My wife and I like to take cruise vacations (myself more than my wife). I enjoy it because for one week I can take a breather from the rat race and just relax without a care in the world. It is (almost) impossible to receive communications from back home. Therefore, you're forced to enjoy yourself and your significant other. The world can be falling apart back home and there is nothing you can do about it.
My wife and I sailed on the Dawn Princess twice. Easter week '98 we went on the "Southern Caribbean Explorer" itinerary and Easter week '99 we went on the traditional "Southern Caribbean" itinerary.
Traveling NY to San Juan (SJU)
In '98 we paid Princess for the air and transfers. It was expensive, but very easy. When we landed at SJU, Princess sent someone to meet us at the gate. This person took us to an air conditioned room where we waited (about 10 minutes) for the bus which took us to the pier. There was no need to get the baggage at SJU; Princess has people who will get the bags at SJU and take it to the room. You should note that if you purchase your air tickets from Princess, they will generally hold the ship for a couple of hours while they wait for you. In '99 we did not sail from San Juan until 1:40AM because we were waiting for late arrivals!
In '99 we decided to save money and we flew to SJU on frequent flyer miles. We arrived at San Juan one day early so that we did not have to worry about losing our luggage and/or missing the ship. We stayed at the Hampton Inn in San Juan. This hotel was nice and moderately priced. We arrived in San Juan on Good Friday. Please note, it was impossible to find anything opene on the holiday. We wound up having Domino's Pizza in our room for dinner! The next morning we left the hotel and took a taxi to the pier ($20/one way).
I recommend not purchasing the air from Princess if it makes economic sense. However, I recommend that you fly out one day early in the event that your baggage does not make it to your destination with you. This way the airline has more time to find your luggage. Also, you want to make sure that the airline you pick does not have continuous labor problems and/or has the habit of canceling flights at the drop of a hat. I think that it's a tragedy if you miss the ship because of a problem beyond your control.
At the pier, embarkation was very well organized.
When we travel, we stay in an inside room (Category "I"). We're willing to sacrifice the window/terrace for substantial savings. The key to this strategy is to remember to bring an LED alarm clock. The reason is that the room is pitch black and you have no clue what the time of day is. The inside rooms have a small safe, refrigerator, color TV (w/remote control), hair dryer and phone. They also have ample closet and drawer spaces for two people. The inside rooms on the Dawn Princess are SUBSTANTIALLY larger and better equipped than the equivalent rooms on RCCL's Monarch of the Seas.
Both times, Princess' cabin stewards were excellent (I wish the INS would let me take these fellows back to NY with me). Whenever we needed ANYTHING, the steward gave us 110%. Our room was ALWAYS kept immaculate. The stewards hustle for us and I showed my appreciation to them.
The level of entertainment was excellent on both cruises. Princess has their own custom musicals (which are very good). Princess has a team of dancers and male and female lead singers. On our '99 cruise the male singer was Joe Sackenheim. Mr. Sackenheim is extremely talented. I'm certain that when Andrew Lloyd Webber or the "real" Maxwell Sheffield takes a Princess cruise, Mr. Sackenheim will be living in Manhattan within weeks.
Princess also will bring in comedians and impressionists who travel from ship to ship throughout the Caribbean. We saw Bob Anderson the singing impressionist and Sean Emery who is a juggling comedian. Both of these entertainers were very good.
The Dawn Princess has two theaters. One is a traditional theater and the other is a "cabaret style" theater. Princess offers each show twice so that if you missed it the first night, you had a second chance.
I think everyone has a better chance of winning the lotto than of losing more than 1 oz. on a cruise. The food is excellent and plentiful; there are many choices. The only complaint is that by the end of the cruise, we were eager to try something different (like Cajun or Chinese, etc.).
The dining rooms are beautiful; the service is excellent. I noted that the service is better at a larger table.
The main swimming pool is very nice. In '98, they heated the water. In '99 they did not heat the water. I would suggest to Princess that it is better to heat the water. The swimming pools on the Dawn Princess are chlorinated (not sea water).
We like to cruise during Easter week. Although there were many kids on the ship, I have no idea where they were (out of sight - out of mind). I don't know what Princess did with these kids, but they should keep up the good work.
I'm certain that someone at Princess' HQ can offer detailed statistics about the passengers. I am reporting based on my observations (not facts). Most passengers are from the Boston to DC corridor or the UK (England, Wales, Scotland). These two groups compose 80% of the population. The others are from other American cities such as Chicago, Dallas, LA, SF and Atlanta. Of course, if you search hard enough, you can find passengers from all corners of the globe. Most passengers traveled with significant others and were at least 50. This ship is NOT a floating bachelor party. Most passengers are upper middle class. I think that if you have no idea (or wish that you did not know) who is James Van Der Beek or Scary Spice, you'll fit in just fine.
We traveled during a holy period for both Christians and Jews. Princess offered services for Easter and Good Friday. Princess also offered a Passover Seder. Princess has offered Sabbath services for both Christians and Jews (on their respective days). Your travel agent should be able to offer more detailed information.
Senior Citizens and/or People with Disability Issues
There were many seniors on the ship. They seemed to have a wonderful time. I would guess that at least 60% of the passengers are 50 and up. "The Love Boat" TV show implies that these ships are "Melrose Place" and/or "Beverly Hills 90210" on the water. No need to worry about that in real life.
There were some people with disability issues on both cruises. They also appeared to have a good time. The elevators move quickly and have a voice for the visually impaired. I have two caveats for passengers with disabilities: at some ports Princess uses tenders into shore and this may create a difficulty for some; I do not recall seeing a pool-lift device at the pools/hot tubs. It's best to check with the travel agent and/or Princess for more details.
I enjoyed both itineraries. However, I found the "explorer" itinerary to be better.
Traditional Southern Caribbean
I only have two complaints for Princess. First, Princess looks for ways to "nickel-dime" you to death. For example, I think that it's cheesy to make you pay for the ice cream by the pool. They claim the reason why is because it's Hagen-Daz ice cream. My reply is, who cares? If Hagen-Daz is too much money then offer the excellent generic ice cream that is served in the dining room.
Second is the art auction. Although beauty is in the eye of the holder, a lot of this art is junk. So far we have not seen a velvet Elvis or poker playing dogs, but I expected to see it. Unfortunately, they leave the art all over the ship. Princess spent millions of dollars on professional art which is permanently installed all over the ship. The auction art distracts from the professional art.
My wife and I enjoyed our two Princess cruises very much. We look forward to sailing on the Grand Princess' Eastern Caribbean itinerary in the near future.
Steve Brown is married, in his mid-thirties, and lives & works in suburban NYC. He's sailed on Royal Caribbean's Monarch of the Seas and the Dawn Princess (twice).
Steve may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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