Year Started: 1965
Ships in Fleet: 17
Summary: Princess is one of the most consistently excellent cruise lines in the upper mainstream to premium group. All the diversity of larger ships but personalized service.
Regions:Canada, Caribbean, Europe
Good for: Families. Overall Service. Value for Money.
Regions:Alaska, California Coastal, Panama Canal
Good for: Teens. First-time Cruisers. Families.
Regions:Caribbean, Europe, South America
Good for: Teens. Children`s Programs. Families.
Regions:Asia & Africa, Australia, Europe
Good for: Group. First-time Cruisers. Families.
Regions:Alaska, Asia & Africa, Australia
Good for: Families. Teens. Children`s Programs.
Regions:Canada, Caribbean, Europe
Good for: Teens. Children`s Programs. Group.
Regions:Alaska, California, Hawaii
Good for: Teens. Children`s Programs. Group.
Regions:Alaska, California, Hawaii, Mexico
Good for: Families. Overall Service. Teens.
Regions:Alaska, California, Panama Canal
Good for: Seniors. Group. Singles.
Regions:Asia & Africa, Australia, Europe
Regions:Asia & Africa, Australia, Europe, Hawaii
Regions:Caribbean, Europe, Transatlantic
Good for: Seniors. Value for Money. Group.
Regions:Caribbean, Europe, Transatlantic
Good for: Overall Service. Teens. Children`s Programs.
Regions:Alaska, California, Hawaii, Mexico
Good for: Teens. Children`s Programs. Families.
Regions:Asia & Africa, Australia, Panama Canal
Good for: Seniors. Group. Families.
Regions:Alaska, California, Hawaii, South America
Good for: Families. Overall Service. Teens.
Regions:Asia & Africa, Australia, South Pacific, Tahiti
Good for: Seniors. Group. Families.
I went on a Princess cruise this summer. Although these problems may seem minor, what upset me most about this cruise line is they did nothing to fix them or make me feel like I was a valuable customer. When I got home, I mailed this letter to the President of Princess and two other senior level people. I mailed this over a month ago and got no response. If you plan on sailing Princess and have any issues, don't expect them to be resolved or even given consideration for your feelings. Once they have your money, they don't care if you are happy or not.
July 16, 2009
Alan Buckelew President and CEO of Princess Cruises 24844 Avenue Rockefeller Santa Clarita, CA 91355
Dear Mr. Buckelew:
My husband and I vacationed on the Princess Sapphire with the rail tour after our cruise, booking number XXXXX. We are disappointed with our experience. Despite our efforts to correct some of these issues, none of the Princess Tour employees assisted us. Then when I called to talk about it to customer relations, I spoke to Raymond, and he just told me to write an email.So once again, I felt disregarded. Prior to this cruise, we sailed with Norwegian which had superior service and activities. We were looking forward to this cruise line but it will be highly unlikely we would ever sail it again and we definitely would warn our friends and family about the poor customer service. Hopefully, we will get a response from this letter to show that someone at Princess still cares about their customers.
Problems we encountered on the cruise ship
1. The nightly entertainment repeated. On Norwegian they had a different show every night and not just the cruise ship dancers. On Princess they had “Do You Wanna Dance” by the ship dancers on Sunday and Monday and “Piano Man” by the ship dancers on Thursday and Friday. Therefore, two nights on board we did not have new entertainment.
2. We could never sit by a window at dinner. Six of the seven nights we did anytime dining, and every night I asked to sit by a window, they said they don't have two person tables by the window. We don't understand why you don't have a few since you know couples will be on board. If you do, we don't understand why we always were seated as far from a window in the restaurant as possible.
3. One night, after I asked to be seated near a window, they put us against the wall, once again. Moments after we sat down, a couple were being seated near us, when they asked to be moved closer to a window, they got a better table near one. I complained to the maître d' who just apologized. He didn't offer to sit us by a window on another night or make any kind of compensation.
4. The waiter kept trying to sell us items. At dinner one night, the waiter asked us about the breakfast on our balcony about 5 times in a row. We understand being asked once, but a no should end the conversation. At this point it became harassment. I should have said something to someone else but was so aggravated and didn't want to talk about it anymore.
5. The only sit down restaurant's breakfast ended by 9:00 and didn't open for lunch until 12:00. If we did not get there by 8:30, the buffet was our only option for three and a half hours.
6. On the morning of departure, the main dining room didn't open until most passengers disembarked.
7. One day we went to get soft serve ice cream at 6:00 and the woman serving the ice cream said they closed at 6:00. We would understand if we came at 6:10 or if the machine was being cleaned, but neither were the case.
8. All the restaurants had the same menu for dinner so if we didn't want an item on that menu; our only other choice was the buffet.
9. There was no one to talk to about land excursions on the rail portion of our trip on the cruise ship. The cruise ship could only talk about their ports. We don't understand why they couldn't help us with the land excursions of the trip since it is all the same company.
10. No special event – Norwegian had midnight chocolate buffet, Royal Caribbean had midnight buffet as well.
11. Our reserved dinner in the main dining room was supposed to be by a window and it was next to the entrance.
Problems we encountered on land portion
12. We were told it was a rail tour but the majority of our trip was by motor coach. We had rail from Whittier to Talkeetna and the rest was by motor coach (Talkeetna to McKinley, McKinley to Denali, and Denali to Fairbanks)
13. The shuttles from the hotel to town cost money and they were far away from everything. In the land excursion brochure on page 26 it says shuttle is complimentary. In addition, it is a Princess bus so we don't know why it costs extra. For McKinley it was $10 round trip per person and Fairbanks it was $5 roundtrip per person.
14. We asked if we could switch the tour we were given with a lesser priced one in Denali and they would not do it. We did not pick that tour; it was assigned to us so we don't know why we were not allowed to switch to something that we would enjoy. When we went to the park, they switched it for us so I'm confused why Princess refused to do it.
15. The hotel in McKinley had neither air conditioning nor fans in the rooms. It was in the upper 80s and was very hot in the room!
16. None of the rooms on the land portion had a safe to lock up our valuables.
17. From Fairbanks to the airport they would not change the shuttle time. It had us leaving at 6:45 when the airport is 5 minutes away for a 9:30 flight and they refused to make a second trip.
18. There was a luggage fee for the Alaskan Airlines flight that we were not told about before we booked our trip.
19. We had a long layover in Anchorage when there were flights that left sooner to go to Seattle
What upsets us the most is the lack of any Princess employee's attempt to rectify even one of these items.
Lauren and Wayne
cc: Charlie Ball Jan Swartz
We cruised out of Seattle on June 28, 2009 for the Inside Passage. We took this same trip last year at almost the same week and on the same ship.
I have to say that this year was even better than last year. The weather was perfect, the company good and the food was fantastic.
Our cabin on the Caribe deck was nice with the larger balcony. We traveled with 2 other couples and had the balconies all open to each other. Made for great happy hours and was nice sharing the scenic glacier viewing of Tracy Endicott Arm.
