My partner, and I cruised on the Sun Princess from October 12,
2003 until the 22nd. This was our first cruise and I doubt we would
do it again. Our expectations were set way too high and we did not
see the supposed 'value' of a cruise vacation. Some of our
complaints were minor, but the aggregate effect was depressing. I
will attempt to break this down by category.
I had always heard one line about cruising: "Oh, you won't
believe the food!" I could believe it. It was not special. The
majority of what we ate, whether in the Dining Room or the Buffet,
was banquet food. Production line food, prepared en mass, in
advance, and held in warmers for who knows how long. The buffet
food had the added distinction of usually being cold. (They don't
use steam tables, but instead an ill-conceived, ineffective system
of warming lights and hot surfaces.) The simple things like
pancakes were tough and tasteless. I was tempted to trim them and
use them for insoles. I could put Dr. Scholl out of business. The
high end items, like the
lobster tails, were overcooked and tough. The rest of the food was
impersonal and seasoned for the lowest common denominator of the
sensitive geriatric set.
Desserts were particularly disappointing; it felt like they were
just going through the motions.
The dining rooms were loud, and every table is next to a waiter
station so patrons can enjoy the traffic and noise of the food and
dishes going back and forth.
The Horizon Court buffet suffers from spotty air conditioning. I
was also surprised at the plastic plates, mugs, and drinking
glasses, although they were some of the hottest items at the
buffet: They were always fresh from the dishwasher. So if were
getting a cold salad or a cold dessert or a cold beverage, you
could count on putting it on a hot plate or in a hot glass.
The beverage selection in Horizon Court was dismal: the water
had that fresh, garden hose flavor. The juices in the morning and
the iced tea at other times were all from cheap concentrate from a
dispenser. This reminded me of a college dining hall. The coffee
tasted like a cross between instant and vending machine.
Aside from the foam rubber pancakes, the breakfast buffets had
some weird choices for breakfast. Nestled between the bacon and
scrambled eggs, one could find French Fries, or baked beans, or
some Chinese noodle dish. ("Hey Harry, we have a hole on the
buffet, what do ya got to fill it in that's quick and cheap?")
Bright spot: The pizzeria, Verdi's, served hot 'gourmet-style'
pizzas that were actually made-to order. At night, they also did a
decent lasagna. The service was personal and not
For the most part, the crew was friendly and attentive. Although
with the international make-up of the staff being primarily from
poor Eastern European and Pacific Rim countries, most of them
sounded like they were going to audition for the role of Latka in a
reunion of the TV show 'Taxi'. The language barrier only seemed to
be a problem when you asked for something outside of the norm.
There were exceptions to the 'friendly and attentive' attitude.
The people chosen to make toast on the buffet line looked and acted
about as happy as the McDonald's crew members assigned to the
'Fries Station.' The dining room waiters and assistants many times
were rushed. This made us feel like there was a competition between
the waiters to see how soon they could turn a table. I cannot say
that meals were relaxing or soothing.
From the time you enter the dining room, the hosts slam you into
a table with all the finesse of the ride operator at Space Mountain
placing you in a roller coaster car.
I had heard that the benefit of a cruise vacation was that it
was 'all-inclusive,' except for the alcohol. And I heard that with
increased competition that cruising was cheaper than ever.
As they compete to drop the upfront price of the cruise, they
skimp on amenities and find every conceivable way to vacuum your
wallet like a liposuction surgeon working on Rosie O'Donnell.
Soft drinks are not included. Ice cream is not included. Wine
tastings are an upcharge. Yoga and Pilates require a fee. Internet
use is $2.50 for five minutes. The two mile trip from the airport
to the dock is ten bucks. To eat in the Steak House was an extra
$8. The list goes on. And if you do find a free activity on board,
you can count on a flock of waiters walking around with order pads
with their battle cry of "Drinks? You want drinks?" Freaking
The drinks are priced at full bar prices and "for your
convenience," a 15% gratuity is added on to every bar and wine
Also, "for your convenience" you are billed ten dollars per day,
per passenger, for gratuities for your cabin steward (3.50) and
your dining room staff (6.50). For crying out loud, the crew should
be paid normal wages and this money should be in the upfront charge
for the cruise. I don't tip the guy painting the ship, I don't tip
the piano player, and I don't tip the guy taking care of the
flowers and plants on board, so why the hell should I tip the other
folks that are just doing their jobs UNLESS they go out of their
way for me? If I am just a normal consumer of expected goods and
services, I see no reason to pay above and beyond the already
agreed upon rate for the cruise. This is just a ploy to make the
trip seem cheap upfront.
