This is a review of a Caribbean Princess Western Caribbean cruise that my wife and I took on 12/30/14. This was a 4-night cruise from Fort Lauderdale, with one stop in Cozumel and two at sea days.
We live in South Florida, so we drove to Port Everglades and parked in the Northport garage, right next to the Caribbean Princess at Terminal 2. There were a lot of cars there, but we had no trouble finding a spot. We wanted to board early enough to have lunch in the main dining room, which closes at 1:30 on embarkation day (buffet lunch is available all afternoon), so we arrived at the terminal around 11:30. Although the suggested check-in time for our deck (Dolphin) was 2:00, we had Platinum member preferred boarding passes that allowed us to board at any time.
The check-in process was quick, and we arrived in a waiting area at around 11:40, where we were told we would be boarding in about 10 minutes, and within 15 minutes we were in our cabin. After dropping off our stuff, we headed to the Crown Grill to make dinner reservations for the following night (New Year's Eve), and then it was off to the Coral Dining Room for lunch. I don't recall how long it took our one suitcase to arrive at our cabin, but it wasn't too long, it was probably there before 2:00. When our bag arrived, a second one was left for us by mistake, but the other cabin was just down the hall so I moved the bag there.
CABIN AND SHIP
We were in cabin D332, a mid-ship balcony mini-suite on the port side of the Dolphin deck (deck 9). We had originally booked a regular balcony stateroom (C607), but received an unsolicited upgrade a week before departure. The balcony was a good size, with two reclining chairs and separate footrests, and a round table large enough to eat at. Dolphin deck mini-suite balconies are completely uncovered, which is good for sunbathing or stargazing, but there's no privacy or protection from the elements. The room was large and nicely decorated, with plenty of closet space and shelves, plus 7 narrow but deep drawers in the night tables and desk. There was a minisafe in the closet, though it was too small for an iPad. There were two large TVs, one facing the bed, the other facing the couch. The bathroom had both a bathtub and shower, and a good-size vanity and shelves. The bathroom wasn't in the best condition, but everything worked well, and the water pressure from the shower head was surprisingly strong. The room was quiet, and the bed and pillows were very comfortable, so we slept well on this cruise.
The Caribbean Princess was last refurbished in November 2011. The ship isn't as shiny and new looking as some other ships we've been on, but it was fine.There were still many Christmas decorations around the ship. I was told there were about 3500 passengers on board, so it was pretty full, but never felt too crowded. The passengers ranged from families with young children to older folks. There were a lot of children and teens on this cruise (which the captain mentioned during the mustering drill), but for the most part they were well behaved. The mix of people made for some great people watching (especially when we enjoyed our pre-dinner martinis at the Crooner's Bar :-)
On the two at sea days, we didn't get to the pool deck until almost noon, but we were able to find chaise lounge chairs in the sun on the forward part of deck 17, near the Sanctuary. There was a small adults-only pool nearby, though the water was pretty chilly. A couple of things we didn't like about that spot -- there were too many lounge chairs crammed into the area, so it was hard to move your chair to face the sun if you wanted to, and we rarely saw a bar waiter or deck attendant while we were there. The lack of deck attendants was especially problematic on the second at sea day, because it was windy and empty glasses and beer bottles were blowing around the deck.
The WiFi internet access on board was extremely slow and barely usable at times. I used it to check e-mail on my iPhone, and in some cases I could download messages but not retrieve the message contents. This was the case everywhere I tried to access the internet, including my cabin, my balcony, and on the pool deck. (Surprisingly, I seemed to have the best internet access from my cabin's bathroom :-). As a Platinum member, I had a generous allowance of free internet minutes so it didn't cost me anything, but if I had to pay for that service, I would have been unhappy. You could also use the WiFi service to access an internal web site that provided an online version of the Princess Patter, which was nice -- you could access that site without connecting to the internet, so it was free for everyone.
The ship's cell service was spotty as well. I didn't make or receive any calls, but I couldn't get any cell service in some spots, including parts of our cabin.
