a problem.
Two of the eight ports were tender ports. In both ports, the waters were quite active, resulting in the tender boats bouncing around quite a bit during loading and unloading. Crew members literally had their hands full helping passengers on and off the boats. Also, tender boats are the ship’s life boats; they are not made for comfort and you have to clamber around in them for a seat.
7. Shipboard entertainment: We saw two of the individual entertainers and one of the “show” performances with singers and dancers. They were all pleasant. A reminder that the ship has a cabaret and not a theater. This means that there are no seats on tiers; they are all on one level. Your view of the stage is easily blocked by the person(s) in front of you. The ship has a daily schedule full of activities for all tastes: lectures, bingo, movies, etc, etc. The library appeared to be well stocked. There are NO art auctions. (Thank you, Princess.)
The casino was small (three blackjack tables and one roulette table). The machine payoffs did not seem to be much worse than Las Vegas. The selection of duty-free liquor on board was not great, but adequate; you order your liquor and it is delivered to your cabin the day before disembarking. There will be plenty of opportunities for you to have your picture taken by the ship’s photographers--pricey, but a good souvenir.
8. Tipping: Not a problem if you sign up for the recommended amounts.
The amounts are charged to each person’s shipboard account. You have nothing more to do. You only need to tip separately (cash) the person who brings your room service. Your bar and wine bill automatically adds 15 percent.
If you want to tip anyone for exemplary service, you can give him cash in an envelope.
9. Settling of Accounts: During your voyage, anything you purchase on board (drinks, souvenirs, tours, duty free items, photos, etc) is punched into a computer. This was the first ship where you only sometimes signed a ticket, and you sometimes received a copy of the ticket. Unless you keep your own notes on what you charged on your account, you will not have a clear idea of your bill until departure morning. I did ask for a preliminary bill a couple days before disembarking, and it was immediately supplied without question. If you do not do this, though, and you find questionable items on your bill, you will be spending departure morning in line at the Front Desk sorting it out.
10. Disembarking in Miami: Disembarking went very smoothly, and there were no bureaucratic delays. Once we got off the ship, we picked up our luggage and cleared customs and immigration in ten minutes. (Amazing.)
11. Conclusion: This was an enjoyable and interesting trip. The hiccups were minor and did not detract from the Ocean Princess or our enjoyment of celebrating Christmas and New Year’s on board in the Caribbean. We are sorry to see this ship sold to another line, but hope that its sister, Pacific Princess, will remain on itineraries in which we might be interested.