BACKGROUND INFORMATION: I am a “mature”, adventurous solo traveler. I’ve cruised 43 times on many different cruise lines, but the majority of my cruise experiences have been on Princess. I saw a bargain for the four-night “getaway” cruise from Ft. Lauderdale, FL to Princess’ private island in the Bahamas and booked the cruise. January in New England deserves a “getaway” when possible.
TRAVEL TO EMBARKATION: I used Amtrak in the Northeast for half the trip, and flew to Ft. Lauderdale for the southern half of the trip. Both experiences were excellent. Local friends provided cheerful transportation to the cruise pier for me
HOTEL: I stayed at the Homewood Suites by Hilton, very close to the cruise terminal, airport, and Amtrak station. Outstanding, incredible service and suite. Warm, friendly staff, good food, probably better than the cruise at times.
SHIP INFORMATION: The “Caribbean Princess” is a large multi-deck cruise ship which has been in service for quite some time now, and unfortunately looks it as far as the interior of the ship. It badly needs an update to refresh dated color schemes, replace tired soft goods, clean or replace bathroom floors, fix nicked and chipped furniture. The crew apparently loves it, however, as I saw many familiar faces at all levels of the crew staffing from other cruises, and they recognized me as well. There is a huge representation of many nations among the crew, and I envy their multilingual ability. Many are quite young, and some could use a bit of extra polish when it comes to dealing with older experienced cruise guests. Outwardly, the ship appeared to be in good repair – paint was fresh, decks in great shape and clean, and no signs of rust or wear and tear visible.
ACTIVITIES: Onboard activities featured the usual mix of “infomercial” sessions selling everything from tooth whitening to acupuncture – anything to make more money for the cruise line – and on to the art auctions, another money-making attempt. In keeping with the warm-water itinerary cruise, there were the usual pool and outdoor deck activities day and night – some sinking to the level of the Carnival party-animal cruisers. All the fitness activities, such as walking, yoga, workouts, seemed to be far too early in the morning. Princess seems to equate physical fitness with getting up at dawn – totally ridiculous when one considers the available evening and late-night activities most people enjoy on cruises. Zumba was offered on the two sea days, to the delight of a huge crowd of enthusiastic dancers – far too many for the small lounge area we were crammed into. The second session was held on the open deck area near the main pool, again a huge crowd, and those in the shade were fine – but those of us in the front in the sun really got an extra workout. The “audience” around the pool loved the show, and it was great fun in the fresh salt air – just a bit warm and humid. I did not go on the cruise for the activities, other than being a Zumba fan, but honestly did not see much that would enrich people or create much interest unless one enjoys hearing about what the ship has for sale. The main “activities” seemed to truly be sitting in the sun, enjoying the tropical sunshine and pools, walking around the outer decks in the fresh air, gambling, drinking, and eating. There were some group dance classes as well.
Princess is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, and there was quite a party in the Piazza one night at sea. The very amiable and well-spoken captain made a speech, and there was a balloon drop, followed by some wonderful lively dance music – the smallish Piazza floor space was packed, with people dancing everywhere, and observers lining the staircases and railings from decks above.
A live orchestra played some marvelous Big Band style music in the evenings, and many couples enjoyed dancing to this. Unfortunately for solo women travelers, there are no “gentlemen hosts” aboard to dance with.
There are several shops on board, with the typical assortment of cruise clothing, souvenirs, sundries, duty-free goods. A new jewelry store has opened, and there were also other luxury goods for sale, such as watches and more jewelry, in other small shops. A large shop sold perfume and cosmetics, and just walking through the shop was wonderful for the delicate fragrance. I have often wished somebody would create a perfume and name it “Cruise Ship”, as the perfume shop is divine in that aspect, as is the overall aroma found on ships at sea.
Social groups also had their meetings scheduled daily, and bridge players found their cards and tables easily. In this current age of technology, a huge number of people seemed engrossed in their cell phones, IPads, laptops, and provided their own activity and entertainment the entire cruise in this manner.
I especially enjoyed the backstage tour, offered on a sea day afternoon, hosted by some of the dancers and entertainment staff. The tour included being on the stage, seeing the sets, how the lighting worked, what the dancers see from the stage, and backstage in the dressing rooms with their intricate costume storage system.
