This was our second Princess sailing, but our first 10-day cruise. My husband and I have been on seven cruises (two Princess, two Carnival, and one each with Royal Caribbean, Windjammer, and Norwegian). I'm 28, he's 32, and we try to cruise at least once a year. Overall, we really enjoyed this cruise, even though it rained a lot. We met two couples from Cruise Critic and hit it off, so we spent most of our time with Terri and George, and Charlie G and his wife, Becki. It was a full ship.
Flying ThereWhen you go to the airport, it will be different -- you will see military guards with guns, and a lot more security people. You will have to show your photo ID at the ticket counter, at the security checkpoint, and before you board the plane. They do have random security checks and I was chosen; it just takes a couple more minutes. The security is now more like it is at European airports. All of our flights were pretty full. And . . . the airlines no longer provide meals (and sometimes pillows or blankets) on flights that are two hours or shorter! We were even in First Class, and did not get ANY snacks! So bring some sort of food with you, no matter what class of service you will be in!
We arrived in Ft Lauderdale the day before and stayed at the Amerisuites Hotel. This was our second time staying there before a cruise. I can't rave about this place enough. It is not a Ritz, but the staff is wonderful and very knowledgeable. Since we arrived on a Wednesday, it was not full at all. The staff was very helpful and the shuttle took us anywhere within reason if they were not busy! They picked us up at the airport and took us to the hotel, too. As for getting Princess transfers (if you arrive the day of the cruise), I would not buy transfers from the airport to the cruise ship, since the distance is probably no more then 5 miles to get from A to B. I would take a cab and not wait for others to board the Princess bus to take you over to the pier.
EmbarkationEmbarkation was a little bit confusing this time. The lines were arranged by your cabin deck, and it did not go well. Once you were checked in you had to go back through the crowd that was waiting to check-in; that was silly. They could have streamlined this. When we were on the Grand Princess, the embarkation was fabulous.
We got to the pier very early and were able to sit downstairs. We waited about 45 minutes until they let us check in. We were literally the first people to check in for the Dolphin Deck. The problem was that the security scanners/X-ray machines were not working, so we had to wait until they were hooked up properly. Then we had to go upstairs on an escalator and wait until they were actually ready to have you come on the ship. This took about five minutes. We had printed out our information from the website, just in case there was a records problem; I always have backup with me. We were on the ship by 11:30am, I believe. We also carry all of our own luggage, so we were unpacked by noon.
Our CabinWe paid for an N guarantee and received an EE category, Cabin D702 on the Dolphin deck. It was an outside cabin, no balcony. The room was a good size corner room, so we only had one neighbor. I would recommend an EE category, but I would NOT recommend our actual cabin. Why?
The cabin was very spacious with a huge window with a ledge wide enough to put clothes on. As far as I could tell, ALL of the balcony cabins except the suites had enclosed balconies where there would be no sun on you. The Grand had some that were open so you could see the sky.
The Ship and StaffThe Ocean Princess is very elegant and has the same décor as the Grand. It is decorated in light wood and leather tones, in a European style, which is very nice without being too "Las Vegas." We met several older folks who did not like the layout of the ship -- they said there was too much walking to get to places. We had no problems with this.
We found the staff to be helpful and polite. Most of the staff I encountered seemed to be from the Philippines or from Eastern Europe. Our cabin steward Eric, from the Philippines, was wonderful. He remembered our names from the first time we met him. He was fast and efficient. Don't forget to ask your steward for your terry cloth robes that are free for you to use for the entire length of the cruise. (If you take them home you will be charged.) Paul O'Loughlin, the cruise director, was much more relaxed then the cruise director on the Grand Princess, Graham Seymour. He was not everywhere and was much more low key. I really liked his style - very personable and fun without being crazy or stupid! Paul and Gavin did a lot of team work stuff which I found refreshing. We enjoyed him and his senior assistant, Gavin Chandler. Of course, the cruise staff does seem to have the same jokes and speeches.
The FoodThe food is exactly the same as on the Grand Princess, which is nothing special. The meals in the main dining room were generally average. I felt the combinations of food for dinner were odd. I am not a picky eater, but I felt like I was: nothing really excited me except for the lobster tails. Breakfast was my main meal in the Horizon Court. The Steakhouse was great, even if you are not a meat eater.
"Personal Choice" dining is the way to go, hands down. The best way to explain it is it's like going to a restaurant. You just pick a place to eat and make a reservation, if needed. It's that simple. You can have a table for two or ten. You can choose the dining room set aside for Personal Choice, or other options such as the Horizon Court Buffet, Room Service, the Riviera Grill during the day, and The Steakhouse restaurant (with an $8 cover charge for the last). We went with our friends Terri and George to The Steakhouse; I am not a steak person, but my filet mignon was great. We had no problem getting a reservation that day.
