The Caribbean Princess is the largest ship in the Princess fleet, measuring more than 900 feet long with 900 balcony staterooms and a capacity of 3,100 passengers. On a ship so large, you’re sure to stay busy with activities and amenities. You may even get lost! Don’t forget your camera, because this may be a once-in-a-lifetime event for you. Here is what you can expect on your cruise on the Caribbean Princess.
We began our vacation in our hometown of Pittsburgh PA, flying out of Pittsburgh International Airport at 8:10 am via US Air, to Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport. Our flight was about 2 ½ hours long, and we landed around 10:30ish. This was my first flight, and I was so nervous. Once we landed, I thought it wasn’t so bad and the nervousness went away. After landing, we went to baggage claim to get our luggage, and then we walked outside to find a taxi to take us to Port Everglades, the main ship port in Fort Lauderdale. The taxi ride from the airport was about 5 minutes. Once we got out of the taxi, a Princess Cruises worker took all of our tagged luggage, except for what we wanted to carry aboard. It was nice not having to lug everything around the port.
For our cruise, passengers were allowed to begin checking in at 12:30 pm. The brochure said 1:00, but I guess they let us on early. That gave us about 6 ½ hours aboard before the ship even left Port Everglades at 7 pm. We actually made the mistake of getting on too early, because then we were bored after a few hours. It was nice to be able to get through the whole embarkation process without waiting in many lines, but it would have been nice to explore Ft Lauderdale before we got aboard.
For embarkation, here’s what you can expect. First, remember to have all of your cruise documents ready to show the officials. You’ll go through several different lines before actually getting on the ship. The first line you go through will ask you for your passport or birth certificate and photo ID, as well as your boarding pass. In our case, we had our birth certificates and licenses. Whatever bags you’re carrying aboard will go through an x-ray machine, just like at the airport. After bags are checked, you’ll receive a number card. Then, you’ll have to sit down and wait until they start calling numbers. Once your group is called, you can proceed to the next line. In this line, you’ll again need to provide your photo ID and boarding pass, along with a credit card you want to use to establish your shipboard account. After your credit card goes through, you’ll receive your room key, which will also be used like a credit card, to buy things like pop and souvenirs. It will have your name, room number and date of your cruise on it. Keep this card on you at all times.
Next, you’ll proceed to the ship where an official will swipe your room card and take your picture. This is for when you get off of the ship at the ports of call, because it helps them keep track of who is getting on and off. You’ll walk through another metal detector and pass your bag(s) through another x-ray machine. This is all a huge pain, but it’s nice to know that they are taking extra steps to keep criminals, weapons and terrorists off the ship. Now you’ll be able to go to your stateroom.
For our cruise, we stayed in a balcony stateroom with 2 double beds. The 2 beds can be put together to make 1 queen. Inside a balcony room, you’ll find a TV, refrigerator, desk and chair with a telephone and hairdryer, 2 nightstands with 2 lamps, a small cupboard with a room safe for your valuables, an open closet to hang your clothes, a shelf on top of the closet that holds your life jackets and beach towels and robes if you request them. The bathrooms inside the staterooms are quite small. The shower has no bathtub; it’s just a shower stall with a curtain. If you’re a big person, it might be a challenge taking a shower in there! The bathroom, of course, has a toilet and a sink as well. You’ll find toiletries in the bathroom, like soap, shampoo, conditioner and body lotion.
There are cabin stewards that are responsible for cleaning your room everyday. Most of the time, they will refresh your room twice a day. They wait until you leave, then they go in to make your bed, empty the garbage and replace used towels. It was nice coming back to our room in the evening with chocolates on our bed along with the next day’s newsletter; on Princess it’s called the Princess Patter.
Your first night on the ship will include participating in the mandatory muster drill. You must do this, no matter how much you don’t want to. An announcement will be made to go to your stateroom and get your life jackets. On the back of your room door, you’ll see a letter, which will indicate which muster station you need to go to. There are several muster stations around the ship, and there will be plenty of staff members around to show you where to go. At the muster drill, you’ll be instructed how to put your life jacket on and what you would need to do in an emergency. It lasts about 20-30 minutes, and then you’re on your way.
