My wife and I are veteran cruisers, having taken at least 1 per year since 2001. This was our first on Princess Cruise Line. Our others have been on Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and Cunard. I am a travel agent, so I have no stories to share, good or bad, about what my agent did or did not do for us, as I booked this (at full price) for myself. My wife's parents came to Maryland to look after two of our children while the 3rd is away at college. They offered some time ago to give my wife and I a week to ourselves for as long as they can do that, and I intend to take advantage of that as long as the offer stands!Travel to Port
The morning of the cruise, my father-in-law dropped us off at BWI airport for our flight on AirTran to Ft. Lauderdale. We did the online check-in, so we saved money on the "excess" baggage fees, as AirTran gives a discount if you pay the fee online. The flight was on-time and we were at FLL by 11AM. Upon arrival at baggage claim, the Princess representatives did not have our names on the transfer list, so I had to dig out proof that we had paid for transfers. Once shown, they added us to the list. We retrieved our luggage and waited. Then we waited some more. Finally, they led the group out to meet the bus. We waited. We watched a Carnival bus come and go. We waited some more. We watched another Carnival bus come and go. We waited yet a little more. Finally our bus showed up. We watched to make sure that our luggage made it from the curb to the bus, and then found out there was no room for us on the bus. The Princess representatives saw that I was rightfully getting very ticked at all this, and paid for a taxi to take us to the port. Had we done this ourselves, we would have been on the ship already. I will NEVER recommend to my clients to use the ship transfers from FLL to Port Everglades. The taxis are so much faster and cheaper.Check-in
Once we were dropped off at the port, the check-in procedure was very smooth. We had to stop and fill out the required norovirus form, and then proceeded right to the desk to check-in with no waiting. In about 2 minutes were headed to the ship. We skipped past the Embarkation photo and went to our cabin to drop off our carry-on luggage, and then went to lunch.Stateroom
We had a balcony cabin on the Riviera deck (deck 14, one below the Lido). While no cabin (except perhaps the suites) is large, ours was more than adequate. There was plenty of storage space in the open closet, and sufficient shelf and drawer space as well. The shower was tiny. One of the comedian's did a whole routine about how you could use the shower as a washing machine. Simply get in and do a quick rinse to start. Then soap up the walls. You then go into the wash cycle and spin against the walls in an agitate cycle, and then follow with a rinse and spin. He wasn't too far off! Stateroom television was a bit lacking, but who goes on a cruise to watch TV anyway?Dining
We had confirmed late-seating for dining. Or at least so we thought. When we boarded, our key cards said anytime dining. We were told that corrections could be made by meeting someone in the Crown Grill at 1:30PM. So, we went down to the Grill at the proper time and found quite a number of people in the same situation. When it was finally my turn to talk to someone (they had 5 people controlling the crowd, and only one handling the reservations), I was told we would have to deal with the Anytime dining for the first night, but that we would get an assignment for the next. The next morning we did receive a table assignment. We skipped the main dining rooms that night and ate in the Horizon Court (Lido deck) since they had a nice seafood buffet that included King Crab claws and other good stuff.
The food in the dining rooms the rest of the week was good. I'm not sure that the selections were all that great, but there was always at least one thing that appealed to me. The preparation and quality of the food was very good. In the morning's we ate breakfast in the Horizon Court. One constant was that the scrambled eggs were always undercooked and runny. I completed a comment card about that the 2nd day of the cruise, but they were never fully cooked until the morning we were leaving the ship. The buffet lines are not laid out in as efficient a manner as on other ships I have been on, nor was the breakfast food as good.
We typically did not eat lunch, but instead had a small snack to hold us over to dinner. This was either from the buffet, or from the Pizza station. Only 2 types of Pizza are offered each day (cheese and one other), and while they were okay, they were not as good as on Carnival. They also did not offer calzone's or Ceasar salad at the Princess Pizza station. Finally, unlike every other ship I have ever been on, including the QM2, there was no free soft-serve ice cream or frozen yogurt. The Crown Princess has an ice cream bar next to the pizza station. A soft-serve cone or sundae is $1.50 plus more for toppings. On principle, I never had any of their ice cream. In my humble opinion, this takes the nickel and dime approach to cruising a bit too far.Itinerary
We were scheduled for Princess Cay, St. Maarten, St. Thomas, and Grand Turk. Princess Cay is nothing more than a beach that you have to pay extra for. They charge for deck chairs, snorkel and other water equipment, plus lots of other extra things. I can't see paying $24 to rent a snorkel mask for 6 hours. If I want to lay in the sun, I can do that on a deck chair aboard ship for free. So, we didn't even bother to get off the ship there.
