We are frequent Princess Cruisers and booked this ship and itinerary with a few CruiseCrazies friends, this one beginning in Quebec City, ending in New York. The plan originally was for my husband and I to rent a car and drive to Quebec City, but Air Canada had $99 fares, too good to pass on. My brother generously offered to pick us up at 4:30 in the morning for the ride to Boston’s Logan airport. I don’t know if I could have done the same AND have been so cheerful at that hour.
Pre-Cruise, Quebec City. We booked two nights pre-cruise at the iconic Hotel Chateau Frontenac. Imagine our joy when the desk clerk at check-in announced that we’d been upgraded to Gold Class, with access to the VIP lounge with free breakfast and more. The trade off was a room on the scaffolding side of the building being renovated, not a problem if you don’t mind workmen appearing outside your window and loud sandblasting starting at 9 a.m. The only time it was a bother was the last morning when we were re-packing the bags and spent a significant amount of time in the room. Otherwise, this beautiful and magnificent hotel lives up to its expectations, and you can feel the history within its walls. The room was luxurious and classy, though a little dark due to construction apparatus blocking a good amount of natural light. The hotel’s location, however, couldn’t be better for seeing Quebec. In all its glorious state overlooking the city, restaurants, shops and attractions are located just a short walk away, and if that’s not enough, an invigorating hike or the funicular down the steep hill to the Old Town is not far away.
A stay at a classic, historic hotel calls for an activity of equal class, so four of us signed up for the Frontenac’s High Tea, complete with singer, piano accompaniment, a variety of teas to choose from and delicious finger food served in fine china by a friendly waiter. It was all so Downton Abbey-ish, except with a French flair instead of British. Even my husband, who has never showed any love for tea, seemed to be getting a big kick out of the whole experience!
While we were in town, we took a 2-hour guided walking tour with Tours Voir Quebec for a good overview of the city, starting at the Frontenac, and downhill past Citadel, Place Royale, and ending in the lower old city. The day was not the best, as it was hot, humid and rained heavily nearly the entire trek down the hill. Fortunately, we came prepared with rain gear and enjoyed the tour and the exercise nonetheless. Still, we were tired, wet and not willing to make the steep uphill climb, so we boarded the funicular and were whisked up the hill back to the Frontenac in just minutes. I definitely would love to return and spend more time here. From the Frontenac we had a beautiful view of the Caribbean Princess on the St. Lawrence river below, awaiting our arrival.
Embarkation: It was time to board the Caribbean Princess, which had been docked for two days in the Port of Quebec, awaiting it’s next gaggle of guests. We checked out of the Chateau Frontenac, and after a fairly long wait for a taxi to accommodate the four of us, we were finally on our way to the ship. Traffic was backed up all the way down the hill, but it was a nice way to people-watch along the way. Besides, our driver, who appeared to be a kind and patient woman, seemed amused by the lively and comical commentary coming from her customers eager to get started on their cruise.
Princess had recently rolled out their new Medallion Class cruising on the Caribbean Princess, featuring an actual round medallion replacing the old key card and a bazillion electronic ways to enhance the cruise experience. Our medallions arrived by FedEx about 2 weeks before the cruise, encased in enough paper and cardboard to destroy a forest. A small padded envelope would have been sufficient. To their credit, though, the box holding the medallions is a sturdy, attractive, reusable one and will enjoy a second life on my desk, with just the wasteful filler going to the recycle bin. After some frustrating trial and error, maneuvering the disk into the lanyard holder, downloading the Ocean READY app, and syncing the medallion with our passport info and photos, as instructed, we were finally ready to rock and roll. Embarkation and getting through security was a breeze – you still need your passport, because the security agents don’t give a hoot about your medallion. Wearing our new fashionable bling – and carrying a backup copy of our boarding passes just in case – we stopped briefly to check in with a crew member and were on board in no time at all.
Ship and First Impressions. We are no strangers to Princess, and they have always been our favorite ships, so we pretty much knew what to expect when we boarded. Still, we last cruised Caribbean Princess in 2005 and would have to dig through photos to remember specific details before the recent makeover, but we were really impressed with how bright and shiny the public spaces appeared when we boarded. The ship is beautiful! The Piazza has been spiffed up and looking better than ever, and my favorite part of any Princess ship of this class is the Promenade Deck, which did not disappoint. Since cabins were ready to receive guests, we headed right for ours to unload our stuff and vowed to explore the rest of the ship later.
