Sun Princess Inaugural Cruise

This is our review of the Inaugural Sailing of Princess' brand new ship, the Sun Princess, which took place on December 2, 1995. This was only our second cruise on Princess, but our 18th cruise overall, having previously sailed on NCL, Carnival, Costa, Celebrity, Cunard, Crown, Star Clippers, Regency and Dolphin. With the Sun Princess, Princess has produced an absolutely beautiful ship which provides a multitude of entertainment options and dining choices. Unfortunately, though, the food served onboard is still Princess food. If you could take this ship and put Celebrity food on it, I think that I could happily sail this ship time after time.

We had booked this cruise over a year ago, working with blueprints of the ship, before there were even cabin numbers assigned on the blueprints. We hoped at the time to be part of the Inaugural Festivities and were tremendously excited, about a month prior to sailing, to receive an invitation to the naming ceremony for the ship. We rearranged plane schedules and work schedules and arrived in Ft. Lauderdale about 10 P.M. on Thursday November 30.

We elected to stay at the Sheraton Yankee Clipper, primarily because it was much cheaper than many of the other hotels we checked, at $95 per night. The Yankee Clipper is an older hotel that definitely shows it's age, especially in the rooms, but it was exactly what we wanted. The hotel was about 10 minutes from the airport and 5 minutes from the port. It is right on the beach and in fact, our room was on the first floor of the beach building, and only steps down the hall from the pool and beach bar. There is a nice bar inside the hotel, as well as a presentable restaurant, suitable for breakfast, at any rate. Not a fancy hotel, by any stretch, but worth the price at $95, especially since it was so convenient to the port and the airport.

Friday morning we headed out for the Naming Ceremony, which was to begin at 11 A.M. Parking was provided free by Princess, and we were given complementary souvenier pillows to soften the blow of the rather hard bleachers. Around 11 A.M. the Regimental Band of the Scots Guards and The Pipes and Drums of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders began playing and entertained the crowd, amid bright sunshine. After some brief speeches by Tim Harris (CEO Princess Cruises), James O'Brien (Port Director, Port Everglades), and Lord Sterling (Chairman, P & O), it was time for the christening by Lady Sterling. After only a few brief words, it was time for the champagne bottle to be swung (by means of a mechanical arm, not in the hands of Lady Sterling) to christen the ship. The ceremony was over by 11:45 and time to get onboard for our first look at this beautiful ship, as well as for the free food and booze!! We climbed onboard and oohed and ahhed a little and grabbed the nearest tray of champagne glasses and observed the traditional exchanging of the gifts ceremony. Our favorite pun, during the exchanging of the gifts--"Only Princess can make a Friday into a SUNday". Finger food was provided in the photo gallery and Verdi's Pizzeria, as well as a more extensive buffet at the Horizon Court. Seeing the huge line for the Horizon Court buffet, we satisfied ourselves with the finger food buffets and the freely flowing alcohol. In the schedule of the ceremonies we had received at home, it stated that we were to only have 1 hour and 15 minutes onboard the ship on Friday. Expecting any minute to hear an announcement that we must depart the ship, we grabbed food and drinks and make a quick tour of the ship. Unfortunately, no cabins were open for viewing (that we saw, anyway). We stayed onboard until almost 3 P.M., receiving free booze and food up until the last and having heard not one single announcement telling us we must now disembark. Good job, Princess! I don't know what time they actually started making announcements to tell people they must disembark, but by the time we left, most people had already left. Later that evening we saw tape on the local news of a charity function which was held onboard the ship that night.

We had assumed that all Circolo members had in fact received invitations to the Inaugural Festivities. This was absolutely incorrect, as we found out once we boarded the ship on Saturday, as we talked to several persons who were miffed at not being invited. We are not sure how it was that we were invited, possibly by how soon people booked, although we do not know.