Find the Horizon Court. It's a buffet, good for each meal and you can wear shorts any time. (You are not supposed to wear shorts in the main dining rooms during dinner.) We're not vegetarians, but there seemed to be a good selection of vegetarian food. For lunch and for dinner, the Horizon Court had the same exact food as what was served in the main dining rooms. For breakfast, there is a cook who will make eggs to your order for you: omelets, scrambled, or sunny side up. They were very good. I did not see any lactose-free milk, but I did not ask for lactose-free milk, either. Lots of fruits were available, as well.
Near the main pools and the Horizon Court is the Riviera Grill for lunch. It serves hot dogs, hamburgers, knockwurst, and veggie burgers. It was good and made to order. My favorite place to eat was at Fabio's Pizzeria -- they only serve pizza and one type of calzone. It was never crowded and it is the same staff, so they get to know you. It is open for lunch and dinner. There is no extra cost for this. You can wear shorts. They do have a Pizza of the Day special there. You cannot order the pizza to go and you cannot call to have pizza for room service.
They charge for soda and juice (outside of the dining room hours and at Horizon Court) as well as alcoholic drinks. They had a wine tasting for $5 per person. They also have a sticker you could buy for $20, good for unlimited sodas during the cruise. It is a good idea for kids. On this cruise was a "Seabucks", which is a copy of Starbuck's drink. They were pretty good, although they do cost extra. You could get these specialty iced or hot drinks anywhere on the ship and they had a new special everyday. Don't forget to check out the Pastries Bar on Deck 5 across from the Pursers Desk, because daily you can find an assortment of cookies there for your taking. They were very good and free! They take them away about 5pm!
Room service menus are limited, particularly for breakfast. You can order off the dining room menu during dining room hours. We did not do this on this cruise, but we did on the Grand. If you buy their bottled water onboard, 1500 ml will cost $2.95! So bring your own! We did.
Port DaysBefore I went on the cruise, I did a lot of research on these islands and shore excursions. I emailed several of the tour operators to see if I could book directly with them instead of with Princess, to save money. Most of them would not let me book with them and said I had to go through Princess, because they chartered/reserved the entire ship/bus. It didn't really matter, because their prices were about the same as what Princess was charging. I did not find the Shore Excursion Desk helpful at all. I think that most of the people at the tour desk were also working at the Pursers Desk. I had been to all the ports, except for Antigua and St. Lucia. I found the ship excursions to be rather long and very expensive on this sailing. We only did two ship tours, one in Barbados and one in St Lucia.
Princess CaysPrincess Cays is like a typical day at the beach, with all the facilities there. You will be tendered in; it takes about 10 minutes. The barbecue on the beach was very good. If you want to buy some crafts or get your hair braided there, bring cash, as you can not charge anything of that sort there.
St. ThomasI have been to St. Thomas many times and have been to St. Johns. We played this port by ear. When we arrived, the weather was not great for snorkeling or for the beach, so we decided to check out Coral World. It is overpriced, but we spent a good half day checking out the wildlife and sea life. Kids will enjoy it, and it was not that crowded. They do take charge cards, by the way. The cab ride there was $8 per person; Coral World is literally right next to Coki Beach, which looked decent for snorkeling.
There is an Internet place across from the Havensight Mall in the Budget car rental building that is supposed to be very inexpensive, but it is a very small room and there is always a wait to check your email. You can find it at www.soapys.com .
A very odd thing was a change made just before we arrived: the pay phones at Havensight Mall now require you to deposit 50¢ for every telephone call you make, no matter where or how you call someone. There are no signs or anything to tell you of this change, so most people thought their calling cards could not be used. We had to go to a store to get some change -- bring change with you if you are going to be calling people from St Thomas!
AntiguaI have the name of a very nice cab driver if anyone wants to use him. His name is Mr. Kenneth Charles and my husband set a time for him to meet us prior to our cruise. We went to the Long Bay area on the East coast -- this is where everyone says it is great for snorkeling. We did not find this to be the case. I have a feeling Antigua is not known for its snorkeling.
BarbadosWe went on a catamaran snorkeling tour (with lunch) with Terri and George. Information can be found at www.tallshipscruises.com/tiami . It was fun, but all you really needed to do was to get a cab and go to St. Albans Beach and Turtle Beach, both on the west coast, and go snorkeling for a day. We love to snorkel, so next time we will just go to these beaches on our own.