Our room stewardess went way beyond expectations and everywhere on the ship the entire crew was pleasant. Our waiters were awesome at dinner service too.
The newly renovated Star Princess was nicely done. The bed was a bit lumpy, and I would have thought with the renovations recently done they would have changed the mattresses out.
We found the embarkation and disembarkation very organized and efficient. We used the Princess airport transfers and those too were very well organized.
The shows were entertaining and upbeat and very colorful. We went to several other activities throughout theship too, and those were also very entertaining. There was no lack of things to do. I only wish that some of the activities didn't overlap into the times of other activities. I would have liked to have done more.
Cruising is truly the best way to vacation. You have your lodging, entertainment and food all right there. You don't have to live out of a suitcase or worry about drinking and driving. All of this and visiting fabulous destinations too. What more could you ask for? Princess Cruise Lines know how to make traveling fun.
Princess Cruises Ruby Princess by Harry F Smith Eastern Mediterranean June 9, 2009
About the Reviewer I am a 49 Y/O married man with 2 kids ages 11 and 12. This was our 5th cruise and 2nd with Princess. I am a Naval Officer. I selected this cruise due to the itinerary and the brand new ship, Ruby Princess.
Embarkation/Disembarkation Embarkation was flawless and fast. We arrived at the Port of Venice at 1130. From entrance to the terminal to boarding the ship, total time elapsed was 30 minutes. Disembarkation did not fare as well. Specifically, we opted for the "self disembarkation" status since we had our own arrangements to get to our hotel in Rome. We were off the ship by 0730 only to discover our luggage had been placed in an outdoor tent way too small for all the luggage in pouring rain. Upon entering the chaos in the tent, we found our luggage sitting in 4 inches of water! To add insult, everyone and their luggage was so jammed packed under the tent, I had to carry each back at waist level tippy toeing around passengers to get out.With all our clothes wet, it meant wearing the same clothes for another 2 days.
Service As in the past with Sea Princess, room and restaurant service was top notch. Our steward and waiter would do anything to ensure our satisfaction. One note of difference, the servers in the buffet area were exceptional. From the moment you sat down till the moment you left, someone was always ensuring your coffee was hot and your juice glasses filled. If however, you tried to get a drink using your free refill card in any show lounge, FORGET IT, servers avoided us like the plague.
Ruby Princess gets failing grades with the pursers' desk, the two Brazilian individuals in particular were no less than awful, acting annoyed if your needs were not simple and quick. In addition, another area terribly concerning was the level of response to a legitimate health concern within the room. Immediately upon initial arrival in our stateroom (235 Aloha Deck) we noticed an overpowering smell of volatile organic compounds (VOC's) like varnish or paint thinner. My wife was experiencing an immediate reaction of headache, nausea and dizziness. Princess staff acted as if there was no smell. It was not until I identified myself as someone with a Masters in Occupational Health that they began taking action. It took 4 hours to get a response to our concern whereby we were offered a temporary alternate cabin for the night. Needless to say, our port day in Venice was ruined.
Itinerary This particular cruise was very port intensive, calling on 10 ports in 12 days including Venice where we were docked a day and a half before leaving. Each stop was very beautiful. What was very disappointing was how early we were required to pull out each afternoon (4:30-5:30). Trips between ports of call taking 3-4 hours by regional ferries (such as Athens to Mykonos) required we take 12-14 hours, crawling at 10 knots. We can only assume Princess wanted us on board to spend money or they were too cheap to burn fuel at a higher rate. With excursions getting back at 3:30 or 4:30, it left little or no time to legitimately explore on your own.
Also of note, when 3080 passengers plus some crew descend upon quaint ports such as Mykonos or Santorini, you will find yourself dodging massive crowds and tour groups of 30 to 40 people, not exactly relaxing.
Food Food was hit or miss, overall I would rate it 3.5 out of five. In general, we found the food in the buffet area for dinner to be bland and lacking. I offer some details of foods not to be missed and foods better left alone.
Foods Not to be Missed: Pizza (YUM!) Fettuccini Alfredo in main dinning room (best I have ever had anywhere) Chocolate cake in main piazza pastry shop Pork Belly in main dining room NY cheese cake
Foods Better Left Alone: Steaks (any and all) in main dining area, they were bland and tough mousse -- they tasted like eating grease chocolate cakes in buffet area (bland)
Onboard Experience Overall Princess gets high marks for keeping 3000 passengers apart using clever tactics such as two show rooms offering the same shows twice in a row so passengers can view both shows over two separate nights. One feature that really, really jumped out at us was how Princess constantly marketed to us. The "Welcome Aboard Show" featured 45 minutes of Princess hocking their wares, showing all the places you could spend additional $$ such as the optional dining rooms, very disappointing. If you are planning a cruise on Ruby, skip the opening show unless you like to be shaken down to spend money. On the first formal night there were no less than six photography stations set up, two blocking main passageways. I made no apologies for waling right through a photo shoot taking place directly in the path of passengers along the main Promenade deck. Spirits, beer and wine are reasonably priced from $3.50 to $7.00.
Concluding Remarks Overall, the trip was nice, but I would caution expecting rest and relaxation. With more time in each port and less being marketing to, the experience might have been more enjoyable and relaxing.
Golden Princess has been refurbished.
We just sailed out of Seattle to Alaska -- Juneau, etc.
The food was better than expected. Food was so good in the Food Court that we often skipped the 1+ hour sit down meal. Try the International Café. Best doughnuts around in the morning. Fresh cookies baked on site. Lunch snack grilled ham and cheese croissant, fresh soup, and the best lime marinated giant shrimp you will find anywhere. Service was wonderful.
Three separate swimming areas. Really enjoyed the small pool (as hot as a hot tub) on the rear deck. They also have an Under the Stars outdoor movie which was okay, but the sound didn't work the night we went.
Procedures in general were very smooth. Embarkation and debarkation took only a few minutes and there were actually friendly, patient staff to help answer "dumb" questions.
I disagree with the review that the food is not world class. Pretty close to the best I have had cruising, especially at a buffet. Enjoyed the movies and shows. Singers and dancers were of advanced amateur theater talent. Male lead singers were average at best.
Negatives Only 2 serving "lines"for 2000 guests. Tables are hard to find. Sitting outside with a 20+ knot wind going to Alaska is not fun. Food courts clog up quickly because there is no flow to the serving line. Carnival has a much larger area to serve food in. For that many people you really need 4 separate areas. Also, only 1 sit down area for lunch. Lines to get in and when we would leave at 12:45 there would still be people in line. Beverage service in the food court was inconsistent. Even in slow times there were a few staff members who were bored, maybe afraid to speak English? -- puttering around, they would walk past you and didn't bother to ask if you needed anything. Princess does not serve "punch." You will find milk to drink rarely, unless you steal it from the cereal or coffee area. Juice in the morning is hidden, even in the self serve areas.
Do not miss the cooking demo with the Chef and the Maitre'd. Entertaining and informative.
