This was my ninth (and longest) Princess cruise, and one my partner and I were particularly looking forward to. And it was a great cruise...almost.
The Star was in excellent shape, except for occasional sewage smells. And the journey was wonderful. Embarking 20 minutes from my house and ending up in Argentina? I'll do that! It was great to celebrate the winter holidays aboard. The food was consistently very good-to-excellent (except in the Horizon Court, which as usual tended toward "mediocre"). Waitstaff and Stewart were fine. Lecturers like Dr. Ray and Lennard Davis were excellent. The chicken Waldorf salad at the International Cafe was as delicious as remembered. And dolphins leapt beside the ship while we dined.
The "almost" part mostly had to do with senior staffing.
While the CD seemed personable enough, some of the scheduling was a mess: e.g., the Martini demonstration was scheduled for the Atrium at the same time as the Captain's party, and the Jeopardized trivia event was scheduled at the same time as regular afternoon trivia. Line dancing was frequently in conflict with trivia, then a long gap in which little was scheduled. Speed trivia, a 20-minute-long event that was scheduled immediately after Bingo, often was 10 to 20 minutes late getting started.
And speaking of trivia....yes, I love it. But this was, for many of us, a month-long cruise. It would have been nice if a greater variety of activities had been offered. Yes, there were tango lessons. But really: "Scholarship at Sea" is now origami folding and line dancing? Would it have been so tough to schedule, say, a scavenger hunt or two? Or something a bit more thought-provoking? It really felt like non-revenue-producing activities got short shrift.
This was my first experience with shorter, 30-minute shows, and I can't say I'm impressed. The good ones seemed over before they began, the less-good ones were still too long, and during my umpteenth go-round with the Motown show, I found myself missing the bit with the Supremes. It seems silly to review the guest entertainers, since they won't necessarily be on future cruises. I will say I walked out on a few acts - which others enjoyed - but really liked Bobby Wilson, son of the legendary singer Jackie Wilson.
I only booked a couple of ship's shore excursions, and both were probably a mistake. We paid a premium to have Princess bus us back and forth to Antigua from Puerto Quetzal, so we could maximize our time there without worrying about getting back to the ship. But the tour arrangements were askew, and all the Antigua buses showed up a full hour late, cutting our time in the town from 5 hours down to 4. And the pricey hike around a Nicaraguan volcano was really just a pleasant stroll through cloud forest, the only geothermal activity being one tiny fumarole. We also ended up docking late at many, many ports, perhaps unavoidably but still, after awhile... We received notice that we'd be hours late into Ushuaia just the day before, though it had to do with a change of berths which must have taken place earlier. (Which turned out to be a blessing, allowing us to see Chile's Glacier Alley during comfortable morning hours. I wonder why that highlight isn't always on the itinerary.)
I did hear plenty of complaints from others about the Shore Excursion department. E.g., our friends had their Falklands penguin-viewing tour cancelled by Princess, ostensibly because of a spate of bad weather. Real reason: Princess couldn't round up enough drivers for all those signed up, so half of them ended up going, others not.
And this was a trip with some uncertainties, due to politics. Would Argentina let us end the trip in Buenos Aires, or would we disembark in Montevideo? Would we visit the Falklands or not? We got one letter early on advising us of the uncertainty of ending up in Buenos Aires (well, others did, since our steward never got the letters to hand out, nor did we - and others - ever receive our disembarkation request forms). But after that, nothing. No update, no more information. As it happened, we were able to complete our entire itinerary, which was wonderful. But it would have been nice if we'd been treated as something more than revenue sources who didn't deserve to be kept informed.
Also, halfway through the cruise at Valparaiso, half the original passengers were replaced by summer-in-the-Southern-Hemisphere vacationers, mostly from Latin America, many with small children. Things got rowdier, with some misbehaving children and some very loud teens. Yeah, I sound like "You kids get off my ship!" but the indoor pool and hot tubs (in very cool weather) were monopolized by children, and kids went running up and down hallways with no apparent action by the staff. I've always avoided cruises at vacation times, and now I know why.
But no, I'm really, really not one of those cruisers who just seek out the negative. And yes, I know no cruise is perfect. It's just that when you're onboard for a full month, the niggling details begin to add up and rankle. Had this been my first Princess cruise, I might have been disinclined to book another one.
Oh, one other negative thing. Disembarkation at Buenos Aires - from the difficulties of finding luggage to the utter disorder of grabbing a taxi - was a full-fledged nightmare, and Princess did nothing visible to ameliorate that.
But the positives? Almost everything else.
Best port experiences? Ziplining over 11 waterfalls in Costa Rica. Grabbing a local bus from Manta to buy a Panama hat in Montecristi. Strolling around the wonderful town of Valparaiso. Taking a boat From Punta Arenas to see nesting penguins. Hiking up a mountainside high above Ushuaia. The Falklands penguin tour, in a caravan of 4WDs that kept getting stuck in the mud. Renting a car in Puerto Madryn and driving to see yet more penguins in Punta Tombo. Exploring beautiful Montevideo. And, after the cruise, spending days touring Buenos Aires and seeing the amazing IguazÃº Falls.
Yes, I'll be sailing Princess again, in just a few months, to Hawaii this time. And yes, I'd sail the Star again. But I would hope for a less flawed experience...and a different CD.