Background Ė This was our second Princess sailing but our first 10 day cruise. My husband and I have been on seven cruises (2 Princess, 2 Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Windjammer, NCL). Iím 28, heís 32. We try to cruise at least once a year. Overall we really enjoyed this cruise, even though it rained a lot. We met 2 couples from cruise critic and hit it off so we spent most of our time with Teri and George and Charlie G and his wife Becki. It was a full sailing. We flew from the St Louis, MO area.
Let me just say this about airport security-when you go to the airport it will be different-you will see military guards with guns, and a lot more of 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, not a big deal it just takes a couple more minutes. Just be patient-bring a book and relax. The security is now on the idea of what it is like at European airports. All of our flights were pretty full. I feel the airports have a good start but of course more needs to be done. This is just my opinion. FYI-UsAirways no longer provides meals, pillows, or blankets on flights that are 2 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 did arrive in Ft Lauderdale the day before and stayed at the Amerisuites Hotel. This was our second time staying here before the cruise. I cant 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 - and they did! They picked us up at the airport took us to the hotel. Later that afternoon they took us to a local shopping strip where we ate lunch at Kellyís Landing-great New England style seafood. The owners are from Massachusetts so they specialize in lobsters, fried clams, clam chowder, etc. , and then you can walk to the grocery store Publix to get water, crackers, and floating tubes to lay in the water at the beaches. That night they took us to Bimini Boatyard Restaurant which is right near the new Renaissance hotel. The food was great. We went at 6pm and was able to enjoy their Early Bird specials from 5-7pm. What a deal-for $15.95pp you will get an appetizer, entree, homemade-out of this world bread, and a dessert. I would recommend this place for dinner. Great view right on the water, mainly a restaurant for seafood lovers, prices were reasonable for a nice dinner. Please keep in mind the AmeriSuites only have 1 shuttle to do everything, airport, pier, etc.. As for getting Princess transfers, I would not buy transfers from the airport to the cruise ship since the distance is probably no more then 5 miles tops 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.
The itinerary was:
Thursday, Oct 11 Ė Ft. Lauderdale. Sailed about 5:00 p.m. (nice day very hot humid)
Friday Oct 12Ė Princess Cays. 10 am -5 pm (You have to tender here no matter what)
Saturday Oct 13 Ė At sea (strong sun)
Sunday Oct 14 Ė St Thomas 7:30 am - 6 pm (Rained in the morning, overcast the rest of the day)
Monday Oct 15 Ė Antigua 7 am- 4 pm (overcast-rained a bit then poured at the end of the day)
Tuesday Oct 16 Ė Barbados. 9 am - 6 pm (rained in the morning-overcast rest of the day)
Wednesday Oct 17 Ė St Lucia 8:00 am - 5:00 pm (Hot/sunny in morning, rained at end of the day)
Thursday Oct 18 Ė St Maarten 8:00 am - 6:00 pm (Hot/sunny in morning, rain clouds in afternoon)
Friday Oct 19 - Day At Sea (VERY STRONG AND HOT SUN)
Saturday Oct 20 - Day At Sea (VERY STRONG AND HOT SUN)
Sunday Oct 21 - Ft Lauderdale In port by 5am, was off the ship by 9 amish (Raining and humid)
(There were only 2 formal nights even though your documents will say there are 3. Most of the other nights seem to be very casual with not really any semi-formal nights. I am so sorry but I forgot to write down the different menus for each night)
Before 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 vs. Princess to save $$. 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 didnít really matter because if I could book on my own their prices were about the same as what Princess was charging. So that really did not help me in saving money. 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 as I have seen them in both places. I have been to all the ports before except for Antigua and St Lucia. I am not going to talk to much about the ports since Teri did that on her post and I basically feel the same way as her. I found the ship excursions to be rather long and very expensive on this sailing. We only did 2 ship tours one in Barbados and one in St Lucia.
Princess Cays is like a typical day at the beach, with all facilities there. You will be tender in no matter what which was fine. It takes about 10 minutes. The BBQ on the beach was very good. If you want to buy some crafts or get your hair braided there from Bahamian women bring cash as you can not charge anything of that sort there.
I 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 no great for snorkeling or the beach so we decided to check out http://www.coralworldvi.com/. It is overpriced but we spent a good Ĺ day their checking out the wildlife and sealife. Kids will enjoy it. It was not that crowded. Donít forget to take your Internet coupon with you. They do take charge cards. We took a lot of great photos there. It costs $8pp for a cab ride. It is literally right next door to Coki beach which looked decent for snorkeling. There is an Internet place across from the Havensight mall in the Budget Car building that is suppose to me very inexpensive but very small room and always a wait to check your email. It is called http://www.soapys.com/ Also, the first thing that stumped everyone including the crew was the pay phones at Havensight (have no clue if this is true anywhere else in USVI) where the crew and passengers call home on their calling cards now require you deposit $.50 for every phone call you make no matter where and how you call someone. This change took place right before we arrived. 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-so bring change with you if you are going to be calling people from St Thomas!
