Ranked #9 Princess fleet
Ranked #71 among all ships
Regions: Alaska, California, Hawaii, South America
Prices Start at:$79/day
One of the early Mega-ships still with the Skywalker's Nightclub, look for bargains ...Read the CruiseMates report
Ranked #9 Princess fleet
Ranked #71 among all ships
Regions: Alaska, California, Hawaii, South America
Prices Start at:$79/day
One of the early Mega-ships still with the Skywalker's Nightclub, look for bargains ...Read the CruiseMates report
After booking our next cruise last April (we sail in Novermber) with Princess, a few months later we saw a better price. We called Princess and requested the lower price. Princess said they no longer honor the "low price guarantee." And the more we read, we see more and more cruise lines are following this policy. So, what advantage is there to booking early?
The film "Flying Down to Rio" aired March 11, 2010 on TCM (Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers' first film together) and that same evening we flew American Airlines to Rio de Janeiro. We took it as a good omen, and our trip was a sensational one. For months we had been telling everyone we were flying down to Rio -- something we had been wanting to say for most of our lives. The glamour, the natural beauty, and the excitement of Rio are unparalleled in South America. Vincent bartered and dickered for weeks for a non-stop flight; finally, he changed the date of our departure and this gave us four days in Rio and meant we only had to load our wheelchair and scooter once. He didn't want to take any chances with our equipment. The flight from Miami was overnight from 11:00pm to 9:30am Rio Time. Not bad, we went business class with good food and drinks and a comfortable seat which reclined for sleeping --- all this TLC made the time fly.
In Rio, Vincent had arranged for a mini van to aid our transfer to the Hotel WindsorAsturias. The van was actually a tiny station wagon, so Vincent took another taxi too, and we got to the hotel in separate cars, but with everything in one piece and accounted for. Now, we were truly ready for our Brazilian Adventure. After dinner we went to the 22nd floor Terrace to see Rio. Fantastic! From our hotel we could see most of Rio: Sugar Loaf Mountain with its cable car and Mt. Corcovado with the 125 foot tall statue of Christ the Redeemer whose arms are out stretched embracing the city. It was very exciting seeing the Copa Cabana beach and the famous Maracana` Soccer Stadium. We took a tour to Corcovado to see the Cristos and it was awe inspiring. The face and hands were sculpted in France, but the huge body was constructed in Rio of local sandstone, a soft porous stone which requires frequent upkeep. Unfortunately, at present, there is a chain link scaffold over the statue during this resurfacing. Although the purity of line was marred, the majesty and enormity of the work was still evident.
However, this was one of the few times in all of our world travels that we visited a country in which we could not understand the language at all and very few people we encountered could speak English. Portugese is actually worse than Greek to us, since Vincent understands a bit of Greek. Just ordering dinner was an adventure, we thought that whatever came would be a surprise; so we went with the flow and life was very enjoyable. Our hotel was centrally located and the guests were international. Very interesting.
EMBARKATION Once again Vincent had arranged for a special van to transfer us to the ship. One showed up on time with seats for twelve passengers, but no space for luggage or the wheelchair and scooter. A second call was made and a Mercedes van showed up and we were off to the Port, a distance of about one mile at a cost of $100. A bit expensive but the transfer was a relief to us. Check in was simple, since the ship was staying overnight and there was no specific rush hour or crowds during this time. We were delighted to be back on the Star Princess for the third time.
THE SHIP The Star Princess is Hull #6051 built by the Fincantieri Monfalcone Shipyards of Italy and launched in 2002 at a cost of $450 million. Like her sister ships in the Grand Class, Grand, Golden and Sapphire Princesses, she has the distinctive "spoiler" in the upper stern, which holds the Skywalker Nightclub. She is 951 feet long with a beam of 159 feet (including the Bridge Wing) and a gross tonnage of 109,000 with a draft of a mere 26 feet. Her maximum speed is 24 knots and her registry is Hamilton, Bermuda. Average passenger capacity is 2,600 and her crew numbers 1,150 -- an excellent passenger to crew ratio.
She has 28 wheelchair-accessible cabins, which are not reserved for wheelchair only guests. It is a pity to see physically challenged people struggling with equipment, while able bodied passengers are using facilities they do not need. The ADA needs to be made aware of this. Our Travel Agent Skyscraper Tours keep medical certificates on hand in order to avoid this very dilemma -- all agents should be required to do so.
In our review of our first sailing on the Star Princess 2005, we did a detailed deck-by-deck description of the Star, so we refer the reader to this same site for that. Here, we will note some tricks to getting around the Star. Vincent's Scooter got hung up on several too steep entrances and exits-- for example the nearest route to the Lido Deck 14 could not be used. However, if we took the elevator down to Promenade Deck 7, then went aft to the central lifts (elevators) and then up to Deck 14 and voila` there was no obstruction. The Promenade is also too difficult to enter because of sharply angled ramps. Mary's wheelchair could handle them, but it was a bumpy ride (don't try this while carrying a drink or food!)
The Star's unique Centrum (Decks 5, 6, and 7) is a hub of activity, due to neatly clustered venues. Deck 5 is the lovely Piazza with its mosaic floor, on which the Argentinian Tango dancers Fernando and Cecilia executed their precise and fluid movements. This was not just a series of poses like on "Dancing With the Stars;" rather this was delightfully staccato and rhythmic steps. Bravissimi! So beautiful that Mary went to see them daily at 1, 2 and 3pm.
Deck 5 also has the Internet Cafe` and the Library, Vines Shop and Bar (with wine tastings and cheese pairings. Most important of all, here is located the International Cafe` serving wonderful coffees, espresso, pastries, delicate sandwiches, bigne and doughnuts. Starting at 11:00am they also have hot cookies for which passengers line up. The Centrum on Deck 5 is a busy place.
On Deck 6 are the Boutiques, the Passenger Services Desk and the Grand Casino. On Deck 7 are the Wheelhouse Bar, the Explorers Lounge, the Vista Lounge, the Tour Office and the Wedding Chapel. The Centrum is the Hub of many activities and a great meeting place.
Our old friend Hotel General Manager Gianfranco Sampiero told us of the logistical inconveniences which occurred at Valparaiso because of the Chilean Earthquake. There were passengers with travel problems and difficulties loading supplies. But, all were accommodated with patience. Of course, there are always those people unwilling to allow an act of nature to cause them inconvenience. We say go with the flow and everyone will be happier. Under Sampiero the ship is run beautifully and she remains lovely. Captain Edward Perrin keeps to his schedule. At one time he was First Officer of the Love Boat, what a recommendation!
FOOD & SERVICE Captain Perrin's cocktail parties are well attended and during this cruise there were three formal nights to remember. Service on board always filters down from above and Captain Perrin has set a high standard for all to follow. Service is top notch.
Food is where Princess excels; whenever we are asked which cruise line we prefer, we always respond that for food we suggest Princess, because most of her Executive Chefs are Italian and now we will add that the Corporate Culinary Ambassador and Master Chef is Commendatore Alfredo Marzi; His resume mentions that he has directed and supervised official banquets in honor of many famous guests including the following: Queen Elizabeth II, Diana, Princess of Wales, Former King Umberto of Italy, U.S. President George Bush, Italian President Ciampi, etc. --- (How's that for name dropping?)
