Friday, May 12, 2006

Our Review of the May 2006 Cruise

The following review and many more, for many other ships, are on the Cruise Critic website along with other information about planning a cruise.

Here's our review.

The Cruise Critic reviews were very helpful to us as first-time cruisers so here are our observations and a few things we wish we had known before our trip. Hope they will be helpful.

We sailed on the Caribbean Princess from Ft. Lauderdale on the Eastern Caribbean route, a seven night cruise, Spring 2006.

Embarkation -- The email from Princess said don't arrive before 2:00 P.M. but we got there just before 1:00. The line looked long but it moved very fast, so fast it was hard to fill out the brief health survey the CDC wanted from us. Before we knew it we were on the way to the ship and got to the room by 1:45. Four of the five pieces of luggage arrived quickly and the fifth item was delivered about an hour later.

The Ship -- The Caribbean Princess is a beautiful, elegantly designed and decorated ship. We were impressed by how well it has been maintained and how clean it was.

Food -- Generally we were pleased with the food. It was good to very good most of the time. We took our own little coffee maker for our convenience - and the New Orleans blend we like - but the ship's coffee was fine despite the negative reviews online. We chose "Personal Choice Dining" and never had more than a two-minute wait for a table for two, except at the Sterling Steak House - and that cost $15 extra per person. On Saturday shortly after boarding, we reserved for Monday evening at Sterling's, we asked for 7:00. The manager said only 6:30 or 7:30 was available. We arrived at 7:30 that evening and the place was nearly empty and there was no one at the reception desk. Without going into all the details of the disorganization and listless service, we had to wait for the manager -- after being asked for our names three times. We got a table we didn't like and asked to be moved. They promptly moved us and then the food took a long, long time. When it finally arrived, it wasn't very good and didn't really match the descriptions on the menu. Save the $15 each! Get your steak at the Palm or Coral Dining Rooms. The quality is just as good, it's available every night and there's no extra charge.

The "Personal Choice" dining rooms, the Palm and the Coral, have excellent waiter service with good food and lots of choices. It is a relaxing change from the hassle of the buffets. The Horizon Court buffet was open for breakfast and lunch and was better than expected. For breakfast there was excellent smoked salmon along with other smoked fish and meats. And all the trimmings - bagels, capers, cream cheese, chopped onions. The chef was making omelets to order and the trays of sausage, bacon and scrambled eggs were generally hot and fresh. Sometime there were eggs specialties like eggs Benedict or Florentine. Catch these as they put them out and you'll get the yolks still runny. Breads, rolls and pastries are fresh and very good. Breakfast potatoes are different each morning and all were terrible, as were the baked potatoes at dinner.

For dinner the Cafe Caribe buffet food quality was uneven. It was best to stick to standard dishes. Their Caribbean fare was bumpy, often over-cooked and worse, over-salted. The soups ranged from great to inedible-salty. Favorite chilled soups included gazpacho, Pina Colada, and tamarind cream. We had read in some reviews that cocktails aboard were very expensive and watered down. We didn't think so at all. Certainly the prices and quality were what you would expect at a major hotel. And the portions were huge.

We also did Afternoon Tea one day. Delightful small sandwiches, scones and cream and excellent tea. It's fun. Don't miss it.

Ports -- We liked the ship best on port days - it was like having a huge yacht to ourselves. We ventured out to the marketplace in St. Thomas and bought some great bargain liquor. We had planned to do some sightseeing on St. Martin but because it was raining hard and the port was hosting four huge cruise ships, we really didn't do much -- mammoth crowds of people and heavy rain. The line waiting to board the water taxi appeared to be at least an hour long. Standing in the rain to wait for it wasn't appealing. We also passed on Princess Cays, again thoroughly enjoying the almost-empty ship.

Dress codes -- A lot of the men in dark suits must be confused when they see that other men don't need jackets or neckties to get seated on formal night. As long as you have long pants that aren't blue jeans and wear a long sleeve shirt, buttoned at the cuffs you are considered formal enough for the Maitre d's on the Caribbean Princess. We called the concierge about the dress code for the Coral Dining Room at lunch and were told men must wear long pants and no t-shirts were allowed. Of course half the men sitting there were wearing shorts and t-shirts. Is it that they wish people would dress up, but won't enforce it? Needless to say we wore shorts at lunch from then on.