Antigua see Teriís review. I 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 unless it is in a particular area. I have a feeling Antigua is not known for its snorkeling.
In Barbados we went on the 5 star catamaran with Teri and George snorkeling tour with lunch. The actual ship and info can be found at http://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 did not have much time for snorkeling. We love to snorkel so next time we will just go to these beaches on our own.
For St Lucia my 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. It was a good value and an easy tour. If you donít want to spend the whole day seeing the Pitons or 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 very expensive. You can however check your email there-there are 2 stands, just insert your credit card and you will get $5 for 15 minutes. This is cheaper then the cruise but the kiosks where always full or 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.
I have been to St Maarten several times and have done Orient Beach, 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 Martin-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 for $5 for 15 minutes You can either take a water taxi into town which is Phillpsburg 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 a cab was already there vs. waiting for a water taxi to come. For those who have brought there own calling cards from Samís or Walmart be warned. They do not work on all islands. I know at this pier for a fact they do not. There is a private company there that has their own pay phones where you have to buy their own card to use their pay phone. So read all the information before you dial from that pay phone!
Here are my pros and cons, and some information that will help you for your Ocean Princess trip. I am trying not to give you my exact moment-by-moment experience.
Embarkation was a little bit confusing this time. The logistics for lines as to what deck you were on where not set up 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 the embarkation was fabulous.
We got to the pier very early and were able to sit down stairs and waited about 45 minutes until they let us check in. We were literally the first people to check in for the Dolphin deck. it was fast since we had express check-in. The problem was 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 5 minutes. We had printed out our information from the website, just in case there was any mess up. I always have back up 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.
We paid for a N guarantee and received a 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? 1)Our cabin was near a joint in the shipís structure, and it creaked a lot. It took us 2 nights to get use to the noise. Also, we were near a crew walk way area-we could people pushing or carrying stuff down a hall late at night and early in the morning. 3)We must have been above or attached outside to some sort of generator that ran for hours, making a motor sound. We think it had to do with the cooling system. Again, it was just something you had to get used to-otherwise we thought the cabin was very spacious with a huge window with a ledge so we could put clothes on it. As far as I could tell ALL of the balconies 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.
Personal choice dining is the way to go, hands down. The best way to explain it is itís like going to a restaurant. You just pick a place to eat and make a reservation, if needed. Itís that simple. You can have a table for two or 10. Itís flexible. You can choose the dining room set aside for personal choice, or other options such as the 24/7 Horizon Court Buffet, room service, the Riveria Grill during the day, and the Steakhouse restaurant (There is an $8 cover charge). We went with Teri and George. I am not a steak person but my Filet Milgnon was great. We had no problem getting a reservation that day.
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. Donít 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 OíLoughlin, the cruise director, was much more relaxed then cruise director on the Grand, Graham Seymour. He was not everywhere and was much more low key. We enjoyed him and his senior assistant Gavin Chandler. Of course the cruise staff does seem to have the same jokes and speeches. 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.
It was a low-key cruise. The activities were not as in-your-face as on some other ships. The activities are there if you want to do them. We did not do many.
The Ocean Princess is very elegant and has the same decor as the Grand. Itís decorated in light wood and leather tones, in a European style. Very nice without being too Las Vegas. We met several older folks who did not like the lay out of the ship. They said there was too much walking to get to places. We had no problems with this.
We attended Shabbat services Friday night. The service was brief and led by one of the passengers. Princess provided prayer booklets, challah bread, and wine. Iím not sure if somebody requested this ahead of time, but it was very nice. Since we were in port on a Sunday the Princess Patter listed places of worship for other religions to go during the day. We did meet people who did that in the morning.
Marginal entertainment. We did not go to all of the shows as some were the same as on the Grand. They replay most shows for two consecutive nights - to me that was a waste of a night. There are always 2 different shows each night. So if you missed one you can see it the next day. 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, Bridgette Jones Diary, Evolution, Spy Kids, What Women Want, Emperorís New Groove, An Knightís 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. Itís auditorium style, without drink tables or groups of seats. The other large lounge is the Vista. Itís smaller than the Princess and allows smoking. If youíre 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 2 main theaters - it clearly does not hold enough people at 1 sitting. Most nights the shows were standing room only-not cause they were good-but because there were not enough seats.
