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Since today’s a day at sea with little to report, I wrote up our cruise review (assuming nothing radically changes in the next 12 +/- hours).

Usual warning: this assessment is more-or-less subjective and based on our experiences. Your mileage may vary.


Overall, we weren’t wowed by the look and feel of the Caribbean Princess. Despite its size (as of this writing it’s the second largest ship we’ve ever sailed on), it doesn’t feel especially “grand” in either its bulk or appointments. The décor seems relatively nondescript. Let’s call it classic “Cruise Ship-esque” (you know, stylized nods to traditional travel-centric motifs, especially Mediterranean).

Highlights include the Crown Grill (art deco-inspired with lovely wood wainscoting), some of the more nautically-themed bars (which always feel apropos to me on a ship), the casino (while non-descript, feels open, airy, and inviting), and the outside pool decks (again, not a riot for the senses, but well configured).

The lowlight has to be the main stage theatre (very low ceiling; utterly devoid of style or charm). I think it’s the single most underwhelming theatre I’ve ever experienced on a cruise ship. The other trouble spot seems to be the Horizon Court / Café Caribe area: here the décor is very nice (one of the better looking Lido buffets we’ve seen), but the design/layout is suspect (too little space for too many passengers; poor foot traffic flow, especially around the food).

Overall, Caribbean Princess is tidy, well cared for, and pleasing but somewhat forgettable.


We’re in cabin #B201. This is a forward balcony stateroom on the Baja deck. Like the rest of the ship, the décor is fairly nondescript and the layout is a little “different.” Instead of the more typical layout with the entryway split by the bathroom on one side and the closest on the other, the cabin has a doorway to one side of the room. This configuration allows for a sort of “walk-in” closet / dressing area and a squarer (rather than rectangular) bathroom. The upside: a lot more storage space and dressing privacy. The downside: it makes the cabin feel smaller than the actual square footage.

Three additional pluses for the cabin: 1) the balcony seems a little larger than some others we’ve had in the past, 2) it has a mini-fridge (always useful), and 3) it has a relatively new flat-screen television (with jacks for hooking up iPads, etc.). Two other minor gripes about the cabin: 1) it lacks a loveseat / couch, so comfortable seating is limited, and 2) the shower has a curtain rather than a door (not uncommon, but always annoying).

In all, it’s a comfortable cabin. It would be less than ideal for three people, but it’s well suited to two people, especially those who pack more heavily, are on longer voyages, or sharing a cabin with someone who’s “close but not that close” (given the more private dressing area).

Sonia, our cabin attendant, has been very good throughout the trip. She’s efficient, unobtrusive, and friendly, though not especially personable. She just quietly goes about doing her job well.


On our last cruise (aboard Celebrity), we went in with high expectations for food and service, but we came away less than impressed. On this cruise, we went in with no preconceived notions (or maybe even a slightly negative bias, based on my mother’s prior experience some years ago and a slight theme of “Princess now isn’t the Princess of old” that I’d seen in online reviews and message boards). Yet, we’re coming away favorably impressed—almost uniformly good (or better) food paired with good (or better) service.

Let’s start with the main dining room. Although none of the dishes have been wildly memorable, the overall quality has been consistently high. Indeed, I think the main dining room food has been as good as (and perhaps better than) that of any prior cruise. What’s more, the service—despite using AnyTime Dining (the “eat when you want” option, which usually seems to degrade service slightly)—has also been exceptional. Based on our experience, we’d rank Princess #1 in main dining room performance.

Moving on to the buffet, we’ve also found high levels of quality and service. It reminds us most of Holland America’s buffet venue. Unfortunately also like HAL, the selections are somewhat more limited too (relative to say the offerings at Royal Caribbean’s Windjammer Buffet). However, unlike HAL and (to a lesser degree) Celebrity, the operating hours of Horizon Court / Café Caribe (as well as the burger/hot dog grill and pizza station) are much better / later. For example, dinner is available until 11pm (as are burgers and pizza). Indeed, the buffet is basically a 24-hour operation aboard Princess—that could be especially helpful when traveling with Emerson or on less leisurely itineraries (such as late nights in port in Europe). On a related note, we agree that Princess deserves the title for providing the “Best Pizza At Sea.”

