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112 Princess First-Time Cruisers Cruise Reviews

First, let me say thank you to all of you for the posts you provided. The information was so helpful to us! This was our first cruise. We were traveling as one couple in our late 30s, a woman in her late 70s in a scooter/wheelchair and a ... Read More
First, let me say thank you to all of you for the posts you provided. The information was so helpful to us! This was our first cruise. We were traveling as one couple in our late 30s, a woman in her late 70s in a scooter/wheelchair and a woman in her 50s. The ship We loved the Sapphire. On our cruise you could spread out and always find a spot that didn't feel too crowded. It looks a little las vegas-y or 1980s, but I think that is just how many cruise ships look. It was extremely clean. The service I travel every week and have stayed at various Ritz properties, Four Seasons, etc. The staff on this ship provided service equal to or above that level. I knew we were not on a luxury ship, however I felt as if we were by the service. Our steward, Rod, cleaned both of our rooms every time we left (several times a day). He provided us anything we asked for. We only tipped after service. My grandmother tipped ahead, and we saw no difference in service - to settle the great debate on this board. Food Every night we put a sign on the door with what we wanted and it was always delivered on time, sometimes ahead. We tipped about $2 per time. We wrote in times for delivery if we wanted it delivered earlier (as early as 5:30 am). I wrote in bagel, cream cheese, even salmon, and it was delivered. We did the champagne breakfast one morning (32 for two) and it was great on the balcony during the Tracy Arm part of the trip. Really enjoyed this. We did anytime dining and only ate at the buffet a couple of times. We all agreed that buffet was mediocre at best and quite a pain. We avoided it at all costs. That being said, we made reservations at different restaurants each morning and always got a reservation. We ate at Vivaldi, Savoy, Pacific Moon, and Santa Fe. We ate breakfast and lunch at International. We liked Santa Fe best overall. The food in the dining room is good, not the best we've ever had, but they try really hard and all in all, it is quite good. The buffet, however, we found quite poor. Friday night was lobster night and we had Baked Alaska as well, really enjoyed. Again, not the best we'd ever had, but pretty good. We purchased champagne, wine, mixed drinks. Very fair prices. For example 70 for a bottle of Veuve Clicquot, which is 40 at the liquor store, pretty fair restaurant price. Service was usually very good. The rooms We were in A306, while the rest of our family was in A302 (a handicapped room for her wheelchair). Lots of storage, very surprised. Great tip to put suitcases under the beds! Also great tip on the clothes pins for the shower. In our room, the non-handicapped room, the showers were very small and we found the clothespins helped. The balconies definitely had room for 2 chairs and a table. A302 had room for 4 chairs (do not reserve this, please, unless you need a handicapped room). Excursions We reserved all with the ship because of my grandmother in a portable wheel chair. We thought big groups were best. This really worked well for us. We thought they were all great. Ketchican - we did a city tour, which included saxman, salmon, something else? For this one, I would suggest you take the free shuttle or a taxi and go see these yourselves. I really didn't see a huge benefit to the tour and they were all wheelchair accessible. We took a cab afterwards and went to a great restaurant/lodge with a view, took a $2 tram down to the city and then shopped. We walked back to the ship. In Juneau, we did whale watching and salmon bake. We enjoyed both. The whale watching was a do not miss. We probably saw 50 whales! There was an indoor area for my grandmother where she could sit. In fact, many did. We even saw eagles, and a sea lion eating a fish, eagle stole the fish, flew away and dropped fish! Really amazing. Salmon bake was cute, but identical to the one we did the next day in Skagway (we would've skipped one, I think). In Skagway, we did the deluxe city tour which included the train (amazing), salmon bake, and brothel (just OK). I would highly recommend the train. Our bus driver, Thomas, was great. Victoria - we just walked around. It was a little cold in the evening for my grandmother. Traveling with disabilities Everyone on this trip was amazing with my grandmother. She is mobile and actually in very good shape. However, due to an injury, she has some issues standing or walking any distance, so she needed a way to get around on excursions, the boat, and some assistance in the shower (since she can't stand well). We reserved a scooter from Special Needs at Seas. Well worth it! She used it every day. We brought a portable wheel chair which we used to get her on and off the boat and on tours. Someone always helped her on/off the boat and they did it well. We always tipped them. Every bus, shuttle, etc. was very helpful and took her portable wheelchair. She can walk a few steps, so not all these tours are wheel chair friendly. I wouldn't recommend the brothel for someone with disabilities. There were stairs and it was quite taxing on her. She did it, though! The bathroom in her room was ideal with a fold down seat and lots of room. One issue was that she couldn't go everywhere on the ship on her own, like the buffet or pizza or grill, because the deck doors did not open unless you physically pushed them and she couldn't. Packing We did not use bug spray. We were very covered up so didn't really see where they could bite us! We did bring rain coats, very good idea. We definitely got some rain. For people who are older, bring lots of layers, winter coats, etc. My grandmother did get cold, but fortunately, between her coat, several sweaters, she was OK. The damp air makes it feel colder, I think. Entertainment None of us enjoyed the musicals. We thought it was really sub-par talent. Then again, we've never been on a cruise, but nothing as good as what we would pay for at a theater. One comedian was awful (we walked out due to all the burp and fart jokes his dummy made - my 7 yr old nephew would have liked it). One was hilarious. Lots of jokes about the cruise. Misc With a wheelchair, boarding the ship was a breeze. We were on quickly and got our luggage quickly. We packed 6 bottles of wine in a back pack, no problem. We had a driver from the Marriott waterfront and we used him again on the way back, Usef. He made it a breeze. Disembarkation was easy as well. Based on your room level/floor, you are dispersed to different lounges. You wait there and then you get off at the assigned time. Ours was navy, so we were 9:30, I think. We just put our bags out the night before with the tags they provided, went to bed, ate breakfast in the dining room and went to the lounge. We just left the scooter in the room for special needs at sea. Very easy! We had someone help us pick up our bags from luggage claim. They were all right there. We gave him a few bucks a bag, and he helped us to Usef, our driver. All in all, it was a wonderful trip. We highly recommend the Sapphire and the trip! Read Less
Sail Date August 2010
We sailed on Golden Princess to Alaska on 10th July 2010. We are a group of six people from Hong Kong: my father and mother-in-laws both over 70s; my sister and bro-in-law near 45s, myself and DW near our 40s. This was the first cruise for ... Read More
We sailed on Golden Princess to Alaska on 10th July 2010. We are a group of six people from Hong Kong: my father and mother-in-laws both over 70s; my sister and bro-in-law near 45s, myself and DW near our 40s. This was the first cruise for the rest but the fourth cruise for me and DW. We sailed before on Princess, NCL America and Celebrity. We flew in one day early to Seattle so mom and dad could visit a friend. We stayed with them for one night. On the day of the cruise they took us to Pikes Market for a visit before sending us off at Pier 91. Boarding was easy. We arrived at Pier 91 at about 11:30am and boarded the ship at about 12pm. Thanks to the tips by people on this board we went to Donatello and were served lunch there. A good start. DW and I then bought a coffee card, $27 for 15 coffees. We think this is a bargain. As the ship sailed towards Juneau on the sea day we experienced quite rough weather. I think this was the roughest I have experienced on a cruise ship as I was rocking in my bed. Weather was not fine but somehow Princess thought it was a good idea to show the Soccer World Cup Final at MUTS. So all the soccer fans braved the weather on deck to watch the game. After the final whistle everyone left as soon as they could for some hot drink. The day before they showed the third place game in Vista Lounge. I wonder why they couldn't do the same for the final? My dad and mom-in-laws played the slot machines in the casino while we watched the soccer game. Princess now has this play with your cruise card facility which is ok but quite tricky (too many steps) for older people to use. It will be better to just allow people to play with cash. The sea day was also my bro-in-law's birthday. Despite my repeated efforts to get some balloons on his stateroom door, including calling at the service desk, nothing happened. Next day as we arrived in Juneau we had much calmer waters and actually we thought we saw an orca as we sailed in. At Juneau we just bought a $14 per person return bus ticket locally to visit Mendenhall Glacier. Then we went to Tracy's King Crab Shack, just next to the library for some delicious crab bisque and crab leg. The crab bisque there is unbelievably good! Princess was not to be out done and served up crab leg for appetizer at dinner. Next day we got to Skagway. We joined the "Experience the Yukon" tour offered by Princess ($99). When we left the ship our tour bus was full, so they sent us on to another tour bus which I believe was for Diamond Princess passengers, as both Golden and Diamond were in port on the same day. The driver/guide is a college student who grew up here, he is studying in Utah but lives here in the summer and drives the bus as a summer job. He has a good deal of local knowledge and we enjoyed the tour. Carcross in Yukon is quite interesting. When we last came in 2005 we took the train to Fraser and back without getting off, that