With a different ship making the Mexican Riviera run, we decided to do it again the first week of February on the Star Princess. We book online about four months ahead, a very quick and painless experience, and get a guaranteed BD stateroom for the 2-1-03 voyage.
Our booking soon showed up on the Princess web site with nothing assigned as for as room number or dining. In mid December, the website showed we had been assigned to stateroom C201.. Although this is far forward, it is an upgrade to a BB stateroom. The site also shows our request for late traditional dining, table for 10 had been honored.
Early January, our documents show up in the mail with the same room and dinning information and we start to locate and prepare anything we will be taking Along with the normal clothes and toiletries, we have come up with a list of gotta haves, come in handys and might needs: digital camera battery charger and extra batteries power strip with three foot cord small and medium "bungee cords" 2-way radios small roll of duct tape all in one "Leatherman" tool first aide kitnylon mesh "dirty clothes" bags, can double as beach bag scented candle canister of "crystal Light" to mask tap water taste sewing kit travel iron small package safety pins waterproof flashlight lint roller small stack of $1 bills for room service tips 2-$20 International calling cards for room steward and waiter of our table laptop computer-now before anyone turns up their nose at this little item, let me tell you what it will do. I can download the digital camera as often as I want. At my leisure, I can edit and modify the photos. Watch one or two DVD movies or play games when there's nothing else going on. I have over 31 hours of music on the hard drive. Or even spend a couple of minutes a day on this little article.
Last year, we walked Puerto Vallarta all day and did excursions in Mazatlan and Cabo. We have planed to do the reverse this time. We found a snorkel/kayak trip to the leeward side of Marietas island on the outer edge of Banderas Bay (where Cousteau filmed his first TV shows). A taxi ride to the Golden Zone for a little shopping and a meal or two featuring the local shrimp. Cabo has five or ten bars we can explore before going to the flea market before heading back to the ship the flea market near the dock.
The week before we are due to leave, I note a strange coincidence. Looking through the TV listings, I find films like Jaws, White Squall, Poseidon Adventure, The Deep, Castaway etc...
Anyway, the first finally arrives and our daughter takes the 41 minutes to drives us down to the cruise center. After surrendering our bags to the porter, we enter the two story building to find organized chaos. No one was there to direct you to what part of the building or which line to go to. We get in one of the lines and are told five minutes later we happened to get into the correct "express" line. This line moves about ten times faster than the "regular" line. We get to the front counter and get our ship cards with the correct room number. It is at this point we find a problem with our table assignment. The spot on the card that shows the table number was blank.
After getting our photos taken for the security department, we finally get on board. At each stairway landing and elevator, there is a Princess employee to direct you or answer any questions. We get to our stateroom, C201, in short order. There are only three things about this stateroom that stand out.
First is storage, on the Sea Princess there were shelves and bins behind closet doors and about 28" of rod space for hanging items. On Star Princess this is reversed. One floor to ceiling closet with 6 shelves that are about 12x12 inches. The rod for hanging items is a full six feet with a shelf just as long above it.
Second, the mystical second electrical outlet. At the end of one wall there is a hair dryer and one electrical outlet. At the end of the other wall is a small cabinet with the refrigerator inside, a "bar" area on top backed by mirrors topped off with a shelf for the TV. Behind the TV there is a second electrical outlet. I must also assume there is a third outlet behind the fridge, but since the cabinet is attached to the walls it could not be used anyway.
Third, we are on the 10th deck, the "profile" of the ship changes at this level. The deck is narrower by about 8 feet than the decks below. To make this transition, all the balconies on the Caribe deck are about 4 feet deeper than the other decks. As a result, the balcony is about half the size of the room itself. I am guessing 28 feet from door to balcony rail.
Our room Steward is from the Philippines and his name is Tony. He is very friendly and is always in an "up"mood. Our only request is for two robes which are delivered in about ten minutes.
We take about an hour to explore the ship getting a feel for the layout. When we enter the card/game room, a man was leaving with about ten decks of brand new playing cards. We say nothing but he volunteers that they play a game that needs a lot of cards. I think it more like lets get some free souvenirs. After getting something to eat we return to the stateroom to wait for the ship to push off. As it happens, we are delayed 40 minutes. We learn later about 130 people are delayed from some flight and the ship waits. After leaving the San Pedro Channel, I think the captain pushed the ship a little to make up for the lost time. The extra speed combined with 5 foot seas made for an interesting few hours. No time to get our sea legs, we were thrown right into it. By the time we go to bed, the ship settles down.
As far as our dinning assignment, we went to the purser's deck and inquired about it. They first said were assigned to PC, when we showed our paper work, they agreed we were to be in the second seating in the Amalfi Dinning room. Going there that first night, we found several hundred people waiting to enter. Most of these people had name tags showing they had something to do with "All Brands On Deck". I knew right away we were in trouble. When we finally reached the door, we were told we needed to go to a different dinning room for the PC assignment. We later learn that several hundred people had been bumped out of the traditional seating to make room for this group. We hadn't tried PC dinning yet, and it would have been our second choice anyway. We then learned that of the three main dinning rooms, only the Amalfi Room has traditional seating.
Over the week, we dined with quite a few delightful people. One who stood out was a lady from the Isle Of Mann. It was as if Mrs. Doubtfire had stepped off the screen. Six children, sixteen grandchildren and three great grand children. In addition, she kept the table laughing the entire meal. But we also had some table mates that we will not miss at all. Several that were plain obnoxious, but with the PC we only have to sit with them once.
What to say about food, if this were a four star restaurant I would be disappointed. If this were a Las Vegas buffet line, I would be very impessed. Since a cruise ship is a cross of the two I expected and got good quality food and excellent service.
As far as entertainment, a glance at the schedule of inroom movie and those shown in the theater are in video stores now or about to be released. Just a note about the "theater", DVD's through a projection system that was out of alinement. We saw "My Big Fat Greek Wedding", EVERYONE on the screen looked fat. In the Atrium there was a piano player and a string trio that played at various times. There were several "production"numbers in the Princess Theater, several "acts" that performed in the Vista Lounge (a juggler named Dan Bennett was outstanding), karoke, quasi game shows, jazz trios, a night time piano player and our chosen favorite "Derringer" a four piece group doing top 40 songs from the 60's to the 80's in the "Explorers's Lounge.
Over the week, we tried almost everything offered on the ship. Some of the more interesting things we found were:
Internet access-the computer itself was very slow plus a slow satellite hook up equals a $4.00 eight line email.
Bingo-we were introduced to the weird verbal chants from the crowd when certain numbers were called; Game caller: "B2, B2, Frank Sinatra's favorite number" Crowd: "Scooby dooby two"
Photography Shop-I was surprised to find photo processing costs the same as at home, no price gouging. Prints from digital media was only 40 cents a photo.
Breakfast Buffet on Lido-Omelettes made to order are there, but they don't let you know they're available. In addition, there made out of sight so other pax are unaware of their existence.
Drink Waiters-These are the people who come up to you every ten minutes, tring to get you to order drinks. When you order anything other than soda and beer, they ask "medium or large?" at no time do they mention small which is the size priced on the menus that litter the ship.
Food Availability-Start with room service that will bring almost anything, including whatever is on that night's dinning room menu. Fresh pizza is available most of the day as well as burgers and fries. As long as you want your burger well done no problem. One older gentlemen wanted a rare burger. Before it could be served, he had to sign off on a form releasing Princess from any adverse reaction he may have. Ice cream bars and sundaes are there for an extra price. Buffet on Lido offers a great varity of food and is open 24 hours a day. It was there I discovered that the ice tea served is from a concentrate and not brewed on the ship. Since the coffee served on Lido is from the same type of dispenser I assume it also is from a liquid concentrate. The Portafino restaurant is open for breakfast and lunch. All three dining rooms are open for diner although only one is traditional seating while the other two are "PC". Tequila's which offers a Southwestern menu for an $8 cover charge and Sabatini's Italian restaurant at a $15 extra charge. The menu at Tequila's did not interest us and the 2 ½ hours required to eat at Sabatini's did not suit us.
Tap Water-Last year we were on the Sea Princess and experienced a nasty after taste from the tap water. On the Star, there was a slight taste to the water, but not unpleasant at all.
Pools and Spas-Three large fresh water pools and nine "Jacuzzi's" around the ship with hot water showers next to the pools. I saw the water purity and chlorine being tested several times during the day by ship's staff.
Daycare-There are three rooms at the rear of the ship that offer child care for different age groups up to 17. I also saw a sign up sheet for after hour baby sitting.
The Snorkel kayak trip was fantastic. In Puerto Vallarta we took a private boat from a dock next to the Star. A one hour ride took us to a small island out in the bay where we swam for 90 minutes in clear water with abundant sea life. We returned to the boat where a well laid out lunch was waiting with an open bar. We then sailed to a secluded beach where we were left to our own devices for another 90 minutes. We were then returned to the dock. What was not planned was the pod of gray whales we happened upon in the trip out to the island. At one point they passed the boat within 70 feet. In addition, dolphins played in the boat's wake during the trip back to the dock.
Our trip to Mazatlan was OK, but the "Golden Zone" should be renamed "Shiny Brass". After seeing our 8Th Official Senior Frogs we went back to the ship. At 5:03PM the boat pulled back from the dock, just as two late comers arrived at the dock. After several minutes of hesitation, they moved the ship back to the dock so that they could jump on. This took about ten minutes and the rails were packed with passengers yelling various hints the entire time.
In Cabo, we found a lot of chain resturants (Hard Rock Cafe, Johnny Rockets, Subway,etc...) mixed with high end stores and flea markets.
Other than saving on sales and other taxes, we saw no savings in shopping at these ports. In fact I ran over to a Sam's Club in Puerto Vallarta and found the same prices as in the Los Angeles area.
Remember my list of gotta haves listed before, well: digital camera...used battery charger and extra batteries...used power strip with three foot cord...not used small and medium "bungee cords"...not used 2-way radios...not used small roll of duct tape...not used all in one "Leatherman" tool...not used first aide kit...not used nylon mesh "dirty clothes" bags, can double as beach bag...used scented candle...used canister of "crystal Light" to mask tap water taste...not used sewing kit...not used travel iron...not used small package safety pins...not used waterproof flashlight...not used lint roller...not used small stack of $1 bills for room service tips...used 2-$20 International calling cards for room steward and waiter of our table laptop computer-now...Because we were bumped from traditional seating, we now have a calling card for which we have no use.
On the last night, we found that most passengers are now using those extra large cases with wheels (us included). As a result the hallways are almost impassable. I think the cruise lines will have to rethink the baggage pick system in the near future as a matter of safety.