The spa was expensive, even with specials. It was open until 8 p.m. 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 till the end so you can save some $$$. 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. There are not many shops on the ship.
It is the rainy season down there when we went. It was very humid at every port and would rain then stop. At the end of the days it would rain really hard. We did have a couple of days of decent weather. During the rain showers, Princess didnít have ponchos or umbrellas to borrow, buy or rent. Since the shipís stores are closed when in port, you cant buy one either. Take a small umbrella or poncho. You never know.
The food is exactly the same as on the Grand. It is nothing special. The meals in the main dining room were generally average. I felt the combos of food for dinner were odd. I am not a picky eater but 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.
Find the Horizon Court. Itís buffet, it was good for each meal and you could wear shorts any time. Youíre not supposed to wear shorts in the main dining rooms during dinner. Weíre 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 dinning rooms. For breakfast there is a cook there that will make cook to order eggs for you - omelets, scrambled, or sunny side. 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 Riveria grill for lunch. It serves hot dogs, hamburgers, and knockwurst, and veggie burgers. It was good and made to order. My favorite place to eat was at Fabiosí pizzeria-they only serve pizza and 1 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 day special there. For drinks you could only get wine or water. You can not order the pizza to go and you can not call to have pizza for room service.
They charge for soda and juice (outside the dining room hours and Horizon Court) as well as alcohol drinks. They had a wine tasting for $5 per person. They also have a sticker you could buy $20 for unlimited sodas during the cruise. We only drink water and ice tea so we did not use it. It is a good idea for kids though. An idea on this cruise was to have a "Seabucks" which is a copy of Starbuckís drink. They were pretty good though they do cost extra. You could get these specialty iced or hot drinks anywhere on the ship and they had a new special everyday. Donít 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 so get there before!
Room service menus are limited, particularly for breakfast. You can order off the dining room menu Ė during dinning room hours. We did not do this on this cruise but we did on the Grand. If you buy their bottled water on board a 1500 ML will cost $2.95! So bring your own! We did.
FYI STUFF Ė
The majority of the passengers were of retirement age from Florida. Some were very old and probably should not have been on the ship-my husband had to help some of them get food or tell them that this door does not open because it is an emergency exit door. There were also many Canadians and British folks on holiday as well. The ship seemed to do a good job handling the disabled passengers. There were a lot of disabled people on our sailing many with wheelchairs and motor scooters. They participated in all activities from what I saw.
They add $6.50 per person per day to your account for dining service tips. The only person you have to tip separate is your cabin steward, and that can be charged to your cabin. You do so at one of the dinning rooms the 2nd to last night of cruise or at the Pursers desk. If you do that, they give you a receipt to give to your steward. Overall we liked the automatic tipping. We didnít have to worry about figuring anything but our cabin stewardís tip. I did not see an ATM though I could be wrong.
Read the Princess Patter flyer, your bible of events. There are not a lot of announcements. The announcements do not come into your room either. They are only played in the public areas and in the hallways. The Patter will tell you whatís happening and where. The televisions had CNN World News, TNT movies, Latino ESPN, and sometimes MSNBC, among a few other channels. Unlike the Grand there is no official sports bar on board so the guys were a but sad when it took them 2 days to find out who won the Rams vs. Giants game. (They survived though! )
You have two options to check email. One is to go to the business center located near the hair salon. They have 4 computers and have different times as to when the center is open. The other way is to use a laptop computer in the Atrium (24/7) received from the Pursers desk. You can access the Internet for $7.50 for 15 minutes either way. We did both ways and had no problems. Donít forget you can go to the Pursers desk 24/7 and ask for a print out of your ship account. We did this several times to make sure there were no errors on it. After 10am, you can ask the Pursers desk daily for your own NY Times Fax Newspaper - it made my husband very happy!
There are plenty of deck chairs. Most are not near the main pool, although they are in the sun. Near the main pool the first 2 rows of chairs are in the sun, the rest under overhangs. We found the pool at the back of the ship to be an excellent place. Towels are distributed by your cabin steward. None are available on deck.
Photos were $6.95 per small photo, $19.95 for an 8" by 10". $9.95 for the photo for boarding the ship. There were never any specials for photos at all so if you want the photo 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.
Theyíll charge you a 3% service fee if you charge casino chips to your stateroom. I mainly play slot machines and found there were only about 10 $.05 machines and they were always taken. Bingo cost $20 for a value Pack (3 sets of tkts for all 5 games), $10 for 1 set for all 5 games, or $10 value pack of 3 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!
We would cruise again with Princess, but not for a while. 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 2 days at sea made it very relaxing at the end.
If you have specific questions, feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will try to answer them. Happy cruising!