I consider myself a seasoned traveler with 6 million air miles, hundreds of hotel says and 15 cruises on 5 cruise lines. I have never written a review before because things happen on any trip and you just have to deal with it. This year my ... Read More
I consider myself a seasoned traveler with 6 million air miles, hundreds of hotel says and 15 cruises on 5 cruise lines. I have never written a review before because things happen on any trip and you just have to deal with it. This year my wife and I celebrated our 49th wedding anniversary and our 70th birthdays. We were looking for something special - a trip that would provide us with a great memory of these events. A lot of choices- family, friends or something just for us. Another couple asked us to consider a Canadian-US cruise on the Caribbean Princess. I looked over the agenda and a few things caught my eye - an excursion on Prince Edwards Island with a known Canadian photographer and a stop in Boston. We had previously taken a photo trip to the Grand Canyon which was exceptional. Even though we had already taken a cruise that docked at 4 of the ports, the opportunity to have a limited group photo excursion with a known photographer coupled with a few spa treatments and a visit to Boston seemed like the experience we were looking for.
On past cruises we have stayed in every accommodation from a Penthouse Suite to a porthole cabin. We contacted AmEx Travel who worked with Princess. We were advised Princess had a class of service called "Mini Suite" with suite benefits -smaller than a regular suite with all of the suite benefits (special dining, special seats at events, priority embark and debark, access to the exclusive lounge, etc.) When we attempted to book the Mini Suites were full so AmEx/Princess recommended that we book a full suite and wait for a Mini. We eventually booked the Mini, 2 spa treatments, and 4 excursions and the 10 day high speed internet. We preordered "Medallions" which are digital passkeys that identify and track your exact location on board the ship.
In order to prepare, we researched the photographer and contacted Princess regarding the excursion. We were advised to bring our camera equipment, including tripods, extra batteries, extra Sd cards, etc, along with adequate shoes for rough terrain. Three days before the cruise, we spent $500 on new camera equipment - light tripods, extra batteries, Sd cards, etc.). We also bought new hiking boots. In order to accommodate the camera equipment and airline luggage weight limits we had to remove a number of convenient items taken on past cruises.
In spite of being provided a "special registration desk", unlike other cruise lines, Princess did not have any type of expedited security line so the concept of "priority boarding" was lost in the process. When we finally reached the priority registration desk we were given a new set of medallions and told the ones we had were unnecessary. At the registration desk I attempted to change the credit card on file but was advised that that would have to be done at Customer Relations. The CR computers were "occupied" with the passenger changeover but I was finally able to make that cc change two days later.
The Mini Suite (D414) is dated with the exception of two 42 inch TV's that dominate the small room. They actually touch each other - kind of like a sports bar. There is no chance to use them on separate channels because the sound overlaps. The Medallion Class ships have high speed access and boast about their live TV news and sports including CNN/Fox News/ESPN/ESPN2. On game day I found out that the Princess ESPN and ESPN2 was the Canadian/European version with no US college football. On live ESPN we could only watch womens international weightlifting and European soccer, a far cry from US Football.. While Princess boasts that its wi-fi can stream, it cannot stream to the TV's in the room, only to your computer or cell phone. Unless you want to spend your vacation watching the news which you are trying to get away from or you enjoy womens international weightlifting, the live TV has little merit.
The rooms are dated. There is only one small electrical outlet in a mini-suite and it is impossible to use a multiple plug device because the light switch is part of the outlet and any oversize plug-in turns on the light. We were able to locate an open outlet behind the large TV's and with a little dexterity you can find an open plug. Otherwise, if you need more than 2 plug ins you are out of luck. Princess also represents that each room has a hair dryer - unfortunately they are wall mount - probably 15 years out of date with very low heat output.