On the last day, we strolled the decks waiting for our group to be called. We spent some time watching the longshoreman unloading the luggage. Hopefully, my photos of bag after bag being thrown at least 20 feet to a concrete floor come out. It also explains how our hard sided Samsonite suitcase has two caved in corners.
All in all we had a great time and the seven days went by way to fast.
I was the ultimate cruise skeptic. I have always thought that a cruise wouldn't compare to some of the nice vacations we have had on land. Furthermore, I had a long list of concerns that I thought would make me miserable on a cruise. Now that we have cruised, I've changed my mind. Yes, some of the things I worried about were in fact true. No, the ship is not as luxurious as some beach resorts we have been to. But what I learned is that the positive aspects of cruising far outweigh the small negatives. The ease of cruising, the fun of being on a ship and most of all the magic of the water combine to make cruising unique and special.far more than the sum of its parts. The weather was glorious, the ship lovely and the service attentive. We had a great time. Although it was our first cruise, I'm sure it won't be our last.
First I should say that we weren't typical in that we didn't take advantage of many of the choices listed everyday in the ship's newsletter, The Princess Patter. Most days, wehung out in lounge chairs near a pool. Reading, napping, eating and planning our next margarita were the main activities. The aft pool behind Horizon Court was our favorite - what a view! I also liked the main pools on Deck 14 - the tilework was beautiful and since there was always music, it was a great place to go if you were in a festive mood. I kept meaning to get to bingo but never did. I thought the galley tour was interesting, and I attended one art auction just to see. The game room and library were well-stocked, but we didn't get to them until the last day. I had a very nice "hand treatment" and manicure with Rachel in the beauty salon, and my husband got a great haircut there too. I also used the well-equipped gym on four of the days. Although there were sign-up sheets for the treadmills in the mornings, I never had a problem getting one in the late afternoon. Two times I watched the sunset off the bow of the ship from my treadmill - pretty spectacular.
In the evening, we generally ate late - after 8 p.m. on personal choice dining. On one night we had to wait in line. We were traveling with another couple, and our request for tables for four was always granted. I loved having the choice of when to dine, but the service varied -- from merely polite to warm and wonderful. Our favorite waiter and table were our very first night, and if I were doing it again, I'd make a reservation for that waiter, that table every night of the week. We did enjoy the casino and found the dealers to be patient and friendly. Our group had luck with both blackjack and roulette. Although I didn't care for "Da Beat," I thought the comedians were pretty good. One night there was a comedy juggler that my husband liked a lot. We heard some nice lounge music but never did go dancing at Skywalkers. I preferred that room during the day when the view was spectacular and the seats were quiet.
As a first-time cruiser, who had many concerns about whether or not I would like a cruise, I think the best way to describe my trip is with a few lists:
Things I worried about that weren't really a problem
Crowds: As I mentioned, we had a line one night for dinner. You had to get there early to attend shows or presentations, and finding a deck chair was sometimes challenging, but it always seemed to work out. Tendering in Cabo was easy in the morning, but there was a long line in the afternoon when everyone was returning. Check-in took almost an hour, but was smooth, and you were so excited about embarking that it didn't matter. Disembarkation was very organized. We were in a later group, but didn't mind waiting in the lounge and watching CNN with a cup of coffee. Clearing customs and getting our luggage was a breeze. In general, the ship was big enough to absorb huge amounts of people, and having our own balcony made it easy to escape if you wanted privacy.
Seasickness: I brought medicines but never needed them. Everyone told me I wouldn't even feel it, but in fact, the ship did move quite a bit. Not sure if it was the Pacific, or just the time of year. No one in our group had a problem, and in fact, I slept like a log every night. Loved being lulled to sleep by the waves and the hum of the engines. When we got home however, it took me about three days to get my land legs back - and I think that's longer than average.
Gaining weight: Athletes had plenty of places to jog or walk on the ship. The health club was very nice too. Using the healthy choice or vegetarian menu was always an option. Despite all this, I confess. I gained three pounds.
Being much younger than other passengers: Not a problem! Although there were a number of older cruisers, I would say that the average age was about 50. My husband and I, in the 40ish range, felt perfectly comfortable. There were younger couples, honeymoon-types and young families too.
Annoying announcements: On our ship, announcements could only be heard on the decks and on balconies. If you were in your cabin, you were not bothered by announcements. Perfect. (And in fact, the announcements were kind of cute.)
Feeling forced to participate in goofy activities: First of all, there were no "goofy" activities. Second, no one ever forced me to do anything. There was something (or nothing) for everyone.
Pleasant Surprises These are the things that made the cruise special.
Water water everwhere! Nothing could prepare me for how wonderful it was to just look up from every deck and see sparkling blue water. Several times we saw dolphins. Gazing at the water was instantly relaxing, always exhilarating and the best part of our trip.
Walking the decks. The promenade deck (deck 7) provided a great walking spot down close to water level. There was also a jogging deck higher up on the ship. One early morning I walked the promenade deck in heavy fog, and watching it lift as I circled the ship was one of my favorite memories. On the last night, when the seas were a bit rough, my husband and I had Decks 14 and 15 to ourselves, and watched the pool water slosh around, whitecaps in the moonlight and the stars in the sky. Very nice.
The thrill of embarcation. Nothing can compare to the delicious anticipation of waking up on the day of our cruise. We loved the drive to the port, checking in, greeting our friends, seeing the ship (wow!) and even the line to check in. (Check in took a little less than an hour start to finish.) Walking on the gangway, stepping on the ship, getting our key card, finding our cabin, meeting our steward - all exciting. We even loved the lifeboat drill.
Sail-a-ways: Leaving the ports at the end of the day was always exciting. People gathered on upper decks, cocktails in hand, and watched the land slip away.
Exploring the ship. Even the most jaded traveler would have to admit that it's neat to be on a big cruise ship like this. Although I didn't necessarily think the ship was ultra-deluxe, I found it to be pretty, fun, spacious, clean and tastefully appointed. Once in awhile, on the elevator, or snuggled in a cozy lounge, I would have a sudden spark of new realization - I'm on a ship!
Days at sea. Our itinerary had three days at sea, and I was surprised to find that these were my favorite times. The incredible luxury of a whole day with no agenda was a treat. Sleep late? Coffee on our private balcony? Take a nap at 3? Eat lunch twice? No problem.
Socializing with our friends: Being on a cruise was a perfect way to travel with friends or relatives. Plenty of activities to satisfy everyone, and lots of chances to come together during the day.
Cabo San Lucas. What a nice port! Lovely marina, friendly people, and a good feel to the whole place. Beautiful view from the ship too. We took a water taxi to Lover's Beach - secluded and gorgeous - a must see.
Hiding out in my stateroom. We were in a category BA outside double with balcony (C606). We were pleasantly surprised at how comfortable our room was. There was ample storage space, a roomy refrigerator and very convenient desk, tables and lighting. Our balcony provided gorgeous views and I found myself waking early to peek outside. An especially appreciated touch was room- darkening curtains that actually overlapped, making it easy to be in total darkness even when it was bright outside. (If you've ever stayed in a hotel and been awakened by that bright sliver of morning light between the curtains you know what I mean.) Our room and balcony provided a great respite from the activity up on deck, and I loved reading there in the mornings, napping in the afternoons and watching movies.
Quibbles. Let's get them over with, since none of them affected my overall experience. We had a wonderful time and would go again in a minute!
--Our steward happily brought us bathrobes once we requested them, but why make us ask? Why not put them in all the rooms? Similarly, why no clocks in the rooms? Next time, I'll bring a travel clock for middle-of-the-night time checks. --Toiletries. Shampoos, etc were provided in odd little cardboard containers that were hard to open with wet hands. --Our private balcony was huge - plenty of room for 4-6 adults to relax comfortably. But, not absolutely private - deck above us could see down. Also, furniture on deck was inadequate. No lounge chairs - only uprights, and tables were a bit flimsy and small -- even for continental breakfast. --Food. Even though the head chef coached us to say it was "overall excellent" during the galley tour, I would say it ranged from "okay" to "very good." A few meals in the dining room were wonderful, but mostly the food was a disappointment. The fish, in particular was often overdone. The Horizon Court buffet, while convenient, pleasant, clean and plentiful, featured average quality steam table fare. Nothing fresh or delicious (except desserts). However the selection and variety of both the dining rooms and the buffet were excellent. --No midnight buffet! Our traveling companions were full of stories of amazing midnight buffets that cruises are famous for, but it wasn't offered. (Although to be honest, I'm not sure we could have waited up even if it was!) --Lines being occasionally held up in order for pictures to be taken. This was especially annoying in Cabo San Lucas, where a 45 minute long line in the sun was made even slower by photographers. Who wants their picture taken after a hot, sweaty day on the beach, loaded down with packages and wet towels? If the line is long, the photographers should suspend their photo taking. --Explorer's Lounge was one of my favorite spots. Cozy chairs by the window were a great place to read or relax between activities. But every afternoon, the art auction completely dominated this otherwise quiet space. Too frequent, too loud and too many pieces of art strewn about, making it impossible to find a chair for hours at a time. --On-board shopping. The shipboard shops were ho- hum. I had expected to be sorely tempted, but instead found myself searching for something interesting to buy as a ship souvenir on the last day. Even the art gallery was disappointing since no prices were posted, and art could be purchased only through the tedious auctions. --Atrium. Also ho-hum, though tastefully so. Think lobby of a very nice Hilton Hotel. We used it every day, but nothing to write home about. The lobby bars with cocktail music were, however, especially nice just before or after dinner. --Shore Excursion staff. To be fair, when we needed to make a last-minute change to our pre-booked shore excursion in Puerto Vallarta, they were courteous and kind (even though we were doing so after the "cut off" time for changes). But in both Mazatlan and Cabo San Lucas, we were going off on our own. I asked the excursions desk for advice on a nice beach to try. Both times I was told "I don't really know" or "I couldn't tell you." That's ridiculous. I think the excursion staff should be ready and willing to help you whether you have purchased a Princess excursion or not. --Peddlers on the beach. In Mazatlan and Cabo we were pestered by hordes of vendors selling silver and trinkets on the beach. Most un-relaxing. Next time, would research places where vendors were not allowed. Perhaps private resorts?
All quibbles aside, I can't imagine someone saying that they didn't enjoy this ship and this cruise. It was a delight.
My husband David and I decided to take each other on a New Year's Eve cruise to celebrate his 41st birthday and to enjoy some warm weather during the Christmas/New Year's vacation. After months of anticipation, the day arrived. At the last minute, we decided to drive from the Bay Area to San Pedro instead of flying due to stormy weather that was coming in. As we turned into the harbor, we were stunned at the immense size of the Star Princes. After David returned from parking the car, we handed our luggage off to a porter and our adventure began.
