Overall Rating: Excellent
|Destination:||Canada / New England|
|Departed From:||New York (Brooklyn)|
|# of Nights:||5-6 Nights|
|Overall Value:||Very Good|
This cruise may have been short and sweet, but the review is pretty long and detailed. So grab yourself a coffee and enjoy!
This was a short 5-day cruise to the Canadian Maritimes aboard Regal Princess from Brooklyn and the perfect, affordable way to try out a newer and larger Royal Class Princess ship. Joining us were my brother and his wife. Our intent was to drive from Rhode Island to Brooklyn the morning of the cruise, but Mother Nature was forecasting a nor’easter for departure day, so we began our journey the night before, with a stay in Stamford, CT, an hour outside of Brooklyn. Turned out to be a good move. Even though the storm wasn’t as fierce as predicted, it did cut down on the stress of driving in foul weather.
EMBARKATION: We arrived at the terminal at about 11:00 a.m., where a friendly, helpful porter took our bags and pointed the way to the entrance. My brother dropped us off and went to park the car in the nearby lot. I am fortunate and grateful to have Elite status on Princess, and therefore brought the four of us through priority embarkation, and we were on board and in our cabins by 11:45 am. One feature I love about Princess is that their cabins are nearly always ready no matter what time you board.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS: Unlike previous cruises, Princess now hand-scans the bar code on the card at the ship’s gangway entry and then snaps the I.D. photo once inside, both of which make boarding a quick, easy process. The first thing greeting us was The Piazza, and what a sight it was! The multi-level classy design, muted colors, and grand elegance is a feast for the eyes. This attractive theme continues throughout the ship, with tasteful decor and artwork throughout the cabin corridors, hallways and public areas. The majority of the guests were over 50, followed by a good number over 30. I did spot a few preschoolers around the ship.
CABIN: We had standard balcony cabins on Dolphin Deck mid-ship, D433 and D435. The location was perfect, in close proximity to the stairs and elevators, and easy access to everything on board. Like the rest of the ship, the cabin is attractively designed in earthy colors, and we found it to be roomy and comfortable. Storage is ample, and Princess has made efficient use of space in Regal’s cabins. There is no sofa in the room, but we didn’t miss it. We found the desk, instead, to be useful for storing our electronic gadgets, the daily Princess Patters and other paraphernalia. The large flatscreen TV is mounted on the wall across from the bed, freeing up precious space. The balcony is small, but sufficient. It was chilly and sometimes rainy on this particular cruise to Canada, and on a warmer itinerary, I would have utilized it more. Our cabin attendant, Grace, was amazing, taking care of our every need, refilling our ice bucket daily, and otherwise keeping our cabin spotless. She even came in and showed me the trick to opening a stubborn balcony door in windy conditions, which I, in turn, showed other guests who had a similar issue with the door.
NOTE about ice buckets: They are NOT provided unless requested. So, if ice in your cabin is important to you, be sure to request one. I didn’t necessarily care about keeping drinks cold. For me, it was for medicinal purposes; i.e., icing up the sore joints after an hour in the gym or a day on shore.
MAIN DINING: We did not try any specialty dining on this cruise, so can’t comment on that. We chose Anytime Dining, making no reservations ahead, and arrived at our preferred venue, Symphony dining room, between 7 and 7:30 each night. The wait was long the first and last nights. Otherwise, we waited less than 5 minutes to be seated at a table for 4. They always offer the opportunity to share a table with others, and for faster seating, this is a good option. Service was great the first four evenings, and our waiters were professional and friendly, always asking how are day went and willing to share a little friendly banter. Slowest service was the last evening, and I suspect they were short staffed due to some crew members doing double duty - luggage handling, maybe, or otherwise preparing for the next day’s turn-around. Most of the food selections were delicious and well prepared. The exception was my prime rib, which was a tad overdone and tough. A couple of other things I'd like to mention. I know portion size has decreased, but only two tiny clams with the pasta and littleneck dinner? Secondly, whatever happened to the steak option on the "available anytime" side of the menu? It's gone, which is sad.
