Princess Cruises Stays the Course

| November 13, 2009

Consistent and Intuitive management are the pillars of this popular cruise line's success.

I have been on the most popular cruise lines in the world - and I've sailed on the most elite. This diversity of experience can actually create a challenge to explaining all the ways a cruise line can differentiate itself, but trust me, as much as every cruise has similarities, there are an equal number of differences that make every cruise line unique.

If the boy scouts hadn't already coined the phrase "be prepared," then I wager Princess Cruise Lines would have claimed it. This is a company that knows how to run a cruise line; how to do the things that make people happy, and how to avoid those that disappoint, which is often even more important.

I just completed a seven-day cruise to Mexico on the Sapphire Princess, and as I noted some of things that Princess does differently from other cruise lines, I had to come to the conclusion that in many cases they are what you would call "the little things." But when you add all of those little things together you get something much, much bigger, that elusive state called satisfaction.

Where does satisfaction with a cruise start? With the basics; food and service. If a ship doesn't have both of those down pat it is already tipping towards trouble. But when it has excellent food and service, then the rest of the cruise is just icing on the cake.

Here is my first example of Princess' expertise. Princess was the first cruise line to keep a buffet open 24-hours/day. This is no small thing. When a guest is hungry in the middle of the night, or maybe just restless, there is nothing better than a place to go for hot food or a tasty dessert. As basic as this seems, Princess is still the only mainstream cruise line to offer a 24-hour buffet.

A simple enough concept, but look where it leads; you can't really call room service in the middle of the night, unless you really don't care about disturbing your partner. You have to dial the phone (sometimes requiring light), you have to speak out loud and eventually you have to actually answer a knock at the door and invite another human being into the room. Is that any way to treat your sleeping spouse?

But here is an even better example of why this little thing makes a huge difference in the overall cruise experience. The World Series was wrapping up during our cruise. This would have been a disruption to the regular schedule of many cruise ships, but Princess was completely prepared and they didn't even have to change their regular routine by much. It was nearly 9:45 pm I went to the buffet for dinner and that restaurant was packed wall to wall, but there was still plenty of food and no lines. It was as if the World Series happens on Princess every night.

Seem like a little thing? I guarantee you that many cruise ships would have half the population calling room service all at the same time; a disaster waiting to happen - but not on Princess. And they didn't get to that place without years of practice, and even more importantly the willingness to adapt to what their audience wants.

In fact, Princess made the World Series part of the daily routine, showinw it in the main theater, the sports bar and in all the cabins. We had hamburgers and a bucket of beer in our cabin.

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Our Cruise included   Halloween and all   Waiters were in costume

Princess is very big on "enrichment;" onboard classes and get togethers for people to do something constructive abd have fun. They may not be as active as Royal Caribbean with the Flo-riders, ice skating and rock climbing walls; neirther are they as goofy albeit as fun as Carnival with its hairy chest contests and sexy legs. But Princess does have Karaoeke, computer classes, meetings for GLBT and Friends of Bill W., arts and crafts and various lectures. It isn't the most exciting scheduling I have ever seen on a ship, but the crowd onboard seems to enjoy it.

The lectures on our cruise included an expert on chemistry, including chocolate, a golf pro, a talk on the life of Jackie O., bridge (the card game) lessons, and a series of lectures in the "Scholarship at Sea" program which included wine tasting, culinary demonstrations, ballroom dancing, scrapbooking, photography, ceramics, computer lessons and classes in nautical subjects. In fact, there as many as 25 classes given on a day at sea, but you have to get the program guide and seek them out, many are not held in places where you would casually run into them or listed in the daily schedule.

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Golf Pro   Tennis Courts   Jackie O. Lecture

Nighttime entertainment featured two different comedians, plus a magician. This was in addition to the three regularly scheduled big cast productions shows they offer every cruise. There are two different pianists who entertain throughout the day and night, and there are recent release feature films shown in the main theater every day and night.

Here is another small detail that adds up to a big difference. I recall another cruise ship where I sat down by the pool ready to eat a full plate of food. A waiter inquired if I would like a drink, but when I asked for an iced tea he said, "You can get that yourself - inside."

I already knew that, but I guess he had taken me for a cruise novice who didn't know waiter protocol is to get the guest any drink he wants - surcharge or not. I had never been addressed in such a manner before - and I am pretty sure it showed, because he just shrank away anyway.

On Princess any waiter will get you a "free" iced tea or glass of water at any time, and do it with a smile. Why? Because they know that the majority of Princess cruisers are not novices; in fact most of them have cruised many times on Princess. Princess has one of the highest loyalty ratings of all cruise lines.

