We chose the western Caribbean because we had never sailed that area before. We really love the Eastern Caribbean so thought it was worth a shot. Our group was rather large (12 of us, ranging in age from 37-67), but that's par for the course when our family vacations. We all arrived to Weston FL the day before (some by car and some by plane). We like Weston the day before a cruise sails because it's very relaxing, clean, and the Courtyard is close to some nice shops and restaurants. The Courtyard is an excellent hotel and has much better prices than the hotels close to the Port. Throw in the cost of an Uber from the airport and then to the Port, and it was still much more economical. Add that into the experience and I highly recommend it for the pre-cruise stay.
Can't get started without some pre-cruise festivities, so we had a few drinks at the Courtyard bar (nice selection for a hotel bar) and then walked to the Carolina Ale House, about a 10 minute stroll. It was a nice time to chat, catch up some, and get excited about the fast approaching cruise. Carolina Ale House has pretty good food and an great beer selection, all at a very reasonable price. On the way back to the hotel, there are a number of little shops, plus a liquor store that usually does a free tasting each night. This night was a special rum on hand. We purchased a collection of Jefferson Bourbon's and some nice Cuban cigars and strolled back to the hotel. The ladies did what ladies do and us men went out by the pool and had some bourbon and cigars while planning our 7 days on the Sky Princess. A great start to our vacation!!
The embarkation the next day was very smooth. The Medallion seems to have streamlined the process. From dropping off the bags to the Porters until we stepped foot on the ship was about 45 minutes, but most of that was going through Security and stopping to register our extra bottles of wine. It's a $15 corkage fee for anything over 1 bottle per passenger, which is a nice deal if you bring some good wines that would cost twice the purchase price on the ship. We usually bring 8 bottles total, so pay $90 corkage fee. They put a sticker on the 6 bottles we have tagged for the Main Dining Room (MDR).
First impression of the Sky: WOW!!! It was so beautiful and new...had that new car smell if you know what I mean. I've been on the Regal, so the same class of ship, but the Sky just seemed a little more elegant right from the start. The elevators were quite crowded, which happened a few times during the cruise, but I found that using the elevators in the fore or aft were much easier to secure. Of course, being on Caribe (Deck 10), we walked the steps quite a bit. One must do something to combat the pound a day trying to relocate itself on our bodies, and walking the steps helps. I do find down is much easier than up. LOL! For the record, we spent 10 days on the road total and I gained 6.5 pounds, so I can live with that.
The luggage was a little slow to arrive to the rooms, but it gave us ample time to explore the ship, find a few cold buckets of beer hanging out at the pool, and still have no issues making the Muster. It's common knowledge I guess, but you don't bring your life jackets any more. Truth is, most of what you cover deals with safety and throwing stuff in the toilets and trash in general than what we do if we hit an iceberg near Grand Cayman or the candles used during the Bakes Alaska March ignite (yeah, I know, they are lights now...but I'm reminiscing a little). They did stress over and over (which was good with me) to wash your hands...wash your hands...wash your hands. I think my tally was somewhere in the 1000 times range!!
We did the late seating in the TD room...it changed from 7:15 until 7:45. That actually worked out better for two reasons: 1) the port times synched up better with the late dining and 2) the shows that were at 6:30 provided plenty of leeway to get to dinner. Most of the shows were about 45-55 minutes long. I'll cover more on the shows as I go from day-to-day. We had 2 tables of 6 seated right beside each other. Our Waiter, Aaron and his sidekick, Pedro, were very good at what they do. We like the TD because we enjoy meeting our servers and sort of having extended family on board each evening for dinner. The meals were all very good. On night number one I requested a bowl of Fettuccini Alfredo every evening for the table as part of our appetizers and sure enough, we had one delivered every night. I'll get into the food piece more, but suffice to say, the first dinner was fantastic and they didn't go down from there. We ate in the MDR 5 of the 7 nights.
After dinner, we explored a little more of the ship, most of us donated a few bucks at the casino, and then we met on our balconies (5 of the 6 rooms were opened up together) and had a bottle of champagne, had some great conversation and then called it an evening.
Day #2...a Day at Sea!
