Over Spring Break, the four of us took a cruise, the first for our sons. As most of you know, Jenny and I love cruising, and we were excited to let the boys try it. In our ongoing quest to try different cruise lines, we chose Princess this round on a recommendation from our friends James and Alexis. They were absolutely right.
Here is our photo album from the cruise.
Here are some of the highlights and thoughts.
Although cruise food has nearly always been tasty for us, Princess definitely served our favorite food of any cruise line we’ve tried. We ate dinner every night in one of the main dining rooms except for one night at the signature steakhouse, Crown Grill. Every meal, every dish featured a gourmet flair…veal cordon bleu, peach soup with prosecco, seared sea scallops, Asian-spiced roast duck, some of the best cheesecake I’ve ever tasted. The Crown Grill was a special treat, a high-end steakhouse that serves a slow-paced, highest quality meal that becomes the main event for your evening. The breakfast buffet offered numerous options, many of which changed daily. Even basic items like the pizza were delicious.
Our dinner at Crown Grill
Unfortunately, all the gourmet food that we enjoyed so much made feeding our picky sons a challenge, Brenden in particular. We never bothered taking them to the main dining halls, feeding them separately before taking them to the youth center. Brenden ate lots of hot dogs on this cruise. One of the only things I would change about Princess would be to add a few more kid-friendly food options and to provide trays at the buffet so we parents could carry stuff for our kids.
It probably isn’t fair to compare our cabin to the others we’ve sailed in. Since we were taking the boys with us for the first time, we needed more space and sleeping arrangements for four instead of two. After much research, we sprung for a mini-suite, which had two TVs, a queen bed, a sofa bed, a pull-down berth, full bathtub, and an enlarged balcony. It. Was. Fabulous. The boys took turns in the upper berth, and during the few times we rested in the room, the boys could watch their TV while I watched the moving map of the ship or the bridge cam.
Princess targets a different crowd than our previous cruise lines (Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian) and does things a little differently. They carry few kids (our ship had maybe 150 total under age 18, less than 50 under age 8, during Spring Break out of over 3000 total passengers) and cater more to middle-aged and older travelers. The older cruisers enjoyed our boys, giving me the impression that Brenden and Jonathan reminded them of their own grandkids. Princess felt more like a relaxing, refined pleasure cruise than a nonstop party. The few drunk people I saw were stumbling back to the ship on our Nassau day. The Cruise Director plans some activities but doesn’t blabber over the PA system every morning about how you can play The Newlywed Game at 9:00 beside the pool. They respect you enough to leave you alone and let you seek out the activities you want, so it’s generally quieter. They also seem to personalize things a bit more for their guests, such as printing your name on a card outside your room, leaving a welcome message on your phone, and providing information specific to the children’s program if you’re sailing with kids. I am sold.
Although Princess doesn’t cater to families, it does offer an excellent children’s program that our boys adored. The youth center is split into three areas by age. Our sons played in the Pelicans area (ages 3-7), which offered age-appropriate activities such as face painting, crafts, Olympic games, movies, a play structure, and computers. They are used to environments like this from being in school and the gym’s child care, so we figured they would like it fairly well. They wound up choosing to spend every evening there from roughly 6-10pm. They stayed busy and had a blast while Jenny and I enjoyed a delicious dinner, explored the ship, or relaxed in the room. It was like having date night every night for nearly a week.
One more highlight was the kids’ area on Princess Cays, their private resort. It features two large covered areas, one a playground and the other a huge sand pit, and youth workers to watch your kids while you go play on the beach or read a book. Again, the boys had a blast there. If a parent was present to supervise, kids could also swim in a kiddie pool, the only kiddie pool our boys encountered on the trip (none available on the ship).
Since Princess’s focus is different, its entertainment options were a bit different as well. Our ship included one large theater for shows. Jenny isn’t as into the shows as I am, and I only caught one – an illusionist/comedian. He was pretty good. I’m sorry I didn’t see some of the other shows, but we preferred to enjoy the nice meals and relax rather than racing through dinner to make a showtime. In the beautiful three-story atrium, we saw a couple of acts: a pair of acrobats and three Filipino chefs making food art, which Brenden loved. For me, my favorite entertainment offering was Movies Under the Stars. The ship includes a large video screen on one of the top decks next to the pool and plays recent movies at night. They even provide blankets and popcorn. Our sailing included Gravity, Captain Phillips, and Thor: The Dark World. We discussed watching a movie as a family but never found the right movie and night. I, however, did catch an afternoon showing of Top Gun. If we sail with Princess again when the boys are older, we might get to try it. I love the concept.
Port #1 was Nassau, which we had already visited twice but was new to the boys. This time we walked from the dock to a nearby public beach called Junkanoo and let the boys play for a couple of hours. Then we walked another 1-2 miles to Ardastra Gardens, the zoo we visited on our first Nassau cruise that featured the marching flamingoes. The boys enjoyed it but were a bit tired after all the walking. Then the visit took a nosedive when Jonathan lost his balance and fell onto a cactus. We took a cab back to the ship and finished fishing out all the cactus spines before dinner.
Port #2 was Princess Cays, the line’s private resort at the far end of one of the many Bahamian islands. We loved it there – plenty of beach chairs, palm trees for shade, watersports, the kids’ play area, good food, gorgeous beaches. Brenden and I took a 30-minute trip on a kayak, which was lots of fun but more work than I was expecting. This was a very relaxing and peaceful day with ZERO cactus incidents.
Port #3 was Grand Turk, a first for me and Jenny. It’s a very small island that’s the capitol of Turks and Caicos, an island nation that is somehow part of the British Commonwealth. Here Jenny and I initially left the kids onboard in the youth center and enjoyed our only official excursion, a kayaking and eco-walk adventure on the barely-developed north end of the island. I wish we’d brought a waterproof camera so I could have gotten some pictures as this area was rugged and beautiful. We got to see and touch some local, nonvenomous mangrove jellyfish. The guides spotted a nurse shark underwater and tried to grab it (!) but did not succeed. I did get to hold a sea urchin and sea cucumber before paddling back. Then we bought some gifts to take home, picked up the boys, and took them to play on the beach one last time. The island and the cruise lines built a beautiful pier and shopping center to siphon away tourist dollars, and there’s a great beach right next to the pier. We played on the beach with a beautiful view of the ship, which was just a cool experience.
Jenny and I LOVED Princess. The next time we sail just the two of us, we’ll be strongly tempted to choose Princess again. The food, the quieter and more elegant atmosphere, and the personal touches made this a very pleasant way to travel. If we’re traveling with the boys, we’ll be torn. They had a wonderful time and still talk about our trip three weeks later. However, at least while they are young and picky eaters, we might try a more family-friendly cruise line such as Carnival or Disney to make things a bit easier on us.