Sunday, May 10, 2009

Cruise Review - Caribbean Princess - Sept. 2008

Wonderful Cruise to Canada/New England!

Embarkation: Ah, the joy of driving to the port! We began a wonderful sailing aboard the Caribbean Princess to Canada and New England on Sept. 28, 2008. We drove to the pier from Long Island and parked on the pier. We arrived at 12:40 PM. Parking for the week was $136. Parking is right next to the ship, a two minute walk. As Elite passengers, we checked in quickly and were on the ship by 12:55.

Cabin: We went to our cabin, a mini-suite on the Dolphin Deck, #D330. The cabin was good sized and clean. Our cabin steward was Rogelio. He was very pleasant but it was very difficult to understand his English. We requested a top sheet and foam mattress topper and he quickly brought them to us.

Being elite, we had a free mini-bar set up. We contacted room service once we arrived and asked them to swap the liquor in the mini-bar that we don't drink to wine and that was done by the time we returned from exploring the ship.

We left New York in a strange haze of fog after a morning of heavy rain. We sailed right into a fog bank that left us eerily thinking of Ghost Ship! Passengers had a wonderful time photographing the Statue of Liberty as the ship left port to the tunes of a pool side band.

Fellow Passengers: We quickly noticed that the majority of passengers on the ship were older. We are in our 50's and at times felt like youngsters. If there were 20 children on the ship, it was a lot. We always sail at this time of year, but I have never been on a ship that had so few children. The mix of passengers was delightful. We commented constantly that the crowd was quieter and we didn't hear any cussing by passengers during the entire cruise. I guess I must finally admit middle age has set in and we enjoyed the more relaxed crowd except for what we referred to at the Lobster Claw debacle at the Sailaway Seafood Buffet.

You would think that people never had eaten lobster before. People piled two and three dishes with lobster claws, resulting in the delicacy running out for latecomers. They weren't even that good - the lobster was cold and there were no nutcrackers to break them with. But that didn't stop this crowd! I felt sorry for the people who arrived a half hour after the buffet was opened -the lobster claws were gone.

Ship: The ship is in good condition. It was very clean and well kept. MUTS (Movies Under The Stars) was running and even though the weather was downright cold people were bundled under blankets happily watching movies. A few brave souls actually swam and were in the hot tubs during the cruise- my hats were off to them.

Food: As always, food is subjective. We found the buffet food was just that - mediocre buffet food. There was nothing I ate that I could say was outstanding, but I sure didn't starve.
Because it was a little cold for me, I wasn't really outside the ship that much and didn't go to the grill for any hamburgers, hot dogs or pizza.

We had Anytime Dining and usually ate in the Palm Dining room in the rear of the ship. We did not have reservations and never waited for a table. The latest we arrived for dinner was 6:15 (along with half the ship) and we were able to get a table for four every night except for the last night. That night, we shared a table with two wonderful ladies from Canada and had a delightful dinner together, again with no wait for a table. We had no standing reservations (which defeats the purpose of Anytime Dining in my opinion.)

Food in the dining room was better but again, not outstanding. There are a lot of seafood choices for dinner and I don't enjoy seafood. The cold fruit soups were satisfactory, not up to those on Celebrity. I ended up ordering the Always Available Steak most nights, because there was just nothing that really stood out for me. However, I didn't find a dessert I didn't like! We did not indulge in any of the alternative restaurants. We've done them on other Princess ships and didn't really feel the need to do them again.

We did go to breakfast and lunch several times in the dining room and found the food much better there than at the buffet, particularly for lunch.

Service: For the most part, we found the staff to be pleasant. I did find though that at the buffets, on the first two nights the staff weren't too quick at cleaning up dirty tables. Twice we had to ask waiters to clear tables so we could sit after they had walked by them several times. The buffet area certainly doesn't have enough tables to accommodate 3,000 passengers and they should have been more diligent about cleaning them quickly when people left. We also found service spotty in the mornings for breakfast for juice. Some waitstaff would quickly ask if we wanted juice or coffee, some days no one asked and we fended for ourselves. Never once did any of the waitstaff approach us for coffee refills - we went to the coffee stations and poured our own. Princess also requires staff to speak English only in passenger areas and we found in the buffet, many of the waitstaff spoke to each other in their own languages. In fact, several times the Buffet Supervisor would come around and break up the groups of waiters and as soon as he walked away, they would congregate again and stop speaking English.

We found the staff in Passenger=s Services to be polite but not as knowledgeable as other Princess ships We've been on. We asked questions a few times about the ports and were usually directed to the Princess Patters.

One thing that I don't like that I have found to occur on every Princess ship is that if you use the card in the cabin to order fruit or room service breakfast or the bag and slip to have laundry done, they do not return a new card or bag so you can order again. It happened again on this ship. When a passenger uses one of those, they should be replenished without having to ask again.

Entertainment: In all the cruises I've been on, I can recall one Cruise Director. Not on this ship. The Cruise Director, Dan Styne was outstanding. He was funnier than many of the Comedians on the ship and had a great relationship with his Assistant Cruise Director, Sam. I actually watched their daily morning show because the two of them were so funny together. Most of the Cruise Director staff were very pleasant.