I’ve already talked about the specialty dining venues extensively. So, I’ll attempt to summarize here.

The Crown Grill ($25/pp.) was excellent. “Best at Sea” worthy? Maybe. We thought it a notch above Cagney’s on NCL. It’s probably better than Chops aboard RCI, though Libby’s slow braised BBQ pork shank aboard Brilliance remains etched in our minds. It seemed roughly on par with the Pinnacle Grill aboard HAL in terms of food and service quality. Yet, somehow, we enjoyed it more than HAL’s offering, which might have been more due to the selections available or our collective mood. In the end, we liked that the Crown Grill’s approach is to simply prepare really good food… rather than attempting to make dishes ‘sophisticated’ merely by tarting them up unnecessarily.

Sabatini’s ($20/pp.)—the Princess Italian offering—is also probably “Best at Sea” worthy. But, that’s mostly due to weak competition rather than the strength of the Princess showing. Sadly, nearly every cruise line with an Italian offering goes in one of two tragic directions: 1) a poor attempt at Olive Garden cuisine (e.g., NCL), or 2) a bad rendition of 1980’s Italian fine dining (e.g., Royal Caribbean). Princess falls into the second category… they just execute it better than others, which isn’t exactly an accolade.

Now, let’s talk about Ultimate Balcony Dining. At $100 per couple, it ain’t exactly cheap. But, it’s excellent value for money. You get specialty restaurant caliber food (let’s call that $25/pp. in ‘retail’ price), two cocktails (avg. $6/pp.), a half bottle of sparkling wine ($20), flowers ($10), and an 8×10 photo ($20). By my calculation, that’s $112 in goods/services for $100… plus you get a unique experience, dedicated wait staff (two servers), and the luxury of a leisurely, relaxing meal on your private balcony. To us, that’s MasterCard commercial “priceless” worthy. So, if you have the means, I highly recommend it.

Finally, I have a few random notes: the beer selection is pretty good (e.g., Blue Moon, Franziskiner). The wine selection is mediocre (but as a plus Princess allows you to bring wine aboard the ship!). The specialty coffees are good, but the coffee card makes them an excellent value (15 drinks for $30—if only Starbucks had such a card!). The International Cafe also offers good breakfast pastries, sandwiches, soups, and desserts. And, the “Power Hours” drink specials ($2.99 from 8pm until late at all bars) are actually a special price (unlike most ships’ “drink of the day” offerings).


We saw relatively few shows and guest performances (in part or whole). Therefore, I can’t comment on these extensively other than to say that the ship’s performers seemed to be somewhat below par relative to our past cruise experiences (which, I might add, isn’t generally an especially high standard to start).

As this was a port intensive cruise in the Caribbean, there was little in the way of enrichment and nothing in the way of guest/port lecturers (other than the usual inane ‘port shopping expert’ presentations—message: “buy crap from stores where gets a commission).

In the food/wine enrichment department, nothing really can compare to Holland America with its dedicated culinary showroom, guest chefs, and partnership with Food & Wine magazine. As such, Princess’s program seemed more typical of most cruise lines (cooking / cake decorating demonstrations, ice carving, wine tastings, etc.).

Itinerary / Ports

Like dining, I’ve talked about the ports extensively in earlier posts. So, I’ll attempt to summarize here:

San Juan, Puerto Rico – we really liked historic and charming Old San Juan. We wouldn’t hesitate to sail out of here again. And, we’re looking forward to seeing more of the island after disembarking from the ship.

St. Thomas – for good or bad, this is what you might expect from a Caribbean island port of call. It has attractive surf and sand, lots of duty free shopping (of potentially dubious value), and little in the way of cultural or historical significance readily on display.