We had received a letter with our cruise tickets which stated that we would not be able to board Sun Princess until 3 P.M. on Saturday, which was distressing news. However, just to make sure, we checked on Friday as to what time we could embark and were told 11:30. We decided to risk that the people at the port knew more than the home office (usually a correct assumption!!) and headed out to the port around 11:30 on Saturday morning. After turning in our rental car, we were able to board with only about a 10 minute wait in line.

Upon checking in, we received our cruise cards, which also served as our cabin keys. The card also contained our dinner seating, complete with table number. A great idea, as one now only had to worry about keeping one card. A bad idea, also, from the standpoint that all cabin doors were now locked and we were unable to do our usual tour through the suites to check them out. I was very disappointed.

THE SHIP--This ship is the most beautiful ship we have sailed. Princess certainly knows how to build a beautiful ship. There were original pieces of artwork everywhere, plus designer carpets, flower arrangements and live plants everywhere. The atrium is a classically elegant area which connects the dining rooms, the shops, several lounges, the casino and the pizzeria over four decks by means of a marble spiral staircase and 2 glass-walled elevators. This area is a beautiful site for the captain's cocktail party and the Circolo party, but it doesn't really lend itself too well to excellent traffic flow when everyone on the ship is there, like for the champagne waterfall. Also, there are no standard "receiving" lines, whereby one can have their picture taken with the captain. We don't miss it, but the first time cruiser might be disappointed.

The Promenade Deck features a full promenade of the ship--an item which we, as well as many experienced cruisers, enjoy. Strangely, it appears that the full promenade was somewhat of a last-minute modification, as both forward and aft, one must go inside an area of the ship to complete the circle. Lifeboats were suspended above Promenade Deck outside Dolphin Deck and did not obstruct any views from any public areas, except for the Pizzeria, which was used mostly at night anyway.

Each side of the ship features a very wide full deck, complete with chairs. Here appeared to be one item which did not appear finished--there were wooden deck chairs along each side of the deck. However, they had no pads at all and were therefore not much used. It looked to us that possibly the pads for these chairs had not been delivered in time for our sailing. There were many other PVC chairs with pads on Promenade Deck which were well-used. We never really saw anything else that didn't look finished except one pool looked like it might have been supposed to have a fountain in it and possibly the area around Riviera Spa, looked like it was supposed to be varnished. There were some elevator problems, but nothing major. Surprisingly, there were no problems that we were aware of that affected our enjoyment of the week.

This ship is a huge ship, but it never really seems like it is large, except for when you are standing beside her on the dock or when you are looking down one of the long cabin passageways. Public areas, from the restaurants to the lounges, to the sun decks, are divided up into more intimate areas, which gives one the illusion of a smaller ship. Sunning areas on the Sun Princess are extensive, but arranged in smaller areas, which made them appear more intimate. According to one of our bartender friends, there are 3,000 deck chairs on the Sun Princess (for 2,000 passengers). This number appeared correct to us, as we never had any problem finding a deck chair. One thing which we enjoyed was the little plastic tables in the sun deck areas between many of the deck chairs. Much nicer to place that "liquid libation" on a table than sitting it on the deck.

The Riviera Spa area is unusual and attractive. There is a small pool, flanked by two whirlpools, under a canopy affair, which is sunken below the level of the fitness area, and almost totally surrounded by the fitness area. The fitness area featured many bicycles, rowers, etc., with a view of the sea, and a large free exercise area. Interestingly, you could sit in one of the spas, and look through the exercise area, and out to the ocean. Nice design.

CABINS--One of the reasons that we booked this ship was because of the many balcony cabins, of which there are approximately 400 on the Sun Princess. We had a standard outside with balcony on Caribe deck. Our cabin was beautiful, with lots of mahagony wood and almost a full wall of mirrors, but rather cozy. Standard cabins are smaller than the same type of cabins on the Crown Princess. Total square feet was around 160 square feet, and we bumped shoulders (or whatever) on several occasions. Storage space was not bad, although not nearly as extensive as on the Crown or Celebrity's Zenith, our last cruise. There was around 1 foot of full length hanging space, plus around 2 feet (in a double decker arrangement) of half-length hanging space. There were 3 medium sized shelves, plus two small wire drawers, plus a dresser with 6 smaliish drawers and a nightstand with some storage. The bed was also high enough that our large suitcases fit under the bed without any problems. The storage was not extensive, but sufficient. There was an excellent sized combination safe. The bathroom was adequate, with some storage on shelves to the right of the mirror, and an adequate sized shower stall with somewhat inadequate water pressure, but outfitted with a shower massage head. Again, the bathroom was smaller than on the Crown.

