A few weeks ago I was invited to partake in the first-ever Twitter-only press trip. It was hosted by Princess Cruises and they invited ten fairly popular travel tweeters (@Galavanting,@Cajun_Mama, @CruiseCritic, @EveryWhereTrip, @ARoadRetraveled, @NancyDBrown, @ExpertCruiser, @BrilliantTips, @Trazzler) and their guests. I signed up not only because I’m all about the Internet and wanting to be a part of a first in social media, but also because it was my dad’s birthday and we were hitting destinations we’ve both never been. The best part? All that was required by us tweeters was to send three tweets a day and write one blog post about anything we wanted related to the cruise, positive or negative. Easy as can be—and if you are following me on Twitter (@JohnnyJet) then you know I tweeted about both. NOTE: I wasn’t required to write this story, but the cruise was such a memorable experience I just couldn’t keep it to myself.
SEABOURN TO PRINCESS
To be honest (which I always am—almost to a fault), I didn’t have very high expectations of this cruise since the last ship I was on was the ultra-plush Seabourn Odyssey. FYI: Although I wrote about the new Oasis of the Seas megaship two weeks ago, I went on that cruise a week after this one but I flip-flopped the stories since that was more newsworthy. If you don’t know much about cruising (as I didn’t until recently), Seabourn ships are as luxurious as they come, the equivalent to a Four Seasons Hotel. Princess Cruises is a notch or two below, considered a premium line similar to a standard Hilton hotel. Both lines are owned by Carnival Corporation, which also runs Carnival Cruises, which are a step below Princess—so I guess one could compare those to an extended-stay budget hotel.
Since this was a Twitter cruise I will try and keep each paragraph to 140 characters to keep with Twitter’s theme, which makes for quick reading.
The Crown Princess is three years old and holds 3,000 passengers and 1,270 crew members.
You would think that with a ship that holds 4,000-plus it would feel cramped, but honestly it never felt crowded except during the muster drill and when getting on and off the ship in each port.
My dad original declined my invite, saying cruises are for couples, but I told him that wasn’t entirely true and I arranged for twin beds.
CRUISING IS FOR…
Cruises really are for everyone, from romantic getaways and family vacations to bachelor parties—in fact the best two bachelor parties I’ve ever attended were on a cruise (Carnival).
WHO WAS ON OUR CRUISE
You just have to find the ship that meets your needs. For example, you wouldn’t want to take little kids on Seabourn, but you would on Princess or Carnival. On this cruise I met people who were on every kind of holiday you could imagine. From birthday parties to anniversaries, from honeymooners to people actually getting married on the ship!
Our seven-day Crown Princess cruise left out of Port Everglades, Florida, which is right next to the Fort Lauderdale Airport so it was very convenient to get to (they offer free shuttles to and from FLL and MIA airports).
Our itinerary was as follows:
– Saturday (11/7): Fort Lauderdale
– Sunday (11/8): Princess Cays 0900–1600
– Monday (11/9): At sea
– Tuesday (11/10): Grand Cayman 0700–1600
– Wednesday (11/11): Roatan, Honduras 0900–1700
– Thursday (11/12): Cozumel 0800–1800
– Friday (11/13): At sea
– Saturday (11/14): Florida, arrive 0700
TIP: No matter which port you are departing from it’s always a good idea to arrive a day or two early since cruise ships won’t wait for you and delays happen.
When we arrived at the ship a bunch of thug baggage handlers checked our bags—I would’ve given them a better tip if they hadn’t basically demanded one but I guess they are used to dealing with a lot of foreigners (our cruise had a large portion of Europeans) who don’t tip so I guess I can’t really blame them.
LUGGAGE TIP #1: Remember to put the bag tags that the cruise line sends in advance onto the bags you are checking, and always carry onboard all your valuables/medicines….
LUGGAGE TIP #2: I always thought you had to check your bags, but if you are a light packer (like me) there’s no need to. Just carry them on and off the ship so you don’t have to worry or wait.
We showed up at 2:40 p.m. and there was no line to check in and the ship was sold out. In fact, I couldn’t even buy a room for one of my friends who really wanted to go, and this wasn’t a special cruise. (No one knew this was a Twitter press trip.)
CRUISING IS THE BEST VALUE
What really surprised me is that when I called to buy a room they said that not only was our cruise overbooked but the next three weeks were sold out as well—maybe a sign the economy is bouncing back? But definitely proof that cruising is the best value around since room, food, and entertainment are all included.
To give you an idea of the prices, here are the rack rates: our mini-suite goes for $899 per person.
-Less expensive room options included:
-Balcony room: $649 per person
-Outside room with a window: $559 per person
-Interior room without a window: $449 per person.
DON’T PAY RACK RATES
Prices are based on double occupancy, but if you go through a travel agent or broker you can usually get it for MUCH cheaper. Some cruises are so cheap it literally costs more money to stay at home (I’ve seen some for as little as $35 pp a night).
