by Dave Schlesinger
Dawn Princess 7 Day Southern Caribbean Cruise
Spring Break, March 1999
Here's a brief review of our recent cruise on the Dawn Princess. This cruise was the 7-day Classic Southern Caribbean itinerary, sailing from San Juan on March 20, including stops at Barbados, St. Lucia, St. Martin, St. Kitts, and St. Thomas (there's one at-sea day at the beginning). There were four of us, including my wife Jane and our boys Scott (13) and Eric (10).
Overall, everything went very well, and it was one of the best Caribbean cruises we've taken. The primarily British staff provided consistently excellent service in all areas.We've never sailed Princess before, but we've always heard good things about the line, and we weren't disappointed. Previously, we've sailed on Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Holland America, and Norwegian.
Read on for the details. For more information about the ship and itinerary, see the new Princess Web site at http://www.princess.com.
This went reasonably well, except for luggage handling. We arrived about 90 minutes before the "official" embarkation time of 2:00, and although we were allowed to board, no one offered to take our luggage. As it turns out, the luggage porters weren't going to be there until 2:00, but no one explained this -- we just arrived at the gangway (a narrow staircase) with all our stuff. When I went back and asked someone, I was told me we could leave our bags for the porters to take later. We decided to haul our luggage up the stairs ourselves, since this would allow us to unpack everything and get settled right away. Actually, I wouldn't mind doing that all the time, since you sometimes have to wait hours for your luggage to arrive at the cabin.
We were in cabin P328 on the Plaza Deck (deck 5). This outside cabin isn't the largest we've had (nor the smallest), but it was big enough and had sufficient storage space for all four of us. The bathroom was average in size. The shower was larger than some we've had, but the water pressure was perhaps the worst we've had, and the showerhead didn't detach as it does on some other ships. The cabin temperature was a bit too warm most of the time, especially at night. Our cabin stewardess, Frances, was by far the best we've ever had -- she was always around when we needed her, and fulfilled any requests immediately.
There are two main dining rooms, the Venetian on deck 6 and the Florentine on deck 5. We were assigned to the Venetian (early seating); from what we could see, both dining rooms are pretty similar. The dining rooms are very nice, and are divided up into smaller sections that offer lots of privacy. We had requested a table for 4, but we were seated at a table for 8 with another family (there were empty fours available, including one right next to our table); the other family was very nice so we decided to stay put. Our waiter and assistant waiter were very good.
In addition to the dining rooms, you could eat any meal in the Horizon Court cafe (buffet, open 24 hours), or get pizza in the La Scala pizzeria. We ate all our dinners in the dining room, and the food was only mediocre when compared with other cruise lines. We ate breakfast and lunch in the Horizon Court, and the food and selection there were good. Scott tried the pizzeria pizza and liked it. There's also a Hagen Daaz ice cream bar by the pool, but you have to pay for it (a lot). It would be nice if Princess provided regular ice cream for free (as other cruise lines do), and only charged for the premium stuff.
Princess offers entertainment nightly in both the main Princess Theater and the smaller Vista Lounge; we really liked having a choice between two shows. Seating in the Princess Theater is stadium style; there are no tables, but the seats contain a fold-out tray (like some airline seats). However, you won't need the trays for drinks, because you can't drink in the Theater. Both the Theater and Vista Lounge have excellent bands (you can dance in the Vista Lounge). The Princess singers/dancers were the best we've ever seen on a ship; they were all very talented and professional. The production shows were great (there were three of them, all in the Princess Theater). The other acts we saw were singer/entertainer Greg Bonham, who was good for the most part, comedian Dwayne Cunningham, who was excellent (he did two different shows), and singer/comic/impressionist Wes Epae, who was nothing special. Greg Bonham was in the Princess Theater, the other two were in the Vista Lounge.
Princess did a good job of handling shore excursion bookings and getting people on and off the ship at each port. Here's what we did at each port, all Princess shore excursions unless otherwise noted.
