This was our second cruise with Princess - we previously sailed to Hawaii with Regal Princess in 2007, which was a rather mixed experience. We chose this cruise because of the itinerary - 11 Caribbean ports in 14 days - while the idea of ... Read More
This was our second cruise with Princess - we previously sailed to Hawaii with Regal Princess in 2007, which was a rather mixed experience. We chose this cruise because of the itinerary - 11 Caribbean ports in 14 days - while the idea of direct charters (bypassing the US and a lot of luggage carrying) was also rather appealing. The flight out from Manchester was fine, but we arrived with another five Thomson charters (2 more from Manchester, 2 from Gatwick and 1 from East Midlands) and thus had to queue a while, albeit mostly reasonably comfortably (in the aircraft and on buses) before getting aboard just in time for our first sitting dinner.
We had an inside cabin - a first for us. We booked an outside guarantee, but were contacted a few days before departure to be offered a downgrade (outside cabins oversold apparently - its getting just like airlines!!) to an inside cabin at a vastly reduced cost. This was an offer too good to resist, and we decided it was a good opportunity to see what we thought of inside cabins for future reference. (Conclusion: fine on this cruise or probably any with relatively few sea days, or when the weather was likely to be less than brilliant, but we still feel an outside or balcony cabin is best under other circumstances). Anyway, the cabin was fine, if relatively small (although no smaller than other cabins on Sea Princess I understand), and was in a quiet location tucked around the corner at the stern of the ship on Deck 10. It was well looked after by our steward Randi, who was very friendly and obliging and kept everything in good order.
As I mentioned we were on first sitting, and had been allocated, as requested, to a table of 8 in a very nice location, rather than the thoroughfare you sometimes get! We had very good company, with a couple from Leicester and 2 couples from Cheshire, thought that the food was generally very good in the evenings (we only went in for breakfast a few times and lunch only once), and that our waiter and assistant Orlando and Enrico, were very helpful and efficient.
A lot of previous cruisers on Sea Princess thought that she looked a bit tired and needed a bit of TLC, but we thought she was fine (having cruised on Costa Romantica last November we know what 'a bit tired and in need of TLC' can really mean!!). We found a good choice of food in the buffet, which was generally fairly well laid out without too many queues or shortages of seats, and the Corniche Cafe on Deck 8 was good for pizza the one time we went there. One thing we loved about the Sea Princess was the promenade deck. All these newer larger ships with lots of balconies no longer seem to have one, but it was wonderful to be able to sit in the shade on wooden steamer chairs in relative peace, avoiding the noise, ongoing activities and large movie screen by the pool, which my husband quite liked, but I certainly didn't. It was also possible to walk all the way around the ship at this level, which was also nice, and gave shelter not only from the sun, but also from the not infrequent rain showers!
Moving on to the ports of call, which was the most important bit for us, we mainly did our own thing, with only two trips booked via the ship. I must say that the Shore Excursion Staff were some of the worst I have ever encountered - unfriendly bordering on surly and with no practical knowledge about the excursions, or apparent interest in finding out in response to queries. We found all the other crew members on the ship cheerful, helpful and efficient, but really felt that there were serious problems with the excursion staff, particularly as they were trying to sell very expensive (not to say overpriced) trips and I think would have fared better if they had a better manner. We booked a horse riding trip, including taking the horses in the sea (not swimming, despite the description) and it was really enjoyable, if very expensive. More practical details about how it worked, what we could take with us and what we should wear (or not) would have enhanced the experience even more, but enquiries of the excursion staff produced no answers or interest in finding out.
