My wife and I cruised on the Star Princess from April 6-13, 2002, and except for the very long first day we had a pretty fun time! Unfortunately, that first day - which involved flying to Los Angeles from Seattle, Washington at 6:00 am, then waiting three hours to catch a Princess shuttle bus to the dock after a very long wait at LAX, and then waiting again in long lines to board the ship - kind of got us off to a rough start! It was also the first day of Daylight Savings Times, and with cruising south and east the next two days we ended up having to turns our clocks ahead three hours in three days! We ended up sleeping in a bit to catch up on the lost time, and of course missed a few morning events aboard ship as a result.
We had requested late-seating at dinner, but ended up wait-listed for that (with about 300 other people, we heard) and got Personal Choice, which is ironic as it wasn't our personal choice! We missed being with the same people night after night and getting toknow them, but our wait staff was phenomenal (Earnest, Mark, Bradley and Andrea) and the food was great, and we even got a cake on our anniversary! We had heard that Sabatini's, the Italian restaurant, was worth the $15 per person surcharge, and we loved it, although we did eat too much there (how can you not?).
The formal nights were a lot of fun, as it was nice to get dressed up and have a classy dinner with the ship's photographers snapping photos of you in your finery. We did see some good movies on our room television on days we slept in a bit as well, and in one of the theaters on board ship. The heads got cut off on the movie screen, guess they have to work on that!
There were a lot of teenagers on board, as it was Spring break in California, so there was some noise in the halls late at night, along with doors opening and slamming shut at all hours, as kids left their cabins doors unlocked and open for their buddies to wander in whenever they wanted to! My wife got a Swedish massage at the spa, which she absolutely loved, and we got a lot of relaxing deck time in on the Aloha deck by the back pool, which was pretty uncrowded the entire trip. The days were a little cool the farther north we were, but never too chilly.
We went to afternoon tea a couple times, and even met a WWII veteran who said this was his first cruise since 1942, when he was sailing to Liverpool, England on his way to the Battle of the Bulge, and they had to avoid lighting matches on deck so the German submarines wouldn't see where they were! The Wheelhouse Bar is a place we stopped in for drinks more than once (have to try the green apple martini!), and listened to the Stingrays, a band that did all kinds of songs extremely well each and every night. We saw several shows, the comedians were very funny, especially "Sarge," and the Broadway-type singing and dancing productions were outstanding - see "Da Beat" and "Dance!" if you can!
The Karaoke shows were great fun, as the singing talent of the travelers ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous, and as MC, Deputy Cruise Director Gavin does a wonderful job of keeping everyone entertained in-between numbers. He was great on the Regal Princess last Summer, and is great here, especially when he kept coming back onstage during the singing of "America Pie" (a very long song!) and saying "Isn't he done yet?" and then going off-stage again! And every number was "Me mum's favorite song"!
Our day at Las Caletas in Puerto Vallarta was wonderful, and is an excursion worth taking. We were on a beautiful secluded beach with snorkeling (I saw a stingray, an eel and a school of beautiful fish), kayaking, arts and crafts, a nature walk, an orchid garden, and a delicious lunch halfway through the day as well. The market in Mazatlan the next day was crowded, and the salespeople were aggressive, if friendly, while the people in Cabo San Lucas were calm and relaxed by comparison, so much so that we felt bad we only had half a day there!
During sea days we did try out the trivia contests (we won an umbrella!), the putting green (on the very top of the ship amidships), and even listened to the classical string quartet in the Atrium lobby (which could have been bigger, and the Champagne waterfall evening would have been visible to more people, and therefore more enjoyable)! It was neat being on such a big ship, as it always seemed to be the biggest building in whatever town we docked, and the townspeople loved to waved at us as we left their ports! We waved back and felt like celebrities, which was kind of fun!
You always have to wake up early on disembarkation day, and there are always people that hold you up by not knowing where they are to go, and when they are to go there, but it wasn't too bad, all things considered! After we went to the lounge to go through Customs we returned to our room to get our bags, and our name card and anniversary balloons were off our door, which was kind of weird! Thank goodness our room key card still worked! We knew then that our vacation was just about over, and made sure we ate all we wanted at breakfast before we got called to really get off the ship a couple of hours later! At least catching the bus to LAX was a lot quicker than the one from LAX was a week before. We will do it again, and make sure to double-check the time zones this time!