Barbados: We took a "Land Rover" tour of the island. There were 6 or 7 Land Rovers that traveled together, each one with 8 passengers and a driver, going off-road in some places to give us a unique view of the Island, making several brief stops along the way. Our driver was excellent, and he never stopped talking throughout the entire 4-hour tour (he was always informative, never annoying). We enjoyed this tour a great deal. Be warned, in a couple of spots the ride gets very bumpy! Beverages are provided, including rum punch.
St. Lucia: We took an all-day "St. Lucia by Land and Sea" tour. We spent the morning on a catamaran, which made an hour-long stop for snorkeling at a beach (lots of interesting fish). Drinks are provided on the boat, including the ever-present rum punch. We then transferred to vans, which took us to botanical gardens, lunch at an estate, and a drive-through dormant volcano, which was very interesting. After the volcano we transferred to buses that returned us to the ship (60-90 minutes of driving on windy roads). Some groups do the land portion before the catamaran. We enjoyed this tour, and would recommend it. Note that the locals were very aggressive about selling us various goods (jewelry, clothing, wooden carvings, etc.) wherever we stopped, even in the water when we stopped for snorkeling!
St. Martin: We didn't do a Princess shore excursion here, but we did take a 2 hour taxi tour of the island. We enjoyed that as well. Note that Marigot on the French side of the island has "siesta" time from noon until 3:00 pm or so, and some of the stores there are closed during that time.
St. Kitts: We took a catamaran tour that included a snorkeling stop off St. Kitts (not at a beach, just off shore - lots of interesting fish here too), and then a stop at a beach (Pinney Beach?) on Nevis, which is the island next to St. Kitts. Lunch was provided on the beach (chicken, hot dogs, etc., and of course, rum punch, which was also available on the boat). The beach of Nevis had no facilities that we could use, and the sand was very hot. The shore excursion order form said there would be no facilities there, but I had asked if that included bathrooms, and I was told bathrooms were available; in fact, the only bathroom was the one on the catamaran. Despite all that, we had fun here too.
St. Thomas: We didn't do a shore excursion here either. We spent the day on Magen's Bay beach, which is where we always go on St. Thomas.
This was smooth and uneventful. There was no disembarkation talk, but there was a televised version that ran all day on the last full day of the cruise. Unlike other ships, both the Horizon Court cafe and dining rooms were open for breakfast throughout the disembarkation process, and you weren't required to leave your cabin by any particular time. Another Princess difference is that on the night before disembarkation, we were asked to put some of our luggage out before dinner if possible, vs. the customary midnight or whenever. Since we had early seating, there was no way we could do that, but when we finally put our luggage out at 11:00 pm or so, there were plenty of other bags out there.
A few random notes:
- The cruise director (Tim Donovan) and all his assistants were dynamic and personable, and were more of a team than I've seen elsewhere. On some ships, the assistants to the cruise director are nothing special, but on the Dawn Princess, they were all great.
- Bar service is hard to come by outside by the pools, unlike some other cruise lines, where the bar waiters can be quite aggressive.
- Similarly, the ship photographers were much less aggressive than those on other cruise lines. The only photos taken were when embarking and once during dinner; you could pose for pictures on formal nights if you wished. Other cruise lines typically take multiple dinner photos, disembarkation photos at multiple ports, and various shots around the ship.
- Scott participated in the teen program and enjoyed it, mainly because he got to hang out with other kids his age. Eric chose not to participate in the children's program, because most of the activities seemed to be oriented towards younger children. There weren't many children on board.
- The Dawn Princess alternates weekly between two different Southern Caribbean itineraries. A large number of passengers (as many as 600 I think) were staying on the ship for two weeks.
- Unlike other cruise lines, Princess allows you to charge tips to your shipboard account. This was mentioned in the daily Princess paper near the end of the cruise, but not in any of the materials we received ahead of time (unless I missed it).
Dave Schlesinger and family are from Needham, Massachusetts. They can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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