We saw several of the shows in the Princess Theater and found them to be okay. Beware though - if you are going to the early show, get there at least 45 minutes early. Why Princess makes theaters that seat 800 people when there are over 3,000 passengers is beyond me. And particularly for this crowd, it was impossible to get seats if you arrived 15 minutes before the start of the early show. We felt the best production show was Piano Man.

The comedians we saw in Explorers ran the gamut from being very good to being so-so. We enjoyed James Michael and Gary Delena. Impressionist Jason Neistadt was okay, not our favorite though. We passed on his second show where he starred with Gary Delena specifically because we didn't care for him.

One curiosity to me is Bert Stratton. On this cruise, he had the biggest crowds at nights for his sing-a-longs in Crooners. I think this was the perfect crowd for him. We found his singing awful, but he could sure get these Seniors going. They LOVED him. Many passengers said that he was the only entertainment they went to for the entire cruise.

Ports: Newport: In Newport, we got off the ship, walked left of the ship about two blocks to the Visitors Bureau and bought tickets for the Hop on Hop Off Trolley for the day. The price was $5.00 for the entire day or $1.75 one way. There were also many tours sold there in which you can save money buying tickets there vs. from the cruise ship. We went to the Cliff Walk and walked most of it.

Boston : Again, we got off the ship, walked a block to the right, then made a left and walked out of the pier and up to the Westin Hotel, a 15 minute walk. We bought tickets inside the hotel for the Old Town Trolley Tour and toured Boston that way. Just beware - if you get there too early, the buses that stop there are packed with passengers who aren't getting off and we had to wait a half hour until the company sent a bus that wasn't filled. We listened to the tour operator complain that Princess should contract with them so this doesn't happen. If you took the bus later on when ship passengers were going back, there were enough getting off so there were plenty of seats. We had lunch at stop #7 near Trinity Church . We got off the bus and went to a great restaurant called Papa Razzi on Dartmouth St. They had $9.99 lunch specials and the food was fantastic.

Bar Harbour: We booked a whale watching trip through the ship. We went out in the afternoon (it was cold, bundle up if you do it) and saw about three whales. If you think you'll see tail flapping and diving like the pictures in the brochure - forget it. They looked like giant porpoises. All we saw were the backs and the back fin, but it was a fun. In the morning, we got off the ship and walked through the lovely town. You can buy tour tickets and get Ollies Trolley at the ship pier as well here if you don't want to purchase an excursion from the ship.

St. John : the only port I didn't care for. We were here on the only day of the cruise that it rained. We chose not to do anything off the ship, we spoke to one of the woman working in the parking lot at the pier who told us that we could do a bus tour of the city on a City Owned bus. We walked to the left on Water St. , about four blocks and there was a sign offering City Tours for $17 per person. The buss arrived at 9:45 AM, we got on, it went to a camp ground for more passengers (there were none) and we had a nice tour of the City. We stopped at an old theater that had been refurbished, at the City Market, and then on to the Reversing Falls , where we spent about a half hour. We then had a tour of the rest of St. John and were dropped off by a shopping mall within walking distance of the ship that we purchased a few souvenirs at.

Halifax : Loved this port. We purchased tickets for the Hop on Hop Off bus through the ship (it was $5.00 more on the ship than doing it ourselves) and toured the City. We spent a lot of time at the Maritime Museum and saw Titanic artifacts as well as artifacts from the great explosion in 1917. You can also walk off the ship and go to the right and walk the Boardwalk that goes into town - you can buy tickets for the HOHO or the Harbor Hopper in town as well.

Disembarkation: On Sunday, I woke up at 5 AM to the ship not moving and assumed we were in port already. A look out our balcony door revealed no such thing - we were anchored under the Verazanno Narrows Bridge . I then heard the air conditioning go off. One of us went upstairs to get coffee to bring down to the room. It was there we learned that the ship has no propulsion system and half of the ship had no electricity. And to top it, there was no hot coffee - now THAT is a disaster! We both got showered and dressed (luckily our cabin had electricity) and went back up to the buffet, which was half lit. By that time, servers were giving out coffee in coffee pots and people were eating.

The Captain made an announcement that they were having problems with the propulsion system and were working on the issue. He also announced passengers could stay in their cabin as long as they wanted rather than be inconvenienced waiting in the meeting rooms.
We finally shoved off at about 8:30 AM, and it took nearly an hour to get from the Verazanno to the pier, with assistance from tug boats, which actually pushed the ship sideways into the dock. Disembarkation began at about 10:30. Many people missed flights and had to change flights and incur large change fees from the airlines.

The staff made everyone as comfortable as possible, but I was very happy we had driven to the port. Our color was called at 12:15 (and there were only half way through the colors at that point). We found our luggage immediately, proceeded quickly through Customs and were on our way. The next cruise did go out, so they fixed the problem rather quickly if it was able to go out again.

It was a very enjoyable, relaxed cruise. I'd rate it a four out of five, taking one star away for the quality of the food. We highly recommend the ship and itinerary.

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