I'm back from my 3/30 Star Princess cruise! Well, I'm still "rolling" a little here on dry land, but I have to tell you, this is the first time I have NEVER even felt the least bit "dizzy" or seasick on board a ship! I've sailed to the Mexican Riviera twice and each time, ran into rough seas. Not this time--very smooth sailing! Just a wee bit of motion on the way back to LA.
On to the review. Since I've only sailed on Carnival previously, I'll do some comparisons in different categories.
Embarkation: Piece of cake. Stayed at the Sheraton Hotel in San Pedro the night before. Highly recommended, by the way. Beautiful lobby with chandelier. Was shuttled over about 12 noon. Luggage was checked and we got into the Express line. Went fast and we were on the ship in no time!
My 9 year old daughter and I had the "cheap seats" (Inside cabin on Caribe deck.) No cabins on either side of us. Just storage rooms for the stewards. Even though it was smaller than Carnival, I found it to be prettier, surrounded by mirrors. Pastel colors.Our bed was made up as one, but it worked well for us. I never felt claustrophobic in there, and the mirrors helped, I'm sure. I really liked this little state room! Even the miniscule bathroom! Lots of storage and it reminded me of an RV or trailer. I had no problem with it.
I was a bit disappointed in this. I had specified Early Traditonal Dining over 7 months ago when I booked. Princess even confirmed it with me via the Cruise Personalizer. Well, I noticed there was no table number, etc. on our cards. So,I called the Pursor's Desk and they said it was the Amalfi dining room. When we arrived, they said we had Personal Choice. HUH?? Anyway, they put us on a waitlist, but couldn't accommodate us. So, we settled for PC. Why sweat it? While being able to dine when we want (unless it's at a very busy time), that's about all I like about it. And, for the most part, we dined at 6:15 or so, anyway. We never got to have the same waiter twice. I never got to know our waitstaff or our tablemates. The first night my daughter and I were alone at the table in a corner before someone finally joined us. We were halfway through dinner by then. And, people coming and going all the time. It seemed more like a busy restaurant. I just didn't have that feeling of being "pampered" by my own waiter each night or getting to know my tablemates. And, the dining room, itself, (Portofino or Capri), didn't have that jovial feeling of everyone being there together at once, joining in the festive activities of the wait staff. I liked Carnival better at dinner time. I never really looked forward to eating dinner in the dining room on the Star Princess. As for the food in the dining rooms---well, I have to admit, while it was okay, I had better tasting meals on Carnival! I had a couple other people say the same thing to me.
Horizon Court and "fast food" places:
Breakfast was tastier on Carnival, but there was MORE variety on Star Princess. I only ate muffins and rolls, though. The eggs looked runny! Oh, I did have some bacon. The sausage looked grey. The orange juice was warm and watered down. The coffee was...uh...well, not the dark French roast I like. And, there isn't any half and half on the entire ship! Liquid non-dairy creamer in little containers or plain milk in the dining room! Lunch and other times at the Horizon Court varied. Some of the food was very tasty, especially the shrimp and sushi when it was available. Loved the deep fried shrimp. Desserts looked good, but tasted a lot like cool-whip or they just began to all taste the same after awhile. Other stuff looked scary! I never went hungry there, though! I always managed to find something I liked! Pizza at Prego's (especially the pepperoni was tasty.) Cheeseburgers and fries were good. Never any long lines. I wished they kept these areas open longer, though. I would have enjoyed a late-night slice of pizza. We each bought a soda card and took advantage of them.
I never tried the alternate pay-restaurants. I heard mixed reviews about these, and I really felt I could find enough food wherever I went. One woman said they got into Sabatini's at 9:30 PM and didn't get out of there till 12:30 AM---they almost fell asleep at the table. She didn't think it was worth the extra $$ and time.
I enjoyed the Afternoon Tea the 4 times I went. Yummy little scones and other delectables. I looked forward to this at 3:30.