The "Club Class" Mini-suit is not really a suite for two passengers - it seems to be more for a three or four passengers accommodation-maybe a family with two kids who want no privacy. The furniture is old and sparse and the couch is a very uncomfortable sit. The TV's are imposing and awkward for the space. There is no divider between the sleeping area and the couch so using the TV's while your spouse is trying to rest does not work. The bathroom door opens into the closet so you have to speak out before you open the door lest you hit your partner in the back. Our stateroom attendant was excellent and kept the room very clean, but it still felt very dated, like an old hotel.
The Caribbean Princess is equipped with a high capacity wi-fi system that should allow you to live stream content. To do so you have to download the app, connect to the ship internet and place your device on airplane mode and pay the $150 fee.. It seems simple but everyone in our party had issues for the first several days. There is a help station - unfortunately they advised that our problem involved Apple Messenger and told us to turn it off which resulted in a total absence of e-mails for 22-24 hours. We contacted Apple - reinstatement of Messenger on the Apple server normally takes a day after shutdown. Also, if you fail to immediately put you device on airplane mode when you reboard the ship, the phone can connect to the ships general network which results in a high cellular data bill. AT&T informed me of a $120 data overage a few hours after the ship left port. That mistake cost over $200 - a learning experience. High speed access was costly but if you figure it out you can stream to your cell phone. Watching a college football game on your I Phone doesn't compare to viewing it on one of the 42 inch TV's - which don't allow streaming.
The many Disappointments
Immediately after entering our Mini Suite, Narag Angelito Biloro, our Stateroom Steward appeared with ship information and our excursion tickets, etc., Narag turned out to be an exceptional asset during the cruise- we always felt good returning to our stateroom because it was well kept by him. He was a wealth of information. When I asked him about the Suite benefits and access to the Private Lounge - he informed us that the Mini-Suites do not have suite benefits but only Club benefits - contrary to what we had been told at the time of booking. He understood the confusion and got us in contact with the person to talk to. Several hours later with two attempted Princess calls to AmEx, Princess allowed us the access to the private lounge.(Which turned out to be nothing) We were specifically told that we were not allowed any other Suite benefits - only Club benefits which were a half bottle of wine, priority embark and debark, Club Class Dining and priority reservations at the specialty restaurants.
Next I reviewed the excursion tickets. There was a letter included which stated that the photographic excursion "YYG260A Picture Perfect with Photographer Winston Maund has been cancelled due to operational reasons". I immediately called the front desk to better understand the situation. The front desk responded that the "operational issue" was an "overbooking" and that we had been cut from the excursion. That did not seem fair or reasonable - when we signed up for the excursion we were told we were the first two individuals to book. I went down to discuss the issue at the front desk. That took an hour. The front desk said they would check into it. On the next call I was told that there were "operational issues" that caused the cancellation of the trip and no one on the ship would be participating. I inquired about the date the operation decision was made and was told that the excursion was cancelled THE WEEK BEFORE we left for the cruise. On other cruise lines there have been changes or modification in excursions but we always received immediate notice of pre cruise changes by e-mail. When I inquired about why we were not notified the answer "It is easier for us to handle it on the ship". To me that was not customer focused - particularly considering the 12 pounds of camera equipment we carted to Canada. I asked again for clarification on the operations issue and was given no response. Princess offered to place us on another excursion at our cost. The day before we reached the port I went down to the excursion desk and was told that all excursions were closed. I was later told that Princess was trying to get together enough passengers from other cruise ships to overcome the " operational" issue. The final comment I received was the excursion was "new" and they were trying to work the kinks out. You think they would have worked the kinks out before taking our reservation and money. We also had a Boston excursion booked through Princess - in spite of the fact that there had been a major 10K scheduled in Boston for months, Princess notified us the day before the excursion the Boston itinerary would be substantially modified to include only an aircraft carrier visit because of the race so we cancelled and used an independent operator.
With the exception of the LULU Lobster Boat ride in Bar Harbor, the remaining Princess excursions were unremarkable. The three independent excursions we booked were better and more informative than the Princess excursions, often at less cost.