Cabin -- We had a balcony room starboard and slightly aft on the Baja Deck. It was wonderfully quiet, far from the noise of nightclubs, pools and jogging tracks. If you like peace and quiet, when booking consider a stateroom on a deck sandwiched between other decks that only have staterooms - no discos and gyms! The balcony was bigger than expected. We were very glad we paid attention to the reviews and didn't book one of the mini-suites. We could look down on them. They are completely uncovered - no shade, no protection from rain and no privacy at all. The bath is small but well designed and, yes, the shower is tiny but you get used to it. Cris, our room steward, was personable, friendly and did a great job of looking after our needs. We had learned from reading these reviews to ask for the egg-crate mattress covers. Glad we did. They made a lot of difference in comfort. Kudos to Princess for attention to detail on the cabin's curtains - they were designed to fully overlap each other when closed, giving the cabin the pitch-black effect that we prefer for sleeping.

Debarkation -- Lots of crowds, all those people you saw when you got on a week earlier, but the lines moved quickly. The whole process was surprisingly fast.

Staff -- Excellent appearance, friendly, always spoke to you and smiled.

Entertainment -- We went to one show in the Princess Theater, Piano Man. Very well done and lots of flash. As theater lovers, we also took the informative free tour of the Princess Theater on Thursday afternoon. We greatly enjoyed seeing all of their state-of-the-art stagecraft up close. The musical combos that played around the ship sounded good and there were a wide variety of styles. During the day MUTS (Movies Under the Stars -- a giant LED TV screen above one of the pools) blared constantly. The sound system is loud and heavy on the treble. Why people on a cruise want to watch TV at the pool is beyond me. I thought it would be on at night only.

Other -- Do take a lanyard and have the customer service desk punch a hole in your key card. You will need it to buy stuff and it is so convenient to have it around your neck. The Internet Cafe is very good much more peaceful than using your own computer in the Atrium WiFi area.

Overall impression -- Certainly on a scale of 1 to 10 the Caribbean Princess gets a 9 at least. It was our first cruise and less than two weeks later we had booked another Princess cruise, the Golden Princess, visiting the Western Caribbean, out of New Orleans in December.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

A reply from Senator Martinez

Yesterday, May 9, I got a reply from Mel Martinez. The letter was dated April 18. I received it more than ten weeks after my letter to him and six weeks later than the replies from Senator Nelson and Representative Miller.

In a long-winded way Senator Martinez said next to nothing and took no stand at all. But he did admit to a strange accomodation of business interests over our national security.

In describing the Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States (CFIUS), the very one that approved Dubai's operating several U.S. ports, he said something very interesting. And most revealing. " a member of the Senate Banking Committee, I believe we should focus on ensuring that the CFIUS process reaches an appropriate balance between national security and economic concerns."

Say what? A balance? There is an accomodation between national security and corporate profits -- and he supports it?

Heaven help the State of Florida.

You can read the letter by clicking here.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

May 2006, Caribbean Princess Cruise -- Final Day

Saturday, back in Port Everglades

Distance sailed:
Fort Lauderdale to St. Thomas, 1131 nautical miles
St. Thomas to St. Maarten, 115 n.m.
St. Maarten to Princess Cays, 844 n.m.
Princess Cays to Fort Lauderdale, 276 n.m.
for a total of 2366 nautical miles
(or 2723 statute miles/4382 kilometers)

By the time we got up, the Caribbean Princess was at the dock. They have a very short turnaround to get everything ready for another 3100 passengers who will begin arriving at noon. And we mustn't forget food, water, linens and other items for the 1200 crew members.

Being on the starboard side of the ship meant we could sit on the balcony and watch the unloading and loading. There was military-like precision all over the dock with lots of trucks, skip loaders and people pushing things. There were many near-misses, but nobody crashed into anybody else. It was fun to watch. You cannot believe how much lettuce they take on during the loading.

We had our breakfast and cleared out the cabin. Then we went to find a place to sit while we waited for them to call our group to disembark. The color of the luggage tags we got on Friday is our group color. Each color represents about 200 passengers.

At last, after about an hour of waiting our color was called and we slowly left the ship with our group. After we passed through customs we came to a room as big as a airplane hanger with huge clusters of bags sorted by the tag color. It was mass confusion, but at least our pile of bags was limited to the 200 other people who shared our color.

