This was my 7th. cruise and my second on Princess. This is how cruising should be and was better than my cruise in 2010. Mind you, anything was better than last years (see my review Celebrity Infinity Panama Canal). The ship had a refit in May of this year but the internal decor and layout is much the same as the rest of Princess\'s \"Grand\" class ships. We sailed from Miami to go around the Caribbean visiting Princess Cays (privately owned by Princess), US Virgin Islands, Dominica, Grenada, Bonaire and Aruba. The weather didn\'t get off to a good start as we caught the end of a tropical storm out ...
of Miami which lasted a couple of days but the temperature was in the low 30\'s so I can\'t complain.Read More
Embarkation. An absolute breeze! Despite the fact that I didn\'t have a boarding pass-I refused to input my credit card details to enable me to print off my boarding pass at home. Princess say that this is \"mandatory\". I spoke to my travel agent and they told me that I didn\'t need a boarding pass. When I was asked for my pass, I told them I didn\'t have one. I was redirected to a secondary queue in which I was given a small form to fill out and told to go onto the main embarkation queues. The whole process was extremely well organised and within 20 minutes I was onboard.
NOTE: Princess, like every other cruise line, make a daily charge on your onboard account. Princess call this a \"Hotel Charge\". These charges will be between $10 and $15 PER PERSON,PER DAY INCLUDING CHILDREN! This money is distributed around all the staff as gratuities. For a family of four, based on a charge of $10 per person/day for a 10 day cruise, it will cost $400 (around £300) on top of your onboard spend. If you don\'t know about this it could come a quite a shock. The first thing you must do is go to the Guest Relations desk and ask to be removed from this charge. Princess cannot refuse to do this if a guest asks to be removed. You will then be free to tip as you see fit and not as Princess wants you to.
Princess wil encourage you to use your credit card for onboard purchases although all purchases will be via your keycard as cash is not accepted on board. I refuse to do this opting for a cash deposit so that I can keep to my own budget.
Cabins. My cabin was an oceanview which was a free upgrade from Princess. It does make a big difference as opposed to an inside cabin which I normally have due to the extra cost of travelling alone. The cabin felt light and airy and was well fitted out. John-my cabin steward- was extremely helpful.
Guests. These were predominately American with a small number of Brits. I didn\'t hear any other language apart from English. I would have expected a small amount of Spanish/European accents but this was not the case on this cruise.
Food. Excellent! I opted for the traditional dining at 8.15 pm. in the Botticelli dining room. I was on a table for 8 but after the first night, 2 of the guests disappeared. One of my table-Paul from Bournemouth-did bump into them later. They said that they had met some friends who they didn\'t know were onboard and had moved tables. I can\'t comment on this but they seemed a bit aloof and didn\'t want to know about other people. Two of the guests didn\'t even turn up so that left four of us. The other couple were Phil and Dale of Chicago. I was also disappointed that many of the tables around us and in the dining room in general were empty all the time. On one night I counted 10 empty tables just in my immediate area. Yet in the other two dining rooms-Da Vinci and MichealAngelo-which were for the \"Anytime\" dining-were full all the time. Considering that the menus are the same for all dining why book at table and not turn up? The exception was for the two formal nights then all the tables were full. Go figure! The menus were quite varied and included a very good vegetarian selection for the non-meat eaters. All of the food was of excellent quality but the general selection didn\'t flick my switch. The exception being the second formal night-Beef Wellington.
The Horizon Court/Cafe Caribe buffet didn\'t disappoint either. The breakfast menu didn\'t change much and was to the American taste. Hash browns, VERY crispy bacon, burgers, steaks, eggs benedict, muffins, cakes etc. but the lunch and evening meals changed every day. However, if you decide to go for a late breakfast say 9.30 to 11.00 be prepared for a very long wait. I had a few beers on one night and didn\'t get up till 9.30. I went to the Horizon Court and was confronted with queues that snaked right around the (self service) buffet and out into the seating area-which was aslo chock-a-block. The buffet has two sides and both were backed up. I had to wait till around 11.15 to even get a look-in at the buffet. I was so late the lunch service had started.
In the Wheelhouse Bar, they served a British \"Pub Lunch\" on two sea days. These were very popular indeed with lengthy queues for a table. The lunches included genuine British fish & chips, steak & kidney pies, ploughmans and a selection of meals found in a traditional British country pub.
There are several speciality restaurants including the Crown Grill (steak house), Sabatinis (Italian) and a few others. There is a small cover charge for these-usually around $15-$25 per head not including alcohol. I would recommend trying one of these. The food is prepared to order by the chefs actually in the restauarant so that you know that your meal is cooked to your taste.