As a graduate of L'Ecole Culinare Francaise August Escoffier, Marzi is esteemed world wide and sets all the menus and recipes for the Princess ships. He is the original "Love Boat" Chef and now visits all the Princess ships in rotation. We were lucky that he was on board this cruise. His potato gnocchi are incredibly light and served in a delicate cheese sauce.
The Star Princess' Executive Chef is Paolo Merio, a jovial master chef who apprenticed under Senior Exec. Chef Antonio Cereda and it shows. Born in Como, Italy, he is the product of a family steeped in fine food for generations. He attended the Hotel School of Bellaggio and began his Princess career at the age of 17, as the youngest employee in the Princess Fleet. From galley helper in 1986 to Executive Chef in 2000 – a 14-year meteoric rise.
Enough about personalities, now the food.
The Chef's Dinner: Quail & venison terrine with mesclun salad; Twice baked goat's cheese Souffle` with garlic Sabayon; Wild mushroom cream soup with Madeira sun-blushed tomatoes; Boston bib lettuce salad with shallot dressing; Palate cleanser of strawberry and thyme infused lemon Sorbet.
Choice of Entree: Griddled sea bass with Champagne risotto; Seared scallops in citrus butter, red bliss potatoes and vegetables Julienne; Pork tenderloin with cocoa spice rub, natural au jus and ratatouille; Pink roasted superior rack of lamb with rosemary and Boulangere potatoes; or Vegan English Stilton with crisp leek hay and Port wine glaze.
Or you may try the roasted Portobello, or fettucine Alfredo which are always available daily, as are shrimp cocktail, classic Caesar's salad, seared salmon, broiled chicken breast au jus, beef medallions with Bearnaise sauce, and southern fried chicken with French fries and coleslaw.
Now for dessert, try the Menage a Trois (Mini raspberry panna cotta, an Opera Gatteau and a Honey hazelnut semifreddo with Nutella Twist), or maybe a sugar free mint chocolate cake, or the "Always Available" Princess Love Boat Dream (Mousse on Brownie), traditional NY cheesecake, fruit or cheese plates, or a variety of homemade ice creams: Amaretto, Butter Toffee, Rum Raisin, Blueberry Sorbet or many others. Coffee or tea with made on board Mignardises. The best dessert was the Chef's concoction of an Amaretto Mousse, with a starfish cookie with strawberries tumbling out and all arranged in front of a spun sugar Red Coral Reef Sea Fan (beautiful to look at and taste).
Dinner on board the Star Princess is always an occasion with Maitre D' Giuseppe "Beppe" Castino orchestrating it. Our Head Waiters Andras and Wolfgang Pauer made meals interesting. They prepared specialities in the Portofino Dining Room tableside such as the following: Pastas, and desserts like Bananas Foster, Cherries Jubilee and on St. Patrick's Day, Irish Coffee.
Our waiters were Edgar and his Assistant Rodel, who were very attentive and helpful: One evening when Mary was ill, Vincent went down to say we would not dine in the dining room and in five minutes Maitre D`Beppe called our stateroom to say dinner would be brought to our cabin. And what a dinner it was: Soup, baked gnocchi, Chocolate Mousse, sorbets and a bottle of Verdicchio to wash it down!
Every morning we used the Bell Box (Room Service) for Continental Breakfast in our cabin --- it was always on time and coffee and chocolate were hot. Lunch time was always interesting and a special treat, since Chef Merio did many special features poolside on Deck 14 such as the following: Sushi displays, Mexican buffets, Italian trattoria spreads, tapas, etc.... Needless, to say our South America cruise was a gastronomic tour. We try to avoid the buffet because of the wheelchair, but buffet server, Gerry, helped us every time we ventured forth and gave us courage to return.
Two days before Ft. Lauderdale Commendatore Marzi made a spectacular Easter display of huge chocolate eggs (12 t0 24 inches tall) all uniquely decorated. We'll just call him the Michelangelo of Edible Sculpture; he is truly an artist. The huge displays had all the usual suspects: bunnies, chickens, hens, ducks, geese, flowers and even a "Tweetie" bird. We are positive that the cruisers on the next week were flabbergasted by this wonderland of art.
CABIN Stateroom Baja 303 on Deck 11 is wheelchair accessible. When entering on the left is a parking space for the wheelchair; a triple armoire with two sections for hanging and one with a set of shelves and the personal safe. Next, there is a TV, a refrigerator and a long desk/vanity with a lighted mirror and four drawers, a desk chair and an upholstered chair. When entering on the right, there is the large bathroom with 4'X4' shower with a fold-up seat, sink a mirror and nice shelves for amenities. The beds were two cot size bunks. When we asked that they be made into one, the response was that "As singles you will have more room in the cabin." Next time (May 9, 2010 on the Emerald Princess) we will insist on our request, since we were not happy with the configuration!
The far wall had all windows and the sliding door to the balcony, which held a chaise lounge, two other chairs and a large table. Alas, there was no automatic door opener which makes it difficult to enter and exit the cabin. Each time, it was a logistical event.
ENTERTAINMENT Cruise Director J.J. Ullrich has personality, pep and leads the fun aboard the Star with enthusiasm. The best show was the folkloric "Brasileirissimo Samba Show" Costumes were fantastic; featured were Capoeira Maculele and Samba --- WOW! --- This ship had new release movies in several venues: The Princess Theatre, the Vista Lounge and the Pool Deck Gigantic Screen which featured Cirque Du Soleil "Delirium." The production shows in the Theatre were "Ports of Call" and "Cinematastic." The Star Princess had something always going on from the top Deck 17 "Skywalkers" to Deck 5 Piazza. No one should go away bored. There is also the Scholarship at Sea Program: with computer courses, photography, ceramics, ballroom dancing, culinary arts and wine tasting. There are also gym, swimming, golf, trivia, bingo, the Casino tournaments, etc.PORTS OF CALL
Day 1. Rio De Janeiro, Brazil Embarkation suggested after 2pm. Overnight in Rio to facilitate tours of this beautiful city. Tours organized by Princess: Best of Rio, visit to Sugarloaf and Christ the Redeemer (8hrs. $199); Christ the Redeemer, visit the 125-ft-tall statue on top of Corcovado Mountain (4hrs. $89).
Day 2. Rio De Janeiro Depart 5:00pm
Day 3. Santos, Brazil Arrive 7:00am Depart 7:00pm Tours by Princess: Highlights Sao Paulo, Brazil's largest city with barbecue lunch at a traditional Churrascaria (8hrs. $149); Tour of Santos & Guaruja`, a coastal resort (4hrs. $69).
Days 4. and 5. Sea Days
Day 6. Salvador, Brazil Arrive 8:00am Depart 5:00pm Tours by Princess: Salvador Highlights, bus ride through modern Salvador, visit craft shops, artisan studios and cafes (4hrs. $55); A Walk Through Historic Salvador, a guided tour including two beautiful Baroque churches (4hrs. $45).
