May 2014 - Caribbean Princess to Caribbean - Western
In the two previous embarkations out of Port Everglades, the experience was so bad I swore I would never return to what was such a mus-managed and confusing cruise terminal. This was not the fault of either cruiseline we sailed, it was the awful result of a government bureaucracy run amok. Upon reaching the entrance of the port, we sat in the diesel-laden air for what felt like an eternity (30 minutes) before we reached the guard-station, were interviewed by the guard, and ultimately granted access to the port-terminal. From there, the oddesy continued. Traffic was wrapped around the corner with taxis, busses, limos and private vehicles, all hoping to find their way to the terminal building and the ship. Once in front of the building (20 minutes later) chaos was EVERYWHERE. Porters were in high demand. Luggage was left in the pothole/puddle-strewn parking area with no security anywhere in sight. Just getting our luggage thrown into a luggage-cart bound for the ship was an adventure in and of itself! Finally, once inside the terminal, we waited on line for another 40 minutes before seeing a check-in representative of the cruiseline. That was then (2006 and 2011) this is now.
The port authority entrance has been streamlined and within thirty seconds, we were through the gate and turning into Princess' terminal facility. Once at the curb, we were quickly directed to the entrance of the building, and less than 15 minutes later, the check-in personnel of Princess had us on our way to the gangway and onto the ship.
Once on the ship, we made our way to our AFT cabin. Not only was this cabin spacious, but well thought-out. From the ease stowing luggage of three people (including scuba gear for each of us) to positioning the drop-down bunk, the emphasis of this cabin's design was placed on passenger-comfort. The bathroom was easy to arrange, but the only disappointment was the lack of room the shower offered. Then again, how much time do you spend in your cabin anyway... ESPECIALLY the shower! lol. Our cabin Stewart quickly spotted us as we were checking out all the features of the room and made it a point to inform us NOT to hesitate if there is anything we found lacking, or in need of during our time on-board. Never once during those four days did we find it necessary to page him. (A nice feature Princess offers, whereby you can page your cabin Stewart anytime during his shift for even the smallest of requests.)
All the public areas were well-laid out and spacious. Even when the after-dinner nightlife was stirring throughout, never once did we feel like sardines. Speaking of nightlife, there was an abundance of it. Live Jazz, Rock, strings, even DISCO! (Yes, of course, there was more than enough Hip Hop provided by the DJs in the Skywalker Lounge to satisfy the younger crowd.) The stage shows were quite entertaining, including a hysterical comedy team from Los Angeles. They had the entire SRO (standing room only) crowd in stitches for nearly an hour. No one and nothing was off-limits for their jabs, yet not once did they resort to the all too common practice of filth or derogitory language. How refreshing that was! Every night there was a first-run movie under the stars, but unfortunately, due to us having the late-seating for dinner, we did not find time to take advantage of this great feeling of nostalgia from our childhood days at the drive-in movie theater. What little I observed was great projection (Sony Jumbo-tron) and excellent sound. The rest you will have to experience for yourselves.
Not only was the food plentiful, it was delicious! The main diningroom staff were on their toes each night, and the head-waiter performed wonderful renditions of O Solo Mio, a Dean Martin classic and closed-out the cruise on the last night with his version of Frank Sinatra's New York, New York!
A big plus was the position of the adults-only pool at the stern of the ship. Perfectly situated several steps and rows of seats below the "pool bar" which was located directly behind the ship's buffet restaurant and looking out onto the ship's wake. All of this located 4 decks below the Skywalker Lounge which served as the entire area's GIANT sun umbrella!
Although we were informed by Princess Cruiseline "loyalists" that this particular ship is the worst in their fleet, I could find next to nothing wrong with how well she seems to shine even after all the years she's been on the seven seas. Every day, ship's officers could be seen huddling with maintenance crew-members, insuring every effort made to provide a wonderful experience to each passenger. Even the most-junior housekeeping staff-members not only smiled and wished you a good day, they went out of their way to convince you they really meant it through the brief few seconds they had to strike up a very brief conversation as you passed them in the hallways; frequently adding the request that if they could do anything to make our cruise better, it would be their honor to... "make it so"!
There are many things I would suggest you do while on-board during "at-sea" days. One experience not to miss is the wine tastings offered by two of the most entertaining wine stewards at-sea! One a Spaniard, the other Romanian. They are the Abbott and Costello, the Martin and Lewis, the Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder of the High Seas. Not only are they informative for even the most unsophisticated palettes, they make it easy to learn what to look for in a wine, and how to pair this nectar of the gods with the right foods. Best of all, you walk out of the experience with your own notes on what wines you shall be adding to your collection at home following the cruise!
While this cruise (#26 for our family) was almost flawless, there are a few things I hope Princess will consider in the future. One policy I would like to see changed during the per-boarding process is the ability to set "cash" as the method of payment for minors traveling with you while they are on-board. During this process two weeks before our cruise, I was unable to complete the boarding-pass documentation without assigning a credit card as payment for purchases made by my 16 year-old son. Now while I trust him implicitly with my financial security on-board, seapasses have been known to disappear. It is for this reason I prefer to set up a per-determined cash-account for him on his seapass while on the ship. If such allowances can be made for adults who choose NOT to hand over credit card numbers, why can't the same allowance be made for minors traveling with their parents? Secondly, the fairly-new policy of prohibiting smoking of ANY kind on balconies centers on little more than instituting a second-class status to people who choose to smoke. While I am not a cigarette smoker, I see such prohibition as wrong. People pay a significant fee to enjoy the benefits of a balcony; one of which is to be able to smoke not only in-private, but whatever they choose to smoke. If cruiselines are going to allow socializing on one's balcony, including the consumption of alcohol, then where is the harm in allowing a smoker to enjoy a few puffs on a cigarette, cigar or pipe. Just like free speech, one has the right to be offended at the "offense/offender", but they shouldn't be granted the power to deny such an offense. Yes, there are limited venues for smoking while on-board, but forcing 300-600 people into a handful of small, crowded areas to get their fix goes against everything we as a free people believe in. One last thing I found to be foolish is the policy of forcing family-members to separate during the muster-drill at the beginning of the cruise. During the muster-drill, our family was directed to a specific location within one of the lounges. Okay, simple enough, right? Well, not exactly. As we entered the rear-portion of the room, there were only two separate seats remaining in this corner of the lounge. Now keep in mind EVERYONE in this lounge were part of the EXACT same muster-station. In the case of an emergency, all of us would be directed to the same lifeboat. Taking this into consideration, and noting how there only single-seats open in our corner of the lounge, I began to direct my wife and son to the immediately-next portion of the room where other passengers were being seated. When we began to make our way, I was stopped by personnel and directed to sit more than three tables away from my family. When I asked why I could not move my family to the open chairs five feet from where we standing at the time, the muster-station crew member told me if they allowed me to do so, they would not be able to fill the single seats. While I understood their situation, I also assured her that if this were an actual emergency, I would ignore her directions and make sure my family remained together. She asked me to take a seat. I refused and told her I would remain standing out of concern for elderly passengers who would need a seat more than I. Thirty seconds later, she provided me a folding chair so I could remain within several feet of my family. As a show of continued resistance, I chose not to use it. Such a policy as the one I just described needs to be modified. Certainly, some accommodations can be made in the future to keep families together under such potentially confining and uncomfortable surroundings, even if it is for the briefest of time spent.
In closing, I will say there are but few options on the seas today that will afford you the quality of experience as the one you will receive on Princess, and with one exception, all of those options are considerably higher in cost.