was quite fun but we agree this tour is much more interesting. At night we ate at Sabatini and it was such a good dining experience. Next day was Glacier Bay. Weather was gloomy with light rain. In 2005 we went to Tracy Arm but we did not get in far enough to see the Sawyer Glaciers. This time we chose to go Glacier Bay based on most board members advice. We arrived at Margerie Glacier at about 9am. As it was raining and we didn't have rain coats, I took some of the board members' advice to view the glacier from deck 7. It was a good move as it was much less crowded and the above deck sheltered us from the rain. We saw some calving and the ship spent an hour there. Then the ship moved to Johns Hopkins Glacier. But it stopped someway away from it and did not get close, offering us only a distant view. As the ship sailed out of Glacier Bay in the afternoon, some humpback whales were there and everyone climbed on deck to see them. Next morning we got to Ketchikan. We did not join any tour and walked the short walk to Creek Street by ourselves. After that we took the bus to Wal-Mart and bought some souvenirs there. The prices there were much better than those in town. For example, the same "Deadliest Catch" T-shirt sold for about $17 in town but only $12 in Wal-Mart. We left the port at about 12pm. On the last day, we sailed towards Victoria for the whole day, we booked early dinner at 17:30 so we could then go ashore at 20:00. We bought the $7 bus transfer to town. Here both US dollar and Canadian dollars are accepted at 1:1 exchange rate. We took some photos, visited the night market, bought a few souvenirs then returned to the ship. Next morning we had breakfast in the dining room before disembarking at 8:30am. My sis and bro-in-law were staying in town for one night before flying home, while the rest of us were flying to San Diego at 1:30pm. We all left for my sis' hotel (Quality Inn) from the port. We took two taxis for the six of us and both taxis together it costed us about $23 only. We dropped our bags at the hotel then walked to the Space Needle for a visit. We took a taxi from the hotel at 11:30am to go to the airport. It costed $45 for all 4 of us including luggage, not a bad deal and much cheaper than using a Princess transfer. All in all, a very good cruise. Golden is a very nice ship, my in-laws all enjoyed the experience very much. But I would not recommend the Seattle return itinierary. If you have to do a return itinierary, choose Vancouver even if you have to go there by bus from Seattle. Not only will you sail east of Vancouver Island, where the route is much calmer and more scenic, you also avoid visiting Victoria at dinner time. Victoria is nice but it is not Alaska and you cannot do the town justice by visiting it at dusk for 3 hours. I personally think the Zuiderdam of Holland America has the best return itinierary from Vancouver. It not only visits Glacier Bay but also Tracy Arm because it can strike Victoria off its ports list. Read Less
Sail Date July 2010
We just returned from our first cruise: Inside Passage of Alaska, on the Sapphire Princess, round-trip from Seattle. We had a wonderful time and plenty of activities for all ages. Two parents, two boys, ages 7 and 14. First, we packed ... Read More
We just returned from our first cruise: Inside Passage of Alaska, on the Sapphire Princess, round-trip from Seattle. We had a wonderful time and plenty of activities for all ages. Two parents, two boys, ages 7 and 14. First, we packed light. One suitcase and one backpack for each. There are pros and cons. This meant we didn't pack formal wear for dining, so we can't comment on that. It was also a minor challenge for souvenirs. But it saved us hassle at the airport and made disembarkation a breeze. It also probably kept us from going overboard with the souvenirs. I might change the selection of clothes that we brought. We packed for layering due to the changing weather, which worked well. I tried to bring some nice clothes for dinners, but I could have used more casual clothing. Note: it rains a lot in SE Alaska in the summer (thus the rain forest near Mendenhall Glacier!). It's cool most of the time, so bring 2-3 pairs of long pants. Laundry on board is fine, but beat the rush on Fri! We flew into Seattle on a Sat, day before the cruise. I think the entire flight was people going on cruises. Flew on Southwest, and got yet another surly, antagonistic flight attendant. We're done flying 'LUV'. We stayed the night at Springhill Suites, had a small but nice pool, good breakfast. Easy walk to Whole Foods for dinner. Got to the pier just a few minutes after 11am. That seemed like a good time, b/c we flew thru the lines, and the Princess attendants were friendly and guided us along easily. We also got to lunch early, and seemed to be ahead of the crowds for much of that morn. Our cabin was a mini-suite, and it was fabulous. We splurged given this was our first trip, and our first vacation in a few years. Plenty of room for adults and kids, and the bathroom was plenty spacious. The balcony was great, and we used it often thru the week. One thing we noticed was that it was "sell, sell, sell" on the ship, especially at the beginning. We got approached 4 times at lunch for buying Soda passes, then it was smoothie passes, then it was a liqueur w/ a souvenir shot glass, we got sold heavily when touring the spa, we got sold on everything. Ugh. Anyway, we hardly drink soda at home so why add those extra calories, all for an additional $63/person! We did purchase some services from the spa. We purchased access to the thermal grotto for the week ("on sale") and enjoyed it well enough. The heated beds were nice, and the steam room was better than those available in the other area. The sauna was "gentle" which didn't seem that useful. The gym on the ship was well stocked with equipment and very good. My wife enjoyed her treatments. Both boys participated in the kids' activities. We ate all meals as a family, and did all of our excursions together, so the kids were only there for a few hours on some days. Our 14 year old was headed there as much as he could, to be with new friends and he liked the activities. Our 7 year old is more of an introvert; he didn't want to go at first, but never complained. However, by the time we'd pick him up, he didn't want to leave. You can register the kids after the first day, which was good for us. We were overwhelmed that first day: lunch, a "scavenger hunt" with prizes afterward (worth doing to learn the ship) and then just resting. The food was as good as advertised. We ate most meals in the Horizon Court buffet; there was always something that appealed to our tastes. However, the seating/beverage service was terrible! The staff was friendly, but really didn't seem organized, and often didn't know what to do. We ate at the Santa Fe grill for dinner a few times. The service was very good, and the food likewise. Other activities for us on-board included an art lecture (fair), ping-pong (often busy), and lots of trivia games. The daytime prizes for trivia were, uhm, modest. I thought the day they gave lanyards was a bit sad. The evening trivia games included a bottle of champagne for the winners. Alas we never won those. Regardless they were fun, the staff was engaging, and we met some nice fellow passengers. For the excursions, we did several. First, we highly recommend the Back Country Zodiac Expedition, put on by Ketchikan Outdoors. The staff couldn't have been nicer and the trip was fantastic. The kids had fun, we saw wildlife, and got a feel for what a true rustic shelter would be like. We did get lucky w/ a perfect day, not only sun but NO WIND. Apparently, this is rare. Even so, the company provided more than adequate gear for whatever weather. Shopping is nice here, but be careful, prices were often lowest in Juneau. Juneau was good, but a bit misleading. We docked from 2pm-10pm, and that seems like lots of time. But, buses to the glacier stop running at 6pm, and local museums and other sites close by 5pm. So, you really have most of the time to hit bars/restaurants, which wasn't our preference. Mendenhall Glacier was fantastic, and our driver took the time to stop so we could see the salmon run (just started that day). Skagway is a very small tourist town. Check out the National Park center and their movie. Also, Jewell Gardens is worth it. We went to a show/salmon bake at Liarsville, and thought it to be ho-hum. Wouldn't recommend it. In Victoria we visited Craigdarroch Castle. It's really more of a large stone house, but good to see history. Very attractive. Our disembarkation at this port was delayed quite a bit, so it got dark on the bus tour following the castle. Seemed like a nice place. Read Less
Sail Date July 2010
Andy & I are both suffering from withdrawal & PCD. It was a bitter blow to discover we were not able to take the ship's staff home with us - not Allan, our perpetually smiling steward, or our favorite wait staff. So with no ... Read More
Andy & I are both suffering from withdrawal & PCD. It was a bitter blow to discover we were not able to take the ship's staff home with us - not Allan, our perpetually smiling steward, or our favorite wait staff. So with no one to wait on us hand & foot & anticipate our every need we're a little grumpy. I can't say that we met anyone in a bad mood or acted discourteously, staff or guests. Even though we were warned, we discovered we were unprepared for the actual physical size of the ship. As a new member and avid reader of Cruise Critic, I was very excited in anticipation of actually meeting some of the folks whose posts and reviews I have so enjoyed. My first big mistake was in not printing out the locations for the sail-away party and meet and greet. I bought the mardi gras beads and wore them around for two days before giving up. Even so I believe it was one of the best vacations we have ever had. The food was to die for and it was literally all over the place. We fell into a routine of breakfast at the Horizon Buffet where i pigged out on the fresh fruits and Omelette's. Andy never forgoing his morning workout just had juice. They also offered corned beef hash, kippered herring and smoked salmon. Lunch was a new place everyday.I especially enjoyed the International Cafe with choices of different cold salads, croissants and of course the famous cookies, cakes, ice cream and sorbets. The coffee bar right next to it made it perfect. I must say that the coffee and tea served in the dining room and buffet was pretty much undrinkable. Dinner was usually in the dining room. We had anytime dining and never had to wait more than five minutes for a table. We met a lot of lovely people and enjoyed the excellent food along with the ambiance. Oh, I must not forget afternoon tea where cucumber sandwiches were served along with the cookies and scones. I had tasted scones before and always wondered what all the fuss was about. Now I know. They were served piping hot and were crumbly on the outside and melt in your mouth tender on the inside. There were several trivia contests each day some of which found us teaming with a Missouri couple and their two lovely daughters. We went to a wine tasting and no sommelier ever has to worry about losing a job to either of us. The evening entertainment was fair, to good part of the time. A little disappointing overall. The excursions offered something unique in each one which I will talk about later. We spent the week in a floating palace, eating like kings and being waited on hand and foot. What's not to like? Read Less
