Dispatch, Caribbean Princess: Keeping things fresh

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Cruise editor Johanna Jainchill is sailing on half of a nine-day Bermuda-Caribbean cruise on the 3,100-passenger Caribbean Princess, to check out one of Princess Cruises' refurbished vessels during its five-year shipbuilding hiatus. Her first dispatch follows.

BERMUDA -- Princess Cruises, the third-largest cruise line in the world, will go five years without taking delivery of a new ship.

The Ruby Princess was its last newbuild, delivered in 2008. This drought will end in 2013, when the first of a two-ship order placed in December is slated to enter service.

In that time, Princess has invested millions into renovating its older ships. As with other cruise lines trying to keep their fleets fresh, Princess is putting some of the most popular features from its newest ships onto older ones, including the 5-year-old Caribbean Princess.

Only in an industry as fast-growing as cruising would a 5-year-old vessel even be considered slightly "old." And many passengers appreciate sailing on these ships; they are generally less expensive than the newest ones, and in the case of this vessel, have many of the features the newest ships do.

In January 2009, the Caribbean Princess received several amenities that were introduced on Princess last three newbuilds -- the Crown Princess, Emerald Princess, and the Ruby -- such as the Sanctuary, an adults-only quiet area above the spa; the Piazza, an atrium-style midship area with an espresso and pastry cafe, Internet area, wine bar and various entertainers; and the Crown Grill restaurant, which replaced its Sterling Steakhouse, and moved from Deck 7 to Deck 6.

In addition, the ship's casino was also moved to a more central location on Deck 7. The ship was also given a new Internet cafe, and flat-screen TVs were put in every cabin.

According to repeat passengers, these amenities make a big difference, especially on cruises with several days at sea, such as this one.

The three-deck Piazza is the heart of the Caribbean Princess, which quickly became apparent on the Princess ships that introduced the area.

On the first formal night, passengers gathered at Vines wine and seafood bar for people-watching before dinner. Vines has an extensive selection of wine and champagne, and complimentary sushi and ceviche.

In the morning and afternoon, the Piazza is busy with people at the Internet area and the espresso cafe, or watching one of the area's daily demonstrations (the martini demonstration is a popular one). The area is also host to "street entertainers" such as jugglers and musicians, including a Dixieland jazz band and a string quartet.

The adults-only quiet area, Sanctuary, has also proved popular and a welcome retreat from the main pool area's elevated music levels and, especially on a summertime sailing, many children. One couple said that while they loved children, they were happy to have an escape for reading and relaxing in the sun.

Princess' investments have kept the 5-year-old Caribbean Princess feeling fresh, a tall order when there are so many new ships being introduced every year.

Of course, the ship is not brand new, and there are areas where the Caribbean princess shows its age -- mostly in its cabin and balcony furnishings; its fitness equipment; and the lido restaurant buffet area and furniture.

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