First let me disclose that I am a part-time travel agent, and limit myself to booking strictly for family and friends as I would never take on the responsibility of booking cabins for strangers. Too many liabilities and complainers! Besides I have a full time job! That said, I have been in the resort/travel industry for over 30 years and lived on 5 continents, 12 countries and many islands in-between. I am fairly new to cruising, having taken my first cruise on RC over Christmas out of the port of Singapore in December 2008, and have been hooked on cruising, especially over Christmas, ever since.
Yes, I know Christmas cruises are more expensive and full of kids, and as someone who has no kids you would think I would avoid them, as opposed to paying MORE for them. But who can resist the beautifully decorated ships, real snow falling in the Piazza and the entrances that Santa makes. (More on that in my review). And this cruise was a DEAL, and I did not even use my TA discount. Just booked directly with Princess in late November.
I now cruise with my DM (a young 82) since we lost my Dad a few years ago. She prefers not to spend the holidays at home and who can blame her after sharing 63 years of her life with my DD. We are fortunate that we live in Vero Beach and it’s an easy drive to Port Everglades. I did some cruise ship inspections in November during the cruise convention and we learned that Port Canaveral is set to become the largest cruise port on the East Coast within 5 years. I hope Princess will place some ships there!
EMBARKATION DAY (Or as I call it Woo-Hoo Day).: On Sunday, Dec. 22nd with the dog off to the sitter we left Vero for the no traffic Sunday drive down I-95. We arrived at PE around 11:00 am and I dropped DM off at Pier 4 with our luggage. I had packed a cooler of Diet Cokes (for me) and Caffeine Free DC’s (for DM) and water. I also had 2 allowed bottles of champagne and Christmas decorations for our cabin and door. (You may have seen our door on Dolphin deck, port side, mid-ship near the elevators, as very few doors were decorated and our was done top to bottom! I forgot to take a pic though.
I parked on-site and in the few minutes it took me to park and come down the elevator my DM was waiting right there for me. There was no line, zippo, nada and we proceeded straight through to the waiting area. I stopped at the table to “register” my bubbles, but since it was in my roll along carry on, I am not sure how they would ever have known if I chose to not claim it???
We were given a card for group 6 and we waited for approximately 45 minutes to be called. I would point out that it was difficult to understand the person calling the groups, whether it was a faulty system or a bad microphone, and reminded me of Charlie Brown’s teacher! Wah-wa-waa-wah! If they would just hold up fingers on their hands it would have been a better system. Regardless we were soon through the doors and the line slowed as everyone waited to have their boarding photos.
Having cruised with Commodore Romano previously, I actually saw him stick his head in a door in this area and have a quick look around and then duck back out. We bypassed those who wanted their photos taken and were soon stepping onboard. For those of you CC members who say their cruise starts when they hear the…. take your pick…… Plink, Blonk, etc. of having their cruise card entered, you will be disappointed as they are all done with hand scanners now and there goes that noise. Who would think it’s the little things you miss???
We proceeded directly to Dolphin 416 and were pleased to find it right by the elevator. For those of you who ask about upgrades near the elevator, I can say that we are always mid-ship near the elevator which is extremely convenient, but never the first door. It was no problem whatsoever and I would book this cabin again with no hesitation.
Our cabin steward was Michael, and he was surely the best, non obtrusive, accommodating cabin attendant I have ever had. Every day we would leave for a quick breakfast, and EVERY day our cabin was made up when we got back. We never had to ask for ice. He was superb! This was our first time in a Mini-Suite.
This was the THIRD time I have booked a cabin with two single beds, only to find it made into one bed. (This happened in my brother’s cabin on the Island for a Christmas Panama cruise, but my brother left it as he was with his then 7 yr. old son and happened to me again on RC in Nov.) I explained to Michael that we had requested 2 beds and he showed me the post it note that said “D416- Q”, but I assured him that as the TA who booked it, I knew I had requested 2 beds. He said he would change it later which he did. The pillows and beds were as comfortable as could be! No need for an egg crate. No pillow substitutions necessary.
