Cruise Ship Review: Princes Cruises Caribbean Princess


Pool

Completed in Italy in spring 2004, the Caribbean Princess is registered in Bermuda. The ship qualifies as an enlarged Grand-class vessel measuring 113,000 tons vs. 109,000 for the Grand Princess and Golden Princess, and she takes almost 600 more passengers with the extra cabin deck. Double occupancy capacity is 3,100, upped even more when families are aboard. The officers are Italian and international and the crew (1,200 in all) are mainly Eastern European and Filipino. They have access to good facilities, which makes for a happy ship.

Princess mega-ships attract all ages and types. The children’s programs are excellent and fortified with staff during peak holiday periods. Most passengers are North Americans with warm-weather-seeking Britons usually the largest foreign group. Gratuities are added on a per-diem basis to the passengers’ accounts.

In winter, the ship makes weekly Southern Caribbean cruises from San Juan. In the summer, she moves north to New York, dividing time between 9-day Eastern Caribbean cruises and one-week fall foliage New England and Canada round-trips. The Caribbean ports are a huge playground with shopping opportunities galore. Independent beachgoers can spend little extra by sharing a taxi or even walking to some sites while those who buy the shore excursions can run up huge bills. Look carefully at the options to see what’s really worth the tariff as some trips are operated assembly-line style.

Repeaters to the Caribbean often choose to spend most of their time aboard the ship, and it is always quieter around the pool in port. From New York, the ports—Newport, Boston, Bar Harbor, Saint John and Halifax—take on more importance.

When adding 600 more passengers to the ship with the same Grand-class hull, the Caribbean Princess was bound to have heavy passenger loads at some venues, and this is apparent around the two Lido-type pools and during popular shows. The remodeled Grand Plaza rises three stories and is rimmed by a series of boutiques, passenger services and the tour desk.

New during an early 2009 refit are the International Cafe for coffee, pastries and tapas and Vines for a choice of 30 wines by the glass, cheese and a seafood bar.

The Princess Theater, the main show lounge, slopes down two decks and seats 700 with good sightlines and no obstructions. It is high-tech, with rising platforms, terrific sets and sophisticated lighting. The big-show entertainment is a cut above the megaship norm, and a couple of the cabaret Spaacts are outstanding. The cooking show, with a complete kitchen rolled on stage and a skit acted out by the Italian executive chef and the maitre d’hotel, is a riot. Other major entertainment venues are the Explorers Lounge with its African-Egyptian decor for cabaret acts, and Cafe Fusion, a night club-style room used for more shows, staged games, bingo and cocktail parties.

The most dramatic space is Skywalkers, housed in a tubular pod high up and aft, serving as a disco at night and a quiet lounge during the day with spectacular views in all directions. Several bars offer varied settings: tiny Churchill’s, a sports and cigar bar; open-to-the-atrium Crooners martini bar; the lobby bar; and the maritime-themed Wheelhouse Bar, where a small band plays before and after dinner.

Other amenities are a huge casino, a well-stocked library with 1,200-plus hardbacks, a card room and an Internet center. A relatively narrow open promenade circles Deck 7, and the high-up deck space runs from two busy and noisy central pools with music and games to a quiet outdoor pool all the way aft tucked under Skywalkers and an intimate spa pool, plus several separate small deck chair sections. A new adults-only Sanctuary creates a quiet retreat and massages in a private cabana. There’s a special menu, as well, with lighter, spa-type fare, but passengers can still order less healthy lunch staples such as burgers and pizza.

Movies under the stars take place on deck at night, and the same screen also shows films and concerts during the day. Sports include a paddle tennis court, table-tennis, a cramped, unappealing miniature golf course, and a simulated golf range. The spa’s gym facilities are not as extensive as they might be, given the demand.

Children’s programs are well-planned for several age groups, and group baby-sitting is available. A wedding chapel, with the captain performing marriages, also caters to those who want to renew their vows. On this ship, a concierge service is available 24 hours a day for dining reservations and reserved activities such as the ScholarShip@Sea Program, which offers computer lessons, photography, ceramic classes, wine tasting and a variety of dance classes. Many sessions come with charges. The choice of activities during sea days is vast and appealing, and yet the Caribbean Princess is designed with lots of quiet retreats.

Most of the public rooms, including restaurants, are on Decks 5, 6 and 7, with the last-named holding the most popular venues in a sensible flow fore to aft. Of the three main dining rooms, one is set aside for traditional first and second sittings, and two have open seating. Trattoria Sabatini offers a fattening multicourse Italian Recreationtasting menu, and the Crown Grill, a steak house with an open kitchen offers a variety of succulent cuts. Both take reservations and are worth the extra charge. Unlike the main dining rooms, the steak house beef is tops.

One is aware of the heavy passenger loads at the buffet. The Horizon Court, the main buffet operating 24 hours a day, has many serving stations, and the adjacent Cafe Caribe, self-service with tablecloths and place settings, has theme dinners such as Caribbean dishes. A poolside grill dispenses hot dogs and burgers and three types of pizza, available all day. Scoops, the ice-cream bar, charges land-side prices. The food throughout is well-prepared, with an enormous choice and decent service. At peak dining hours, tables may be in short supply but a little flexibility and some advance planning will pay off.

For lunch and breakfast, Princess takes advantage of its otherwise empty specialty restaurants during the day. The Crown Grill offers a complimentary, traditional British pub lunch on sea days. The menu is limited but authentic pub fare (so not exactly a spa lunch). The 200 people that pack the Crown Grill for the pub lunches alleviate the crowd at the lido, which gets quite busy during peak lunch hours, but never so much that guests can’t find a table.

A new option exclusively for suite guests is breakfast in Sabatini’s, which by morning is a bright, quiet space with nice views. And chefs hand-making pasta for Sabatini’s dinner menu offer breakfast entertaintainment.

Princess also offers the $75-per-person Chef’s Table experience, limited to 10-12 people.

For passengers who prefer to splurge in private, there’s the $100-per-couple “Lobster Balcony Dinner.”

Of the 1,557 cabins, 880 have balconies; the lower ones are tiered so that those above overlook them, a plus for those above and perhaps a minus for those below. All cabins have twin beds that can be pushed together into queens, multifunction phones, refrigerators, safes, hair dryers and TVs. Mini-suites and up have tub baths, robes, two TVs and a separate sitting area with a sofa bed.

The Caribbean Princess knows its market, and the top staff runs a most efficient operation. Competitors are the ships of Carnival, Norwegian and Royal Caribbean.

Review Updated:   August 2010

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