This was our first experience on a Princess ship and, frankly, Princess gets very, very mixed reviews. We were quite surprised, as many members of our families cruise Princess often and have always been pleased. We found ourselves wishing we were doing this trip on just about any other cruise line.
To give credit where it is due, our room steward was excellent, as were our waiters in the Palm Dining room. The food in the Palm Dining room was also consistently excellent. The Port Lecturer was helpful and the soul of patience. The cooks at the Trident Grill were efficient and accommodating. Afternoon tea was a very good experience with fresh food and superb tea. We have no complaints in any of these areas.
Other areas, however, did not meet our expectations, nor did they favorably compare to other ships on which we have sailed. (This is our 9th cruise).
Embarkation: The Victoria Motor Coach station was an absolute zoo. It was so disorganized no one even knew where to check in! There was no set line and one tripped over luggage everywhere you turned. Once in Southampton, there was a very long wait to get on the ship and it was almost time for the lifeboat drill before we were settled.
Itinerary: We came on this cruise specifically because of the itinerary. We were highly disappointed to fund that the ship was too big to really accommodate the schedule. If Princess is going to continue to offer this itinerary, then they need to do it right. That means (1) using a smaller ship that (2) can dock closer in to main ports such as Dublin and Edinburgh, (3) can overnight in those ports, and (4) can handle a tender port. The Caribbean Princess is simply too big and cumbersome to afford a quality British Isles cruise. (And the Ruby Princess which is scheduled for next year will probably fare no better as it is no smaller)
Shore Excursions: There were several horribly managed shore excursions:
1. The first was St. Peter Port where all excursions ended at the pier between 12:30 and 1:00, as it was announced several times that the last tender left at 1:15. HA! Many of us waited TWO HOURS in line (in high wind and rain) for a tender. There was no explanation given for the delay and no apology ever made. Indeed, no Princess employee was even walking up and down the line giving an estimate of the time involved or assuring people they were in the right place. Caribbean Princess knew how many people it had on shore and how to reach its excursion operators. People could have been told there would be a delay, given an updated estimate as to the last tender, and allowed to have extra time in port, either through the excursion operators or through Princess employees. As it was, hundreds of us did not get back on the ship until well after 3:00 and the ship was delayed hours in port. It was ridiculous.
2. Belfast. Again, there was no explanation given and no apology made for why those of us on morning excursions waited over 1 hour in the Explorers lounge while passengers without excursions went ashore first. I sailed on this ship to see as much of Belfast as possible, not to sit around in one of the ships bars. Everyone on a morning excursion was shorted on what they had paid for.
3. For the first several days, there were very long lines to check in for the excursions, on one day stretching through the casino (which reeked of smoke), around the Piazza, and into the mid-ship elevator area. All excursions were delayed due to the poor management of the princess staff. The shore excursion personnel know how to stagger departing excursions, as was demonstrated later in the cruise after most of the passengers had loudly complained.
The Crown Grill: We went for pub lunch twice. The beverage service was slow, the food merely OK, they wanted to charge for tea (!?!) and the wait staff was very abrupt. Nothing in our experience there made us want to pay the upcharge for dinner, so we did not do so. (One caveat: the new manager took my comments to heart when I mentioned that the dessert menu on the 2nd pub day did not list nuts as an ingredient in the dessert. Since I am very allergic, I had to return it uneaten to the kitchen. I would not have ordered it at all had I been properly informed of the contents of the dish as I should have been on the printed menu)
The Buffet: It really lacked in quality, especially for lunch and dinner. Here are just some of the specifics:
1. The staff must keep the tomato juice under lock and key. I requested it six times; on two occasions I was virtually finished with breakfast before it arrived and on the other four I never got it all. I gave up and did without. (If you want orange juice, that it readily available, but any other request seems to be too much trouble)
2. There were no low fat salad dressing options on the buffet at all.
3. There was no place to get a fresh, made to order sandwich; everything was pre-made. I would have been happy to make my own, but the ingredients were not available on the buffet.
4. A got a curt reply one morning when I asked a waiter to please toast an English muffin fresh as the ones in the bin were hard and cold; he did it, but was not happy about it. 5.Ditto on the eggs they will make an omelet, but not eggs over easy you are directed to the pre-made ones, which were greasy and tired; yuk!
6. There was never any place to sit in the buffet and my food was often cold by the time I found a table.
7. Breakfast via room service is continental only and very limited on selection.
This was all very disappointing, as the ports of call are all consistently good with lots of things to do. The Edinburgh Tattoo and the Castle of Mey were fabulous and well worth the cost and the inconvenience. However, Princess needs to take a serious look at its fleet and select a ship that can handle the ports with ease and less stress on its passengers.