Day 7. Sea Day
Day 8. Recife, Brazil Arrive 8am Depart 5:00pm We visited our local friends Alessandra & Eduardo and toured the city by car. We enjoyed Olinda, Brazil's old colonial capital, with the many varicolored houses and historical churches. That morning on the Pier we saw from the ship a group of dancers, in colorful costumes, with small umbrellas, doing the "Frevo", a local characteristic dance. With a very energetic "Crescendo"!
Day 9. Sea Day
Day 10. Fortaleza, Brazil Arrive 7:00am Depart 4:00pm Tours available: Introduction to Fortaleza, a narrated drive through the city with visits to the Neo-Gothic Cathedral, the Central Market, etc. (4 hrs. $49); Cumbuco Beach Tour, a 45-minute drive to this famous beach (4hrs. $79).
Days 11, 12 and 13. At Sea On day 11, on March 26, at 10:30am we crossed the Equator. On that occasion a traditional ceremony was performed by "King Neptune" and his court on Deck 14 (Neptune's Reef & Pool)
Day 14. Barbados Arrive 7:00am Depart 5:00pm A variety of tours are offered by Princess, from snorkeling to sailing and golfing, to scenic rides and safari adventures, etc....
Day 15. Antigua Arrive 9:00am Depart 5:30pm As for Barbados the same can be said for Antigua, more than twenty Tours are offered by Princess. Check the list on Princess' website.
Day 16. St. Thomas, USVI Arrive 7:00am Depart 5:30pm US Passport Check. This island is a great place for tax-free shopping.
Day 17. At Sea
Day 18. At Sea and Captain Perrin's Farewell Cocktail Party
Day 19. Ft. Lauderdale, FL. USA Arrive 7:00am
DEBARKATION This was a simple and speedy affair, since we had already done our passport check in St. Thomas. All those in wheelchairs met in the Casino and were escorted from there to baggage pick up and Customs. We were in our van and headed home on I-95 at 9:45am. Excellent.
SUGGESTIONS We strongly feel that wheelchair cabins should be available to those who need them and not to opportunists. A simple directive to travel agents should be made to inform them that the cruise line's policy will be to move those who ignore the rules to another cabin and it may not be one of their selection. Moreover, the cruise line should not assign the wheelchair accessible cabins to anyone without proper medical documentation until the last days of booking, when all the disabled passengers have been accommodated.
We are ready for another cruise! We have booked our next cruise on the Emerald Princess for May 9, 2010 and look forward to see again our old friends, Hotel Manager Peter Hollinson and Maitre d' Nicola Furlan. Happy Cruising!
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 -- Air Deviation Fee Scheme This was by far the worst of our many trips (including 15 cruises) all over the world. Princess booked us on a very tight flight connection and would not change it unless we paid hundreds more in "Air Deviation Fees." We declined and suffered the consequences. As feared, we missed our flight and had to make it on our own to South America to catch the Star Princess at her second port of call. We incurred considerable expenses which Princess refused to reimburse us for, claiming it was a "legal" air connection. We did not get our luggage until returning home on the 18th day.
This was our first cruise on Princess and we would not consider using their services again. A quick search of the internet will disclose many of the questionable business practices they employ including the "Air Deviation Fee" scheme they used on us. We believe that their scheme works like this. A customer books a cruise and makes the final payment. About 20-30 days before departure Princess issues the air schedule. The customer notes that they have many short and/or tightconnections and expresses his concern. Princess tells the customer that it is a "legal" connection, but they will change it for an "Air Deviation Fee" (One man we spoke with on the ship paid an additional $1400 to get an acceptable schedule.) Since the customer is now in the penalty phase of the booking, Princess will keep all or most of the customer's money if they cancel.
AVOID THIS COMPANY AT ALL COSTS.
On May 11, 2008, we embarked on our 1st cruise with Princess cruise lines. We sailed The Star Princess 7 day cruise to Alaska round trip from Seattle. We are Mother and Daughter age 41 and 17, and we have traveled on cruises many times in the past. We took a town car service to and from the airport to the port for $40.00 each way and that's per car, not passenger. The car holds approx 3-4 people.
Embarkation Embarkation was out of Seattle. It was the most disorganized embarkation we've ever experienced. We arrived at the port at 10:45 am; we boarded the ship at 1200 pm. We had booked the penthouse suite for my daughter's graduation and were to have priority check-in; however they started checking in everyone but priority which I felt was rude, and they were very focused on a wedding party that took precedence over everyone else.
Stateroom We opted for a penthouse suite and we were located on Deck 10 (Caribe Deck). The stateroom was great. We had a walk-in closet, a large bathroom with full-size jetted tub, as well as large shower, a small sittingroom with a loveseat, and a nice double balcony with a partial roof covering. I did like some of the suite amenities complimentary such as thermal spa since Alaska is COLD. The downside to the thermal spa is that everyone is sneaking in. Access needs to be better controlled to preserve the experience. Laundry and dry cleaning was free, and daily menus that you can order food from the dinning room to your room were provided. Downside of this is that since Alaska is COLD we ordered hot chocolate off the breakfast menu and they charged us for it daily which, when we were in the dining room, they did not.
Dining We had requested the early traditional dining table for two, however we had a table for four and they were unable to accommodate our request made one year in advance. Therefore we were placed in the Capri dining room with anytime dinning with a set table (#22) for 5:45 every night. This was a table for two. We were very pleased with the food and our wait staff (Bruno and Ricardo, and Alex when Bruno was out sick). We liked several of the meals at dinner such as Alaskan King Crab Legs, Fresh Ketchikan Silver Salmon and dill butter sauce, Pappardelle al Sugo di Lepre (braised rabbit), Gamberi alla Fra Diavolo (flambéed shrimp). The best dessert was the cheese cake.
All three dining rooms are small and none of them are grand. The positives are that the dining rooms don't get noisy, and it works well with accommodating traditional and open seating passengers. The negatives are that there is no large, grand dining room that you find on non-Princess ships.
Lunch was open seating in the Portofino Dining Room. Our waiters, for the most part, were fast and efficient. Again, the food was good, not great.
Specialty restaurant Sabatini's was terrible -- 8 courses and nothing was good or great. I felt like I spent $40.00 on cheese cake since that was the only food I really enjoyed there.
Afternoon Tea was excellent, and I did like the fact that Princess has this daily.
Drinks were the worst ever; I would rank RC as the best, Carnival 2nd, and Princess as the worst.
Ports Ketchichen: We did the zip line tour and it was great.
Juneau: We did a whale watching tour with ORCA enterprises (1-888-733-6722 -- adult $109.00 each). It is an excellent tour and you can book this online and it is well worth it. The boat is new, with inside bathroom and seating. There are large windows that can be opened to take pictures and then closed again to keep warm. They also provide snacks, and hot and cold drinks which are included with the tour. We saw up close and personal a pod of 7 Orcas, Sea lions, bald eagles, and hump back whales.
Tracy Arm: The was spectacular -- a great morning to spend enjoying the open decks or hanging out on one's balcony.
Skagway: This port involved a boring long walk into town. Take the blue buses into town for $1.50 each way.