As any cruiser knows, the food on cruise ships is always exceptional - except on Princess. Our group of 4 ate at both specialty restaurants - extremely disappointing experiences - one guest even sent his fish back as inedible. My specialty restaurant steak was perfectly cooked but was like chewing leather. We ate twice in the "Club Class Dining" (about the only benefit you get for paying hundreds more for a "Club Class" Mini-Suite) but the food in the Palm Dining Room was better. Treats like the Lobster Dinner were basically tasteless. Prime Rib night was also a disaster - my prime rib had more fat on it than meat. I would never have served that piece of meat to anyone. The veal marsala in the Palm was much better that the veal marsala in the specialty restaurant. I thought it might just be me- but there was uniform consensus within our group that the food was lower grade than on any other cruise. The steaks (both in the specialty restaurant and the Palm Dinning) were tough with a lot of waste. More like a cheap chain restaurant than a cruise delicacy.
Room service breakfast was great. A very limited selection but the bacon, egg and cheese English muffin was fine.
There were three things good about dining - Phillipo the Head Waiter, Rigoberto, the Waiter and their assistant waiter (unfortunately I misplaced his name). There were attentive and provided outstanding service- remembering preferences, supplying my spouse with gluten free bread, knowing the menu and making reasonable recommendations. The problem is that the food itself was just not that good. Everyone in our group agreed on one thing - don't waste your money on the specialty restaurants - they are not worth it. Since we pre-booked the specialty restaurants the "Club Class" priority seating benefit had no value
The Private Suite Lounge
There is no actual private lounge for suite guests, just a lounge that is closed to non-suite guests for two hours in the evening. Drinks are charged to you room and the appetizers are below average. Other cruise lines have a separate lounge for suite guests - after we got on the ship we were told that did not exist on the Caribbean Princess.
In 49 years my wife has never turned down a spa treatment - and who would - they are rejuvenating and relaxing experiences. We prebooked 2 spa sessions for her. Although the spa treatment by Isabel was OK, the after spa upsell of products and additional services was obnoxious. In stead of returning refreshed, my wife retuned upset because Isabel just kept pressing her to buy products and add additional treatments. Upselling is a part of business but when a customer says they are not interested the conversation should end. My wife is no wall flower and it would take a lot of upsell to upset her. She attributed the incident to a language barrier but "not interested" should be understood in any language. Both women in our group cancelled their second spa treatment. I was so disturbed I contacted the spa and asked them to take off the $32.00 "Auto Gratuity" - they apologized and said that no gratuity would appear on the final statement. The morning of departure the gratuity was still on the bill and I was informed that I would have to go to the desk (where there was a 30 minute wait) to have it removed. By that time I was exhausted with Princess so we simply left.
The workout area is well done with adequate equipment but use is limited to 8am-8pm. If you are an early riser that exercises before breakfast or plan to exercise at the end of the day - forget it. And the thought of exercising while watching sports is limited to ESPN Canada/Europe - back to womens international weigh lifting.
The Shows and Entertainment
The shows and entertainment were average to good for a cruise. The stage productions were OK but you need to get there at least 30 minutes early or you will be sitting in the front few rows. Although we were about 25 minutes early for the extravaganza that included 'pyrotechnics" we ended up in row one- if that happens leave! Although the cruise line alleges to have a keen focus on passenger safety- the smoke machine will overcome you in 20 minutes. The smoke is so bad that you can't see the show. When we left, our eyes burned from the substance that they use to create the smoke effect - it is almost like a fine mist/dust. We had to use eye drops when we got back to our cabin but it took two days before the eye irritation and redness dissipated.
On the good side one male singer from Vegas, a piano player and the two comedians were exceptional. After being on larger ships the stage shows were average.
