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Prepare For the Hustle
Publication Date: May 13, 2015

This was the “South America Passage.”

First, the up-side.

Holland America Line (HAL) delivered on its itinerary. We embarked in Valparaiso, Chile. We disembarked two weeks later in Buenos Aires having sailed around the Horn. There were two ports along the way where we were supposed to stop, but didn’t. The Captain probably made the right decisions in the interest of safety. One was weather-related. The other due to a forest fire and a lot of smoke.

The food was great, plentiful, and available just about every minute of the day.

The cabin was clean and everything worked well. The boat is getting a little old, but it is well maintained. Our cabin steward was excellent. He was incredibly cooperative, conscientious, and attentive.

Now, for the downside.

HAL maximizes its revenue by selling use of limited boat space to vendors who make good use of a captive audience. There’s a wrist watch shop, a jewelry store, people bugging you all day long to buy photos of yourself, a place that sells clothing, and a smoky casino. Pardon me, but if I want to buy a watch, some earrings, or a sweatshirt, then I’ll do it on

land before I leave for the trip. And I won’t pay an inflated price. We would like for HAL to use all that vendor space for something more productive - like a place to sit and look out the window at the fantastic scenery. The most amazing hustle of all is the Park West Gallery art “auction,” complete with the “auctioneer’s” confederates circling behind you, telling you when to raise your card. It was offensive.

HAL seems to be a generation behind in the areas of on-board entertainment, restaurant décor, and mid-ship sculpture. The comedy and dance presentations could compete for the Lawrence Welk audience. The fancy restaurants looked like 19th century brothels, complete with servers sporting costumes and a level of fake formality calculated to encourage heavy drinking. A hideous, organ-shaped sculpture consumes the middle of the ship, unavoidable on decks three through five. HAL would make more friends if it traded the artificial opulence for brighter, more contemporary furnishings and service.

In short HAL, as an independent company, was a first-class cruise line for the first nine decades of the last century. Carnival bought it in 1989, and has now fully effected the culture shift. Today HAL is a reflection of the lowest common denominator.

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Princess Preferred: A Review of the Caribbean Princess
Publication Date: May 9, 2015

From the Norman Love truffle pops at the Welcome Toast to the restaurant-like beverage service in the buffet, Princess is filled with surprises that make it my favorite among the mass market cruise lines.

It won’t blow you away with bumper cars or carousels, but what it does deliver is consistently solid service, attention to detail and an eagerness to please.

The recent trip on the Caribbean Princess, our fourth on the line, proved to be as good as the first. With many of the lines noticeably scaling back, Princess is an exception. Here’s some of what made it special:

Ship shape. Princess’ mini-suite is ideal for those who want more space but not at a suite price. It’s essentially the size of a hotel room with two flat screen TVs, a full-sized couch, large counter, and porch furniture featuring reclining chairs, foot stools and a large table. The closets in the mini-suites%u2014as well as the balcony rooms%u2014are the largest we’ve had on any cruise line, and can accommodate three hanging shoe bags, along with a whole lot of clothes.

The staterooms%u2014as well as the public rooms%u2014were immaculate. You’d really have to look hard to

find any evidence that the ship was built 11 years ago.

The piazza, the hub of ship activity, this trip featured a pianist, a we-can-play-just-about-anything band and singer, steel drums and a former circus performer who twirled lighted hoops in a blaze of color and grace.

The only downside to the handsome piazza is that it can’t always accommodate everyone who wants to be there. Getting a good enough view to take photos of the Mardi Gras party or a seat to eat your International Café quiche can sometimes be all but impossible.

Food; themed and otherwise. Speaking of food, it ranged from fair to good, in both the Main Dining Room and Horizon Court buffet. One innovation in the MDR was Caribbean cuisine, a welcome reminder of where we were. And it was nice to see lobster tail still on the formal night menu.

Horizon Court themed nights were a lot of fun and we found ourselves there more than the MDR. German night was alight with a color-changing, larger-than-life beer stein (in ice, not on ice), landjagger bites and German hams, pretzel rolls, red cabbage, sausages, and linzer and sacher tortes. Italian night, with its gondolier-costumed waiters, served up prosciutto and hunks of parmesan, fennel au gratin and pasta many ways.

The bakery stuff is where Princess really excels. The breads are great%u2014from the sunflower-studded rolls to the cheese-topped croissants to the onion-infused focaccia. The chocolate desserts were excellent, rivaling some of the best bakeries on land.

The ship was as generous with its buffet hours as it was with the food offerings. You can get breakfast until 11:30, lunch until 3:30 (if you miss this, there’s “afternoon snack” from 3:30-5:30, which is a scaled down lunch), and full dinner is available until 11. Late dining was an especially mellow meal, just us, a few other night owls and the crew.

Fun and games. While standard fare, the entertainment was generally good; highlights were a juggler/comedian whose not-G-rated shtick brought on belly laughs, and a magician/comedian with same-but-different sleight-of-hand tricks and fast wit.

In fact, everyone seemed to be a comedian on this trip%u2014including the cruise director, Paul Chandler-Burns. The Brit’s quips shot out like sparks%u2014in an understated, under-the-breath sort of way%u2014and made him the ideal emcee. His banter during the “The Marriage Match Game Show” made it easily one of the best we’ve seen on any ship.

There were several themed parties, the most memorable was the “Love Boat Disco Deck Party” held by the pool. The ship’s singers and dancers, dressed officer-like in white pants suits and captain hats, did the hustle and other moves, while the Movie Under the Stars screen revived scenes from the TV show, interspersing its octogenarian cast members somewhat disconcertedly jiving to a disco beat.

Well served. Service onboard was attentive from the room steward to the well-orchestrated disembarkation. Ironically, some of the best service we had was in the buffet. One night, I was asked by three different waiters within 10 minutes if I wanted any water or coffee.

With the generous room space, great service, varied entertainment with plenty of laughs, satisfying food sprinkled with surprises, and four good Western Caribbean ports (seven days of sun didn’t hurt either), we felt gloriously pampered from ship to shore. And felt that Princess did its best%u2014and succeeded%u2014in helping us “come back new.”

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Training Ground
Publication Date: May 4, 2015

Although this boat is relatively new, the quality for the price just isn't there. We took the cruise from Memphis to New Orleans, enjoying the ports but not the service or the mediocre food aboard the boat.

Apparently, the boat is used as a "training ground" for young people to learn service jobs for the hospitality industry. This cruise was quite expensive--not the time or the place to train personnel.

Food served was not regional overall and was often lackluster, without any special quality. Some so-called regional specialties were simply tasteless. For menu choices, we did not always get what we ordered. When served, the orders took so long, the food wasn't always even warm, which left it unappetizing at best. There were a few experienced quality servers, but their tables were in high demand, leaving other diners to cope with painfully slow and disorganized service.

I have never been to any restaurant where the order was changed--without notifying the customer of the change. Instead, the food was served with substitute items, such as salmon instead of lobster on a special type of eggs benedict. If I returned it to the kitchen, I would have

to wait an additional lengthy time period to get it back. And it may be incorrect yet again.

Other passengers apparently accepted this incompetence, but our standards are higher, especially considering the very high cost of this trip. Cabin service was another problem, with frequent failure to replace soiled towels and washcloths, even though placed on the floor, as instructed. I found the linen closet myself and occasionally replaced my own laundry supplies. Overall, I would not cruise with this line again. Value for your money does not exist on this boat.

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