The shore excursions were the biggest disappointment. We signed
up for three for our first three ports of call. The first one in
Curacao was supposedly highly recommended by, past participants,
Tour E, the 'Sea and See.' At $54 dollars a head, it was overpriced
by at least $34. It was so dismal, that we wanted to cancel the
other two we signed up for. Unfortunately, the cut off time to
change your mind occurred while we were off being disappointed on
the first tour. The purser gave us a hard time about canceling the
tickets. The best he could do was to try to resell them. (He did
eventually find a buyer.) He kept going on about the cut off time
having to be strictly enforced. I could see that if I wanted to
casually change my mind in some ditzy fashion, but when I am
obviously unhappy with the quality of the product, exceptions
should be made. After all, the next tour was a bus trip, it was not
like they were going to incur any additional expenses if we did not
go. Here was a chance to show that they were concerned with the
passenger's happiness, and instead it was an ugly incident.
You can book tours of the islands for less than half the price
of the Princess shore excursions. One would think that the
advantage of going through the tour office would be some sort of
satisfaction guarantee, but that is obviously not the case.
The Ship itself:
The Sun Princess is well maintained. The staterooms were small,
but I expected that. The rooms were very efficient and
DO NOT book an inside stateroom to save money. If you can't
afford a room with at least a window, stay home. We had a large
window and were grateful we did. If you are thinking, "what
difference does it make, I'll never be in the room anyway?" - you
will not be a happy camper. You might not spend a ton of time in
there, but it should be pleasant.
There are signs to encourage you to use towels more than once to
save our planet. That's fine. I reuse towels at home. But at home,
I have racks to hang the towels on to properly dry between uses.
The ship doesn't.
The common areas were clean, and there was constant activity to
keep it that way. The atrium was all the marble, brass and glass
that one would expect in a high-end hotel.
I am guessing that there is some sort of sewage treatment
facility on board and perhaps the water used to flush the toilets
is cleaned and recycled. Every so often, you could catch a whiff of
something unpleasant. That was only once in a great while
The ride was smooth and we suffered no sea sickness.
The pools were a little smaller that we imagined and we wished
that there were at least one lane reserved for swimming laps. But
otherwise they were OK.
The elevators had no air conditioning on our cruise. The main
bank of elevators was grouping of six just forward of the atrium.
The weird part was that there were not linked all together.
Normally when entering an office building or hotel or hospital,
there is one call button for the whole bank of elevators. You press
the up button, and the first available car responds and the up
light goes out. In this case, they were grouped as two, two, one
and one. Inevitably, folks would press the up or down button for
each separate grouping and wait to see which car arrived first.
This means that the other cars were not cancelled and they would
stop for passengers that already boarded another car. So every
elevator ride was hot and would tediously stop at almost every
floor, whether it had to or not.
There is no cold water on a Caribbean cruise. The faucets and
showers only had variations of hot and warm. Thankfully, each
stateroom had a small fridge that was stocked with ice twice a
Ports of Call:
This is where it really broke down for us. We have stayed on St.
Martin, Key West, Curacao and St. Thomas for a week or more each in
the past. Coming in on a cruise ship and visiting an island is not
the same thing. It is like the difference between going to an Imax
theater and catching the highlights on TV.
Isla Margarita was the biggest dud. This is a fairly new port
for the ships. While they are building a new $21 million port
facility in town, the ships currently come in on the other side of
the island where there is NOTHING. Nada, zilch. The main town is 45
minutes away by cab.
The Princess Cays had a nice beach, but it was our shortest
stop. You had to be back on the ship by 2:00 pm. The food was sub
par. I guess I had visions of pig roasts or other fancy fare, but
the buffet consisted of hot dogs, hamburgs, macaroni salad, and the
Various flavors of lame. The production shows featured singers
with limited ranges and unlimited hammy-ness, along with
lip-syncing dancers with a moderate amount of talent. There was a
hack comic telling jokes that circulated on the Internet months, if
not years ago. The jugglers were fine, but juggling has a limited
appeal. The movies were obscure releases for the most part (Alex
and Emma, Plots With A View, Whale Rider) with Terminator 3 thrown
in for good measure.
The disco was a morgue that had a lingering tobacco smell.
On Board Shopping:
$3.50 for a tin of Altoids? Gimme a break!
The rest of the jewelry and alcohol seemed pricey too.
There was an Art Auction just about every day. The expensive
items (several thousand dollars) seemed to garner no bids, and the
less expensive stuff was hideous.
There were photographers all over the place, but I could not see
buying the souvenir photos at $20 a whack.
On the whole, I felt hustled, rushed and at times just plain
bored. This doesn't mean that there weren't folks having the time
of their lives. I imagine that these folks enjoy Home Style Family
Buffet, the Home Shoppjng Network, and look forward to the next
Police Academy movie.
Last note: I wish in this time of heightened security that there
inspectors going through everyone's luggage and confiscating every
Speedo bathing suit belonging to some overweight, old, hairy