Alfredo’s Pizzeria: We had pizza for lunch on the last day of the cruise, and Alfredo’s was and still remains my favorite pizza at sea!
Note: On the last sea day, Princess offers their “pub lunch” feating Shepard’s pie, fish and chips, etc., so don’t be like us and wait until the last day for Alfredo’s. It was a tough decision because we like both pub lunch and pizza.
Trident Grill: Great, classic hotdog (but no relish anywhere to be found - boo hiss!). The cheeseburger, however, was bland and tasteless.
Horizon Court: I really wanted to like the food here, but I've noticed that quality of buffet food has dropped across all the cruise lines, and Princess is no different. We ate lunch here just once, and it was nothing special. Breakfast was the same - blasé and tasteless. Even worse, the food was lukewarm and even cold by the time we got to a table. Omelets are done out of sight. You order it and then they bring it to you, so you can’t watch them make it. There is some variety, but the setup is so strange and spread out, I found it difficult to find what I wanted. Thankfully, there was the International Cafe to fall back on.
Piazza/International Cafe/Coffee Bar: Some of my favorite things about any Princess ship are the Piazza, the International Cafe and the adjacent coffee bar. With the Piazza on this class of vessel being larger and grander than the older ships, this is the place where it’s all happening, especially on this cold climate/fall cruise itinerary. In addition to music performed by a piano player and an excellent string trio, much of the deck action takes place here, as well (sail-away party, Halloween party, etc.), and what better place to be a part of it all. If you can’t find a seat on Deck 5, there are some located above on decks 6 and 7, with standing room to watch around the Piazza’s perimeter. When I got tired of fighting the mob at the buffet and eating the mediocre food there, the International Cafe became my go-to for lunch, coffee and desserts. The salads, sandwiches, and quiche are always delicious, and the desserts hit the spot for an afternoon snack with a latte or cappucino (specialty coffees are an extra charge - if you like them, a coffee card might be worth the purchase.) Also located around this area are a couple of bars and lounges, including the coffee cafe and Vines Wine Bar. At quieter times, it's a nice place to sit and people watch or read.
ENTERTAINMENT: Speaking of entertainment, here is what we were able to catch on this short cruise:
String Trio, “Romantic Strings”: Very talented young ladies entertained us with some classical pieces in the Piazza, providing some enjoyable music to go with our coffee or drinks.
Dance Band, “XCite”: This group of musicians fronted by a singer provided us with some good, solid dance and pop music throughout the ship. We often caught them in the Piazza over drinks.
Halloween Celebration: I was curious to see how many people would dress up for the occasion, and it turns out there were a lot of guests in the Halloween spirit. Many people kept it simple like us - just masks, bandanas, identical shirts, etc., while some went all out. The crew were all in costume, and it was a very festive night. The big Halloween party happened in the Piazza, and the dance floor was packed, and every space on the upper decks filled with spectators.
Princess "Live": We only stopped in here for a bit during the cruise director's talk about life on board. I would have liked to catch one of the game shows that uses the "live" feature, but the timing never seemed to work out.
PRINCESS THEATRE SHOWS: Princess has greatly improved upon their big production shows. The Regal Singers and Dancers were all top notch, talented performers.
“Born to Dance”: This was a great show featuring Broadway highlights with some fabulous choreography. Video screens provided some background on various shows by Broadway artists, making the show not only highly entertaining, but educational, too! Thumbs up to them for performing on the rockiest day of the cruise. With sea swells up to 15 feet, the show went on, and they did a fabulous job. Unfortunately, a technical problem at the end of this 10:00 pm show brought the performance to an early close, missing the grand finale. Still, we enjoyed what we heard!
“Bravo”: This show brought out the highlight of the cruise in the form of an amazing soprano soloist from Boston, Amal El Shrafi. She had a voice that could blow the roof off a theatre. I had goosebumps! Other show-stopping hits were performed by the fabulous Princess singers and dancers.