Sail Date July 2010
Apart from a one-way trip on the QEII to New York this was our first proper cruise and we thoroughly enjoyed it. The Grand Princess visited seven west Mediterranean ports in a fortnight. Firstly, the good points: - We were advised of ... Read More
Apart from a one-way trip on the QEII to New York this was our first proper cruise and we thoroughly enjoyed it. The Grand Princess visited seven west Mediterranean ports in a fortnight. Firstly, the good points: - We were advised of embarkation times at Southampton of 1 - 3 pm, but not to arrive until 2 pm to avoid queues. We spent 30 minutes sitting in the car in the traffic queue at the terminal, and a further 90 minutes queuing for passport and boarding detail checks. The timing was fortuitous because earlier arrivals claimed to have spent at least two hours in the queue. We were on board by 4.05 pm with a further 30 minutes of queue behind us, and were just in time to hear the closing words from the emergency lifeboat drill being broadcast over the public address system. A cabin notice informed us that the lifeboat drill instructions would be repeated for late arrivals. Fortunately this never took place and so saved valuable time, a well judged decision by the captain as we did not need to act on this drill during the cruise. On reaching our cabin we discovered that the WC did not flush. The stewardess said this had already been reported before the ship berthed and she thought it now fixed. It took several phone calls and robust exchanges with the Purser's Desk to establish that we considered a working WC a necessity. By 11 pm that evening the problem had been speedily and partially solved, and with hindsight gave us some needed exercise as we had a 100m walk along the corridor and down to a lower deck to use public toilets. The WC failed again a few days later, but was fixed the same day. Explanations were extremely ingenious and reflected great creativity on the part of the staff, varying from "Our technical team are looking at it", to "It's not our fault" (this last comment clearly established for us that blame for a non-working WC lies with the passengers). We discovered later that mention of the word 'compensation' sometimes achieves an even faster response. We had elected to make use of the two 'Any-Time' restaurants. This great flexibility meant we could go to the restaurants for the evening meal between 5.30 and 10.00 pm. The head waiter would then find a table, and as a group of four we were given one to ourselves on almost every occasion. The first two meals found us in a door queue that varied between 10 and 15 minutes long, but we solved this by dining later, from 8.15 pm onwards, by which time the queues had disappeared. Shipboard definitions apply in the restaurants: a 9.30 pm finish means the waiters prefer you out of the restaurant by 9.30 pm, and not that this is the time for last orders. There was also a good 24-hour self-service restaurant, but at peak times the crowd of passengers at each food counter meant that the food could get cold by the time you were back at your table. The food was superb in all restaurants and was certainly 5-star compared to the cabin accommodation which is nearer 3-star (although it has to be said that the cabins and en suite are extremely ingeniously laid out). The waiters were always very helpful and speedy and sported useful lapel badges giving name and nationality, and this positive attitude from the friendly and efficient staff was general throughout the ship. An insoluble challenge proved to be finding towel-free sun-loungers on deck after 8 am in the morning. Occasionally towels began to disappear from 4.30 pm and by 6 pm sun-loungers became pretty free, as they were of course on overcast days. This inability to sunbathe until early evening is reassuring if you worry about solar skin cancer, and should recommend the cruise to you. We saw a note that towels would be removed from sun-loungers if unattended for half-an-hour but this was never applied by the deck attendants. Maybe it's a good case for booking cabins with balconies on the sunny side of the ship. By contrast the two shipboard theatres were full on only one occasion and when seats were available the shows were all varied and excellent. We went ashore at every port and found it easy to arrange our own transport, so we experienced ship-arranged excursions on only one occasion. Tender vessels were used at two ports and there was a longish wait with these unless you left your departure until about 10:30 am. Some of the ports are a long way from the major towns or places of tourist interest so each of the tours and shore excursions seemed expensive at £50 to £350 per couple. It would have been very useful for planning if we'd had information about each of the excursions before boarding the ship but this was not forthcoming from the travel agent (Gill's Cruise Centre). Another distinctive feature was the three power cuts suffered by the ship in the 14 days aboard. These power cuts only lasted about 10 minutes so we considered ourselves fortunate, and they were hardly long enough to upset claustrophobia sufferers caught in an elevator in one of these outages. It was comforting to hear the captain announce that although we had lost electrical power the ship, with its electric motors, was in no danger. Our 4-strong party shared two cabins but these were not assigned until we had paid the fare, and although we asked that they be adjacent, we found that they were more than 20 cabins apart, albeit on the same deck. I realised later that this approach, far from being a disadvantage, was a great boon for mothers with young children or couples perhaps with elderly parents aboard. This "no guarantee" of adjacent cabins means that parents can have restful nights away from noisy children or over-demanding grandparents and this could clearly lead to relaxed holidays. Some 90% of the passengers were British with a few Americans (these figures are reversed on Caribbean cruises I understand), the facilities for disabled people appeared excellent and there were very few schoolchildren on board since the schools were not on vacation. Secondly, were there any bad points? Very few indeed. There is a restriction on bringing alcohol on board other than one bottle of wine, but the rule was not rigidly applied. In summary: An interesting experience; with first class facilities many of which were overcrowded; the food was superb; the staff are outstanding, helpful and friendly. Who would the cruise benefit? Certainly those with a big appetite, who like good food; those who enjoy queuing; disabled people; and especially those with their own porta-loo and sun-lounger. Will we go on another trip like this? Probably - but perhaps I think we will allow time for this one to wear off first. Read Less
Sail Date June 2010
We flew into Copenhagen (over the cloud of ash, which added 1.5 hours to our flight from Newark). We spent a very cold, rainy, windy day touring Frederiksborg Castle and Copenhagen before embarking. The fabulous news was that we had been ... Read More
We flew into Copenhagen (over the cloud of ash, which added 1.5 hours to our flight from Newark). We spent a very cold, rainy, windy day touring Frederiksborg Castle and Copenhagen before embarking. The fabulous news was that we had been upgraded to a balcony stateroom. This made a huge difference every day of our cruise and we would never consider cruising again without a balcony. Day 2 was spent at sea learning which stairway and which elevator went where. We never did completely learn this. Day 3 saw the Star Princess trying to get close to Stockholm in DENSE fog. We knew the ship didn't dock near downtown Stockholm but waiting to board a tender, perhaps a 20 minute boat ride, then walking to the train station for a one hour ride (with a train change), before we finally arrived in Stockholm's train station was not easy nor quick. Then we had trouble finding Bus #47 to take us to the Vasa Museum, where we then waited in line 45 minutes. The Museum was great but that is the only place we got to see as our time had run out. Moral: take a Princess excursion to maximize your time and what you see. Day 4 - Helsinki - fabulous. Followed Rick Steves' advice on what to see and do and it was perfect. Too bad the "incredible views" of the voyage from Stockholm to Helsinki were obliterated by the fog. Hop on/Hop off bus tour was perfect. Cafe Kappeli is lovely and worth the visit. Cafe Esplanade's "famous cinnamon rolls" are A+. Day 5 + 6 - St. Petersburg. Ok, this is where we ran into trouble. We'd booked a 2-day tour with Den Rus Ltd. Tours and this was fine, although I didn't know that "good" was 2 syllables ("goo duh"). Still Anna's English is a million times better than my Russian and she was very enthusiastic and informative. The tour was very comprehensive, the lunches were great, and we completely enjoyed both days. The Den Rus Evening of Russian Ballet ended up being PAINFULLY poor dancing, mediocre surroundings (think high school auditorium), nice costumes, and good music (Swan Lake). When we complained we were told that the dancers were not students. I guess they flunked out. (I've never seen even a mid-level student in the chorus run into another dancer - before this! Also I took 8 years of ballet so know a little bit about it.) Den Rus maintains that this was an acceptable ballet for the