Victoria, BC: This is a beautiful city, however, the ship arrives at 5pm at night and leaves at 12 midnight. I would love for this to be a full day port and do away with Skagway if necessary to make up the time.
Entertainment The Star Princess Production Cast are not the most talented group. We had two comedians and they were very good. They had a very talented man named Greg Bonham who was the best I have ever seen on a cruise ship. He sang, danced, and played the trumpet like no other, so all the cruise lines should be booking him.
The casino on this ship was pretty dead.
Disembarkation We decided to haul off our own luggage. With that said we felt that the Captain's Circle and Priority members should have been allowed to leave the ship first with their luggage, which was not the case. There were crowds of people disembarking, not waiting in their areas and it was very difficult to move your luggage off the ship. I feel that Princess needs to address this issue.
Other Comments This cruise did not have a lot of activities compared to other cruise lines. It seemed geared toward the older generations 65 and older. I would have loved to see the indoor pool opened, and it was not. If you are going to Alaska, go around the 3rd week in June to see the salmon run and bears. For the best shopping, go at the end of the season in September since all the shops want to sell off the clothes and gifts since the towns are mostly closed during the winter months.
This was the WORST CRUISE OF MY LIFE.
1 -- There was an epidemic on board the Star Princess. A huge number of passengers had severe vomiting and diarrhea accompanied by high fevers. The fact that cruise ships tend to have epidemics of vomiting and diarrhea, and not the much more common cold, tells you that it is not being brought onboard by a sick passenger. These bugs are most likely living in the carpeting, drapes, bedspreads, blankets, or ventilation. They could also be being spread by asymptomatic crew members who are carriers.
2 -- My husband and I are good cooks. It was difficult to find good tasting food at the buffet. We did eat dinners at the restaurant. On some evenings the food was very good. On other evenings, the food was mediocre to bad. I could cook better in my sleep. At the end of the cruise, they were actually trying to sell their cookbook!!!
3 -- The Beagle Channel Wildlife shore excursion (Ushuaia) was really boring. We saw a few seals and some birds. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone.
4 -- We tried to go to the poolsone night right after dinner, but they were already closed for the night.
5 -- The shore excursion to see the penguins in Punta Arenas was canceled because the penguins had moved on. This was disappointing, but at least they were honest about it.
6 -- The captain took the ship all the way around Cape Horn, which is an island at the tip of South America. We saw Cape Horn about 5 PM. The scenery from that point until it got too dark to see was fabulous.
We anticipated this 'trip of a life time' with eagerness, and now that it is over we are still awe inspired by this southernmost continent: Antarctica. So little is known by many of us, that when we think COLD, it is the Arctic North Pole which first comes to mind; however, actually it is Antarctica and the South Pole where the coldest temperatures are recorded (-112 to -130 degrees F. in the winter and 41-59 degrees F. in the summer). Don't forget that the seasons are reversed in the Southern Hemisphere. Antarctica is a frozen desert with hardly any precipitation. Then why go there? Actually less than 20,000 people have visited it. But, those of us who have, can now relate the beauty of the snow covered mountains, the stunning variety of icebergs seen in “Iceberg Alley” and the various wildlife (whales [9 varieties], seals [3 types], penguins [5 varieties] and the many other birds like albatross, petrels, cormorants, etc.).
Now let us go back to the beginning -- We flew American Airlines from Miami, FL on Feb. 17th. Flight #909 was set for a 8:15 pm departure and we boarded ontime. Then we sat on the tarmac for two hours while baggage handlers searched for a passenger's luggage in order to remove it, since this person had opted to be paid to make a latter departure. In the waiting areas, it was obvious that AA had over booked several flights and enticed passengers to give up their seats for money plus free hotel rooms and meals etc. We left two hours late, but the time was made up in flight and we arrived on schedule in Buenos Aires, Argentina the next morning. We spent overnight with Vincent's family and embarkation was Feb. 19, 2008 at noon.
EMBARKATION Embarkation was chaotic to say the least. In port were the MS Symphonia and other ships. There were no baggage carts and very few handlers to take luggage. Vincent with the help of his cousin Fabian found someone to help with the wheelchair, but there were huge potholes and we didn't get far. Out of the blue, the taxi driver from yesterday at the airport appeared: Giorgio! He came straight to us and said,”Signora! May I help you.” Problem solved. When Vincent returned and heard about it he said,”nothing like tipping well.” We had done pre boarding at a downtown hotel the day before and received cream colored boarding cards. Thus, we moved straight ahead to buses and the ship's gangway. It all seemed well, but we were told we still needed boarding cards which were supposed to be on the pier. After a mix up, where our passports were sent back to the pier, Jr. Asst. Purser Suzanna Romano got our boarding passes from the ship. She assured us our passports were safe with the ship's personnel. And they were, because all passports were collected, so that clearance for each country we entered was done on board in each country we visited.
SHIP The Star Princess was built by Fincantieri in Monfalcone, Italy and launched in January 2002. Her length is 950.1 feet; Breadth is 118.1 feet and she has a draft 27.7 feet. Her total passenger capacity is 3,100 and she sails with a crew of 1,120. She is propelled by six diesel electric engines. Her cruising speed is 21 knots and maximum speed 23.3 knots.
The Star Princess is beautiful both inside and out. We have already done a deck by deck description of this ship, published in 2005, when we first cruised on her in the Caribbean. So this review will center on the Ports and the gorgeous natural vistas offered by Antarctica. There were over 1,800 Princess Captain's Circle Members on board and Captain Bob Oliver of Harwich, England hosted four cocktail parties in order to accommodate us all. We had a fantastic Bridge Tour with Capt. Oliver and his 3rd Officer Raffaele Ansanti. We learned of the many ship's components all linked to the LIPS joystick giving terrific maneuverability to this huge 109,000 ton ship. This was soon to be appreciated as the very able Captain threaded our way among icebergs.Overall the ship's decorations are in exceptionally good taste. There is simplicity and elegance rather than neon and gaudiness. We found the ship to be in excellent condition and well kept.
CABINS Our wheelchair accessible cabin #E304 on Emerald Deck 8 is centrally located near the forward elevators. It has a wide entrance which is necessary for a wheelchair. On the left is an excellent large bathroom with safety rails all around. There is a fold away seat in the 5'x5' shower. There are also two large shelves for toiletries above the single sink.
There are two low dressers flanking the king size bed with the “de rigor” heavy white puff, but, for the first time, since we were travelling to the South Pole, this puff was necessary. When entering on the right there is a parking space for the wheel chair. Next, there is a triple armoire with hangers in, two sections and shelves and a private safe in the third section. There s a TV, bar and refrigerator,and a long desk/vanity with a lighted mirror and four drawers. The back wall has a huge window which was partially obstructed by a life boat. Our view was “letterbox”, just as when viewing an old Vista Vision film on TV. Top and bottom are cut off, but the panoramic sweep is wonderful. We had an excellent view of the continental shelf from our cabin.
Our steward was Luis and he was very efficient. Thanks.