St. LuciaMy husband and I took the Northern Island Beach and Tour. We felt it was a good price and a nice chance to see the northern part of the island. If you don't want to spend the whole day seeing the Pitons, or if you just want to relax, this is a nice tour. The tour guides were excellent. We did a little shopping at the port and found the prices on everything to be very expensive. You can, however, check your email there: there are two stands where you need only insert your credit card and you will get 15 minutes for $5. This is cheaper than the cruise, but the kiosks were always busy. I would not recommend renting a car here unless you are a very good driver. The roads are in good shape, but most of them are on very jagged hills.
St. MaartenI have been to St. Maarten several times and have done Orient Beach and Pinel Island, so this time we just stayed at a hotel for the day and used their pool. I am very impressed with the new pier at St. Maarten -- it is very well thought out and geared towards the cruisers. All of the tourism people and taxi drivers there were very helpful. Right at the pier you can check your email (again for 15 minutes for $5.) You can take a water taxi into Philipsburg for $5 per person round-trip (the cruise line recommends you do this), but we took a cab into town and preferred this method since the cab was there waiting, rather than having to wait for the water taxi to come.
For those who have brought their own calling cards from Sam's or Wal-Mart, be warned: they do not work on all islands. I know at the pier on St. Maarten they do not. There is a private company there that has its own pay phones, and you have to buy their own card. So read all the information before you dial from that pay phone!
EntertainmentWe did not go to all of the shows, as some were the same as on the Grand Princess. They present most shows for two consecutive nights -- always two different shows each night. So if you missed one, you can see it the next day. On some nights they showed movies which you could also view in your cabin at different times. The movies were current and we watched many. We saw Legally Blonde, Bridget Jones Diary, Evolution, Spy Kids, What Women Want, Emperor's New Groove, A Knight's Tale, The Mummy Returns, etc. One of the piano players, Neil Parkinson, was great. I really enjoyed listening to him. I thought he was better then Barrington "Barty" Brown, the main piano player.
The Princess Theater is smaller than most cruise ship theaters. It's auditorium style, without drink tables or groups of seats. The other large lounge is the Vista. It's smaller than the Princess Theater, and smoking is allowed. If you're going to any Vista show, arrive early. And if you want to see the Pub Night show in the Vista, get there very early. The show was great! I really think Princess needs to work on their two main theaters: they clearly do not hold enough people at one sitting. On most nights, the shows were standing room only -- not because they were good, but because there were not enough seats.
Some CostsThe spa was expensive, even with specials. It was open until 8pm on most nights. I did not do any spa specials. The last day at port, though, they did have 15% off any spa services, so wait until the end so you can save some money. Example: a manicure and pedicure cost $95! Some other examples were Ionithermie Super Detox: $120; Aroma Spa Ocean Wrap: $160; Lt Oxygen Lifting Facial: $99; Absolute Face and Body: $160. No lie! Save your money and get your treatments done at home for less. Onboard shops were just OK, and there are not many shops on the ship.
Princess adds $6.50 per person per day to your account for dining service tips. The only person you have to tip separately is your cabin steward, and that can be charged to your cabin. You can arrange your steward's tip at the Pursers Desk; they give you a receipt to give to your steward. Overall, we liked the automatic tipping. We didn't have to worry about figuring anything but our cabin steward's tip.
Photos were $6.95 per small photo, and $19.95 for an 8" x 10". It was $9.95 for the photo taken when you board the ship. There were never any specials for photos at all, so if you want it, just buy it. I also noticed there was no one to sell cruises on board, or at least I never saw any times in the Princess Patter where and when you could. This was popular on the Grand.
You will be charged a 3% service fee if you charge casino chips to your stateroom. I mainly play slot machines and found there were only about ten 5¢ machines, and they were always taken. Bingo cost $20 for a Value Pack (3 sets of tickets for all 5 games), $10 for one set for all 5 games, or $10 for a Value Pack of three single tickets for the snowball jackpot. You must charge Bingo to your stateroom -- they do not except cash for this. I went to Bingo several times and it was a lot of fun!
Random But Important Thoughts
We would cruise again with Princess, but not for awhile. We are ready to try Holland America, Celebrity, and Costa. I must say that 10 days is a long time. It did go by fast, but most of us were ready to go home. The two days at sea made it very relaxing at the end.
PHOTO courtesy of Princess Cruises.
Jennie B is a former travel agent and has been on a total of 7 cruises to date. She may be reached at email@example.com.
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