Overall, there was something for everybody – you could participate nearly 24 hours a day in some type of activity, or just enjoy the cruise at your own pace and relax with a good book, conversation, balcony wave-watching, or book a future cruise. This was an unexpected social activity, as many people enjoy getting the on-board booking discounts and “deals”. There is a small waiting area for the future cruise consultant, with brochures and videos about the cruises – but most people seemed to enjoy comparing notes about their travels, talking about cruising, and having some great social interactions while waiting. The average wait time, I’ve noticed, was at least 30 minutes for the very competent and friendly agent, but nobody cared about the time since we could all visit to pass the time.
For those belonging to the repeat-cruiser’s Captain’s Circle program, there were special cocktail parties and gatherings as well, depending on the level held within the program – something every night.
If all this wasn’t enough, there was a lecture about the ports. Most shipboard lectures or informational programming repeated on the cabin TV, which was very convenient and provided even more entertainment if one required it. Good selection of programming on the TV, which seemed to have better than average reception at sea.
Internet was available, and seemed far faster this cruise than ever before. Maybe it was the close proximity to land, but the system runs via satellite. Perhaps Princess has updated its internet hardware.
SERVICE: My cabin steward, Shekhar, is among the top two best stewards I’ve ever had in all my cruises. Flawless, prompt, cheerful, efficient service no matter what I needed or what the hour – he always seemed to be right outside in the corridor, smiling and asking if he could be of service. Wish the cruise line could clone Shekhar, or make him director of training.
Guest services staff did a fine job most of the time, and the shop staff were also courteous and very helpful. I speak several languages, and enjoyed conversing with them in their native language as much as possible – good practice for me! One very kind young woman found the T-shirt I wanted in my requested size after a day of searching, very graciously.
Spa staff were nice, but seemed burned out. I had a simple manicure, but it was not the best quality.
Great instructor for the Zumba class, however, very nice and enthusiastic.
Service in the dining room and buffet varied – some staff were wonderful, and others needed more training or vacation from burnout. Dining room service at my table at least was friendly and efficient, but very slow. Every cruise I take, it seems there is less staff in the dining room, and thus the slow service. Some of the buffet restaurant waiters appeared to be in a coma early in the morning, and just stood and stared out the windows.
Helpful and friendly photography staff, far above the usual.
PORT AND SHORE EXCURSIONS: I did not take any of the shore excursions offered, having planned to just enjoy the beach on my own. However, there were a lot of different options as far as local tours, rental of water sports and beach equipment, and land-based tours of Ft. Lauderdale pre- and post-cruise.
Ft. Lauderdale, as a port, looked much like any other coastal Florida seaport or beach resort city. It was big, with traffic, and had its high-end stores as well as ordinary citizen areas. Nice airport, and nothing seemed to be all that distant as far as arriving or departing by train or plane or car. The one beach I visited briefly in Ft. Lauderdale was gorgeous. Enormous cruise terminal complex, with good security and information signs to guide arriving guests to the right ship and pier area.
Princess Cays was a lovely, almost sanitized private beach resort with everything to make visitors happy and comfortable. There was a craft market, beach buffet with BBQ, water sport equipment rentals, plenty of swimming beaches with clean sand, gorgeous views, enough room for everybody, shady small clamshell sunshade shelters to rent, and every other amenity to make a day on a tropical beach pure paradise. The only minor downside was the huge ship needing to anchor about a 10 minute tender ride offshore, but the tenders ran constantly and nobody complained. The ride on the open top deck of the tender (actually the lifeboats) was as much fun as anything else offered that day. Lifeguards were on duty at the swimming beaches, and there were plenty of palm trees and other native shrubbery to offer shade from the hot tropical sun. The ocean water was incredible shades of blue, and very clean - very popular with those snorkeling in the 80+ degree water.
EMBARKATION: I arrived after the first huge mob was processed, perhaps an hour after boarding began, and my luggage was cheerfully collected when I was dropped off by friends. With my top level Captain’s Circle membership, I went to the expedited check-in lane, and was courteously processed and on the ship in about 10 minutes, with almost no waiting at all. My luggage arrived at my cabin in about 30 minutes. This port has the staffing and facilities for today’s huge ships, and the boarding process is carried out in air-conditioned comfort and efficient technique. The usual ship’s photographers have their photo opportunity on the way into the ship, which one can either use or not as they choose. Staff on the ship were plentiful to guide arriving guests to elevators, stairs, or wherever they want to go once on board. It is a bit of a hike up the long gangway to enter the ship.