On a couple of occasions, alarms sounded on the ship, followed by an announcement directed at the crew to deal with a "first aid" situation. The first time, this happened around an hour after the new year arrived, and the alarms and announcements were heard in both cabins and public areas, so it was pretty unsettling -- after some time, the captain announced that the issue had been resolved. The second time was around dinner time a day or two later (we weren't in our cabin for that one). Since these alerts are not directed at passengers, I don't think we should hear them, especially in the middle of the night.
Our embarkation lunch in the (mostly empty) Coral Dining Room was relaxing and definitely a better option than the buffet. The food there, like all the other meals we had on board, ranged from just okay to pretty good, depending on the meal (desserts, when we had them, were always good). The best meal I had onboard was the jerk chicken, for dinner on the first night.
We were on the Anytime Dining plan, so we could have dinner in the Island Dining Room (deck 5) from 5:30-9:30, or in the Coral Dining Room (deck 6) from 7:15-9:30 (after the first fixed seating). For the 3 nights we had dinner in the main dining room, we ate in the Island Dining Room, because the line was always shorter than the one for the Coral. We always requested a table for two, and were seated immediately on the first night, but had to wait a little while on the other two nights (there would be no wait to share a table). We arrived at different times each night.
When we made reservations at the Crown Grill for New Year's Eve shortly after boarding, there was a couple ahead of us who were trying to make a reservation for a party of 6, also for New Year's Eve, and they were told there were no tables for 6 available anytime that evening. This seemed odd, because they had only started boarding passengers about 20 minutes earlier, and you can't make reservations until you board, but maybe people doing B2B cruises made reservations earlier. We had no trouble making a reservation for the 2 of us at 7:00.
Despite the rave reviews I've seen on the forums here, the dinner at the Crown Grill was disappointing. I had the filet mignon and my wife had the rib eye, and neither one of us felt the quality of the steak was anything special. The steaks were served with a gravy that was bland, but that was the only option. The sides were good. My wife started with the Black and Blue Onion Soup, which was good but not great, and I had a Crown Grill salad that was good. My wife also had the lobster tails with her steak, which she enjoyed. We both had different chocolate desserts that were very good. Our waitress Camelia was excellent.
My wife ordered her rib eye cooked medium, and that's how it came out. I'm one of the few people who actually prefer steaks cooked well -- I know many of you consider that a sin, but that's just how I roll :-) Contrary to popular belief, as someone who has been eating well done steaks my entire life, I can assure you that it is possible to cook a steak (especially filet) that is both well done but still tender and juicy. Unfortunately, that wasn't my experience at the Crown Grill. Although you might think the biggest risk of asking for something well done is that it will be overcooked, in my experience the most common mistake is having the steak come out medium rare (or even rare), and that's what happened this time -- I asked for my filet medium well to well, and it came out medium rare (if that). I realize the chef doesn't want to overcook the steak, so I can understand how it might come out medium to medium well, but medium rare is a problem for me, because (1) I can't eat it that way, (2) now that the steak has been cut, it's more likely to dry out when I they cook it longer, and (3) my wife has to either eat alone while my steak cooks longer, or wait for me and let her dinner get cold. I sent the steak back, and it came out again just a few minutes later, this time barely medium. I didn't want to disrupt my wife's dinner any further, so I didn't send it back again, but I didn't enjoy it either. By the way, my assessment of the quality of the steak had nothing to do with how it was cooked -- I can appreciate high-quality steak even when it's not cooked to my liking.
For lunch on our two at sea days, we had pizza from the pizzeria by the pool. On our last Princess cruise (on Island Princess), we thought the pizza was great and had it several times for lunch. On the Caribbean Princess, we were looking forward to having the pizza again, but we were both a bit disappointed -- it just wasn't as good as before.
We had breakfast delivered by room service each morning, and ate on our balcony. (We skipped breakfast on disembarkation day.) We ordered breakfast using the door tags that were left in our cabin each evening. You could pick a 30 minute delivery window, and we chose 10:00-10:30 for two of the mornings (we're not morning people :-), and 9:00-9:30 for the other. The first 10:00-10:30 breakfast arrived right at 10:30, the second arrived a few minutes before 10:00. The 9:00-9:30 breakfast arrived a few minutes after 9:00. The orders were correct, although the first breakfast included two breakfast sandwiches that we didn't order (but we ate them anyway :-).