price of $138. We would rather pay a lot more and get something we could like. If you want to see ballet in St. Pete make sure it is quality (like at the Marinski Theatre)or stay on the ship as we were told the Russian evening (folk dancing and ballet) were excellent. The Russian White Nights were beginning so we had daylight until about 1am and then again at 4am. (These times are approximate as they were times we were up.) Perhaps the daylight lasted even longer. Either way, it was neat to see! Day 7 - Tallinn. Great!Took a lot of photos. Missed the Kiek in de Kok (Peek in the Kitchen)museum but did tour the Museum of Occupation (quite a walk to it). Follow Rick Steves' walking tour and you'll see everything. No tour needed. Day 8 - Gdansk - We signed up for the bus ride from the ship to town, which was smart. Definitely no tour/excursion needed. Don't miss the waffles! Just follow the locals and then eat them like you would an apple - no plate or fork! Day 9 - at sea. We skipped the second formal night. Enjoyed the spa. Day 10- Oslo - We took the Princess excursion to the 3 museums: Kon Tiki, Fram, and Viking Ship Museum. Great to have someone else figure out where we were supposed to go, what we should see, etc. as we were tired by this time. Were shocked at how expensive everything was. Star Princess: Excellent food, whether on the buffet or in the dining rooms. No need to pay for their specialty restaurants. Room service menu selection was poor, though. Princess Patter (daily newsletter) was of some help except the weather section. We didn't care what the average winter temperatures in Helsinki were. We would have preferred a more helpful weather forecast for when we were there. Information in it was often too late - it warned us of alcohol in Russia AFTER we had been there one day, it told us we'd be charged for anything we drank out of the refrigerator on the FOURTH day (after we had figured out that the water in the refrigerator was complimentary and had drunk it), etc. Also the advice on tipping was wrong for almost every port. Again, check Rick Steves for accurate info - 20% is UNHEARD of in the Baltic - except by Princess Patter! We made a point to get to every John Lawrence talk on an upcoming port. We even bought his DVD at the end of the cruise and have had a great time playing it. His shopping advice seemed right on. Things we learned as first time cruisers: Take an electric toothbrush base with LED light or a night light so you can use the bathroom in the middle of the night without killing yourself. The anytime dining gave us maximum flexibility and the chance to meet more people at dinner. The more countries = the more money you lose exchanging currency constantly. Let the ship's photographer snap your picture each time you disembark. They were our best photos of the 2 of us. Be well rested before you embark. Plan on $100/person/day in extras like excursions, cocktails, photos, spa treatments, and any special (as in additional) tips. Check your bill before you leave the boat!!! (Read between the lines, here.) Read Less
Sail Date May 2010
This being our first cruise, perhaps our expectations were too high. We are a Canadian couple in our early 30s used to doing backpack and resort types of vacations, but wanted to experience something different and a bit more luxurious. ... Read More
This being our first cruise, perhaps our expectations were too high. We are a Canadian couple in our early 30s used to doing backpack and resort types of vacations, but wanted to experience something different and a bit more luxurious. We started our vacation a week early and went to London, Marseille and then on to Barcelona. We spent 2 days in Barcelona before the cruise and absolutely adored the city. We used a service called Homelidays, staying in an individual's apartment instead of a traditional hotel. Helped save costs and was a very nice place overall. Embarkation Since we're used to walking, we trekked - luggage in tow - from the Drassanes metro stop to the pier. It was long (about 45 minutes), but good exercise! We finally got to the pier at about 2:30 and it was packed. So much for Princess suggesting we arrive after 2 p.m. to avoid the lineups; we waited almost an hour, but only because there was only one security scanner open when we got there and it takes time to get everyone through! Once through security though, the actual check in process was smooth and easy. Stateroom We took an obstructed OV cabin to get at least a little light in. Surprisingly, we still had a great view from our room. The cabin was spacious and kept very clean by our steward Enrique, who was very helpful and friendly. Dining Our first meal once on board was quite good, and we were in high spirits as well as in awe over how beautiful all the common areas were. Within a few minutes though, the very annoying trend started... and continued throughout the cruise. We were asked 8 times (I counted) whether we wanted to buy something to drink. We bought two coffee cards and signed up for wine tasting, but that was it. We drink little alcohol and do not like pop, so other than coffee, all we typically drink is water. Got the impression that the wait staff did not like this as I think they get some kind of commission on their sales. Questions like "How come you don't want alcohol?" were really improper and made us feel like we HAD to buy something. We had signed up for anytime dining, and ordered a bottle of wine. As we didn't finish it the first night, we asked for it the second and the waiter looked annoyed that we were asking for the previous night's bottle rather than ordering another one. Service was rushed and impersonal the first two nights so we decided to switch to traditional dining. Really cannot compare the service we received those first two nights from the wait staff (including the snobby and rude Maitre D in the Da Vinci dining room) to all the staff we encountered in the traditional dining Botticelli the rest of the cruise. In traditional, everyone really is much more service oriented, friendly and go out of their way to assist. We were seated with two Chilean couples who were extremely nice, but given the fact our Spanish is limited, discussion was a bit rough. Since it was the third night, we did not think it appropriate to ask to change tables so we made due. It was still an enriching experience and made us practice another language so can't complain on that front. On to the food. On the positive side, I have a somewhat weak stomach and can proudly say that it was the first time I was on a trip and did not get some sort of stomach ailment. On the negative side, food was pretty bland and typically looked a lot better than it tasted. Food was my biggest disappointment on the ship. We are not picky eaters, but I guess we were expecting something better. Vegetables in particular were so salty I couldn't eat them half the time (and I love salt!) Meat was always perfectly cooked though, but oftentimes the cuts weren't the best. We went to Sabatini's one night and very much enjoyed, but realized that the quality of the food we got there was what we had been expecting throughout the ship. There was a major "mass produced" feel to everything that was served everywhere else. We typically had lunch off the ship or skipped it altogether depending on when we had breakfast. However the buffets seemed pretty limited most of the time (we've had better selection in Cuba!) but certainly sufficient and great for salads. Breakfast buffets were similar, but again, there is no way anyone can go hungry on this ship. You will always find something at least somewhat decent. The only annoying part about breakfast was the wait staff constantly coming by asking if you wanted to buy a bottle of water for your excursions. Given how much we pay for a cruise, I would expect one bottle of water per stateroom at least would be included each day. So not the case. Activities and entertainment We did trivia a few times (we're not too good!), I played bingo once (and won!), watched a couple of movies and attended the beginning of a couple of shows, but that's pretty much it. Because we had selected the 2nd seating, we were usually too tired to take in much of the entertainment. Of what we did see, everything seemed good, not spectacular, but certainly entertaining. Excursions We did not do any Princess excursions as we had already been to a number of the ports and typically prefer to do everything on our own. We found the prices way too expensive overall (in our opinion), but if it had been our first time in Italy for example, we probably would have done a couple of tours. Disembarkation Very stress free, probably because we did the express walk off with our luggage. We left the ship in Venice at about 7:45 and headed to the "People Mover" - essentially a tram that doesn't go very far - to Piazzale Roma (1 euro), then bought bus tickets to the airport (3.8 euros per person). The bus ride was quick, only about 20 minutes, and uneventful. Summary We enjoyed our first experience on board a ship, but think any other cruise will be on a smaller ship. We felt too much like we were just a number most of the time on the Ruby. We had selected this cruise based on the itinerary, and on that side, we were quite pleased, but would have liked more time in certain ports. Given that we like to immerse ourselves in a culture and city when we visit new places, we realized that a Mediterranean cruise was perhaps not the best option for us due to the short amount of time you spend in port. It is, however, excellent if all you want is a taste of a city or to see just a few key sites you've always wanted to go to. We preferred the places where we got to spend more time (i.e. Barcelona and Venice)... as well as our favorite city in Italy: Naples. Read Less
Sail Date May 2010
Shore Excursions: I spent months researching the ports for this cruise. I focused on art, architecture, history, and gelato for my daughter. I downloaded the shore excursion brochure from Princess to compare costs and places to visit with ... Read More
