Neil Jackson boards the Caribbean Princess.
First impression and check-in experience:
We were excited to get the trip under way and arrived to check in early. Within 45 minutes we were in our room and our adventure had begun; couldn't have been better. And the best cruise check-in experience to date.
We were keen to get on board to book the adults-only Sanctuary and secure a couple of good spots in the sun for the sea days.
Our trip: The cruise was for 14 nights, covering Christmas and New Year. We opted for a balcony room, which cost less than NZ$12,000 for both of us.
How big? The ship caters for 3600 guests and is one of the largest in the Princess group.
How old? Its maiden voyage was in 2004 and, although one of the oldest in the fleet, it didn't feel dated. The ship is due for a multimillion-dollar upgrade later this year.
Fellow passengers: The majority of the passengers were from the US, with Fort Lauderdale being the port of departure. Canada was a close second then the UK and Europe. Age-wise there was a sway toward the baby boomers and beyond, but enough of every demographic to appeal to all.
Destinations: Fort Lauderdale, US Virgin Islands, St Kitts, Antigua, Martinique, Barbados, Trinidad, Aruba, Curacao.
Cabins: Did the job just fine — the seemingly oversized deck was appreciated.
Food and drink: Sabatini's is an outstanding Italian restaurant on board. First class food and incredible service. Ask for Javier, he will look after you like royalty. You pay an additional US$25 to dine there, but it is the best $25 you could spend. The price-included buffet and dining rooms also ticked the boxes with a great variety.
Service: Couldn't fault it.
Entertainment and exercise: There is a great gym and it was in our thoughts every day. We visited it, talked about it and will probably use it next time.
Personally, we aren't big on the shows, however feedback from other passengers was that they were top class. Those with children raved about the kids club and the rest of us donated well in the bars and casino, which were good quality.
Facilities: Everything you could and would imagine on a large cruise ship.
Shore tours: We just did the two, in Aruba and Barbados. They were both water-based. Generally, we avoid the shore tours due to the price and volume of people. In these cases, the prices were as good as if you had organised them yourself. Our tours included a mix of island hopping, boat time, snorkelling, beaches, and sampling local beers and cocktails.
What's great about this ship? The Sanctuary, Sabatini's and the incredible island visits. All eight islands were stunning, with picture-perfect Caribbean beaches. A typical shore day was on land around 10am, off to the best local beach within 45 minutes to swim, snorkel, and enjoy lunch washed down with local beer and the odd cocktail. Bob Marley dominated the music everywhere and got you into that relaxed Caribbean swing very easily.
Every island stop was exceptional and an incredible experience. My favourites were Aruba, Curacao and Barbados in that order.
What's not? Water not being replenished in the room each day.
Ideal for: All ages and those wanting to be forced into relaxation pretty quickly. Cruises like this suit sun-lovers looking for new experiences and variety, with everything laid on.