SUN PRINCESS January 28 - Feb. 7, 2005 B742 - CAT BD
I can't explain it. The anticipation of a cruise is always the same. Maybe it's all the great people we meet beforehand and look forward to cruising with. Maybe it's the thought of another adventure away from work and ringing phones. Whatever it is, it's always the same.
We book our cruises far in advance. I have to have another one to look forward to before departing from the ship I'm on. We booked this cruise in March of 2004. That gave us 10 months to look forward to it. We were not disappointed.
We departed for Ft. Lauderdale a day before boarding (we always do this now since we almost missed a ship about ten years ago). We arrived on-time at 7:15 p.m. and were picked up at the airport by our cruising friends that sail with us every winter. We immediately made a path for our favorite Italian restaurant -- Il Mulino on Sunrise -- for dinner. Great food for a very reasonable price. We had to get our eating routine off to a good start.
We stay at a little hotel a block from the beach in Ft. Lauderdale that we have used for years -- TropiRock. Great little place owned and run by a wonderful couple -- Mick & Patty. We were up early on Friday and drove to the Floridian for breakfast .... they are open 24 hrs and served a terrific breakfast. Then we were off to the ship. We dropped the luggage off at the pier and then Andy (my husband) and our friend Jim ran the car back to the airport. They returned in less than 30 minutes.
EMBARKATION -- When we arrived at the pier (around 11:15) the doors had not been opened yet to passengers. By 11:30, they began accepting passengers. As you enter, you are handed two forms -- one for Bahamas immigration and the other a Health Statement form (saying you currently are not suffering from viruses -- that you know of). You need to complete these forms before they will allow you to go through security and reach the check-in area. We did experience a problem at this point.
Emery (our other friend) and I completed all of the forms while Andy & Jim returned the car. Emery is a Canadian citizen. As we walked in the door, they directed U.S. citizens one way and all non-U.S. citizens to queue in a separate line. The three of us (Andy, Jim & I) proceeding through security in seconds. Andy & I proceeded to check-in (no line) and had our shipboard cards within five minutes. However, Emery was still being held in a line outside of security for non-U.S. citizens and the line hadn't moved. After another ten minutes passed and the line was still stationary, I walked back to the check-in clerk that assisted us. He attempted to find a supervisor to find out what was going on. Another ten minutes passed -- no line movement, no supervisor. Back to the counter and another request for assistance. No one had any idea why non-U.S. citizens were being held. Finally, after about 35 - 40 minutes a woman who appeared to be a supervisor walked to the front of the line and spoke to the Princess representatives near the front door. Immediately, the line began to move and Emery was through security within the next ten minutes. No one was ever told why they were being held. I think that perhaps the person at the door may have been misinformed about what they were supposed to do. They were supposed to ensure everyone had their forms filled out before going through security, but there was no specific reason or anything special they were requiring from foreign citizens. Very odd.
Once on board, we did our regular routine. Dropped off our carry-ons in our stateroom (we always carry on a change of clothing, our swimsuit and valuables just in case the luggage doesn't make it -- it does happen) and began exploring. We start at the top of the ship and work our way down. Massage appointments were made, lunch in the Horizon Court (very good) and getting familiar with where things are located. It felt great to be back on a ship.
Life boat drill was at 4:30 and Princess probably does this better than anyone else (anyone that we've sailed with anyway). Their muster stations are all inside in lounges and theaters. They ask you NOT to put your life jacket on but to carry it with you to your muster station. I've always thought it was dangerous to have people put their jackets on while they are walking down stairs and the other lines we've sailed with make you do this.
Before going any further, I feel the need to remind everyone (this is going to sound silly) that when on a cruise you are on a moving vessel. You are going to feel movement. Sometimes little or no movement; sometimes, when the seas are rough, a lot of movement. I told you this reminder probably seems silly, but I was amazed (I always am) at the number of people complaining that they could feel movement. Granted, this cruise has rougher seas than the average, but when you choose to cruise, you need to understand that movement is a possibility.
OK, back to the review ..... after the life boat drill, we had scheduled a 5:00 p.m. sailaway for all of the Cruise Critic members on our roll call. We planned to meet at the Riviera Pool bar on deck and it was great to finally meet everyone. We had been chatting for months, looking forward to this cruise together. It's great to report that everyone who participated in our pre-cruise roll call surveys showed up for the sailaway. It's also nice to report that we saw and enjoyed the company of many of our fellow Cruise Critic passengers all cruise long.