SERVICE & FOOD Service is overseen by Passenger Services Director (PSD) Claudio Mazzoni, who was extremely helpful in answering our many questions. The ship service is excellent, Asst. Purser Suzanna facilitated boarding, assessed delays and took control. How nice it feels when it seems everything is mixed up and someone can take control and ameliorate the situation.
We were leery about taking this trip so far away from home with a wheel chair etc. Mary has a distinct fear of falling, since she broke her leg that way last October. However, Dr. Marguerite Bozian, our travelling companion, was the one who slipped and broke her arm. Princess' Dr. Stewart Buchanan and nurse Vina came to the rescue: they expertly cared for her and sent her home with a write up, DVD, X rays and a history of the whole matter. All of which her husband Dr. Richard Bozian termed as “not only efficient, but accurate and sensitive....the whole matter was impeccable” and a credit to Princess Cruises. Thus, we learned about the medical service on board through our friends, and it is comforting to know that the quality is excellent.
Of course, it is in the dining rooms where service reaches its apex. The suave Maitre D'Hotel Daniele Saredi secured for us a table for six near the entrance to the Capri Dining Room. We don't like to disturb diners with our walker or wheel chair. We had sixteen happy evenings with our travelling companions the Drs. Bozian and the Drs. Chen. Our Waiter Emmanuel and his Asst. Waiter Ariel were spot on. The Head Waiters Silvio and Angelito always charmed us with Executive Chef Francesco La Forgia's marvelous food! We can still smell the wonderful Limoncella cake served in an artisan crafted chocolate bowl. How delicious!
The best way to describe the food is to start at the beginning; each morning we were served continental breakfast in our cabin by the very prompt and efficient Elena. Her smiles and her bouncy curtsies were a delightful way to start off the day. The meal consisted of Cappuccino, hot chocolate, croissants, and brioches with fresh fruit plates and marmalades along with cereals. Excellent!
At lunch we mostly dined in the Portofino Dining Room where Maitre D' Vincenzo outdid himself with excellent tables near the windows. The lunch menu was terrific. Some of the selections were Mozzarella in Carrozza , fried calamari, Monte Cristo sandwich (ham & cheese on French toast) and crispy English style fish & chips. So many choices, so many decisions. When the weather was nice, we went up to the Horizon Court Buffet or to Prego Pizza and the Trident Grill, for Hamburgers, Chicken Sandwiches, Hot Dogs or German sausages, which were served with the lightest French Fries afloat.
Dinner was the best time for our group, because we all got together after going our separate ways during the day. We talked of the ports, the Antarctic scenes, the photos we took, the gigantic tabular icebergs, the wildlife and the wonderful food. Appetizers were Pate', shrimp, pineapple boats, etc.... Soups included Lobster Bisque, clam chowder, cream of wild mushrooms, clear broths with tortellini, or refreshing cold slurry style soups of pineapple or mangos --- so nice.
Entrees of many types were offered, plus a pasta course. Try the Fettuccine Alfredo served in a Parmigiano Reggiano cheese bowl, or spaghetti alle vongole or primavera. The main entrees included succulent and tender beef Prime Rib; fillet Mignon; veal, lamb or pork chops; and seafood such as salmon, Chilean bass, shrimp, lobster, etc.... Desserts were many and varied pies -- lemon, apple, pecan, etc.; profiteroles; souffle`, cheese cakes and mousses -- plus a large selection of ice creams and sorbets. Our hats are off to Chef Francesco La Forgia. When he strolls through the dining room, you can't miss him-- 6'2” with a 10” chef's toque, he's easily spotted.
ENTERTAINMENT Cruise Director Frank Castiglione keeps the passengers hopping with the following: Bingo, Trivia (Get some new questions, players are tired of seeing the same back-to-back and round the world cruisers walk off with all the valuable prizes [the real plastic key chains and the Princess logo luggage tags are collectors items!] and No, if you are on the ship nonstop for 76 days, it does not make you smarter than the rest of us, even a parrot could win if it heard the same questions over and over again). There are dances in the Skywalkers Night Club on Sky Deck 17and Casino tournaments. The on board Lectures by Joe May and other University Professors were very well received. The Las Vegas style entertainment each evening was lead by the following: Philippa Healey with her mix of opera and classical songs had a standing ovation, the tenor Vincent Talarico was enjoyed in concert. Maurizio, who played several nights in the Atrium, Plaza Deck, was a sensation in concert one night titled “The Duke of Verona” in the Vista Lounge. The ship has many areas for entertainment and relaxation. We had a wonderfully relaxing time, but of course, it was the itinerary which drew us so far from home. This was a never to be forgotten trip. In view of an article dated March 6, 2008, which detailed the breaking off of a 400 square kilometer ice sheet from the Wilkins Ice Shelf on the SW Antarctica Peninsula and with scientists saying that this is another indication of global warming, we feel that future generations probably will not be as lucky as we have been to enjoy the wonders of Antarctica. Perhaps, these wonders will diminish with the passing of time.
ITINERARY 2-19-08 Buenos Aires, Argentina Sail away. 7:00pm
2-20-08 River Plate out to the Sea headed to the Falkland Islands.
2-21-08 At Sea
2-22-08 Stanley, Falkland Islands Arrive 7:00am Depart 7:20pm Tendering to the on shore pontoon.
2-23-08 At Sea. At 1:15pm we passed over the Antarctic Convergence Zone where the sea temperature falls rapidly due to the constant melting of Antarctic ice into the Southern Ocean. The first look outs for icebergs were put to work on the Bridge.
2-24-08 Elephant Island -- The first pieces of ice were detected on the ship's radar. This island juts out of the ocean. At 4:30am we passed latitude 60 S. and formally headed into Arctic waters. At 9:00am we sighted Elephant Island, numerous icebergs and many penguins. After cruising around the island we headed SW.
2-25-08 We set course toward the Antarctic Sound, but conditions worsened and at 8:24am we turned around and began a slow exit of the Sound and crossed the Bransfield Straight towards Admiralty Bay. This was the first of several stunning days, with the slow movement of the ship affording passengers magnificent views of icebergs and spouting whales. The sun was shining brilliantly and we approached 400 foot high icebergs. Surreal! They were so huge compared to the ones in Alaska.
This was our first glimpse of Antarctica and it was spectacular! The age of an iceberg is told by how low it sits in the water. The blue ice is the oldest and most compact, the white ice is newer and has more air in it. These huge icebergs usually last about 8 years and are eroded by water and air. They turn over in the water and there is a tide line around the bergs. The seals are in the water even in the winter. During the winter, this area is 80% covered in ice and only ice breaker vessels can enter here.
The famous explorer Captain Cook would pull up the smaller icebergs, called “Burgy Bits” and bring them on board as a source of fresh water. On the Port side of the ship we saw part of the ice shelf 100ft. above water and 800ft. below. There were spectacular icebergs every where, with some bigger than the ship. There were tabular perfect rectangles of pure white that looked as if they were sawed off. There were some shaped like ramps which could be used for water skiing. Our first glimpse of Antarctica revealed its pyramid shaped mountains, snow and vertical striations and the ice cap that in some places can be over 5 miles deep.