Sunday was our sea day heading down to Grand Cayman and the weather was fantastic. The seas were pretty calm and the sun was shining bright. Can't ask for much more than that. Well, except perhaps a few lounge chairs to sit on. Yeah, I know it's a sore subject with many people and I'm sure some folks reading this are guilty of being part of the problem. When you arrive at the pool area and half the seats stay empty for hours but they all have towels attached to them, it's an issue! We didn't let that deter us, however, as we gathered along the seating area near one of the pools and enjoyed the morning. Both pools on Deck 16 mid-ship are very nice. Plus, there are plenty of Jacuzzis around the pool and on Deck 17 overlooking the pool. Plus, there are a lot of sitting areas with comfortable chairs or couches. Bottom line was that we still found a place to gather and have a good time together. MUTS showed the National NFL game that afternoon so the crowd was energetic and a little rowdy.
There a plenty of options around the pools for food. The pizza was okay, but not as good as Alfredo's (more later on that), the burgers, fries, brats, and tacos were all very tasty...no issue with any of that. And, of course, who can goof up soft serve ice cream? No one!!! Plus, the buffet was well stocked, the food choices were spread out nicely, and unlike some previous cruises, it seemed like there was seating available for 4 -6 people without too much scouting around. The service for drinks was sometimes spotty, but overall the service was fine.
After lunch we did find a bit of a gem and it became one of our go to places...the Wakeview Pool and Bar area. It's Aft on Deck 16, but has seating all around it on Deck 17. There were plenty of chairs on Deck 17 to provide for our entire party of 12 most days. The bar had some of the better bartenders. If you like a good Bloody Mary, I highly recommend checking out the Wakeview Bar.
Sunday was the first Formal Night and was also the showing of Rock Opera, one of the best shows I've seen at sea. We arrived to the Princess Theater around 6:00 and had no problem whatsoever getting a row of 10 seats on the right side about halfway up the aisle. Not sure if we just got lucky, but it wasn't the case for one of the other shows later in the week. Rock Opera was fantastic. It lasted about 45 minutes was the best entertainment in the theater the entire cruise. I highly recommend seeing that show!! After the show, it was off to dinner in the Cielo DR. Okay, I'm sure everyone is holding their collective breathes to know how everyone was dressed. Let me first say, how you dress doesn't effect my experience whatsoever, so take all of this with a grain of salt. I would guess that the vast majority of men were either wearing a tuxedo or a dark suit or jacket. I saw a few men in dress shirts with or without tie, but nothing more casual than that. At least 80% had tux, jacket, or tie. Our party were all in tuxedos, but we cheat because my best friend owns a Formal Wear shop. Almost every lady was dressed in a gown or very nice (what I call) "Go to a Wedding Dress". I wish I would have taken pictures of the menus, but I try to stay away form the technology thing when I'm on vacation. I will say, every night provided at least a few very good choices and we never had a bad meal.
Just a few additional thoughts: If you would like something special, ask. We had a guy that loves feta cheese. He asked the server about getting some the first night...the server went to his supervisor and don't you know, they sent a plate of feta over to the table every night as an appetizer. We brought wine on board and paid the corkage fee to drink it in the MDR. Well worth the $15 because we had a nice bottle that on board would have been much more expensive for the same quality, even when adding the $15 fee.
Day #3...Grand Cayman!
This was our first time to the Western Caribbean, so we decided to leave the ship and check out Seven-Mile beach. For those not aware, Grand Cayman in a Tender Port, and since there were 4 ships in port that day, the Tenders were going back and forth to all the ships at a pretty steady pace. Since we didn't have an excursion planned and because we aren't elite, we didn't rush to get to the Tenders...those other groups have priority (as long as your excursion is through Princess). Once we decided to leave the ship, it only took a few minutes to meet in the designated area, receive our pass (I think it was a Walrus), get called to board the tender, and then head to shore. The longest wait was on the Tender waiting to fill her up. Once we got to shore, we looked for a taxi and went to Seven-Mile's public beach. The port area was not very impressive, although there are some nice shops just outside the port area.
