We arrived at Port Canaveral from Miami Cruise Port by taxi, having disembarked a cruise earlier in the day. Actually it was two taxis as, having arranged with a private operator on the quayside to take us to Port Canaveral, he dropped us at Fort Lauderdale Airport because he didn’t have the required permit to enter! Note to self – arrange a transfer for myself in the same way I would for a customer.
After queuing for a short time outside the terminal, we eventually checked in to our cruise at around midday and, in all the excitement, really didn’t notice quite how windy it was. As with most cruisers, our first port of call on ship was the buffet and, like most cruise ships, the Royal Princess has its self-service eatery close to the top of the ship, in this case on deck 16. This was the first surprise, as we found the food on offer in both the Horizon Bistro (the healthy option) and the Horizon Court to be the best we had ever experienced on a cruise ship and at least as good as every hotel we had ever stayed in. The cooked breakfasts in particular were fantastic!
Being at the top of the ship, we had a great view over the port and found ourselves in the company of a number of other ships including Costa Deliziosa, Coral Princess, Royal Caribbean’s Serenade of the Seas and Holland America’s Zuiderdam, all of which were preparing to set sail in what looked like quite trying conditions - as the waves crashed heavily onto the beach nearby. It was certainly as disappointing a sail away as I have ever experienced, but I am pleased to say Royal Princess coped admirably. What turned out to be quite a reasonable swell out at sea was, pretty much, flattened out by our ship making the squally conditions unnoticeable on board.
I had been on board Royal Princess before on a ship visit in Southampton, but the magnificence of her interior really comes to life once you set sail, with beautiful and glamorous public rooms sitting alongside modern cabins with all of the facilities you might imagine.
We were billeted on deck 9, about halfway up the ship and mid-ship, so a great position to get around from with lifts and stairways nearby, although not all lifts serve every floor. For example, if you were the middle of the ship and wanted to reach the Allegro Dining Room on Deck 6, where we had our meals, you had to either take the elevator at the back of the ship, or the one in the middle to deck 7 and then walk! All very odd but I’m sure there must be a reason for it.
Once in the Allegro dining room (there are 3 “Main” dining rooms on board), we found the atmosphere to be a little restrained, but the service was good enough after a slow start and the food, which was a mix of cruise ship staples and local offerings, in this case from The Caribbean, was again excellent.
Having left Florida, we awoke to find ourselves moored off Princess Cays, the Cruise Line’s private island in The Bahamas, on a bright Sunny day. With the wind still blowing quite hard, it was a relief to learn that the tender boat sent to test conditions had reported all to be well.
Princess Cays turned out to be much as expected, with a beautiful beach adorned with literally thousands of sun loungers alongside shops selling typical beach and cruise related items. It is worth noting that, on Princess Cays, not all of these were run by Princess Cruises and you needed dollars to purchase goods.
The only downside of a sun kissed day was that the barbecue, provided by the ship’s crew and the only source of food on the island, closed down at 1.30pm, just when everyone wanted to eat. It wouldn’t have been an issue, had we known, but it came as a surprise to almost everyone. Luckily for us, we managed to bribe a member of staff to go and collect some food for us which, presumably, would otherwise have found its way to the bin!
Returning back to the ship, we found ourselves getting prepared for the first formal night on board. The normal Caribbean Cruise Ship interpretation of “formal” was adopted with some men in tuxedos, some in dark suits and some in nice shirts - with all the women looking lovely. Suffice to say, nearly everyone seemed to make the effort to dress up in the best they had with them, which was good enough for me and the ship’s photographers did a roaring trade at various locations as usual. If you like a photographic souvenir, you could do a lot worse than to take advantage of the service on offer from the Platinum Studio on board, which offers studies in Black and White, which look fantastic but are quite pricey.
