[Part 2 of my recent experience aboard Caribbean Princess, Canada/New England cruise]
It was time to board the Caribbean Princess, which had been docked for two days in the Port of Quebec, awaiting it’s next gaggle of guests. We checked out of the Chateau Frontenac, and after a fairly long wait for a taxi to accommodate the four of us, we were finally on our way to the ship. Traffic was backed up all the way down the hill, but it was a nice way to people-watch along the way. Besides, our driver, who appeared to be a kind and patient woman, seemed amused by the lively and comical commentary coming from her customers eager to get started on their cruise.
Embarkation & Princess Medallion Class Cruising
Princess had recently rolled out their new Medallion Class cruising on the Caribbean Princess, featuring an actual round medallion replacing the old key card and a bazillion electronic ways to enhance the cruise experience. More about the medallion and all the bells and whistles that come with it later.
Our medallions arrived by FedEx about 2 weeks before the cruise, encased in enough paper and cardboard to destroy a forest. A small padded envelope would have been sufficient. To their credit, though, the box holding the medallions is a sturdy, attractive, reusable one and will enjoy a second life on my desk, with just the wasteful filler going to the recycle bin. After some frustrating trial and error, maneuvering the disk into the lanyard holder, downloading the Ocean READY app, and syncing the medallion with our passport info and photos, as instructed, we were finally ready to rock and roll. Embarkation and getting through security was a breeze – you still need your passport, because the security agents don’t give a hoot about your medallion. Wearing our new fashionable bling – and carrying a backup copy of our boarding passes just in case – we stopped briefly to check in with a crew member and were on board in no time at all.
Ship and First Impressions
We are no strangers to Princess, and they have always been our favorite ships, so we pretty much knew what to expect when we boarded. Still, we last cruised Caribbean Princess in 2005 and would have to dig through photos to remember specific details before the recent makeover, but we were really impressed with how bright and shiny the public spaces appeared when we boarded. The ship is beautiful! The Piazza has been spiffed up and looking better than ever, and my favorite part of any Princess ship of this class is the Promenade Deck, which did not disappoint. Since cabins were ready to receive guests, we headed right for ours to unload our stuff and vowed to explore the rest of the ship later.
Balcony Cabin L251: This is a standard balcony cabin located forward of the pools on Lido Deck 15, and we would definitely book it again. 10 flights of stairs going down to dinner and shows became part of our daily workout; going up 10 flights was something else, and I did this just once after Muster, while my husband waited with the masses for an elevator. We really appreciated the cabin location, super convenient to the main pools, buffet fare, ice cream/specialty coffee station, and the fitness center and spa just a deck above. Best of all was the short walk to the bar and our favorite bartender, Rocky, located just around the corner. Because it was located forward of the elevators, as well, there was very little traffic and it was quiet most of the time. But the real bonus is a door all the way forward that opens to a viewing deck that sits over the bridge, available from sunrise to sunset, as David and I found out one evening when we were quietly escorted off by a security guard after hours. However, at times when it was fine and legal to be up there, the view was fabulous for arrivals and departures, and, in fact, the view coming into New York at sunrise was absolutely amazing and drew quite a crowd at 5:30 am.
The standard balcony cabins on this ship are fairly roomy. There was no sofa, which I did miss from the NCL ships I’m used to. There were two chairs – and for us, that meant one for sitting and one for resting feet upon – and a desk that we found useful for storing gadgets, papers, and all the other stuff accumulated over the course of a cruise. Night tables with drawer space on either side of the bed was also helpful for storage. The closet area came with a ton of hangers and plenty of space for hanging clothing, but the shelf space was a little skimpy. The large screen TV was a big improvement, with a large amount of cruise related programs and a fair number of free movies to choose from. Other than that, there were just a couple of news stations and old TV show episodes, including The Love Boat, of course! The bed – because everyone asks – was super comfy, with Princess still having the best beds at sea in my mind. The balcony was adequate, with a small table and two chairs with reclining backs.
Although we have loads of photos from the ports and tours, we are severely lacking in photos of the ship’s interior, and neither one of us thought of taking any photos of the cabin on this cruise, strange considering the fancy cameras we travel with. The reader will have to use some imagination. In any event, we had a great view of the bridge forward, and awesome sunsets, of course. On the days filled with fog, there was just white nothing.
Free WiFi Minutes – Now you see them, Now you don’t! With platinum status, we each had 250 free minutes of WIFI. Sadly, they disappeared in a flash after not logging off correctly. Just shutting the browser won’t disconnect it, and I should have remembered that fact from past cruises. On port days or when we were within cell service I used my International Day Pass from AT&T to keep in touch, post to social media, browse, text and check emails. On the two sea days, I swore that I would disconnect, but my willpower evaporated on the last day of the cruise, and I caved and bought the unlimited day plan.