Since we had all the pre-boarding information completed on line, the process went very smoothly. They waved us through security and onto the ship. We quickly located our cabin (C732, inside) and met our room steward, Jun. Our luggage arrived before we finished exploring the room. Since we were celebrating my husband's birthday, we had pre-ordered a special occasion package, part of which was waiting for us upon our arrival. (Be sure to request robes and a fruit bowl for your cabin.) We even tipped Jun, our cabin steward, right awayto assure we would be well taken care of. The cabin was nicer and larger than we expected. Since we booked at a late date for the very popular New Year's cruise, we were not able to get a balcony cabin. The bathroom was small but sharing was not a problem. My husband and I have separate bathrooms in our home, but we were pleasantly surprised that the size, not to mention sharing, was not a problem.
Helpful planning hints
Ladies, if you are interested in spa services, book early when you get on board. When I went to the spa to book my package, I firmly avoided the tour that they were pushing. And even though I knew exactly what services I wanted, I still had to stand in line for 40 minutes to sign up. I was pleasantly surprised that during my spa treatment, they didn't push any other products or services (which was very unlike Steiner, the spa operator), and I really appreciated it. Also, if you want to dine in Sabatini's during your cruise, make the reservations right away.
Personal Choice Dining
One obvious benefit to Personal Choice is meeting new people each night at dinner. We are a married couple, age 40, and the dining staff really tried to match us up with people in our age range. One night they didn't have anyone when we went in for dinner so it was just the two of us. Another night we were the youngest at our table and we still really enjoyed our table mates. We made reservations for dinner each night at 6 p.m. However, since the phone was often busy and I couldn't get through, I found the whole reservation process very stressful. When I was finally able to speak to someone, I couldn't make a reservation more than a day in advance. It was nice having dinner at 6, but it was not easy arranging it. Next time I just hope we get early dining. About 30 percent of the passengers did not dress appropriately for the evening, and it was really noticeable in the dining rooms. Even so, the dining staff did not turn people away who were wearing jeans.
Since it was a New Year's Eve cruise, we expected something very special on that particular evening, and Princess did have a couple of New Year's Eve parties. The main event was a deck party complete with streamers, if you could get your hands on them. Party hats were handed out in the dining rooms earlier that evening. The streamers were suppose to be thrown at midnight, but many people started much earlier. To our disappointment, Princess didn't offer free champagne -- not even a first glass. However, there were plenty of waiters to assist you if you wanted to buy some.
The Star Princess is a wonderful ship. Even with its immense size, the ship is easy to get around. We especially enjoyed the lovely and plentiful artwork in the stairwells. There were so many pieces of art, we were nearly convinced that crew members were moving pieces around and introducing new pieces into stairwells we thought we were familiar with. We really had fun with the art and were still noticing new pieces at the end of the week. The ship was kept very clean. Someone was always wiping the handrails and elevator buttons -- perhaps because of the recent health problems on other ships. Although I had heard comments to the contrary, I did not see any significant signs of wear and tear.
The service was adequate. Only a couple of crew members really outdid themselves. The others seemed to be going through the motions. I even overheard comments between the crewmembers that weren't really professional.
Of the three ports of call, we enjoyed Puerto Vallarta the best and plan to go back. We took a Coastal Drive tour and were able to see some nice sights; it was well worth the money. Afterwards we went exploring on our own. It's a great place to find handmade arts and crafts and to bargain over prices. We ate lunch in town at the Blue Shrimp restaurant, which we had heard about from a couple of different sources. The cruise line also recommends it. It was a great meal and the restaurant owner and employees were wonderful.
David took snorkeling and kayak tours in the other two ports of call (Mazatlan and Cabo San Lucas). While the Mazatlan kayaking was fine, the water was so murky that the snorkeling was barely worth the trouble. The Cabo snorkeling tour was by far the better of the two ports.
Activities on board
We really did not see many of the shows. Karaoke gave us a good laugh one night...but only one night. Seeing the same people became too painful to watch. Some of the activities on board seemed more popular than others. I went to a craft class one afternoon where 12 of us made elegant paper boxes out of old menus from one of the ship's dining rooms. We went to just one horse race and that was more than enough for us. There were many other activities. We tried playing golf on the putting green. It was well designed and beautifully executed even to the point of having sound effects. However, the high wind and rocking of the ship drove our scores so high that we decided to seek other amusements.
We had formal afternoon tea once where David was the only man at a table of seven women. He was definitely a hit with the ladies over 65. There are lots of opportunities for photos; take a lot, since you don't have to purchase the ones you hate. The formal nights were a great opportunity to have our portraits taken, especially the Black and White portrait, which was a great opportunity for a different sort of look. We were very pleased with the results. (by the way, it was especially fun looking at other people's photos; we were not the only ones doing this.)
The gift shops were tastefully appointed with lovely items that we had not seen "everywhere else." With one exception, the sales people were generally great. They had daily shopping specials advertised by flyers in your mailbox. There was a bit of controversy about having to pay for ice cream at Scoops. But it's only $4, and considering the amount you get, it is well worth the money. (People can be so cheap and crabby on vacation.) It was a nice treat getting ice cream sundaes and sodas while relaxing at the pool.
Disembarkation went smoothly. We were invited to wait in a lounge that was reserved for Platinum Members of the Captain's Circle. We were guests of another couple and thus we were able to spend our last hour on board in the luxury and service we had become accustomed to (e.g., newspaper, tea, coffee, and pastries). This really was a nice way to wait until you can disembark; most people just hung around waiting in the hallways.
This vacation was wonderful. Not only were we able to relax and unwind, we met some great people. Most importantly, David and I spent quality time together. They don't call it the LOVE BOAT for nothing.
First of all, a little information about us - we are in our early 50's and have cruised previously on the Dawn Princess and on Holland America. We were looking for an adult oriented cruise with a somewhat younger crowd than Holland America. Princess cruises are a perfect fit for us in that respect with a mixture of all ages and not too many children.
Having registered our information online, the embarkation process was a breeze. No wait and no hassle at all. We also booked our excursions online and that worked very well too.
We booked an inside cabin this time and found it to be comfortable and not too cramped. The food was good but not up to the level we'd experienced on our previous cruises. It impressed the other couple traveling with us who were first time cruisers but was a bit of a disappointment to us. The service, however, was excellent in the dining room. The entertainment was good --we'd recommend arriving early for good seating at the main shows. Overall service on the ship was very good, the ports were interesting, and the ship itself is beautiful.We will definitely cruise again with Princess.
A bit of background. we are in our 50"s and have traveled on Princess, Celebrity and Holland America.
We sailed out of LA on Dec 7th on Star Princess. Embarkation, as most seem to agree, goes fairly quickly and seems well organized. The ship is Huge and Beautiful and even with so large a capacity did not seem crowded....until personal choice dining begins.
What a mob scene. Even with a reservation..one had to step aside and wait and wait.
Unfortunately..the wait was not worth it. The food was bland and uninteresting and the service was the worst offered on any ship we had been on. After being offered the Mondavi Cab for $100.00 and turning it down...the staff lost interest quickly. Sell...Sell....Sell...on this ship more than ever experienced before.
The specialty restaurants were excellent. Sabitini's was superb both in food and service and the Mexican restaurant again was the same. The shows were all very well done and along with some of the best we've seen. The smaller theatre, however, you must arrive (on this cruise) at least 1/2 Hour before begins or not get a seat. There were many disgruntled and unhappy peoplearriving who couldn't find seats. The ports and the tendering in Cabo were excellent.
Overall, the staff was very friendly and accomodating except the DR staff..which I couldn't quite understand. The cabins and public rooms were superb. I do hope that with the larger ships that Princess looks at its personal choice dining a little closer.
First let me say that we are a married couple with two teens, and we have sailed on Carnival, RCCL, NCL, and Celebrity. That said, I think this is a fair review by comparisson.
The ship is new and sparkling clean.It is HUGE and beautiful. We found the embarkation the easiest of any line, litterally minutes to check in and we we on board. We found our rooms and were delighted with the layout and room galore! There was room to unpack anything you needed. These rooms were well planned out.
Next we went to wait in line to see the Matre'd to change from Personal Choice dining to early seating...impossible, but they were very kind in assigning us a permanent table in the main Portifino dining room,#176, our waiter Andre was the highlight of the trip.We have NEVER had any better service. If only the food in the dining room was anywhere near as good as the service we would have been happy. I would rate the dining room food as the worst we have ever had. Nothing terrible, just bland,boring, tasteless choices.Absolutely nothing worth eating again. The food inthe buffet was usually as good or better and they had an abundance of fresh fruit and fabulous salad makings.
The pools are beautiful and always warm. They are never crowded because there are so many to choose from. Our favorite was the rear pool behing the Horizons buffet.
The service on this ship is the true value! There was not one single person we came in contact with that was not wonderful!!! And I am not usually one who goes on and on about service, but these people are so well trained and care so much about customer satisfaction that I must make it clear...The service on this ship is fantastic!
Would we cruise with Princess again...YES! Probably as soon as this March thru the Panama canal. Hope this helps you make a decission on your trip. Lisa
I'm sure that if you are reviewing information for cruiselines, like I did prior to my Alaskan cruise with Princess, you are reading this and the other reviews to find out more about the ship. There is plenty of information about the ships size, rooms and entertainment, but I'm going to get to the "important" information so that you really know the "Star". Also, if you want information about Alaska email me. It is the most beautiful place I've been so far in my lifetime......
Checking in to the ship was a snap. I was done within 2 minutes. We checked in and after security screening (not a hassel at all), we were onboard. Your picture was taken as you boarded the ship by friendly and quick photographers. After boarding the ship you enter your personal ship account card/key for room into this machine that sounds like a disney sound...Tinkerbells rings...Ding....(quite cute!) then your onboard.
I think the ship is very attractive throughout. The exterior of the ship is beautiful and always clean. The staterooms are bigger than I expected (we stayed in the Dolphin Minisuite--Highly recommend, if you go with the Star).The cabin steward for our suite "Danny" was friendly and always had our cabin clean, well stocked and if you needed his help he was there so fast I thought he was just outside our room waiting to be paged by one of his cabin guests..haha....
We did the traditional dining the first 2 nights and decided to change to personal choice, were we had our own table and it was more intimate. The food was the same choices whether you went with personal choice/traditional choice with one huge exception: The Service. The service with traditional dining was Excellent!!! The service for personal choice dining was Very bad! Put it this way its like the difference between Sizzler waiters and a 5star restaurant service. We always had to get the waiters attention for the personal choice dining room for more water etc. Otherwise, they just stood around and talked amongst themselves. The food was average and the portions were very small when compared to restuarants back here in L.A. So, make sure you order soup/salad prior or you will eat again later that evening.