Dominica – a less developed island, yet rich in natural beauty. While Roseau is underwhelming, the rainforest is breathtaking and not to be missed.

Grenada – much like Dominica, it could be a textbook definition of a ‘tropical paradise’ with its amazing diversity of natural spices and fruit growing in a beautiful environment.

Bonaire – the port town of Kralendijk, while clearly tourism oriented, seemed unbothered by the arrival of our ship (indeed, many of the beach bars were closed) – ultimately, the best aspects of the island are along its shores: have a beach day or enjoy the water by diving / snorkeling.

Aruba – similar to Bonaire but more populated and developed (for good or bad). Here again, the island’s shores are a great asset, but it’s a fine port for shopping as well (and, unlike St. Thomas, a bit more upscale in form and substance).


All in all, a very good—maybe even a great—vacation.

While the Caribbean isn’t our favorite destination, we really enjoyed most of these ports. Highlights included Old San Juan (for its history and charm), Dominica and Grenada (for scenic splendor and natural beauty), and Aruba (as a shopping destination).

As for Princess, we’ve come away very impressed.

Like every cruise line, Princess has its positives and negatives. That said, the highs have greatly outnumbered the lows on this cruise. Princess also offers some unique features such as “Ultimate Balcony Dining” and has pioneered other innovations like “Movies Under the Stars.” Finally, Princess doesn’t seem to nickel-and-dime passengers as much as some lines once they’re aboard ship. Here are some examples of good value: the soda package price is reasonable, the bring-your-own-wine policy is liberal, the nightly drink specials represent a decent value, and the specialty coffee card provides real savings. Finally, the food (and associated service) has been consistently some of the best we’ve experienced on any cruise.

We definitely plan to sail with Princess again. What else can I say?

5 Responses to “Cruise Day #7 — At Sea (Cruise Review)”

  1. Nancy says:

    I have enjoyed your blog very much. Having sailed the Caribbean Princess 3 times already we are again booked for the 10-day repo cruise at the end of October. It is great to hear that the ship is still in fine shape, as of now, as she will head to drydock at the end of our cruise.

    I agree with many of your comments – including how fabulous the UBD is! We did this on the Emerald last year as a 30th anniversary celebration. It so exceeded any thoughts we had about it.

    Glad you enjoyed your cruise and I have bookmarked your blog so I can follow your future trips. I really enjoyed looking at some of your other entries.

    Wishing you many more happy travels….

  2. Paul says:

    Nancy — thanks for following along on our trip. I hope you enjoy your time on Caribbean Princess later this year! Are you all Princess regulars or do you sail on other lines too? We came away impressed and look forward to sailing Princess again… though I think it will be a little while since the next year will likely find us on 3-4 RCI cruises in a row (Northern Europe, Western Carib, Dubai, and Western Med — though summer 2012 might be Princess between Singapore and Australia).

  3. Nancy says:

    Yes, Paul, we love Princess. We have also sailed on NCL, Celebrity and Carnival. The next trip will be number 6 on Princess – 3 times on the CB – as we are New Yorkers and it works for us, once on the Golden and once on the Emerald. We just feel at home there and have never been disappointed – although we may be some of the easiest people in the world to please! Just put us on the ship and the more sea days the better!! We have yet to experience RCI – but maybe someday. If money was no object we would head off on Crystal or Regent – but unfortunately it is!!

  4. Sally says:

    Thanks for the wonderful review of the islands and the ship. My family and I did this same cruise last year and are sailing on the CB to New England in June. Your reflections were similar to ours and reading your current review has us excited to sail on the CB again.

  5. Paul says:

    Sally — I’m glad you enjoyed the posts. Have a great time on the New England cruise aboard CB! We’ve got that on our list of cruise destinations (though I don’t think we’ll get to that itinerary until 2013 or later).

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