Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Island Princess Christmas Cruise [Day 1] - Embarkation

Hello, everyone!

I'm Victoria. I'm a junior architecture major, travel and tourism minor at Clemson University. I recently got back from my first Princess cruise on the Island Princess. I've now completed two photo reviews on past Royal Caribbean cruises and wanted to continue the tradition here on the Princess board!

I'll go ahead and warn you - my reviews are very pictorial. I rarely write long posts with no photos. I often rely on photographs to tell my story. So if you're hoping for a long, written review, this probably isn't for you. I also take the course of several days, sometimes weeks, to write my reviews, so if you'd like to follow along, go ahead and subscribe! However, I am moving to Italy for the semester January 6th, so I'm going to try my hardest to finish it by then. If for some (perhaps probable) reason that I do not finish by that time, then my review is probably going to be more drawn out than I wish.

Perhaps you'll find this helpful if you're considering a Panama Canal cruise, are a somewhat loyal Royal who's thinking of trying Princess, or are just need of a good cruise fix. I look forward to sharing my cruise with all of you!

All aboard!!!

Island Princess

I chose this cruise because of the itinerary. I really wanted to go through the Panama Canal, and Princess's roundtrip partial transit seemed like a great way to do it. I was excited to try a new cruiseline and entered with an open mind.



My traveling party includes my father, my mother, and my sister. We live in South Carolina, so we decided to drive to Fort Lauderdale for some crazy reason, rather than fly. We left on December 19th, and my Dad and I did all of the driving. We could've easily made it all the way to Ft. Lauderdale in one day, but we decided to stop an hour away in Jupiter, Florida because we figured it would be easier (and cheaper!) to get a hotel there.

We boarded the ship on December 20th which was a Thursday. The embarkation process was a breeze. I was glad because I had read how Ft. Lauderdale is terrible with embarkation. However, we were one of four ships in port and the biggest at that. The others were the Pacific Princess and then two Silversea ships (okay, don't quote me on two Silversea... I know at least one was Silversea).

When we first booked our cruise in late November, there was plenty of availability. There were lots of unsold balcony cabins. So we figured, what the heck - let's book guarantee oceanviews and maybe we'll get upgraded to balconies. Well, somewhere between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the cruise became booked solid. We actually got emails asking us if we'd cancel our cruise. They were offering us a balcony upgrade and OBC for the price of what we had paid for our Christmas cruise, suggested we reschedule in March. It was a pretty great offer, but we had chosen that cruise for the Christmas sailing, so we weren't changing.

Dad was most upset because if he had known we weren't getting upgraded, he would've chosen our cabins to be side by side or at least near eachother. Rachel and I, however, were secretly stoked that our cabins were on opposite ends of the ship.

Rachel and I were in stateroom P617.

I was glad they had the little mail slot outside of the room. It was very handy. They also had our names on the door. I'm still not sure how I feel about that, but I'm sure it kept people from knocking on the wrong person's door and then having to give an awkward apology.

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Rachel and I were also quite appreciative of the Christmas decorations on everyone's cabin. Royal Caribbean and Carnival don't do that. It was a nice touch to bringing Christmas into the guest quarters.

Door Christmas Decor

I had actually requested online that our bed be in queen configuration because in the floorplan online, the beds are oriented against a side wall, rather than a window wall. I figured that having our beds side by side would maximize our usable floorspace. However, the floorplans online are incorrect (I'm sure this only baffles the architecture major here ). And in this case, our usable floorspace was better off in twin beds. Our cabin felt much bigger than our parents' which had the beds in queen configuration.

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I was glad that Princess had the bright idea to elevate the television. Royal Caribbean loves to waste valuable counter space on large box televisions (hey - keep in mind the newest RCI ship I've sailed is the Adventure... I'm sure the Allure and Oasis have flat screens, possibly mounted).

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As you can see, there is a random chair in the corner which already has Rachel's tote in it. This chair slowly accumulated more and more things throughout the cruise, and its sole purpose was to hold our random junk. There is also a small table on which we habitually stacked paper which we had to find a new home for (usually the trash bin) whenever room service came. We made good use of room service... more on that later.

Obligatory model mirror pic. You know... a dumb young kid thing.

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The large mirror was very nice and useful. There was also a full-length mirror outside the dressing error. However, Princess, are you listening? The orientation of the counter space and vanity mirror was actually quite unfortunate because it was backlit by the window. So it was impossible to use natural light to apply make-up because it instead making it impossible for us to see our faces (think of when you're taking a photo of a person and the sun is behind that person... their face appears dark and shadowed because their own head is shadowing their face). It would've been nice if Princess had either provided adequate vanity lighting and perhaps an illuminated makeup mirror or had oriented the vanity along one of the side walls (which make the circulation of the room much more difficult, so I prefer the first idea).

Now meet the world's smallest shower:

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Seriously. It was the smallest shower I've ever seen on a cruise ship. And what made it worse is that the safety bar was in the way. Seriously, I'm like a miniature person, and I couldn't take a shower without knocking my shoulder against the safety bar. I can't imagine how it would be for a normal size person to shower. And on top of that, the shower leaked incredibly. There needed to be a taller lower barrier because the curtain wouldn't catch on the top of the barrier - it would blow over. It was nearly impossible to take a shower without flooding the entire (well... not much there) bathroom.

Loved the closet space! I was glad to have many shelves and a lot of room for hanging clothes. It worked nicely for the two of us who brought a lot of clothes.

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While I'm talking about our stateroom, I'll go ahead and show off our Christmas decorations. If you read my Adventure of the Seas Review, you'll know that I obnoxiously decorated our door in purple glitter and Clemson Christmas decor. I decided to scale it back a bit and instead went with a fun jingle bell wreath and stockings I found at Michael's.