Balcony Cabin L251: This is a standard balcony cabin located forward of the pools on Lido Deck 15, and we would definitely book it again. 10 flights of stairs going down to dinner and shows became part of our daily workout; going up 10 flights was something else, and I did this just once after Muster, while my husband waited with the masses for an elevator. We really appreciated the cabin location, super convenient to the main pools, buffet fare, ice cream/specialty coffee station, and the fitness center and spa just a deck above. Best of all was the short walk to the bar and our favorite bartender, Rocky, located just around the corner. Because it was located forward of the elevators, as well, there was very little traffic and it was quiet most of the time. But the real bonus is a door all the way forward that opens to a viewing deck that sits over the bridge, available from sunrise to sunset, as David and I found out one evening when we were quietly escorted off by a security guard after hours. However, at times when it was fine and legal to be up there, the view was fabulous for arrivals and departures, and, in fact, the view coming into New York at sunrise was absolutely amazing and drew quite a crowd at 5:30 am.
The standard balcony cabins on this ship are fairly roomy. There was no sofa, which I did miss from the NCL ships I’m used to. There were two chairs – and for us, that meant one for sitting and one for resting feet upon – and a desk that we found useful for storing gadgets, papers, and all the other stuff accumulated over the course of a cruise. Night tables with drawer space on either side of the bed was also helpful for storage. The closet area came with a ton of hangers and plenty of space for hanging clothing, but the shelf space was a little skimpy. The large screen TV was a big improvement, with a large amount of cruise related programs and a fair number of free movies to choose from. Other than that, there were just a couple of news stations and old TV show episodes, including The Love Boat, of course! The bed – because everyone asks – was super comfy, with Princess still having the best beds at sea in my mind. The balcony was adequate, with a small table and two chairs with reclining backs.
Although we have loads of photos from the ports and tours, we are severely lacking in photos of the ship’s interior, and neither one of us thought of taking any photos of the cabin on this cruise, strange considering the fancy cameras we travel with. The reader will have to use some imagination. In any event, we had a great view of the bridge forward, and awesome sunsets, of course. On the days filled with fog, there was just white nothing.
Free WiFi Minutes – Now you see them, Now you don’t! With platinum status, we each had 250 free minutes of WIFI. Sadly, they disappeared in a flash after not logging off correctly. Just shutting the browser won’t disconnect it, and I should have remembered that fact from past cruises. On port days or when we were within cell service I used my International Day Pass from AT&T to keep in touch, post to social media, browse, text and check emails. On the two sea days, I swore that I would disconnect, but my willpower evaporated on the last day of the cruise, and I caved and bought the unlimited day plan.
Princess Medallion Class Cruising – the Jury is Still Out. The Ocean Medallion, Ocean apps and WIFi speed were great – when they worked together, which was nearly never. In a nutshell, we found them a little awkward and confusing. For instance, why does Ocean Medallion require so many apps – SIX of them to be precise? Two of the apps, Ocean PLAY and Ocean CASINO, we had no use for. We already waste too much time and money in the REAL casino. A third one, Ocean VIEW, has Princess-related videos, which didn’t pique our curiosity, either. Ocean COMPASS was useful for connecting with friends, but that only works when the friends accept on their end. The other feature of COMPASS is the ability to order food and drink wherever you are on the ship and have it delivered. A friendly crew member showed me how to do this the first day, and it worked, even though the bar was 50 feet away and I could have just gone to get it myself. In the end, though, it was just as easy and much more social to belly up to the bar and order one. That left the final app, Ocean NOW, which was handy for checking the daily schedule, when we could get WiFi to cooperate. I consider myself to be techno friendly and know my way around an iPhone, but this all seemed like a bit much – a lot of trouble for a little bit of benefit. Princess did have an Ocean Medallion session in the theatre on the first day, but going to school was not part of my vacation plan. At one point over the first couple of days, my husband did seek help from the wizard at the Medallion desk, but even he was unable to figure it out. .