I wasn't altogether thrilled with the production shows or ship entertainers (dancers and singers). Seemed robotic, for the lack of another word. Again, I liked Carnival's big shows better. I did enjoy the guest entertainers, though. They had a singer named Karen Saunders who had a voice to die for. I also got a kick out of "Sarge", a guest comedian. The cruise director was Paul O' Loughlin, originally from Ireland, but moved to England at age 7, hence, no Irish brogue. . We loved the karaoke and the talent show was fun. Some of the passengers should apply for jobs on board!
by far these are the BEST pools I've seen on a cruise ship. Heated, fresh water. Open all the time. Water was also flowing along the decks if you just wanted to cool your toes off or even sit in it. I won't GO in a Carnival pool! Cold and salty! A big thumbs up for Princess pools! The one with the retractable glass roof was ideal for chillier days. I never tried the hot tubs, but felt the water and they were very warm and inviting.
Public areas: Very beautiful and nicely appointed. Nothing glitzy or odd colored like Carnival! Elegant, but not overdone. Comfortable seating and good viewing in the lounges and theater. I will say, though, that in the Vista Lounge there is an area of slightly elevated step-ups to the seating area. Not well marked. One night I walked in with a small bucket of coins from the casino and took quite a fall over one of these steps! Tokens flew all over the place and people gasped! I fell smack on my knee and felt like a dope! But, I have to tell ya, it HURT and I have the large bruises to prove it. Also, I saw 3 people trip in the same place after I did. (didn't fall, though.) I mentioned this to the pursor's office later so they might consider marking that area better. An elderly person could really hurt one's self. I walked up to Skywalker's a couple days to "catch the view". A quiet place to sit and gaze out the window or read. But, at night I hear it turns into a loud and vibrant disco. I never made it up there then.
Gym and track:
I tried the gym one morning and it was great. Not crowded. Walked on the treadmill and used the weight machines. I also walked a mile on the jogging track combined with the outside promenade walking deck (which included some stairs). The wood didn't look "real". In fact, I was rather surprised at the amount of "fake wood" around for such an expensive and new ship. I liked the wood benches on the promenade deck.
Navigation around the ship:
After a few days, I felt very comfortable for the most part, finding my way around. Sometimes, I got confused if I was heading fore or aft. But, actually, a nicely laid out vessel. I didn't need my little map after awhile. The walkie-talkies worked just fine everywhere on the ship. And, the elevators weren't too bad. I took these and the stairs about 50/50.
My daughter was in the 9-12 age group and she had a blast. Thankfully, she was ready to join in from the start. They had the Kids' Patter activities all written out for the week, so she checked off what she wanted to do (which was almost all of it.) The counselors seemed to keep them occupied with age-appropriate activities. She also met a very sweet girl and they ended up hanging out together a lot. Her parents were very nice and we joined them on a couple occasions for dinner or a show. I heard that there were 600 kids on board--the most on any Princess cruise ever. For the most part, I didn't see a lot of them, at least not "in my face". Some exuberent teens celebrating Spring break, but thankfully, we never crossed paths much! But, then I didn't hang out in the disco areas late at night. I peeked in the Off Limits teen room and it looked very well utilized.
Sometimes better. Sometimes not so good. I never did get a good feel for it in the dining room. Again, I blame that on Personal NOT my Choice. Very efficient in Horizon Court. Almost too much so! Our cabin steward, Lester, was very nice, although he did forget a few trivial things in the bathroom. No big deal. Didn't see any towel animals either. But, the chocolates were where they should be every evening---on our pillows. :) Overall, Lester was a sweetheart.. He was from the Phillipines.
Let's just say Stone Island in Mazatlan is not what some of us expected! I met Randi (from Randi's Happy Horses) over there and she was the BEST part of it! Hugo from King David Tours was also a nice guy, but the horses he used were downright sad looking. Skinny and full of burrs. I felt so bad for those creatures. Thankfully, we were able to ride Randi's horses later, who were healthy and plump. And, the area where they take you riding, (King David's tour) is NOT what I would consider beautiful. Basically through the "poverty-stricken" neighborhood. But, Randi also told us that many of these people all know her by name and are quite friendly. I guess some of us were just taken aback. I was also expecting the actual catamaran ride to be different, at least the way it was described on the website, with rum punches flowing. More of a festive atmosphere. But, Hugo, our guide, was a really nice guy with a sense of humor.
