Fodor’s Expert Review
Best For People Who Want
Roomy Princess cruise ships with ample choices for alternative dining, wide-ranging fitness programs; true onboard weddings as well as vow renewal; programs for children of all ages, tweens and teens; balcony cabins; lots of nightlife choices, extensive golf and snorkeling programs.Read More
Should Be Avoided By People Who Prefer
A more personalized cruise experience on a smaller ship, world-class cuisine.
Unlike the theme park atmosphere of some other cruise lines, these Grand-class Princess ships decor bestows a refined, understatedly elegant atmosphere, with hand-painted murals and etched glass partitions in the dining rooms. Little apparent expense was spared on materials, with rich fabrics, beautiful woods, and marble everywhere, all topped of with a $2 million art collection aboard each ship. The cabins are tastefully decorated in soft, inoffensive shades – beiges, creams and muted pinks.
The Club Fusion Showlounge, replacing the Vista Lounge, now has slot machines thrown in and presents production shows, cabaret, comedians and magicians. At night it doubles for a secondary disco for those who get light-headed scaling the heights to Skywalkers.
Skywalkers, the real disco, is suspended between two pillars protruding high above the stern, fully 18 stories above sea level. The moving sidewalk you ride up to Skywalkers is one of the most breathtaking views on any ship, and one that many passengers probably never discover.
As with all Princess ships, you will quickly find the Wheelhouse Bar and the Explorers’ Lounge offering cabaret, trivia competitions, art auctions, and pre-dinner dancing. Churchill’s Lounge, the one-time sports bar, is now behind the casino and is used for the cognac and cigars set. The sports paraphernalia is still there, but seems oddly out of place.
The main gathering spot, the maple-paneled atrium paneled, has boutiques, cafes and public rooms on each of its three levels, all connected by a circular glass staircase. A string quartet adds to the airy ambiance. The gigantic Casino contains some 285 slot machines and gaming tables beyond counting. You can view live sports on ESPN in the Sports Bar, or recline in leather chairs while perusing any of hundreds of books in the beautiful library.
The Internet room on these Grand-class ships do not qualify as “cafes” as there are no cafe-style treats available. Even worse, there is no tech support and if you can find the printer you may have to fix your settings on your computer to make it work yourself. The connection is generally slow and inconsistent. Sadly, these are some of the worst, and most under-utilized, Internet centers at sea.
The three principal restaurants, Island, Coral and Palm Dining Rooms, seating just over 500 passengers, feature hand-painted murals and etched-glass partitions. The drapes and carpeting in the main dining areas absorb sound efficiently enough to preclude diners having to holler across the table to one another.
Personal Choice Dining offers either traditional cruise dining (In the Amalfi), with a set seating time (6:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.) and the same waiter and tablemates each evening, or new restaurant-style seating, allowing passengers to dine when and with whom they choose, with each party seated at its own table, as at a restaurant ashore (offered in the other two dining rooms). Restaurant-style diners may be seated in either of the two elegant main dining rooms any time between 5:30 and midnight. Many passengers are understandably grateful for this reprieve from having to hurry to dress for dinner in the traditional way after a long day ashore.
Sabatini’s, (surcharge $20 per person) described above, seats 100, the Sterling Steakhouse features Angus beef and other grilled red meats (surcharge $15 per person). The Horizon Court is open 24 hours per day, with menu service at night, plus casual breakfast and luncheon buffet. There’s also a festive pizzeria. For $100 per couple, you can book the Ultimate Balcony Dinner, to be served by a butler who discreetly makes himself scarce behind drapes or out in the hall between courses. The ship’s photographer snaps a complimentary photo while you’re eating.
At night, the Horizon Court restaurant is transformed into Cafe Caribe, serving up (what else?) Caribbean inspired cuisine with full waiter service at fully set tables.