There were many activities to choose from on the Caribbean Princess. One of our favorites included the Movies Under the Stars, where you can watch movies on a big theater sized screen on the deck and staff will bring you a blanket, drinks and popcorn. We also liked the swimming pools and hot tubs, which they have many of on the ship. We discovered that most of the people crowd in the pools in the middle of the ship. There are adult only pools on the ends, and I especially liked the pool on the front of the ship, with a swim against the current feature inside the pool. We saw several shows in the Princess Theater, which is a huge theater that features comedy acts, singing, dancing, hypnotism and more. What you see in the theater will depend on the cruise you go on. Other activities on the ship include the casino, nightclubs, shopping, golf simulation, ping pong, basketball, full service spa, jogging track, Internet cafe and a kid’s area. It will most likely take you a while to discover all that the ship has to offer. Be sure to check your Princess Patter or watch your Princess TV channel for the day’s activities, as there is always something going on.
Ports of Call
For our cruise, the ports of call were Grand Turk and Princess Cays. Depending on the length of your cruise, you will visit more or less ports. Our cruise was a 4 day cruise, and we spent 1 day at sea. Grand Turk is an island in Turks and Caicos, which offers many different activities to cruise passengers. You’ll be able to book different shore excursions, such as scuba diving and snorkeling, or you can just relax on the beautiful beach or go shopping in the different shops on the island. Grand Turk is also home to Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville. If you visit any island that offers snorkeling with the sting rays, I would definitely recommend booking it, because it’s so much fun. Sting rays are actually very friendly, and love people. On my cruise, I was able to hold one and feel how soft they are. Remember to bring cash on the island, since Grand Turk doesn’t accept your shipboard card as payment.
Our next port of call was Princess Cays, which is the cruise ship’s private island in the Bahamas that is only available to ship passengers. You won’t find any locals here. To get to Princess Cays, you’ll be transported by a tender boat (lifeboat) to the island, since the ship is not able to dock right on the island. Once you arrive, I suggest finding a lounge chair in a good spot, because they fill up quick. There are also many shops on the island, most of which you’ll be able to use your shipboard account card in. On our stop to Princess Cays, the staff prepared a delicious BBQ buffet, including hamburgers, grilled chicken, hot dogs, several different salads and fruit. I suggest getting there fast, because the line can get long. Princess Cays offers rentals of snorkeling equipment, aqua chairs and water mats. There aren’t as many shore excursions on this island, but you are able to go on a banana boat ride, which we didn’t do, but it looked like a lot of fun. Princess Cays, in my opinion, was mostly just an island for relaxation.
When you get off the ship to get on the island, remember to have your shipboard card ready for exiting and entering the ship again. This is the ship’s way to keep count of the passengers, and it’s also a security measure to keep non-passengers off the ship.
Dining & Room Service
When you book your cruise, you are able to choose between Traditional and Anytime dining. For traditional, you’ll have a specific dining room to go to every night, and an assigned table to sit at. Anytime dining gives you the option of where to sit, and when you want to go to dinner. The dining rooms onboard are the Palm, Coral and Island dining rooms. A lot of times, if you’re going to dinner as a couple, you’ll be seated with other people. Although there are tables for 2, don’t expect to get them because they fill up quick. You can make reservations, but do so fast. If you don’t want to eat in these dining rooms, there are plenty of other dining options available.
There are 2 buffets to choose from, the Cafe Caribe and the Horizon Court. Both serve breakfast, lunch and dinner, and always have a variety of foods available. You can also eat less casual by the pool, with a pizza place and a grill that serves up grilled chicken, hot dogs, cheeseburgers and French fries. All of these places are covered in your cruise cost, so don’t worry about paying for anything.
There are 2 specialty restaurants on the Caribbean Princess; Sabatini’s and Sterling Steakhouse. Both restaurants have a cover charge, between $15-20 per person. Sabatini’s is an Italian restaurant, and Sterling Steakhouse is obviously a steakhouse that also serves other foods such as seafood and pasta. If you plan on eating at either restaurant, make reservations as soon as you board the ship. These restaurants fill up fast every night for dinner.
Room Service is also available 24 hours a day. You can order anything from a continental breakfast, fruit, sandwiches, dessert, to even pizza. Pizza delivered to your room is an extra $3, but it’s worth it if you want to eat in the privacy of your stateroom. Room service is also included in your cruise cost.