I make it a habit to tip extra at the beginning of a cruise, and at the end, and I did. (Especially for crew working over a holiday). We requested robes and slippers and he said that it would probably be later or even the next morning, but we had big fluffy robes in 20 minutes. I am not sure if our refrigerator was meant to have a mini-bar set up or not??? I know I requested for it to be emptied on the Island and the (very lazy) steward told up to just empty it ourselves and set everything around the tv. So it being empty worked perfectly as our luggage arrived very quickly and I set about filling the frig with coke and water and putting our Christmas decorations up including lights and a small tree. Michael suggested that we may want to take the stockings on our door in at night or they might disappear as the decorations that they had put on all of the mail-boxes were already half gone. Sure enough, I looked down the hall and most of the cabins in our area had been stripped of the little decorations that had been there just 45 minutes before. Seriously cruisers???
Anyway, I never put anything on our doors I am not willing to lose (most from the dollar store) and all of our decorations remained in-tact during the cruise, except for the candy canes we kept re-filling for people to take and I know Michael enjoyed a few of those!!! I had a letter, poem and photo for the Commodore (with a bridge tour request for DM) and when I asked Michael the best way to get it to him, he said he would take care of it. Within the hour he informed me that it had been delivered.
With the cabin decorated, the luggage un-packed and our first time in a balcony cabin, I enjoyed the sparkling wine Michael brought to us on the uncovered balcony, which I did not mind at all. (I have not had a covered balcony, but I feel like it would be like looking out of a box with all sides covered.) DM does not drink so I had her glass as well. I chilled a bottle of my Veuve Clicqout for sail away.
We passed on lunch in the MDR as I just can’t eat a FULL meal for lunch and then again for dinner. We went to the Horizon Court which was busy and shared a table. From that point on we ate at the Café Caribe, which I think is less busy as most “starving passengers” stop at the first line available! HINT to future cruisers, keep heading aft to Café Caribe and you’ll find tables both inside and out, and shorter lines.
We then went for a tour of the ship, which I was familiar with from my cruise on the Crown Princess. The Christmas decorations were beautiful! So far, so good! The muster drill was uneventful and we were in the Explorer’s lounge. I asked if my DM could take a seat outside but the crew said that was reserved for handicapped. I found her one of the last seats left and I stood a bit away. It always amazes me travelling with her at the number of young people who never offer an “old lady” (more on that later) a seat.
We went back to our cabin and I opened my bubbles and we watched all of the other ships sail away and finally it was our turn at “last”. We did sail away from our balcony, but now that I know about the sail away cam I will surely be one of those holding a poster from somewhere on the ship next time, if we do not have a balcony! We did see the Princess flag get raised and as soon as we passed those condos it was gone. What fun that must be for those who live in those buildings and participate in that ritual!
We made our sail away calls to family and doglet sitter and then sailed away from land-lubber worries! I for one was looking forward to no phones, no internet, and I hope the majority of the cruisers I saw with their noses stuck in iPads were reading a good book, but to each his own.
The seas were some of the calmest I have ever experienced. As a long time sailor, and having done that trip on my own sailboat, I knew this was going to be one of the smoothest cruises ever. DM does suffer from vertigo from time to time, and I could tell from the forecast that this would not be a concern on this voyage and we would not need to unpack the Sea Bands, Dramamine, etc.
We dressed nicely for dinner. I am one of “those” who figure if I am on a cruise, I am going to dress the part. We do anytime dining in the MDR and enjoy sharing a table each night. (We do not want to HAVE to be ready at a certain time to eat). As we waited a very short time, Commodore Romano approached with two young boys and told the hostess that the boys were with him. I put together that these were his sons and he must have popped his head in the door earlier looking for his family to come through the VIP line. This was confirmed the next night when he was again at the Da Vinci entrance with his wife and sons and introduced us all.
Our first night sharing a table in Da Vinci’s was quite the experience. Our table was a family of 4 (2 boys approx. 9 & 11) and both Mother-in-laws. This was the first cruise for the family (not the Mothers) and it turns out they are Vegans. Now I WISH I could do that, but that is never going to happen in this life-time, and I don’t think a cruise and Vegan make a good pairing, especially if you’ve made no prior arrangements and it’s your FIRST cruise. These people had the chefs out of the kitchen 4 different times. Could they prepare this without this? Could they make that? They did finally ask to see the menu for the next night so hopefully, they were more prepared. In the mean time, the two Mothers ate meat, desserts, etc. lol. The poor wait-staff was already saddled with a party of four making special requests (Honeydew sorbet), and the one lady was demanding dessert before any of them had even been served their “meal” and while we were still eating out entre. Needless to say, I was happy we were never re-seated with them again, and I don’t think I ever saw that family the rest of the cruise.