We also took a ship's excursion in Trinidad, having read about how it can be dicey for tourists there. This trip, called Rainforest Hike and Asa Wright Centre, was very expensive and very disappointing. It was supposed to be a nature walk, but with one guide and 30 guests of different mobility levels, it consisted of very little. The centre itself was fantastic and with better organisation and investment in more guides and much smaller groups, the trip could have been excellent. But by the time the one guide had got everyone together and made sure they had all seen a small bird on a distant tree barely visible to the naked eye, you can imagine how little was achieved on a 1.5 hour walk, covering perhaps half a mile. It just confirmed my impressions of over-priced, dumbed-down ship's excursions. I passed my thoughts on to the Shore Excursion staff when I returned (constructively, suggesting two or three guides and graded walks) but there was an almost visible lack of interest wafting across; I did fill in a comment form, but I expect it was probably filed in the waste bin!
Other places we had some really good experiences (fortunately). We went to Fort George and the waterfront in Grenada before taking a water taxi across to the beach. We went on a fantastic drift snorkel in Bonaire with Woodwind - run by marine biologist Dee. The trimaran took us over to two different sites off Klein Bonaire and Dee freedived to point out all manner of interesting things - coral, fish, turtles, stingrays, etc., while we allowed the current to carry us effortlessly along. Fantastic!!! We had an interesting walk around Curacao on both sides of the river, using the pontoon swing bridge. On Grand Turk we did the horse riding as I mentioned. In Tortola we took the ferry to Virgin Gorda and went to the famous Baths, where we scrambled through rocks, sand and water to Devil's Beach and back. It was a bit rough for swimming and snorkelling that day, but we had a good time nonetheless.
St Maarten was most notable for the 21,000-plus cruise passengers there with us - it was heaving! We were berthed with Oriana behind us, Carnival Dream and Ruby Princess the other side of the jetty, and Oasis of the Seas (what a size she is!!!) and Celebrity Solstice on the next jetty. We took a minibus trip over the French side and there we saw Wind Surf moored off Marigot and tendering people in - I think she had the right idea!! After visiting various points, including the market at Marigot and Orient Beach, we returned to the ship for lunch before walking downtown to look around the shops (although we are not great shoppers normally).
The next stop was Antigua, where we again went on minibus trip including Nelson's Dockyard and Shirley Heights. We had been there before but it is worth at least a second look and we also went on to a place called the Lookout, which was new to us. We were dropped off at the beach with another couple on the way back and the driver came back two hours later to pick us up.
St Lucia was really good - we had got our act together for once and booked ahead for an island trip with Cosol Tours. We met Cosol, but our driver and guide was Yellow Bird. We tasted wonderful St Lucian food at a private house high up overlooking the sea, passed through villages, went to Soufriere and the sulphur springs (heavens opened while we were there, but it did improve the amount of steam coming out of the vents!), then we were taken in a boat round to a beach between the Pitons for very good snorkelling and swimming. Drinks flowed freely, including rum punch, beer, water and soft drinks. It was a very, very good day. Not cheap (although not as expensive as the ship's trips, of course) but a very full itinerary and worth doing we felt.
In St Vincent we took another minibus trip to the Mesopotamia Valley in the rainforest and then up to Montreal Gardens, a fantastic garden developed by an Englishman called Tim. He was there to welcome us, and our driver, Derek, showed us around - it was a truly wonderful place with fantastic views, lots of colour and a vast range of plants. I have already mentioned our trip in Trinidad - enough said.
Up till this point it had all been marvellous and remained so until we were checked in at the airport and awaiting our flight home. Our 51 hour 53 minute (!) delay has already been mentioned on this site, so I guess you probably know the details (dead plane), but all things considered I think the aircraft ground staff (Sea Princess had already sailed off on her next adventure!) did their best to look after us under difficult conditions, although communication could have been better. But that is always the case in these situations in my experience - it can be very stressful all round. Having been delayed in Bangkok for 8 days in December 2008 when the airport closed, we were better off than many, having been taught the hard way that these things happen and its best to be prepared and just accept them.
All in all a very enjoyable cruise and I was amazed that Princess are no longer doing the direct flight charters to Barbados next season, as there were loads of repeat cruisers and the ship was full. But then again, after our experience with our return charter flight, perhaps they knew something that we didn't!! Read Less