Soon we found our bags, called the parking lot van to pick us up and were in our car and on the way home.

If you have gotten this far in the story of our cruise don't miss the next post. It is the review we wrote for

Friday, May 05, 2006

May 2006, Caribbean Princess Cruise -- Day 7

Friday, Princess Cays, Eleuthera

Distance sailed so far:
Fort Lauderdale to St. Thomas, 1131 nautical miles
St. Thomas to St. Maarten, 115 n.m.
St. Maarten to Princess Cays, 844 n.m.
for a total of 2090 n.m.

Eleuthera Island We didn't arrive at Princess Cays until mid-morning. It's a private beach on Eleuthera, an island in the Bahamas. There is no place to land there, so you get to the shore by tender.

Shortly after we anchored we were sitting on the balcony and heard strange whirring sounds. I looked down and saw that the life boats were being hoisted up and out from the ship from four decks below us. It hadn't occurred to either of us that the ship would use its own life boats as the tenders. Of course it makes good sense to make sure the boats are always in working order. By using them frequently.

We had thought about going ashore but what with the all the comforts of the ship and the discovery of the ultimate cruise feature (for us at least) -- an adults-only pool with a bar and waiter service -- we never made it to Princess Cays. But I did get a nice photo of it with my cell phone. I was on Emerald Deck 14, at the very front of the Caribbean Princess. You can see the Cays and the beach in the distance. There's a photo of the ship at the bottom of this post, the red dot shows where I stood to take the picture of Princess Cays.

Princess Cays fron the ship

The adults-only Terrace Pool is in the far back of the ship on Riviera Deck 14, a few steps down from the Lido Deck's Horizon Terrace and the Outrigger Bar. The water is cold but it never gets very crowded, maybe because the water is so cold. From the pool and bar there is a great view of the ship's wake -- fourteen decks below. And one of the ship's officers is always there by the rail watching for jumpers.

Tommorrow we leave and we need to have our baggage in the hall outside our cabin before we go to dinner tonight. They gave us special color-coded tags to help us find our bags when we get to shore.

The red dot marks the spot.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

May 2006, Caribbean Princess Cruise -- Day 6

Thursday, at sea

We have a whole day at sea as the Caribbean Princess heads to the Bahamas and tomorrow's day of fun 'n' sun at Princess Cays, Princess Cruise's private beach. With just one more day after this there are some things to do that we don't want to miss, like the backstage tour of the Princess Theater and afternoon tea with scones and strawberries.

We had already seen a show in the Princess Theater so it was great fun to go backstage and see the lighting, sound, props and costume areas. The tour guide was the lead dancer and he was well informed and liked to chat. We were surprised with how many people took the tour. There was quite a crowd with lots of questions.

I wanted to take some of the other tours like the ones of the bridge and the kitchens. The bridge is off limits for security reasons. And I found out later you don't see much of the food prep areas on the kitchen tour, mostly they are trying to sell you the Princess Cruises Cookbook.

The tea service was fun and there were lots of little sandwiches and pastries and yes, scones with heavy cream and strawberries. Next cruise we will do tea every afternoon.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

May 2006, Caribbean Princess Cruise -- Day 5

Wednesday, St. Maarten

Distance sailed so far:
Fort Lauderdale to St. Thomas, 1131 nautical miles
St. Thomas to St. Maarten, 115 n.m.
for a total of 1246 n.m.

Map of St. Maarten & St. MartinWhen we woke up at 7:00 A.M. we were already slowly finishing our docking in the tiny bi-national island of St. Maarten -- the bottom half belongs to the Netherlands, the top half, St. Martin, is part of France. The whole island is about seven miles across. The sky was gray and it looked like it might rain any minute. The view of the waterfront here isn't as pretty as in St. Thomas -- some shabby warehouses and a container port facility.

We left the Caribbean Princess mid-morning and walked up the dock to take a water taxi into the town of Philipsburg. It started to rain and I went ahead to the shopping area to get some postcards to send out. We got the right stamps at the Customer Service desk on board. By the time I got the cards and got back to the ship I was soaked -- but it was a warm rain. Later I went back to mail the cards and took an umbrella this time.