General Criticisms Foreigners just don't understand American breakfasts -- scrambled eggs, "hash browns," occasional gravy are much better at Denney's or Cracker Barrel. Pizza, even though freshly made, was sub-par. Pastries always looked good, but were tasteless. "Pies" have no real fruit, just use the jellied fruit cake fillings.
Coffee in the buffet area is very weak. I guess they want to push the $2.50 premium coffee/espressos.
Sabatini ($20 extra) was a good experience, but the food itself was not what I would call classic Italian. I had langoustine which were large crawdads (with the eyes looking at you) About 12 bites of meat from 6 large critters. Service was outstanding.
Exercise Area: They were always pushing the spa treatments. The exercise area was standing room only in the early morning. Despite the number of machines, the room was overflowing. So you have to go later in the day. Maybe they should open at 6AM instead of 7.
Also we did not get real close to a glacier. The fjords are real narrow (Endicott Tracy Arm was iced up). It is amazing to maneuver the ship in such tight quarters, but you might as well go to Mendenhall glacier if you want up close viewing.
Princess Cruises Ruby Princess by Ken T. Eastern Mediterranean May 28, 2009
We were on back-to-back cruises aboard the Ruby Princess from 28 May to 9 June and 9 June to 21 June 2009. We are Elite Captain's Club members so we are familiar with a lot of their ships and the services provided. Our overall impression of both cruises was that they were excellent, but there were some limitations regarding the ship and the services.
Cabins Our most serious complaint concerns the outside cabins. We have purchased inside, outside, balcony and suite cabins on various Princess ships and have always been satisfied with what we received -- up until these cruises. On these two cruises, we reserved outside cabins without balconies and expected to receive a cabin with a configuration like that shown on the Princess web site. NOT SO -- BE WARNED. The outside cabins are nothing like the one shown on the web site. That representation is much like all the cabins we have had on other Princess ships and it is what we expected on these cruises, but Princess has made some radical changes to their outside cabins andthe result is nothing less than horrible.
We were given a cabin that had a queen bed pushed into a corner of the room with the head of the bed under the window. On the left side of the bed was a single nightstand with two attached lamps. Obviously, the nightstand was supposed to be used between two single beds. When the two beds were pushed together to form a queen, the nightstand provided light and storage for only one person. The other person could not read in bed and was forced to climb over the top of the bed to enter and exit.
There was one small table and one chair in the room and the table was blocking the door to the refrigerator. The only drawers in the room were those very small ones in the nightstand. All the other storage was in the form of shelves under the vanity or in the closet area. The bathroom storage was almost non-existent with two small, exposed shelves in one corner.
The inside cabins on the Ruby Princess are better than the outside cabins. We looked at several of them on the first day of the second cruise when all the doors were left open to greet the new guests boarding for that cruise. We also showed our cabin steward a copy of the configuration shown on the web site and asked him if any of the outside cabins looked like it. He said he had never seen an outside cabin on the Ruby Princess like the one represented.
We, of course, made our way to the Purser's desk immediately upon seeing the cabin and made known our displeasure. We were at first told that they might not be able to do anything about the situation as the ship was full and no other cabins were available. As it turned out, the head of Passenger Services did eventually come up with an upgraded cabin that had the configuration that we wanted. It was a balcony cabin. However, it was necessary for us to spend a couple of uncomfortable days in the first cabin before the other one opened up. On the second cruise, we had to go back to the first cabin for one day before another balcony cabin became available for us. It took some shuffling and a lot of wasted time, but we were finally satisfied with the result. The head of Passenger Services was very cooperative and did everything she could to satisfy our needs. She is to be commended for her efforts.
The one redeeming factor regarding the cabins was the closet space. It was excellent in all the cabin categories. The cabins also had nice vanities, but they lacked drawer space.
Food We took anytime dining on both cruises and ate almost all of our meals in the restaurant that provided that option. That included breakfast, lunch and dinner. We felt that the food on both cruises was excellent, even a cut above some of the other Princess ships we have been on. Strangely, it seemed like the food in the restaurant was better prepared and tastier on the first cruise and the deserts were better on the second cruise. We noticed a lot of crew people leaving the ship at various ports and surmise that we may have lost or gained some cooks and pastry chefs along the way.
We liked the fact that the dining rooms were opened every day for all meals. Some ships don't open their dining rooms for meals other than dinner on port days and everyone is forced to use the lido restaurant. We prefer to take as many meals as possible in the more formal restaurants. On those few occasions when we did use the lido restaurants, we found the selection and quality to be good.
Service The room stewards all did good jobs. Those servicing the balcony cabins seemed to be a bit more experienced. Whatever is lacking in the room service seems to be the fault of the people working at the Princess on-land offices. We are asked for our onboard preference at the My Princess web site regarding robes, beverages, fruit, etc. Apparently, this information was not transmitted to the room stewards as nothing in the room matched what we had ordered. It was necessary to contact Room Service to correct this situation. It is not a huge issue, but we wonder why Princess asks for our preferences if they don't intend to follow though and satisfy our requests.
The dining room service was excellent on the first cruise, but extremely slow on a few nights of the second cruise. There did not seem to be any noticeable reason for the slowness on the second cruise. Everyone was commenting about it but nobody knew what was going on. On two occasions, we spent nearly 3 hours having a normal dinner. Most of that time was spent waiting to order or for the next course to be brought. The waiters seemed to be having a good time and were under no noticeable stress. We were told that both cruises were full, but there seemed to be a lot more people on the second cruise. I am not sure how that could happen unless there were multiple cabins with more than 2 people to a cabin. We missed two shows because we were unable to get out of the restaurant in time.
Shows We are not big on production shows and only saw one. It was well done. We prefer the comedians, magicians, jugglers, etc. Unfortunately, Princess seems to be cutting back on some of the shows and replacing them with games provided by the cruise staff. In the past most of the Princess ships had two venues for shows; the Princess Theatre where the production shows are shown and a smaller venue like the Explorer's Lounge where comedy and magic acts were performed. They would usually have the same show repeated for two nights so everyone had an opportunity to see both shows on one or the other night. Each show was usually performed at least twice each night. On these cruises, there were times when only one show was presented in the Princess Theatre and the acts in the alternative venue were replaced with game shows or art auctions. We did not understand why this was done as all the entertainers were onboard and could have performed.
Tours We took Princess tours in 13 ports. They all had very knowledgeable guides that spoke excellent English although some had heavier accents than others. The buses provided were all in excellent condition and most of the drivers did a good job. Some were a little aggressive and scared the devil out of pedestrians as well as passengers that were watching the pedestrians jump out of the way of the oncoming bus. Drivers in this part of Europe have a lot of faith in other drivers. Pedestrians need to beware. One guide told us there are two kinds of pedestrians in Italy, the daring and the dead.