CHECK-IN TIP: The agent told me the busiest time to check in is usually 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m. (most boats depart around 5 p.m.).
Getting our room key was quick and when we walked onboard two friendly Aussies welcomed us and pointed our way to the bank of elevators closest to our room.
FINDING OUR ROOM
It was a little confusing at first, as we walked through an art gallery, but we eventually made our way to the Dolphin Deck (9th floor). It also took me about a day to get my bearings but I rarely got lost. My dad… not so much.
Our mini-suite was pretty sweet. It had twin beds with plush duvets and lovely pillows, plus a pull-out couch that could sleep two.
Two flat-screen TVs with almost every channel I get at home plus on-demand programs, webcams and ship information.
Princess does have satellite Wi-Fi but it’s expensive, like on all ships. Plans ranged from $0.35 to $0.55 a minute.
They block Skype because they say it takes up too much bandwidth, but I was able to get onto a similar service using another VOIP application.
The shower/tub in our room was just like a standard hotel’s, with decent water pressure and good-quality towels.
We had plenty of closet space, a laptop-size safe, and balcony with four deck chairs.
The windows are soundproof but the walls/floors aren’t. I could occasionally hear a baby cry next door and the neighbor’s toilet flush.
The sounds didn’t bother me since I wasn’t in my room much and when I sleep in the same room as my dad I use earplugs (he snores like Yogi Bear).
My only real beef about the room is that Princess allows smoking on decks, so when I went out there or left the balcony door open I could smell smoke from the chain-smoking neighbors.
9th AND 10th FLOOR COMPLAINTS
The decks on these two floors jut out so there’s no covering. If you like more privacy or shade from the sun, request a room on the 11th floor or higher.
You can barely hear announcements when in your room, and if you are in the bathroom you can’t at all since they only play them over the hallway speakers. That’s perfect for those who want to take naps, but not so good if you’re working like me and always like to be informed.
If you have a bunch of electrical gadgets that need charging all at once bring a power strip (I use Belkin’s Mini Surge Protector) since there’s only two slim outlets.
CHANGE OF COURSE
As on every cruise ship the captain has the right to change itineraries, so instead of going to the Bahamas last we went first as Tropical Storm Ida was brewing in the original path (Gulf of Mexico).
Thanks to Ida, the water was pretty rough the first two nights, but every experienced cruiser I met said that was unusual for the Caribbean.
I didn’t get seasick once, nor did my dad, and out of the 20 people in our group only two felt a tad seasick during those nights (it was calm during the day).
MIND OVER MATTER
I’m usually prone to seasickness, but I actually was able to trick my mind into finding the rough water soothing instead of a nuisance while I was in bed (that’s when it was at its worst).
Don’t get me wrong: If the water had been that rough while at dinner it would’ve been difficult to play tricks on my little influential friend. TIP: I met with the ship’s doctor and he said the only medicine that really works is Promethazine Teoclate. It’s by prescription and they carry a ton of it on board.
Unfortunately, he said all those other gadgets like patches and wristbands are really just gimmicks. The best is Promethazine Teoclate.
Note when the water is calm it’s smooth sailing: When we first set sail I didn’t even know we’d taken off—it’s that smooth.
Our first stop was the Bahamas, so we sailed through the night and arrived in the morning. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t ideal so my pictures aren’t as pretty as they could’ve been.
Princess owns Princess Cays, a private island in Eleuthera, Bahamas.
GETTING TO SHORE
The Crown Princess moored about a half mile out and they had six or more tenders (holding 100-plus) going back and forth every 10 minutes.
Princess did a great job setting up this island. There were plenty of lounge chairs (no additional charge), tons of waiters selling drinks, and even a bunch of colorful beach bungalows for rent at $199 a pop (they hold up to 6 people).
WHAT TO DO
Passengers can rent snorkel gear, kayaks, sail boats, aqua bikes… or they can browse some of the shops or gift stands run by locals—they even offered hair braiding. There were free activities too like volleyball, ping pong…
They had a kids club, an open-air bar with live music and of course plenty of food. There were four buffet lines and I waited about 10 minutes to get my grub, which was plentiful: corn salad, cucumber salad, Asian coleslaw, hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken breast, drumsticks, ribs, fresh fruit, iced tea, brownies, cookies, cake… everything was included.
My favorite spot was the lookout tower; if my dad had been up for it I would’ve gone on a long walk away from the crowds.
PRINCESS CAYS IN A NUTSHELL
Princess Cays was described best on Twitter by my friend @KimMance: “Princess Cays: nice but sorta like one of those Disney insta-islands. Not really my thing normally.” I couldn’t have agreed more.
SECURITY: What was nice is that when re-boarding the ship we didn’t have to wait more than five minutes to show ID cards and go through security.
TENDER TIP: Some of their tenders offer open-air seating on the top deck for about 20 people, so try and be one of the first to board.
Next week we’ll finish up the Twitter Cruise.
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