The cost to the public beach was pretty minimal. Friendly note: the cabbies heading to the public beach have a bit of an agreement it seems with the folks at the public beach that rent chairs and umbrellas. They tried to do a hard sell when we arrived (we had a party of 6) and 2 of the folks in our party got sucked in. The rest of us turned right out of the van and headed for Calico Jack's. It's adjacent to the public beach area and is a pretty nice little bar/restaurant with good food and decent prices for Grand Cayman. Truth is, Grand Cayman is a bit pricey compared to all the other stops we've made in the Eastern or Southern Caribbean, or the rest of this trip. We had a nice time though at Calico Jack's and then we moseyed down the beach to meet up with the other two folks. They had rented 2 chairs and an umbrella for about $20. The beach there was very crowded, but a nice view out over the water. After about another half hour or so we climbed into a cab and headed back to the port for a little shopping. We didn't really find too many deals besides the Tortuga Rum Cakes. They had some good deals on those. I'm sure there are some nice excursions if that's your thing, but otherwise, my next trip to Grand Cayman will likely be a nice day on board around the pools.
We made our way back to the ship and went to the Wakeview Pool for a little more time in the sun. After all, if you come back from a Caribbean Cruise without a tan (or burn) people look at you funny. I will say that for those that enjoy a cold adult beverage, the buckets of beer are a pretty good deal. I'm a bit fond of the Ultimate Mai Tai though.
The show that evening was Showtime: Magician Michael Barron. We arrived at 6:00 for the 6:30 show and again had little issue finding a group of seats. Granted, we were not in the middle section or 10 rows away, but for the most part, there aren't bad seats in the Theater (an exception to that will be discussed later). The show was pretty entertaining. I'm not sure how these Magicians can do some of the tricks they do...I assume they sold their souls to the devil...but needless to say, he was very good and I highly recommend this show as well.
After the show we met up for dinner and decided to throw a wrench into our servers day. All the guys (6 of us) sat at the same table and the ladies sat at the other table. It's one of those fun things we like to do as a group. We've been known to draw names for seating and really switch things up. Since the server isn't trying to figure out the "Bill" it's not an issue and is a fun way to mix up the conversation during the trip.
After dinner we decided to hit the Casino and try and throw a few dice. Most nights the Craps table was way too crowded. It's the most popular game (besides slots) in the Casino, but they only have 1 table that accommodates about 10-12 folks. They really should have 2 tables, since it's only open at 8:00 pm, even on sea days. There were a few table games with no one playing or 1 seat filled. For those interested in the "smoke" in the casino, truth is I only noticed it one night. That was when I was playing Blackjack on a table that was close to the smoking section. That was pretty annoying and after about 20 minutes I got up and left. Not sure why they allow that. On the other hand, I know folks have asked about the smoke from Churchill's and/or the Casino and Take Five. I never had an issue of smoke from either one while hanging out in Take Five.
Speaking of Take Five, it's a pretty nice spot, but the music most evenings was a little loud. It makes for difficult conversation. We tried to substitute Take Five for Crooners and it just didn't work out the same. We could hang at Crooners and do pre-dinner martinis each night and listen to some nice music...so much so that we head to break ourselves away to get to dinner. Not so much with Take Five. It never had that same kind of feeling or atmosphere. I hate to say, but besides itinerary in the future, whether a ship has Crooners or not will make a difference.
Day #4...Costa Maya!!
We didn't come along side the dock until about 1130 that morning so it was a great day to start with mimosas on the balconies. 5 of our 6 rooms were all mini-suites on the Caribe deck that were next to each other. That allowed for the steward to open the passage way between balconies. Okay, a few issues here: 1) the balconies are definitely pretty small. They all had 2 chairs and a little table, but in order to stretch out at all, you needed to turn the chair sideways (facing the table). You could sit in it facing the water, but you had very little leg room and the balcony rail was at the exact same height as the eye level for a normal 5' 9" guy (me). Truth is, we all stood up out on the balconies much more than we ever sat down. 2) Some of the dividers actually impede movement through the sliding glass door, depending on if the divider folds in towards your balcony or away from your balcony. So, out of the 5 balconies together, 2 had there doorways partially blocked. This, IMHO, was a design flaw. They needed to have every other sliding glass door open from the opposite side. However, in the big picture of things, it didn't deter us any.