In Puerto Vallarta we hung out at the Krystal Vallarta Resort all day. They had this great winding shallow pool with bridges over it and built-in tile lounging "chairs" into the side of the pool. A swim-up bar. Little tile tables you could wade up to and play checkers with bottle caps. Water volleyball and other activities. I really liked that place, and so did my daughter. Within walking distance from the ship. Seemed longer in the humid climate, though. In Cabo we chose to walk to the town and then shop for trinkets. It was harder to barter there than in the other two ports. My daughter had her hair braided back on Stone Island and a woman added some beads to her hair in Cabo San Lucas. I wish we had more time there. I loved the song they played as we left each port. Andrea Boccelli and Sara Brightman, "Time to Say Good-bye". Beautiful and almost haunting.
It was the PITS! First of all, I had thought it was going to be like Carnival where people went to an assigned public room and sat till their color was called. So, we gathered together our carry-ons (not light because we had to pack some stuff that we usually put in our luggage). Anyway, here we are lugging this stuff around in this LONG, snaking line that was actually several lines winding their way around the atrium trying to find its way to the Vista Lounge. I noticed that no one else had their carry-ons! Turns out we could leave them in our cabins, and all we were doing is going to the Vista lounge to be checked by the immigration agents! Here I thought we would be going in there to SIT and then leave the ship, hence my reason for lugging along the carry-ons. Sheesh. Next time I'll know better! I sure hope they can improve on this whole process. It does not make for a happy way to depart. I also think they should try to make these last few hours as pleasant as they can, by at least making us feel glad we just spent all week and all our money with them. It seems like they're "finished with us" and "too bad" if it's not a good experience departing. I guess debarking always leaves me with a bitter taste in my mouth. But, it doesn't ruin my trip!
All in all, the Star Princess is a gorgeous ship. Large, but never over-whelming. My first Princess cruise. The crowd was no different than any of the Carnival cruises I've sailed, however. A fair mixture of all age groups, with the average looking to be about 40 or so. Definitely not a geriatric crowd. Some folks were more laid back looking than others, but no one looked "overly refined". I saw lots of formal wear on the two formal nights, but an equal amount of casual clothing on the other days and evenings. I missed some of the "fun" of Carnival, but by the same token, it was there if you looked for it. I joined in on an Island Deck Party one night and had a blast! Danced to ' 50s and ' 60s music till the sweat dripped off me, much to my young daughter's embarrassment. Tough! :-) .The fun just wasn't as blatant as it is on Carnival. Not really many pool deck games, but I was there to read and lounge and swim anyway. I recommend this cruise on the Star Princess and would have no problem going again! But, I do have to say, I still don't see the big fuss about Princess being so much "nicer" than Carnival! Sure, the public rooms and cabins are MUCH prettier, but I honestly didn't experience anything much different or superb on Princess. The service was about the same, if not LESS than my previous cruises on CCL. I certainly was not made to feel "more pampered", but by the same token, I'm not complaining. :) I also think that as I get older I tend to be more scrutinizing. And, nothing will ever beat my very FIRST cruise, even if it was on the CCL Tropicale. It was like magic. Everything was perfect in my eye! But, the Star Princess came very close to meeting my expectations and I would gladly cruise on her again.
The outstanding qualities on this ship more than make up for any slight negatives. She is a winner! Our plane was late and we didn't arrive at the ship until 2:30. We had express check-in and that's exactly what happened. Hardly anyone else was in line (They were all having a good time on board already.) and we were processed and on board in no time at all.
The ship is magnificent to look at from a distance - very impressive. The cabins are quite nicely appointed but small. We had a standard inside cabin on Aloha deck 12. Our cabin was even more crowded because of our toddler and his suitcase and crib. Luckily the crib fit in the open-air closet. The bathroom was even tinier, the smallest shower I've ever been in. But we managed and laughed about it all week. Our steward, Jeour, was excellent. He kept the room as neat as possible with all our junk and he took care of any requests we made.
The food and service in the dining room (Amalfi - traditional) were tremendous, as good as any I've had, even the Mercury. Highlightsfor me were the Chicken Kiev, Rack of Lamb and Beef Wellington. But all my dinners were simply delicious and plentiful. My only note would be larger potato & vegetable portions, which they gave you if asked. With food that good we saw no reason to pay more at another restaurant. The food in the buffet was not nearly as good as the dining room. But that has been the story on all my cruises. But it was plentiful and varied. I do think they should have hot chocolate, lemonade and orange juice available all the time. There is only coffee, tea and iced tea available all day. Orange juice is served only for breakfast. Hot chocolate is for sale only at the bars. There is no free dispenser.