Shipboard Account & What You Pay For
Back when you embarked the ship, a card was given to you with your name and room number. You’ll be using this card a lot to purchase anything that isn’t included in your cruise cost. So what isn’t included? Alcoholic drinks, soda, anything in the onboard shops, Casino and arcade games, gratuity, Internet access and room service pizza. Alcoholic drinks and soda are charged an additional gratuity fee. If you drink a lot of pop, consider buying a cup that costs about $5 per day per person, but you can get unlimited soda throughout your cruise. One Coke costs $2.95, not including gratuity, so it’s probably worth buying a cup if you drink a lot. You’ll have a sticker on your shipboard card that you’ll show each time you want to buy a pop.
Alcohol is costly onboard, especially beer. Consider buying a bucket of beer, which gives you 5 beers for the cost of 4 for only $19. This would be a great idea for a group.
Every charge to your account will appear on an itemized statement that you’ll receive on the last night of your cruise. If you chose Express Check Out, you won’t need to do anything more, since the charges will have already gone through to your credit or debit card. If you have a problem with any specific charge on your account, visit the Purser’s desk.
A good amount of money to have available for purchases will depend on what you plan on doing while on your cruise. If you want to do a lot of shopping, then you obviously want to have more money available. If you want to gamble, same idea applies. If you just want to relax, and sip on an occasional Daiquiri, then you may not need as much. My boyfriend and I had $600 available, and our total costs onboard were about $420. We used some for gambling, some for shopping, and some for alcohol. Plan to bring more than what you expect to spend, because you don’t want to be stuck not having enough funds.
This process can take a while, so be prepared to wait. The night before disembarkation, you’ll receive colored and lettered tags for your luggage. If you don’t have a lot of luggage to carry, consider walking off board. However, if you want somebody to carry your luggage for you, you can choose to put the tags on your luggage and set it outside your door the night before disembarking. Remember to keep everything you’d need for the next day inside your room. Anything outside will be taken to your specified area. Walking off gives you the advantage of keeping your luggage with you and you won’t risk losing it. The line is going to be long, so get down there early. You’ll need to again swipe your shipboard card to exit the ship, and once you do, you’re on your way to the next step: US Customs. Here, your birth certificate, license or Passport will be required once again. If you have made a lot of purchases, they will ask you what you’ve bought, and sometimes they’ll even search your luggage. Check with US Customs and Border Protection on the policies at http://www.cbp.gov/
Other Tips to Consider
Don’t pack everything in your closet! You’re probably going to wear some of your clothes more than once. Pack a couple pair of bottoms, such a pair of shorts, a pair of dress pants and a pair of capris. Then, pair the bottoms with tops that can be mixed and matched. Pack a pair of comfortable walking shoes, along with a pair dress shoes and a pair of sandals for around the pool and beach. Don’t take a lot of jewelry with you, especially expensive pieces. Also, pack at least 2 bathing suits, so that you have a backup to wear while the other one is drying. Keep in mind that cruises have at least 1 formal night. You can pack anything from a formal gown to a nice blouse and skirt set. As far as toiletries, your stateroom includes shampoo and conditioner and soap. Remember to bring the other essentials you’ll need for your cruise, as the items in the shops onboard can be expensive. For a list of things to pack, go to:
Pack your essentials for the first night onboard in your carry-on. Luggage is sometimes not delivered to your stateroom until a few hours after boarding. At least pack a change or clothes, or a bathing suit if you want to get right into the pool. Also, leave room in your luggage for souvenirs.
A good tip to remember for dining is to get to the buffets early, like around when dinner starts. There is a lot of seating, but there are also 3,000 other people aboard that are also ready to eat and it can be challenging to find a seat if you’re one of the last people to get down there. We made the mistake of waiting, and then we had nowhere to sit. We ended up taking our food back to our stateroom to eat. Don’t let that happen to you.
During your cruise, photographers will encourage you to take a picture. Go ahead and take it, because you’re under no obligation to pay. Once the pictures are developed, you’ll be able to buy them. But I will warn you that the pictures are expensive, around $20 for one 8×10 photo. Take my advice and use your digital camera for good shots, and resist the temptation to buy a bunch of professionals, because it will add up fast. If you do want to have a souvenir, buy just one picture, your best one. Formal night is a great time to get your picture taken!
What I learned on our first cruise is that the majority of the cruise staff is foreign, so it may be difficult to understand what they’re saying. Just try your best, and ask them to repeat if you don’t understand.
Visit www.princess.com for more information on the Caribbean Princess and other Princess ships. Bon Voyage!