As with all Princess ships these days, bathrobes were provided in the room, (available for purchase for $45) plus a fruit basket--replenished upon request. Princess has instituted some environmentally correct policies, which include providing shampoo, etc., in little plastic coated bags, the same kind that you often receive samples of various products in. I suppose that this policy saves this money also, as I would suppose that there are many others, like me, that refuse to deal with using these items while in the shower. (As an aside, there were also "politically corrrect" signs in all the bars, warning patrons that the Surgeon General had issued warnings with regard to the use of alcohol and cigarettes. Kind of strange.) All cabins have a decent sized refrigerator and hairdyer. There are laundrymats on most passenger decks, and these were almost always in use. I'm not sure that one should not avoid cabins in the immediate area of the laundrymats, as we almost never walked by them when they WEREN'T in use. Deck towels have to be obtained from your cabin steward, which we thought would be a pain, but ended up being no problem. Early on in the week we requested extra towels to go ashore and our steward faithfully brought either 3 or 4 towels every day.

The balcony on the standard cabins on the Sun Princess is a major improvement over the Crown. Although not much larger, you can see out sitting down from ALL cabins (which is a problem on cabins on Baja deck on the Crown), plus there are white PVC chairs on the balcony, and a dinner-height table which is just large enough to serve breakfast, etc., on the balcony (as opposed to the short very small table on the Crown).. The major improvement on the Sun, though, is that the doors on the balcony slide, instead of swing open, so they take up no space, and one can leave the door open and enjoy the outside air. Good job, Princess! Privacy between balconies is complete, as far as visually. There are openings at the top and bottom, so you can hear quite clearly anything which your neighbor says. On Caribe deck, the balcony opening is smaller than on the next two decks, so the balcony appears larger on Baha and Aloha (when looked at from the exterior of the ship). Otherwise, the physical balcony and the physical cabins are exactly the same from the Caribe through Aloha decks.

Late in the week I was able to see one of the mini-suites by checking it out while the steward was cleaning it. Then, on Saturday morning, Eric and I both checked out the mini-suites again, plus were able to see one of the suites. There is a picture of the mini-suites in the brochure, but it really doesn't do them justice. Except for the larger balcony, I don't think that I personally would pay the extra money for the suites. Also, the mini-suites are along the sides of the ship and the full suites are all the way aft. The mini-suites were absolutely beautiful and we would have loved to have had one of those.

FOOD--We are serious "foodies" and food is a very important part of the cruise experience for us. We prefer to eat breakfast and lunch at buffets on ships, so we save more time for lying in the sun. We weren't able to do that as much as we would have liked on this ship, as the buffets on Princess lack quality and variety.

The welcome aboard buffet on Saturday was miserable. There is no other word for it. About a half dozen different types of meat sandwiches, most of which had SOGGY bread, some tired potato chips, watermelon, cantelope and pineapple, and desserts, and that was absolutely it, except for hamburgers, hot dogs and french fries at the grill. I kid you not. Absolutely sorry and sad. I saw the Zenith parked down the way and was tempted to yell out for them to send down some food.

One item which is a winner on the Sun Princess is the alternative dining arrangements that are available. The first among these is the Horizon Court, which is billed as a 24 hour restaurant, but this is technically incorrect, as you could NOT get anything to eat here from 4:30 A.M. to 6:30 A.M. (Personally, I think that's false advertising, what do you think? G!!) The Horizon Court serves breakfast and lunch buffets and also serves ala carte meals in the evenings. The Horizon Court has it's own service staff and it's own galley. There is no charge for the Horizon Court, although a tip might be in order.

