Princess Brings Back the Bon Voyage Experience

| February 18, 2010

Princess allows guests onboard for lunch and a bon voyage celebration with their sailing friends and family.

Princess Cruises is bringing back the good old days by making it possible for guests to come aboard cruise ships in port again. If you know someone about to take a Princess cruise you can get a guest pass to come onboard with them, walk around the ship, have lunch with them and visit in their stateroom.

Here is how it works: Guests who want to come aboard a Princess cruise ship in port will be able to apply for the "Bon Voyage Experience" ahead of time. Guests and the passengers participating in the program get priority boarding privileges and are asked to be at the pier facility, checked in and ready to board at 11:30 a.m.

Once onboard everyone will be first have a souvenir photo taken. They will then be invited on a guided tour of the ship. Although the tour is not mandatory it is led by a Princess staff member and will cover all of the public areas of the ship. After the tour, passengers and their guests will attend an exclusive luncheon in the dining room with wine included as well as full traditional cruise ship service. Lunch will be held from 12:00 noon to 1:30 pm.

After lunch guests are allowed to tour the ship at their own leisure and can purchase more drinks at the open bars onboard. Each guest will be issued a day-pass charge card similar to the sailaway pass given to cruising guests. Naturally, they will need to supply a credit card first. Guests who are there with sailing passengers are also welcome to go to the passenger's staterooms and enjoy a private bon voyage celebration. All non-sailing guests will be asked to leave at approximately 3:30 pm.

Guests will be able to apply for the "Bon Voyage Experience" between 120 days and up to six days before the actual day of the visit. Making reservations will be extremely easy through the Princess Cruise Lines' web site's "Cruise Personalizer."

The number of guests who will be allowed to participate in the program on any given day will be limited to about 50, so book early. The cost is $39 per person, including the sailing passengers assuming they want to participate in the luncheon onboard. But the entire amount can be applied towards a future cruise, so for regular Princess cruisers who participate it is essentially free.

The first scheduled Bon Voyage dates are as follows:

  • Sapphire Princess - March 6 in Los Angeles
  • Crown Princess - March 6 in Fort Lauderdale
  • Coral Princess - March 7 in Los Angeles
  • Emerald Princess - March 7 in Fort Lauderdale
  • Island Princess - March 10 in Los Angeles
  • Ruby Princess - March 10 in Fort Lauderdale
  • Golden Princess - March 14 in Los Angeles
  • Royal Princess - March 27 in Fort Lauderdale
  • Star Princess - April 10 in Fort Lauderdale
  • Caribbean Princess - May 18 in New York
  • Sea Princess - June 1 in San Francisco

When the Alaska season arrives in May Princess will offer the program in Seattle. The program will also be rolled out to New York and San Francisco soon. All together, the Bon Voyage Experience includes about four hours of time onboard the ship for the guests.

I personally think this is a great idea that brings back one of the great traditions of cruising from the past - onboard Bon Voyage parties. Also, if you have never seen the inside of a cruise ship this is wonderful way to get a taste of cruise ship life just like my first time on a cruise ship. One visit to a cruise ship for a day changed my life forever and it could change yours as well.

If you would like to know why this is important to me, please read my own story below:

Do you believe in love at first sight? I fell in love with cruise ships the first time I saw one. It's a bit silly, but I was a disillusioned young man who had just gone through a bad relationship breakup at the tender age of 25. I realized that I really didn't understand women, and so I decided to learn something about them. My chosen subject for examination, Julie, the cruise director on the popular TV show, "The Love Boat."

I watched the Love Boat (it was already in reruns) every day, even taping it on my VCR back when the only movies you could rent were of the adult variety. I never rented one of those movies, but I also never told people I used my VCR to tape the Love Boat.

Just four years later, (1983) I was working in a Hollywood (California) recording studio when a client came in - a cruise line. It turned out to be Royal Viking Line. At the time the most luxurious cruise line in the world and the nicest people I had ever met. I now know that Royal Viking is credited with inventing the concept of luxury cruising. It was the first cruise line with gourmet cuisine and single seating open dining.

