What Princess Doesn't Tell Us Passengers
I base this review on a recent Caribbean Princess twelve day British Isles cruise and the information in various brochures and flyers provided by Princess Cruises in advance and during the cruise itself. Though the illustrations are from this one cruise (August 1, 2012, from Southampton), the basic information and views apply to other cruises as well.
This was my seventh Princess cruise; I have done about a dozen with HAL and a total of over fifty. Princess provides a lot of information, but it is usually inadequate and sometimes inaccurate. Here are some samples.
Paris/Normandy, France (Le Havre) Full Day or 7:00 am 7:00 pm
Although the ship is scheduled to dock at 7:00 am, it is not guaranteed, and passengers will not likely get off at seven. The ship is scheduled to depart at 7:00 pm, but passengers need to be on board by 6:30. They list Paris first. LeHavre, where we dock, is a three hour coach trip each way on their tour of Paris, giving passengers four or five hours there. It is a two hour train trip (which they do not tell us about). Their trips cost $259 or more per person. We did it by train for $90 pp and had seven hours there.
Edinburgh, Scotland (South Queensbury) Tender Full Day or 7:00 am 6:30 pm
"Tender" means they will take passengers to a dock with their life boats or a local ferry, a slow process for a ship with 3000 passengers, often involving long lines and a wait coming and going. The city is about half an hour bus ride away; their "Edinburgh on your own" excursion costs $59 pp. They do not tell us about a train station near the dock or local coaches that offer transport for about $8 each way. We had a long wait in a chilly rain to get the tender back to the ship.
Glasgow, Scotland (Greenock) Day or 7:00 am 1:00 am next day Glasgow is about a 45 minute train trip from Greenock, costing about $10 pp. They do not tell us that, but offer a DIY trip for $69 pp.
And so it goes. In Dublin, they provide $8 shuttle rides to the city center. In Belfast, the city provides free buses from the dock. Easier ports are Liverpool where they dock near the center of the city, and Invergordon, where they dock in the center of the town, about half an hour from the tourist city of Inverness. They provide little information beyond their own expensive excursions.
My list of "What they didn't tell us" includes other items as well. Shortly after departure, the information desk asked us all to hand in our passports: they would keep them on file until after Dublin, near the end of the cruise. My companion and I had planned the trip to Paris on our own, and I felt uncomfortable without a passport. No way to get it back, they said, and they insisted our cruise card would serve as a visa. I had an earlier experience with that. We once missed the last tender by nearly an hour, and the ship had already left the dock. In fact, we saw it sailing by several hundred yards out. Some uniformed officer from another cruise called our ship; they sent us a little boat that took us to the place where the pilot gets on board, and hoisted us in. We thought they would be upset, but they assured us they were happy to find us. Once they sailed, our cruise cards became invalid. We would become illegal aliens, and they might be responsible. When I pointed this out to the clerk at the Princess desk, he went to a back office, and kept doing that for a few more questions. He may not have known, or he may not have wanted to tell us. We eventually learned that if we missed the train in Paris and thus the sailing, they might indeed sail without us, but would leave our passports with the gate agent. I had noticed that little item that listed the "port agent" at the bottom of the daily "Princess Patter" and of the info sheets they gave us at every port. In sixty years of cruising, no one had told me why it was there. I had visions of our sitting in a Paris hospital with a nurse or dealing with some stern policeman not knowing anything about a "cruise card visa" and demanding our passport. We took the train to Paris, made sure we got back in time, and learned something worth knowing.
We also learned more about finances. We were aware, and they made it clear, that their policy was to include on our accounts $11.50 per person per day as a gratuity, and we can change that if we wish. This cruise is listed on their web site and in their brochures as a 12 day cruise. What they did not tell us was that they would bill us for gratuities for 13 days. The results of that are worth noting. Princess has some seventeen ships and tens of thousands of passengers. If, on every cruise, they collect double gratuities, one for the departing passenger, one for the arriving, that's a lot of money. I wonder if the cabin stewards, dining personnel, and others who share those gratuities, get double amounts. My guess is they work their normal twelve hours days. I also wonder how much of what Princess collects actually goes to those employees, and even more important, how much they earn. I believe all this is classified information, and if we'd ask, they'd probably say, "Trust us."
The library is another area worth discussing, but about which Princess literature is almost silent. In a recent renovation of the Caribbean Princess, they cut the "normal"oval Princess library (a long table with some shelves and a few chairs) about in half and combined it with the internet computer area. Both older libraries and the current one have shelves that are locked most of the time, no magazines, and only a part time crew member as librarian. Compare these with HAL libraries....about ten times larger, shelves open most of the time, a real librarian, and hundreds of free DVDs with a player in every cabin. The current Caribbean Princess library is one wall of the internet area, with no table, three or four chairs (usually occupied), and a good but limited selection of books.
And there is the internet. One of the perks for a "Platinum" member of the Captain's Circle is 250 free minutes. A little sign at the entrance notes that internet afloat is slower than on land. That puts it mildly. Actually, all computers are often in use, and the service, considering that smart phones and laptops can also use it, is so slow as to be useless. I spent about half of my free minutes waiting for sites to load. The poor manager has to deal day and night with irate passengers who paid the expensive price for their service, $.50 a minute or more. The few solutions are to use it before 8 am , after 11 p.m., or to stay on board when the other passengers go on tours. Even then, I would not describe it as fast. The whole system needs major changes.
The Cruise Critic group itself had problems. The information desk was unwilling to list any of our gatherings. HAL not only listed our meetings, but the ship provided snacks and both the Captain and Hotel Manager attended them and gave interesting talks to our group. We were also able to have cabin crawls (inspections) of different kinds. Princess ignored us.
On the other hand, the ship made the voyage with no missed ports, we had no norovirus, the food was good, the crew helpful and friendly, the elevators worked, the ports were different and fascinating. We learned a lot. We probably will sail with Princess again, though in a number of ways we like HAL better.