The entertainment was great! Movie nights were always packed and the movies which played were fairly new ones. There are a few problems that I and others had with the movie theatre. The theatre was located within a Bar/show lounge and always followed a show. A small screen came down in the middle of the stage and then the movie started. I was expecting a movie theater by itself not a screen like you have at home. The room was filled with smoke, since the bar was behind you and people smoked during the film. We left early due to this. I think that Princess can afford to ban smoking during the movie and provide snackes/popcorn while viewing the film.
Here's were I'm going to get blunt about this ship.... I felt if though Princess hired carsalespeople for this ship. Meaning: from the time we boarded till the last day of our cruise, someone had something to sell you. It was annoying and at times rude. When boarding the ship we were tired due to a long travel to the ship. We were excited and once aboard there were greeters by the elevators. Not to greet you though. They stood there with bottles of soda etc standing there. Not welcome! Hello! I thought that they were providing us with a great welcome drink. I asked one of the "Salesman" for a drink. He said "Oh, no this is not for you to consume now, it is for a sodacard for your trip for only $20 you can drink (only fountain) unlimited sodas....No thank you i said. In the room, once again i saw a tall bottle of water with the words "Welcome and enjoy" on the advertisement on the bottle. For $3.50 you could "enjoy" the water. I really think that after paying a lot of money for this cruise they can at least welcome you with a fr! ee bottle of water at least for the first day.....
The selling didn't stop. I went to the spa..The treatment was excellent. I did the floatation treatment 2.5 hours followed by a nap on the tiled beds ah wish i was there now. However, after my treatment the spa employee right after my massage, said "Well to rid of the toxins blah blah blah you need these pills, lotions, soap and masque". I said no thank you. The part that troubles me is that he wrote up the purchases on my "spa purchse sheet". Yes for $375.00 i can rid my toxins. After I said no thank you he looked at me and said: "Didn't you enjoy the treatments today?". I said yes a lot. He said: "Well then continue the process with these great products". I said no thank you. He said: "You just told me that you enjoyed this spa treatment so I think you should continue it with these items i personally picked out for you". I stood up looked him straight in the face and said: "Yes, I fully enjoyed this treatment up until now. The spa treatment was great, but your aggresive s! ells pitch just ruined my last 2.5 hours of bliss". After he scratched out the items for purchase he walked out then came back with the changed receipt and asked if i was still leaving him a tip. I said: "Yes, my tip is that you ask your spa patron if they want a particular item. If they say yes great..If no..great also". He said that they are required to sell products after each treatment. I told him that I frequent spas in Beverly Hills, Calfornia and never get that sells pitch. I left him a tip and talked to the manager the next day about this.
If you don't mind the sells pitching, upgrade drinks etc. for additional $$. Poor dining food and service (buffet and personal choice dining), great spa treatments with bad attitude employees the the Star is for you. I will not be cruising with the Star ever again, but I might try Princess once more to be fair. Which ship? Probably a smaller one with more charm and hopefully better staff with less sales experience!
Let me begin by telling you a little about my family and what our expectationsare/were for travel. I am a 38 year old stay at home mother of a 3-year-old daughter. My husband is a 35-year-old aerospace engineer. We take a "large" vacation, like a cruise, every 4-5 years and travel to visit family at least once a year. When vacationing, we splurge on luxury resort properties with onsite amenities like pools and spas. On a more routine basis, we dine out frequently. When we go out as a couple, we tend to choose upscale restaurants and often steakhouses. We traveled on the Grand Princess in December of 2000 and the two-part review of that ship is also on the cruise-addict site. Because the Grand Princess and the Star Princess are sister ships I will not go into as much detail about the ships layout in this review unless something is different. (The Grand review is VERY detailed-please see it for more information)
We have cruised 4 times: our honeymoon, on Norwegian Cruise Line's Seaward (now the Norwegian Sea); our fifth anniversary, on Celebrity Cruise Line's Zenith; our tenth anniversary, on Princess CruiseLine's Grand Princess and now we are celebrating my husband's parents retirement. For this trip we are traveling with our 3 year old and my husband's parents. My husband, daughter and I shared a mini-suite and my in-laws shared the mini-suite next to us. We enjoyed our Grand Princess cruise so much that when we learned that the new Star Princess would be in Alaska we booked that ship. Our interests are good food and excellent service in an elegant atmosphere. We are NOT party people, so discos, bars, pool games and the like are not important to us. We want to relax and reconnect with one another and take in the amazing scenery.
ARRIVING IN VANCOUVER/EMBARKATION:
We usually book our airfare independently of the cruise line. We feel that we are usually able to get better fares and schedules by doing it ourselves. Because our Alaskan itinerary was one way (Vancouver to Seward) I was NOT able to find a price better than what the cruise line was offering. Therefore, we allowed Princess to make our flight arrangements. We were VERY lucky with our schedules and seat assignments. Princess booked us on a flight that landed us in Vancouver at 10am, giving us plenty of time to stop in the city to pick up wine and get to the pier BEFORE embarkation began.
After deplaning in Vancouver, you exit into Customs. At this point, we claimed our luggage. I like to SEE my bags so I did not place my luggage tags on until I claimed them in customs. If you had placed them on your bags before you left, you did not need to do this (I was told). I also HATE cruise ship transfers. So since there were 5 of us traveling I explored my other options. I found that I could rent a stretch limousine to take us to the pier for the same money as the cruise line wanted for 5 transfers. SOOOOOOO, we were met outside customs by our driver. He assisted us in giving our now tagged baggage to Princess and then took our hand luggage to our awaiting car. After dropping us off at the pier we realized we were too early to board so we walked the two blocks to the Vancouver Liquor Store on Alberni Street, to pick up the wine I had ordered. My husband and I enjoy wine not offered on board, so we decided to take advantage of Princesses policy allowing you to take wine and champagne on board with you. We did not want to take it on the plane however and risk breakage. I discovered a store close to the pier and called in advance to check prices and place our order. Prices were about the same as California (once you do the currency conversion). Then we went back to the pier.
Embarkation on our last cruise on the Grand was exceptional. The Star, however, suffered from disorganization and of course September 11th. The checking-in process went quickly and smoothly, but customs/immigration was a nightmare. After the less than 2 seconds it took to check in we had to STAND in a line for an hour to clear immigration. The line was not organized at all. (I must say we could see the Royal Caribbean side and they had it much more organized.) I realize this line was for security reasons but I felt it could have been handled more smoothly, especially in light of RCCL's handling of the same problem. Our tip to you: Allow for extra time.
Once through immigration, it is a quick photo for your cruise card and then another for you to buy later. After that it is on to your cabin. You are not escorted individually; instead employees placed along the way direct you to your cabin. I have no problem with this system.
THE CABIN: The mini-suites on the Star Princess are 323 square feet, including the balcony. I had read that the room was very narrow, but I did not find it too narrow at all. Of course, ship cabins are not as large as most hotel rooms. This room was MORE than adequate for a week's stay. The entry way is a little too narrow, especially when entering with luggage or when opening the door for the butler with room service trays. Past the entryway, to the right (in cabin D330) is the closet, shelves and bath. You take a left into this little hallway, to your left is the bathroom door, to your rightt is the closet (it has no doors), and straight ahead is a closet of shelves with mirrored doors, this houses life jackets, a small safe with a programmable lock, and 6 or 7 shelves. This closet of shelves will serve as your dresser drawers, as all other drawers in the room are too small for clothes. We found it quite suitable for 7 days, despite our over packing. The mirrored doors serve as your full-length mirror. The closet had PLENTY of hangers, wooden suit hangers, slacks hangers, and skirt hangers. I would say there were 40 or more. I could have used a few less shirt hangers and a few more skirt hangers, but as I said I over packed. There is a shelf above with extra blankets and pillows and more storage space. The floor space below our hanging items, held our largest suitcase, our daughter's stroller and all of our shoes. Our other three (yes three) suitcases fit under the bed.
The bathroom holds a decent full-sized bathtub. I did in fact take a bath several times and it was quite comfortable. There is also a toilet and a sink, with a good amount of counter space. In addition to the counter, there are two small shelves to the left of the mirror and a large shelf below the sink, all with a small railing to keep things from sliding off. All in all, a lot of bathroom storage for a week. There were two bath towels, two hand towels, two face clothes, a terry cloth bath mat, and a rubber bath mat too. If you require additional towels (as for long hair), merely ask your room steward and one or more extra will appear each day. The towels on the Grand (our last cruise) were far from fluffy. Either they have improved towel quality or fabric softener on the Star OR the towels are newer and therefore softer. Princess participates in an eco-project, which encourages passengers to use their towels more than one day. If you wish to participate you hang your towel on the rack. When you wish for clean towels simply throw them on the floor and they will be replaced with clean towels. Two beach towels are also provided, although more are available upon request. These towels are much larger than the bath towels. We always asked for an extra to use for drying off balcony chairs and tables.
Just past the closet hallway are a mirror and a small counter for change, room keys and what not. This small counter at first seemed frivolous but it was actually quite useful. We kept our room keys here when we were in the room, and we always knew where they were. Past this is the bedroom area. To the right is the queen-sized bed (actually two single beds fitted together with queen sheets), with a nightstand on each side. The nightstands have a open shelf and two drawers each. They are each topped with a lamp. There is also an overhead light which is quite bright. There are control switches located all about the room for all the lights. This is quite convenient, especially the ones on the head of the bed for the bedside and overhead lights. The bed is made up with 3 pillows, I think. They are extremely comfortable pillows. There are soft sheets and blanket on the bed in addition to the bedspread. The steward removed the spread the first night, but we pulled it out because we were cool and the rest of the week the bed was turned down with the spread remaining. The bed was not too soft or too hard. We slept extremely well, and I frequently don't sleep well in hotels. I did find the bed on the Grand to be more comfortable than the Star, maybe they cut corners on the mattresses or I am was more sensitive since my daughter was in the room with us. At any rate, I did not sleep quite as well on this ship.