Service in the Horizon Court was better than your normal buffet restaurant. By that I mean that during breakfast hours servers brought coffee, as well as orange juice to the tables. Also, I had a server bring me a fork on one occasion and a plate on another occasion, without my even asking for them. All staff appeared very friendly and helpful and smiling. However, there was no server placing the plate, silverware, and napkin on the tray or a waiter to take your tray to the table, as is done on Celebrity. Most importantly, though, selections of foods, especially for breakfast, was miserable. There were never any pancakes, french toast or ham available on the buffet. Lunch buffets were OK, but not nearly so extensive as on Celebrity, Dolphin, or Regency (may she rest in peace).

From 7:30 P.M. to 4 A.M., the Horizon Court serves selections from a menu. The menu included chicken wings, potato skins, onion rings, a salad bar, fried chicken, fish and chips, steak sandwich, and cheesecake. There is no regular midnight buffet on the Sun Princess. We didn't miss it, although I was a little surprised that there was nothing available during this time period that one could just go in and pick up. There was one midnight buffet served up on deck, but we did not attend it. We did take advantage of the Horizon Court on one night around 2 A.M. for a couple of appetizers.

Other alternative dining included the pizza restaurant, which serves from 11 AM to 2 PM and 11 PM to 2 A.M. Selections include a pepperoni pizza, vegetarian pizza and a calzone. We tried the pepperoni and the calzone and both were excellent.

Room service offerings were more extensive than we had seen on a ship in a while and included--Cold sandwiches--Roast Beef, Roast Turkey, Tuna Salad, Vegetarian Club, including choice of French Fries, chips or slaw. Salads--assorted mixed greens, chef salad and caesar salad with grilled chicken strips. Soup of the day or beef broth with vegetables. Hot sandwiches included grilled ham & cheese, hamburger, cheeseburger, hot dog. Desserts included caramel flan, chocolate chip cookies, and fudge cake.

Party menu stated that one should allow 6 hours. Prices were--Assorted canapes--$9 (cold); Deluxe (caviar, pate) $12; Vegetable platter with cheese dip - $6; Cheese & crackers -$8; Chilled shrimp with cocktail sauce --$12; Guacamole & chips -$6.

Stateroom breakfast featured hot food available in the cabin for all levels of cabins--an improvement over most ships, on which you can receive only a continental breakfast in the cabin. The menu included--Juices, Fruits (Grapefruit, Orange, Banana, Melon), Yogurt, Cold Cereals, Breads, Preserves, Plain or Cheese Omelettes, Scrambled Eggs, Sausage, Ham, Bacon, Hash Browns, Coffees. Teas, Milk, and Hot Chocolate. We ordered room service several times in the morning. Our full hot breakfast came right on time on Sunday. Three other mornings we ordered just coffee. On Monday, our coffee came within 3 minutes, but it took 20 minutes on Wednesday and about 10 minutes on Friday. All in all, very acceptable timing.

Food in the main dining room is better than the buffets, but still was lacking in several areas. One nice item is that all breakfast and lunch meals are open seating, within a specified time frame. At breakfast, french toast was a specialty menu item which was available only on one or two days. There were no waffles available any day and the standard omelettes that were available were only plain and ham and cheese. The latter was very missable, with only a small smattering of ham and cheese. Toast was an item which had to be ordered from the menu, as opposed to being automatically brought.

Selections at dinner in the dining room included a new idea, which we took advantage of on several occasions--always available selections. These entre's and salads, etc., could be ordered on any night when nothing else on the menu appealed to you. These included a grilled chicken breast, salmon steak, sirloin steak, and caesar salad. Dinner beef entre selections were routinely disappointing. They were always overcooked, generally a thin cut of meat and an inferior cut. Even though Princess is known for their pastas, many of those were disappointing also, as they were often too dry, with the very notable exception of the raviolis on Thursday night and the pasta in clam sauce on Friday night. We often passed on the desserts, although the bananas flambe, tiramisu and the cheesecake were absolutely outstanding.