We have been on two cruises where there was an outbreak of flu or a norovirus. That happens when you put 3-6 thousand people in one place. In each case the Captain made an announcement about increased health risk and the need to take special precautions, advised the passengers that the crew would be taking additional actions to respond (wiping down common areas, etc.). Those cruise lines gave you a feeling that the cruise line cared. Half way thru our 10 day Princess cruise we noticed that the crew began taking precautions - wiping down the entire theater between performances, etc. I asked if there was a particular concern and was told that there was a "flu virus" affecting many passengers and the ship was on a "Phase 2" alert. (I have no idea if that information was accurate or if there is a Phase 2 alert). I was particularly concerned because at the end of the cruise we were going to visit elderly relatives and I did not want to carry a virus to them. The day before the cruise ended my wife became ill with what appeared to be a cold. I contacted the Princess sick bay and talked with the nurse. She said that there had been a number of sick passengers but she was more focused on telling me that my call would be considered an "emergency" and that there would be a $195 initial charge to see my wife plus any testing for "the virus" would be extra. She would not provide any additional information on my general health question (Is there a virus on the ship and if so what type?) without a visit to the infirmary and payment of the $195 emergency fee. The morning of departure I called again and received a reply call from the ship Doctor. I explained to him that we were going to visit elderly relatives and I inquired if we may have been exposed to a virus on the ship. He was vague and basically said that there are sick persons on every cruise. He refused to discuss particulars or provide any information but invited us to come down and pay the $195 emergency fee for a consult plus additional fees for a test to determine if my wife actually had a cold or a virus. The attitude was appalling. We departed the ship, believing that a land side American doctor might be a better choice. Within 18 hours of departure, one of the individuals in our 4 person group became violently ill and spent two days sick in a hotel in New York - the Doctors are in the process of diagnosing the virus..
Several years ago a family member was on a cruise and broke her foot on an excursion. The Cruise company was unbelievably helpful in providing medical assistance and accommodating her for the remainder of the trip. The standard of care was exceptional.
The Princess response to my inquiry was startling, to say the least. I got the impression that Princess wanted to keep information regarding health concerns suppressed and that the medical center had not meet its financial goals on the cruise. Rather than simply giving me an answer (honest or not) the individuals were focused on getting the emergency fee and were not focused on responsible care of the passengers. Those that listened to the conversation were equally applaud.
One of the Mini-Suite "Club" class benefits was "Priority Debark" which on every other cruise we have been on means priority getting off the ship early The night before we arrived at our final port we were provided with luggage tags that allowed us to depart 55 minutes after our traveling companions that had no "Priority Debark" status. I contacted the front desk and was advised that the "Priority" disembarkation for Club Class Mini-Suites consists of a preferred waiting area and was not related to the time for leaving the ship. After another trip to the front desk I was able to get the same disembarkation time as our non-priority friends.
The Caribbean Princess is an older ship and shows it. Every cruise line has a personality and it takes some time to get used to Princess if you have cruised on quality cruise lines. Princess did not meet any of our general expectations and failed miserably to respond to concerns that were raised. In our opinion, the added expenses of a "Club Class Mini-Suite" has little value - the priority boarding and disembarkation did not provide any real priority, and the "Club Class" dining was equivalent to any time dining on most cruise lines. With the exception of the Luu Lobster boat tour at Bar Harbor, the Princess excursions were unremarkable. The specialty restaurant food is not worth the additional price and some of the special night food (Lobster night - Prime Rib night) was genuinely disappointing. The lack of communication regarding cancelled excursions (both before and during the cruise) and the lack of communication regarding passenger health issues (or the conflicting individual reports from crew members on both subjects) does not give one a comfortable feeling. The Spa treatments are average but the upselling pressure when your trying to enjoy the cruise is not. The hours of the workout center are limited.
The above not only reflects my feeling and the feeling of the four members of our group, but was reflected in several conversations with a number of passengers that have cruised on other cruise lines. I'm sure there are individuals who appreciate the Caribbean Princess personality, particularly those that have not cruised often, but in our case the Caribbean Princess failed miserably to meet expectations compared to other cruises. This was a very poor return on our expenditure (particularly the Club Class Mini Suite) and a complete failure for a celebration. If you want a quality experience, look elsewhere. Read Less