We sailed through out Admiralty Bay and at 1:15pm the scientists from the Polish Artowski Research Station boarded the Star Princess and gave a short informative talk. They were invited to dinner and left soon after to return to King George Island. Their station has been operating continuously since 1977. We heard of glacial movement and the micro chemistry of their layers which trap pockets of atmosphere. At 6:32pm we passed out into the Bransfield Strait and headed south to the Neumayer channel.
2-26-08 Sunrise 5:55 am and Sunset 9:47 pm gave us an almost 16 hour day -- fantastic, like the white nights of the Baltic! This morning there was a brilliant sunrise. Humpback and orca whales were sighted spouting everywhere, easily spotted by the oil slick they leave on the water. Penguins were also seen. The orca whales work in packs much like wolves; they separate out the weaker prey and attack. Thank heaven, we did not witness them in action. The view from our cabin window is picture perfect.
The on board Antarctic specialist says this is a rare clear day here. Port side lets us view the Ice Cap and the Antarctic Peninsula. It is the narrowest point of the peninsula called Paradise Harbor. The other side of the peninsula is the Weddell Sea. The water is incredibly calm and there are Burgy Bits everywhere with penguins on them and pods of whales in the Gerlach Strait (Gerlach was the first explorer to spend a winter here and with him was Armundsen the first man to go to the South Pole). At 11:20am we reached our Southernmost point of this voyage, latitude 64, which places us 3,898 nautical miles south of the equator. The eeriness and quiet of this scene is remarkable, the water is almost glass like, today.
Lion Island is at the head of the Neumaier Channel. It looks like a sphinx with a black face. There is much more snow and ice here, actually, yesterday we saw snow flurries. In 1819 Anvers Island was named by a Belgian Expedition. We sailed northeasterly toward Deception Island.
2-27-08 At 7:45am we approached Deception Island and it was visible from some 10 miles away. All morning we saw minke and humpback whales and then penguin colonies on the shore. The island is actually the remains of a volcano with a caldera similar to Santorini. From here we turned away from the Antarctic and faced patches of fog where visibility was near zero.
2-28-08 We crossed the Drake Passage neared the Pilot Station at Cape Horn. The waters were exceptionally calm, unlike the last time we rounded the Horn. The pilot boat was an hour and a half late and Capt. Oliver circled patiently waiting. Fortunately, the sea was very calm, and we had an excellent view of the Chilean Flag over the weather station and the Albatross Monument dedicated to those sailors who lost their lives in these treacherous waters. There is an old tradition for sailors who round the Horn: they had their ears pierced, got a tattoo and had a drink of rum, which they shared with the sea by pouring some into the ocean.
2-29-08 Ushuaia, Argentina Arrive 6:50am Depart 4:28 pm Many passengers were happy to set foot on terra firma and do some shopping. Magellan called this Tierra del Fuego (Land of Fire). It was named that because sailors feared it due to the wildness, fierce winds and the rocky shores that literally ate up whaling ships. Today it was 58 F degrees and bright and sunny in the morning. In the afternoon we headed for the Beagle Channel. The Argentinian pilot debarked and the Chilean pilot steered the Star Princess through the Beagle Channel past the European named glaciers.
We have seen these glaciers six years ago and we were amazed by how much they have receded: in some of them the ice that once arrived all the way down to the water has been replaced by waterfalls, more evidence of global warming.
3-1-08 Punta Arenas, Chile Arrive 6:48 am Depart 7:50pm This is the southernmost Chilean city which is a center for oil drilling. It has stark snow less mountains and was the turning point of our journey, for today in the rain we headed back east and then north to Uruguay. Our travel companions returned to Sotito's Restaurant where we had dined in 2002. They enjoyed it, but not as much as when we had eaten there before.
3-2-08 At Sea Smooth seas and a sunny day in the open waters of the South Atlantic. 3-3-08 At Sea Sailing Northeasterly in over cast skies. 3-4-08 At Sea Sailing Northeasterly in clear skies. 3-5-08 Montevideo, Uruguay Arrive 7:45am Depart 5:00pm 3-6-08 Buenos Aires, Argentina Arrive 6:00am Debarkation 8:30am
DEBARKATION This was much smoother than embarkation. We had wheelchair assistance from our cabin to the bus only, and then we were stuck until we were moved to luggage pick up. Once more we were on our own until we managed to get a porter. Needless to say, it was not too smooth, and we were happy to see cousin Fabian again, waiting for us outside the terminal.
CONCLUSION Definitely, this has been one of our best cruises ever, considering the itinerary, our traveling friends, Marguerite and Richard Bozian and Yvonne and Alan Chen, the excellent food and service, especially in the restaurants, and our return to the Star Princess. And just think that we almost canceled the booking of this cruise due to Mary's recent knee replacement surgery. We are glad we didn't!
We have booked two future cruises with Princess, one on the Norwegian Cruise Line without specific dates and one in November on the new RCI ship Independence of the Seas. We have not booked a cruise for this spring or summer due to Mary's knee surgery scheduled for April 10th. However, we hope that she will recover fast, so we don't have to wait too long for the next cruise. Happy Cruising!
Travel Arrangements From start to finish disorganization around travel arrangements is normal. Princess's inability to arrange airline assignments continues. Evidently they just don't care about things such as spouses sitting together on lengthy flights despite the arrangements being booked 3-5 months ahead and paid for in advance.
Embarkation Embarkation continues to be a major challenge. As an example, in 30 deg plus, high humidity weather, platinum and elite passengers are forced to wait hours while staff fruitlessly search for boarding cards and other assorted documentation on the Buenos Aires dock. Disembarkation is another nightmare albeit a 'gong show' in trying to get passengers to the airport. When queried, on board staff say it's all to do with being in a South American port and decry any control over the situation, yet other cruise lines out of Buenos Aires seem to handle the situation very well.
Noro Virus We found out while we were on the ship that the previous cruise had severe problems with novo virus. Despite our best efforts to protect ourselves we and numerous experienced cruisers contracted the dreaded virus. The virus weakened many people's resistance so that when they recovered, theyfairly quickly contracted a severe cold/flu that was running rampant throughout the boat. The flu spared no one, entertainers and staff alike.
Cleanliness The boat doesn't appear to be properly cleaned. Other passengers complained of boarding the boat and finding dirty sheets on their bed. Certainly we saw that as we were disembarking, despite the tremendous amount of illness that had been on the boat, no methods were being employed differently to ensure it was clean enough for passengers arriving that very afternoon for the next voyage.
Due Diligence Passengers sign a document prior to boarding that they have not been ill for two days. Yet we met people from the UK who boarded the boat while they were sick and had been so for 2 weeks. There is no effort made to ensure that people boarding the boat are healthy which just exacerbates the problems that this boat was having. One would expect extra efforts which were non evident.
Smoking The smoking arrangements on this ship are obviously not well thought through. For example, in all the areas where there is dancing, the smoking area is right beside it even though there is lots of room to move smoking well away from the dance floor. The ventilation arrangements appear sporadic in these smoking areas as well. This is evidently a corporate policy.
Food We were astonished to find that even though the ship was embarking from Buenos Aires all food was sourced from LA. Argentina is famous for the world's best organic beef, pork and lamb and yet we had no chance of enjoying it. There was no effort at all for the menus to reflect the local cuisine. For example, there was no Argentinian wines on board. This is evidently a corporate policy.