If there is one positive thing about the entire Ocean Medallion program, it would be the medallion itself and the way it magically unlocks the cabin door when it senses you’re nearby. This came in handy on more than a few occasions when I had two hands juggling food and drink, and used my elbow to press down on the door handle to push the door open. The medallion also works the same way when you order drinks at the bar. Your face pops up on the bartender’s screen, and they know it’s you. Occasionally, they asked us to scan the medallion or asked for a room number when it was busy. On one level, it’s kinda neat, but on another I do wonder about guest safety, security and privacy with this “GPS’ feature – and how many drinks get billed to the wrong room.
[Editorial Note: A recent report from Princess indicates that they will soon be consolidating apps, hopefully making the functions of Medallion Class a little easier to access!]
Lido Deck, Fitness Center and Spa
Given our cabin’s close proximity to everything on Lido Deck, we frequently found ourselves out by the pool – either in it or lounging around it. The pools on this ship are a decent size, and on this Canada/Northern New England cruise they were pleasantly uncrowded, though the hot tubs (not terribly hot, by the way) and pools did get busier in the afternoon on nice days. Word of warning: Due to dense fog, the ship’s foghorn blasted every few minutes during most of the last day of our cruise and was particularly deafening at the pool with the movie screen, at least to my sensitive ears. The adult pool, aft, was a heavenly oasis throughout the cruise, the water was warm, and the lounge chairs (only 20 of them) have comfy cushions, making it a great place to read or relax.
Fitness Center: If you’re an early bird and like a treadmill workout, forget it. Even though the center opens at 6:00 am, the treadmills aren’t available until 8:00 am on this ship, apparently a result of complaints from occupants of the cabins directly below it. This was a huge disappointment for us – if we don’t work out first thing, then chances are we won’t, though we did return a couple of afternoons when we – or the gym – wasn’t busy. There are just two recumbent bikes and two uprights, which, as you can imagine, are always occupied. Early one morning my husband went to the gym and watched while a woman spent an hour on a bike, selfishly ignoring the line of people waiting to use it. There should be a 30-minute limit at peak times or when people are waiting, but we saw no signs posting that fact.
The Spa – Dave and Jan’s Couples Massage. We are not spa people. The last time we visited the spa on a cruise ship – or anywhere – for something other than a haircut or a facial was in 2002, our first cruise on the Grand Princess, our 25th anniversary. For some reason, David thought it would be fun to pre-book a couples full-body massage on this Canada/New England cruise and booked it for the afternoon of a port day after returning from a morning tour. I was less than excited and no inkling of what to expect, and the whole idea sounded a little weird. But what the heck. We marched down to the spa, donned our robes in our respective changing rooms, and met up in the treatment room. The two young women who worked on us were pleasant, with his masseuse being the chattier of the two, and mine seeming to be new but still capable of a good massage. It didn’t take long to realize what I’d been missing all these years. She no doubt had some serious knots to work out, and it wasn’t long before I was totally relaxed and David was snoring peacefully on his side. I did have to ask her to back off the ankle because it’s sensitive after a fracture a few years back. In the end, they did attempt to sell us some magical ointments and explain what else we needed to help us live through the next millennium, but there was no high pressure to buy anything.
Strange story: While he was at the Spa, David made an appointment for a head shave. He went to the spa at his appointed time expecting the return of his chrome dome and was told that the guy who does hair was MIA and didn’t know when he’d be back. What? Huh? Did he jump ship? Plus, they told him they don’t shave heads – they only do buzz cuts. Not sure why they failed to mention this when they made an appointment. Pretty weird. So no head shave.
FOOD, DRINK AND ENTERTAINMENT
Let’s start with the Bars. On every cruise, the first place we visit on any ship is the bar by the pool. Because our cabin was just steps away from cool liquid refreshment, the bar at Neptune’s Pool became our “stop” on the way, and bartender “Rocky” became our new best friend. He saw us coming from a mile away, called us by name (presumably with the help of Medallion ID, of course), and was ready to serve with his best “Isaac” imitation.