Princess Medallion Class Cruising – the Jury is Still Out
The Ocean Medallion, Ocean apps and WIFi speed were great – when they worked together, which was nearly never. In a nutshell, we found them a little awkward and confusing. For instance, why does Ocean Medallion require so many apps – SIX of them to be precise? Two of the apps, Ocean PLAY and Ocean CASINO, we had no use for. We already waste too much time and money in the REAL casino. A third one, Ocean VIEW, has Princess-related videos, which didn’t pique our curiosity, either. Ocean COMPASS was useful for connecting with friends, but that only works when the friends accept on their end. The other feature of COMPASS is the ability to order food and drink wherever you are on the ship and have it delivered. A friendly crew member showed me how to do this the first day, and it worked, even though the bar was 50 feet away and I could have just gone to get it myself. In the end, though, it was just as easy and much more social to belly up to the bar and order one. That left the final app, Ocean NOW, which was handy for checking the daily schedule, when we could get WiFi to cooperate. I consider myself to be techno friendly and know my way around an iPhone, but this all seemed like a bit much – a lot of trouble for a little bit of benefit. Princess did have an Ocean Medallion session in the theatre on the first day, but going to school was not part of my vacation plan. At one point over the first couple of days, my husband did seek help from the wizard at the Medallion desk, but even he was unable to figure it out. .
If there is one positive thing about the entire Ocean Medallion program, it would be the medallion itself and the way it magically unlocks the cabin door when it senses you’re nearby. This came in handy on more than a few occasions when I had two hands juggling food and drink, and used my elbow to press down on the door handle to push the door open. The medallion also works the same way when you order drinks at the bar. Your face pops up on the bartender’s screen, and they know it’s you. Occasionally, they asked us to scan the medallion or asked for a room number when it was busy. On one level, it’s kinda neat, but on another I do wonder about guest safety, security and privacy with this “GPS’ feature – and how many drinks get billed to the wrong room.
Lido Deck, Fitness Center and Spa
Given our cabin’s close proximity to everything on Lido Deck, we frequently found ourselves out by the pool – either in it or lounging around it. The pools on this ship are a decent size, and on this Canada/Northern New England cruise they were pleasantly uncrowded, though the hot tubs (not terribly hot, by the way) and pools did get busier in the afternoon on nice days. Word of warning: Due to dense fog, the ship’s foghorn blasted every few minutes during most of the last day of our cruise and was particularly deafening at the pool with the movie screen, at least to my sensitive ears. The adult pool, aft, was a heavenly oasis throughout the cruise, the water was warm, and the lounge chairs (only 20 of them) have comfy cushions, making it a great place to read or relax.
Fitness Center: If you’re an early bird and like a treadmill workout, forget it. Even though the center opens at 6:00 am, the treadmills aren’t available until 8:00 am on this ship, apparently a result of complaints from occupants of the cabins directly below it. This was a huge disappointment for us – if we don’t work out first thing, then chances are we won’t, though we did return a couple of afternoons when we – or the gym – wasn’t busy. There are just two recumbent bikes and two uprights, which, as you can imagine, are always occupied. Early one morning my husband went to the gym and watched while a woman spent an hour on a bike, selfishly ignoring the line of people waiting to use it. There should be a 30-minute limit at peak times or when people are waiting, but we saw no signs posting that fact.
The Spa – Dave and Jan’s Couples Massage. We are not spa people. The last time we visited the spa on a cruise ship – or anywhere – for something other than a haircut or a facial was in 2002, our first cruise on the Grand Princess, our 25th anniversary. For some reason, David thought it would be fun to pre-book a couples full-body massage on this Canada/New England cruise and booked it for the afternoon of a port day after returning from a morning tour. I was less than excited and no inkling of what to expect, and the whole idea sounded a little weird. But what the heck. We marched down to the spa, donned our robes in our respective changing rooms, and met up in the treatment room. The two young women who worked on us were pleasant, with his masseuse being the chattier of the two, and mine seeming to be new but still capable of a good massage. It didn’t take long to realize what I’d been missing all these years. She no doubt had some serious knots to work out, and it wasn’t long before I was totally relaxed and David was snoring peacefully on his side. I did have to ask her to back off the ankle because it’s sensitive after a fracture a few years back. In the end, they did attempt to sell us some magical ointments and explain what else we needed to help us live through the next millennium, but there was no high pressure to buy anything.
Strange story: While he was at the Spa, David made an appointment for a head shave. He went to the spa at his appointed time expecting the return of his chrome dome and was told that the guy who does hair was MIA and didn’t know when he’d be back. What? Huh? Did he jump ship? Plus, they told him they don’t shave heads – they only do buzz cuts. Not sure why they failed to mention this when they made an appointment. Pretty weird. So no head shave.
Stay tuned to hear about the Food on board …