This review involves a 19 day cruise/tour during which we voyaged for two weeks on the Caribbean Princess, October/November-2015. Beginning in Toronto and ending in Houston. My rating is an overall 4 points, however, I give the land tour portion a # 5 rating. We have sailed with Princess since 1990, over the last year we have sailed on the Regal Princess, Regal's sister-- Royal Princess, Coral Princess and now the Caribbean Princess which gives us 209 total days sailing with Princess. Would we sail again with Princess? You betcha.
We find much to like in the Princess overall cruise product, this sailing on the Caribbean was no exception; we encountered the same on our three previous Princess cruises during the last year. We prefer the smaller vessels but lately have began to see some benefit of voyaging on these larger ships. So, this was a very good memorable cruise, it would rate a four plus star in my opinion except for the main dining room, which has a few issues.
The Caribbean is eleven years old and one of the Princess "Grand Class" ships, however it carries 500 more passengers than its three sisters do, this is due to an added deck, the Riviera Deck, otherwise it is pretty close to identical in most aspects to the Star Princess which we have also sailed on. Princess actually reduced the crew on the Caribbean over that on the Star, so the obvious is evident, one gets significantly less crowding and more service on the three sisters. We have read and heard comment that this vessel is not kept up. I find that not accurate at all. The ship was very clean, with new carpets throughout. One person told me on this cruise that it was a "rust bucket" another C.C. review commentator mentioned the "dents" in the interior walls. I find the crew continually painting and scraping, rarely do I notice rust spots. Sometimes on cabin balconies next to the gutter area, subject to salt water spray, one sees rust but only because it is difficult to remove since the cabins are almost in constant use. If one wants to moan about a bit of rust here and there, then look at the HAL ships or even Regent's for that matter.
With respect to the "dents" the commentator does have a point, however, I believe that is in reference to a design deficiency with placement of the wainscoting in all corridors in almost all of the Princess ships constructed within the last 15 years or so. These "dents" are all located on the corner of the alcoves leading into stateroom doors. (Alcoves are great, in that they allow a space to get out of the corridor when entering or leaving ones cabin and a place to leave baggage during disembarkation/embarkation.) The corridors are wainscoted with a beige colored rug material, the dents occur on the corners leading into the alcoves. This means that the wall board material to which the wainscoting is attached is not strong enough to withstand impact by utility carts, motorized wheelchairs, etc. We first noticed this on the Royal when it was less than a year old, on the very new Regal last month we did not notice any dents, if so, perhaps they beefed up the supporting material on the corners under the wainscoting. It does look terrible on this ship and other Princess ships, particularly when the rest of the corridor and rug is maintained in impeccable order. Almost 80% of the alcove corners on the Caribbean suffer this damage. Princess has let this go on for too long, new ship after new ship, makes for a blemish on their normally good creditability.
Here is my "Outstanding" through "Ugly" assessment for this particular cruise/tour and ship:
---I consider the "Skywalkers lounge" on the Princess Grand Class ships to be an outstanding feature. They are located high up on the stern, higher than anything else except the stacks. A panoramic view exists from them and during daylight it is something else to look forward as the ship races through the seas.
--On the ground portion of our cruise tour they had names on all the coach seats each morning. This was great, no pushing and shoving to get ahead in the queue and the first on each morning, your seat is ready for you regardless, which makes for a much more relaxed start to the day. Also, they switched name tags around each morning to make certain everyone got a good seat at least once. First time we experienced that. Bravo.
--Formal Nights--We do love formal nights, they had three on this cruise. Quite a few appear to prefer no formal nights at all. For us, it hearkens back to the days of yore, days of romantic ocean travel which many yearn for the return thereof. Those who shun the penguin suit nights try to avoid the MDRs in favor of the buffet and other venues. It appears that among those other "venues" the specialty high end restaurants are being targeted. So, Princess has responded by requiring formal dress in their specialty restaurants on formal nights, you have to agree to that or you get no reservation. They are supposed to not sit those who dress inappropriately. Humorously and coincidentally, as I was composing this review we had a formal night dinner reservation in Prime Seven. Soon after being seated, there erupted a heated altercation between the maitre d' and a guest, the guest, dressed in a white short sleeve T-shirt with a collar, commonly called a "polo shirt", was getting the heave-hoe, and not liking it at all.