The entertainment was the best I have seen at sea; constant, plentiful and varied. The production shows were wonderful, full of very talented dancers and singers. We saw an excellent singer and a fair comedian/ventriloquist. There were several other comedians but we didn't get a chance to see them. There is so much going on! The bands were good, too. Lots of talent on this ship.
The pools were definitely one of the highlights for us. There are really five pools and two baby pools plus seven hot tubs on board. They are fresh water heated pools and they are wonderful - no spitting out the salt! Even my shivering wife got in. And our 2 year old son loved them, too. They were so much fun to play in.
We didn't take any organized excursions but can recommend a couple of things. We were in Mexico and people need to realize that and not think they're going to paradise. Yes, there are beautiful sights, some not so beautiful and some downright sad. Here's a couple of suggestions. In Puerto Vallarta the Krystal Vallarta resort is two blocks south of the ship - an easy walk. This is a lovely resort with a great expansive pool area right on their beach. They charge $6 to use their facilities and it is certainly worth it. Spend the day here and forget about shopping for trinkets. You don't have much time in Cabo so just pick one thing. The water is much clearer here than PV or Mazatlan so maybe pick a water or beach activity. We took the glass bottom boat tour around Los Arcos to the Pacific side and back. It was fun, we got great views of the ship and land features and saw some sea lions and a few fish. This costs $10-$13 per person depending on your negotiating skills. The beach just south of downtown in front of the Melia San Lucas is also very nice.
There is a great children's program and facilities on the Star and your children should check it out. There are four rooms. They are divided up for ages 2-5, (3-5 starting May 1st) 6-8, 9-12, and 13-17. They must go with their own age group even if their sibling is in another group. The program is activity based and runs from 10-12noon, 2-5pm and 7-10pm. There is group baby sitting available from 10pm-1am for $4 an hour. They just watch a movie and are not allowed to do other activities then. The program staff included many retired teachers who seemed very kid-friendly and competent.
We have had a good time on all of our cruises but this one is right at the top. It's hard to pick much to improve on. If anything I would say they could use an American sensibility about some things, since they are catering to a mostly American clientele on this ship. The breakfast buffet, especially, could use some American tweaking. The crew and staff on board were excellent; always friendly and accommodating. We will always remember our cruise on the brand new Star Princess.
I'll keep my review "brief" - since I could write so much about both this ship and the itinerary I could spend hours, and since there is already a lot of information out there about both the ship and ports of call.
The Star Princess is spectacular!
This ship is just beautiful - and large! To me, it was really like taking a huge Las Vegas Casino Resort Hotel and making it a sailing vessel -- and for me, this is a good thing! I was not bored, not even for a moment, unless I chose to be.
The ship, though huge, manages to still feel intimate, particularly in the dining rooms. I read this before hand, and it's true!
The food was very good (though NOT spectacular, and I wasn't expecting it to be), and the service throughout the ship was superb. Our cabin steward was very helpful, nice and efficient. Dining room and other wait staff were fun and on top of things for the most part....just a few minor lapses. Personal Choice Dining worked out well, but if you don't make an advance reservation you'll either wait (20 to 40minutes) or need to come back. We often ate about 8pm, and it was fine for us - walked right in or we were able to reserve easily a few hours (3-4) in advance. Sometimes we had tables for two, and sometimes we ate with a small group...we had a choice. Tables for 2 did take longer though if you didn't reserve!
The burgers and pizza by the pools were very good - they even had garden burgers and veggie pizzas! The pools and spas were beautiful, though the lap pool never worked the whole time, which was disappointing. We loved the tile work and the themes! We didn't see a lot of chair saving - and if a towel was there with nothing else (like a book or suntan lotion) it was moved and the cahir was used. This is how it should be!
The fitness center is well done with GREAT equipment, but it can get VERY crowded, luckily you can reserve a treadmill. Staff was slightly aloof. They had a good variety of programs though. The Spa looked wonderful, though we didn't try a message or any other service.
