October 24, 2014
As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, Princess Cruises was interested in sending us on our first cruise as their guest. We jumped at the chance and our family set out to board the Caribbean Princess around the Eastern Caribbean for a week. We took a redeye flight from San Francisco International to Ft. Lauderdale with the little ones — our nine-year-old boy Oscar, and his four-year-old sister Stella. Backpacks full of stuffies provided an easy and restful overnight trip.
The adventure that unfolded next, you might not believe. We didn’t know it yet, but we were headed straight into Gonzalo.
We boarded the ship in an orderly and efficient fashion after taking a brief taxi ride from the airport to the port. We were a bit weary from the shift in time zones, but excited to get aboard and see what this cruise thing was all about. Everyone got their “cruise cards” — your secure ID and sole method for paying for anything on the ship — and we shoved off and headed towards our first stop: Princess Cays, a private island owned by Princess Cruises in the Bahamas.
The first thing you note: cruise ships are big, impressive feats of engineering. Our ship was nearly a thousand feet long and weighs well over 100,000 tons. Last refurbished in 2011, the ship is kept extremely well maintained and feels comfortably up-to-date. It accommodates just over 3,000 guests at capacity — roughly the size of the Fountainbleu in Miami Beach. The crew numbers 1,200, which partly explains why the service on the ship felt seamless from the start.
After downing a glass (or two) of the wonderfully creamy Nicolas Feuilatte Champagne that surprised us in our mini-suite, we decided our first on-board adventure was to get the kids food, and pronto.
Armed with our cruise cards and a pocket-sized map of the ship, we sauntered up to the Lido Deck and headed straight to Prego for some pool-side pizza. Turns out this is first-rate, grown-up pizza — not at all what we were expecting. Thin Neapolitan-style, perfectly charred crust with a restrained sauce and the perfect amount of cheese and toppings. Crispy, chewy, tasty and not at all greasy.
Prego and the nearby Trident Grill (burgers and dogs) are open from 11 a.m. onward. Perfect for topping off the little ones between regular meals. Duly noted.
My husband, Jim, tried his luck at the Trident Grill. There was a bit of a line, but it went quickly. On the standard burger order, the onions are served raw and buns untoasted; definitely not my husband’s style. He made a request to get the onion grilled and the bun toasted. Not a problem. His custom burger was served up just as efficiently as if it were a standard order. We both noted how friendly and accommodating the service was, something that stuck with us throughout the cruise. To us, that speaks wonders about the cruise line’s culture, hiring practices, and training.
We relaxed poolside while the kids explored the ship, where they quickly discovered the kids club. There are three, actually: one for kids seven and under, one for kids eight and up, and a lounge for teenagers. We checked them in at their request. Stella didn’t want to be separated from her brother, so the staff checked with their manager who made an exception so they could both be in the “Shockwave” room for kids 8-12. The club is very secure and at the same time, inviting from a kid’s perspective. Activities, crafts, competitions, and more kept the kids thoroughly engaged.
With the little ones safely amusing themselves with fellow cruise kids, my husband and I promptly headed to the Lotus Spa located at the front of the ship. It’s a full-service spa offering a range of treatments and options — from facials to massages to acupuncture and even full-on medi-spa services performed by licensed doctors. We scheduled a couple’s massage for later in our trip. More on that later.
Smooth sailing so far, right?
Dinner crept up on us. We’d neglected to reserve a table at Sabatini’s, but the maitre d was very accomodating. I ordered the “Burrata alla Panna con Carpaccio di Pomodori.” The burrata was fresh with a molten center, served atop thinly sliced tomatoes garnished with a dash of rich balsamic vinegar. My husband and the kids munched away on expertly prepared fried calamari. On to the mains… the kids ordered pasta (naturally) and it was served tableside. It was a big hit. I ordered braised short rib over penne, which was delicious if a bit rich — no way I could finish the dish. My husband ordered the “lobster three ways”, which he thoroughly devoured.
The service was wonderful and the quality of the food was exceptional — and that’s saying a lot for a girl lives in the food Mecca that is San Francisco. Well worth the nominal $25 per person cover for the upgraded, relaxed and made-to-order dining experience.
Not a hint of Gonzalo in the air. Yet.
After dinner it was back up to the Lido deck for ice cream, which flows constantly at Swirls. The kids and I sat down to enjoy the Movie Under the Stars, while Jim slinked off to the casino to play craps. Not a bad start to our first day at sea.
Next up: Princess Cays, Gonzalo, and Assorted Destination Notes
Cruise travel provided by Princess Cruises. All opinions and ideas expressed here are my own.