I just returned from the Sea Princess yesterday with the Aruba, Grenada, Dominica, St. Thomas itinerary, and I thought I would pass on my thoughts, experiences, and lessons learned.
1) SHAPE OF THE SHIP: It is still in very good shape. The only minor wear that I saw was on the green matting/carpet that is up on the pool deck, otherwise everything looked and worked superbly.
2) AIRPORT TRANSFER: We paid for the Pricness tranfers. I recommend taking taxis instead -- it is cheaper and much, much, much faster. Here's the comparison: Pricness transfer costs $38 PER PERSON round-trip and you have to wait til the bus is full with other arriving passengers before you can get on your way -- this wait took us over 45 minutes. With a taxi, you claim your bag, immeditately get a taxi, and pay $16 for the cab (NOT PER PERSON!!!). The same goes for the return.
3) PERSONAL CHOICE: For those who haven't tried it, it's flawless. You get to choose when you want to eat 5:30, 6:27, 7:13, 8:28, 9:XX -- you name it. You can ask the maitre'd for a table for 2, 6, 8, 10, whatever. You can also ask for a specific waiter's section. Although, if you make requests...it is likely you will have to wait. You can make reservations for the next evening up until 5:15 the evening prior. There are no reservations allowed for seatings after 7pm on formal nights. I'm a sociable person, so I really enjoyed eating with different, new, interesting people each night. I would then see them on at the pool, on my excursions, at the casino, etc and it felt like a I was able to get to know a lot more people on the ship.
4) LOST & FOUND: They say that the one and only lost and found in at the main reception/information desk -- all staff turn items in there. This is definitely NOT true. I had mistakenly left a pair of shoes under my sun lounge chair by the pool one day and did not remember them until the next day. After checking with the information desk, they said either the hadn't been found, they were still up there, or a passenger might have found them and not turned them in yet (or kept them), but that their staff turns things in immediately to the reception desk in the lobby. After checking back a few times to see if they had by chance been turned in yet, I went up the pool deck late in the afternoon/early evening when the deck attendants were cleaning up once again and asked them. They led me to a bin where they keep lost/found items. Sure enough they were there. Lesson: Always check with the closest staff member to where you lost the item if it isn't at the reception desk.
5) ROOM SERVICE CHARGES: Every night you can fill out a room service request form for breakfast and place it on the outside of your door for delivery at a time that you specify the next morning. This is free -- however, I was directed by a previous post to this site that passengers can request items not listed on the card, and they will bring them (e.g. write in hot oatmeal). This is true -- the caveat is that they will charge you an arm and a leg (not mentioned in the previous post). Everything I ordered was on the card (OJ, milk, fruit, yogurt, toast) except one day I wrote in "hot oatmeal" -- all of it showed up, but I was surprised to be see a $16 charge on my account. I never signed a bill for it, so I disputed it at the pursar's desk and it was credited to me.
6) TIPS: This last comment brings me to tips. It didn't happen to me, but it happened to several other people.......tips were automatically written in on various items and billed to the bursar's account (this is beyond the automatic 15% gratuity for drinks....that is expected). For instance, a woman I had dinner with took a spinning class in the fitness center. There was a cost of $10 for this class, which she signed a bill for. The bill had a blank spot for a tip. She left it blank because she personally didn't feel a tip was in order. However, a $2.00 tip was charged to her account. She had saved all her receipts in a drawer rather than throwing them away each day as most people do and she was able to dispute the charge. Lesson: save all your receipts and compare them to your final bill. Also, it is recommeded to check your bill about every other day, thus allowing you to dispute any charges without standing in the HUGE LONG line on the last two days of the cruise.
7) CABIN STEWARD: Cabin Stews service your room twice a day, as usual. Once between about 8am and noon and once between about 6pm and 8pm. They leave fresh pool/beach towels each day. If you would like terry cloth robes in you room, they will be provided at no cost by your stew if you ask him/her -- same goes for the daily news (4page version of the NY Times).
8) STERLING STEAKHOUSE: You can eat at the Sterling Steakhouse for an additional $8.00 per person. You MUST make reservations early (I made them the day we boarded the ship) because it is small and fills up with bookings. I know many people who wanted to eat there, but didn't make a reservation soon enough. My girlfiend's Filet Mignon was excellent -- my porterhouse wasn't that great. Stick with the Filet. The decor was a little less than expectations, for instance the table cloths were red with rodeo theme with cartoon pictures of horseshoes, ropes, and cowboy hats. They would have been more appropriate with a BBQ night with hamburgers, coleslaw, and potato salad. Food (filet) and service was very good though.
9) DINNER ON 1st NIGHT: I wondered a lot about food the first night since the ship doesn't depart until 11pm. No worried there. The dining rooms are in full swing with a full menu and even had prime rib as an option the first night.
10) SODA CARD: You can buy a Soda Card, which is actually a sticker that is put on your card that allows you to get free soda and as much as you want at any bar and/or restaurant on the ship. Cost is $20. In comparison, a small soda is $1.50 plus the automatic 15% gratuity. You can do some quick math vs. your own disposition to drinking soda to figure out if it is a good deal for you. For most people it is.
11) EXCURSION SIGN-UP: You can go on-line to the Princess Web-site under "Personalizer" and register for excursions prior to embarking on the cruise. The voucers were waiting for us in our cabin when we got there. You can cancel (or sign up) for any excursion typically up to 10am the day PRIOR to the excursion's port.
14) WINE: My girlfriend & I brought our own wine (about 8 bottles....1 for each dinner and one to enjoy in the room) to help keep alchohol costs somewhat minimized. Princess will allow you to bring your own wine on board and no other alchohol (well...unless you smuggle it on). There is an $8 corkage fee and a $2.00 automatic tip for serving the wine in the dining rooms. To us that was a bargain for being able to enjoy wine that we know we love and for which we paid retail prices not the restaurant prices that typically have a 40-50% mark-up.
-- Aruba surprised me. I did not expect it to be as dry, dusty, and cactus-y as it was -- but I really didn't know. I didn't do a tour here. I rented a Jeep right at the cruise termial (Avis, Thifty, and Hertz are there and you can reserve ahead of time, just make sure you stipulate the cruise terminal location). Prices are about $45-$75 depending on type of Jeep and company. If you choose to do this, definitely get a Four Wheel Drive because a decent portion of the sites are accessed via non-paved, rocky, rough roads. Also, my recommended itinerary is to go in order of California Lighthouse, go off-road to see the Chapel, then drive over to the natural bridge. I also recommend driving down to the end of the island to Baby Beach. It is very pretty (except for the oil refinery off in the distance), is free, and is great for sun-bathing, swimming and snorkeling. Allow yourself about a solid hour to get back to downtown, fill up with gas, and return the car as traffic will be bad getting back into town.
-- Grenada is pretty. Wished I had done the excursion to the interior of the island. I heard from so many people how pretty it was. Instead I did the party cruise to the beach with steel drum band. It was good, but nothing too exciting. You have plenty of time to also explore the dowtown on your own. There is a market where you can get your fill of spices -- nutmeg, basil, curry, etc. Also, there are quite a few local men who will come up to you and offer a walking tour of the downtown by taking you to the Fort and to the market and even on a public bus ride to a waterfall. I was leary of this, but I personally talked with three different sets of people who did this and they said the guides were knowledgeable, friendly, very helpful and non-threatening in the least bit -- they highly recommended it. Obviously these guys expect at tip at the end. One point of interest the guides took their groups was to the fort which is occupied today by the island's police headquarters. At the fort you can see bullet holes left by the assasination of the prime minister in 1983 during the communist overthrow. My girlfriend and I got a bite to eat at "Nutmeg Bar and Resturant" overlooking the pier. Good food. The lambie fritters (aka conch fritters) are delicious.
-- Dominica: A very pretty and lush island. I took the Champagne Reef Snorkeling tour and I highly recommend it - but reserve early, because the choice times get sold out. This tour takes you snorkeling with a very professional and friendly staff to a reef that has bubbles coming up due a volcano that is beneath the island. Snorkeling equipement is provide with your excursion fee or you can bring your own if you prefer. Lots of very neat and colorful fish -- every where and all kinds. Incredible.
-- St. Thomas: Since I had been on cruise tours of St. Thomas and St. John many times I decided to rent a Jeep and explore the island on my own this time. There is both an Avis and a Budget right in the little shoppiing area that is right next to the cruise dock. Prices range from $65 for a compact car and about $80 for a Jeep. As opposed to Aruba, a four wheel dirve isn't necessary, so you could go with whatever type of vehicle you choose. Obviously, dowtown Chalotte-Amalie is a shopping mecca with a sea of jewerly stores. The deals aren't necassarily that great except for the fact that it is duty free.
-- San Juan: Since we had to disembark the ship at 9:30 and our flight didn't take off until 5pm, we went to the airport, checked our bags with the airline and checked in, then we took our carry-ons baggage to the luggage storage center -- they charge $3 per bag and will hold you bag till you get come and retrieve it (however they do close at 9pm). This luggage storage office is just inside the doors that lead to the Amercian Airlines and Northwest Airlines ticket counter. We then caught a cab ($16 each way) to Old San Juan for sighseeing to blow off some time.
Hope that helps some people. If you have any questions that I didn't address, just respond to this message & I'll try to respond.
Enjoy your cruise!!!