Shore Excursions: I spent months researching the ports for this cruise. I focused on art, architecture, history, and gelato for my daughter. I downloaded the shore excursion brochure from Princess to compare costs and places to visit with what I could get from a private tour. Without exception, private tours were the way to go; they were always cheaper (there were four of us, me(42), my husband (41), my daughter (9), and my mother-in-law (72)). I contacted the companies by email several months before, and asked for prices and itinerary. This is what we came up with: Florence: We hired a driver for Florence (the difference between a driver and a guide in Italy is that a driver just takes you places, a guide is licensed by Italy to take you into places and describe them to you.); we hired a driver because some dork at Princess decided it would be okay to descend in Florence on the one day the museums are closed. We didn't need a guide. We went with Guido at Tuscany in my pocket. It was 490Euro, not including tip, and I have to say that I have never met anyone who loved their job and their city more. He picked us up at the dock and drove us into Florence; he also drove into the city, which the tour buses could not do, and it saved us hours and hours of walking. He drove us right up to places. I actually joked that he had reserved parking and I started calling him The King of Florence. He was just a delight. info@tuscanyinmypocket.com Rome: We walked to the train station from the pier and bought our own train ticket into Rome. The tickets were 9Euro each - that was for round trip, and unlimited use of the metro while in Rome. Princess was selling train tickets for 79 dollars each! For the train, you can get off at St. Peter's and see the Vatican first thing, or you can go to the heart of Rome and get off at Termini. Termini was very crowded and very busy and if you don't need to go there, then don't. I would suggest getting off at St. Peter's. We hired a local company to give us a tour while in Rome. Even after copious research, the tour was a bust: the guide was excellent and knew a staggering amount of history but we had a serious miscommunication with the front office and I would not use them again. And I would not recommend them. Naples: My favorite day. This day is the closest to heaven I've ever been. We by-passed Naples altogether and hired a driver to take us to Sorrento and Positano. Everything about this tour was perfect. Our driver Fabrizio Fiorinelli was perfect; he knew when to talk and when to let us enjoy the view, he knew when to leave us to shop and how long we needed, and the personal touches just brought tears to my eyes. Once when we were taking pictures, he disappeared. Turns out he was buying a bag of cherries for us - and having them washed - just because he overheard my daughter wonder if Italian cherries were as good as Washington state cherries (they are!). He gave us time to dip our feet in the Mediterranean, and allowed time for my daughter to look for sea glass. The restaurant he took us to for lunch was ..... I can't even describe it well. All I can say is we had a table by the window, the window was open - no screens, no bugs - there were tera cota pots filled with red geraniums on the window sill, and the table cloths were starched white. The house wine was the best I've ever had and the food was ..... so amazing. The name of the restaurant was da Costantino. It was so amazing it will make you weep with joy. I don't know the address, but it's right on the main curvy road. . We paid 20 Euro each for .. probably 8 courses, including wine, lemoncello, espresso, and tears at the door when we had to leave. I was seriously asking the owner if I could stay and work for him if he would just feed me. I lost my mind and didn't want to leave. The Cruise in General: The Good Stuff: Movies Under The Stars: A warm blanket, a huuuuge screen, really good popcorn, and the deck attendant comes by later with warm cookies and milk. One night - my birthday - we went to the 24 hour buffet and brought back a dinner plate of desserts and three forks. My husband, my daughter, and I had a dessert feast. The movies were well selected, nothing overly violent. Wine: You can order a bottle of wine in any restaurant and if you don't finish it, they will store it for you until you want it again - in any other restaurant. That was way cool. We ordered wine in Michelangelo and the next night we drank the rest at DaVinci. Sometimes we wanted wine, sometimes not, but the waiters always managed to find whatever it was we'd ordered. Afternoon Tea: The tea was really strong and hot. Really good. The music was weird but the whole experience was very civilized. The mini croissant filled with ham is really good, and my husband loved the scones. The Pools/Unpacking Once/Meals on Demand: We were able to see so much more because the boat traveled when we were sleeping. We didn't have to navigate train stations, didn't have to book hotels, didn't waste time getting from place to place. When we were done with a port, we jumped in the pool for a while, and had dinner when we were ready. In the morning, we were refreshed and ready to see something new. That is Very Awesome. (Of course, the price for this is that you have to travel on their schedule. I could have spent a week in Sorrento/Positano, Florence, and Venice and could have skipped Turkey and Monoco altogether.) The Bad Stuff: Photographers: Seriously: I don't need a picture of me getting off the gangplank at every port. What is it that the photographers are trying so hard to capture? When you think about it, it's a gangplank. It's always a gangplank. It looks the same all the time. Shore Excursions: We took two from the boat, one in Athens and one in Istanbul (along with everyone else who was afraid to be on their own in Istanbul). Both were wretched. Picture a hostile tour guide, a very crowded bus, narrow streets with heavy traffic, and 15 other busses, some from other cruise ships, going exactly where you going, and doing exactly what you are doing. Princess does not make it easy to go on your own; they don't give you enough information to get into town on your own, and they don't provide any maps. My advice is to do your research before you go. Book a private tour if you need to, take a taxi or public transportation, but get away from the crowds and explore on your own. Seriously. The What-Were-You-Thinking-Stuff: First, and it has to be said, what moron decided that it would be a good idea to schedule a port call in Florence on a Monday when all the museums are closed?? Yes, we figured a way around it and there are other things to see: art is really everywhere in Florence. But seriously, why should you have to "work around it"? Why not arrange the schedule so we get into port on a Tuesday? Monte Carlo wasn't all that great - we could have skipped that. And oh my goodness, the coffee on board is the worst I've ever had. Boxes of "coffee concentrate" are stored under the counter and whatever that is mixed with hot water and spit into a very small cup. I have never - ever - had worse. Not in an airport, not in a hospital waiting room, not in a college dorm, not anywhere. Even mixing it with an obscene amount of cream didn't fix it; that just made it taste like hot coffee ice cream. Seriously gross. Diet coke: There isn't any. What they have is Coke Light and it is nothing like diet coke. I suggest you try it before shelling out 54 bucks for a soda card because their other selections, too, are severely limited. What I learned on board: Bring a travel alarm clock. There isn't one in the room. Bring a travel mug for tea. Mornings at port are kind of rushed so if you need to relax with tea - or that nasty, nasty coffee - you're going to want a travel mug. Also, the coffee mugs on board are really small. You don't need to buy bottled water, the water from the tap is fine and if you drink that, you save the 4 bucks Princess charges for 1.5 liter of water. The tap water tastes like tap, so if you can't abide that, bring a water bottle that has a portable filter inside. But really, it's fine. Also, at every meal, the waiters will present a bottle of still water and a bottle of carbonated; they are not free. They are presented in such a way as to appear that they are free, and if you want to buy them, that's fine, just know that you are buying them. We stuck with iced tap. If possible, book a room high up with an odd-numbered cabin. The odd-numbered cabins are starboard side and they get a breath-taking view of Venice when the boat enters the Grand Canal. Also, on the last night, they unload the luggage on the Port side and it bangs all night. You don't get as much time in Venice as they say. We arrived at 12:30 or so, and they wanted us off the boat by 8am the next morning. Luggage was supposed to be packed and put outside your door by 7pm. People who had flights out that morning were hustled out even earlier - like pre-dawn, 4 am. Luckily we booked a hotel in Venice and the room was ready early. (I loved that hotel...) Food. Overall, I'd say Princess really tries hard with the food, but they have a lot of people to feed and most of them are eating all the time. The presentation is well done: despite the number of people, the buffets are always clean and the food isn't left to sit out. When a tray is half-empty, it's usually refilled. At breakfast there is a really good fruit selection, and at lunch the salad bar is outstanding. Dinner in the restaurants is well-presented and service is usually pretty fast. (My daughter fell in love with the caesar salad and fettuccini alfredo and had it for dinner for 12 nights.) There were exceptions, however: the beef burgundy served at dinner was gross and the meat was hard and overcooked. The pastries/bread/muffins at breakfast were never flakey, they always seemed a bit damp. Usually, the food was well done and tasted good. Good but not over-the-top outstanding. If you want over-the-top great, eat a meal at port in a good restaurant. The scrambled eggs really are as bad as people say. I didn't think it was possible to mess up scrambled eggs, but they do. They have a weird texture: like a combination of tapioca and sponges. Really gross. Really. Another weird thing was Sabitini's. I was anxious to try it, based on reviews here but I was very disappointed. It wasn't an Italian restaurant were you go in and order off the menu - they had a tasting menu were they brought you a tablespoon of everything they had. Some of it was revolting and after 3 incredible meals in Italy, I really wonder what the chef was thinking. The food at Sabitini's was overdone and fussy; the waiters served everyone in the restaurant from one platter and that was pretty off-putting. I really don't want the leftovers from "table 9". And we didn't have the opportunity to order what we did like, so we left not happy. We ate a lot of bread and wished we were some place else. To sum up, we liked the cruise because it made visiting many places effortless. On our own, our days would have been spent catching trains, checking into hotels, and finding restaurants. On a cruise, that's taken care of. Read Less