After a few mimosas on the balconies, we went down to the MDR (Estrella) for breakfast. We like doing the sit down much more than the buffet if we have some extra time. This day did not disappoint. The omelet was great, the coffee was hot, the fruit was fresh, and the bagel was toasted. No complaints.
Our excursion for the day was an all-inclusive that I was made aware of by reading Cruise Critic...Maya Chan Beach Resort. I had made reservations many months in advance because I heard they are normally booked quickly. Man, the stories one can tell from this single adventure. It all started when we left the ship. I want to say there were 4 ships on the piers...one of the mega Royal Caribbean ships, a very large MSC, and a Carnival ship. I may have gotten those off a little, but the jest of it is...the place was packed. Maya Chan had sent a map of the "quickest" route through the port area and to their pick-up location. Talk about a maze and wall to wall people. I've never seen quite a fiasco. To complicate it all, have 12 people try to follow each other through a massive wave of bodies. Some how we survived the trek and about 10-15 minutes later we stood at the pick-up point just outside the port gates.
The rep from Maya Chan did exactly what we expected...showed us a picture of the beaches and the incredible amount of sargassum grass in the water and on the beach. She then gave us an opportunity to decline going there and getting a refund. Because I heard that the grass could be bad, but the shaded areas, hammocks, food, and beverages was well worth it, we decided to go. Of course, once we left the paved (sort of...mostly bricks) roads we ended up on an old country road of dirt that had pot holes multiplying as we drove. Made for a good laugh and people humming the song from Deliverance! Funny, the van in front of us with the other half of our group was doing the same thing. Great minds...or twisted minds...think alike. It was a little rough getting there, but I must say, it was worth the adventure. We had a nice shaded spot right by their small swimming pool and bathrooms...12 seats, a few little tables, a beach bed of some sort and 2 hammocks. The staff was very attentive and brought whatever you needed...like lots of rum punch, cold beer, or shots of rum. The food was as authentic Mexican as I have aver eaten...absolutely delicious. A few of us even fended off the sargassum and went on the canoes into the water for a while. All in all, it was a very relaxing day and fun was had by all!!
We returned in time to do a little shopping. There were not very many folks around by 5:00...nothing like the massive amount of humanity earlier in the day. We had a nice stroll back to the ship, stopped for a cold beer, and a few folks took a swim in the pool at the local club. We arrived on ship in time for showers and a nice pre-dinner drink. On this night, however, we passed on the MDR and did the Mongolian B-B-Q in the World Fresh Marketplace. It was very good!! Plenty of fresh vegetables and meats and extras to throw on the plate and have the chef cook on the grill top. After that we went down to the Casino and finally had a few spots on the Craps table where we took over for a while and had a blast throwing the dice. To top it all off, we all won at least a few bucks!! We topped the night off with a little Karaoke. My daughter-in-law has a great voice as does one of the young men with us...they both did great as did so many other guests. It was a very entertaining evening.
This was a strange day indeed. The day started out pretty normal as we had a mimosa and hung out on the balconies for a few minutes. For the record: order your coffee and a pastry or fresh fruit to the room in the morning and put down 2 orange juice per person. They are just the right size that you can make a nice mimosa in the glass provided in your stateroom. But I digress! Today was our snorkel day because we heard Roatan is some of the best snorkeling in the Western Caribbean. In order to meet our needs, we booked an excursion through Princess on the Jolly Roger. It's a large catamaran that sails you to a semi-secluded spot on the island, provides some gear for an hour long snorkel, then some traditional Caribbean food, and a ride back highlighted by rum punch. We have done a similar excursion last year in Antigua and were hoping it would be very similar. Not the case!!!
In all fairness to the Jolly Roger crew, the waters around Roatan were much rougher than Antigua...we didn't land the boat like in Antigua, so the snorkeling was started with a jump into the water about a 1/4 mile off shore. There were plenty of nice fish and star fish and lots of coral, but it was a struggle to maintain in the rough waters. Some people decided to not go in at all or went in and stayed for a few minutes. We braved the entire hour or so in the water and then headed for the boat. Once everyone was back on board, they served a decent (at best) lunch with mostly rice and 1 average size chicken thigh. Then, as we sailed back, the rum punch flowed freely, but with the rough waters, the lack of motivation on the crew's part, and the equal lack of motivation on the passenger's part, the ride back was less than exciting! I guess the real issue would have been resolved if the captain of the catamaran would have given folks an option by letting them know the water was going to be pretty rough where he was going. Overall...C- on the trip...won't be doing the Jolly Roger again.