CABIN: I had a regular balcony cabin, midship location, and midway up the ship. The only minor glitch with the cabin was the balcony having only half a “roof” – the deck above came out halfway over my balcony space, and I prefer a full covering. Not a problem, as there was good weather and some shade at all times. Book above Caribe deck level if you want full covering over your balcony. The first two balcony decks on this ship feature stepped-out balconies, and they do not have full overhead coverage. I had the twin beds linked to form a king, which was extremely comfortable, with nice bed linens. Only the pillows seemed a bit tired and I personally don’t like feather pillows. The two fiber-filled pillows were definitely needing replacement, but adequate. The cabin was clean, except for the grout in the bathroom tile floor appearing a bit dark and soiled. Towels were clean, but nearly threadbare and very scratchy. Shower gel and shampoo are in neat dispensers in the small shower. Top-level loyalty club members receive extra bath and toiletry amenities. Lots of places to store things in drawers and shelves. There is a safe in the closet area, and plenty of decent wooden hangers in the open closet. Small upholstered chair, vanity/desk and mirror with a desk chair, mini-fridge, shelves above that, flat-screen TV of good size. The balcony had two nice adjustable lounge chairs with small ottomans, and a table. Huge balcony. Very quiet at night in this particular cabin area, thankfully. It was a comfortable, quiet retreat the entire cruise.
Not far down the corridor was a convenient guest laundry facility. Princess updated to a card-swipe payment system (copper tokens dispensed by the machine and inserted into washer or dryer) in the laundry rooms – it’s $3.00 US per wash or dry, charged to your cabin account, and laundry products are also available for several dollars. Used to be $2. The new system saves time by not having the guest hike down to the guest service desk to get quarters to feed the washers and dryers, and is far more convenient – just 30% more expensive. Top-level loyalty program guests have free laundry service, but this doesn’t always work with things like underwear or delicate items. Bring your own powdered detergent in baggies, as well as dryer sheets, and save some money in the guest laundry.
Cabin stewards park their linen and service carts in the hallways outside the cabins seemingly 24 hours per day, so perhaps there is no other place to put the carts. This makes navigating the narrow hallways a challenge for those on scooters, with walkers, or with wheelchairs. Two people walking cannot pass each other side by side due to the narrow corridors filled with the service carts. Large wire cage-type linen storage units are also parked at the top of the stairways on many decks, which further obstructs walking and through traffic, at various times of the day. I did not like to see open carts with clean linens this close to a lot of people who walked by coughing and sneezing on the uncovered clean linens. I have mentioned this to Princess numerous times from other cruises, but the same thing happens repeatedly on every cruise.
DINING: The “premium dining” restaurants on board serve food that used to be standard on cruises 25 years ago. Buffet food is definitely a variety with something for all tastes. I saw some gluten-free and sugar free items, more than the last cruise. I did not use room service this cruise, the premium restaurants, or bar service or wine at dinner, so can’t comment on those.
Buffet Dining: I was usually one of the very first in the buffet early in the morning for breakfast. The only
problem I repeatedly encountered was lukewarm to cold “hot” items, as well as the pastries, which were left out uncovered far too long, and they dried out and became stale and hard as rocks. There was usually a wait for waffles. These are ongoing problems with Princess buffets for years now. The breakfast items did not vary much from day to day, but there is quite a variety, and nobody left hungry from what I could see. Lunch had its own huge variety, with themes at times, and there are the usual American, Asian, Indian food items available. Again, many of the hot items were not at the right temperature, and were cold or lukewarm. There are no trays, just a medium-sized oval plastic plate, smaller desert-sized plates, small bowls, and all the food you want has to somehow fit on or into these containers as you work through the food lines. It can be messy and a challenge to balance this, especially in rough seas. Waiters will help those requesting it, however. The plates and bowls available at all meals either seemed to be too hot to touch, or wet or both. One breakfast buffet line had a stack of filthy bowls with dried and baked-on egg yolks in the bowls, as well as other dried-on food bits. I showed this to the head waiter and he was horrified and quickly removed the stack of bowls. I did not use the buffet for dinner this cruise, but in the past there have been a lot of different items available and it is a good option for those wishing to get their food faster and have more choices at times, as well as not needing to dress up on formal nights.