For those of you who are looking for food reviews, please find another reviewer. I do not take pictures of food on my plate, although we did share a table the 2nd night with a couple and she asked if she could take pictures of everything I got! I am not a “foodie”. I did eat at a specialty restaurant on the Crown once and for some it’s worth it, for me it’s just not. I did buy a bottle of Danzante Pinot Grigio that I have had before, to drink with dinner each night in Da Vinci’s. I will summarize and say that I was very happy with the food on this cruise whether it was the Caribe, the IC, Da Vinci’s, the pizza, etc. I heard my share of complaints about the food though…..”not up to Princess standards”, etc., but I do not share that view. My service was great, my food was great. And you will NEVER hear me complain about dessert. I also heard my share of complaints on this cruise about the “short” cruises and how they are “not Princess’s niche”. I guess I am just not a complainer and am just happy to be lucky enough to cruise! So, back to that……
As much as I would have liked to see the Colors of the World, we missed the early show due to dinner and sacked out early and missed the later show. I have heard good things about it. I did stop in the Piano Bar where I met a server, Franky from Bali. Having lived in Bali for a few years, I always enjoy meeting Indonesians aboard and usually befriend one just because they are amazed that I can speak some Bahasa Indonesian to them and Franky & I had both lived in Nusa Dua, so we hit it off and I did make a point of seeing him each night. The Piano Bar is usually my place to hang, but I did not find Craig Andrews very interactive with the crowd.
I should probably stop here and explain that we chose this cruise for R&R. We were not interested in a port intensive cruise. We just wanted to be on a beautifully decorated ship, have someone else do all the work, and have no agenda. This cruise ticked all the boxes and I was not disappointed one bit.
Day 1 At Sea: We awoke with no complaints and went to a leisurely breakfast at the Café Caribe. After brekkie we went to the Onboard Outlet Sale in the Michelangelo Dining Room where I found some great tank tops that Old Navy stopped making so I was a happy camper. There was a “Holland Line” lady in a hurry to check out and complained that all she had done with Princess so far was wait in lines. Again, seriously? You booked a sold out cruise over a holiday and you forgot to pack your patience??? We did mark the patters every day, (Creativity @ Sea, Turkey Carving, etc.) but if we didn’t make it to something, we didn’t worry. We were not interested in the trivia contests or the Pop Star or The Treasure Hunt or the line dancing, or the Spa, etc. Just R&R on the high seas and we napped in our mini-suite every day!
After the sale, it was impossible to find two loungers together at the pool, but this was partly our fault as I wanted the sun and DM wanted the shade. I bumped into the Commodore and he told me that he had received my letter, poem and photo, and I introduced DM. At that point I settled her into the shade and went off to the adult only aft pool where after a short wait I was able to score a lounger overlooking the stern on the pool level.
Now a bit about chair hogs. As someone who often travels single/solo, it is difficult to sometimes reserve your rights (as you dash off for a slice of pizza or to the loo for example) and not be accused of chair hogging. The whole 2+ hours I was in that lounger, there was a chair next to me with a towel and one sneaker on it. No one ever used that lounger. I should have gone back and rescued DM from the termites, I mean kids, but I did not want to be accused of chair hogging or lose my prime spot. There was a gentleman behind me who was asked by an ”ahem” lady if the chairs surrounding him were being used and he said yes. She then told him in no uncertain terms that you were not allowed to save chairs. He told her that he could assure her they were just over there in the pool. She scored a chair near-by and within 10 minutes, 2 more became available and she plopped down 2 of her party in those chairs. Literally 2 mins. later her DH asked what time it was and she said 1. He said, “what I thought it was like 11:00. Let’s go eat lunch at the buffet.” So they left all of their stuff and took off for lunch. I guess the rules don’t apply when you look in the mirror!!! Lol
This night was the “Dress To Impress” night and the champagne waterfall. We did a few portraits until we got tired of being asked to pose in awkward poses (lol) and we found a front row seat under the staircase and watched the glasses being set up. I had never seen it done in red before and lest you think it was for Christmas, the very talented gal setting up the glasses explained it is because of the “Ruby” Princess. It is one of the cruising rituals I love! We engaged the couple sitting next to us. She had a “Christmas Cape” on, which she explained was really a Christmas Tree skirt. She said she has a whole wardrobe of them that she buys on sale after Christmas. Very clever! We waited until the end to get our waterfall pictures taken.