At the end of the dock there are several shops and cafes. Very nicely done. I could see the entrance to the water taxi and the line of people, wet people, was about five city blocks long. Our ship was one of four that docked about the same time, so there were at least 10,000 passengers total. And it looked like half of them were trying to take the water taxi into town at the same time.

We had planned to go into town and shop for Dutch things and have lunch there. Or perhaps go to the French side of the island for lunch, but it wasn't the right weather for sightseeing.

We stayed on the ship and had a great lunch in the Coral Dining Room. Despite the wind and rain many passengers were off exploring the tiny island. So there were few diners and very attentive service. Their complicated salads, like Salade Nicoise, are limp and gooey but they always have wonderful burgers, soups and green salads. And all the desserts you might want.

It was a good afternoon to read, nap or watch the giant cranes in the container port load, unload and reposition those big shipping containers.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

May 2006, Caribbean Princess Cruise -- Day 4

Tuesday, St. Thomas, USVI

"Land at last, land at last!" from Sail Away, a 1961 Broadway musical by Noel Coward

Distance sailed so far:
Fort Lauderdale to St. Thomas, 1131 nautical miles (that's 1302 statute miles)

There is a nautical chart on the wall on Lido Deck 15. That's the deck where the big pools are and the two buffets, Horizon Court and Cafe Caribe. The chart shows the route of the Caribbean Princess and it gets updated every day by somebody from the bridge. The published distance is actually only 981 nautical miles but because of the rough seas we went 150 n.m. out of our way on Saturday night for a smoother ride.

A big shipHere's a photo of the ship at the dock so you can see how big it really is.

We arrived at dawn in St. Thomas and at 7:00 A.M. we were slowly pulling into the dock. I expected the view to be ugly warehouses with oil tanks and typical rusting waterfront sheds. What we saw however were steep green hillsides with lovely houses. I guess you could call them villas. It looked like the French Riviera. And best of all -- a U.S. based cell phone works from the balcony!

Havensight Shopping Mall signDirectly across the street from the dock is a shopping mall just for us tourists. In the photo on the left you can see our ship behind the shopping mall sign. Those life boats are on the ship's Deck 7.

If you don't need to shop for jewelry you'll have time to buy liquor and cigarettes. Not only is the liquor cheap there is an extra bonus for U.S. citizens. Oh, the knowledge one picks up when traveling...

In several possessions of the United States there are special duty free regulations, and the U.S. Virgin Islands is one of them. You can buy and take home, completely tax and duty free, five liters of liquor as long as one liter is made locally. In this case made in the U.S. Virgin Islands -- and obviously this means rum. No, you cannot open it on the ship. They won't even give it to you until just before you disembark.

Balcony viewHere's the view from our balcony, looking down toward the mouth of Charlotte Amalie Harbor.

Click here to see the current view from the bridge of the Caribbean Princess.

Monday, May 01, 2006

May 2006, Caribbean Princess Cruise -- Day 3

Monday, at sea

Still at sea -- until early Tuesday morning. It is fun being lazy and having almost nothing to do. Between reading and naps we sit on the balcony of the Caribbean Princess and watch for whales. So far we have seen none. If we do see one it will break our all-time record.

Today's Princess Patter had dozens of activities for us to ignore, but actually we scheduled two events. We went to see a production show, a matinee of Piano Man, in the Princess Theater, Fiesta Deck 6. The show was good and the production values fabulous. The theater is sleek with all the up-to-date lighting sound and special effects you expect in a Las Vegas show. Costumes were modest however. If the performers had any skin at all, we didn't see it. The cast of four singers and eight dancers did a great job and there was an excellent live band.

To get to and from the main entrance of the Princess Theater you have to walk through the Grand Casino. So, after the show it was time to spend some of the afternoon there playing video poker.

The other activity we planned was dinner in the Sterling Steakhouse on Promenade Deck 7. It is one of two cozy specialty restaurants on board that charge extra for the extra service they claim to provide the guests. In this case it was $15.00 per person. We thought the steaks in the regular dining rooms were just as good. Very good in fact.

When I finish these daily accounts I will post the review we wrote for the ships' review page. It has more of our opinions about the food and drink on board. And lots more.

If you are planning a cruise the Cruise Critic site,, has dozens, maybe actually hundreds, of reviews written by happy and sometimes unhappy customers. Plus lots of things to know about taking a cruise, especially for the first-time cruiser.

Tomorrow we arrive in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands.