Reviewed by Vincent & Mary Finelli
Southern Caribbean Cruise
Dec. 8 - 15, 2012
by Mary & Vincent Finelli
This was our third cruise on the beautiful Caribbean Princess since her launching in 2004. At that time she was the largest of the Princess ships, with her 18 decks high! We were happy to get reacquainted with our friend award winning Executive Chef Antonio Cereda. We have known him since our first cruise on the Grand in 1998. He has been with Princess 28 years, and prepared banquets for many famous people such as Queen Elizabeth II and the late Princess of Wales, Diana. Needless to say, he made our cruise a delicious one! We also met Captain William Kent, Hotel General Manager Martin Bristow, Executive Housekeeper Francisco Leal and Maitre D’ Jose Florencio.
The ship is just as sparkling as she was when new. She has been kept in excellent condition as reflected in the scores of the Vessel Sanitation Program by CDC (since the ship was launched, most inspections topped 100, at the last one she was 99 and Mr. Cereda is doing everything to get her to the top again). Great going, Antonio!
Port Everglades, Ft. Lauderdale is just a hop, skip and a jump from our home in Boca Raton. On a Saturday morning, highway I-95 is quite bearable and we were at the pier in less than 30 minutes. Boarding was simple, since as Elite members we have priority boarding. We were met outside the terminal by staff providing wheelchair assistance to Vincent. Together with Mary, on her own motorized wheelchair, we proceeded to the check-in counter and in just 10 minutes we were on board. We went to our cabin A302 which is portside forward, dropped off our hand luggage and proceeded to the Horizon Court Buffet on deck 15. It was a very good buffet: Tortellini, chicken consomme’, roasted turkey, scallops and blueberry blini.
We have described this ship in detail in our 2006 cruise review, which has been posted at this web site. She has been refurbished in 2011 and has many areas where passengers may enjoy themselves. The Grand Piazza, located on deck 5 midship, is patterned on a European town square, where various musicians perform a variety of music throughout the day. Some of our favorites were “The Piano Melodies” with Pavel, “Musical Melodies” with Solutions and “Caribbean Sounds” with Sugarcane. Among other shows performed here were “The Best in the World of Juggling” by Team Rootberry and “Rock this Town” by the Caribbean Princess Singers & Dancers. In the Piazza are located the International Cafe’, open 24 hours, Vines Bar, with sushi, tapas and wine, Internet Cafe’, open 24 hours, and the library and boutiques. The Island Dining Room, also located on Deck 5, is the easiest to access along with the Coral on Deck 6. The Palm Dining Room, Deck 6 aft, is the loveliest, but hard to access, since for passengers with cabins forward or midship, they must go down to Deck 7, go all the way to the aft elevators and descend to Deck 6.
Promenade Deck 7 is all passenger areas: Forward is the Princess Theater with every seats having an excellent view of the stage -- No obstructing columns here! Next is the Casino, with everything from penny slot machines to high stake tables. Midship are the Explorer Lounge, the Wheelhouse Bar, the upscale restaurant Sabatini and all the way aft is Club Fusion, where Captain Kent held his cocktail party for repeaters.
Lido Deck 15 is the pool deck, with passenger cabins forward, and then the rest of this deck has passenger areas. Toward midship are the Trident Grill, with hamburgers, hot dogs, brats and delicious French fries, the Prego Pizzeria, with very good pizzas, and the Blackbeard Bar for refreshing drinks. Then, there are Neptune’s Reef, pool and hot tubs, further toward the rear is Scoops, serving delicious soft serve ice creams. Then comes the area of “Movies Under the Stars” which shows sports events, such as football games and other ESPN programs, concerts such as “Stevie Wonder: Live at Last” and “Bon Jovi: Live in Chicago,” and most of all movies (with freshly popped popcorn). Here are also the Calypso Reef & Pool and the Calypso Bar. Toward aft is the extensive Horizon Court, the main buffet eatery with several varieties of self service food. All the way aft are the Cafe’ Caribe and the Outrigger Bar.
Sun Deck 16 forward has the Fitness Center, the Lotus Spa, Salon, pool for swimming against the current and two hot tubs, and the Wedding Chapel. Midship is the upper seating for “Movies Under the Stars”, and all the way aft are the Youth & Teen Centers.
Sports Deck 17 forward has the Sanctuary, a secluded tranquil area which passengers can access by paying a fee and enjoy their rest and relaxation in private; then, there are Cybergolf and Princess Links. All the way aft are the pool, hot tub and Morgan’s Bar.
There are so many things to do on board, activities for every passenger are listed daily in the Princess Patter and Cruise Director Dan Styne, who has been with Princess for 14 years, gives his best to produce some of the nicest entertainment at sea.
SERVICE & FOOD
Service aboard, under Captain Kent and Hotel General Manager Bristow is superb. Whatever we requested was done immediately. We have learned as “frequent floaters” that whenever we have a reasonable request, such as asking for a chaise lounge on the balcony, a written note to the proper person might be more effective than a call to the Passenger Service Desk -- So many times the actual need is “lost in translation.”
All cabins were ready from 11:00am on embarkation day, so it was easy for us to drop off the hand luggage in our cabin before going to the Horizon Court for the Welcome Aboard Buffet. The service here was excellent, assistants were readily available to help Mary, in the wheelchair, to visit the various food stations and carry the plate for her. We also found assistance in the theater, where ushers were there to see that specially designated seats remained available for the handicapped.
Service in the Island Dining Room was also superb: Maitre D’ Jose assigned us an easily accessible table (#258B) for two, where we could park Mary’s wheelchair nearby and have dinner every night served by a very efficient and pleasant waitress Teresita and her assistant Jaime. We were also pleased by the attention of Food & Beverage Supervisor Alejandro Soberanis, who greeted us every night with a smile and asked if we needed anything to let him know! Thanks, Alejandro for your courteous and cordial attitude.
The decor on the ship and especially in the dining rooms is pure Fincantieri: Maple wood paneling, brass sconces and twinkling lights on the ceiling, the table cloths and napkins are Italian “Fili d’Oro” and crisp and fresh looking. The ship was nicely decorated for the Holiday Season with many Christmas trees with giant snowflakes and poinsettias, very elegant and festive.
The food on Princess ships is excellent, a credit to the many Italian chefs employed by this cruise line and especially to our old friend Executive Chef Antonio Cereda, who, during his tenure, has trained many other chefs, some of them are now Executive Chefs on other ships.
Breakfast -- We usually use Room Service for breakfast in our cabin. We liked the English Muffin, with egg, cheese and Canadian ham (specially prepared for Room Service), coffee, hot chocolate, juices and sweet rolls.
At noon, usually on sea days, we have lunch in the Coral Dining Room. Here we savored some delicious appetizers, such as fried Calamari and spring rolls, some tasty main dishes, such as the English Mixed Grill with filet mignon, petit lamb chops, sausage and kidneys, as well some great pasta dishes.
Dinner time is terrific in the Island Dining Room with appetizers of shrimp cocktails, seafood salad, Italian antipasti with Prosciutto di Parma, Grana Padano, etc.... Soups are varied including Porcini mushroom soup, cream of asparagus, consomme’, etc.... Salads include a variety of lettuce, Boston bibb, iceberg, radicchio, watercress, rocket and arugula with combinations of citrus segments, walnuts and pignoli nuts. A variety of dressings are also available, but usually we chose our favorite, extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Bread on Princess is the best at sea: Fresh and crunchy and hot bread sticks are available every night. Dessert was terrific: N.Y. cheese cake, double chocolate brownies, creme brulee, various home made gelati, including torroncino and nocciola, fruit sorbets, including red currant, strawberry, lemon and grapefruit, all natural without artificial ingredients, excellent! Needless to say, even though the menus on Princess ships are uniform across the line, the touch of Chef Antonio made this cruise unforgettable, a truly gourmet cuisine!
Our cabin, A302 on deck 12, is a wheelchair accessible one, spacious and bright, close by the forward elevators. The beige walls are trimmed in maple wood. When entering on the left is an alcove very appropriate for parking the wheelchair. Then there is a triple armoire, the first section has shelves and a private safe; the next two are for hanging clothes. There is a flat screen TV and a small refrigerator with complimentary bar set up for Elite passengers. Next is a long desk/vanity with lighted mirror. A small circular glass top table, a desk chair and an upholstered barrel seat are the only furniture inside the cabin. When entering on the right, there is a large bathroom with a single sink and several shelves for toiletries. There are safety rails all around and everything fit for disabled passengers, from the fold away seat in the shower to a taller commode appropriate for the the handicapped. The shower is spacious enough (4'x4') to allow rolling in with the wheelchair, if necessary. Next there are twin beds, that can convert to a queen size one, flanked by two large bureaus, with a lot of storage space, and reading lamps. The far wall is mostly a large ceiling-to-floor glass window with a sliding door to the balcony, with two chairs and a small table. Our steward Pol added a chaise lounge and later replaced the chairs with two more comfortable ones, with arms. Pol, very concerned with Mary’s mobility problem, also added to the cabin a much more comfortable and beautiful leather arm chair. Pol, thanks for all your effort, we really appreciated it.
As we have already mentioned, Cruise Director Dan Styne is in charge of entertainment. As Mary noticed he is an Aussie with lot of personality. He is rightly proud of the Princess Dancers and Singers. Briana Marcantoni and Patrick Detloff were both terrific. Patrick’s “Oh Danny Boy” was really haunting! The Production Shows “Do You Wanna Dance” and “Born to be Wild” were great with nice singing and dancing. We also enjoyed listening to some pleasant music frequently played in the Piazza -- a great place to congregate.
PORTS OF CALL
Day 1. Ft. Lauderdale, FL Depart 4:00pm
Day 2. Princess Cays, Bahamas, Arrive 9:00am Depart 3:15pm
Day 3. At Sea
Day 4. Willemstad, Curacao Arrive 1:00pm Depart 9:30pm
Day 5. Oranjestad, Aruba Arrive 7:30am Depart 5:00pm
Day 6. At Sea
Day 7. Ft. Lauderdale, FL Arrive 7:30am
We had Pink 2 colored luggage tags, thus expecting to start debarkation at about 8:30am, so we went for breakfast at the Palm dining room at 7:00, without our hand luggage, and had sufficient time to return to our cabin before going to the Vines, the meeting point for wheelchair assistance. We are always amazed to see passengers in a hurry, bringing their luggage in the dining room with them to breakfast and then rushing through and clogging the central areas of the ship, slowing down the progress, even though they are informed of their time of debarkation with the color of their tags. For us it is all very simple: we know the time when one of our sons comes to pick us up and plan to debark at the appropriate time going through at our own pace. This time, as always, it was a cinch, we were at home by 10:00am.
This was our 18th cruise with Princess, thus we enjoyed the Elite benefits which, among other things, are incentives for us to return to Princess. In addition, we know the ship plans so well, since the newer ships have similar deck plans, so when we book a cruise we know exactly where and what are our choices in regard to cabin location, dining times and places. Also we always book future cruises while aboard, so we take the advantage of a lower booking deposit and the added benefit of on board credit. We have learned so much from the early days of cruising, that now we are enjoying ourselves more and more each cruise; we know what to expect from different ships and cruise lines, thus every cruise meets our expectation and sometimes exceeds it. The results are that we have never had a bad cruise yet, but only good ones and some better than others. This one was definitely better than many others, thanks to Chef Antonio. Happy Cruising!