We then went to DaVinci’s and the Commodore introduced us to his beautiful wife and 2 handsome sons. We sat with a couple. This was the gal who took pictures of ALL of the food plates. We passed on the Comedy show and DM called it a night. I wandered up to Sky Walkers but there were not many people there. Came back to Crooner’s and had a specialty martini. A “Poinsettia”, had a chat with Franky and then off to bed.
Day 2 Princess Cays: Having been to Princess Cays previously, I could have bypassed it altogether and stayed aboard enjoying the empty ship. Being from Florida I knew I was not going in the water! As DM had never been, we decided to watch the movie (The Princess Bride) and enjoy the pool to ourselves and get some sun. At one point DM decided to use the hot tub. The previous days, it was just too crowded. As she entered the hot tub, it was occupied by another woman and 2 small girls. One of the girls looked up and said “Oh no, not another OLD LADY!”. I won’t go into all of their bratty behavior but the other woman gave up and left. Now the parents of these 2 brats were in a lounger near the hot tub and never once minded them. It’s a good thing I was up on deck watching the big screen or these “non” parents would have gotten a piece of my mind. I am not a public hot tub user but isn’t the rule that kids are not supposed to be in them unaccompanied???
About the same time that the movie ended (noonish), they announced that we no longer needed tender tickets to go ashore. WE caught a tender with no waiting and ventured ashore. We ate a burger which was what you would expect it to be as everything has to be ferried over, and shared a table with 4 young crew members on a rare day off. DM bought a trinket for a friend and we caught a tender back. We easily scored some prime loungers on the upper aft deck at the adult only pool, and I had a Mud Slide for a very reasonable $6.50. Then it started to drizzle so it was back to the mini-suite for a nap. I do love having the sofa to nap on!
We returned to our cabin where we found an invitation for our “Navigational Bridge Tour” on Christmas Day. Merry Christmas DM! I had visited the bridge previously on the Ultimate Ships Tour on the Crown which I highly recommend, but thought it would be a bit ambitious for DM. Therefore I was hoping the request to the Commodore would be granted and he did not disappoint.
We dressed festively as it was Christmas Eve, but passed on any casual photo opportunities. This night was the crew Christmas caroling and it’s another reason I love cruising at Christmas. We got our Holiday Carols booklet and joined in. When they got to “Let It Snow” and that real snow starts falling from the top of the Piazza, it is magical!
We again shared a table with a large group this time and afterwards caught the tail end of the Beatles Medley in the Piazza. DM spent a short time in Gatsby’s which was waaaayyyy too smoky for me and came out $20 ahead on her slots. I had a drink from Franky in Crooners. Our plan was to attend the Ultimate Deck Party. The drizzling rain outside forced the deck party to be held in the Piazza. The change of venue did not seem to dampen anyone’s spirits. For those of you who were on this cruise, I was the one in the blinking red glasses and flashing ring. The fact that I got DM to wear both as well is why I love cruising with her! I think a good time was had by all, even though we mostly just took advantage of our front row seat and people watched! Afterwards it was time for DM to retire. I had a Bailey’s in Crooners, and chatted with Franky who had a Christmas present for me…a crew pin! I now have the old version and the new!
CHRISTMAS DAY at SEA: We awoke and exchanged a few small presents we had brought aboard and DM won $10 on her scratch lottery tickets I had put in her stocking. We did some packing and I took down the Christmas decorations, as we were one of the few who put luggage out later that night.