Sail Date May 2010
We flew from Phoenix Arizona to San Jaun the day before our cruise left on April 4th. We stayed at the Conrad Hilton which was very close to the Cruise Ships. San Jaun was beautiful and wish we would have planned more days there. The ... Read More
We flew from Phoenix Arizona to San Jaun the day before our cruise left on April 4th. We stayed at the Conrad Hilton which was very close to the Cruise Ships. San Jaun was beautiful and wish we would have planned more days there. The embankment process was very smooth and we were in our room by 2 PM. We booked a class BA balcony room on the Caribe deck which has larger balconies, and it was a very large balcony. The room itself wasn't too bad, but it was pretty small and the bed was bad. The bathroom was very small. We meet another couple which booked a mini suite on the floor below us (9) and it had a real bathroom. The room was worn and did not seem as clean as it should have been. Leaving San Jaun there were a very large number of locals on the ship that got a good deal, I would not leave from San Jaun again. We had anytime dining which worked out great, food in the dining rooms was good, I did not think the buffet food was very good and little variety. Vary limited room service options. The two specialty restaurants were great, very good food. Breakfast was the worst, the dining room was only open from 7am to 9 am for breakfast and the buffet was crowded and the same stuff every day, had to find a place to sit - this was the worst part of the cruise. Pools - very crowed. Spa was nice, though they were very sales orientated - pushy. In general everywhere you went they were trying to get you to buy liquor, especially at dinner. They did have a GLBT get together several nights which was nice. Overall great cruise, I would just choose a smaller ship next time, and leave from a different port. Read Less
Sail Date April 2010
Flew to Los Angeles stayed overnight and joined the Coral Princess on the next day.We had booked an outside cabin with balcony and were not disappointed it was definitely worth the extra cost.Very comfortable cabin with TV,fridge hair ... Read More
Flew to Los Angeles stayed overnight and joined the Coral Princess on the next day.We had booked an outside cabin with balcony and were not disappointed it was definitely worth the extra cost.Very comfortable cabin with TV,fridge hair dryer and safe,large bed,shower room with ample supply of fluffy towels.Rommel our cabin steward was brilliant,he changed towels twice a day,bed linen was also changed every 2nd day and we always had plenty of toiletries.A nice touch was the bowl of fruit and the nightly chocolates on the pillow.The food was very good in the Horizon buffet where we took breakfast and lunch but preferred to eat in the Provence Dining Room for dinner (all waiter service).Excellent waiters,good choice of dishes and food well presented.The only negative comment concerns the time of first sitting it was stated as 6.30pm when we booked the cruise but changed to 5.30pm found this rather early.We enjoyed the three formal evenings and everyone looked very smart it was quite a change to get dressed up also nice to have an official photo taken too.Other evenings were classed as smart casual we thought the daily newsletter was a good idea as you knew what was on and it reminded us which evenings were formal.Choice of entertainment was good two theatres with live shows each night,bands played for dancing,movies under the stars on the horizon deck and a casino.The cruise itinerary was nicely planned with breaks of 1-2 days between Ports of call.You could pre book any shore excursions before leaving home but we managed to book two trips on board.Some excursions were also available with local taxi or bus at the port on the day.All of the drivers know where passengers want to go so its quite easy to negotiate a price for a city tour etc.One tip don't pay until you get back that way they have to return you to the Port gates.Most days Kenneth Williams a Canadian ex teacher gave an interesting talk on each port with photographs and suggested places of interest to visit.We found this was a great help especially if you had not visited any of the areas before.Of course the highlight of the cruise was the day transit of the Panama Canal and we had wonderful sunshine most of the day.The view from our balcony was just perfect to watch the progress through the Canal and we had the TV on so we could listen to the commentary from the bridge by Kenneth Williams the atmosphere on board was one of great excitement. We met some very nice people on board the ship and would definitely travel on the Coral Princess again some repeat passengers mentioned that standards had dropped but we couldn't comment as its our first time. Read Less
Sail Date February 2010
My partner and I (34 and 31, respectively) were on the Caribbean Princess for the Southern Caribbean Explore roundtrip voyage departing from San Juan, Puerto Rico on February 14, 2010, with stops in St. Thomas, Dominica, Grenada, Bonaire, ... Read More
My partner and I (34 and 31, respectively) were on the Caribbean Princess for the Southern Caribbean Explore roundtrip voyage departing from San Juan, Puerto Rico on February 14, 2010, with stops in St. Thomas, Dominica, Grenada, Bonaire, Aruba followed by a day at sea before returning to San Juan on the morning of February 21. It was my better half's second cruise, and my first, so this cruise report is certainly a deeper look at the trip and cruise experience from a beginner's perspective. Embarkation: Embarkation for the Caribbean Princess was smooth and effortless - we had arrived the previous day and spent the night in San Juan at the Caribe Hilton to avoid winter weather delays that snarled much of the country and showed up at the Pan Am Pier terminal shortly after 2 pm. Once we figured out where we needed to drop off our bags and enter the terminal, we didn't encounter any lines and breezed through check-in and were on the ship quickly. Once on board (through deck 7), we made our way to our cabin on the Emerald deck (deck 8). The only hitch was that we had no idea which pier to go to in order to board the ship (Pan Am piers or Old San Juan) - thanks to CruiseCritic we learned the correct pier, and a quick call to the Princess 800 number confirmed it. Also, the cabs were more costly than we had anticipated - a cab from the airport to the hotel was about $26, and so was a cab for the very short ride from the hotel to the ship. Cabin: Despite my desire for a balcony cabin, my partner talked me out of it to take advantage of a great last minute deal on a guaranteed oceanview room. About a week before the cruise we were assigned Room E622 on the port side of the Emerald Deck (deck 8). It was an obstructed oceanview, with one of the larger tenders in front of the window. While it was indeed obstructed, you could still see through the tender and to the side. Having the natural light helped our internal clocks, and I understand other cabins in the same category with the smaller life boats facing them actually had direct views. I have to say, the room was really nice and much larger than I expected. On entering, there is a short hallway to the bedroom area, much like a hotel, with the bathroom tucked away on the left and an open closet area with a shelf bureau and safe at the end. We didn't pack light - three suitcases, a suit bag, two carry-ons and snorkel equipment for two - but storage was absolutely no problem. The bathroom has a smart layout and we had plenty of space for our toiletries. A lot of people have complained about the "clingy" shower curtain, and I am sure the sliding plexiglass shower doors are nicer, but it was never an issue for us. There is one standard outlet (two prong) in the bathroom. Forward of the bathroom and closet space is the ensuite room. The two twins pushed together to make a very spacious and comfortable queen bed with four pillows (we requested extra pillows without a problem). There is a desk/vanity with a hair dryer attached to the wall, phone, and two three-prong plugs. I had read here on Cruise Critic to bring an alarm clock and power bar for extra plugs, and I am glad I did for the two cameras, iPods, laptop, cellphones, etc. If you forget an alarm clock, there is an automated wake-up service through the in-room phone. There are also plenty of mirrors, which make the room feel bigger. The room also had a flat screen TV, with movies, cable programs, ship's bridge camera, bridge station to track movement and speed, even old episodes of the Love Boat (which, admittedly, were neat to watch at night onboard). There was also a chair, small side table, and refrigerator stocked with a bucket of ice and sodas (there is a charge if you drink the sodas). Even so, the fridge easily accommodated two bottles of bubbly we brought aboard - which, is the limit per person to bring aboard. Any liquor is "secured" out of your possession until the end of the cruise when it is returned to you. After checking out the room and ship related reading materials inside, we were pleasantly surprised to find all but one of our pieces of luggage already outside of our door. The last piece was delivered shortly after we left the room to explore the ship and was waiting in the room when we returned. Overall we were extremely pleased with the room -- it was very quiet, right across from the laundry if you needed to iron a few wrinkles out of a shirt, and it's location not far from the elevator or a short walk up the hall to the piazza or down the stairs to the promenade made it extremely convenient. The Ship: My sailing experience up until this point was limited to growing up on the water sailing 30 foot sailboats, so needless to say, the ship was impressive to me. However, despite its large size, I rarely ever felt crowded onboard. Once you mastered the layout, it was easy to navigate. There was rarely a delay waiting for an elevator - although we often chose to use the stairs to burn off some extra cruise calories. Deck 7 is the promenade deck and it is the easiest way to cut forward or aft to navigate the ship if you are below deck 15. Most of the indoor entertainment is located along this deck and lower