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!
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'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?
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.
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.