The only evening shows we saw on this cruise were Phil Tag (stand-up comedy) and Farrell Dillon (magic/comedy). Phil had some funny bits, and interacted with the audience, though there weren't a lot of people at the 10:15 show (on New Year's Eve, and his third show of the night). Farrell was entertaining (we did the 7:00 show), and had some impressive tricks, though I'd say he's better at magic than comedy.
For the most part, we only caught bits and pieces of the other entertainers who played around the ship, because they never seemed to be playing nearby when were sitting around, though we did get to watch the guitarist/singer Toby Reilly for a while, and he was really good.
On New Year's Eve, the atmosphere was very festive, but we decided to ring in the New Year in private on our balcony. We could hear the party on the top deck and the countdown just before midnight, and the ship marked the new year by blowing its horn a few times.
We didn't participate in the on-board activities offered throughout the day, so I can't comment on those.
Our one stop was in Cozumel, and the ship was there all day (we had to board at 5:30). We didn't a shore excursion through the ship, instead we spent the day at the Nachi Cocom Beach Club, one of the all-inclusive options on the island. We did the same thing the last time we visited Cozumel several years earlier. Nachi Cocom requires reservations, and they only accept 100 people at a time, so it doesn't get crowded. They charge $55 per person, which includes unlimited drinks and a 4-course meal (the margaritas were very potent, more so than the last time). The food is good, the service is very good. It's a relatively quiet place, not rowdy like some of the other all inclusives. The only thing I don't like there are the chaise lounges, which are hard plastic and uncomfortable. It's about a 15 minute taxi ride ($17) from the port.
We didn't have any issues either disembarking or embarking while in port. The gangway was closed for a little while in the morning while another ship was docking, but we left the ship after that.
When we received our disembarkation papers, we were originally assigned to one of the mid-morning disembarkation groups, but I went to the shore excursion desk and registered for one of the walk-off groups. The walk-off groups are the first to disembark, but you have to bring all your luggage with you. There were 4 walk-off groups, with meeting times every 15 minutes starting at 7:15 -- the earliest group available when I registered was walk-off group 2, meeting at 7:30 in the Island Dining Room (the 7:15 group met in the Coral Dining Room). I didn't notice an option to sign up for a walk-off group when I reserved the cruise online, but I would have signed up then if I could have.
Since we were going to (hopefully) disembark early, we decided to sleep a little later and wait until we got home to have breakfast and shower. When we arrived at the Island Dining Room a little before 7:30, there weren't many people there, but people started showing up shortly afterwards (some of those may have been in the 8:00 group). I think we only waited 10-15 minutes before they let us disembark.
The disembarkation process was pretty quick. There was a bit of a line at Customs, but it moved along. We were probably outside by 8:00. Unfortunately, the ship didn't return to the same terminal we departed from, so we had to wait for a shuttle bus to take us back to the Northport garage. That was actually the slowest part of the process -- the line was long and there wasn't a continuous flow of shuttles, though they came fairly regularly. We didn't get out of the parking garage until about 8:30.
It would have been good to know the day before disembarkation that we were going to return to a different terminal. We bought some duty-free liquor onboard, and I packed one of the bottles in our suitcase to make it easier to carry off, expecting that no one else would be handling our luggage. When we took the shuttle, the driver loaded all the luggage into the back, so I was a little worried about the bottle breaking, even though it was fairly well protected. Lesson learned -- if you don't know for sure you'll be returning to the same terminal, assume someone else might handle your luggage even if you're in a walk-off group, and pack accordingly.
Despite a few minor issues, we thoroughly enjoyed our cruise (and the weather was great the entire time), and we're looking forward to our next one. Although our next cruise will be on NCL, Princess is still our favorite cruise line overall, and we can't wait for our next Princess voyage! Read Less