Be forewarned that there is a LOT of walking on most of the tours provided on these cruises and a lot of it is up some very steep hills and/or over uneven ground. Several people on each cruise required medical treatment as the result of falls taken while on various tours. Some of them were fortunate that the injuries were not more severe. Pickpockets were also very active and few days passed without someone mentioning that they had lost property while on a tour. These crooks are very professional and you don't even notice them being part of your group until it is too late.
Docks and Shuttles Many cruisers would like to go into the nearest town at some ports rather than take a Princess tour. Shuttles are often provided. Some charge a minimal fee and some are free. It is often very difficult to find this information before you arrive at a port. The information below pertains to our cruises only. It can vary by company and on each cruise with the same company. This information is taken from the Princess Patter. We took Princess tours in most of the ports and only took a shuttle on a couple of occasions.
Monte Carlo: We were under the impression that we would tender into Monte Carlo, but we docked. There was no shuttles provided, but it was not far to walk to town. The Princess Patter stated that walking around the harbor to the Casino would take about 30/40 minutes.
Livorno: Shuttles were provided by a private operator. Cost to the Livorno train station was 12 Euro ($15.00) per person for cruisers wanting to take a train to Pisa or Florence.
Civitavecchia: A complimentary shuttle was provided from the ship to the Port Gates in Civitavecchia. From there it was about a 10-minute walk to the railway station. Information was also provided about the cost of trains to Rome, but there is too much of it to include here.
Naples: On our first cruise, a complimentary shuttle was provided from the ship at Pier 21 to the Stazione Marittima (Maritime Station) where public ferries to Capri and Sorrento depart. On our second visit to Naples, no shuttle was provided, but it was only a short walk to the ferry depot. We took the ferry to Capri and back and it was an easy day once we found out where and how to purchase tickets and where to get on the boat. The Princess tour office onboard has a printed sheet available that provided the names of the boat companies servicing Sorrento and Capri. It also provides the cost of tickets, but the information was outdated and the cost was higher than stated. Just use this information as a general guide. The Princess Patter stated, "Please be advised that return tickets from Capri on the independent hydrofoil can only be purchased whilst in Capri on a first come first served basis -- please be careful when returning as hydrofoils do get very busy in late afternoon." The boat going to Capri was full. We returned on a boat in the early afternoon and it was less than half full. Later boats may have had more passengers.
Mykonos: On the first cruise, we anchored off shore and a shuttle boat was provided at no cost. On the second cruise, the boat docked at Tourlos Pier about 1.2 miles from town. A private shuttle was provided and the cost was Euro 7.00 per person round trip. Princess advised against walking into town, because there is no sidewalk.
Istanbul: Salipazari Cruise Port is located approximately 2.5 miles from the main tourist attractions. There was an independent shuttle bus service from the pier to a drop off point in the Grand Bazaar area. A guide was aboard the bus. She walked us into town and showed us where we would meet to return to the bus. The cost was US $12.00 per person for a round trip ticket. Tickets were purchased at the Shuttle Desk inside the terminal.
Kusadasi: The ship docked a short walk from the center of town. Kusadasi has the second largest bazaar in Turkey after Istanbul. It is a very clean and interesting area to shop and bargains are available. Bargaining is encouraged. Taxis to Ephesus are about $60.00 to $70.00 each way.
Athens: The ship docked at Kanelos Pier (Piraeus). A complimentary shuttle service was available between the ship and the Main Cruise Ship terminal. At the main Terminal taxi service was available.
Venice: Princess has a water shuttle available that goes from the cruise ship pier to St. Marks Square. The cost is $15.00 per person and it can be used all day and the next morning. The vendor provides maps of Venice. Be sure you get one. You can take a local waterbus down the Grand Canal to Piazzale Roma where it is about a 20 minute walk back to the pier. Be sure to get directions from a knowledgeable local about the route back to the ship. It can be confusing. Taxis are also available at the Piazzale that will take you back to the ship for a fee.
Dubrovnik: The ship docks about 3 miles from downtown. A local shuttle bus ran between the ship and Pile Square. Cost was 5.00 Euros each way.
Corfu: A shuttle bus was provided from the ship to the terminal building. Outside the terminal building, there was a local bus at the other end of the parking lot that took us into downtown Corfu for one Euro twenty. The bus was a little hard to find because it was always parked behind another bus. Ask the lady handing out information brochures just inside the terminal building. She walked us out to the parking lot and showed us where to find the bus. Princess did not provide information about this local bus. I learned about it from the lady mentioned above.
Katakolon: The ship docked about 700 yards from the fishing village of Katakolon. The village had a couple of blocks of tourist stores. One storeowner said that she closed up as soon as the ship left. The stores were all very nice and had good merchandise.
Rhodes: The ship docks at Rhodes Commercial Harbor about 300 yards from the Old Town Entrance (it is a flat walk to town). This is another fun place to walk around and check the shops.
Santorini: Independent passengers will be tendered to the port of Skala where there is a cable car that goes up the mountain to Thira. The cable car is 4 euros per person each way. You can also walk up or down the donkey path if you don't mind dodging what the donkeys leave behind. Expect lines and crowds at the cable car. Thira is another fun place to take a walk and window shop.
Here are port reviews and shore excursion information that we took on our Grand Princess Med Cruise - 6/9 - 6/21.
Venice: We flew in a day early and stayed at the Hotel Monaco. The hotel is very well located - right next to St. Mark's Square! The hotel was nice and room was clean but very small.
We did not book any tours of Venice through Princess. We did, however, book the Doge's Palace Secret Itenerary Tour. This is not the regular tour of the Palace, but a behind the scenes tour with only 25 people. It takes you through back rooms of the palace - the jail cell where Casanova stayed, the secret police room, etc. I highly recommend this tour. I booked it ahead of time through the internet.
Athens: We booked the Acroplis/Plaka Sampler shore excursion through Princess. It was very enjoyable and was just about the right amount of time. Showed us the highlights of Athens, important buildings, etc. Then on to the Acropolis. Tour guide was very informative. Included time on our own at the Acropolis for wandering around and pictures.
The tour dropped us off atthe Plaka for a couple of hours on our own of shopping and eating. Many designers stores in this area. We ate a delicious greek lunch at a local cafe. It started raining so we were happy when it was time to be picked up by our bus.
Kusadasi/Ephesus: We booked the Ephesus, Virgin Mary, St. John's shore excursion through Shorex Turkey (www.shorexturkey.co.nr) . Also very enjoyable. First stop was Virgin Mary home. Then Ephesus. Ephesus was beautiful but an absolute zoo! It was packed full of people! I wish that we would have stopped there first - maybe we would have been able to avoid some of the crowds.
Be prepared for the local vendors. They will bug you to buy stuff constantly.
Istanbul: We booked a full Day tour through Transbalkan. Istanbul was one of my favorite stops. It felt very exotic! In the morning, we visited the Blue Mosque, St. Sophia and Underground Cistern. They were all within walking distance of each other. Then lunch in a garden patio of a restaurant. Nice atmosphere - good food.