Good news, our luggage arrived in our room prior to the boat drill and we were unpacked by 4:00 p.m. Great luggage delivery service. Our cabin attendant, Zaldy, even put our luggage inside our cabin for us .... a nice touch as all the other luggage up the hallway (a different cabin attendant) remained in the hallway waiting for their owners.
As soon as we left the harbor in Ft. Lauderdale, we could tell that we were in for rough seas. Personally, I enjoy a little movement. For me it's part of the enjoyment of being on the seas. However, I realize many others do not enjoy it. Even though the seas were rough, I'd say most people showed up for dinner in the dining room the first night. We were seated at a table for ten and only one our of tablemates skipped dinner due to not feeling well. Her husband asked for some dinner rolls and crackers to take back to her and our waiter kindly wrapped some in foil for him. One note of advice -- don't remain in your cabin when you aren't feeling well due to rough seas. Get out on deck. Sit in a chair on the Promenade. Get fresh air. The confinement of your cabin makes it worse, not better.
Overall, our cruise was off to a great start. From this point, I'm going to give you a breakdown of different things I think people like to know about in a review.
CONDITION OF THE SHIP -- For being ten years old (we sailed Sun Princess in her inaugural year), we thought she was in great condition. Sure, there were spots you could tell some wear and tear, but having sailed Golden Princess just seven months ago, the Sun was in far better condition than the Golden was and the Golden is a much newer ship. I realize a lot factors into a ship's condition -- last dry dock and refurbish, etc. The Sun was very clean, very comfortable and condition wise we had no complaints.
The pool deck has several types of deck chairs (hard to describe here) but we like the oldest one that have removable pads best and the ones that have self-canvas type materials the least (they just don't sit up straight enough for me to be comfortable). The area at the back of the ship, with a round aft pool and three hot tubs, was our preferred spot for reading and relaxation. We sat at the main pool once. Can't address the chair hog situation because we intentionally no longer head to the main pool at peak times. It's not worth the hassles. Besides, the weather on this cruise was not the sunniest or the warmest so being poolside wasn't at the top of list of things to do each day.
CABIN - B742 CAT BD -- Our cabin was fine. It was probably one of the smallest cabins we've ever had but how much room do you need for two people? There was more than enough drawer and closet space for our clothing and the luggage easily slid under the bed for storage. The bathroom was pretty small as well but I liked the shower head a lot (I know that may sound strange but it had variable types of spray and the water pressure was great).
We had a small desk area with a stool that fit under the desk and a chair next to the cabinet that held a small TV in the corner of the cabin next to the door of the veranda. The desk did not have a center drawer which would have been nice to store all those receipts that you sign during the cruise. I like to keep them together in order to check our bill on the last night.
Our veranda was tiny. It barely had enough room for a small round table (maybe 24 inches wide) and two small plastic chairs. It didn't make for a great place to sit and read as the chairs weren't meant to sit in for more than a short period of time. But still, having the option of stepping out onto the veranda to watch the world go by is wonderful even if there wasn't much space for anything else.
I should add that we opted to take a "downgrade." We'd never had this offered before but the ship was oversold and needed CAT BBs (our original booking). We were offered $150 to move to a lower category and it was actually the room type we wanted to begin with -- a balcony cabin aft. So we took it. Paid for a massage ;-).
FOOD -- I'll start by saying food quality is probably the most subjective thing you can discuss and everyone's tastes are different. But for us, we thought the food was very good to excellent.
Main Dining Room -- We enjoy traditional, late dining at a large table. We were seated with our friends, Jim and Emery, and three other couples. We had a great time all week long. For us, part of the fun of cruising is meeting new people and having the chance to catch up with them each evening.
Our meals here were consistently terrific. I'm a pasta lover and in days gone by, Princess used to do a pasta course between the soup/salad course and the main entrEe. Now there is a pasta entrEe each night as one of the five or six entrEe choices. I asked, and was happily accommodated, a small serving of pasta in place of my salad each evening. Several were outstanding, some were average, but it was very nice that they happily accommodated the request. Beef was consistently good and properly cooked to order. Side dishes were good and desserts were outstanding. The second formal night was lobster night and for the past several cruises, we've found lobster to be so-so .... somewhat rubbery. We were therefore going to choose the Beef Wellington until we ran into another Cruise Critic member who had just come from personal choice dining. She told us that the lobster tails were wonderful. So we gave it a shot. We each ordered the Beef Wellington and then one lobster entrEe to share. It was perfect! The lobster was by far the best we've ever had on a cruise. They serve two tails on each plate. Everyone at our table (except the four of us cruising together) had four tails each.