We gave wrapped presents to Michael and Franky, some candy we had brought on board. Today was Santa’s arrival! I have to comment that other than the bratty girls in the hot tub, the 750 children on board were all well behaved. And I believe all 750 were lined up to sit on Santa’s lap and get a gift! The line went FOREVER! I love the radio chatter between the Coast Guard and the Bridge when Santa arrives. I thought I was video taping his whole entrance thru the Piazza as “Here Comes Santa Claus” blared, and afterwards realized I had not pushed the button to tape! Well, some things are just meant to be seen in real time! I think Santa had a l-o-n-g night as his sparkly attendants had to help with his bowl full of jelly belly which was sort of sagging. The kids, big & small, did not seem to mind.
We watched for a bit and then went off for the pub lunch and some great fish & chips in the Wheelhouse Bar. We caught a bit of magician Ben Seidman in the Piazza and we did some reading on the Promenade deck which is just a peaceful place to relax. I wish they would make it a “quiet zone” as the people strolling tend to shout at each other as they walk by.
Our Bridge Tour was scheduled for 3:00 and we were met by a member of the security team and escorted to the Bridge where Commodore Romano greeted us. We had brought gifts of candy to the Bridge as well. We were allowed to take photos and DM even got to sit in one of the pilot chairs. I love the bridge and the crew there takes watches of 4 hours on, 4 hours off with no days off. The watcher stands his visual watch and with all of the electronics onboard, his position is considered the most important. Some things never change in hundreds of years!
After the Bridge Tour, DM went for a nap and my plan was to have Afternoon Tea. When I turned the corner, the line for tea was longer than the line for anytime dining! Oops. Now I am the one complaining about lines! Lol I think it was due to the fact that the weather was not that great. I passed on the tea and went to the IC and had some goodies!
Dinner was shared with a table of 6 others. One couple did the food complaining, the short cruise complaining, etc. Another couple was frustrated as they were doing a B2B and had to change cabins from an interior to an obstructed view. Seriously? Take the upgrade! DM had the turkey and I had the beef and all was tasty and the best part was we did not have to cook it! Dessert (Christmas Pudding for me) was as always, fabulous! My favorite dessert on this cruise was the French vanilla bean crème brulee, and I am an admitted vanillaholic!
After dinner we went to see the show Broadway Ballroom, the only time we went to the theatre. It was your typical cruise ship production. My bad, but I almost fell asleep. I was looking forward to seeing “Now You See Me” on the big MUTS screen and after dinner we changed into comfortable, warmer clothes and headed up only to find it raining. So we returned to the cabin to watch it on tv and as much as we had planned to see the Christmas production, Holiday Wishes, with the crew…..once in the cabin to watch the movie…. we were done for the night.
DISEMBARKATION DAY: (Sad Day) - Having put our luggage out the night before we were to wait in the Wheelhouse for a Group Orange 7, 9:20 disembarkation time. We had a leisurely brekkie in the MDR and still had an hour to kill. I found a seat in the packed Wheelhouse for DM and then went to drop my Consummate Host card off. I also dropped our Future Cruise Deposit Form in the box. This was literally 15 minutes before we disembarked and within 5 hours we had our e-mail confirmation. I had read some other posts complaining about this, so possibly we benefited from those previous complaints. I can say that each time I cruised by there, I never once saw the consultant.
I noticed no one disembarking. I went and collected DM and it was about 20 minutes before our group was to be called. I asked the crew if we could walk off and she asked if we were in a hurry. I said we had a long drive and she smiled and said sure go ahead. We were the only two down the gang plank and into the luggage area. We elected to have a porter help, found our bags and he walked us thru the lane where the wheelchairs were going and we bypassed the whole passport line so we were literally off the ship and outside in 3 minutes. He took our luggage to our floor of the elevator and we were parked only about 6 spaces away. We loaded up and were off to A1A to visit my brother in Lighthouse Point.
SUMMARY: This was one of the most relaxing cruises I have ever enjoyed. I wish I had booked the B2B, but prior to the cruise my Miata had to have a fuel pump replaced, and after the cruise my Yorkie fell and needed an x-ray so the mechanic and the Vet cost more than my whole cruise! I’m hoping they offer the “free cruise” again and I would book this same cruise in April for my birthday. Princess is my favorite line so I might be biased. The bottom line for me is the complainers are on a CRUISE! They are not fighting an illness in hospital. They have discretionary money to cruise. Unless the ship breaks down, or the seas are 30 feet, what is there to complain about??? Bon Voyage until next time.