The school children taking tours of the local areas like to practice their English on the American tourists! They were very friendly and asked questions like "What is your name?" and "How are you?". When I answered them, they were so happy and excited!! I felt like I was a rock star or something, when they all were clamoring to say hello and give me high fives!! We joked about my "fan club" for the rest of the trip!
After lunch, we went to the Grand Bazaar (what a place that was!!) - with time on our own for shopping - and the Topkapi Palace - also time on our own. It was a long day and we were very tired at the end!
Naples: We booked a private tour with Marcello of seesorrento. It was the highlight of our entire trip! The first thing Marcello asked us when we started was what were our expectations. If we wanted to go shopping, he would take us shopping. If we wanted to go off the beaten path, we would go there. By this time, we were pretty tired of the buses/herds, so we wanted to see Marcello's Italy. He took us through Sorrento, Positano and along the Amalfi Coast. Many photo stops. He showed us beaufiful little villages that the buses don't stop at. He then ventured beyond where the buses can travel and totally beat the crowds. As I said before, by then we were very tired to the crowds, so we really loved this. We stopped at a village called Pontone and had a wonderful lunch in a garden patio with an awesome view. We did not order off a menu. Marcello brought us dishes upon dishes of food that he thought we would enjoy - food that the locals eat. The food includes the yummiest olives I've ever had, caprice salad, goat cheese, cheese cooked in lemon leaves, gnocchi, mussels with linguine, red and white wine carafes...I could go on and on.....then on to the dessert. We had an assortment of 4 different desserts on our plates! He also brought out bottles of liquers - Lemoncello, some sort of fennel liquer and cantalope liquer. We all had shots of these in chilled glasses. So much fun - what an experience he made this lunch for us.
After lunch, we went to Pompei. Since we went in the afternoon, it was less crowded, then if we had gone in the morning with all the bus tours. I can't even describe Pompei! It was huge! Street after street after street of ruins - and so well preserved!! We spent 2 hours there which just flew by. We definitely could have spent many more hours there. We were glad that Marcello had taken us to the farthest place first (Amalfi) and worked his way back to the closest place to the ship (Pompei) so we wouldn't worry about being late in arriving back to the port.
There were some tours that arrived back at port late, but they were Princess tours so the ship waited for them.
Mykonos: We did this on our own. We just wandered around, walked up to the windmills and ate lunch. This town is definitely doable on your own. It is the cutest, most beautiful place. Many back streets with shops and cafes. I loved this port!! We also got to see the pink pelican!! Took pictures - will post later.
Civetevechia: We did not do a shore excursion into Rome, since we had visited Rome two years ago and it's a 1 1/2 hour drive into Rome. We thought we would just wander around Civetevechia and do some shopping, maybe eating. There wasn't much around this port at all. Minimal shops and restaurants - most closed since it was Sunday. We walked around and then just got back on the ship and relaxed. If you want to walk around, you will have to take the Princess shuttle as it is not possible to walk from the ship into town.
Livorno: We booked the Medevil Lucca shore excursion since we had been to Florence a couple of years ago. The Lucca tour was a half day tour. We didn't really enjoy the town much. We had thought it would be a more charming town, like Siena or San Gigmanio, but it was more of a working class town. We were disappointed in this tour but maybe it was just our expectation of something different.
Marseilles: We booked the Arles/Le Baux all day exursion through Princess. We enjoyed this tour much. The drive to Arles was approx. 45 minutes. Guide was very informative. Van Gogh had spent time in this town. Walking tour of important sights, then time on our own for shopping. Lunch was at the Atrium Hotel in Arles included in the excursion. The buffet salad bar set up was very. I didn't enjoy the chicken lunch much, however. The lunch also included red and rose wine and also dessert.
We then went to Le Baux in the afternoon. Beautiful medevil town up on a hill. Very hilly area with many cute shops and cafes.
I hope you enjoyed this information regarding the tours and excursions we went on. If you have any questions, please let me know!
This cruise was a special occasion, as we celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary on May 23rd.
SEATTLE We left Fort Lauderdale very early Friday morning headed for Seattle (through Nashville) on Southwest Airlines. The weather was good and the flight smooth. We arrived at our hotel, the Westin downtown Seattle, around 4 pm Pacific time. The sun was shining and it was cool about in the 60's. There was a Princess desk set up in the lobby and we introduced ourselves to the representative, who gave us information about the next morning. We then visited with the concierge, who made reservations for us for Saturday May 23rd at Daniel's Broiler Restaurant on Union Lake. More about that later.
We toured Seattle by foot -- walked to Pike Place Market and wished there was something like it in Fort Lauderdale! The Westin Hotel is in a great location. You can walk or take the monorail or trolley just about anywhere you want to go. Service at the hotel was A+.
THE GOLDEN PRINCESS Boarding around 11:30, we went straight to our cabin (D-602 mini-suite), which was ready for us. We have had mini-suites before onPrincess and always found them to be very spacious. The bathroom had a tub-shower and plenty of room to move around. The closet space was more than we needed and we were able to stow our large suitcases under our bed. The two flat screen televisions were a nice addition. We had four chairs and a table on the balcony. Two of the chairs fully reclined so that you could position them with the other chairs and have a makeshift chaise lounge.
The constuction on Deck 6 was still not finished so there was no steak house option (it was an option in the corner of the Hoirizon Court but not the option that it will be when completed). The wedding chapel was also under construction and there are several luxury suites being built on deck 6. There was a Sabatini's on board but we had eaten there several times on other ships and enjoyed it --- no need to indulge this time. The spa was nice and I availed myself of it several times and was happy with it although the dressing room and shower area was a little tight on space.
The Sanctuary is beautiful. I can see using it on a Caribbean cruise; however, it was cold in Alaska so we opted out especially since we also had a balcony cabin and we were able to enjoy the sights from it without much restriction.
The mid-ship was redone and the Piazza is very pretty. "Vines" is the name of the new wine bar. More than a wine bar, it also had a wide and good selection of wine from which to choose to purchase for enjoyment at the wine bar, take back to your room, or enjoy with dinner. The prices were only a little higher than what we pay on land in Fort Lauderdale. Also at Vines is a cheese and sushi bar. You can select cheeses to taste and/or add them to a "wine flight", which is a selection of 3 wines for tasting. There are many combos of wine and cheese available. Also in Vines is a wine accessory store that sells things like coasters, corkscrews, napkins, etc. It is very nice but it needs more seating and it seems like the wine store part is wasted space. Bistro tables would work well in the wine store space, I think. The only complaint I have is that during the week the staff at Vines was so enamoured with a particular Swiss cheese that they brought it out every day. The odor from it was so strong and pungent -- it smelled like a wet dog in a boys' middle school gym locker room. Whew! You could smell it all over the Piazza. Not good.
The movies under the stars ("MUTS") was nice but it was too cold for us to indulge. Still, they offered comfy padded lounge chairs, red plaid wool blankets and popcorn. We will definitely use MUTS on our next Caribbean cruise as it is a nice idea.