Dining Room: I had the traditional dining, table for six, at 5:30 PM in the Coral Dining Room. It is a nice big dining room, with twinkling lights in the ceiling, and big windows. It is also extremely noisy, and one has to almost shout to converse with those at the table. Good waiter and helper, who both were very overworked due to obvious cuts in dining room staffing, and this made the service slower than it should have been. I know the waiters have to give their little speech about what they recommend for dinner, but I find it annoying and unhelpful most of the time. The menu options are reduced from past cruises – or perhaps just cut back due to the short length of this cruise. I was very disappointed in the offerings, as much of it was “comfort food” or “home cooking”. I can get spaghetti, meat loaf, roast turkey, fried chicken, salads, and ice cream at home. When I cruise, I want something new, elegant, or just plain nice – not ordinary! However, this is not a premium cruise line, and they are obviously trying to save money. The dining room is not the place to cut costs, however. There were more “available every night” type items, such as the fried chicken, than creative or “gourmet” selections. It seemed that every meal was loaded with red and green peppers as some kind of filler. The food portions were large, and presented very nicely, and served at the proper temperature. Soups were very good. This cruise featured some sort of chocolate theme, and some of the deserts were marvelous. There was the usual selection of main course from all the food groups – meat, poultry, pasta, fish, vegetarian, but no lobster the entire cruise. Some of the appetizers were peculiar mixtures of what appeared to be leftovers. The usual beverage selection was available, plus alcoholic beverages for purchase. The same dish of bread and rolls appeared every night, with no variety. Overall, I would describe the food as what one could get in a nice big-city chain restaurant, but very far removed from the true Continental cuisine served on this cruise line many years ago. Since Carnival obtained the Princess brand, the overall quality of everything has gone down, and this is especially noticed in the onboard cuisine.
The last night of the cruise, the usual baked Alaska parade took place, an event I wish Princess would stop. It takes the waiters away from their serving, and thus makes people captive at the table when they would prefer to leave for the shows. The music is tinny, blasting and blaring in volume to the point that it is painful to hear, and completely obliterates any chance at speech. The baked Alaska is overdone, with melting ice cream, if anybody really wants it. It is a cheap, noisy spectacle which ruins the meal for me, and I feel sorry for the waiters who are trying to get their tables served and are already behind due to less staff. On top of this, the maitre’d seemed inspired and compelled to make a long, boring speech about the “excellent” food and service, and then one of the lounge singers showed up and sang at least four songs, keeping us trapped for another 20 minutes and missing the show. Some people did get up and leave, including me, as we are free to do, but it wasn’t my idea of a quality dining experience. The last night of the cruise usually finds people depressed about the end of the trip, and needing to pack, or wanting to cram a bit more fun into the last hours on the ship, and being deafened and trapped in the dining room after a mediocre meal sure doesn’t help the situation.
ENTERTAINMENT: Considering the majority of the cruisers were probably late 20s to 40s, the music and entertainment were appropriate for them. I have seen all the production shows on other Princess cruises, and was surprised that they did not change over the past few years. The shows are noisy, with extremely high volume loud rock music in most cases, and full of dizzying strobe lights which flash through the audience at times. Good costumes and dancing, but perhaps I’ve just outgrown the 20-something rock scene in middle age. Clever use of projected graphics, shapes, colors, lights, and other theatrical techniques in the theater. The lead singer in the production shows sings several notes off-key, and has a forced, terrible vocal technique. I heard her on the “Ocean Princess” last year, and she has gotten even worse. Good dancers, but some are a bit stocky for a show dancers and look heavy when they dance. There were other acts with magicians and comedians, but I do not enjoy this type of entertainment and did not go to the shows. The lounge singers were very good. I can’t stay up late enough to go to the late-evening music and dance and other entertainment, but from what I heard from others, it was lively and good. The whole cruise had a Caribbean, tropical, party flavor to it, but it had somewhat of a forced cheerfulness to it. The younger cruisers got right into the spirit of it all, but some of us who are middle-aged did not enjoy it as much. I went for the boat ride and food, and being close to the sea and going to the beach on the island, and that was plenty of entertainment for me, plus enjoying my balcony. One can either party until they drop or go to the other extreme and relax for the entire cruise – the choice is yours, and there is an activity level suitable for everybody. Movies under the stars on the enormous top deck outdoor screen kept movie fans happy. There is the Serenity adults-only retreat area on top of the ship for those who like quiet time and space. I don’t know what kids did, as I did not see many of them. The Piazza entertainment was “street entertainer” short acts, with far more audience than could easily see what was happening. I heard some of it, but it’s not my type of entertainment. There were also cooking and ice-carving demonstrations in the Piazza at various times. Some cruisers were perfectly content to find a seat someplace in or outside on the ship, and just read or worship their IT devices, or talk to other cruisers.
DISEMBARKATION: The ship provided clear written instructions about what to do, when, and how to do it to get off the ship comfortably. If one did not like their assigned debarkation time, a simple request at the guest services desk took care of it. The convenient walk-off express departures were available as soon as the ship was cleared, assuming one could haul all their own bags. This can be requested any time during the cruise with a quick stop at the guest services desk, or a phone call from the cabin. I used this, and was off the ship in 5 minutes with the earliest group, and in a cab to the airport five minutes after that. It was perfect, efficient, and handled very well.
SUMMARY: This cruise was a good four-night getaway, and very popular with both Floridians and those escaping the cold northern long winter. The prices were a deciding factor for me, and a real bargain, especially close to sailing date. It is not a luxury cruise, however, and the food and slightly tired shipboard environment definitely showed that. It is probably best for those who either are young or think and feel young, with a party and tropical atmosphere. Princess has mercifully cut back on the loud and intrusive announcements during the day and early evening for various activities (most of which are aimed at making money for the cruise line). Unfortunately, every announcement by every crew member seemed to contain the word “excellent”, an apparent effort to brainwash guests into giving the cruise experience a top rating. It does not fool me after 23 cruises with Princess. This particular cruise was blessed with calm seas, sunshine and blue skies, which made being outdoors in the tropical balmy climate a pleasure. Lots of people enjoyed their balconies on the cruise, too. Unfortunately, the ship’s no smoking on balcony policy was ignored by some, and the odor of cigars and cigarettes was very noticeable depending on the wind. Smoking in cabins is also forbidden, but people ignored this in various cabins and the odor was quite noticeable. The casino is not enclosed, and the smokers in their polluted most of the center of the ship where the public areas, Piazza, and shops are located, and it absolutely reeked. The smoky air was sucked into the stairwells, too, and filtered throughout the ship. Be aware of this if tobacco smoke bothers you, or you don’t want to smell it. It was very bad on this cruise. Princess has a very good, middle-of-the-road brand of affordable cruises for people with realistic expectations or experience with cruising, but they are sadly going downhill with the food, most noticeably. For longer cruises, however, Princess offers some of the most port-intensive and economical ways to see the world of any of the cruise lines. The Captain’s Circle loyalty program also has a lot of perks as one ascends through the ranks.
There was one rather ugly problem in the dining room, stemming from a bad miscommunication from Princess about the dress code. Pre-cruise information stated four casual nights, and we all apparently packed for that. However, there was a formal night on one sea night, and very few people had appropriate clothing. Many were disappointed in not being able to dress up, as formal photos were being offered. The real problem with the dress code, however, was the statement about no shorts being allowed in the dining rooms in evenings, at least. One guest at my table wore very nice Bermuda shorts, such as the men wear in Bermuda for business and office attire, and he had a nice shirt with the shorts. The maitre’d did not want to allow him in the dining room, and an argument began which ended right at our table, in our faces, at the start of dinner. Totally inappropriate behavior on behalf of the staff, and it could have been handled with far more tact and grace than it was with this middle-aged passenger. I noticed some women of various ages appeared nightly in the dining room wearing shorts, some of which were extremely short and revealing, and they were always allowed in with no comment or restriction. However, the men had to wear long pants. This caused a lot of comment and dissent throughout the cruise, despite the written policy forbidding shorts.
Another dress code issue involved sleeveless tank top type undershirts on the men. Some of them apparently brought nothing in the way of proper shirts, and lived in these undershirts 24 hours a day for the entire cruise. It was disgusting and revolting to have to sit next to some hairy, flabby, warty man in an undershirt when eating. This type of revealing undergarment does not belong in public dining venues on a cruise ship, and really should be restricted. Some women wore the same type of shirts, and the results were not always very appetizing to look at, either. Yes, it was a tropical cruise, and relaxed in ambiance and clothing – but there are still some things which are best worn at home, on the beach, at a pool, in private – but not in a public dining venue in close quarters on a cruise shop. It doesn’t do much good for the cruise line to publish its dress code rules and then not follow up on enforcing these rules – perhaps they don’t want to lose paying guests in these hard economic times.
After four days at sea with a relatively good experience overall, it took four days to get home due to the travel disruptions from the huge blizzard in the northeast. Read Less