Staff The staff on board overall are extremely helpful, friendly and service oriented. It seems in these situations their hands are tied by corporate policies. These policies must be reflecting a continuing shrinking of resources and penny-pinching attitude from head office.
Conclusion This experience has certainly soured us at looking at any other Princess offerings. The preventable problems of this cruise were a source of major disappointment. Antarctica was a fantastic experience.
Introduction On December 20, 2007, we embarked on our 21st cruise. We sailed Star Princess 21-day repositioning cruise from Ft. Lauderdale to Buenos Aires. This was our first time sailing Princess.
Embarkation Embarkation was out of Ft. Lauderdale. It was the most disorganized embarkation we've ever experienced. We arrived at the port at 11:45 am, we boarded the ship at 4:05 pm.
Stateroom We opted for a mini-suite and we were located on Deck 9 (Dolphin Deck). The stateroom was great. We had a walk-in closet, a large bathroom with full-size tub as well as shower, a small sitting room with a loveseat, and a nice balcony with no roof.
I was a bit reluctant to take a mini-suite on this ship because of the “terrace effect" of the balconies. Balconies on Decks 12 and 11 can look down on the balconies on Decks 10 and 9. It also seemed unusual for the most expensive balcony staterooms to be on Deck 9 when less expensive balcony staterooms (not mini-suites) were on Decks 10, 11, and 12.
I had nothing to worry about regarding the "terrace effect" balconies or Deck 9. It was nota problem in the least. I loved the open balcony and on warm nights being able to look up at the stars. I didn't have a feeling of being "intruded on" by terraced back balconies above me.
Dining We enjoy traditional dining, so we selected that and had early seating in the Amalfi Dining Room. The other two dining rooms, Portofino and Capri, are open seating dining rooms. All three dining rooms are small and none of them are grand. The positives are that the dining rooms don't get noisy, and it works well with accommodating traditional and open seating passengers. The negatives are that there is no large, grand dining room that you find on non-Princess ships.
We had a table for six. We had four cordial dinner companions that we looked forward to seeing every night. Our waiter and assistant waiter were terrific. They knew all of our beverage orders and had them on the table minutes after we were seated. The food was good, not great.
Lunch was open seating in the Portofino Dining Room. Our waiters, for the most part, were fast and efficient. Again, the food was good, not great.
Most mornings we opted for breakfast on the Lido Deck. The breakfast foods up there were terrific.
Ports Our ports were Dominica, Barbados, Grenada, and Trinidad in the Caribbean; Fortaleza, Recife, Salvador, Rio do Janeiro in Brazil; Montevideo, and Buenos Aires. This gave us ten glorious days at sea. We took some ship sponsored shore excursions as well as venturing out on our own.
Entertainment The Star Princess Production Cast was probably the most talented group of young people I've seen in a ship ensemble. They performed five production shows and all of them were good. The guest artists were less enjoyable. There were two comedians, one hypnotist, a classical music couple, and a female singer who loved singing Connie Frances/Vickie Carr/Brenda Lee type songs. We had the same singer for three separate shows. That was too many times for her.
The Enrichment Lecture Series on Star Princess was very disappointing. The quality of their material was poor as was their delivery.
Disembarkation Disembarkation in Buenos Aires was smooth. We opted to stay in Buenos Aires an additional six days after the cruise. Transfers to the hotel and the airport could not have run any more efficiently. The Plaza Hotel in Buenos Aires is in a terrific location. We had a ten minute walk down to Avenida de Mayo, and a ten minute walk in the opposite direction to Recoleta. The hotel dining room was superb as was the wait staff.
I came away from my first Princess cruise with mixed feelings. We selected this cruise solely on the itinerary and the number of days at sea. Here is how I rank the Star Princess compared to the other ships I have cruised.
Stateroom: A Balcony: A Dining Room: C Dining Room Staff: A Dining Room Food: C Public Rooms: B- Entertainment: B- Staff: A Shore Excursions: C-
I wouldn't hesitate to take another Princess cruise if HAL didn't have a similar itinerary. But, if HAL had something similar, I'd take that in a heartbeat.
This cruise that gave us the opportunity to see the Mona Lisa painting, lunch on the Eiffel Tower, ride the canals of Amsterdam, tour the Sagrada Familia cathedral, see the Monte Carlo casino, ride up the Rock of Gibralter, walk around the leaning tower of Pisa, stand in St. Peter's Square, and much more. This cruise took us to nine countries, all in the comfort and security of the Princess grand class ship, the Star Princess.
The itinerary was titled the "European Explorer", originated in Copenhagen, Denmark and ended in Civitavecchia, Italy with eleven stops along the way. It was a one-of-a-kind itinerary when I found it about a year before sailing.
This review is designed to provide information that you may find useful when planning to cruise to Western Europe, give some potentially helpful hints for getting the most out of your cruise, and to share our experiences so that you may look forward to cruise visits to the same ports.
Getting There and Back It's a nine to ten hour airplane ride between the U.S. departure city and Europe, plus you have to get to the departure city. Expect almost twentyfour hours of travel each way. We booked our own air transportation, arrived a day before embarkation and stayed a day after disembarkation.
Hint: Arriving a day early provides a high level of confidence that you will have little or no difficulty making the cruise. It will also help with jet lag recovery.
Pre and Post Cruise Accommodations We booked transfers and hotels for both Copenhagen and Rome through Princess. We booked our own on a previous cruise. The difference is huge! The cruise line meets you in baggage claim upon arrival, sees you to airport security on departure, and its representatives are there to provide information and assistance. Princess had five representatives in our hotel in Rome.
In comparison, on a previous cruise, transferring on our own and selecting our own hotels left us anxious at several points in the process. Our taxi driver was two hours late meeting us at the cruise terminal and we had no way of contacting him. Another driver spoke no English. Uncertainty about when and how to get to the ship are all negative fringe benefits of doing it yourself.
Hint: Take advantage of the experience and assistance offered by the cruise line. Book through them. The differences are major.
Princess Hotels We stayed at the SAS Scandanavia in Copenhagen and the Crowne Plaza in Rome. Both were nice. The Crowne Plaza is not near the center of Rome so if you want to walk the city streets there are better choices. It is good for visiting St. Peter's Square.
Hint: Be prepared for surprisingly high costs in Europe! Be especially prepared for high costs of food and drink in major hotels. People are frequently stunned! One example: a pint of beer for $11 in a hotel bar.
Embarkation and Disembarkation Embarkation in Copenhagen and disembarkation in Civitacchia were both done efficiently. With transfers handled by Princess we were in their hands getting to and from the terminals. Completing embarkation forms on line speeds the process. If you have sailed enough to get preferred line privileges use them. That makes the processes even faster. Security will be the only slowdown and that was very tolerable in Copenhagen. Rome security lines were longer.
Security Thank goodness for strict security! However, it does mean long lines both at airports and cruise terminals.