DAY ONE The sun comes up early here in the Spring and Summer so by 4:30 a.m. it was like 8:30 a.m. back home. The sun did not set until after 9:00 pm so we had a lot of daylight. Our first day was spent cruising from Seattle to Juneau. It was sunny but cold on deck. The ship was moving quickly so we could feel the rocking back and forth; however, except for losing our balance a few times, the movement did not bother us.
JUNEAU Our first port was Juneau. The weather was sunny and cold (mid 40's) and windy but it warmed up into the high 50's later on. Dressing in layers was key. There were plenty of shops in town. We took the Mendenhall Glacier tour. It was a beautiful day and the glacier was impressive, even though it has receded considerably in the past several years. We saw a porcupine in the wild. The rangers said a black bear had crossed the highway we had just driven on but we did not see it.
SKAGWAY Next stop was Skagway, a small town of about 850 people. It was very cute and in excellent condition -- you can really see the pride of the community. Lots of shops were open; one very beautiful glass shop caught our eye. We took a bus tour up the mountains to the summit, crossed into British Columbia, where we boarded the White Pass & Yukon Railway for the ride down the mountain. It was very cold at the summit but sunny. Really refreshingly cold, though. Snow everywhere. Some of the lakes were starting to thaw and the ice was blue in places. Very pretty. We also panned for gold in one of those touristy stops!
TRACY ARM This was really wonderful. Our Captain was fearless. There were huge icebergs all around us but he manuevered the ship brilliantly. We got some great photos of the blue ice. We could hear the icebergs cracking as they melted just like when you put ice into a warm beverage! Again, it was sunny but very cold in the morning. As we entered the last turn before the glacier, we passed the Star Princess going the other direction. It was fun to cheer them on as they did us! We took some pics of their ship. We were on the port side, which faced west, so we did not get the morning sun. The captain turned the ship around at the glacier so that both port and starboad had a good view. We saw black bears on shore (but our camera was too weak to make out what they were -- need a zoom lens). We also saw mountain goats, bald eagles, and seals at Sawyer Glacier. There was a naturalist on board who spoke during the trip along Tracy Arm both on the TV and over the ship's loudspeakers. He was interesting, helpful, yet not intrusive. Very enjoyable. Took lots of photos here.
KETCHIKAN The shops here open early and we got into port early, so by 6 am we were shopping! We only had a half day here so we had to make some time to visit the town. A very cute town it is -- part of which is built on stilts over the water. Very clean and pleasant. Again, cold but sunny. There was a little drizzle later in the day, which we missed because we were on tour. The tour we took here was the most wonderful one of all! We are hooked on the TV show "The Deadliest Catch" on the Discovery Channel -- about the life of Alaskan King Crab fishermen. We decided to take the tour on the Aleutian Ballad. This ship was in Season 2 of the show and it had sustained a rogue wave on the show that nearly destroyed the ship. After many successful years crab fishing the owner decided to retire the ship and use it for tourists. I was a little hesitant at first because I was afraid of two things: (1) that the boat would be "icky" and (2) that we were going into rough open waters. Neither fear was realized. The boat was totally refurbished since its working days. It was clean, beautiful and in pristine condition. They put in heaters that radiated from the ceiling and had a covered sheltered "stadium seating" area for us. They gave us very long, warm hooded jackets that kept us warm and dry. They had hot coffee, hot tea and hot chocolate as well as a gift shop. They were superb! Really nice people. We sailed into a bay area that is owned by the native tribe -- sovereign land. We were allowed to fish for crab and other fish -- but only catch and release. We saw whales too. We pulled up pots of rock crab, dungeness crab, and king crab. We were able to hold them and take photos with the crab. We also pulled up a 70 pound octopus and observed it for awhile.
We then stopped in the bay and the crew threw halibut over the side and all of a sudden, the shy and hard to photograph American bald eagles came from nowhere and descended upon the halibut in a feeding freny! There were hundreds of eagles. I just held my camera out and kept snapping pictures without regard for whether I got them or not. When it was over, I had taken about 40 photos (some were duds), most of which were amazing shots of eagles in flight, eagles coming straight at the camera lens in mid-flight, eagles descending to the water with their talons down, ready to grab the fish, eagles flying to the tree tops and some tress that had so many eagles in them that it looked like a Christmas tree with white bulbs! That was the best part of the whole tour! The tour was the best one we did. I highly recommend it. The weather was again sunny and cool, but the water was smooth as glass. Even the most fainthearted should not be afraid of taking this tour. It was magnificent.
VICTORIA This was our last port and we only had about 4 hours here from 7-11 pm. We have to visit a foreign port so that is the reason for the stop in Victoria, British Columbia. But, it was too bad we had only 4 hours. We were smitten with this city. It is gorgeous. Again, it was a sunny day and although it was cool, it was a refreshing temperature, not uncomfotable, even for this South Floridian. The tour guide took us through town -- beautiful parks, neatly kept homes (many Victorian style old beauties) and the best part was there were people everywhere enjoying the day. Young families with babies in strollers, people walking their dogs, old folks out for a stroll. The backdrop to the City: the magnificent snow-capped Cascade Mountains. We took the tour to Butchart Gardens and we were glad we did! It was stunning. Even though we only had about 2 hours there and really only 1.5 hours of it was daylight, it was well worth it. I have never seen such gorgeous gardens. The flowers and shrubs were meticulously manicured. We got some fantastic photos. Wish we could have spent more time there. We definitely have to go back to Victoria.
OVERALL I would be remiss if I failed to tell you that we were so fortunate to have as our Cruise Director, Richard Joseph. We first met him when we took the Coral Princess through the Panama Canal in 2004. We were then with him on the Diamond Princess touring the Mexican Riviera in 2007. We enjoy him so much because he is knowledgeable about the ships and tours, has a pleasant personality and is low-key. Just our style.
The 7 days went by too fast but it was a trip to remember. We could not have asked for better weather.
THE LAST DAY The last day was our actual anniversary. The restaurant (Daniel's) the hotel concierge selected was just perfect. Located on the shore at Union Lake, it is close to downtown Seattle. We had a beautiful view, excellent service and delicious steaks and seafood. It was a nice way to end a fantastic and memorable cruise.
We wanted to write our review of our cruise. It was so nice and the weather was fabulous every day. We had only 10 minutes of rain in Ketchikan. One day it was 74 degrees. Wonderful.
The ship was nice and our room was the least expensive on board, an inside cabin. I was worried but it was wonderful. I really thought they had done a great job without a window.
We do not like buffet eating so we ate at the restaurants on board. Very good food with one exception. My husband ordered lobster and it was to well done. Ruined I would say.
We ate most lunches at the "international foods" bar. We had wonderful salads and soups and paninni sandwiches. Wonderful. We wish they would expand that are and have breakfast paninnis. This are was called the Piazza. Just great. My understaning is that this is new for the ship. This is were we had our espresso drinks in the morning. Only the espresso was not covered. All the food was included without charge and in the evenings they had wonderful appetizers you could pick up and enjoy.