Horizon Court -- The food in this buffet area was good. Basic fare. We ate breakfast here most mornings and other than the pancakes (which were like cardboard), we enjoyed our breakfasts. There is an eggs made to order station at the end of the buffet line. The make great omelets and eggs back here.
Now that they limit access to the buffet area due to health concerns (they station a crew member at the beginning of the line and make you use the hand disinfectant before entering and they do not allow you to return to the buffet area unless you go back to the entrance and get another shot of the disinfectant), this isn't really a "user" friendly area. I appreciate the health concerns and their enforcement but if you forget something once you get to your table (say something like butter or juice) you can't just walk but up near the exit and pick the item up even though you just went through the line. Plus the staff in the Horizon Court that keeps this area clean (picking up dishes and cleaning tables) was somewhat lax, kind of defeating the purpose of the cleanliness efforts in the line itself. I even witnessed several crew members giving supervisors a hard time two or three times when they were asked to clean tables (this was the only odd crew thing I saw all cruise long).
We had lunch here several times and it was good. Pretty typical stuff. They did have some specialty lunches in here at the back (actually the front of the ship) of the restaurant -- Mexican one day; Sushi another -- but we didn't try them.
This was also the location where they served "Free" ice cream each afternoon from 3:30 - 4:30 along with a variety of sandwiches and foccacia pizza. They were all great. I can't quite understand why they don't offer their ice cream all the time (you can get it on the menu in the dining room for lunch but that's it except for 3:30 - 4:30 in the afternoon). My guess is they want you to buy the Haagen Das on the pool deck. That's a shame .... the ships' ice cream is REALLY good. Who needs the Haagen Das!
Sterling Steakhouse -- At 5:00 p.m., they turn one half of the Horizon Court into the Sterling Steakhouse. We tried it one evening about half way through the cruise. Six of us made a reservation and had a great evening. The food was excellent (I especially loved the creamed corn casserole served in a little pastry cup ... delicious). Steaks were very good, the ambience was delightful considering we were in the Horizon Court (it's very nice, lit by candles at night) and we had a great evening.
Outdoor Grille -- This is an area on the upper pool deck where you can get hot dogs, hamburgers, cheeseburgers, chicken sandwiches and brats or metts. We ate here about three times. Our first day at sea we chose to have cheeseburgers. They were pre-cooked but put back on the grille for heating and melting the cheese. They were probably the best burger I've had on a ship. The second time we ate lunch here a couple of days later, it was the exact opposite. The line was extremely long (note -- this was a two-sided grille but they only ever opened one side of it throughout the cruise -- more on that later) and one would think that would mean better food because they were turning the food out more often but that wasn't the case. The two cooks working the grille were less than pleasant (because of the line I suppose) and both of our burgers were burnt and not edible. It was odd because it was so opposite of the first burgers we had. We opted to go to the Horizon Court for food.
Our final lunch at the grille was good. I went for the chicken sandwich and Andy went for one of the sausages. Both were good. We did try to eat here again upon returning from Princess Cays as we missed the BBQ lunch on the beach but unfortunately, they decided to close the Grille early (it was closed by 4:15 for some reason while the posted closing time was 5:00 p.m.) so we skipped eating at that point.
Verdi's Pizzeria -- The best pizza at sea -- hands down (out of the other lines we've sailed -- Celebrity, RCI and Norwegian). At lunch they serve pizza and calzones. This is a sit-down restaurant where you have to be seated, order and eat there. It states that there is no carry-out or room service for pizza -- which is a shame. It would be really nice to stop here, get a piece of pizza and go sit by the pool. However, pizzas are individual and family sized and made to order -- no pizza by the slice (like they had on the Crown and Regal Princess). Still -- the pizza is awesome and far surpasses the pizza on other cruise lines. In the evening, they also serve pasta here (we didn't try it, however). Note ~ Verdi's is closed each day from 4:00 - 6:00 p.m.