ones, including the three story piazza towards the front of the ship where passenger services and the boutiques are located. The piazza was a very pleasant gathering area at night or during the day, and forward of the piazza, you'll find the ship's casino and the theater. Walking the promenade at night was a treat, and it was easy to enjoy being close to the water breaking along the ship—for that matter, walking the upper decks was also a delight at night to take in the stars and ocean breezes. From the promenade, you can walk forward and up a flight of stairs to the bow of the ship on deck 8 (although it closes after sunset) for some spectacular views. The dining rooms are located on Decks 6 and 5. Decks 15 and above are where you will find the buffet, outdoor pools, hot tubs, pizza stand, hamburger grill, and ice cream station as well as the sun decks, the Sanctuary, basketball court, teen clubs, etc. The dEcor may not have been the most ornate at sea, but it was tasteful, reserved, appealing to me because it wasn't Las Vegas glitzy like many Carnival ships described and photographed online. My partner thought Princess could spruce up the buffet area, unlike the rest of the ship it looks a little dated and heavy like a Florida community cafeteria. And the reviews are right on navigating the buffet—it is a free for all and there are no formal lines, so don't wait around. As far as exercise, the gym is very impressive and I had no trouble using it. We did take the tour of the spa the first afternoon aboard, and were sorely tempted to sign up for a massage and passes priced at $150 for both of us together to use the saunas, heated loungers, and rainforest showers. But in the end, we knew we wouldn't have the time and the rest of the ship's facilities like the adults only pools and hottubs would fit the bill. Likewise, the Sanctuary looked inviting, but we passed because our own itinerary left us little time to use it. Dining: I have to give high marks to Princess for dining - overall, choices were plentiful and the food was very good. We choose Anytime Dining and it was nice not to be tied down by a set dining time—we found it worked well with our schedules and appetites. On two nights we ate with other passengers and enjoyed the company and chance to meet new people; on other nights we waited for a table for two and savored the privacy together. With anytime dining, you could choose to eat in the Coral (deck 6) or Island (deck 5) dining rooms—the Palm dining room was reserved for traditional seating—but the menus were the same for each. In fact, we opted not to eat at the two specialty restaurants—Sabitinis and Crown Grill—because we were content with the menu (although I did hear from other passengers the steaks at Crown Grill were excellent, much better than those served in the main dining rooms). We tried both dining rooms and preferred the Island because the service seemed to be friendlier—in fact, the staff made all the difference in the world. From the moment we were greeted at the door, to meeting Tudor, who has to be one of the best servers at sea, we returned to the Island dining room every night. And I would guess we couldn't have been the only ones who felt the same way, because we saw many other passengers who seemed to gravitate to the dining room as well (including a famous BBC actor, his partner and family). The typical meal offered an appetizer (spring rolls were some of my favorites) as well as a soup or salad (wonton soup was great - and after tasting the better half's I was sad I didn't try the frozen-rum infused pina colada soup - in fact, all of the fruit soups were fantastic!) followed by a main course (on this trip the pork dishes were very good - and the staff were more than accommodating to make changes if you didn't like the sides). Dessert never disappointed - whether it was cheesecake, crème brule, apple pie or even amaretto ice cream). Likewise, with so many choices, you couldn't leave the buffet hungry - and the fresh fruit had us returning throughout the day for snacks. We did try the cheeseburgers on deck, but hands down our favorite was the pizza - the best we have ever had outside of New York City. If you like pizza, you'll fall in love with the thin crust. And for a cool treat, we'd pop by the ice cream stand for soft serve or hard ice cream (again, taking the stairs came in handy). In your stateroom you could order room service from a more limited menu, and you could request fresh fruit like bananas, oranges, apples, kiwis, pears, etc be delivered every morning to your stateroom (which were excellent to take along and snack on during active long shore excursions like the ones we did). You could also get a coffee/tea and juice service delivered with a continental breakfast to wake up to in the morning. All you had to do for both was fill out a card and place it on your door before retiring to bed. Ports of Call: In addition to the price and ship, the itinerary was one of the prime drivers (if not the prime factor) for us in choosing this cruise. Admittedly, we weren't looking for a Caribbean booze cruise—we wanted to visit islands that were out of the traditional cruise circuit and a bit more natural to would put our amphibian hiking shoes to and snorkel sets to work, and with the exception of St. Thomas, that's exactly what we found. Our visit to the island of Dominica was the highlight of the trip. In fact, I highly recommend contacting Levi Baron of Bumpiing Tours (www.bumpiingtours.com) if you find yourself lucky enough to visit this natural treasure (so beautiful, in fact, that you'll find out much of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies were filmed on location). Thanks to Levi's friendly, safe, and no-hassle expert tour, we feel in love with Dominica. We swam in the Titou gorge, visited the Trafalgar falls, relaxed in a hot sulfur spring, and discovered fish, coral, and a 400 year old canon from a shipwreck at Champagne Reef. I can't recommend Levi enough - and for those of you hesitant to abandon the overpriced, rushed organized mass herded cruise tours, don't miss out on this wonderful experience. I also can't recommend the incredible tool available to cruisers on CruiseCritic -- member reviews are a great resource to go by. With such a short time in Grenada, we passed on tours and instead decided to explore the charming streets of St. George's as a pleasant (and low cost) treat. For our visit to Bonaire, we again abandoned the cruise ship tours and rented a small car (if renting from a leading dealer at the airport, call the office and ask to be met at the dock - they will also drop you back off at the dock). I can't imagine doing a better thing - with a good map from the rental company, we explored every inch of the island, seeing the great salt flats in the south, old slave huts, mangrove forests, the interior, snorkeled along the coast, sighted flamingoes in Lake Gotomeer, visited the National Forrest to the north, and saw ancient Indian petroglyphs and moon-like rocky surfaces on the weather beaten western coast. We even encountered a pack of curious donkeys and stopped for a quick photo with them. On Aruba we found the local public bus system—Arubus—to be a clean, inexpensive, and reliable way to get around the island. For about $6 or $7 total, we traveled from the main station next to the dock downtown up to the Butterfly farm, the resorts beaches on Palm Coast, and the Arashi snorkeling sites on the northern end of the island. You can visit the Arubus website for more information, and pick up a bus route map when arriving on the island. Just watch your time (and pad a little extra time to make sure you are back to the dock a little early) and know the frequency of the bus schedule. As a general rule the buses come along the main line every 10 - 15 minutes; the Arashi bus can take up to an hour between runs. Also, don't overlook another great stop before or after the cruise itself - Old San Juan. With its rich history, beautiful colonial architecture, restaurants, shops and forts like San Cristobal and El Morro, a visit to Old San Juan is wonderful excursion. Entertainment: Visiting the piazza onboard yielded some of the most delightful entertainment experiences like listening to members of the Caribbean Princess Orchestra play Dixieland and Jazz favorites, or spending the last evening aboard at Crooners with new found friends listening to piano player Eric Stone as he took song requests. With busy days in port, we enjoyed escaping the onboard bars and clubs at night to go to the pools and hottubs (which were usually deserted) or strolled along the top decks to enjoy the nights together. Movies Under the Stars is an experience you won't soon forget—it feels a little like a drive in movie (from what I can remember), but from the comfort of a padded deck chair with popcorn and candy readily available. During the voyage there were also comedians and a hypnotist aboard, as well as themed nights in the clubs and bars, but again we skipped these because we wanted to relax and savor the tropical nights. One area where we both felt Princess dropped the ball big time was the "Broadway" style shows. Wow, do they really consider that Broadway style? They were terrible—in fact, someone remarked on CruiseCritic that they were like dinner theater, but that is an insult to dinner theater. They were more like kids' talent recital shows with actors cast instead. I mean, I felt bad for the actors - some of them do have talent - but Princess should seriously review the talent and vision of their artistic directors if this is the caliber of entertainment they are offering and billing to passengers as "Broadway" style. There was no story, they were just a collection of scenes which shared the same stage. In fairness some people did enjoy the performances and my better half is an accomplished stage actor himself, and so I have been fortunate to be treated to some good shows—but I have also sat through my fair share of bad shows too and these performances were a big disappointment and ranked pretty far down there. Crew and Service: Without a doubt, the thing that can make or break the public's perception of a travel or tourism experience are the people they encounter who make it all happen. Before deciding on this cruise we watched an episode on Princess Cruises on the Travel Channel and heard about the Princess Difference - which sounded remarkably like the Disney Difference in customer service that has made their resorts some of