Just beyond the bed is the desk to the left (facing the balcony) and the mini-fridge to the right, in between there is the opening to the sitting area. There is no curtain or door separating the areas. This was not a problem for us, but if one of you rises early or stays up late AND the other requires complete darkness to sleep it might prove inconvenient. The desk is attached to the nightstand on the right. There is a mirror with a hairdryer on the wall. I had read much about the hairdryer's lack of power. I have shoulder length curly hair that is quite thick. I found that the hairdryer on the high setting was quite adequate to dry my hair. The writing surface was deep enough to write letters or keep a journal. There are three small drawers to the left of the desk. These were perfect for keeping hair accessories and makeup, as well as a corkscrew, bottle opener and the like. To the left, above the mini-fridge is one of the televisions (one remote control works for both). The TV runs several stations, including CNN, the ship channel (running current weather, port information, etc.), a movie station running somewhat current films, and a few other stations. They advertised that they had a channel of children's programming, but we never found it. The mini-fridge is located in a cabinet beneath this. It is empty except for an insulated ice bucket that was full of ice. There is a bowl of fruit delivered the first day and with it is an order form so you can customize your refills. The sitting area consists of a sofa (much shorter than the one on the Grand), an armchair and a coffee table. THe sofa folds out into a bed. My daughter slept here. An adult might have trouble the mattress is very thin and the bed very short. A three year old however, loved her own bed. There is another TV on a high shelf (opposite the first) and below it are a marble counter for storage and two shelves below. We used these for reading material and our beach/pool supplies so they were always handy. Beyond this is the balcony. There are two sets of drapes in front of the sliding glass doors, one sheer and one very dark and heavy. The heavy set closed completely and were effective "black-out" curtains.
The balcony is not huge. The furnishings consisted of two armchairs that reclined (not loungers), a table for eating or cards, a footstool and two chairs for the table. We had our steward bring an extra table chair for our daughter and still had enough space. A word of caution, they clean windows at night and so the balcony furniture was ALWAYS wet first thing in the morning. (Remember the extra beach towel). The flooring on the balcony is plastic and rather hard, but contrary to what I had read it did not hurt my bare feet. The railing is wood and beneath it is tinted Plexiglas. This is great so you can see the ocean while sitting, some of Princess' other ships are solid metal below the railing and you will only be able to see the water while standing. We were on the Dolphin deck and yes the balconies can be seen from above. In the Caribbean I found this not to be a problem. In Alaska it rains frequently. A covered balcony would have been nice but the balconies that are completely covered were much smaller. (The balconies on the Caribe deck are have covered and half open but the rooms do not have the seating area and the two decks above that have completely covered balconies but they are very small. They hold a table and two small chairs only) The lack of covering did not bother us. We preferred the extra space. Keep in mind that NONE of the balconies have side partitions that are floor to ceiling. You can and will hear your neighbors' conversations quite clearly, but as long as no one is too loud it is not a problem. In Alaska (esp at the glaciers) everyone is on their balcony and it can be quite loud).
In all, the room was very comfortable and very attractively decorated. The color scheme is tans and light blue, very elegant and not at all flashy. I felt that Celebrity's rooms were too bright for a bedroom and really much more designed to hide dirt rather than be visually appealing. This room really felt like casually elegant. The room was spotless and remained that way throughout the week. I would HIGHLY recommend a mini-suite, if you can afford it.
SHIP/PUBLIC ROOMS: This ship is gorgeous. The public rooms are well thought out and attractively designed and decorated. I truly did not believe those that said you did not feel like you were on with 2700 other people. But you DON'T. Only at disembarkation did I see ALL those other people at once.Pools:The pools are heated (and fresh water). That said, only the pool covered by the retractable roof was utilized. Even that pool was used only sparsely. Our three year old LOVES to swim so we used the pool three times. Twice we were alone. The hot tubs however were used often. Those in the covered pool were the most utilized but I frequently saw people in the open-air hot tubs too. The pools and hot tubs are open 24 hours a day, though some are occasionally closed for cleaning. There were NO water aerobic classes held. One side note, the "kiddie" pool on deck 15 (I think) has a cute slide and looks like a lot of fun. It is NOT heated, so in Alaska it was useless. The covered pool is deep. The shallow end is 5 feet 2 inches and the deep end is 7 feet. It was challenging swimming with a small child in this pool.
The Rest of the Public Areas We Used:
Skywalkers: The view is awesome and you really need to go up there to see it. Great for viewing the glaciers and sail aways if you do not have a balcony. When we sailed on the Grand we never found the bar open there except late at night. On this cruise the bar was frequently open and well staffed.
Children's Zone/teen Zone: The teens looked mostly bored, but it did provide a place for them to meet and be together. I don't think Alaska is the most fun destination for them. There were not a lot of kids on this cruise since it was before most schools were out for the year. In the 8-12 group there were around 40 aboard and in the 3-7 there were approx. 15 children aboard. During most of the sessions there were less than 8 kids in the 3-7 group (my daughters group). She attended about 1/3 of the sessions offered. (On Sea Days activities are offered 9-12 am, 2-5 pm and 7-10 pm; on Port days child care is offered-for free- including meals but you must sign up the day prior and activities are limited to free play and videos; also offered is child care from 10pm-1am each evening for $5 per hour per child-again service is video only) Our daughter did not attend on port days or the late evening sessions, but thoroughly enjoyed the other times. We had to practically drag her out when they closed a session. Twice they had group kids meals, which worked out nicely for her and for us to enjoy an adult only dinner.
Video Arcade: There is NO Video Arcade on the Star.
The Spa/Beauty Salon: My experience on the Grand was poor. I had no plans to utilize the spa on the Star but my in-laws treated me to a Chakra Hot Stone Massage. Wow. It was wonderful. The spa area is well laid out and attractively presented. The relaxation room (for spa patrons only) was very nice with a rock sauna, steam room, rain forest shower (think lots of shower heads) and warm stone relaxation chairs. The massage was very pricey $158, but it was 1 and ½ hours long. It was without a doubt the nicest massage I have ever had. There was a small pitch for product at the end, but very, very low pressure. Yeah.
Gym: Very well equipped, with the exception of treadmills. There are 6-8 treadmills in all. There is a sign up sheet for use of the treadmills and it is needed. I was surprised that they were in such demand. The sign up sheet only allows for each person to stay on for 1/2 hour, which is less time than most users are used to and many exceeded their time, throwing off the schedule. There are also stationary bikes, stair machines, free weights and a life cycle weight system. There is also an aerobic room and many classes were offered. They have started charging for a few of the classes offered (yoga, spinning, pilates, kick boxing) but some others are still free. I believe they have done away with the cruisercise program, where you could earn logo merchandise by attending exercise classes
Deck 14: This deck contains pools, bars and restaurants all of which are covered above or below.
Deck 12 (there is no 13)-8:Cabins only
Vista Lounge: This is one of the large show lounges. It is located all the way aft. This lounge is set up with couch seating with small cocktail tables. It did offer cocktail service during shows. Site lines were not great, mostly due to pillars and the rake of the floor not being sufficient to see over tall people in front of you.
Wheelhouse Bar: Cool area with a nice trios playing big band style music most evenings. Lovely seating designed to feel like a small intimate bar. This was our favorite lounge. Unlike the Grand service here was top notch. This lounge is also typically not crowded.
Explorer's Lounge: This is a big space. It is used as a show lounge after dinner and for art auctions in the afternoon. It is a lovely area, which reminded me of Agatha Christie's Death on the Nile, sort of campy Egyptian with waiters in pith helmets and khaki's. The woodwork is gorgeous and the decor elegant. It does have a few more private areas and prior to dinner it is almost deserted.
The Atrium (Center Decks 7-5):I read a lot of complaints that the atrium is not grand enough for the Grand Princess, well it is the same on the Star, and I still like it. I found the atrium to be lovely and serviceable. It was convenient to use it to reach the stores, the purser and the dining rooms. It made a lovely gathering place for the Captain's Welcome Reception. It is beautifully appointed with glass elevators and spiral staircases. The string quartet at the base and the pianist in the lounge make it an elegant area for pre dinner drinks. Having purser's offices on two floors also helped congestion. The purser's office is much friendlier on the Star, than they were on the Grand.In this area are the ship's shops. There is a clothier, a perfumery, a jewelry shop and a notions and cruisewear/logo shop. The prices were reasonable and the selection very good. A couple of days they held "sidewalk" sales that made the area a little crowded but tolerable.
Promenade Bar:This bar held a piano bar. Great place to enjoy a pre or post dinner cocktail, listen to music AND look out the window at the amazing scenery.
The Princess Theatre (Decks 7 & 6):This is all the way forward. Deck 7 is the upstairs entrance. This lounge is the MAIN show lounge and headliners perform here. The sight lines are much better. The Star Princess DOES offer cocktail service in this theatre. With the addition of Personal Choice Dining, the theatre is not as crowded and you can usually find a seat without a problem. They also made announcements frequently telling passengers that seat saving was not allowed.
Deck 6: Amalfi Dining Room:This is the traditional dining room. It is a pretty dining room, much like the others. The only catch with this one is that the only way to get there is the stairs and elevators all the way aft. You cannot walk down Deck 6 to get here. Therefore the entryway does get congested prior to dinner. We used Personal Choice Dining, so we did not eat in this room.
Portofino Dining Room: This is one of the two Personal Choice Dining Rooms. We used this dining room exclusively. It is also the dining room that is open for breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea. As with all the dining rooms, it is well laid out with short walls dividing the room into more intimate seating areas. it works. we never felt like we were eating with 500 other people. The ceilings are too low though and noise does bounce around some. We never had to raise our voices to speak to our table companions but it did have a din to the place.The linens are lovely Egyptian linen by Frette. They are different almost nightly, I believe, as are the wait staff's attire. The silver, china and stemware are also very nice. The decor here, as throughout the ship, is top notch and very elegant.A note on Personal Choice Dining: We LOVED it. We never had to wait for a table, even when requesting the same waiter each night without a reservation. The freedom to go when you were ready cannot be beat.
Atrium Deck 6: Some of the shops are on level 6 they are discussed above. The Casino entrance is on Deck 6 in the atrium. It is a large casino. We did not use it, but we did walk through many times. It always smelled of lingering smoke but it was never overwhelming (and I have a pretty sensitive nose). They did offer gaming lessons and several blackjack, slots and poker tournaments were held.
Shooters Lounge: We walked through once. This is the sports lounge. They advertised what sports would be on each day in the patter but it was always subject to satellite coverage. I had read it was frequently poor coverage. Also the bar staff is NOT into American sports, so if you go in and ask what is happening with the game, they usually did not know or care. This bar is ALWAYS empty.
Deck 5: Capri Dining Room:We did not use this room.
Atrium area: On Deck 5 of the atrium are the library, listening room, and computer area There is also a internet room next to Tequlia's). The library and writing area are really quite lovely, though the library hours (the staffed hours) are really too short. The writing area has comfortable desks that face the ocean. The library even had needlepoint kits for sale. The game room had tons of games to borrow of many kinds. This room always seemed to have activity. The listening chairs were only sparsely used, as was the computer area. The area right across from the listening chairs (chairs where you could listen to CD's or books on tape) and adjacent to the writing area was consistently being used to sell future cruises. I really felt it spoiled the solitude and the look of this area.Also in this area is the art gallery. It is set up gallery style and displays many of the works that will be auctioned during the week. Even if you don't intend to buy, it is a nice area to browse through.