Room Service -- We used room service for breakfast on the veranda a couple of times. The delivery was prompt and the food was fine. We only ordered coffee and Danish so it was pretty tough not to be good. The best part of course is sitting on the veranda to enjoy the breakfast. ;-)
Drinks -- I think the drink prices on Princess tend to be more reasonable than Celebrity or RCI. Most cocktails were in the $4 - $5 range. That's less than any drink we had on RCI last year. Bottles of wine are reasonable and of course if you drink a lot of soda, the soda cards are a good deal.
SERVICE -- We had great service for the most part. Sometimes I think service has a lot to do with how we (the passengers) treat the crew. I know many people will say that shouldn't matter. I'm a believer that if we treat people with respect and are pleasant, they will go above and beyond for you where service is concerned. I felt that way on this cruise. We do not pre-tip any staff. But we are pleasant and cordial and try to show appreciation for their hard work from the time we step on board. We do this by smiling, saying hello, asking the crew how their day is going. We try to treat fellow passengers the same way, too. Ultimately, it makes for a fun and enjoyable cruise for all of us.
Our cabin attendant, Zaldy was outstanding. Always pleasant, always responded quickly the one or two times we asked for something and he kept our room neat and clean.
Our main dining room experience was unique. I came to the conclusion (this is my own opinion) that Princess is using the Sun (and probably the other Sun class ships) as training grounds for new crew. I strongly felt this way about the wait staff on this ship. We were seated at a table for ten. The first evening, only nine of us were there due to rough seas. Our waiter came to the table and handed out menus. He never introduced himself or his assistant. We thought this was very odd as this is usually the first thing the waiters do on the first evening. Service was very, very slow on the first evening. We were seated at 8:15 and it was after 10:30 before we left the dining room. Neither our waiter nor the assistant were outgoing the first night.
The second night was pretty much the same. Our tablemates were getting very impatient and complained to the maitre d' before leaving for the evening. On the third evening, we had the maitre d' and two head waiters virtually standing next to our table. It was actually rather uncomfortable. I'm sure it didn't make our waiters feel better and probably made them more nervous. However, the service speed picked up considerably and things seemed to move along the rest of the cruise.
About mid-way through the cruise, it dawned on me that I think our waiter did not understand English very well and that perhaps he had some difficulty in taking the dinner orders ... for example, you couldn't just say what you wanted to order, you pretty much had to point it out on the menu. I think some of the distance we felt from him was perhaps some insecurity about communication. I really thought he was a nice person but hadn't been well trained to this point. Our assistant waiter was terrific. He warmed up to everyone and was the type of waiter we were used to .... Friendly, fun, accommodating. By the end of the cruise, we felt like our assistant was more like our waiter.
In talking with many of the crew, this was their first contract on a ship. We met far more crew who were new than on any previous cruise. All were wonderful but it leads me to believe that the older Princess ships are now being used to train new staff. This isn't a bad thing, it just shows at certain times. An exception to this was the cruise staff that had a pretty long tenure on ships.
ENTERTAINMENT -- This cruise wasn't very memorable in the entertainment department. I saw one production show (on the second to last night) and it was very good and on an earlier evening, a comedian was very good but other than that, nothing special. Others said the ventriloquist one night was great but we didn't make it out of dinner quick enough to catch the show. A couple additional shows we attended weren't great and we didn't stay. Lounge entertainment was so - so. Phoenix Rising in the Wheelhouse was good but too loud for before dinner drinks. The piano player/singer in the Atrium lounge sang some interesting stuff but he wasn't great at carrying a tune. We were actually surprised as they usually have a great piano bar type singer. The gentleman who played pre-dinner piano in the atrium (on a different level) was great.
I think the Personal Choice dining along side the traditional dining makes for difficult scheduling in the entertainment department. And none of it was really conducive to those with late traditional dining. The late shows began at 10:15 at the latest. It was seldom that we were out of the dining room by then. So it was kind of tough to really get a good feel for some of the entertainment.
SPECIAL FUNCTIONS -- We enjoyed the Caribbean deck party mid-cruise very much. Palm branches brought onboard in the port of call for that day were used to decorate the pool deck. It looked great. Tons of passengers showed up dressed in Caribbean shirts and dresses and everyone had a great time. The only disappointment was they began serving food on the buffet at 9:30. We were still in at dinner at that point in time so there was no way we could eat again at the deck party. I suppose you could have skipped dinner and filled up here. That would be an option as there was plenty of food at the party.