“Josh Young”: This Tony Award nominee was my favorite solo performer of the cruise, belting out some tunes by Andrew Lloyd Webber and more, backed by the ship’s live show band. He had a good rapport with the audience, telling his own personal stories between tunes. The guy could sing anything you throw at him. Tears rolled down my cheeks when he sang “Bring Him Home” from Les Miserables.
Comedian, Will Mallory: Sadly, he was the low point of the cruise. I give him credit for attempting standup with his disability (cerebral palsy), but he simply was not funny at all, and many people found him offensive, judging by the number of guests who walked out during his 10 PM act. We stuck it out, but I was counting the minutes until it was over, and I caught my husband dozing at one point. Perhaps the cruisers over at Carnival love him, but I think he wasn’t the right choice for this particular crowd.
Cruise Director: Dan Falconer: I found him way funnier than the comedian, a friendly, witty guy from the U.K. He reminded me a lot of Ricky Gervais, and that’s a compliment! We caught his “Dan’s Life at Sea”, where he answered questions from the audience about what it’s like to live and work at sea. Very entertaining.
Princess Seawalk: Admittedly, I was a little petrified about traversing a 60-ft. glass-bottom walkway extending out 128-feet above the ocean. As it turns out, it was not that frightening, and in fact, unless I looked down past my feet, I really didn't feel like I was walking in mid-air. Maybe it wasn't as exciting as climbing a rock wall or sitting in the big bubble in the sky on Royal Caribbean's monster ships, but it was innovative and cool enough for my liking.
Bars: We didn’t buy a beverage package this time around, and pretty much spent most our relaxation time in the Piazza, so can’t comment on any of the others. The wine bar “Vines” was our first stop after dropping off our bags in the cabin on Day 1, and we thoroughly enjoyed the “flights” we ordered - the European for me, and the Italian for my husband. The only odd thing that there were eight groups of wine available on the flight menu, but only two of them were available for various reasons. Still, it was a perfect introduction to the new, improved Princess Piazza and all the great entertainment going on there. One particular server, a guy by the name of “Josie”, always looked for us, calling my husband by name, always asking “where’s your camera?” My husband likes to occasionally tote his 35mm digital SLR around the ship, and when he didn’t have it, Josie sorely missed it, apparently. In any event, he was always ready with a smile to take our order.
Fitness Center: Good, modern fitness center with plenty of treadmills, though not as good as the gym on the Norwegian Epic, which I absolutely loved. We were there in the morning between 7 and 8, and it was never crowded. Then, again, I have a feeling this wasn't a gym-rat kind of crowd.
WiFi: Medallion Net is the Princess wifi, and Ocean Concierge is the free content connection for onboard events and and info. It works on any smartphone, tablet or laptop. That part worked like a charm on both my devices. However, the paid internet service worked well, but only on my iPad. Even though you’re supposed to be able to switch it off one device and turn it on for another, I could never get it to work on the iPhone. I have to say, though, I was impressed with the internet service, and I had no trouble connecting to check mail, text or use social media - no matter the time of day.
Lido Deck: The weather wasn’t the best, though there were some brave souls in the pool, and a good number could be found in the hot tubs most of the time. No trouble finding a seat at Movies Under the Stars. This was a week of sports - Sunday football, Monday night football and the tail end of the World Series. We were four of the few that braved the wind and cold for Monday night football. Even with hat, gloves, layers, a coat and two blankets, we didn’t make it to halftime Monday night before retreating inside. Sunday afternoon, on the other hand, was beautiful, especially when the sun peaked through the clouds. The pools seem pretty small, especially the aft pool, which appears to be the size of a hot tub. The adult pool, outside the Sanctuary, however, is beautiful. I know where I’ll be next time!
Disembarkation: My brother and his wife did the walk-off with their luggage, while my husband and I checked out bag the night before. 8:00 a.m. was the deadline to be out of the cabin, so we went for breakfast, gathered our stuff at the cabin, went to our assigned location to wait, and were off the ship by 8:30 am. It was all pretty quick and efficient.