It was Wednesday and the second formal night. With Thursday being Cozumel and a very late departure, and Friday being the last day and at sea, it was the logical choice for the second formal night. We got ourselves dressed up and headed for the Princess Theater just before 6:00. The show was the Production show called 5 Skies. Issue #1: they only showed it once (at 6:30) so the theater was packed very early. We managed to find some seats scattered about, most of which were on the left side facing the stage. Myself and another guy left to grab some drinks for us and the ladies. During our absence, someone approached my wife and tried to take our seats. She explained we just stepped out for a moment, but the gentleman (I use that term very loosely) decided to give her a piece of his mind and let her know that you can't save seats and basically just went off on her. She became so upset/angry/PO'd that she got up and left, along with the other lady who's husband had gone with me. Incredible how inconsiderate some people are. Long story short...when we returned and they were gone, another person in our party explained the situation so we left as well. Issue #2: it really wasn't a big deal because where we were sitting on the far left side, you couldn't even see half the stage and none of the stage depth. Whoever designed that theater never thought about everyone actually seeing the show. I think part of the issue was the set-up, because I can't imagine the view was obstructed for all shows. Issue #3: Princess did a horrible job evaluating the audience for this show. It was all about Virtual Gaming...something that doesn't really match up with the crowd. My son was in the audience (he's 37) and a gamer, so he had an idea of the premise. He said people walked out after a few minutes and more left later because it made no sense to them. Of course, it allowed them to move to the middle of the row and improve their seats. Princess did not hit the target audience very well!
The night greatly improved for us though after we left. We found a nice spot at Crown Grill Bar with an ensemble of young ladies on string instruments playing (Capriccio String Quartet), had a few before dinner drinks (they make a great naked Manhattan) and then proceeded to dinner. It was the surf and turf night and was very delicious. We ended the night by donating a few more dollars to the casino and prepared for a 12 hour port day in Cozumel by hitting the rack early.
For the record, the beds on the Sky are very comfortable...not a huge fan though of the pillows.
Of all the ports we visited, I think Cozumel was my favorite. Not only did they have plenty of shopping and eats, but we spent the day at a very nice "All-Inclusive" called Mr. Sancho's. The port day was very long...from 1000am until 1000pm (back on the ship time was 0930pm). This afforded a more relaxed day where we could go and enjoy the all-inclusive first and then spend some quality time in and around the shops and restaurants in the port. I recommend you avoid the Duty Free Shop on the way into the port. It was a madhouse, because there were so many large ships in at the same time. The gate to the left of the Shop was open (there was a sign that said workers only...no one paid attention to it). It was a quicker walk to where the security folks were checking bags...mainly for food contraband...I saw a few things confiscated, like sandwiches from the ships. LOL!
We had a large party (all 12 of us went to Mr. Sancho's), so here's a head's up on the taxi situation. As we exited the port and hit the taxi stand area, there were folks trying to sell us on using a large van for all 12 of us...$10 per person per way...so $240 for the ride back and forth. We opted to take our chances in the normal cab ride line and secured an 8 pack and 4 pack for a total of $120...actually the 8 pack was $36 each way but we threw them $40...and the 4 pack was $20 each way. Sometimes it pays to shop around. The first question the taxi drivers asked was "did we have reservations?" It seems that Mr. Sancho's is very popular and limits the number of patrons every day. Luckily, we had reservations, so no issues.
The cost of Mr. Sancho's was $55 a head...included all the food you could eat (very authentic Mexican as one would expect), all the beverages you cared to consume (alcoholic and non-alcoholic), kayaks, snorkel equipment, and much more. We had a few pick-up water volleyball games, which can be a challenge...especially with a cup of beer in one hand!! There were also many additional sports/activities for an additional cost. They had beach horse back riding, paddle boards (like $25 for an hour), and a bouncy water park...for lack of a better name. I highly recommend the place...it was a great day and very relaxing.