Other than Rocky and the Neptune Bar, I can’t remember when bar service has been so lacking on a Princess ship. I don’t know if they were short handed or if they were focusing more on the folks ordering from the Ocean Medallion apps, but we were hard pressed to find someone to take a drink order in many places – the theatre, in the atrium, poolside, and, most notably, Vines, the wine bar. We stopped by to chat with friends as they were sipping wine before dinner, and no one was in sight to see if we wanted anything. BUT – watch how fast they come if you try walking off with their premium Vine’s stemware to enjoy elsewhere on the ship. When we finally did get service, the same missing waiter magically appeared from nowhere to chase me down in order to switch out the good wine glass for a cheaper travel version.
We skipped more shows and performances on this cruise than usual, either because we had seen the shows before, we were busy wading through a 3-course dinner in the dining room, or we were just plain tired. We are early-to-rise, early-to-bed people at home, and old habits die hard, even on vacation. Still, we did stay awake long enough to catch some very good acts:
Les Grands Hurleurs (Folklore Performance): Wow! Feet on fire! This energetic French-Canadian trio of talented musicians – guitar, bass and a foot-tapping fiddler – will make you want to dance in the aisles – or even your seat, and we absolutely loved them! Watch a video clip here: https://youtu.be/DXaKzLncmG0
Comedian, Richie Minervini: I can tell when a comedian is funny by how many tears of laughter I need to dry, and I needed half a box of tissues for this guy. He’s got quite a TV and comedy club history according to his website, though I didn’t recognize him and never watched the shows he was famous for (“King of Queens” or “Rosie”). In any event, he was hilarious, and his jokes hit their mark.
Static – I actually left my husband behind in the cabin one night and went out dancing to this lively, high-energy dance band. The two lead singers do an awesome job taking turns mingling with the crowd and encouraging everyone to get out on the dance floor and boogie to pop, oldies and disco.
Bravo – This was the only production extravaganza we experienced on this cruise. The Princess singers, dancers and orchestra came together to perform pop music with a side order of light opera. We had seen this show on a previous Princess cruise, and the vocals, costumes and choreography were as phenomenal as I remembered. It was definitely worth the re-run!
Sabatini’s Italian Trattoria. We had not planned on trying any of the added-fee specialty restaurants on this cruise, but made a spur-of-the-moment reservation at Sabatini’s, and we were not disappointed. We live in an Italian/American neighborhood in our home town and have the best Italian food around, so I was a little skeptical whether cruise ship Italian could compete. Turned out it was just as good as anything back home. Service was impeccable, the food expertly prepared and delicious. David had the foresight to remember to snap a photo of his trio of pastas. While dining on our Italian dinner, we watched as waiter after waiter brought out a quartet of delectable delights to other tables. When the dessert menu arrived, we didn’t hesitate and each ordered our own. While we were waiting for them to arrive to the table, little did we know that singing waiters were going to surprise us with a cake for our anniversary. There was no way we could do double dessert, so we had them wrap the cake and deliver it to our cabin, which was a good move, because it would have been a damned shame if we didn’t have room in our bellies for these slanted glass goblets containing tiramisu, berries and chocolate sauce, panna cotta and one of the cruise line’s famous Chocolate Journey creations. Positively sinful!
AnyTime Dining. Sabatini’s was, of course, the culinary highlight of the cruise, and Anytime Dining in our venue of choice, Island Dining Room, had some good offerings, as well. My prime rib was delicious, though I did hear several people complain it was tough. The always-available fettuccini alfredo was even better than I remember, and the French onion soup was amazing, as always. The best entree on the menu was the beef medallion, very tender and delicious. Service, on the other hand, was inconsistent, with long lags between courses, and accompaniments like butter and sour cream for a baked potato were slow in coming. One noticeable change was the steak option missing from the “anytime” menu, now replaced by a burger.
World Fresh Marketplace (a.k.a.Buffet). With the exception of room service a couple of mornings, we had breakfast here most often. However, while everyone else naturally gravitated to the first stack of plates and nearby food stations, we headed on through to Planks BBQ and adjacent Steamers, both open daily in the mornings. It was far less crowded and much quieter, though by the end of the cruise, others had discovered our secret. In fact, Steamers is also where the omelet station is located, which made me wonder how many people weren’t even aware of its existence. Most of the same breakfast options were available here, and if they didn’t have it, the nearby main buffet did. We found the food generally good, with a wide selection of items to choose from.