FOOD: This area was a hit and miss category for us. We were pleasantly surprised by some and disappointed in other areas.
Horizon Court: The Horizon Court buffet was a better than on our last cruise. The food was better but the variety was minimal. It is a beautiful room with lots of window seating. In addition the deck areas had a great number of tables and chairs to use as well. The buffet itself is not one long line but five or so food stations. Sometimes but not always an attendant handed you a large oval plate and silverware (sometimes you helped yourself) you take this to whatever station you choose to start and begin. We found this system very efficient, but it definitely confused others used to the one line method. I never had to wait in line for anything here. Many of the dishes catered to the large Asian clientele on this sailing (maybe all sailings, I don't know). Because of this, there was less space for a large variety of American dishes. At breakfast there was juice station, two bread/pastry stations, a fruit station, a milk/yogurt station, a station with an Asian soup, fried rice and a variety of other ethnic cuisine, a station with eggs (typically fried, scrambled and scrambled with some type of meat or veggie), and a station with eggs benedict or omelettes and breakfast meats. Lunch was two salad stations, a bread station, a fruit station, a dessert station, an ethnic station, a deli meat station, and two luncheon item stations. The hot items were standard buffet fare no better or worse than a Country Buffet or the like back home. The other stations were better. The salad bar was fresh and well stocked and there was always a large selection of cheese, fruit and breads. There was always something carved. We ate breakfast and lunch here most days, but never dinner or late night.
The Outdoor Grill and Pizzeria: The Outdoor Grill was excellent. The burgers, hot dogs, and bratwurst were partially pre-cooked (I believe this was due to the cold weather) and then finished while you waited. The pizzeria was also very good and we never waited long for a fresh slice. I also never saw a pizza sit out long. Fresh pizzas were out every few minutes. I REALLY enjoyed the pizza and found it to my New England taste, my husband thought it was good, but not great. It just shows everyone's taste is different. Attendants in both locations (on either side of the pool deck) were helpful and pleasant, esp. when treated the same way.
Sabitini's: We did not dine there, nor did we talk to anyone who had. We heard it was excellent but since I am allergic to shellfish the menu (which is mostly seafood and lots of shellfish) did not work for us. I printed the whole menu from the Grand Princess' Sabitini's in my earlier review.
Tequilas: We did not dine here. We tried the Painted Desert on the Grand and we were disappointed. We therefore did not bother with Tequilas.
Room Service: We had breakfast or at least coffee in our room daily. The service and the food were good. I had one complaint at the beginning of the week. Cream. In the Horizon Court and from Room Service the cream was powdered in packets. I must not have been the only one with this complaint. By mid-week, room service had pitchers of cream available and the Horizon Court had a carafe of cream next to the coffee. Powdered cream on a luxury vacation is not acceptable.
Dining Room: Breakfast: We did not eat breakfast in the dining room.
Lunch: We did not eat lunch in the dining room.
Afternoon Tea: This event was hit and miss. I really enjoy afternoon tea. British afternoon tea. Princess is a British line. Afternoon tea on Princess needs work. The Star Princess has improved the actual tea served. While on the Grand they served only Lipton and you could not get any other kind. The Star serves Lipton also, but if you ask they will brew a small pot (metal not china like the lipton) of another flavor (I chose Earl Grey). The tea sandwiches, sweets and scones served were identical to those served on the Grand. The Grand however, served tea more elegantly. Presentation and level of service at tea time was lacking on the Star. The servers looked and acted bored or resentful both times I went. You are always seated with others at this event. On Celebrity, tea was held in one of the lounges instead of the dining room. This offered more seating options (including solitary) and more intimate groupings. Celebrity also did an outstanding job of the food and teas served. Princess should take note. Tea never used more than 1/3 of a dining room for tea. This could have easily moved to another venue, and by reducing it's size more variety could be offered.
Dinner: Dinners were excellent. We had Personal Choice (as stated above), but we used the same waiter all but one evening. (The rest of our group used Jun, but we opted for a "date" night and sat away from our group). We brought our own wine to dinner 5 nights and we were always charged corkage. Our waiter, Jun and our Asst. Waiter, Leo, did an excellent job (which is why we returned to his section nightly). Our headwaiter, Neil, did a great job also. He had a special cake prepared for us one night because we enjoyed it on the Grand. He even had the temperature in the room adjusted one night when I mentioned I was hot. As for the food: Appetizers were mostly standard with the exception of the escargot and the proscuitto and melon, which were great. The onion soup and the chilled soups were outstanding. Of the entrees, the prime rib, beef Wellington and the duck were highlights for me. The rest of my table also really enjoyed the lobster and king crab legs. Desserts were really excellent. esp. the souffles and the raspberry crème brulee and any of the homemade ice creams. The Love Boat Dream is always good, as is the cheesecake. The rolls are almost the best part though. I could not stop eating them. I was again impressed that the meat was cooked to the temperature ordered. I have never had a ship or banquet in a hotel manage it before and now Princess has managed to do it on two cruises. My husband and I like our meat rare, my in-laws liked theirs medium-well. They were all right EVERY time. Even prime rib, which is hard to get rare. All in all, we were VERY pleasantly surprised by the food and the service we received.
ENTERTAINMENT:Great Improvement over the Grand. Dance and Da Beat were technically varied and visually interesting. They were pretty well choreographed and danced. The singers are average. The plot line is thin. They utilized lots of special lighting, effects and hydrolic lifts. The Give my Regards show in the Vista Lounge was not as good. I would still prefer less flashy shows in favor of more talented performers.There was also nightly musical entertainment in the lounges and Tequilas. These trios, quartets and soloists were usually pretty good, but still not great.There was three "Celebrity" performers: Sarge-a comedian, fairly funny; Greg Bonham-the "big" celebrity- a Vegas style performer, talented but not my style; and Kevin Hughes, a funny comedian.
SERVICE:Room Steward: Excellent. Our room was spotless and all our requests were filled promptly. Josh was very pleasant and had a good command of the English language. He also took very good care of our daughter. He placed her stuffed animals in different places each night and she would hunt for them.
Other:We encountered problems with billing on our last cruise. No problems this trip. Purser staff and tour staff on this ship were much friendlier and seemed less harried.
THE CAPTIAN: Captain Andy Proctor. Or as he was referred often "Captain Andy" was a joy. Very approachable, friendly and funny. It was such a joy to have such a personable captain. Hats off to him.
GENERAL SERVICE: Excellent. Friendly, outgoing. Lounge staff was ever-present without hovering or pushing. Horizon Court staff were the same way. They cleaned dirty plates almost invisibly and offered cocktails or soft drinks unobtrusively. It would have been nice if the "free" beverages were brought to you, but they were not far from the seating.
PORTS:Alaska is amazing. What a great cruise destination. We sailed to Ketchikan, Juneau, and Skagway. We also visited Glacier Bay and College Fjord. Vancouver: I would love to visit again. Since I spent only one hour there I will not comment, other than to say it is beautiful.
Ketchikan:Small town similar to Breckenridge Colorado to me. Several touristy shops. Good selection of souvenirs at some decent prices. Cute. My husband and father-in-law went Sport fishing (booked through the cruise line). Ketchikan was touted as THE place to sport fish in Alaska. It might have been great fishing but there was no catching that day. According to my husband none of the boats they saw (cruise line booked or not) came in with fish. Ketchikan is known for rain.. and it did. Our cruise director had a clever line. "Ketchikan has the cleanest air in the country it is washed everyday".
Juneau:Another quaint town, though much larger than Ketchikan. I enjoyed walking around and looking at the shops but the highlight was our excursion. We went Whale Watching (booked through the cruise line) with Allen Marine. It was a great excursion. We saw whales (killer and humpback), Dall's porpoise, bald eagles, seals, and sea otters. It misted most of the trip, but did not rain hard.
Skagway:I really liked this very small town. Nice shops, great scenery. We took the White Pass Railway excursion. Amazing scenery, great photo opps.
Glacier Bay:OH MY GOD, is it beautiful. This is why you get a balcony. We had a port side room, we had the BEST views of the glaciers. We sailed slowly through this bay. I NEVER WANTED TO LEAVE. We started out on deck above the bridge along with about 200 other people. After a short while we moved to our balcony (once we realized it was all on the port side). We ordered room service coffee and watched the glaciers calve what seemed like inches from our faces. This "port" defies words.
College Fjord:Not quite as amazing as Glacier Bay and yet breathtaking in it's own way. We saw much more wildlife this day including a bear, whales and lots of sea otters.
EVERY DAY:Whales, porpoises, and seals or sea otters were visible. Sometimes we missed the sighting, but often we caught the show. The scenery and wildlife made most of the shipboard activities superfluous.
Seward: We disembarked in Seward and took the transfer to Anchorage. (Our only other option was to rent a car since our flight was so early). It is a 3 hour bus ride with great scenery so I will count it as a shore excursion. Not bad for a bus tour.
DISEMBARKATION:Since we had to leave so early, it was not really a problem. We got up early ate at Horizon Court and SHOULD have stayed in our room until they called our color. But since we were to be called third (they give you a list of the order to be called) and they had already called the first two we made our way to deck 6. Well they ended up going out of order and we stood waiting for an hour. Our fault mostly, we could have been comfortable in our rooms. Oh well live and learn. We were able to check into our flight home at the dock, a nice touch.
PACKING: Do bring layers, but we overdid it. We had to bundle up on deck for Glacier Bay and at the summit of the train trip. The rest of the time I was fine with a long sleeve T, a light sweater and a light rain jacket. On the two bundle up days, I added a fleece, a hat (or ear muffs), a scarf and gloves. The dining room and show lounges can be very hot esp. after a cool day. Bring evening clothes that are not too heavy. I can only assume it will get warmer not colder as the season progresses. We also did not need rain pants (though we did take them) but it did not rain heavily any day nor did we do any hiking excursions. We did wear duck shoes (waterproof shoes) on the whale watching trip. We did not need umbrellas since we had raincoats with hoods.
I am usually a strong anti-jeans on cruises person, but brought some along for the whale watching trip. I was glad I did. They were perfect for whale watching and for cruising through Glacier Bay. I would say 95% of the ship wore jeans at some point on the trip. Sadly, I saw 10% of the patrons in jeans on the second formal night (also Glacier Bay day) and 65% of the patrons wore jeans and even overalls on the last night (yes in the dining room on both nights). As for formal nights, this was by far the most casual cruise we have been on. I would say only 70% dressed formally those nights. Of those 30% were in gowns and 10% in tuxes. Most men who did dress up were in suits, women were mostly in nice church dresses. The 30% who did not dress up were in all sorts of attire, from jeans to sweat suits.