During the project, which involved recording music for three of their onboard shows, I was told one of the line's three ships was coming into Los Angeles. In fact, it was going to pick up the cast I had been working with for several months and take them onboard for their first six-month contract. They were going to sail to China and the Far East. They invited me to come to the pier to see the ship.

When I saw the Royal Viking Star sail in to San Pedro Port in Los Angeles I was in awe. It appeared right on schedule, glided right up to the pier, dropped its ropes and put down the gangway. Before I knew it passengers were walking off and greeting their friends. It was so different from the LAX airport experience where everything is noise and confusion. This was one small ship, arriving quietly and alone at a huge unused dock and opening its doors for people newly arrived from China to walk off at will.

We went onboard and I was amazed by the interior. I had envisioned a ship, but what I saw was a plush hotel, with a beautiful theater, a huge dance floor, a lovely dining room, fancy suites, enchanting Norwegian stewardesses and officers in uniform. This was another world, a fantasy world -- just like The Love Boat.

A few hours later, well after lunch and a few glasses of champagne, the time came for sailaway. I heard the announcement for all guests to leave several times before my companion (the head of entertainment for the company) said we had to go. We walked off the ship and I said goodbye to the cast who was staying onboard for their six-month adventure, leaving me behind.

The next part was a flood of emotions. Just as soon as the gangway went up I saw everyone on the ship was handed a glass of champagne and the rolled-up streamers you see at New Years Eve parties. They started sipping and throwing the streamers down at us. Many of them threw the unopened streamer packages to us on shore so we could stream them back. I never saw a happier group of people in my life than the people on that cruise ship. And I never felt emptier inside. I wanted to be on that ship so badly it ached.

click on pictures below for larger images:

The dock covered in streamers   The ship begins to leave the dock   Those left on shore get farther away

A few months later I got my wish. The same cruise line offered me a job onboard their ships as a stage manager. Within six weeks I was flying to Acapulco to pick up the Royal Viking Sea about to sail to Hawaii.

Over the next seven months I traveled all the way from Tahiti to the North Cape of Norway. It was one of the best times in my life. Along the way we visited Hawaii twice, went through the Panama Canal six times and ventured through the Caribbean, which I had never seen before. We crossed the Atlantic and toured the British Isles, parts of the Baltic and the Norwegian Fjords.

It was very common in the 1980s to walk aboard any cruise ship much as you would a hotel today. You were allowed to eat lunch for free and tour the facilities with no escort. Even more important, if you had friends or relatives who were going on a cruise you could have a bon voyage party with them in their suites and eat lunch with them. At a certain point the captain would make an announcement that it was time for all guests to go ashore.

We often visited other ships while they were in the same ports we were in around the world. The Italian line Costa was already sailing, but was strictly an Italian line then, not yet owned by Carnival Corp. It was fun to walk upon a ship where everything was in Italian and the food looked extremely exotic; octopus and lamb shanks.

We walked onto the Carnival Tropicale in Nassau and I was amazed at the difference - their ship was all neon with a huge casino. They had young cruise staff guiding aerobics in Olivia Newton John tights and headband. I didn't even know where the casino was on our ship. I remember sampling the food on these other ships and recognizing how much better the food was on Royal Viking Line, but we were the Silversea of our day.

I would often have friends come to the ship and visit me onboard when we were in port, and every time they would be awed at the opulence onboard. Back in 1983 only about 1% of Americans had ever even been on a cruise ship.

When it was time for my guests to say goodbye I was the lucky one sailing away on an adventure while my friends had to stay on shore and watched our ship disappear over the horizon. It happened to be my job to hand out the streamers to all the guests, and that made me especially happy.

But as far as I know that open policy ended in the late 1980s. By the time I started working for cruise lines again in 1993 they no longer allowed guests to just walk onboard. You had to get a guest pass several days in advance and it was a hit or miss process. That has been true until now, and that is why I think this Princess program will be a hit.

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