the most popular destination spots on the planet. We certainly saw the commitment to going the extra mile from people like Tudor and his colleagues in the Island Dining Room, and from others like our cabin steward Jose (I honestly don't know if Jose slept a wink the entire trip - it seems he always knew the moment we left our cabin and came in to tidy the place up or turn down the bed for the night, even if we only stepped out for ten minutes). We'd see smiling faces of crew in the hallways and were bowled over when the young woman at the ice cream stand smiled and remembered just how we liked our cones (we visited once a day, but out of 3,000 passengers, that was impressive). We also encountered some crew members who understandably fell short, after all the crew have to be some of the hardest working people under the sun. Still, it was disappointing when you needed help getting another towel on deck (finding one was a task in itself) - or worse yet - when you needed to get help straightening out a billing error at Customer Service, only to wait in a long line to have a crew member more interested in getting you out of their way than helping you out. In fact, on disembarkation we found ourselves at Passenger Services again trying to straighten out a problem we thought had been resolved the night before. Fellow Passengers: By and large we encountered a diverse mix of passengers, most seemed to be comprised of Americans and Canadians looking to escape the winter for some Caribbean sunshine and relaxation. There were some couples like us or younger aboard, and some families with children and teens, but most were couples older than us. Everyone is there for a good time and we encountered many friendly people on board and conversations were quick and easy to strike up. After a day or two, you started seeing familiar faces and you'd catch up or trade laughs. Disembarkation: The day before disembarkation, information is delivered to your room about the process as well as luggage tags and group assignments for leaving the ship, along with your customs forms. Passengers are asked to pack their luggage and place it in the hallway the night before so it can be processed and returned to you in the terminal to clear customs after you leave the ship. The Caribbean Princess docked back in San Juan at 6:00 a.m., and for the most part passengers were asked to vacate their cabins by 8:00 a.m. We had signed up for EZ Check, which allows you to check in for your flight while still on the ship. For a fee of $20 per person (plus any additional baggage fees from the airlines), your boarding passes are delivered to the room as well as luggage tags for your plane trip home. After disembarking the ship and clearing customs, you turn the checked luggage back over to a Princess representative and the bags are checked through and taken to the airport to meet you again when you land at your final destination. This is a good service - especially if you plan on spending any time in Old San Juan before departing for home and don't want to haul bags around with you. The disembarkation process is also fairly simple - you gather in a public space until a member of the crew dismisses your group, then you head off the ship, collect your bags in the terminal, and join the queue to clear customs. Don't let the line intimidate you - ours stretched all the way to the end of the building, but it moved very quickly and we were out without hassle. The only drawback we experienced was dealing with passenger services - again, having spent time the night before to resolve an accounting problem, we thought our account was settled. By 7:00 a.m. on disembarkation day, we were contacted by passenger services and returned again to settle the account - and in the process - had only five minutes before our group was to meet and leave the ship. We asked the Passenger Services crew member if he thought we would have a few minutes to grab a quick bite to eat (forgoing breakfast because we had to straighten the account out again). To sum up his reaction and response you would think that if we weren't with your group -and off the ship in 5 minutes to collect your bags and go through the Gestapo like process he described—your bags would be shredded in a giant mulcher, your passports and ID's would be confiscated, and you'd be sent by the Department of Homeland Security to Guantanamo. The truth, as we found out, couldn't be further from this - the groups are done to make the process orderly, which is completely understandable, but we could have easily taken about 30 minutes to grab a quick breakfast before heading off the ship, collecting our luggage, and passing through the easy customs process. It just was an unpleasant note to end the trip on. And to judge from the long line of people also at Passenger Services that morning, we weren't the only ones. Summary: Being a first time cruiser, I confess to researching the ship, cruise line, and itinerary extensively. When you can only go on one vacation a year because of cost (or in our circumstances, busy work schedules) it's only natural to want to make sure it goes great and you get the best bang for your buck and best time for your limited vacation days. Princess Cruises had stood out to us for their reputation and commitment to service while also being a good value, and the itinerary was an important factor. Still, we asked every passenger who had cruised before to compare this voyage to prior Princess cruises or cruises on other lines, and without exception, everyone said that quality and service had noticeably slipped. Some long-term Princess cruisers pointed to what they believed were the effects of Carnival's corporate culture coming into fuller effect following the line's purchase of Princess, others said that it was a result of an economic downturn that has caused everyone to cut back. Still, I have to say the cruise was a great experience - for the price we paid, we got to travel to several islands while only unpacking once and never having to worry about wheter breakfast, lunch, or dinner was going to be good (or even necessitate a trip to the local pharmacy). If you were like me and on the fence about a cruise and whether or not it is really for you, I say take a chance, you might just be surprised. Now we just wish we could have taken the time off from work to combine this trip with the alternating second week itinerary trip many other passengers we met were taking. Maybe a week just isn't enough? Read Less
Sail Date February 2010
First time cruise for 6 couples (2 thirty-somethings couples, 1 retired couple in mid-60s). Booked using rates from Cruise Compete. After having doing train/ backpacking/ self-directed trips around the world, we decided it was time to ... Read More
First time cruise for 6 couples (2 thirty-somethings couples, 1 retired couple in mid-60s). Booked using rates from Cruise Compete. After having doing train/ backpacking/ self-directed trips around the world, we decided it was time to try cruising and a vacation where we didn't have so much planning. The deals were so great, we even convinced some of our family to go with us. Here were our general impressions / tips: Ship was recently refurbished and looked great. The decor isn't ultra modern, too fancy, or over-the top. Would equate it to a late 90's Hilton. Boarding was a breeze in Seattle. Appreciate the advice that you can pretty much ignore the boarding times published, so we arrived at 11:00 and were on board within 30 minutes. The attack of people selling wine packages/ coke cards/ coffee cards/ etc.....was a little obnoxious while you are trying to get on board. Rooms were ready though, which was impressive having only been docked for about 4 hours! (TIP: Don't fall for buying the coffee/coke card WITH the cup as this is about $8 higher and you can buy just the card separately). The room was bigger than expected, and the bed was nice since it has the egg crate topper that fellow CC members had recommended ordering in advance. The bathroom was smaller than expected and the shower was a little tight, but everything was very clean. The balcony here on the Caribe deck was HUGE and we loved it, particularly for Alaska. It was priceless to be able to see everything from our own private viewing platform instead of fighting with the masses up on deck. Pools were small and always crowded, so we didn't try them. Gym was basic but adequate and never too full. Coffee in the cafeteria is horrible, so we found the coffee card was a must and a decent value since wife could get fancy coffee with the punch, and I could get regular drip coffee just for having the card. Shows were moderately entertaining but definitely the cheesy cruise ship variety you fear. One of the lead singers was about 45 with a significant beer belly but wearing horribly revealing tights. The sets/ theaters were basic. The naturalist on board was terrible, spouting poetry and philosopher quotes out like he was a professor. The captain was great and was always giving updates and announcements on our progress. We did anytime dining which worked out great, and we never had to wait more than 25 minutes for a table for 6. Food was overall pretty good and as expected. Buffet breakfast starts getting a little old after the 4/5th day. MUTS (Movies Under the Stars) was really nice and we all enjoyed this treat. Ports were pretty good. Juneau was nice - we grabbed a taxi van right after exiting the ship to Mendenhall. I think it was about $40 total to take all 6 of us, and doing it this way we were probably the first ones there for atleast an hour. The Mount Roberts Tramway was horrible. We had Buy One Get One coupons and still thought it was a rip-off. This is more about supporting the local Indian reservation (who own it) than to be a good tourist site. We rented from Sourdough in Skagway and bought Murray's guide. This was a lot of fun. Did Southeast Sea Kayaks in Ketchikan (pretty fun) and walked around town. Could have used more time here. In Victoria, we made the mistake of trying to walk down to downtown, and the directions aren't great and the walk is probably at least 35 minutes if you are fast (and this is SHORT stop). Bottom line, this was actually a little nicer than expected. This cruise was definitely oriented toward the 50+ set as all the events and attractions were for older crowds. However, we didn't mind as the ship was always quiet and clean. Read Less
Sail Date September 2009
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