International Cafe. This is my favorite snack venue on the ship, with complimentary salads, sandwiches, quiche and desserts. The adjacent coffee bar serves up some delicious specialty coffees for a fee.
Slice Pizzeria. Caribbean Princess does not have their famous sit-down Alfredo’s pizza restaurant, so this pool-side pizzeria was the next best thing, and served up fresh and tasty pies. The best part? It was just steps away from our cabin, so we could easily grab a slice whenever we craved it which, I confess, was too often. To our delight, they have added deep dish focaccia and sliced stromboli to the menu, which were delicious.
The Salty Dog. I don’t think we tried the burgers at this poolside grill, but the hot dogs were good. Plus, maybe I was inspired by the poutine (fries covered in gravy and cheese curds) I tried in Quebec City, but suddenly I wanted to smother my fries in toppings, so I ordered them covered in cheese and bacon.
Quebec City: Montmorency Falls and Ile d’Orleans. This was a cruise-sponsored tour which I wouldn’t do again and would only recommend to those who would be satisfied with a very brief glimpse of Montmorency Falls. The first stop was Lac-Beauport, a small lake beach resort where we got off the bus, looked at the lake, and got back on the bus. It seemed to be a lake like any other, and was nothing special. One interesting feature, though, was the display of interesting art posters by local artists, one of which could possibly be a distant relative of mine. My dad came from Quebec, and, who knows, maybe “Pierre” is a distant cousin. I definitely will want to explore this further at another time. The next stop was the L’En-Tailleur Sugar Shack, a place popular with the tourists and everyone should visit at least once, as Quebec prides itself on their maple sugar products. It was an interesting display of how maple syrup is made, complete with really good warm complimentary apple pie and coffee. Be sure to douse it with with the provided maple syrup – it’s delicious! The last stop on the tour was Montmorency Falls, and for those who wanted to snap a photo or two from the rear of the gift shop, I’m sure it was fine. But I am a photo nut and like to be up close and personal with my subject and make the moment last. By the time the bus unloaded, I had barely enough time to race to the falls, snap a few photos, and race back. There are other fun things to do at the falls – trails, cable car ride, zip lining, and probably more. If you’re in Quebec City on a cruise and want to spend quality time at the Falls, just take an Uber or taxi from the ship. The falls, by the way, may be impressive and taller than Niagara Falls, but they just don’t have the breadth and scope of Niagara and lack the WOW factor of Nagara Falls.
Saguenay/Fjord National Park: We pre-booked an independent tour of the Saguenay Fjord National Park and surroundings through Tours Aventure Fjord et Monde, an excellent tour which got off to a rather rocky start. My husband was a bit under the weather, so I ventured out alone on this 24-passenger minibus tour. Even though I prepaid, I still had to stop at the office shack on the pier, wait in line, and get a ticket which is assigned a bus number. I went to my assigned bus, which strangely had no seat for me, so back to the shack I trekked. After some confusion, I finally had a seat on another mini-bus. We finally drove off, and I happily had the seat all to myself. I am happy to say that the tour got much better after this, and I would highly recommend it. Our guide, Louise, was a real sweet French lady who spoke enough English to get her stories across with knowledge, humor and enthusiasm. Stops included a site with an assortment of interesting Nativity carvings, a stroll across a beautiful covered bridge and an hour-long visit to the lovely town of L’Anse St. Jean to have a bite to eat or just take in the scenery. But the highlight was the nature trail in Saguenay Fjord National Park, where we hiked to three separate overlooks to see the magnificent Saguenay fjord that our ship traversed to reach the port of Quebec City. The views were stunning and one of the top 10 best views in all of Canada, we were told.
Charlottetown: Lighthouses of Prince Edward Island Scenic Drive. This was a ship tour, and it was very good. We saw three of the 50 lighthouses on the island. Our guide was a friendly local man who told us all about the history and culture of P.E.I. and its lighthouses. The first lighthouse, Brighton Beach, was viewed from the shore road sidewalk, but the other two, Prim Point and Wood Islandswe were able to view and access from the grounds. In fact, for the third and final lighthouse (Wood Islands) my husband and I succeeded in climbing the narrow steep stairway to the top, a very proud accomplishment for us. On the ride back to the ship, our guide, who had a genuine appreciation of the local music and arts, entertained us with his harmonicas. It was a very beautiful and relaxing tour. Having never been here before, we were pleasantly surprised by the lush and beautiful landscapes of Prince Edward Island.