Our cabin was great - we were on Aloha Deck in an outside double with private balcony. The room was spacious enough and had excellent storage (and I bring a lot of luggage). We LOVED the balcony. We saw a shark, dolphins, and sea lions right from the room, and had breakfast out on the balcony every morning - a nice thing! We saw several inside rooms though, and they were certainly nice enough.
The atrium is BEAUTIFUL and the public spaces are well arranged. The elevators are a bit crazy. I think they were having some problems with them. The wait could be LONG! We just walked! The food in Tequilas was very good, and the $8 surcharge includes a BIG margarita (though not that strong). We didn't like the people parading past during our dinner though, on their way to the showroom...they should divert them around the restaurant (which they CAN do).
Didn't eat in Sabatini's - from what people told us it was very good, though 2-1/2 to 3 hours long. Too long for me to sit! :-)
The entertainment was good - GREAT comedians, good service in the showrooms. The Princess Production Shows were very professional, though not varied enough for my taste. I got bored towards the end.
Express Check in made embarkation a breeze (about 10 minutes) and disembarkation was not bad at all (about an hour including the immigration check).
We also enjoyed the "adults only" aft pool quite a bit. The casino is fun too, but the slots are SUPER tight! Decent shopping on board. "Skywalkers" is very, very cool - you must go up there both at night and during the day. The view is stunning, and the room is very well done.
Our shore excursion was nice (did Deer Island in Mazatlan, kayaking and a hike) and it was very well run. Puerto Vallarta is simply beautiful. Our favorite port! Great shopping and restaurants! Cabo san Lucas was also nice, though there isn't much time to do anything meaningful (we docked about 7am and left about 2pm, had to be back on board by 1:30). The crowd (and the ship was full) was really varied - many young people, younger couples, 40 something's and on up. Lot's of birthdays and anniversaries too! A nice mix!
"Smart Casual" seems to mean "whatever you want to wear", but formal night meant dress up, which was fine. I'd say about 35% of men did tuxes, 60% did dark suits, and 5% ignored it!
This was our first cruise (out of 16) on Princess--out of San Pedro as we live about a half-hour from the pier--in nearby Seal Beach. We chose the Star Princess because I enjoy sailing on a brand new ship and she is one of the latest and biggest afloat. Some observations from a first-time Princess Cruiser:
Unlike RCI and Carnival, Princess ships seem to be designed to convey the image of a small ship. For example, there are three large dining rooms rather than one large one and each is low ceilinged, intimate and not too noisy. Likewise, there are four fairly large swimming pools rather than one or two big ones--a nice touch as you can move about the ship as the mood (or the weather) suits you.
The Star's Atrium is a three deck affair, unlike RCI's and Carnival's which are seven or eight decks high. And although the Star's courtyard is nicely decorated, I kind of miss the grandeur of say, Radiance of the Seas which we sailed on last March. For that matter, all of the Star's interior decor is tastefully understated in marked contrast to say, Carnival'sships which look like Las Vegas run amok. In fact, I'll just say flat out that Carnival's "designer" (to use their terminology)Joe Farcus' tastes are a bit over the top for mere mortals--at least those who live in homes without velvet paintings.
About the Star Princess staff: to a person they were simply great. We encountered no one with an attitude and almost all seemed eager to go that extra mile in providing superb service. At lunch on the rear deck, we ordered a bottle of wine to go with our Horizon Court buffet and the bartender, seeing we were serious wine drinkers, provided us with an ice bucket and real glasses rather than the usual plastic that is used at poolside (actually, we were two decks above the pool).
Food: Uneven is the way I'd describe it. Although certain dishes such as the Santa Fe Railroad-style French Toast were quite tasty, by and large the meals in the Capri (one of two Personal Choice dining rooms)were rather lackluster. Happily, Sabatini's where we had dinner and brunch was great (the reserve wines are a bargain)and so was Tequila's (great margaritas!). And doesn't Lulu the waitress from Mazatlan, Mexico look exactly like Sandra Bullock?
While I'm on the subject, allow me to say that Personal Choice dining worked perfectly for us. We asked for and got a table for two by a window in the Capri dining room, a task made easier because we are early eaters. We also got the only two-person, window table at Sabatini's because we were the first in the door at opening time. It's interesting to note how much stock Princess puts in Personal Choice: two of its three identical "main" dining rooms are P.C.