While Princess has a well-deserved reputation for good service securely footed in its British roots, truly personalized service may be too much to expect on a ship this size. That noted, cabin stewards and waiters are both efficient and personable. And rote processes that should be standardized and well executed on other ships but often fail miserably, such as efficient disembarkation, are generally practiced and polished to the point of excellence here.
A charge of $10 per person per day (including children) is automatically added to your stateroom account for dining and stateroom personnel. This applies to all passengers, adult and child alike, whether or not they choose traditional or personal choice dining. The amount may be increased or lowered at the Purser’s Reception desk during the cruise.
A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to all beverage tabs. Gratuities for spa, casino and other staff are at your discretion.
It is rare to find such ample fitness facilities. The four pools, including a “swim-against-the-current” lap pool, are uniformly gorgeous, thanks in no small part to colorful mosaics and surrounding palm trees. Low marks, though, to whoever decided to put the separate jogging track right above the spa, as the relentless thundering of hooves overhead isn’t terribly conducive to one’s enjoying her massage or beauty treatment. Even though prices are substantially higher than ashore, spa services are very popular, especially in the afternoon. You’ll occasionally have to stand in line for some of the more popular workout apparatuses in the gym. There’s a golf simulator and 9-hole putting green, and courts for basketball, volleyball or tennis.
Seven- to 14-night cruises offer two opportunities to put on the Ritz in formal attire. Many men opt for dark suit instead of tux, while their distaff companions often prefer dressy pants to gowns. The rest of the time, think smart casual.
Caribbean Princess entered service in 2004, the final sister ship to the 2,600-passenger Grand Princess presented in 1998, once the biggest cruise ship at sea, though that didn’t last for long. Caribbean Princess comes in at a heftier 113,00-tons and carries about 410 more passengers at a capacity of 3100. Still, the Carnival Conquest class at 110,000 tons, for example, can carry close to 3400 passengers. This means that the space per passenger ratio on these ships, though not as ideal as her sister ships, results in lounges, theaters and dining rooms that are all intimate enough to make passengers forget they are aboard a megaliner.
Thanks to shrewd layout, multiple dining venues, four expansive outdoor deck areas (1.7 acres!), multiple sports facilities, four pools, and nine hot tubs, passengers are rarely concentrated in any one area. Meanwhile, the mega-ship amenities included for those who can never get enough dining, entertainment, and fitness choices, means the Princess ships of this class make the best of everything for ships in this size and price range. Their programs for younger passengers are exemplary, and their Lido buffet dining spot is open around the clock.
Caribbean Princess was the first Princess ship to offer “Movies Under the Stars,” a huge flat panel projection screen showing near first-run films outdoors next to the pool. This was such a hit that the concept has been spread to other large Princess ships sailing in the Caribbean. They recently started handing out headphones to viewers to alleviate complaints from nearby cabins.
Having offered the first wedding chapel at sea (with the Captain doing the honors) on Grand Princess, Caribbean Princess now also features a complete professional digital photography studio in the F/X Digital Photo Center for those all-important wedding photos. The medical center is one of the most advanced at sea, the first to offer real-time teleconferencing support from a leading national cardiac care center in the United States.
The most incongruous factor about these mega-ships is that the public rooms aren’t much bigger than those on much smaller ships, and there are surprisingly few bars and lounges for a ship this size. The one head-scratcher to the design is the compromised privacy of many balconies that extend out far enough from the ship that people from several decks above can look right down into your “private” enclave. From the Baja Deck, for instance, you can watch other passengers on their Caribe and Dolphin Deck balconies. Caribe occupants can in turn observe their counterparts on the Dolphin Deck.