Iwould say the entertainment was not great. It was okay but I have been on one other Princess Cruise and that was to the Carribean and the entertainment was top notch.
The crew aboard was fantastic and without exception we felt cared for and spoiled.
Princess really has the hosptiality down pat. No complaints and the ship was really nice.
I wanted to write a review because I really do read others and use them to make decisions. We were hesitant to go to Alaska in May but after reading the reviews I found out that May has the least amount of rain. Who knew?
And the last thing but definitely not the least. The Glacier. Words cannot describe how wonderful that was. It took us two hours to go into the Fjord and two hours out. It was fantastic. The pictures we have are pricelss. This was the best part of our cruise. The captain spun the boat around once we were back in to the glacier and it was marvelous. Not enough adjectives to describe this part of our week aboard the Golden Princess.
Our cruise to the Panama Canal on the Island Princess. From Ft. Lauderdale to LA, CA was our 26th cruise and 10th on the Princess line. I am in my 70's and a retired College Professor.
We booked 15 months in advance and were told the ship had very few staterooms available both by our travel agent and by Princess' main office. I got a total of 14 people to go along with the understanding Princess would upgrade us, but they never did. I chose and inside cabin because I feel we are only in our rooms to shower, change and sleep. The ship has MANY places to sit and view the outside better than the best suite. During the 15 months I called Princess many times to check on this or that so I was always in contact with them and up on what was going on. I chose to have Princess arrange my flight to Ft Lauderdale from LA, CA. I felt that if there was trouble with the flight Princess would wait or make alternative arrangements for us. I could have found a better price and timemyself, but chose to have Princess do it.
As the country's economy slumped, more staterooms and better prices came available. I am not sure Princess passed on the better prices to us.
Princess booked us on the red eye American Airlines from LA to Miami. We left home at 7 pm for the 10:30 pm flight. An hour trip to the airport and the two hour early arrival the airlines/airport requires. We arrived in Miami at 6:30Am. A Princess Blue Coat Representative met us in the baggage area and escorted us to an area to wait, miles away from anything. No food and few chairs were available. We waited there 5 hours until the bus arrived. This was not acceptable. Princess really dropped the ball here. There was a small group of grouchy old people by the time that bus came. We have never been treated so poorly. I think a better plan would be to go a day early and have less frustrations.
Princess no longer gives you a book of vouchers that includes every ticket you need. You have to go on line and print them out or have the travel agent do it for you. What I received from Princess 45 days before we were to leave was: Cruise Answer Book, Passage Contract, Pre-Cruise Check List, Travel Care Book (I would recommend using Travel X insurance) and a Shore Excursions sheet. That's it. Not even an Airline ticket!!! I recommend taking along your "Booking Confirmation" sheet just in case or What if!!!!!!!!
I had printed out a Boarding Pass and the Embarkation went very fast, maybe 30 min. We went to the Horizon Court for eats. Then to our room to change. Our room was on the Carb deck. Here is information that is helpful to all. On the stern there is an outside balcony with cover and lounge chairs the width of the ship, a great place to relax and see where you have been. This deck if you go all the way forward has a outside balcony or should I call it a viewing platform on the front of the ship. My wife couldn't find it as there is a fire door (that will open easily) in front of the outside door.
Here are some things you might take: Electric Power Strip like for your computer, LCD clock, and all kinds of Battery Chargers.
Our ride was very smooth but we didn't have any bad sea days. No need for sea sick pills.
I think the condition (paint, carpet, and general use areas) of the ship is very good. The mattresses need replacing, I asked for an egg crate rubber mattress and was very comfortable.
Places that show cutting back by Princess:Room Stewart now has 18 to 20 rooms they care for without an assistant. (Less service), Dining Room waiters have 5 tables to serve, our table had ten people. All dishes with beef now use choice meat cuts instead of Prime cuts and smaller helpings. A positive move in the dining room is that the presentation of each dish is more artful. They have fewer production shows for evening theater entertainment (lots of repeat shows) The Horizon Court on all ships is hectic and unorganized. The Island is no different. Early dining makes it easy to find a seat in the Princess Theater after dinner. The Chapel is no longer a chapel, but a computer lab. I listened in on a couple of classes but was not impressed.
Golf: The pro sounded like he knew what was going on. I went to the virtual golf course and talked a while with him, but I didn't take a golf excursion.
Another small complaint was that Princess has converted the rear pool into a "Sanctuary" a place you can go for peace and quiet. The cost $20 all day. They will nickel and dime you to death.
There are several Laundromats and the cost is a dollar to wash, a dollar to dry, and a dollar for soap.
The outside main pool was very busy when the weather was good, The inside pool always had chairs available.
Ice Cream: Now here is something I want to talk about. All Princess ships have an ice cream bar now and each scoop costs. In the Horizon Court at 3:30 pm they give ice cream away for an hour, as well as fresh made cookies.
Our first stop was Aruba. We walked around town for a couple of hours and then decided to hire a van for a tour of the countryside. Ships cost was $50 and our cost of doing it on our own was $5 each. We got together with 4 others.
The next day we were in Cartagena. We took the ship's tour #325 as it was a mile or two for the freelance tour operators' location (too far to walk).
All day the next day we traveled through the Panama Canal locks. View it from Carb Deck forward. It started at 7:00 am until 4:30pm. A tripod might be a must for this. I saw the first group of locks on the bow and the last from the stern.
Our next port was Costa Rica. I gathered a group of 8 that wanted to do a shore tour on our own. I bunched three adventures together and walked to the independent tour operators and bargained a price of $20 each. We saw Macaw, Panoramic scenic drive, Reserva Biologica Carara, Wild Monkeys, and the Mangrove boat trip. The boat was another $35 each. Our total cost was $55, and the ship's cost over $250 per person.
The next day we were in Nicaragua and we did a self tour of Granada and Lake Nicaragua and on the way back to the ship we stopped at the center of the town of Rivas all for $25 each. It was great. At this port one of the crew got off the ship and played soccer with other crew at the local park. He had a heart attack and died. A sad moment!
Some passengers returned to the ship with the Noro virus from eating and drinking at local spots in town and it spread throughout the ship fast. The Island Princess took prompt action to stop it.
The next day we were in Guatemala. This was our favorite country. We again did a self tour to Antigua, the jade factory, the Mayan textile weaving and the Auto Safari. This cost us $30. there was an entrance fee of a couple of dollars.
All of our self tours lasted the full time the ship was in port. I told all the drivers we wanted to be back to the dock one hour before sailing time. These self tours need someone that speaks Spanish to go along. It is cheaper if you do the translations and don't need the translator.
Our next day was to be at Huatulco, Mexico, but because of the global flu scare, the captain did not stop anywhere in Mexico.
The temps were in the 90s and 100s with 100 per cent humidity to this point. As we sailed north it became steadily cooler. The last day there was no one around the pools. In LA it was in the high 60s.
Princess takes out tips for the crew day by day automatically at the rate of $10.50 per person. I think I would like to do my own, and yes I could, but it takes extra effort to set that up.