After RCI, Carnival and even Radisson (the Paul Gaugin)our cabin on Aloha Deck of the Star Princess seemed small. Rather than a couch we had a barrel chair. The deck was small too--barely large enough for two plastic chairs and a table. Although the closet is an open affair, it did swallow all of our clothes (enough for a month-long cruise). And there were 22 wooden hangers, more than in a Ritz Carlton, I'll bet. Small bathroom of course, with a stall shower and cloth curtain.
Wherever we sailed (Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, Cabo San Lucas)the Star attracted huge throngs of admirers. She is a pretty ship, imposing too. And she sails beautifully. In moderate to rough seas on the way south, Star felt steady. On flat seas you felt like you had never left port. Interestingly, Star has two fixed propellers rather than Azipods and I wondered how she would handle our entry into Puerto Vallarta which has a very small docking basin. Apparently, thrusters are all that's needed to maneuver a 951-foot long ship because by the appointed hour we were safely in port. Thrusters also got us turned around and "parked" in Mazatlan where we received a wet welcome from the local fireboat and where we were joined by RCI's 917-foot-long Vision of the Seas.
Embarkation went relatively smoothly. As early arrivals we had a line. But it moved quickly and we were on board by 12:35 following an 11:50 arrival. Debarkation was effortless too. After clearing immigration in the Vista Lounge, we waited only five minutes in the casino before our tag (Red 2)was called. Luggage was found pierside in a large tent where alas, water from an overnight rain soaked two of our bags. Not Princess's fault, but annoying nonetheless.
All in all, Star Princess lived up to what I expected from a new ship. She is impressive. And the Mexican Riviera itinerary is ideal for West Coast cruisers who don't want the aggravation of flying to Miami. One bit of advice: sail in the fall when Southern California weather is warm. The Pacific is darn cold in March, and although it was sunny for the duration of our trip, our sea days on the northern end of our cruise were quite chilly and not much fun out on deck.
Now then, when's the next new ship due?
We flew to Singapore via Tokyo on United. Not too bad a flight (we had seats in United's Economy plus (an extra five inches legroom) but oh so long -- eleven and a half hours to Tokyo and seven and a half hours from Tokyo to Singapore. We got there at midnight and took a taxi to the hotel. We had to go through the Chinese area, which was really busy with families and crowds of people eating and partying in the streets to celebrate the Chinese New Year (Year of the Horse). Everything in Singapore was closed for the three-day holiday including restaurants, department stores, malls etc. The next day the hotel had arranged for the famous Lion Dance to be performed in the lobby at 10 a.m. It was spectacular -- complete with lots of large drums and a troupe of about 30 young (and very energetic) young men.
We boarded the ship on Wednesday, 13th in the rain which started in the morning and was still raining when we left at 5 p.m. The ship is quite large at 106,300 tons, and since we were the first passengerseverything was glittering and spotless. Our cabin was on the 12th deck--there are 18 decks in all - and we had a small balcony. Unfortunately it was so cold and windy -- except for two days in Hawaii and Maui -- that we were unable to sit out and enjoy the sea going by. No one was able to use the pools, either.
We called in at Laem Chabang for Bangkok. It is a new and absolutely magnificent world-class port but is an hour and half away from Bangkok. Since we have been to Bangkok four times we didn't pay the $75.00 bus fare to go in. (the other times we've been to Bangkok we've docked at Siam Cement Co. Pier no. 4 -- not very romantic but only 15 minutes to Downtown! ).
Next we were on to Hong Kong where they met us on the quayside with --guess what-- another Lion Dance. They were still celebrating the Chinese New Year but in a more practical way. Everything was open with great sales so we stocked up on those English groceries we are unable to get in the States. We spent a lot of time looking for another suitcase similar to one I bought there a year ago. Couldn't find one so had to make do with a substitute.
Our next stop was Keelung on Taiwan. This is the port for Taipei. Another super port. We were met again by the inevitable Lion Dance--Taiwan, is of course Chinese. We visited a most impressive memorial to Chiang Kai-Shek who is held in reverential status as the founder of Taiwan when it broke away from Mainland China after WW11.