Our head waiter was Dillo, who is a great head waiter. We talked about his son, who wants to be a lawyer and lives in Italy now. Dillo said that he wanted to retire, but Princess made him an offer he couldn't refuse to stay on and help bring out the Sun Princess and probably the Dawn also. Our waiter was Eduardo and busboy was Archie. Both did a wonderful job and appeared happy to be onboard Princess' newest ship. Eduardo said that all the best waiters and busboys had been picked for the Sun and they called themselves "The Dream Team".

WINE--Most of the innovations on the Sun Princess are good ideas. One innovation on the Sun Princess is a bad idea. That is, they have done away with wine stewards. Wine is now served by the waiters. This is a bad idea all the way around. If you are a wine drinker, it's a bad idea because your waiter doesn't know wines and when you ask for a recommendation, as I did, he can only hand you the wine list. Further, if you don't drink wine, you have to be upset with your waiter disappearing for lengths of time just to get wine for others. Also, it's not fair to the waiter to expect him to do this additional job, virtually without any additional pay. The tip on the wine is then split among the dining room staff, including the head waiter and maitre d'. There also did not appear to be any organized way that one could order wine before dinner, so that one can always expect to have to wait for one's wine to appear. This move was intended to save money for Princess. However, we feel that it just does not live up to Princess' reputation for service and it makes them look cheap, which is exactly the wrong message for them to be sending on their flagship. I can't imagine that it saves them that much money, plus I would think that they end up selling less wine as a result. Those of you who are dedicated Princess fans should let the home office know that this is a bad idea, before it spreads to all Princess ships.

The Rendezvous Bar is the speciality wine bar on the Sun Princess and I would suppose maybe you coiuld request a recommendation here for your dinner seating, provided they routinely have a dinner menu at this bar. I know that the dinner menu was available on some nights, although not all, at the Atrium Bar.

ENTERTAINMENT--We do not normally attend shows on ships and this cruise was little different. We did attend one show--Mystique--in the Princess Theatre. The Princess Theatre is a beautiful room, with all theatre-type seats and absolutely no columns. Because of the configuration of the room, there is no drink service during shows. Mystique is different and I never really "bought in" to the concept of the show. There were some great acrobatics, but it just didn't seem to all go together to me. Basically, all of the major shows were presented on different evenings, based on your dining room seating. Therefore, there was plenty of room for all passengers at all shows, without rushing to get a seat.

Generally, our evenings were spent in the casino. There is only one roulette table, one craps table, 2 caribbean stud tables, and 6 blackjack tables. For those who play caribbean stud, the progressive remains in effect on the Sun, and is a "bargain" at $.50. One of the blackjack tables is almost always a $2 table and one usually a $10 table. The roulette table has $.50 chips normally, with $.25 chips on sea days. There were $.25 and $1.00 slots, no nickles. Bingo was available, of course, but we don't play it, so can't give any info.

Other than the casino, we spent quite a bit of time in the evenings at the Atrium Bar, people watching, and late nights at the Wheelhouse Bar, which is an absolutely wonderful room, with great comfy couches, beautiful furnishings and wonderful mahagony panelling. We had some great times here, with our favorite bartender from this trip, Julian. Julian, as well as most everyone else we talked to, was proud of working for Princess and felt that Princess treated him well.

There is no cinema on the Sun, and we heard some people complaining about this, although I doubt there are many new ships being built these days with cinemas. Cabin movies for the week included While You Were Sleeping, Aladdin, Crimson Tide, Batman Forever, Miracle on 34th Street, Nine Months, The Net, Apollo 13, A Walk in the Clouds, Operation Dumbo Drop, Something to Talk About, Virtuosity, Beyond Rangoon, Casper, Moonstruck, French Kiss, The indian in the Cupboard, Free Willy 2, On Golden Pond, Four Weddings & a Funeral, and Pretty Woman.