Sydney: I organized a private 6-hour mini-Cabot Trail tour for my husband and me, plus 6 of our friends, pre-booked with Cabot Discovery Tours, which was a great decision. Since Sydney turned out to be a tender port, we weren’t certain about the logistics of meeting the tour on time, but the tour office was very communicative from the get-go, arranging to meet as soon as we were able to leave the ship. We all met onboard at the Island Dining Room to collect our tender tickets and were on the first tender over to meet our tour. Our driver/guide was Caroline, who was happily waiting for us with her roomy 12-passenger van right at the dock when we stepped off the tender, and we were on our way by 7:30 a.m, well before the ship’s excursion. I have nothing but praise for Caroline and her tour. She showed us around a portion of the 185-mike trail loop, covering as much ground as possible, stopping for snacks and the best scenic photo ops along the way. Caroline was a wealth of information, expertly covering the geography, nature and people of Cape Breton. She was able to calm our fears when we ran into some construction traffic on the way back to the ship and even promised to drive us to the next port of Halifax if needed. Fortunately, it didn’t come to that, as we made it back in time to tender back to the ship. We all loved this tour and highly recommend Cabot Discovery Tours. We were able to be on the road well before the cruise ship busses, cover more ground (specifically the prettier west side of the trail, as recommended by Caroline), and experience more of beautiful Cape Breton, all at a significantly lower price than the cruise line tour.
Portland: My husband has a couple of friends/colleagues in Maine, Sam and Nancy, and we used this day in port to meet them for lunch. They suggested DiMillo’s on the Water, a floating restaurant just a short walk from the ship. Our friends recommended I try their famous lobster stew, and it was delicious. After lunch, Nancy – who grew up in Portland – was kind enough to drive us around town and show us the sights.
HALIFAX: I had been here before, having seen the Maritime Museum, and once again with David last October when we did a tour of Peggy Cove and other attractions. We had no plans on this visit, but needed to find a pharmacy, so took a walk up the hill to check out the city streets and the historic cemetery. On the way back, we walked along the Boardwalk and grabbed a lobster roll for lunch, and headed back to the ship.
BOSTON: We live an hour away, have been there a million times, so we used this port as an extra sea day, enjoying the pool and deck without the crowds and watching the planes take off and land at Logan Airport.
Brooklyn, New York: The cruise ended in New York, and even though I have plenty of previous photos of Lady Liberty and the New York skyline, I never get tired of the view. It was particularly beautiful watching the sun rise over the city, and I got some great shots from our balcony, the upper decks and that awesome view spot way forward on Deck 15, a limited access deck open from sunrise to sunset (and that not everyone knows about.
Disembarkation: The cruise was over and it was time to take our leave, which is always a little bittersweet, especially when it’s been a particularly good cruise. Unfortunately, disembarkation was disorganized and took unusually long because they were late getting the luggage off the ship. For the first time I can remember, some passengers disembarked before their luggage did.
Final Thoughts: The ship is gorgeous and the destinations were beautiful, particularly Prince Edward Island and the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton. The scenery and ocean views just blew us away. It was great to connect with our CruiseCrazies friends on board and even found a few more to join us for the Cabot Trail tour and our bon voyage dinner on the final night of the cruise. Weather was a mixed bag of rain, clouds, sun and lots of fog, the most fog I’ve experienced on any cruise. In fact, on our final day at sea from Boston to New York, the fog was thick and the ship’s horn sounded every couple of minutes most of the day. We took advantage of the Future Cruise program and used credits for another cruise from NYC in November 2020 on the new Sky Princess, a 10-day sailing to Fort Lauderdale. Hopefully, the techies at Princess will have worked out the kinks in Medallion Class cruising.
Photos: I took lots of great photos of the cruise, ship and the ports. Check them out here: Caribbean Princess Photos, August 2019
For inspiration or help with booking your own cruise or land vacation, visit: Seven Sea Journeys