I just returned from a week onboard Caribbean Princess on a Canada/New England cruise. I haven’t been aboard a Princess Cruises ship in about three years (though previously have been on 11 cruises with them). I was impressed by a number of things, while at the same time annoyed by others. So let me get those annoyances off my chest first. The biggest was the sheer size of the ship, and the number of people onboard. This voyage was basically a sold out sailing. It was hard to find a place to sit for breakfast in the Horizon Court, and it was sometimes hard to find seats for the shows in the Princess Theatre or Explorers Lounge. It was never a severe problem getting off or on the ship, even where we tendered, but you sometimes feel like part of a cattle call. (Early morning excursions were mostly delayed just getting everyone off the ship.) Also, it bears noting mass market large cruise ships attract all sorts of people, including some that lack sophistication and have little class. (No doubt those that buy luxury cruises pay more for them for the luxury not only of the ship, stateroom and dining experience, but also for the company they’ll be in, the sophistication of the guests, and the size of the bathrooms!) Ok, I feel better, so let’s get on with a review.
Dining. There’s no doubt Princess Cruises is making a strong effort in improving the dining experience, and it shows. The quality of ingredients was always excellent, and the taste was usually very good. Most people raved about the food, (I’m a bit more reserved). In the course of the week there were a variety of theme dinner options in the buffet, from creole to curry, in addition to standard fare. These were usually very tasty (meaning well-spiced and well prepared. The tandoori chicken was a poor, but the Madras curry, fish in green curry, creole stew, etc were all well done). Of course, there was the Beef Wellington, lobster, filet mignon, and some terrific scallops. Princess offers two pasta selections each evening, but one was always Fettuccini Alfredo.
Alternative dining. Sabatini’s remains a feather in Princess’ cap for providing the best overall Italian dining at sea. (While Prego on Crystal Cruises is in a different class and superior, the overall ambience of Sabatini’s and presentation of this seemingly endless meal makes this a special experience; and for a $20 per person surcharge, well worth it. Princess’ pizza is also the best at sea, and available from 11 – 9pm. Soon to come: pizza delivery to staterooms!
Sterling Steak House was a bit tired and is evolving into the Crown Grill. The steaks here remain the forte, and are good quality and well prepared. Not the best I’ve had, but no complaints. Seafood is becoming more readily available on the menu as well. A $15 surcharge is in place.
Chef’s Table is an alternative for the discriminating few at $75 per person. Dine in the galley hosted by the executive chef, who creates a gourmet dining experience paired with select wines (included in the price). I didn’t have the opportunity, but a few that tried it raved about the experience.
Service in the dining rooms was very good — no complaints. For suite guests a new alternative breakfast service will commence in Sabatini’s, just to provide a more exclusive venue for this meal for suite guests, a welcome innovation given how packed Horizon Court is. The Sabatini’s suite breakfast will include fresh waffle stations.
A pub-style lunch will be introduced on sea days in the Wheelhouse Bar, and should be a fun addition.
Burgers are made to order from prime beef, and are not pre-formed patties. The cappuccino’s onboard are very good, both in the dining room and café — better than on many ships that make them with a press of a button and don’t steam the milk separately. All these little touches help to upgrade the overall experience.
The choice of fixed seating or anytime dining works very well, providing the choice for guests to have a set time and table (and service staff) each evening, or to move around and be flexible. It seems up to half of guests prefer fixed seating. Other lines have experimented with different scheduling, which doesn’t seem to work as well. Word to the wise: pre-reserve your alternative dining online (as well as your shore excursions) before you get onboard the ship! Our travel professionals can assist with recommendations and review the itinerary to determine which options may work best for you.
Entertainment. Princess has always done well with entertainment, such as it is at sea. The complement of entertainment here was better than many ships I’ve been on of late. The shows were a notch above the competition, and the variety of guest entertainers was strong, including three different comedians on a 7-day cruise, in addition to a Vegas crooner, juggler, guest lecturer, and a very enjoyable poolside band, plus musicians in the bar areas including guitarist, pianist/singer, a piano/violin duo, and a jazz concert from the main band. Princess does well scheduling entertainment in multiple venues on the large ships, and repeating select shows for those that missed them the first time around (or couldn't get a seat). It was clear a lot of thought went into offering something for everyone, and people of different ages enjoyed some of the shows that were a mixed bag featuring work from Queen and Elton John, Neil Sedaka, Sinatra, jazz and classical.
Something new being introduced is an exclusive behind the scenes tour of the ship, for $150 per person. Sounds like a lot, but it’s a long program that takes guests behind the laundry room, galley, engineering, and more. The price includes presentation of a cookbook, robe, and other surprises.
The movies under the stars has its fans, and probably is better utilized in warmer climates. Fresh popcorn is served, and blankets provided for those that want to cuddle up and watch movies or concerts on the big screen over the pool on a cool evening. Of course, you can always view these in your stateroom.
While Wi-Fi is available in public areas, it will soon be available in the cabins. Internet service at sea is usually slow, but it wasn’t too bad. Other new touches will include misting stewards on warm weather cruises.
While hard to notice perhaps, but Princess Cruises has always been strong in presenting well thought out itineraries. Princess provides terrific value for the money. It’s important to know the differences between this and a Crystal Cruise or Holland America, but one can’t really go wrong for the price one pays and what Princess delivers. If any of you have a different take, would welcome yr comments.