We split up some after getting back to the port...some to shop, some to head back to the ship...but I went with my two brothers from another mother and hit up The Three Amigos!! They had some very good Tamales at a reasonable price ($10 for three) and some nice cold adult beverages. Then we passed through the Duty Free heading back to the ship and it was pretty dead...made it easy to see the potential goods.
Since it was a late port, there was no Traditional Dining available...it was Anytime in all the dining rooms. We opted to try Alfredos later in the evening since those tamales had filled the hole pretty well. Alfredos was pretty solid overall. The group I was with had a few different types of pizza and they were all pretty well made. The minestrone soup was also very tasty, as well as the antipasti (2 different ones). The only complaint I heard was from my son who ate there later and said the ham they used in the calzone was too high a concentration of water, so the calzone was a little too "wet".
Overall, the day was very pleasant and a great way to set us up for the final day of our journey.
Day #7...Sea Day enroute to Port Everglades!
It's always a sad day when you are on the final stretch to Port, but this was a very nice and relaxing cruise, so I didn't really stress too much. The day started out as normal...mimosa's on the balcony and then a nice light breakfast in the dining room. We always like to hit the dining room for breakfast when it's a lazy morning because we know it is always going to be a great experience. The Sky was not a disappointment in that regard. After breakfast we made our way back to the Wakeview Pool area for a nice spicy Bloody Mary and a relaxing morning in the sun. The pool was quite pleasant and the view over the back of the ship is very unique for a swimming pool.
It was pretty much a lazy day. We don't really get into the Trivia games or bingo, but we did have a group of us do the Golf Challenge on Deck 18 and then hung out afterwards and played some bocce ball. That was a great time. The recreational area offers all kinds of fun...mini golf, bocce ball, basketball, ping pong, etc...
The show that evening was the Crew Talent Show and I must say, I was impressed with some of the talent we witnessed. The highlight of the show was the bartender that sang My Way! Not quite Frankie, but pretty darn impressive!! At dinner they had the usual surf and turf and topped the evening off with the traditional Baked Alaska March. I actually stepped out a little that last night and ordered the 14 oz. Rib eye and Lobster Tail from Crown Grill. It is an upcharge, but I felt like ending the last dinner in fashion and it was well worth the cost.
The Dis-embarkment Process was very smooth and easy...took very little time, so I'll leave you with that!!!
TIDBITS or Things of Interest I may have left out (answers all those lingering questions I read on CC all the time):
* There was always plenty of butter on the table...never had to ask for extra pads/balls
* The soft serve ice cream was exceptionally good...I think they may have tweaked their recipe a bit
* Never tried the Ernesto Burger (didn't want to wait that long for it), but the other burgers were pretty tasty...and the fries!!!
* The Chair Hogs are out and in full force...sent my displeasure to Princess in my formal feedback...not sure they can actually address the subject though...it really comes down to lack of integrity by those abusing the system!!
* Definitely prefer the Eastern and Southern Caribbean over the Western...it was nice but not the same.
* No evidence of smoke in Take Five from Churchill's like some have reported...it could just be the day and/or time of day I suppose, but we went before dinner a few nights and it was fine
* The area around the roulette table did have an issue with smoke because the smoking area in the casino I'm guessing is around those slots adjacent to the Roulette Table...that was a little bothersome
* The new process for photos is much, much better...no prints...you go to a computer and it loads all the pics of you from facial recognition...or so it expect...and there was very little "Upsell" for photos going on...that's a plus
* In fact, it seemed like I wasn't approached a single time for selling me a massage, a photo, a t-shirt or anything else...I don't remember one time being approached, so perhaps they are moving away form the hard sell tactics...let's hope
* There was always something fun going on in the Atrium...from line dancing, to aerobic workouts, to comedy or fantastic musicians...it was nice to have so many differing things to attend if you wished
* Not having Crooners was a mistake...single biggest disappointment on the ship...although Take Five was okay.
* Food is subjective, but the variety in the MDR and the Buffet were good and I don't remembering trying anything I didn't like Read Less