The next day we spent at sea, giving us the chance to take a look at the facilities on board in the open air as we steamed towards Falmouth, Jamaica. These didn’t disappoint. There were plenty of places to top up your tan if, indeed, you had one in the first place and you could even catch a movie whilst you did it. For the more adventurous, there was also a jogging track, basketball court and table tennis on-deck in addition to a very well-appointed gym. Work out or lay in the sun with a constant supply of soft scoop – the choice is yours!
Arriving in Falmouth, we were surprised to find such an array of shopping and restaurants on offer in the very well appointed port, but soon realised that we had landed in a gated enclave owned and operated by the cruise lines. All very nice, but not really the real Jamaica, which we were determined to see, so we signed up for a trolley bus tour of the town ($20 for a hour’s tour) which revealed an altogether different and more interesting side to Falmouth.
Like many places in Jamaica, it’s not for the faint-hearted, so if you are not comfortable with the close attentions of street vendors in all their guises, it’s best to take an organised tour or stay in the port area. For us, seeing the other side of the Island was one of the highlights of our trip.
Our next port of call was one of the speciality restaurants on board; Sabatini’s, which specialises in Italian food. I chose to eat steak, which was beautifully cooked but a little on the large side for my taste and my wife opted for seafood which she proclaimed a triumph. After dinner, we repaired to Crooner’s bar to be entertained by Kory Simon, the Piano Man, who was just about the best performer I’ve ever seen on a mainstream cruise ship. Just be prepared to join in is my advice. Overall the entertainment was excellent on board, with the comedian Steve White a real highlight too – he actually had us crying with laughter with an unusually risqué act.
The following morning, we awoke just off Grand Cayman and were tendered ashore to find ourselves in a rather glamorous location, with money dripping from every pore and free Wi-Fi everywhere! Despite being only a relatively short distance from Jamaica, the islands couldn’t be more different with the “Tax Haven” status of the Cayman Islands obviously contributing much to the economy.
We elected to head for 7 mile beach, the closest part of which is walkable from the cruise terminal, and took in the sights and sounds of one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline I have had the joy to behold after parting with a few dollars to take advantage of the private resort’s beach club. This type of excursion is available from the ship, but it’s far cheaper to pay locally, with many beach clubs not charging at all if you eat. Great shopping, great bars, Grand Cayman, we’ll be back.
Another speciality restaurant followed, this time the Crown Grill for Steak & Seafood and what a treat it was. Thankfully, as well as providing a menu, the first thing the wait staff do is to bring the meat trolley, which gives you a chance to see exactly what you are ordering and how big it might be. The steak cuts seemed to range from the very large to the absolutely gigantic so I chose Lamb Chops which were perfect with a side order of lobster tempura, all absolutely lovely and the service was great too.
The next port of call was Cozumel, the Mexican Island. Again, this is a very well developed port with an array of shops owned and operated by the cruise lines as well as many independent retailers. One rather unusual feature is that you are required to exit through a Duty Free shop – even if you have no intention of buying anything. This forces literally thousands of cruise passengers through the narrow aisles and isn’t the quickest way to disembark, but most seemed happy enough, especially as there were free tastings on offer at various points.
We chose to spend our day on an organised ship’s excursion to race America’s Cup yachts and once again this proved to be a big success. Meeting the organisers on the quayside, we were ferried out to two yachts that had previously been used in the famous America’s Cup race.
Once on board, we were split into groups who were prepared to do either a) Hard Work b) Some Work or c) Nothing at all and then got to practice for a short time before racing each other for the coveted title of Fastest Yacht of the Day. We won and returned to land victorious, having enjoyed the best Cruise Excursion I’ve ever encountered.
We returned to the ship with a heavy heart, as we knew that we had only one sea day left before we returned to Fort Lauderdale. Although it was a perfect day with bright warm sunshine, it really was rather sad to be thinking of saying goodbye to Royal Princess and we eked out every single minute - even being amongst the last to leave the ship.
If I am being honest, we booked on board simply because there was no alternative sailing on the day we returned from our first cruise of the trip, but I left with the feeling that Royal Princess was just about the best ship I have ever cruised on and for so many reasons too. We’ll be right back!