--The specialty restaurants were pretty good, particularly Sabatini's and the Crown Grill. We also booked the "Crab Shack" almost every time we had the opportunity (Do yourself a favor and don't miss that if you love shell fish). The only disadvantage is the specialties have the same menu each night so if you eat there a lot it can become mundane. Be advised to keep track of what is going on in other eatery venues too, since some of them have specials that you will only know about by reading the daily "Princess Patter". For instance, one Sunday morning on the Regal I noticed that the Crown Grill/Wheel House Bar was having a "Traditional British Pub Lunch" at no extra charge except for drinks, it was outstanding, it was from 11:30 AM-2:30 PM we got there about 12:15 and joined a small line, when we left the line was over a 100 feet long.
--We had a very clean mini-suite with a new carpet and were pleased with the size of the room, but it does not have a curtain divider making for a clear separation of the bedroom, which has a new flat screen TV, refrigerator (ice bucket therein kept full every day), open cabinet and a desk, from the living area which has a large sofa, coffee table, seat, open cabinet and a new flat screen TV. Pulling the curtain allows one to read while the other watches TV or sleeps. The balcony size is significantly larger when compared to the two new and larger Princess ship's mini-suite balconies, Regent and Royal; also the suite proper is slightly larger on this ship as well. (I'm torn between preferring a curtain separating the room in two parts or liking the layout of this cabin which does not have a curtain but has a half moon shaped open and closed cabinet system against one wall in the middle and against the opposite wall, is a partial divider wall with a desk connected to it).
--I use the hot tubs everyday, there are nine hot tubs on this ship while the huge newest Princess ships offer only six and one of the six has no jets. Two on the Caribbean are much hotter than the others which is about time they got the temperature exactly right for me. Those two are found along side the outside adults only swimming pool you can access from the Lotas Spa and Fitness center. The other hot tubs are a little too cool for my taste, too cool is what I found as well on the Regal, Royal and Coral as well as most voyages we have taken on Regent. Unlike our sad experience on the Coral Princess in January there were always towels everywhere all the time, and I mean all the time, no exceptions, good going.
--The before dinner Exclusive Elite Lounge for elite and platinum guests where hors d'oeuvres and half priced cocktails are available is much appreciated. This occurs in one half the Skywalkers Lounge high above the rest of the ship in the stern rendering a beautiful panoramic view of the surrounding sea.
--This ship's fitness center is great. Not overcrowded and has plenty of good equipment so there are almost no wait lines. We use it every sea day.
--Shore excursions including the land portion on coaches, were all well organized and very good, at least all those we took, which involved every port. The area tour in Newport, Rhode Island and the New York Brooklyn Bridge walk and area tour rate extra credit. So did the day at Niagara Falls on the land portion.
--After we began to get some sea days to do it on, Princess provided an excellent enrichment lecture series by Dr. Harold Tinberg. Judging from the way he absolutely packed the theatre, standing room only, others must share my opinion. Princess has always done a pretty good job in my opinion of providing for good lectures, this often is one of my favorite aspects of the voyage. I would suggest however that the lecturer presentations get back to focusing more on the areas being visited from historic, cultural and political perspectives, instead of dealing with subjects not remotely connected to the pertinent voyage. For instance, on this voyage and associated cruise-tour we traveled the entire length of the St Lawrence Seaway, an area of the world rich in hundreds of years worth of history and historic events, not one mention of this at all on this ship. This is not to say they shouldn't have had Tinberg or another equivalent, they should have both. I have a hunch that two enrichment lectures on a sea day might detract too much from art auctions, the casino, wine tasting and other money raising events.
--The "Elite" Captain's Circle benefits, like complimentary wine tasting, initial free mini-bar set up and upgraded bathroom amenities, are greatly appreciated. Number one of these perks, for my wife, is the free laundry and for me, the free internet time.
--Unlike Princesses' newest and larger ships, Regal and Royal, this ship does have an real promenade deck, deck 7, and if you include the staircases leading up to the deck 8 wrap around walkway at the bow it is a complete wrap around promenade.
--It appeared to us the buffet area (Horizon Court) had better than usual good quality food. The ship did not seem to run out of desirable food and drink items which is often common on ships toward the end, like bananas, other fruits, good wines, ect. Like all buffets there is crowding at times but it was really bad during many our visits to the buffet and at times almost impossible to locate a place to sit. I do much prefer the layout of the Horizon Court on the Caribbean to those on Regal and Royal though, in that the seating and tables are much more cozy and private and pleasant to sit at while the seating in the two larger ships is more like a army chow line setup. Unfortunately, the space available in the buffet on the Caribbean is grossly inadequate for a full boat. Now, in fairness most this voyage occurred in fairly cold climates, spitting snow at times, therefore all the very abundant outside seating for eating was not used, forcing everybody inside, once we reached warmer climes, i.e. Charleston and south, the outside seating was utilized and the buffet seating situation became tolerable.
Wife says she misses the custom made omlets of the past, now all you get is a pretty much generic omlet, take it or leave it, on the Caribbean the special order options are even more limited and worse, she says. The crew must bring you a juice drink after you locate a table, this is okay and the juice glasses they use on the Caribbean Princess are of a decent size, the problem on the larger ships in this regard is that the glasses they serve you the juice in are half the size of what they used to be. What is next, orange juice in a shot glass?
--We used Princess Air, Princess transfers and Princess hotel accommodations at the beginning of the cruise and at the end we had our own air but used the Princess airport transfer which included a local tour of Houston before airport drop off. Were well satisfied with each.
--Sure nice to have free ice cream available almost all day from the ship's "Scoops" shop. No nickel and diming there. Even though I watch my diet, a little, and don't eat ice cream, I do like malted milk shakes and they make those for me for a couple of bucks extra.
--Some of the musicians playing at various times throughout the ship are pretty good.
--Princess Stateroom new large flat screen TVs (two in mini-suites) on the Regal are great. I certainly appreciate receiving BBC, MSNBC and CNBC and inclusion of major sporting events, for instance, just about every big NFL game was provided on the big screen over the swimming pool, in the bars as well as cabin TVs. The same held true for the World Series baseball games. Good going.
--We have earned free laundry perks but it is nice that Princess still has self service pay laundry facilities on their ships as it takes the load off of the ships laundry facilities, so we don't have to be rationed. HAL has quit putting self serve laundry facilities on their ships so you have to pay them to do it.
--The ships main desk personnel and its shore excursion personnel were very knowledgeable and due their hard work and attention handled most awkward situations professionally. Actually, all this ship's personnel are very friendly and exhibit excellent demeanor, I suggest a Christmas bonus for them all.
--There were very few times we had to wait very long for an elevator. Same number of elevators as the two larger new Princess ships have, where we were continuously waiting and waiting, however, those two both lack a central public staircase, which the Caribbean has in all three elevator towers, this may have a lot to do with the elevator jam ups on the two other ships.
--Very little smoking on this ship. It is only allowed at: In the casino at a limited number of slot machines except on non-smoking days and no smoking at gaming tables, the port side of the open deck Tradewinds Bar on deck 16, a 30 foot or so stretch for standing only on the open deck portion of the promenade on the starboard side, and in a enclosed lounge called "Churchill's" dedicated for smokers only. It appears smokers shun this Princess ship or refrain from lighting up on it. We observed no cheating, that is someone sneaking a puff where they were not supposed to, I'm sure there are exceptions but rare. That is good.
--Normally I'm not much on onboard shopping but I have to admit I'm impressed with the selection of sundries, drugs and other items in the boutique shops. One advantage the larger ships have over smaller vessels is the ability to stock and sell a lot of items not otherwise available. For instance, if your luggage doesn't connect with your sailing or if you forget something it is a comfort to know you might be able to find it on the ship, some of our cruises have resulted in weeks on end in parts of the world where ports had no helpful retail outlets.
--On port days, when we have to muster early, we have began to use room service for a hot breakfast. This works out well and Princess does a great job with the meal and getting it to the cabin on time. We notice some lines now charge for room service or only allow you to have a continental breakfast unless you pay for "butler service". Hang in there Princess.
--Princess is very good at keeping the corridors uncluttered. They don't like it if you put your dirty dishes out in the hall and if you do the steward usually asks you to keep it in your room. But for those who ignore this, dirty platters are usually whisked away. One time a couple stuffed their trays right out in the middle of the corridor so wheel chairs couldn't get by, didn't even bother putting them in their alcove. Some people just don't have any couth.
--Embarkation and disembarkation on cruise lines always seems to be controversial and stressful. We really can't complain, no long line waits, things actually went pretty smooth, coordination as to where you are supposed to muster at disembarkation could use some improvement though.
--I almost dread going to the Main Dining Rooms anymore (except on the almost all inclusive's). In the past, for an enjoyable cruise experience one needed to appreciate the MDR. Not always possible today, unfortunately, in my opinion. The MDR really had me debating whether or not to reduce this cruise's experience rating. At the risk of being too harsh on dining experience here, I must point out that ironically, on this cruise, the MDR kitchen and service staff were pretty good and worked very hard, plus, the food not bad at all, (That was not the case on the Coral in January, in addition to long wait times the kitchen and service personnel were grossly understaffed resulting in a very poor dining experience.)
However, overall, the Caribbean dining rooms are grossly inadequate for the volume of guests they serve at dinner time. We only use "anytime dining" as we do not want to be relegated to two time slots for dinner as is the case with "traditional dining". On our first four visits to the MDR our wait times averaged about 45 minutes. This MDR problem is seemingly axiomatic throughout the majors as rating services now often say "At open seating you may have to wait a considerable time for a table". Some argue that a 30 minute plus wait time for any good restaurant on shore is the norm, therefore, cruise lines should not be held to higher standards. We are working our way toward 600 sailing days. Rarely have we ever ran into a situation where we had to wait more than a few minutes before being seated in the MDR, until last January on an 11 day voyage on the Coral Princess and now on the Caribbean Princess. Oh, yes, you can make reservations for anytime dining, LOL.
Maybe traditional diners do not experience the grief, confusion and long seating wait times that anytime diners do. Or, perhaps the dining venues are adequate in size and layout but the organization and scheduling of such is deficient to the point it creates much more confusion and consternation than is necessary. Speaking of organization and scheduling, we do know this, there are three main dining rooms on this ship, 1.5 dedicated to traditional and 1.5 to anytime. Except, traditional gets the first two hours of the dining room split between the two. When that dining room finally opens up for anytime, a "cannon could be fired through it" so to speak, without hitting anybody. Us on C.C. also are aware that 75% of us usually book anytime. Those of us who also use all inclusives are aware, that for the most part, they only offer anytime dining. The all inclusives have very little problem with seating, why doesn't Princess get rid of "traditional"? Who knows, except Princess, but they better start paying attention as it is getting worse in their MDR.
Toward the end of this voyage, however, things became more tolerable for us in the MDR because we delayed our preferred dinner time from 6:15 PM until about 7:15 PM.
Tip #1: If the MDR becomes objectionable, try to eat as many meals as possible in the specialty restaurants and other venues, such as on "Crab Shack" nights. The buffet isn't all that bad either, except of course when the crowding there is severe and service is limited, which is often, due to the relatively limited passenger space on the Caribbean and the poor staff to passenger ratios--most all these problems result from the addition of another passenger deck. In summary, limit the use of the MDR to about 25%-40% of your dining on board, that is if, you can not come up with a combination to get you into the dining room after a reasonable wait.
--It has been our experience to find, as a general rule, the Princess captains more outgoing an informative and easy to comprehend than captains with the other two lines we use, HAL and Regent, who often times offer only a dearth of information about what is going on. That does not mean however we haven't had a bummer for a captain on Princess in the past or real good captains on both HAL and Regent. That said, we never heard from this captain once, or at least I didn't hear him, the officer of the watch did all announcements. It would be nice for the bridge crew to explain difficulties they appear to be having, for instance with the stern thrusters, all one day they had a big marine outfit with divers and all working on this problem, parts and stuff spread all over the dock near the aft portion of the vessel. Other passengers with cabins in the stern had been talking about the heavy vibrations resonating throughout the ship when the stern thrusters were being employed. Judging from all the difficulty the ship had during sail away at Fort Lauderdale, apparently the deficiency is not yet corrected. Hope the next cruise isn't goofed up because of this thruster thing, when we disembarked in Houston there was quite a bit of attention being paid by the crew to this area of the hull, up to and including the bridge, who would activate the thrusters at a signal from those on the dock, only to be met by a grinding roar. Previously, our Princess captains and others have kept their guests in the know regarding similar problems. So, the captain might be great, who knows, he kept us safe though, which is the main thing.
---We don't attend the theatre productions very much anymore in order to see the comics, jugglers, and dance entertainment groups. One thing I do not care for is the crowded theatre in the evenings where some of the rows have close to 24 seats in them; many people come very early and grab the isle seats compelling those coming later to squish by the knees of as many as 12 people to get to a open seat, furthermore, these people are reluctant to stand when someone walks by and there is not much more than a few inches between their knees and the seat in front. If one chooses to order a cocktail while seated like that, forget it. I miss the theatre layouts from before, although there is one advantage with this ship, there are no ceiling posts to block views. I do use the theatre for enrichment lectures, although these draw impressive audiences it isn't as overcrowded at those times.
--Finally and unlike the newest Princess ships, this one does have navigation charts posted on the ship. Daily progress however is not updated and other seagoing information pertinent to the voyage is still lacking. After we passed Charleston an additional chart was put up, so we could see how we navigated the Florida Keys, which was good. Apparently the Carnival Corp is beginning to rely on passengers to glean info regarding the daily progress of the vessel from their cabin TV. It is true that technology has allowed for this but we find that info on the Royal and Regal TVs is not all that informative. On this ship I couldn't find any daily voyage info on the TV, in the daily Princess Patter there is an abbreviated comment or two about this from the "Navigator". Maybe most passengers don't care where they are or what surrounds them, position wise, channel wise, country wise, etc. Not me though?
--Not certain why Princess has significantly reduced the number of hand sanitizer stations once found abundantly throughout their ships. Are they going back to the era of mass epidemics or do they know something we don't about sanitizing? Certainly hope it is not a cost saving ploy. For what it's worth though, this voyage was "bug free". I.e.,no hacking and coughing all around in theatres etc. late in the voyage. Hurray.
--There were a couple of smudges on my white dinner jacket, so before the next formal night my wife sent it to the ship's cleaners, which you pay extra for. They sent it back, saying they didn't have the necessary equipment on board to remove spots. First time we ever ran into that.
--Their Internet cafe is small but larger than those on the much larger newest Princess ships, Regal and Royal. Both it and the library are obviously not designed for long world excursion style voyages. The library and the internet cafe on the Caribbean Princess share the same location. The internet is very good and one of the fastest we have experienced on ships, additionally, we get the signal on my laptop almost anywhere on the vessel. Pricey, but we have some internet perks due to our "elite" status so that helps.
--Big on this ship as well as most others in the industry is that many cruisers like the art auctions, part of the on board entertainment programs. Okay, but not for me. These art appraisal prices are done by the art provider, a company that pays the cruise line to be onboard. I guess that is acceptable since so many guests seem to like this, the same goes for the casino as well, even though they know the house always wins in the long run. However, as with the casino, the art exhibits take up huge amounts of on board real estate. I find myself tripping over these exhibits when trying to negotiate the cluttered maze they present when trying to find my way around the ship. They simply get in the way and detract from a quality cruise for yours truly.
--Shore excursions and overloaded coaches---Apparently the days when Princess didn't load the coaches to the max on shore excursions is gone, I guess. Just about every coach we traveled on during this cruise/tour was almost packed. Speaking of coach travel problems, one of which is not necessarily a problem relegated only to Princess tours but one I have a real problem with, is the people who pull the window shades down during sightseeing. Twice on the ground portion of this trip folks felt compelled to pull their shades down due to "sun", they could see the landscape under the shade though while folks behind and across the isle could see very little in that direction. Unfortunately, due the packed coach, there was no seats to move to in order to get away from the curtain pullers. Makes one wonder why they even booked a "sightseeing" tour.
--Princess just can't seem to get a handle on developing a functional system under which they can locate passenger wine bottles stored between meals. It is not just us either, we have witnessed similar wine debacles taking place at tables near us. Tip: take your wine bottle or what is left of it to your room after dinner, I think they prefer you do that and it works out well for us. Make sure they leave the cork at your table and not take it with them, they usually do but not always.
--I am not at all satisfied with the emergency procedures, facilities for such and the drills etc, or the lack thereof, needed to cope with a disaster at sea involving a vessel of this size. The complexities of such give me the chills when I contemplate the potential of a catastrophic accident at sea involving fire, collision or other seagoing eventualities, particularly if the vessel experiences a rapid list to one side or the other. It doesn't appear to me that Carnival Corp learned much from their Costa Concordia sinking.
--Already mentioned, wainscoting dents on corners of cabin alcoves.
--Throughout the cruise, but more noticeable toward the latter days, "really bad" the last day at sea, is the smell of sewage in the forward elevator lift area of promenade deck 7, this is immediately outside of the Princess Theatre. It is also noticeable on the starboard outside promenade deck at that location and sometimes wafts upward to where it is noticeable on decks 9 and 10 balconies. Since Churchill's Lounge must also vent out near that same location the cigar smoke is almost a relief when it overcomes the smell of the sewage.
--One area that has always irritated me on all our cruises and most buffet venues on shore is that tongs are allowed to drop back into the food after someone has handled and touched them. Princess is no exception. In fact some buffets have little trays where one is supposed to lay the tongs or forks or spoons after dishing up the food, for the most part Princess has very few places to lay the tongs so many passengers just drop them right back into the middle of the platter, they might as well handle the food directly. Read Less