What can you say about a ship that offers three main dining rooms instead of the usual multi-tiered, bigger than life one? They are more intimate and definitely quieter, but like the Princess “included in the cruise fare” cuisine, they are not likely to elicit a “wow” response either. These main dining rooms predictably offer Princess’ Continental-style cuisine unlikely to win any culinary awards, but also elicit few complaints. For gourmet dining, try the alternative option, refined but not snooty, Sabatini’s Trattoria for a wonderful selection of Italian antipasti, complemented with such garnishes as Sevruga caviar, delicious pizza, homemade pastas, soups and breads. Salads are tossed before your very eyes, and soup ladled into fresh bread bowls. Seafood predominates on the list of main courses; there are lobster, langoustines, tiger prawns, Chilean sea bass and scallops, with red meat dishes also on offer. Save room for the exquisite Italian pastries that will be wheeled before you toward meal’s end.
With a dozen or so venues for nightlife, you’re virtually assured of finding something that floats your boat, to coin a phrase. There’s no faulting the lavishness of the production shows, which feature extravagant special effects. The performers in the cabaret are a talented bunch.
Cabins are built out from the body of the ship so as to permit bigger staterooms. Seven hundred ten of the 1300 staterooms have balconies, ranging up to 257 sq. feet, but they’re not very private, as they’re in plain view of the occupants of the cabin on the next deck up. Standard inside staterooms are 160 sq. ft., while outside cabins range from 168 to 210 sq. feet. Closet space is minimal except in the suites; leave some things home! Mini-suites with private verandas are 325 sq. feet. Vista Suites, called mini-suites on other Princess ships, range from 515 to 800 sq. feet. Sun and Dawn Princess offer larger minisuites for less money.
All staterooms have color TV with CNN and movies, a radio and small refrigerator, and spacious bathrooms with storage space and hair dryers.
Christened in 2004, Caribbean Princess follows Princess Cruises’ plan of “evolution” not “revolution” in ship design. She is very much a ship in the Grand-class mold, but one that introduced the successful Movies Under the Stars with a huge poolside screen. Caribbean Princess has been upgraded with signature elements such as the adults-only haven The Sanctuary and street performances in the Italian-inspired piazza-style atrium.
With dramatic atriums and Skywalker’s Nightclub (the spoiler hovering 150 feet above the stern), Caribbean Princess is a supersize version of the older Grand-class vessels with an extra deck of passenger accommodations. Not quite identical to Caribbean Princess, the younger ships in the class, Crown, Emerald, and Ruby Princess have introduced more dining options. Several signature public spaces have been redesigned or relocated on these ships as well—the atrium on Crown, Emerald, and Ruby Princess resembles an open piazza and sidewalk café; Sabatini’s Italian Trattoria is found on a top deck with views on three sides and alfresco dining; and Skywalker’s Disco is forward near the funnel (where it’s topped with a sports court). Inside spaces on all three vessels are quietly neutral, with touches of glamour in the sweeping staircases and marble-floor atriums. Surprising intimacy is achieved by the number of public rooms and restaurants that swallow up passengers.
Princess Cruises may be best known for introducing cruise travel to millions of viewers, when its flagship became the setting for The Love Boat television series in 1977. Since that heady time of small-screen stardom, the Princess fleet has grown both in the number and size of ships. Although most are large in scale, Princess vessels manage to create the illusion of intimacy through the use of color and decor in understated yet lovely public rooms graced by multimillion-dollar art collections.
Princess has also become more flexible; Personal Choice Cruising offers alternatives for open seating dining (when you wish and with whom you please) and entertainment options as diverse as those found in resorts ashore.
Lovely chapels or the wide-open decks are romantic settings for weddings at sea with the captain officiating.
- 15 passenger decks
- 2 specialty restaurants, 3 dining rooms, buffet, ice cream parlor, pizzeria
- Wi-Fi, safe, refrigerator, DVD (some)
- 4 pools (1 indoor), children’s pool
- fitness classes, gym, hot tubs, sauna, spa, steam room
- 9 bars, casino, 2 dance clubs, library, 2 showrooms, video game room
- children’s programs
- dry cleaning, laundry facilities, laundry service
- Internet terminal
- no kids under 6 months, no-smoking cabins