We are a group of four adults. My husband and I are 51 and 53 respectively. We travelled with my parents who are 72 and 75. We are all Canadians from the western provinces. This trip was our second with Princess Cruises and for my parents, their first. We started planning this trip nearly a year ago. we choose it based on the itinary as a trip to South America allowed us to check an item off our bucket list. We can now say that we have seen the entire continent of the Americas.
We travelled from our home province to Toronto, Ontario, Canada by plane and then onward to Santiago Chile. This trip is not for the faint of heart. It is a long flight of nearly 12 hours. Although the time change is only three hours for us,the flight length is considerable. From our departure point until the time we arrived at our hotel in Santiago we were 35 hours in transit.
we booked two days pre-cruise at the Intercontinental Hotel in Santiago Chile through Princess Cruise lines. We also booked a transfer package with the cruise line. This worked out really well for us. Princess met us at the airport and took us to the hotel. The Intercontinental Hotel is a lovely, newer hotel located in downtown Santiago. The rooms had two double beds, a spacious bathroom with all the amenities and a lovely seating area. The Princess reps were at the hotel each day and where able to provide information on tours and city sites as well as nearby restaurants and bars. The hotel provided a free breakfast each morning which had a wide variety of both hot and cold foods. we booked a city tour and a wine country tour through a private agency to help us to explore Santiago and were not disappointed. The tour company picked us up on time and provided a very good tour of the city for us on our arrival day. we were able to customize the tour and even got to go to a hand craft market. The next day we did a 7.5 hour wine country tour which included a private tasting at two vineyards. This was very nice. The vineyards provided knowledgeable staff who taught us much about the wines of Chile. Of course we also purchased some wines which were excellent.
On our third day in Chile, Princess cruises picked us up at the hotel and transferred us to Valparaiso Chile which is the embarkation point for our cruise. The trip from Santiago to Valparaiso is about 2 hours. There was a tour guide on our bus who provided a wonderful description of the valleys, economy,and sites as we crossed the coastal mountains. We arrived in Valparaiso with a little time to spare, so we were given a quick tour of Vina Del Mar which is the tourist town located next to Valparaiso. This was a lovely little bonus. Valparaiso is a working port with little in the way of tourist facilities.
Upon arrival to Valparaiso, you complete the check-in process which was efficient and are then shown to a shuttle bus which takes you to the Star Princess. We were on the Star Princess in time for a late lunch. Our rooms were ready when we embarked so we were able to leave our carry-on luggage in our rooms and head up to the Horizon Buffet for some lunch and to watch the other passengers arrive for our adventure.
Our stateroom was lovely. We were on Caribe deck in cabins 534 and 618. The cabins had an over-size balcony on the port side of the ship. They were in good shape and appeared well cared for. Our room steward met us when we arrived and let us know that if there was anything we needed to let him know. Throughout the trip, our rooms were made up and toiletries were replenished as needed. My mom celebrated her birthday while on board. The room steward made sure that balloons and a birthday sign were on her door the morning of her birthday. As well, the captain sent a hand-signed card acknowledging the day. This was a really nice extra touch. I will say that on this particular cruise, we did not make much use of the balconies as it was just too cold and windy but when we could we happily sat and drank wine outside and watched the scenery go by. I cannot complain about the beds as they were really comfortable. We did not have to request for any egg-crate mattresses. I did miss the towel animals as that does appear to be an area that has been cut back on as far as service is concerned but certainly did not impact on our cruise.
The ship itself looked to be in very good shape and well maintained. In fact at one port when we got off in the morning we noticed that the area around the anchor housing was a bit rusted looking. By the time we got back in the afternoon we noticed that it was all white again and that it had been painted. That speaks volumes to the level of care and attention the ship receives from the crew. We did not see any worn carpets or areas that required maintenance. The varnished railings were all in lovely shape.
We found the staff on the ship to be friendly and attentive to any needs we had with one exception. We had several issues with our credit cards being rejected and received a letter stating that we needed to speak with the front desk. The first time, we were assured the issue had been addressed and there was no further complications expected, however we got another letter that night. We went back to the Purser's desk to address the issue and again were assured that the issue was addressed. Not a day later and a later came yet again. This time we phoned our credit card company and were assured that it had nothing to do with our cards and everything to do with the way Princess was in-putting the information. We communicated this to the front desk staff who once again assured us that things were addressed. It was not to be the case. This is one example of a lack of communication and coordination at the front desk. It took nearly the entire cruise before we stopped receiving letters about our credit cards.