The repeaters party was very nice also. Our Captain, William Kent, had a great sense of humor and was in his element at functions like this. We were lucky and won a complimentary bottle of champagne which we shared with our Cruise Critic friends. ;-)
Evening cocktails. OK ... this wasn't really a special function per se, but it was an evening ritual that was special. We met each evening at 7:15 for pre-dinner drinks with friends. Some nights it was the Wheelhouse Bar, some nights the Atrium lounge. Wherever the location, it was great to catch up with everyone at the end of the day.
DRESS -- There is always so much emphasis placed on dress. I think if you don't worry about it and do what you feel comfortable with, you'll be fine. We like to go by the recommended dress code for the evening. We think it's part of the fun of cruising. There were two formal nights and eight casual nights on this cruise. I'd say a very high majority of passengers were dressed formally on both formal nights. In fact, there was a high percentage of tuxes on formal nights. There was an occasional person here or there who wasn't dressed for the evening but they didn't bother us.
PORTS OF CALL -- We've been lucky enough to have visited all the ports of call on previous cruises. But we were still looking forward to visiting all them. Here's a brief overview of each stop: Antigua -- It had been years since we were here. We pre-booked an excursion with Eli's Eco Tour for a day of snorkeling and fun with a lot of our Cruise Critic friends. As we disembarked the ship, we were met by a representative from Eli's who informed us that due to unusually high surf conditions, Eli was canceling the tour for the day. While we were disappointed, we certainly understood. Eli's assistant volunteered to set up an island tour and beach stop with one of the local taxi drivers they knew. About half of us took her up on the offer. For $25 per person, we had a very nice tour of the island, including Nelson's Dockyard (admission here was extra) and then a stop at a very nice beach where we enjoyed ourselves for about two hours. Overall, this was a nice way to spend the day. By the next day, our deposit had been refunded on our credit card by Eli's. Pretty prompt service!
As we were getting ready for sailaway, Captain Kent came over the loudspeaker to tell us they had encountered a problem with the ship and it was going to delay our departure from Antigua. He told us he would keep us updated. A little after 5:00 p.m., the Captain provided additional news. There was a problem with one of the ship's holding tanks and we couldn't leave until repairs had been made that would make it safe to sail. He told us anticipated departure would be late in the evening and that the next update would be around 10:00 p.m. By now I was a little anxious because our next stop was supposed to be Barbados. Besides really liking Barbados, I had pre-ordered tiles for a kitchen backsplash from a wonderful pottery shop in Barbados called Earthworks. This was my chance to pick them up.
At 10:00 p.m., the Captain came back to announce that we would be departing around midnight and we would be skipping Barbados and going to St. Maarten instead as they could have additional repairs made to the ship in St. Maarten. So we were going to miss Barbados BUT he also gave us good news -- we would be making a stop later in the cruise to Tortola -- one of our favorite islands.
When the announcement was made, I quickly hopped on the internet to let Earthworks know we wouldn't be making it (I had them ship the tiles to our home instead) and then got to work on trying to find something to do in Tortola. A little research on Cruise Critic brought up a snorkeling trip on a catamaran called Patouche. I quickly touched base with our Cruise Critic friends and we put together a group of 14 to do the day trip on Patouche. I emailed my office who in turn set up all the arrangements with Patouche. We would sail to the Baths at Virgin Gorda (spectacular) and then do another snorkel stop with lunch. Sounded great. Thanks to Cruise Critic and easy communications these days, we were able to quickly put something together for Tortola.
St. Maarten -- We've been to St. Maarten numerous times and decided to stay on the ship for most of the day. Since our stop here actually was several days early, we had to tender here since the ships normally scheduled here on this day had all the spots on the pier. The Queen Mary 2 was anchored next to us. I was excited because I wanted to see her. MAN, is she big???? Too big for us but we were glad to see her. About 2:00 p.m., we took a tender into town just to walk around and have a drink at a lovely spot along the beach. They have recently completed the construction of beach sidewalk that ties all the restaurants along the beach together. It looks great.
St. Kitts -- We were here last year on a cruise and decided to once again primarily stay on the ship. We got off for about 30 minutes just to walk around.
Tortola -- A tender port but all of us taking the Patouche excursion went ashore together. It was a short walk to the harbor where Patouche was anchored. As we were paying ($90 per person for the day) we were advised that we wouldn't be going to the Baths due to the high surf conditions ..... the same conditions that cancelled Eli's tour in Antigua. I was disappointed because the Baths are so unique and beautiful and I was excited to have everyone else in our group see them. But there's not much we could do about sea conditions and we did appreciate that there was concern for safety.
Even though we did not go to the Baths, the sea conditions were still rough getting to the two snorkel stops we did make. The sail out in the morning to Peter Island was OK. The sun was shining and even though it was a bumpy ride, most were having fun. As we made the first snorkel stop, the skies turned grey, the wind picked up and by the time we headed for the second snorkel stop, it was pretty rough. When we anchored in a bay off Norman Island, several people were ready to call it a day. Lunch was served in a calm bay (lunch was very nice -- quiche, macaroni salad, cole slaw and several kinds of fresh baked bread) and everyone felt better. We all discussed whether we wanted to continue to the next snorkel stop or head back. The crew said the next stop was just around the corner and on the way back to the harbor so we stopped. Most got in the water and said the snorkeling was great.
The ride back to shore was extremely rough and most were happy to be back on solid ground by the time we arrived. The crew however (Pierce and Clive) were terrific and we wouldn't hesitate to do Patouche again. My suggestion for others taking these kinds of trips -- talk to the crew before heading out. If rough seas bother you at all, this wouldn't have been a good day for you to be on an excursion.
St. Thomas -- We had pre-planned about a month or two in advance with another Cruise Critic couple to do a sailboat snorkel while in St. Thomas. However, the experience on the cat in Tortola led to our decision that we did not want to do another excursion where the sea conditions and weather were a repeat of Tortola. So I emailed the sailboat operator, Kathleen at High Pockets, of our experience in Tortola and advising her of our wish to cancel in St. Thomas if the seas and weather were going to be comparable. High Pockets had a cancellation policy of 48 hrs. and we were now within 24 hrs so we realized we could lose our deposit if they were going to enforce their policy. However, it wasn't worth a second day of being uncomfortable for the entire day.
As soon as we got to St. Thomas, I called High Pockets and spoke with Kathleen. She said the weather was showing a 30% chance of rain (it was overcast with intermittent drizzle as we pulled into St. Thomas) and if the forecast was for 40%, she would allow us to cancel without penalty. I discussed the seas conditions we had the previous day with her and explained that none of us wanted to spend another day in these types of conditions. Kathleen tried to convince us that they could find a calm bay and that the day would be fine, but we weren't willing to take the chance and cancelled. She informed us that she would be charging each couple a 50% penalty for canceling. It would have been nice if she was willing to work with us a bit more .... perhaps offering to hold our deposit for a return trip to St. Thomas, or charging us for her out of pocket expenses (such as food) that she would have lost for the day.
We decided to instead to take the ferry to St. John and go to a beach for the day. Several Cruise Critic couples joined us. The ferry ride to St. John (out of Red Hook where High Pockets also left from) was fairly rough but it's not uncommon in this area. When we arrived in Cruz Bay, I had called a taxi driver, Mario, that we used previously and he picked us up and served as our taxi for the day. He charged $250 for the ten of us for the day.
We started out by stopping at Cruz Bay Water Sports to rent snorkel equipment and beach chairs. Then we headed to the north beaches because most had not been to Trunk Bay before. We were very surprised to learn that Trunk Bay was closed due to high surf. It was amazing. No beach visible at all; huge waves crashing on the shore. We've been to these beaches more than ten times in the past 15 years and I've never seen anything like it. Each stop along the north shore, Cinnamon Bay and Maho Bay were the same -- no beach to sit on and surf way too high to get into the water safely.
Mario, our taxi driver, offered to take us to the southeast end of the island to a bay that might be calmer. We all agreed to try it. We had never been past Coral Bay before so this was a new adventure for us as well. We went to Salt Pond Bay. It was better and quite pretty and probably the only place you could get in the water on St. John that day. I wrote postcards while most snorkeled. We headed back around 1:00 p.m. and stopped for lunch at Shipwreck Landing not far from the bay. GREAT food, awful waitress. For such a beautiful spot to work, you would have thought the waitress would have a smile at least. Very strange.