The disembarkation went smooth. Princess does have getting on and getting off down pat.
If I were to complain, it would be a complaint with the home office as everything on the ship went smoothly.
CRUISING BIG STYLE! MERVYN HANCOCK JOINS THE GRAND PRINCESS FOR A TRIP AROUND THE MEDITERRANEAN.
We whizzed through the dock gates at Southampton with some apprehension, on the weekend after the children had been returned to their classrooms after a half term break! We knew that our cruise ship, The Grand Princess, would be filling up with mainly adult passengers, but wife Sue and I also knew that there were three ships in dock, ready to embark on the first of the 2009 season's Mediterranean cruises, and that the total number of souls taking part in this adventure would total over 7,000.
I expected chaos, but was pleasantly surprised at the slick and efficient operation which saw our car parked, luggage hoisted onboard, and being established in our cabin within the space of 20 minutes. Not bad considering the ship had only docked five hours earlier and was due to set sail again in just 120 minutes.
The Grand Princess had sailed from Fort Lauderdale in the USA and brought over a cargo of Americans, 240 of which would remain with us for the 14 day voyage to Spain, Italy, France andMonaco, and prove to be most amiable travelling companions.
With almost 20 cruises under our belts, Sue and I were considered to be veteran sailors, but nothing prepared us for the vastness of our amazing ship, which dwarfed everything else we encountered, and only needed six walks around the promenade deck to complete a mile! Two other giants set off before us, following more or less the same route, and the numbers and variety of people waving from their balconies as they sailed past demonstrated how cruising has now become a vacation that's affordable for almost everyone.
Indeed, there are so many cruise ships plying the world's oceans at the moment that it is possible to embark on a holiday that costs around £60 per person per night -- and don't forget that food, travel, accommodation and entertainment are all thrown in. Not many, if indeed any, hotels can match that. And with another ship, capable of holding over 5,000 passengers, due to be launched in a few months, competition and prices between the big operators can only get keener.
Thus far, Sue and I had stuck mainly to the smaller ships, which are capable of getting into a bigger variety of ports, but the Grand Princess was a lady with a lot to offer.
We were allocated a mini-suite on deck nine, midships, and very near to the countless elevators which swept passengers up and down to various dining rooms, theatres, bars, salons, pools, gyms and shopping areas.
This was like being in the middle of a large town, with so many places to visit that, at first, we were quite mesmerised by it all.
Should we lounge around on our private balcony in the sunshine, and take advantage of the 24 room service, find a lounger on one of the vast decks, or risk piling on the pounds in the dining areas, where food and drink were available throughout the day and night? Or should we wander around this veritable metropolis on the high seas and simply soak up the atmosphere? We did both, and enjoyed every minute of it!
Princess Cruises offer a really useful dining plan too! You can either choose traditional dinner, with the same companions each evening, or go for "Anytime" plans where you simply turn up when you are hungry, sit alone or join others, and if that doesn't suit, there's a 24 hour buffet offering more or less the same choice of food.
Lobster, steaks, pasta, exotic dishes specially created by top chefs, mouth watering sweets, cakes and other delights were eagerly demolished by an appreciative audience, who seemed to still find room for the afternoon treat of home made ice-cream!
We deliberately stayed away from the eating areas during the morning and afternoon, because it was simply too tempting.
Entertainment was available from early morning to the wee small hours, although no one tried to force anyone to join in! Two main theatres -- as lavish as anything on shore -- offered variety shows, while music and dancing could be found in many other parts of the ship. Many of the Americans favoured the huge Casino, while the discotheque at the very top of the vessel was mainly occupied by people seeking sanctuary, as there weren't many youngsters onboard to take advantage of the nightly boogy-woogying!
Many of the onboard cabins had their own veranda – a trend which is becoming more and more popular, and available as the ships get bigger. Ours had a bathroom with tub and shower, walk-in wardrobes, a Queen-size bed, separate sitting area with a comfortable settee and chair, fridge and two huge televisions – one for the lounge area and the other for the bedroom. Programme choice was limited, but who wants to watch television with so much else going on?
Bargain prices for the initial cruise mean that many people can now take advantage of what used to be, a holiday for the "well off" and often a once in a lifetime experience. But you do need to be aware of those "extras" which seem to crop up a lot more often on the bigger ships, especially those operated by the Americans.
Gratuities are the main taking point among the British passengers – many of whom opted to remove the "discretionary" charge of around £7 per night per passenger -- including children -- which is automatically added to each bill. We were told that this cash is distributed among the crew to people like the cabin steward, waiter and backroom workers, and makes up a large part of their wage. I have no doubt that this is true, but it does beg the question of why they need to rely on such a substantial tip, and whether it should be imposed even before you meet many of them! I do prefer the system operated in the Fred Olsen ships, where you tip individuals at the end of the voyage, and give them what you think they deserve.
Onboard prices for drinks include a 15 per cent gratuity, and by British pub standards are expensive. I paid £10 for a can of draught Guinness and a medium glass of red wine, and even the soft drinks were around £1-40p, although you could buy a "soda package" which allowed you to drink as many as you like.
Another moan on many ships is the charges for "shuttle buses." Often the vessel docks away from the main town and city centres, and you have to pay to get from the port to the shops. Organised shore excursions also add up to hundreds of pounds, so you need to watch that credit card. You don't actually spend money onboard, as everything is charged to your shipboard account and settled at the end of the voyage. My own bill – modest by many standards – came to $1100 or around £730 for two weeks, which included two shore excursions, tips, drinks, cover charge for an onboard steakhouse and some duty free items.
We were looking forward to three of the eight ports of call -- Rome to see the Vatican, Naples for a visit to Pompeii and Monte Carlo to see the preparations for the famous Grand Prix. At all three the local "businessmen" were awaiting the tourists to extract as much money as they could from our short visits. Like £14 for a pint of lager in Monte Carlo, £8 for two ice cream cones in the Vatican, and an attempt to get £5 for a cone of popcorn in Pompeii! But the tours were well organised and worth the money.
Bargain hunters were out in force in Gibraltar, and with cigarettes costing £14 for 200, and spirits as little as £4-50p a litre, it is no wonder that some thoughts turned to smuggling! Don't try it though. You are allowed the old duty free allowance, and customs officers await you at Southampton. We opted, instead, for a wonderful fruity curry in the local pub, run by a cheerful Cornish woman, at normal prices – a real change from the very expensive Euro zone!
Glorious weather followed us most of the way, and we even sunbathed on our veranda through the notorious Bay of Biscay, which was flat calm.
Many of our fellow passengers were on their umpteenth cruise with Princess, and looking forward to even more adventures. On my part I would happily book another trip on Grand Princess, and despite those extra charges, cruising is still -- pound for pound -- one of the best bargains around.
Mervyn and Sue Hancock travelled with Princess Cruises onboard Grand Princess which is offering a selection of cruises from Southampton throughout the year. Contact reservations on 08453555800 for details.