Next we sailed on to Okinawa, site of one of the bloodiest battles of the Pacific. We toured the caves which housed the Japanese High Command during the battle. There was a lot of information about the whole operation, and surprisingly, the descriptions of all the phases of the battle were quite detailed and objective. I expected a lot of Japanese propaganda about the brave Japanese soldiers etc. After the outcome was certain, the six generals told the troops that it would be an insult to the Emperor to surrender or be captured and told them they must commit suicide. So they did! There is one chamber in the caves, which was left unrestored with all the marks on the walls where the generals committed suicide by holding a hand grenade to their bodies.
We toured a memorial park dedicated to all those who died in the battle. An impressive sight was rows and rows of five-foot high granite slabs arranged in a zigzag pattern. Each slab had engraved on it the names of the combatants who fell. This included all the American and British soldiers' names. There were thousands of names.
When we arrived in Osaka we received an elaborate Welcome. The Osaka Police Band played Sousa marches for the first hour, then a troupe of mature women in traditional costumes broke out the Kudu Drums and deafened us with a recital. This was followed by a group of youths and girls performing the most intricate dance maneuvers. Afterwards we had the opening the "Sake Barrel Ceremony" where they smash in the head of the sake barrel with mallets. Everyone got a beautifully crafted 4" wooden box. I used mine to sample the sake. (Incidentally, it tastes better hot than cold!). We went up to the castle, which had been restored. It sits on a knoll and has a great view of the city of Osaka. Some people took a trip to Kobe but it seemed a long way for a short visit so we stayed in Osaka.
Eight days at sea took us to Hawaii. The seas were not too rough (12 foot waves but high winds). The ship rode the waves well, which was to be expected since she is over 1,000 feet long. Some people did succumb to motion sickness but all the ship's activities went on as planned except for outdoor poolside events. After the elaborate ceremonies in Japan the good old USA welcomed the ship's inaugural arrival in Hawaii with two hula dancers and a small band, somewhat of an anti-climax. Hawaii was wonderfully warm but Honolulu is looking more like downtown Chicago than ever. I wanted to visit the submarine "Bluefin" at Pearl Harbor so we took the city bus out there. Not a good idea since it took one and a half-hours to get out there. To add insult to injury, access to all the visitor sites was blocked if one had a camera, bag, etc. These included ladies handbags, diaper bags and shopping bags. I asked the security guard if there was anywhere where we could check items but we were told "no". So there were a lot of unhappy people incensed with the US Navy that day. We came back to the ship and sailed to Lahaina Maui the next day. This was the only port we had to tender in. I, by then had developed what I thought was a bad cold and felt really ill. So I was ashore by 9.10 a.m. but was back on the ship in bed by 10.20 a.m. Margaret stayed on shore and with the help of a walking map of Lahaina did the rounds She said it was really interesting. The town is quite small and lent itself to walking.
After five more days at sea we sailed back to Los Angeles where my son-in-law and Ruth met us at San Pedro and brought us back to Santa Barbara.
Our impression of the Star Princess" was that Princess had cut a lot of corners. For example, charging $1.00 for a scoop of ice-cream, charging a cover charge of $15.00 in their Sabatini's restaurant, eliminating the opportunity to gain a T-shirt by participating in sports activities such as deck walks, stair climbs etc. One other thing that really annoyed me was that after 3 p.m. one had to PAY for a glass of orange juice in the buffet.
We took part in a lot of team trivia events to be rewarded (if your team won) with a key-chain! For such a big ship the cabins, or as the cruise lines like to call them, staterooms, were really small. The bathrooms had the smallest showers I've seen on a modern ship. Of course the comedians in the shows got a lot of mileage out of that!
The man who designed the Horizon 24 hour Buffet should try again. Obviously he had never sailed on a ship with 2,000 passengers, many of whom patronised the buffet. There was no flow pattern round the counters, with the salad next to the hot dishes and the bread, rolls etc. next to the desserts. At lunch and breakfast it was total chaos.
The entertainment was very good. The main theatre was beautifully equipped with all the latest stage gadgets including lots of varied size trapdoors, water curtains, theatrical smoke etc. The shows were spectacular but spoiled by major over-amplification. Some had as many as 30 performers. There were some outstanding lecturers and authors on board. One personality was Gavin Macleod (and his wife Patti Macleod) better known as Captain of the "Love Boat"--a series which ran for ten years. They performed that old Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy classic "Love Letters".
Well that's it for our 26-day voyage. See you next cruise! I don't think we'll be back on the "STAR PRINCESS.