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.

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