After lunch, we headed back to town, dropped off the rental equipment and caught the 3:00 p.m. ferry back to St. Thomas. We had pre-arranged with our taxi driver that took us from the ship to Red Hook to come back and pick us up when we came back from St. Thomas. She gave us a discount for the return trip to the ship.
This is by far our favorite stop. We're comfortable here (we've vacationed on St. John before) and know our way around. The beauty of St. John is hard to beat and it was fun to explore new spots. We're sorry the High Pockets trip didn't work out and I doubt we'll pre-book a water excursion ahead of time in the future. All of the snorkeling excursions offered by the ship to St. John had been cancelled that day so we felt we made the right decision in not to go with High Pockets.
Overall, we had a fun day.
Princess Cays -- We were concerned about getting into the island because of rough seas. This is a tender stop and it can be too rough for the tenders. Additionally, Princess has just started stopping here again since the island was damaged by the summer hurricanes. We were all hoping things would work out here.
Fortunately, they did. We choose to get up and eat a leisurely breakfast and wait till the crowds thinned to head to the island. We took a tender around noon and had no wait at all. We got off the tender and found our friends over in the cabana area to the right of the dock. Most people (including all the food and bars) were to the left of the dock. The area where the cabanas are was lovely. Quiet, beautiful. This was a GREAT stop. We walked the beach (the water was a bit chilly for me), had drinks (not much drink service over here -- only saw one bartender the entire time and the bars on this side of the beach were not open at all -- they did have signage saying this), read and laughed. It was the perfect way to end the cruise.
One note on the return tender trip. The last tender was scheduled to go back to the ship at 3:30. By 2:30, the line for the return tenders was unbelievably long. Instead of standing in an hour long line, we chose to move to the side of the beach near the tenders and hang out on the beach until the line wound down. I can't figure out why people would stand in a line that long. You can see the line and tenders so it only takes a minute to get up and walk to them. Plus, security checks the beach carefully so no one is left behind! ;-) Our recommendation, take the last tender back and relax while everyone else stands in line.
ON THE DOWN SIDE -- Closing food lines before scheduled time -- this happened when we got back from Princess Cays and the pool grille closed before 4:15. We didn't make lunch on the island because we had just eaten breakfast around 10:30, so we were going to get a bite to eat at the grille (which was scheduled to be open till 5:00 p.m.). When we got there at 4;15, everything was cleaned up and they were wheeling away the remains. The only option was the mini-sandwiches at the Horizon Court.
Size of cabin -- they are small but we managed just fine. When comparing to other ships, this cabin wasn't quite as nice. But we did get a great deal on it so no complaints.
Entertainment quality -- could have been better in the public lounges.
Availability of ice cream -- this may sound silly but I think they could offer the free ice cream (which is VERY good) more than one hour each afternoon (only available from 3:30 - 4:30 in the Horizon Court). You can get ice cream for dessert at lunch and dinner but it's not available (free) at any other time except 3:30 - 4:30. If you want ice cream at other times you have to go to the Haagen Daz ice cream bar and pay for it. This is a minor thing but makes it seem like Princess is "skimping." Put it in the Horizon Court from lunch - 5:00 p.m.
ON THE UP SIDE -- Great crew for the most part, the crew was terrific. Friendly, smiling. Thomas in the Atrium lounge was great; Dan Gibbons, the CD and his staff were fun; our cabin attendant, Zaldy, was the best.
Food -- Overall, we enjoyed the food very much. Much of it was excellent and we certainly did not leave this ship hungry or feeling like we didn't get what we paid for.
The Captain -- He was engaging and accessible. On the last morning, he was sitting on the pool deck with a tray of food he just got from the Horizon Court. We've never seen a captain eating from the buffet area at a public table by the pool before. I believe a crew can be much like the Captain of the ship. It all starts at the top!
Spa -- I had two massages -- one with David (outstanding) and the other with Heather (equally outstanding). I did the second one as a port day special when they discount spa services.
FINALLY...... This was a great cruise! Our Cruise Critic friends (Joe, Kirk, Amber, Sandi, Jack, Louise, Louann, Neil, John, Raina, David, Andrea, Mary, Jim and all the others) made this a memorable vacation. As all cruises, it went much too fast. We'd cruise with all of them and Princess again! Remember .... keep smiling and you'll have a wonderful time!
HAPPY CRUISING Read Less