Please bring the best binoculars you can (wide angle is best) and the best camera with a BIG zoom if you can. There was wildlife to be seen and photographed if you had good zoom, my camera did not zoom enough to get wildlife on shore.
SUMMARY:This was a great vacation. Taking a three year old was NO PROBLEM, she loved it and the kids program allowed us some grown up time too. Alaska was amazing, we will be back. I took over 300 pictures. Princess did a great job. I would definitely recommend this itinerary and this cruise line to my friends.
Here it is May 29th and I'm just now sitting down to write this review. Boy can I put things off. Well here goes with the hope I get it done now and not a month from now. I just get so busy doing nothing that I never have time to do anything.
We got lucky and got a friend flies free ticket on Southwest Airlines so of course we booked our own air and then took the ground transport through Princess. We took a noon flight so we wouldn't have to get up at the crack of dawn and got to Lax with our luggage at 1:30 and were on the ship about 2:30 so I can't complain. After dropping off our bags we went strait up to lido deck to eat lunch. The Horizon dinning area is an attractive setting with unobstructed view, the serving sections are on both sides. It has no clear flow direction and can become congested as we found during the week. They had the usual assortment of chicken or beef but no meats or breads for sandwiches. If you wanted a hamburger, hotdog or pizza you had to go all the way forward to the grill on other side of the outdoor pool passing through the inside pool on the way. It made it difficult if one person wanted a meal and the other wanted a burger.
By the way they had some excellent knockwurst that they would heat and serve on a bun. The pizza was nothing to writ home about and is no competition for Carnival. After a brief and satisfying snack we went exploring the ship, as is our custom aboard a new ship. My first impression was that the ship had a nice soft pastel feel to it but as usual on large ships the lay out forced you to walk from side to side to go from one end of the ship on the Promenade deck. At one point because of my tendency to bare right when faced with a choice We found our selves walking through an alternate eating area called the Painted Desert on more than one night it just doesn't look like the entrance to a restaurant and I'm sure that it disturbed the dinners especially just before show time in the large Princess Theater. I'm sure that a lot of other people did the same unintentionally. One other place on the ship we found ourselves going where we really didn't mean to was coming out of the elevators on Promenade deck we often were on the port side after leaving the, Capri dinning room which has only one entrance, and when we headed aft you would enter the explorers lounge and have to either retrace your steps or cross over the room to reach the open promenade to proceed aft to the Vista showroom passing through an often blocked Photo Gallery after dinner. One last nitpicking thing as with any ship with a galley in the middle and dinning rooms on either end they create a situation where you must go up over and down to pass through the ship on one deck since the aft dinning room is the traditional style I was glad we tried free choice dinning for a change.
While on the subject of free choice dinning this is the first Princess ship we've been on to offer it the Royal, which we were on in Feb., was to small to handle the galley requirements. Diane loved it, she has always thought 6:15 is just to early and late seating was to late. Choice allowed her to stay on our home schedule and eat at 7. Unfortunately all the shows are still tied to the Traditional schedule so that when you finished diner you either had to skip desert or not get a seat for the show in the Princess Theater. For one show we sat on the steps and it was no treat. I have mixed feelings about Personal choice but if we have a choice from now on I bet we take Personal choice. Peace at all cost is my motto. My thoughts about the food. In Feb. on our Amazon trip I lost my appetite and nothing tasted good to me. As some of you may know I eventually got so sick I had to leave the ship in Trinidad and go into the hospital so I felt the food has to be better this time and of course it was. I have always found on Princess ships that not every thing I think I recognize on the menu will taste the way I expect. They go out of their way to use sauces from different parts of Italy and some of them I love and other are a disappointment for me. It's probably due to my lack of a sophisticated palette but even the steaks are done in a different style and escargot in red wine sauce just doesn't cut it.
We had several reasons for taking this trip. First this is our first chance to sail on a Grand class ship which I have wanted to do for some time and just haven't either because of a lack of interest in the itinerary they were on. Or the expense of the travel just to repeat ports didn't seem to justify spending the money. Well here was an inexpensive chance so we took it even though this would be the 5th time into these ports. Also we are putting together a family reunion and have 25 people going on the Elation next May and all but one of our children live on the Pacific coast and all the adult grandchildren live in the west it will hold down the cost of travel. While I would prefer to take RCL the group deal on Carnival is much lower and only one of the kids and his family has cruised before and we know they will all have a great time on the Elation, which we've been on twice. After the disaster in Brazil I would have sworn that Diane would be off cruising for a long time. She even told the kids that was IT and the next thing I know one of my daughters and granddaughter brought our great grandson down from Oregon to ride Timothy the train for his third Birthday. The boy is crazy about the cartoon and the train was in Sacramento for some kind of promotion at the rail museum. While they were here another daughter came down from Tahoe and talk led to a reunion and first thing I know were back in the cruise mode, not that I mind. All the talk about the cruise a year off convinced Dian she had been shorted on the last cruise and we should go somewhere but close so Star Princess it was. While in Puerto Valletta we decided to check out the land excursion to Paradise jungle just to see if it was something the kids would like to do. Usually we just hire a cab and go sight seeing and we have been all over town before. The trip consists of a short stop for people to walk up to the Cathedral. We've Been there and done that so we went to a nearby glass shop instead and browsed till the bus picked us back up. Then the bus went out past Los Molines beach and went a few miles up dirt rode to the set of the Swartzenager movie Predator where we ate at a restraint set up by the river where a small waterfall creates a pool. We did not take hike up the canyon as nether of us has good balance and were a little old for scrambling over boulders. At the price I felt it was a total rip off and would warn the kids not to go. In Mazatlan we took the beach tour to see what you got and saw the same things we've seen for but at tent times the price. Again don't go with the ship get a cab go to the gold cost and eat either at a restaurant or one on the beach and if you want to go to the beach just do it there, the street venders will find you anyway as the beaches are all public and open. Diane chose to not go ashore in Cabo San Lucas and I just went into the flea market on the dock to get a shirt that I had meant to buy on the pier in Mazatlan but they have changed the area to shops and stands that sell souvenirs and my shirt man is gone. No luck in Cabo either.
About the entertainment we went to the Princess Theater only three times for the shows they have a state of the art stage with computerized scenery and built in lifts all over the stage. It's a far cry from the show rooms of 20 years ago and they give an interesting back stage tour that I highly recommend. While on the subject of the theater this one has the best sight lines of any I've been in at sea. My one complaint is that there are no handrails for the steep steps that alternate the size of the risers and are very difficult to negotiate in the dark and it's worse with trifocals according to Diane. The best seats are on the lower floor but if you use personal choice dinning there is no chance of getting one. If you come late you must sit high up in the back where you can see fine but the sound is overwhelming close to the speakers. The vista lounge is much more traditional and is quite good as a venue for comedians and the stage telescopes back to expose the dance floor. I only went up to the disco one night to see it at night and it is pretty when lit up but way to loud for me. The young people seem to love it. The famed moving walk way reminds me of Ceasers in Las Vegas it only goes in. We really liked the ship over all and would take a grand class dip again.
I've just returned from the April 13 sailing of the Star Princess to the Mexican Riviera. Before I left I became completely addicted to the Cruisemates message boards, so I'm writing this review as a thank you for all the great information and advice. About us: we're both professionals in the San Francisco Bay Area, and this was our very first cruise (we're 27 and 28, have traveled in Europe and the U.S., but never before in Mexico).
We had an oceanview stateroom in the forward section of the Plaza deck. The window was quite large and let in lots of light, so the room always felt cheerful and surprisingly spacious. Our room had a mirror, desk, hairdryer, TV, small refrigerator, big closet with lots of hangers, and lots of drawers for storage. Luggage all fit under the bed. The bathroom was very small (think: airplane), especially the shower. Ladies, if you're planning to shave your legs in the shower, start taking yoga now before it's too late. Once you've mastered wrapping your knee over your head, shaving will be a breeze. Towels, pool towels, shampoo, conditioner, soap and lotion are provided.I brought a plug-in air freshener/night light, which seemed really clever until I discovered it had a polarized plug that didn't fit the bathroom electrical outlet. Fortunately there was some sort of fan in there so it never got too stuffy.
Our stateroom steward was a lovely young woman with mysterious ways. We're accustomed to hotels on land, where the housekeepers replace toiletries and towels and make the bed, but are not supposed to touch our stuff. Our stateroom steward, on the other hand, seemed to spend a lot of time rearranging our stuff into neat little piles on the desk, but would forget to bring us shampoo and conditioner. We decided our mess might be distracting her, so we arranged our things into neat little piles ourselves before leaving the room. When we came back, all our piles had been rearranged into entirely new little piles in brand new locations, and our pool towels had disappeared! Still no shampoo. We tracked her down in the hallway and found out she didn't know where to get new pool towels, so she took the dirty ones but didn't replace them (we got some eventually, though!) To solve the shampoo problem, we took to leaving her little notes in the evening if she forgot anything in her morning visit. The artful rearranging was her strong point-every day it was our private joke to try to guess her new hiding place for the Princess Patter (daily ship newsletter)-the weirdest was inside a folder tucked behind the TV! All joking aside, we realized she meant well, but was probably new to the job (understandable on a brand new ship).
Ship Facilities and Entertainment
We picked this ship partly because it's so large (holds over 2500 people), since we both are very prone to motion sickness in cars and airplanes. I'm happy to report that most of the time we could hardly tell the ship was moving. The last day was extremely rough (they had to cancel the show in the Princess theater above our room), so we took Bonine just in case. We were just starting to feel unwell when the medicine kicked in, so I'm glad we brought it.
There are two large pools and three small pools-all heated, fresh water, one of them with a retractable roof for cold days. This came in handy, since all the sea days were cold and windy (about 60 degrees on deck). Unfortunately, the large pools tended to be dominated by the 12-and-under set, with lots of screaming, splashing, and belly flops into the pool. I really wish both large pools had retractable roofs; then one could be designated for adults only. As it was, we got as much use as we could out of the two smaller outdoor adults-only pools. The two small pools in the aft of the ship were especially nice-they were almost always empty and serene. We had a lovely evening on a warmer day in Mexico, watching an amazing sunset from the far aft pool, all by ourselves. The pools weren't quite what I would ideally wish for (my ideal being the Bellagio pool area in Las Vegas), but certainly were better than expected for a mid-priced cruise ship.