The first stop was Saint John, New Brunswick. Not being particularly fond of big bus tours, but being fans of photography, we spotted a Bay of Fundy small group photo tour on the list of Princess shore excursion offerings. I had previously been here before and done a small group tour, but I found this 4-hour ship tour more interesting, as it featured some off-the-beaten path locations. The mini-bus tour was lead by a professional photographer, and I quickly discovered this to be a great tour, not only for avid amateur photographers with serious cameras, but also for the everyday iPhone user. In fact, I found the iPhone tips by our guide to be the best take-away from this tour. Who knew there was a way to click on your subject and change the lighting before you take the shot! Okay, probably a lot of people - but not me. I also have a 35 mm camera which I had yet to figure out some of the settings beyond point and shoot. With help from our guide, it was like opening a new window to the world when I was shown a few ways to get the light and exposure right. Anyway, we got some great info on how to take some photos at beautiful places like LePreau Falls, Dipper Harbor, Bay of Fundy Beach, and the reversing rapids. The tour did involve a bit of hiking down a couple of short incline trails, but the bus driver was perfectly happy to accommodate those less ambulatory people by shuttling them back up the hill. It was a great way to spend the day in Saint John, and I highly recommend it for those looking for a smaller group, want to go off the beaten path a bit, and have an interest in learning some photography tips.
The next day’s port stop was Halifax, Nova Scotia. The last time I was here, we had torrential rain, and with the early forecasts sounding just as gloomy, I wasn’t sure how much we’d enjoy it. However, the day turned out pretty nice, ranging from some sun to gray skies, but still remaining dry. Same for the previous day in Saint John. Since the four of us decided to see the famous Peggy’s Cove, we decided to do a private tour through Go North Tours, and it was the best decision we could have made. Fortunately, we were the only ship in port. On the average day in summer through fall, though, there could be up to five ships in port. So, if you want to splurge on a small group or private tour, this is a good place to do it. Our driver/guide, Laila, met us at the pier, and she was excellent and was so knowledgeable about the area. She kept the drive interesting with lots of stories, details and trivia along the way. As stated earlier, I do look for places off the beaten path. What some people don’t know is that before Titanic, there was the S.S. Atlantic, which went down off the coast of Nova Scotia in 1873. Like Titanic, it was a White Star Line ship. Unlike Titanic, White Star Line did absolutely nothing to remember the estimated 560 souls on board who perished, and because there were no Astors, Browns or Guggenheim types on board, the wreck got little press. So we found it only fitting to visit the S.S. Atlantic Heritage Park and Interpretive Center, which sits in a peaceful, gorgeous location overlooking the ocean. I highly recommend the SS Atlantic site if you’ve had your fill of Titanic stories. Next stop on the tour was Peggy’s Cove, which was much prettier and pleasant than I had expected. A few gift shops and cafes line the winding hill to the lighthouse, which sits in a spectacular and picturesque rocky setting. My husband and I shared a lobster roll and got some amazing photos. The last stop on the tour was the Hydrostone neighborhood of Halifax. The name comes from the type of stone used to replace wooden homes of the families displaced by the tragic Halifax explosion of 1917 and is now a National Historic Site. Except for a brief stop in a residential area to learn more about the explosion and get a closer look at the architecture, this was a drive-by. With more time, I would love to return and walk the streets of the area.
IN SUMMARY … The weather was a bit rough at first, with rain, wind and sea swells up to 15 feet, according to our Captain. However, it got better as the week went on. We love, love LOVE the Regal and can’t wait to return again, hopefully for a longer cruise, in warmer weather. There were parts of the ship that we skimmed over or avoided altogether simply because it was too cold and the cruise too short. The Halloween party was a fun time, and if this cruise happens again next year, I may see how it works out with our schedule. Fall colors, of course, were past peak, but I did notice quite a bit of color still lingering in Halifax. Hopefully, some will show up in my photos. My wish for this ship would be a covered pool so that it could be used all year round in any weather. Amazingly, even with most people driven inside by the weather, the ship never felt crowded. Because of the ship's position in ports, I wasn't able to get a decent photo of the entire exterior of the ship, so that will be on my list of things to do next time around.
Stay tuned for photos ....