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Before anyone freaks out - no, I did not nail a hole in the door. I used Command hooks to hang the wreath and stockings. If you do not have a college student or haven't lived in an apartment where you can't nail in the wall in over five years, you may have never heard of this amazing invention. It's a miraculous hook that sticks to the wall/door and removes with NO DAMAGE!! It is an absolute lifesaver for a college student, and my roommate and I use them to hang everything.

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I was a little concerned about thieves because on our past two Christmas cruises, my mother has had her jingle bells stolen from her door (we know they were taken and didn't just fall because on both occasions, my father heard them being taken, opened the door and saw them going down the hall, but was inadequately dressed to chase down the little hoodlems). However, our decorations weren't touched the entire cruise. I have several theories about this. Perhaps it's because jingle bells are small and you can stick them in your pocket and play with them, but exactly what is one going to do with a giant jingle bell wreath besides decorate their own place with it? Maybe it's because our room was in the middle of the hallway in a fairly low-traffic area. Or perhaps it's because the demographic of this ship was in average much older than our past two Christmas cruises. Whatever the reason, I was glad to still have my wreath at the end of the week.

I'd actually never had a room so low on the ship before (Plaza is Deck 5 in case you don't speak cruise floor lingo ). I think the lowest I've ever been is deck 7. Despite not having a balcony, it was actually really cool to look out our room and be almost on the same level as the ocean.

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After checking out our rooms, we decided to check out the buffet, Horizons (my mother called it the Windjammer all week). Whenever I go into a buffet on a cruise ship, I immediately think of a million different ways to make it function better. I think perhaps if I took the best aspects from the buffets on every cruise ship I've been on and combined them, there would be a well circulating buffet. However, I have yet to see a layout I agree with completely. Princess has all of the food as soon as you enter the buffet on either side. There is no sort of entry or lobby area which results in a long line extending out the door, blocking traffic in the elevator lobby. This terrible buffet layout is exactly why Rachel and I often chose to instead order room service or get pizza or hamburgers on the pool deck.

Of course, after we got food, we couldn't find a table. We wandered the seating area for 10 minutes before we found a place to sit down.

During lunch, a bartender approached us selling soda packages. He of course only told us about the Unlimited Soda Package which Rachel got. If you're not familiar, for $7/day in addition to unlimited soda, you can get unlimited milkshakes, smoothies, and mocktails. I'm not a big milkshake person, though, so I was glad that I knew to ask for the basic soda package which was only $4/day. Rachel's package came with this fun straw cup, while mine came with an insulated mug similar to Royal Caribbean's.

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Fort Lauderdale is so much prettier to sail out of than Port Canaveral.

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We checked out the Sanctuary, Princess's for-charge adults only area. Mom wanted to spend a sea day here, so we tried to reserve it, but were told it had to be done the day of.

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Aft pool:

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The Love Boat!

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The Lotus pool, Princess's version of the Solarium. However, on RCI, the Solarium is guests 16 and older only. I had assumed it was the same on Princess until I noticed a million kids splashing around in the pool. Then I looked around and realized that there were no posted age restrictions. I guess if they adults want their own pool, they have to pay for it.

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Dear Dad requested I take these photos of him:

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We went back down and were hanging out in Mom and Dad's room when we heard the announcement that the muster drill was about to take place. An early embarkation (4:00 PM!) means an early muster!

Rachel and I mustered in the Universe Lounge while Mom and Dad mustered in Sabatini's. We just sat down, listened to an announcement in several different languages, then they let us put on our lifejackets and leave whenever we wanted.

So Rachel and I were like Sailaway Party! Yeahhh!!! And headed to the top deck... to find no one. There was not a band playing. There were not people dancing. It was basically just us for awhile. But normally I feel like everyone is watching us sailaway, but this was not the case. It wasn't crowded at all. Mom and Dad weren't even up there, yet.

So we did the most sailaway thing we could think of and got the drink of the day. I don't even remember what it was. It was good for the first few sips, then it was just a watered down mess. Hardly had any alcohol in it. It was a huge rip-off. But they weren't selling, so the bartender started bringing us free ones because after a certain point, he said they just have to throw them away.

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Who needs a backyard when you can step out... right into a pool?

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Wait, this isn't normal?

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That moment you realize that you might be an even stranger family than you once thought...

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When we reached Miami, the sun was setting.

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We returned to our rooms to find our luggage delivered, so we unpacked our many things. It all fit very well in the room. I really appreciated Princess's storage space.

Rachel decorated our tree. We placed it in the window.

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We didn't take photos before dinner that night. We had the second seating 7:45 dining time in the Provence Dining Room. The Bordeaux Dining Room is for Anytime Dining. However, Anytime Dining is hardly anytime. Apparently, unless you call that morning to get a reservation, you're given a buzzer and wait for hours to be seated. We talked to many people about the terrible Anytime Dining system. I think the problem with it is that they don't limit the number of passengers who can participate. On Royal Caribbean and Carnival, you have to request their version of Anytime Dining, and only a certain number of passengers can get it. This minimizes the wait for those participating in anytime. While I understand Princess wanting to let whoever wants Anytime get Anytime, in my opinion, it really defeats the purpose of having Anytime Dining if you have to call and make a reservation that morning.

We walked around the ship for a bit after dinner. Well actually, Dad and I explored while Rachel and Mom shopped for jewelry. I was excited about all of the little details in the ship. Not to mention, we got a feel for just how big the ship was. It's a lot longer than one would think!

NEXT: Day 2 - Sea Day