January 2014 - Caribbean Princess to Caribbean - Western
Having taken four other cruises. (three of them with Carnival,) the selection of Princess brought a heightened expectation of better service, ambiance and perception of value than the competition. This was not the case.
To get the particulars of this January 4th -11the voyage out of the way: Record cold was forecast for the region and it was quite chilly/windy in Houston. Embarkation was relatively swift and the Bayport Terminal well-suited for the task. Lines moved quickly, alcohol possession was not checked, and we were exploring the ship by Noon, settling in and enjoying a leisurely lunch in the Horizon Court. Within hours after the hour late departure, we began to encounter the warmth of the Gulf. The first full day brought enough sun and heat to allow for a marginally acceptable "deck day," with many of our fellow travelers enjoying the plentiful lounges. Days two thorugh six brought heavy showers, thunderstorms, low temperatures in the 50's ,and 45-50 knot sustained winds, with gusts in excess of 60 knots. The 950 foot ship rode heavilly in the 20 foot plus seas, with several passenger areas closed. Day Seven brought some out to the first sunny day, in several. The following day was our return to Houston, with strong winds and temperatures in the upper 40's.
In Cozumel, The excursion, to the Mayan ruins at Coba, cannot be recommended, as the participants travel in excess of eight hours, (including a 30 minute stop for shopping enroute,) to visit a significant archaeological site for a 45 minute visit and a 2 km walk. The tour guide, however, was excellent. As a result of the heavy weather, the stop in Roatan was cancelled altogether and the same caused the cancellation of the tour to the Xunantunich ruin. While weather is not Princess's fault, or responsibility, this certainly put a damper on the entire cruise experience. They were ill prepared for the extra "sea day." Note: There were several bottles of alcohol purchased in both Cozumel and Belize and there was no effort to retain it for delivery pre-debarkation.
Day Five bought an announcement that there was an outbreak of the Novo Virus on the ship, and "Condition Red" hygiene standards would be in effect for the remainder of the voyage. It turned out to be the symptoms of four, of the over 3,000 passengers, onboard. As others have reported, on other cruises, the fog delayed our entry into the Houston port for 4 1/2 hours. with the ship's berthing at 11:30 AM. The debarkation, while not chaos, was disorganized, inefficient and lacked real care for the passengers. Originally instructed to vacate the cabin at 8:AM, we remained there until well after Noon and independently decided to go down to the Island Dining Room, indicated as being our earlier assembly point. In situ for 1 1/2 hours, we were directed to depart the ship and claim our luggage. This was easily accomplished and a friendly porter secured. Transiting through customs was quick, with no one's bag being checked and brief, cursory questions asked by the Customs Agent.
Now about the experience with Princess: This cruise line was selected, above others, even though there was a closer port, (New Orleans,) the destinations similar, and the price higher. Originally booked as a single, there was no discount to the fare and the resultant rate was the merely doubled "per-person" rate, (less $75 port taxes.) Other lines frequently add only a single supplement. At the last minute, an additional passenger was secured and the $75 port tax fee paid. The balcony cabin was relatively small, clean, well appointed and adequate for this length of the cruise. Our cabin steward was accommodating, eager to serve and pleasant. Unfortunately, the condition of the ship itself is below standard. The paintwork and varnish are in real need of attention and some of the interiors seem dated. With 3,000 plus people on board, the ship never felt crowded, but this comes at a sacrifice. Unlike other ships, the Caribbean Princess seems a bit claustrophobic, with many low ceilings. The notable exceptions are the Piazza (mid-ship deck 5 -7,) and the Princess Theater, (forward.) There are numerous "settings" above and below to read, exercise, be entertained, shop, etc. without feeling crowded.
Our "anytime" dining usually occurred around 7, with minimal wait times. The food was, on average, "above average." The buffet usually good, the Coral Dining Room, up a notch from that, with the service, in each pleasant and eager. The food/in the up charged Crown Grill was exceptional and the experience recommended. Sabatinni's was universally disappointing with perfunctory service and pedestrian taste. Frankly, this was the biggest disappointment the cruise. Entertainment was pedestrian, (not a note of Caribbean music,) with the playing times often short and the settings minimal, especially in the Princess Theater. Much of the overall "entertainment" required passenger participation with bingo, trivia, a passenger singing chorus, an egg-drop and other similar events. This is a much older crowd, than some other cruise lines, and it showed in the types of activities as well as the "sidewalks" being rolled up at a way too early hour.
We cannot recommend Princess, above what other cruise lines have to offer. As Princess is now owned by Carnival, the line between differences in quaity is quite blurred. As there is another port 4 hours closer to home, with more cruise options, future travel will likely occur there.