On colder days, we stayed in and watched a movie in their theatre or went shopping (lots of reasonable shopping, with a changing selection every day). One day we went to a concert by the Capriccio string quartet, which was very enjoyable. Our favorite hangout was the Wheelhouse Lounge, a beautiful, cozy bar with dark wood decor and comfortable couches. The waiters there were knowledgeable and very friendly, with amazing memories-they always remembered us and our previous drink orders! Prices were very reasonable by San Francisco standards ($5 for most mixed drinks, $3.50 for the daily special). One night they had $3.50 martinis of every description in the Wheelhouse Lounge-we tried some new ones and they were very skillfully prepared. We watched some entertaining passenger karaoke, and caught an enjoyable show by the comedian Sarge. Sometimes, when our money was weighing us down, we watched it disappear in the casino (Very Stingy slots). Speaking of money, we absolutely loved using our cruise card for all expenses. It was so liberating not having to carry around a wallet and worry about having small bills for tipping-15% automatically added to the bar bills, and tips for stateroom and dining staff were automatically billed to our account daily ($10 per person). I found it incredibly convenient to have everything consolidated in one bill on my credit card at the end. We only used cash for the casino and for purchases and tips while in port.
The formal nights were fun, and a great chance to wear those old company Holiday Party dresses I never thought I'd be able to wear again. Having everyone dress up greatly increased the festive atmosphere, especially on the last night when they built a champagne waterfall at midnight in the Atrium; everyone threw streamers from the balconies above, and the dancing lasted until the wee hours.
We usually ate at the Horizon Court buffet for breakfast and lunch, then had dinner in the dining room. The Horizon Court has a large selection of food that, if not especially exciting, was at least reasonably fresh and well-prepared. Every dish has a time listed for when it should be replaced, and it was clear they followed these times to the minute. It's not gourmet, but there's generally something for most people. We are both mostly vegetarian, but we do eat fish and shellfish. We never had any trouble finding things to eat in any of the dining venues on ship. In fact, the dining room had a full vegetarian menu every night. We never got sick from any of the food, never even indigestion (a vacation first, believe me!)
The dining rooms seemed to have better food than the buffet. Actually, it seemed to get better as the cruise progressed, perhaps as the chefs took on more fresh food in port and let themselves be creative. The first night we were less than impressed, but several other nights left us very satisfied. At home we eat out in a wide variety of restaurants, and on special occasions we splurge on 5-star restaurants. The food on ship was more like two or three star level, like the sort of place where you would pay $7-15 for an entree. The presentation is very nice, though, which makes the food seem of higher quality. My pet peeves were the soups that tasted the same every night, and the saltine crackers served with the cheese course (good cheeses, though!) We usually had an appetizer, a soup, an entree, and then cheese or dessert. Sometimes we followed that up with coffee and biscuits, if they had any available. We especially liked the food on Italian night-we had to waddle out afterwards! I actually feel guilty voicing any criticism of the food when I consider the fact that we didn't have to pay extra for meals. The quality and variety is truly amazing when you try to calculate the budget they must have to work with.
We went with Personal Choice, and we loved it. Both of us are very shy and uncomfortable talking with strangers (I know, it's a miracle we found each other!), so we would have dreaded the traditional seating. I just wish they had more tables for two available, since those seemed to be in highest demand. Generally if we showed up between 7 and 8, they would tell us to come back in 20 minutes. Between 6 and 7pm, or 8-9 pm, we had no trouble being seated immediately. Reservations can be made, but they must be done by 5 pm and we were never that organized. We never had the same waiter twice, but only one out of all our waiters was less than perfect. The rest were attentive, friendly, refilled glasses and removed dirty plates instantly.
We only tried afternoon tea on the last day. Apparently a lot of other people had the same idea, since they seemed to be prepared for a much smaller crowd. We were served once and then never again-everyone else at our table left in frustration (yes, you have to sit with strangers for this one, but most people kept to themselves). We waited patiently and were served scones again later (delicious!). The little sandwiches were very refreshing, too.
Tequila's, the alternative Mexican restaurant, was surprisingly good. It's worth the $8 price for the "free" margarita they serve (a whopping 16 oz!) I was expecting toned-down gringo food, but the salsa and guacamole had generous amounts of fiery chilies. The tequila-flamed shrimp were very good, and the flan dessert was a perfect, refreshing finish to a spicy meal. If you like authentic Mexican food, it's worth a try. We found it a welcome break when we were getting a little tired of the Horizon Court food towards the end. It wasn't crowded, so I doubt if reservations would be necessary.
After seeing all the mixed reviews of Sabatini's, we decided we'd rather spend $30 on an Italian restaurant we know is good in San Francisco. $15 each also seemed steep without any drinks included with dinner. We tried the pizza place by the pool once, just for plain cheese pizza. It reminded me of Costco pizza. (I'm not knocking it-I happen to like Costco pizza!)
As for beverages, tea, coffee, iced tea and water are free all the time, plus orange juice in the mornings only. (All the tea bags are plain Lipton, surprising on a ship with so many British crew members!) We don't drink soda, but we do drink lots of water, so we brought a travel Britta and some water bottles for our room fridge and it worked out well. The water in Horizon Court tastes awful; ditto for water straight out of the room tap. But the Britta cleaned it up beautifully. Dining room water tasted fine. Several wines were recommended for each night's menu; we usually chose one available by the glass and were always happy with our choice.
Ports and Shore Excursions
We signed up for all our excursions on the Princess website as soon as we got our cruise information in the mail. It worked well--we had no trouble getting tickets for everything we wanted. The weather was warm in Mexico (70 degrees in the morning up to 90 in the afternoon), which was welcome after our chilly days at sea.
In Puerto Vallarta, we took the Coastal Drive and City Tour. Our guide, Jose, was funny and knowledgeable. We stopped to check out the cathedral, then drove down for brief stops at Mismaloya Beach and one other point along the coast. Then we proceeded to a beautiful open-air restaurant with a palapa roof, with stunning views of the coastline below. We had a free soft drink or beer, then headed on to the city for a 20-minute shopping stop in the block of shops recommended by Princess. After all the hype about the millionaires and celebrities in Puerto Vallarta, I was surprised and saddened by the obvious poverty everywhere-clearly the wealth has not trickled down to the people. We bought some reasonably priced leather items at Rolling Stones, which had a great selection of all types of leather. Everyone accepted American dollars-in fact, you could usually get a discount if you paid cash instead of credit card.
There were flea markets by the pier at all the ports we visited. I liked Mazatlan's market the best-best variety, atmosphere and marked prices. But if you've been to Olvera Street in Los Angeles, you've already seen a better selection of Mexican items, often at better prices. If you feel compelled to break the law, Cuban cigars are widely available. We bought a wonderful bottle of anejo grade tequila. I always used to think all tequila went down like Drano, but this stuff gives our 12-year old single malt scotch some stiff competition. We could have bought it for about the same price back home, but it was still a great souvenir.
In Mazatlan we took the Deer Island Sea kayak tour. They didn't give us any instructions on steering the kayaks, so it was scary at first as we drifted out to sea while figuring out how to steer. But once we got the hang of it, we had fun (great workout!). This is an excursion for people who are physically fit-it also includes a hike, but we preferred to hang out on the little beach instead. Overall, I have to admit this excursion sounded better in the brochure description than it turned out to be in real life. The fish were literally leaping out of the water, so fishing at this port was probably very good
In Cabo we took the Sail and Snorkel excursion to Santa Maria cove. The motor-sail boat (Princesa) was beautiful and well-kept, with an able and friendly crew. We came upon a humpback whale and her baby while sailing; when the captain cut the motor, they came right up within a few feet of the boat. It was an incredible sight, and apparently extremely rare. It was our first time snorkeling, and we found it really easy and fun. Even people who couldn't swim had no trouble floating with the life vests provided, and the water was crystal clear-very cold, but we got used to it quickly! We had a fantastic time swimming with all the tropical fish. On the way back, the crew served guacamole, chips, tuna sandwiches, beer, and margaritas. We went up close to Los Arcos for photos, then headed back. It was a marvelous tour, without a doubt the best we went on and the only one I would do again.
If we did this itinerary again, I would probably stick to the beach and water activities, maybe try the Krystal Vallarta pool area. The bits of the towns I saw were interesting, but for me, the best features of these ports were the natural beauty of the scenery and the lovely climate.
Embarking and Disembarking
We drove to the Los Angeles harbor and parked there ($10 per day). Arriving at the ship at about 11:30 am (there's a complimentary shuttle if you have to park far away), we got in the express line because we had already filled everything out on the Princess website. Within seconds, we got to check in, only to discover that they had no internet connection and couldn't access our information. So we had to fill everything out again. Then we got in a huge line to board the ship. In retrospect, it probably would have been better to arrive around 1pm, when the lines were much shorter, but I'm too paranoid about unexpected delays. But overall it was pretty easy.
Disembarking started out well, but passengers failing to follow directions delayed everyone. Each deck was supposed to report in to customs in the Vista Lounge at a specific time, starting with Aloha deck and working downwards. It went so well that they were ahead of schedule by the time it was Plaza deck's turn, so we got to go early. Very short line, very fast. Customs is easy: you hand them a sheet confessing all the useless junk you bought on your trip, they check your passport or other I.D., they stamp the sheet and off you go. Unfortunately, there was one couple, a certain Mr. and Mrs. X on Aloha deck (I won't say their names even though it's burned in my brain after an announcement every five minutes) who failed to show up at their appointed time for Customs. They were among the first who should have shown up, but about three hours later there were still AWOL despite constant ship-wide announcements. A few other people also failed to show up, but these two were the worst offenders. In the end, they delayed everyone from leaving by about an hour, because we weren't allowed to leave until everyone had been through Customs. (Believe it or not, our Cruise Director said the same thing had happened the week before because of one man who didn't follow directions!) The ultimate irony is that, in spite of their bad behavior, Mr. and Mrs. X must have been among the first to leave because the ship was emptied from top to bottom and they were on Aloha deck. We sat in our room watching TV until it was time to leave-the public areas were too crowded with people cursing Mr. and Mrs. X. Once ashore, we had to fight our way to our luggage through something like a shark feeding frenzy (probably people made late by Mr. and Mrs. X), then slowly made our way to the curb, where a couple of women with no official uniforms or anything were collecting our customs forms. That part could have been better coordinated. We overheard someone saying the wait for a taxi was one hour, so we were really glad we drove. The car was still there, now covered with a thick layer of seagull target practice and sand (don't say I didn't warn you!) For disembarkation, you can probably expect to experience some stupidity and rudeness. Try not to let it ruin your hard-earned worry-free vacation.
We were very happy with our first cruise, and in many ways it far exceeded our expectations. The Star Princess is a beautiful ship that will keep you well-fed and entertained while you effortlessly travel from port to port. Mexico was a fun and easy destination, and the people there were all friendly and very grateful to cruises for bringing so many tourists to energize their economy. I would do this itinerary on this ship again, just choosing some different shore excursions for variety. As for cruising, I'm so glad I've discovered such a relaxing mode of travel-can't wait for the next one!