On the way to St. Maarten, the Captain came on to announce that due to hurricane Omar, we would be going to Grand Turk on Wednesday instead of Friday, and then going to Ocho Rios and Grand Cayman instead of St. Maarten and St. Thomas. This was a bit disappointing as we have never been to St. Maarten, but I wouldn't want to be there in the middle of a hurricane anyway.
There is not much in Grand Turk. What was there was badly damaged by hurricane Ike. we took a taxi with a few other people for a tour of the devastation around the island. Following that, we did a little shopping at the port stores, most of which you had to pay in cash, as the phone service for their credit card machines had not yet been restored. We then went to look at the huge Margaritaville and sample the drinks.
We have been to Ocho Rios twice before and pretty much have seen most of the sights. We had never been to the Green Grotto caves, so we took an excursion that went there and to Dunn's River Falls park. The caves were really neat. If you haven't taken the time to go there, it is a worthwhile activity. At DRF, we watched some folks climbing the falls, and then went into the ocean for a swim. The beach there was rather dirty, mostly from seaweed. There was someone working to clean it, but I think they were fighting a losing battle. I did not remember it being that way when we visited 5 years ago. The ocean water was rather cold, particularly at the surface. I think all the storms that have passed near Jamaica this year really roiled the water causing the temperature changes and seaweed washing up. I certainly can't blame those that run the park.
In Grand Cayman, we used Native Way Watersports
to go play with the stingrays and snorkel on the reef. We had used them on our visit 5 years ago to do the same and were quite pleased. This time was even better. They had a photographer onboard that got in the water to take pictures of us and the stingrays. They are some of the better pictures I've seen of my wife and I in a while. They were a bit costly though. I got a real nice sunburn on this tour too.Activities
We participated in several of the Trivia games, winning twice, and finishing second two other times. I guess when people tell us that we are fonts of useless knowledge they are correct. I went to the Cyber Golf simulator for the long drive competition and was the only one to show up. So instead I played 3 holes of golf on Firestone Country Club along with the ship's pro. I also signed up for and later took a pair of golf lessons. The nine-hole mini golf course is one of the harder mini golf courses I have ever played. In addition to the rolling of the ship, there are lots of bumps and hills built into the course.
We both spent a fair amount of time in the casino, and it wasn't very kind. I'll leave it at that. One comment I do have is that they need to add a second "Let It Ride" table. While some of their other tables were empty many nights, that table was always filled to capacity, with people waiting to play.Entertainment
The production shows were very good. In particular, the "Motor City" show (musical tribute to MoTown) was great. The production shows were about to par with Cunard's shows and much better than Carnival or RCL. The comedy acts were good, though I was disappointed that there were no late-night adult-only shows. Those are usually the funniest shows. While we did not spend much time in any of the lounges, what I heard of the various musical artists around the ship, they were all very good.Disembarkation
This is always the worst part of any cruise, as it means that the cruise is over. According to our color tags, we were to meet in one of the dining rooms at 8:15AM. We arrived almost exactly at that time. After about 30 minutes and hearing other colors called, but not ours, which was supposed to have been sooner, I went looking to see what was going on. Apparently ours was called earlier than expected, and once called, a color was never called again. So late arrivals were left in the dark about whether to wait, or to get off the ship. Once I found that out, we exited the ship. A benefit of getting off after the rest of our color group is that it made finding our luggage easier! Just about all that was left for our color group was our stuff. We gathered it, went through customs and the went to the transfer bus. Then we waited, and waited some more. We were the last ones to board our bus, but it did not leave until 30 minutes later. Again, taxis are the way to go between Port Everglades and Ft. Lauderdale airport.
Once at the airport we waited some more, as our flight was not until 2:26PM. Fortunately, FLL has free WiFi internet service, and were able to find a electric outlet to plug in the laptop we brought with us. The flight home was uneventful, and we arrived home tired and needing a vacation!Summary
I have seen many cruise reviews that find lots of silly things wrong with a cruise that they get all upset about. Personally, I have yet to be on a bad cruise. This was no exception. We had a great time, and while I pointed out a couple of minor issues, they are there for your information only, not to dissuade you from sailing on this ship. We will be sailing again next July on the QM2 for the Cruise Freek Forum 5-day cruise to Boston and Halifax
. We will also be escorting the Cruise Freek Forum cruise to the Mexican Riviera on 10/11/09 on the Mariner of the Seas.
I hope that Jean and I will see you onboard both of them.