TV channels included the Princess Channel, Discovery, The Movie Channel, The Voyage Channel (weather data, ports of call), CNN or ESPN, OceanSat, and 4 music channels. There were no irritating announcements in the cabins at all.

THE ITINERARY--I was somewhat surprised to see that the itinerary for Princess' first new ship in four years was a western Caribbean route only. My perception is that the average Princess passenger would much prefer the standard Eastern Caribbean route to the Western Caribbean, with it's fewer days at sea and more active, less shopping ports. I surmised, rightly or wrongly, that Princess is trying to attract a younger crowd, thus the Western itinerary. Our favorite bartender, Julian, agreed with our assessment. Although we don't have any kids, and thus were not particularly interested, the facilities for kids looked good to us, evidencing a further intent to attract a younger crowd, complete with kids. I noted also in Mary Ann's newsletter for the week that Princess recently announced an expanded children's program, so this perhaps makes sense.

Because the Crown Princess was still doing it's normal western Caribbean itinerary for the week, the Sun Princess did it's normal itinerary in reverse, heading to Cozumel, Mexico first, then Grand Cayman, Montego Bay, Jamaica, and ending up in Princess Cays. Frankly, we liked having Princess Cays last, as we thought it was a great end to the week.

Saturday--One thing we had been curious about when we booked this cruise was whether Capt. Merrell Stubing of "Love Boat" fame would be onboard. This question was settled around 3 P.M. on Saturday as we were looking aft of the ship and saw a rather famous bald head. The bald head turned around and waved and said "Hi". We said "Hi" back.

Just as we were returning from the lifeboat drill around 4:30 P.M., there was a knock on our door, and who showed up but our $P$ friends, Bonnie & Paul Buchanan. We chatted and made plans to meet on the next day for drinks. Our times with Bonnie & Paul were some of the absolute best times of the week, as we absolutely hit it off in grand style.

Sailing for this one date had been pushed back to 5:45, which meant that it was dark by the time we left Port Everglades. Our cruise director did a count-down to leaving port and the cruise staff passed out multitudinous streamers, which were thrown all over, and we found them in every conceivable crevise for days afterward. No free champagne, though, darn it! As we just cleared the dock, the captain swung the ship around in the middle of the harbor and Princess treated us to 10 minutes of non-stop fireworks, accompanied by the strains of "The Love Boat" over the loudspeakers. We were able to gain access to sections of the deck right by the horn so that many more people could get a great view of the fireworks. It was a great send-off.

Sunday was a day at sea, our favorite type of day. Bonnie called us and we made plans for drinks with Bonnie and Paul and Ken and Jean Stutt, our other $P$ friends. We met at the Rendezvous Bar (doesn't every ship have a Rendezvous Bar??) and had a rowdy time. People walking by in the casino atrium kept looking toward the bar to find out what was going on.

Sunday was the first formal night and the Captain's cocktail party was this evening. The captain's cocktail party on the Sun Princess is held in the Atrium Lounge over 4 decks. The Captain does not introduce his staff and there is no receiving line. There was no food served, unfortunately. While we were dressing for dinner, I kept suggesting various jewelry to wear with my dress, all of which Eric disparaged, so I ended up wearing my tennis bracelet and no other jewelry. We met Bonnie and Paul for the cocktail party and Eric surprised me with a beautiful sparklling necklace. It was an early Christmas present and one greatly appreciated. Needless to say, the Captain's cocktail party made my "hit list" for a highlight of the week!

Monday was Cozumel. We had to tender, unfortunately, as there were three other ships in that day. Other than two short cruises for travel agents, this was the first cruise with real passengers and there were some problems with the tendering, especially on Monday. By the end of the week, things were working much more smoothly. There are excellent tender facilities on the Sun Princess. There is a separate entrance area for the tender entrance, which is NOT carpeted, so I imagine that it is much easier for the crew to keep clean. Also, there is a double gangplank for tenders so that two tenders can technically pull up at the same time. The tender platform also folds right down out of the ship, an ingenius design.