Hints: Be prepared for long, slow moving security lines, especially at airports. Give yourself three hours for check in and security in Rome. Give yourself at least two to three hours between your arriving flight back into the U.S. and your connecting flight home in order to clear customs and transfer your bags. Know the rules for carry-on baggage.
The Star Princess and Crew The Star Princess is a 109,000 ton grand class ship, a sister to both the Grand and Golden Princesses. Its size allows for most, if not all, the amenities a European traveler could want. The ship and crew were excellent.
Dining is a special consideration on shore excursion intensive cruises like those to Europe. Dining flexibility is a requirement because of the timing of the shore excursions; for examples returning too late for normal lunch or early dining. The buffet on Princess is always open so you can always get something to eat. They also have "anytime dining" in two dining rooms so you have a four hour window for scheduling dinner. We selected "anytime dining" and had no more than a five minute wait to be seated in the dining room.
Hint: For shore excursion intensive cruises select "anytime dining". You will have a wider choice for your dinner schedule.
The Star Princess also has a steak house, Tequila's, and an Italian Trattoria, Sabatini's, where cover charges apply. We have eaten in Sabatini's on three Princess ships. It is a unique dining experience.
Entertainment on the ship was varied and good, ranging from the main theater cast dancing and singing to lounge singers and bands to comedians and much more. The casino was large and a pleasant place to play either slots or table games.
Ports We made eleven stops in fourteen days, each stop at a port with the potential for visiting well known places and experiencing the best of Western Europe. A major question we have planning our cruises is "Does the ship dock within walking distance to city shops and restaurants or how can you get to these places if you don't go on a shore excursion". I made note for each of the ports we visited.
Every port had a list of shore excursion choices, most pretty extensive. Some highlights of the excursions we took are included here.
Rotterdam, The Netherlands: A free port shuttle provides service to town and the ride is ten minutes.
Rotterdam is the port city for Amsterdam. We took the "Best of Amsterdam" excursion that gave us a visit to a wooden shoe factory, a nice bus ride around the city, lunch and a canal boat ride. Amsterdam canals provide opportunities for very scenic views of the city and a very different perspective. The wooden shoe factory was an only in Holland experience, but interesting. People still wear wooden shoes.
Zeebrugge, Belgium: A shuttle costing $5 or 5 Euro is available for trips to the center of Blankenberge.
We took the "Bruges and Belgium Chocolates" tour. Bruges was one of the unexpected highlights of the trip. It is an old, picturesque town with narrow streets, a seemingly endless number of cafes, numerous canals, and buildings dated from several centuries ago. It had town squares with restaurants and shops, horse drawn carriages, cathedrals and many historic buildings.
The chocolate factory was our introduction to Belgium chocolates. Very, very good!
Le Havre, France: A $5 shuttle takes people to town.
Le Havre is the port for Normandy and Paris. Normandy highlights the WW II invasion by allied forces. We took the " Louvre Museum in Paris" excursion. This included a brief tour of the Louvre where the highlights included the Mona Lisa painting, Winged Victory and Venus de Milo statues, numerous old master paintings and statues, and the upside down glass pyramid of "DaVinci Code" book fame. It also included lunch on the first level restaurant of the Eiffel Tower. Even the first level of the tower provides spectacular views of Paris. The bus took us on the Champ Elysees, past the Arch de Triumph, and through the French countryside.
Hint: Lines at famous places are long. Joining a tour helps to minimize the waiting.
Vigo, Spain: Shops and cafes in an older part of the city are an easy two block walk from the ship. There are also free shuttles to modern downtown.
We went into both downtown and the old port area. Vigo is built on big hills so the streets are steep and a difficult walk. It is worth visiting both areas.
Lisbon, Portugal: The pier is in an industrial area but there are a few shops just outside the port terminal. A $5 shuttle will take you downtown in about twenty five minutes.
We took the "EZ Lisbon" tour which visited a few highlights including the Monument to the Discoveries, a very recognizable monument, and the Belem Tower along with a good overview of Lisbon. The 25th of April suspension bridge, under which the ship travels, is impressive. It is named for the successful Portugese revolution date. Passing under the bridge is a popular event with passengers.
Cadiz, Spain: A very nice shopping and café area is an easy two block walk from the pier.
Cadiz was impressive for its cleanliness, impressive buildings and very active shopping. We took the walk into town and thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere.
Gilbralter, U.K.: The pier is a long mile plus walk from town. There is no shuttle.
We took the "Gibralter Highlights" tour that took us up the Rock of Gibralter to St. Michaels Cave with a couple of stops along the way, one to see the barbary apes. St. Micheal's Cave is very large and filled with illuminated stalactites and stalagmites with a theater in the middle. The views from the rock are impressive, including a very busy harbor and a surprisingly large town center area.
Malaga, Spain: The ship docks in an industrial area and there is a free shuttle to the port gates from where it is an easy walk into town.
We took the "City of Malaga" tour which visited two of the city's main attractions, the Alcazaba fortress and Malaga cathedral. Both are impressive. The fortress requires a very tough up hill walk from ground level to 1000 feet on cobblestones walks and steps inside the fortress. The views at the top are a payoff for the climb. Malaga is an impressive city.
Barcelona, Spain: A $5 shuttle takes people into Barcelona, a ten minute ride from the port.
We took the "Barcelona Highlights" tour. The centerpiece of the tour was the architecture of Antoni Gaudi which stands out from anything near it, whether it is an apartment building or the Sagrada Familia cathedral, a must visit in Barcelona. The cathedral is clearly visible from any high point around the city including Mt. Montjuic which we visited. A statue of Christopher Columbus is in the center of a traffic circle near the port.
Cannes, France: The ship anchors in the harbor but the tender pier is walking distance into the city.
We took the "Monte Carlo" tour that took us through Cannes to Monte Carlo, Monaco. The Monaco palace currently occupied by Prince Albert, the cathedral near the palace that contains the tombs of Prince Ranier and Princess Grace (formerly Grace Kelly), and picturesque streets are on the "rock" above the harbor. We also visited the Monte Carlo Casino and Hotel de Paris area, just across the harbor on another hill. The entire area is beautiful.
Livorno, Italy: A $5 shuttle takes ship passengers the two plus miles into town.
We took the "EZ Pisa" tour that drove us to and through the city of Pisa to the walled city that houses the leaning tower of Pisa, the cathedral and baptistry along with shops, restaurants and a large number of souvenir vendors. The tower is impressive and a great photo subject but the city wall, cathedral and baptistery are also impressive. The "EZ" tour, complete with a special tram from the bus to the main attractions, was one of the most traveler friendly "EZ" tours we have ever taken.
Hint: The "EZ" or "highlight" tours are excellent for first time visitors to a city and for seniors with limited mobility or stamina. They provide very nice overviews, usually include famous landmarks and take less than a full day, normally three to five hours. That leaves time to select a second tour option or just rest.
Conclusion The Star Princess European Explorer cruise with pre and post cruise Princess coordinated hotel stays was an excellent and affordable way to sample Western Europe. We were fortunate to see major cities and famous landmarks while guided by Princess sponsored staff. With the Star Princess as an operating base with all its restaurant and entertainment options the trip was made into a memorable experience with virtually no travel anxiety.