Entertainment. I can\'t comment on this as I didn\'t go to a show. I am not a \"show\" person and I don\'t like musicals. But the general reports I received from those that did were very good. The rest of the trip included a Princess Cruises Talent Show, karaoke, trivia quizzes etc. There were also a couple of comedians, one of which was an \"adults only\" late night show which I was told was quite blue but very funny. All of the bars had some sort of band playing MOR music which was not intrusive. The Explorers bar was the most busy. The Skywalkers nightclub was not well attended. Initially say 11-12 pm. it was quite full but around 1.30 people satrted to drift off back to their cabins. On my last Princess cruise, the nightclub was nearly always full right up to 3 or 4 in the morning.
On the first formal night, the Captain started a champagne fountain. I wanted to video this but by the time I arrived, there were over 500 people (possibly more) in a very limited space. This made it very busy indeed and I eventually gave up trying. Princess needs to sort this out or move it to a venue were people can see properly.
Excursions. The excusions provided by Princess are very good indeed, very reasonably priced and can be booked online before you go-and you don\'t have to pay for them until you are onboard. The charges are added to your account. The trips cater for all tastes from certified deep-sea diving, general sightseeing, swimming with dolphins and even a submarine that dives down to 100 feet! I opted for sightseeing Princess Cays, eco-hike USVI, Trafalgar Waterfalls Dominica, Seven Sisters Waterfalls Grenada and an Ostrich Farm Aruba. I did my own thing in Bonaire.
NOTE: If you choose to do your own thing and explore the ports on your own and you miss the ship-TOUGH. The ship will not wait for you. The locals on the islands who offer tours when you get off the ship are NOT obliged to get you back in time, although they know when to get you back but it\'s up to you if you want to take the risk. We picked up a couple in Aruba who missed their own Princess ship around two weeks previous and were left to fend for themselves. If this happens to you, you are on your own, it\'s your fault and no recompense will be forthcoming from Princess or anybody else. In 7 cruises, this is the first time that I have known that we picked up stranded tourists.
There are a couple of flies in the ointment. On my excursion to the Trafalgar Waterfalls, the trail to the second of the falls is treacherous! The trail was littered with tree roots and rocks, was extremely steep, very slippery and you have to be very careful indeed. Some of my fellow travellers-senior citizens-had to be helped. I don\'t mind helping but Princess should have warned people that the trail was for the adventurous. Not only was the trail difficult we were at tree-top height, the guard rail was very flimsy and the trail was only a couple of feet wide in places. The trail almost resembled a rock face and even an experienced rambler would find it difficult. I dread to think what would happen if somebody fell-we couldn\'t see the forest floor. Not only was this dangerous, several other excursions turned up after us which meant up to 80 people going up and down the trail making passing very difficult.
On my trip to the Seven Sisters Falls in Grenada, we got to the visitors centre which was basically a wood hut with a lean-to shed nearby and the heavens opened. At this point I will concede that I am in the tropics and in a rain forest so rain will be expected. But not like this. This rain was of monsoon proportions and was bouncing off the floor to waist height. I estimate that around 2 inches of rain fell in about 3 hours. Our tour guide-Kendrick-went to one of the buses to put on some waterproof clothing. I spoke to him about the fact that I wasn\'t prepared to go on with the tour due to the weather. Six of my fellow travellers agreed with me and we stayed behind under the lean-to. Kendrick and I got into an argument in front of around 40 people with him saying I was \"another Brit complaining about the weather\". I replied with I was not prepared to carry on in monsoon rain getting soaking wet and told him to \"p*** off with the rest of the tour\". I would like to add that there was a sign at the entrance to the falls that said \"enter at your own risk\". Kendrick also told us that we would have to cross a river (there was no bridge) and when we got to the falls it could be \"a little muddy\". I later learnt that \"a little muddy\" meant ankle deep mud and the river had to be crossed by stepping stones. After a couple of hours the tour returned with several of the people stripping off down to their undies (both male and female) due to the fact they were soaking wet. I\'m glad I didn\'t go and in my opinion this tour should have been cancelled due to the extreme weather. I have spoken to my travel agents and they have advised me to put my concerns in writing to them and they will forward my views to Princess.
Disembarkation. Again, extremely well organised. I opted for a trip to the Dolphin Mall shopping centre as my flight was not until 5.20pm. (I was off the ship around 9am). We had three or four hours in the centre which was very clean and I am told one of the safest in Miami. We were then taken directly to Miami Airport for our flight home.
In conclusion: a very good cruise-Princess know what they are doing, very clean ship, great staff and very relaxing. I would recommend Princess to the first-time and seasoned cruiser!
Tour Operator: Bolsover Cruise Club