We had anytime dining which was wonderful. We went between Portofino and Capri dining rooms. Sometimes we choose to join a group and other times we dines by ourselves. We never had a wait for a table. We usually ate between 6:30 and 7:30. The service in the dining room was excellent. I would say though, that there is less variety of food and fewer selections of deserts. There was certainly enough to keep us all happy but as a past cruiser with Princess, it is obvious that there have been cutbacks. Escargot is only available once on the Captain's gala night. Steaks, although good, are mostly of the strip loin nature and the amount of shrimp in the shrimp cocktails, although they are large, are only three to a cocktail. Having said that, we certainly did not go hungry.
We also ate most of our breakfasts at the Horizon buffet. I found the food adequate and of a good variety. My only criticism here is that seating at peak times is hard to find. We often needed to split up or join another table. we did have breakfast in the dining room one morning. The menu is very limited but was a nice change from the buffet. The pizza was delicious and the burgers were also good. We did not go to the specialty restaurants. The International Cafe was one of our favorite places for coffee, pastry and salads. We sampled many of the bars and found the service and selection to be great. My one issue here is when we all were stricken with Norovirus and confined to our rooms. You are provided with a room service menu that you must order from. In one word...awful! After a bout of Norovirus, you do not need a bran muffin and oatmeal. I tried to order scrambled eggs and toast and could not do it. They are very strict. Even ginger-ale was hard to get. I had to have a pretty good fight with whomever was in room service to get some ginger-ale. The first meal we got was boiled chicken, boiled potatoes and broccoli. Not very appealing after having been ill, which many people were on this trip.
Activities on the ship were as varied as was possible. I did note that the production shows were much shorter than on previous cruises and the entertainment staff was certainly not as visible and interactive with the passengers as has been in previous cruises. As a group, we also felt there was some repetition of the performances such as the tango dancers doing a short show almost every day. We would like to have seen a bit more variety. The Princess orchestra did a Dixie-land jazz band show that was excellent but that was the only performance on the 13 day cruise. Where were they the rest of the time. They were really good. As well the singers and dancers would be slated to perform in the Patter. They would do one song and that was it. I would like to have seen more from them but they only did the production shows. In the past, the singers and dancers have been much more interactive. We wondered if this was due to cutbacks as well. as for other ship board activities, there was the usual trivia, dance lessons, various clubs that met, cooking demonstrations, ice carving,cocktail mixing and virtual tours of various areas of the ship which was interesting. MUTS was always showing something but due to the cold, windy weather, it was hard to take part in this. I saw some people braving the cold and wind but very few. The Leal quartet were not great but the Vintage dance band certainly had the locations they entertained in dancing and enjoying their selections of music. We went to a couple of production shows which were good, a female vocalist who was excellent and a comedian who had us in stitches. We also enjoyed the entertainment in Crooner's bar which consisted of a talented piano-vocalist.Overall,there was certainly enough to keep us entertained as much as we wanted to be but there was some evidence of the cost reduction measures that have occurred since our last cruise.
We did mostly private tours at all the ports with the exception of two Princess tours. We did the Punta Tomba tour with Princess as it is 2.5 hours from the ship over gravel roads and to a rather remote area. The tour was well organized with a very knowledgeable tour leader. It was worth the money to see this part of Patagonia and not worry about the roads or getting back to the ship on time. The other tour we did with Princess was a debarkation tour in Buenos Aires. Again we did this due to time constraints. We felt we got good value for our money as we saw a lot of the city and enjoyed learning about this massive metropolitan area that has so many areas that are diverse and unique.
Our debarkation came all too soon and we had to be out of our rooms by 0800 hours. We were taken on the city tour of Buenos Aires and then transferred directly to the airport for our trip home. Our luggage was waiting at the airport for us which was kind of nice as we did not have to hunt through the thousands of pieces of luggage in the terminal at the port. We arrived at the terminal in plenty of time to make it to our flight gate and even have one last Pisco Sour before getting on our plane for a very long flight back to Canada.