We did not rush to stand in line for tender tickets and didn't arrive in town until around 2 hours after the ship arrived in Cozumel. We did some brief shopping for gifts, then rented a car from Dollar Rent a Car. Somehow, I think NOT related to the company in the states. The cost was $45 for the day, including insurance, taxes, etc., for a VW beetle semi-convertible. I say "semi-convertible" because it had a hard top over the front seat, then was supposed to be a convertible in the back. However, there was just the bar for the roof, no roof. I tried to open the glovebox to put in the rental agreement. When the knob came off in my hand, I decided not to touch anything else. The guy at the rental agency told us to get gas before we left town, and he was correct, as there were no other gas stations on the island road. We drove around the island to the lighthouse area, where we made our own private nude beach, being the only two people on the beach for 3 miles. We had brought water, some wine and cheese and fruit and lots of sunscreen and had an absolutely beautiful day.

Tuesday was Grand Cayman. We weren't due to arrive until 1 P.M., but in fact arrived and were ready to disembark passengers by 11:30. We were in no hurry to disembark and puttered around and arrived in town by around 12:15, after having suffered a "traffic jam" at the tender pier, waiting in the water about 10-15 minutes to dock at the dock. Since we had not done so in all our previous trips, we decided it was time to go to Hell and to visit the turtles, so we did. We did the standard tour from a mini-bus, at a cost of $15 per person, plus $4.50 each for entrance to the turtle farm. This was versus the price for the ship shore excursion of $28 per person. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure this one out!. It also doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that this guy in the mini bus with 21 people in it was making about $175 an hour for the two hour tour he took us on. Good work if you can get it!

Wednesday was Montego Bay Jamaica and one of our favorite days. We got a taxi from the pier to Tropical Beach, which was recommended by our taxi driver. Technically this is a private beach, so no one hassles you to buy stuff, get your hair braided or get some ganja. This is some feat in Jamaica. There are restrooms, a shower and changing room, beach bar and restaurant, lots of shade and a mostly all sandy bottom beach with no rocks or shells, just a little seaweed and absolutely flat calm water. Our taxi driver suggested it and we were very grateful. We had the whole place to ourselves, with 5 employees to bring our drinks out to our beachchairs and take our orders for lunch. It was a great day and we highly recommend it. There was an entrance fee of $1 per person and the taxi ride was $20 each way. We had another wonderful day and the trip was well worth it. As we were leaving port, one of the hatches wouldn't close, so we were about 45 minutes late leaving port. The joys of a brand new ship, I guess.

As we were leaving Montego Bay, we invited ourselves up to Bonnie & Paul's cabin to examine the beautiful ring and necklace that she had purchased in Mo Bay and to compare their cabin to ours. The ring and necklace--and their cabin--were gorgeous. Also gorgeous was the full moon which we toasted from their balcony as the moon rose over Mo Bay. A wonderful memory.

Thursday was another day at sea. There were bridge tours and galley tours today, plus a cooking demonstration and a fruit carving demonstration. We met for lunch with Bonnie & Paul and Ken & Jean and had a great time in the "upper" dining room, the Regency dining room. From 2 to 4 P.M., Gavin MacLeod patiently stood and had his picture taken with the huge line of persons who wanted their picture taken, including us, of course.

Speaking of photographers, the photographers on the Sun Princess are excellent. For some reason, on many ships these days, the photographers can't even take decent pictures on a consistent basis. Not so on the Sun Princess, as is evidenced by our large bill for pictures taken onboard. The photographers have a large area, which is generally not crowded.

Thursday night was the second formal night and the night of the champagne waterfall. After the champagne waterfall, we got hot at the craps table, then headed up to the Horizon Court for a snack about 2:30 A.M. Then we headed down to the disco, and partied down, complete with streamers, left over from the inaugural festivities, I suppose. We got to bed about 4:30 and were up by 8:30 the next morning.