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Free Ice Cream   Our Dining Room Maitre D'   The Pizza Man

Once again, it is the little things. They can make your day or they can drive you crazy.

I rarely eat a big breakfast, but when I do it's because it appears so enticing. Every cruise ship serves pancakes, French toast and waffles, but on most ships there is no butter to be found nearby. You may find those hard cubes of chilled butter someplace if you are lucky, but then you have to seek out the syrup, kept in a separate secret place. No one wants a dry waffle with syrup alone, but by the time you find the butter it's cold.

On my Princess cruise they had delectable waffles and blueberry pancakes kept hot in steam trays. Even better, right in front of them was one vat of melted butter and another vat of warm maple syrup, both with ladles. I have only seen this on Princess, and if you are sitting there thinking how trivial this sounds then tell me why I am still sitting here thinking about how delicious it was several days later and wondering why I have never seen that on a cruise ship before.

Princess ships are not small. Many of them are bigger than the average Carnival ships and carry almost the same number of passengers. But you would never know that on board. Carnival has two main dining rooms, and all Royal Caribbean ships have only one dining room regardless of their size. But Sapphire Princess has five dining rooms, each holding no more than a few hundred guests at a time and each with a Maitre D' and plenty of waiters and waitresses. The dining rooms also have separate galleys so you have more people cooking each entr´┐Że which gets the food to the table hotter and fresher.

The key is that they offer the personalized service despite the size of the ship. This went off without a hitch on our cruise. Every time we called room service our order was delivered sooner than it was promised, not cold, and always exactly right. We had coffee delivered every morning at exactly at the time we had specified the night before. Those are the little things that count.

Not once did I hear a complaint from anyone on this cruise - which is rare. I also didn't hear any announcements coming into our cabins except when it was warranted safety information. Even the disembarkation process was "silent" with announcements only made in the public rooms. The life boat drill is also one of the least stressful in the cruise industry - they only require you to go to a public room, not outside on deck, and the announcements are kept short.

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A Tour of the Stage Dressing Room   A View of Backstage   In-depth tour of the Production show process

The Princess philosophy is kind of like this, "We know you are experienced cruisers, so you already 'know the drill' so to speak." And this is what I like about Princess. As an experienced cruiser I want to know how many engines the ship has and what they run on. I like to see the galleys and the bridge. Princess offers tours for all of those things (although the bridge tours are reserved for only a few passengers each cruise). We were able to take a galley tour just by ourselves solely because our especially charming and intelligent waitress, Maheala, set it up for us. She called our stateroom and told us to meet her in her dining room at a special time, and she then conducted the galley tour on her own, and no one seemed to have a problem with that.

Princess also offers a very thorough "Behind the Scenes" tour where a limited number of people (there is always a waiting list) get to see the engine room, the galleys, the meat lockers and several other things most people never see on a ship. Yes, there is a charge for this tour, but it is very interesting to the kind of people who want to know this stuff. They also ffer a "chef's table" experience where the chef comes to the guest's table between every course and explains each dish being served. It comes with wine pairings for every course.

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Galley Entree Prep Stations   Trays of Pastries   Prepping Dessert Dishes

Women who love shopping; you all know the last day of the cruise is when everything goes on sale, but I just learned for the first time that every Princess ship has a massive sale on the last day of the cruise. They take over an entire dining room and fill the tables with every kind of product Princess has ever made. As one lady told me, "this is why we ladies choose Princess. On other cruise lines a 'sale' just means they move a few racks from one store to another, but this (on Princess) is a real sale."

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Last Day Shopping   Impromptu Dixieland Jazz on Afternoon   Bangles for Sale

Our room steward was outstanding and our room was made up every time we left - not once did we return to an unkempt room. Furthermore, the rooms all come with fresh fruit, a refrigerator, hair dryers and plenty of storage space.

Also - I recall people used to complain about "nickel and diming" on Princess ships. It appears that Princess took steps to fix this minor slam. No longer do they charge for ice cream, even if it is Hagen Dazs. They now have free soft serve ice cream every day from 11:00 am to 6:00 pm at "Sundaes" by the pool. They also offer free toppings. They also seem to have a modest number of photographers onboard; our dinner was only interrupted for pictures on formal nights.

In summary, as I mentioned, part of the reason Princess is so successful is because they have a large number of frequent repeat cruisers who are loyal to the cruise line. They do offer one of the better loyalty programs including free laundry and big discounts on Internet access. It is these knowledgeable cruisers that keep Princess one of the better cruise lines. They dress correctly on formal nights, no longer in tuxedos, but in dark suits with ties, and they know how to act on cruise ships. You don't hear any loudmouths by the pool and the hot tubs are never filled with children. Princess is a quality cruise line that knows how to "stay the course." So here's to Princess.

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