Friday was Princess Cays. This place is beautiful. It makes the only other private island we have seen (NCL's) look like the slums. The walkways are all paved, therefore technically one need not set foot on the sand anywhere to enjoy oneself on Princess Cays. According to our bartender friend, Julian, Princess just spent millions on Princess Cays, and it looks it. There are a very large number of beach chaise lounge chairs, complete with chair pads. There is a regular store with a full complement of stuff, accepting Princess cruise cards ONLY for payments, no cash. There were also a couple of other local vendors, presumably accepting only cash, although we didn't buy anything from them. There is a nice, large swimming area, snorkelling area, wave runners, banana boats, pedal boats, children's area (under construction), two beach bars, hammocks, and a large restaurant with four serving lines. Unfortunately lunch selections featured only hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken sandwiches, 3 cold salads, plus tossed salad and two kinds of cookies, plus iced tea and lemonaide. There were no lines all day for lunch, as they opened the lines for lunch quite early, around 10:45. One of the waiters came along the beach about that time, yelling out to everyone that the restaurant was open and ready for business. It was cuite. The day at Princess Cays was a wonderful icing on a wonderful week for us.

On Saturday we were surprised to see another open seating breakfast, served from 6:30 to 8:30, plus the breakfast buffet, which was open until 9 AM. We were close to the last group off the ship and were off by around 10 A.M. Princess provides bus free transportation for all passengers to either Miami or Ft. Lauderdale, regardless of whether or not you had booked Princess air.

Bonnie Buchanan's computer was broken, so she asked me to to tell everyone that Princess did a good job, with providing transportation to the ship. Princess had made it very clear that they would not meet them at the airport or provide transportation to the ship on Saturday. In fact, they met them at the airport on Thursday, provided transportation to the Naming Ceremony and back, and also transportation to the ship on Saturday. Bonnie says, well done!

A couple of miscellaneous points which didn't seem to fit in anywhere--

As with all Princess ships, except for paying an exorbitant price through room service, you can't buy booze onboard for consumption onboard. This is an especially big problem on this ship, since all cabins have refrigerators and 400 cabins have private balconies. Also, on the Western Caribbean run, there are no good places to buy booze ashore. We had known this ahead of time and had brought our own supplies with us onboard.

Afternoon tea and cookies were served in the Atrium Lounge, which ended up denying us access to our favorite bar during the afternoons.

There was an ice cream bar on the sun deck, which was apparently widely used, although we did not use it. I heard someone say that there was a charge for the ice cream, but we don't know for sure.

The Sun Princess has a nice "mail delivery" system--a holder by the cabin door for Princess to place mail in, and for passengers to leave requests for shore excursions. Shore excursion tickets were then placed in the holder. No llines for anyone. Good job.

On a previous cruise (not on Princess) the cabin steward had taken our bathrobes the last night out, so passengers wouldn't be tempted to "lift" them, I suppose. Princess did not, on this occasion. However, they did take away the fruit basket, with a note of explanation that no fruit could be taken into the United States.

There is a virtual reality golf simulator onboard the ship. Eric had thought he would at least go take a look at it, but somehow never made the time. There's a charge for it, but we don't know how much it is.

We were exceedingly disappointed with the selection of "Inaugural Cruise" items for sale onboard. The gift shops carried "Inaugural Season" t-shirts and sweatshirts and other items, which was distressing. We didn't pay for the Inaugural SEASON of the Sun Princess--we paid for the the Inaugural CRUISE. There was one measley looking t-shirt which cost $22 which said Inaugural Cruise, and that was it. By contrast, in the casino, there were many $5 casino chips which had "Inaugural CRUISE" printed on them. Of course, we ended up with one of these $5 souveniers.

I started this review seated on the balcony of our cabin, with the appropriate liquid refreshment in hand. I finished it after a particularly tough week at work, peppered by some snow and ice and miscellaneous irate clients. It makes one reiterate all over again "Our worst day at sea is better than our best day at work!". Sign us off, Eric and Carol, sadly, back in Virginia and planning the next cruise!

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