My DW and I are veterans of thirteen cruises. This is our first booking with Princess and we were eager to see how Princess stacked up to our favorite cruise lines. We selected the Pacific Coastal itinerary because of proximity to home and the ports of call with only one at-sea day.
We boarded the Star Princess on a rainy day in Vancouver. The process was fairly easy and boarding started at noon as advertised. Once onboard, we asked a crewmember if a dining room was open and he replied "no, just the buffet." We shouldered our way through the overcrowded buffet for an underwhelming lunch. Afterwards, we explored the ship only to find that the Portofino dining room was indeed open for lunch. This was just the beginning of uneven service and poor communication from the crew throughout the cruise.
The ship itself was nicely done, with mellow wood tones that were easy on the eyes. Public areas were abundant and seemingly never too crowded - it was always easy to find a deck chair or quiet area.
We opted for a suite. The cabin was roomy, but awkwardly laid out, with a central pod for TVs, closet, and minibar sink occupying a good portion of the center of the room. The cabin was nicely finished, and the bed comfortable. The verandah was generous in size. At night, we discovered that the ship and our cabin creaked - noticeably so. Later some shipmates also remarked at how much the ship creaked.
Our suite entitled us to a first night dinner in one of the specialty restaurants. We chose Sabatini's. The meal was mediocre, save for the calamari appetizer. My DW had a hard time selecting menu items that fit with her palate (chicken and vegetables). For the rest of the cruise, we chose fixed time dining at the late seating in Amalfi. Our waiter was exceptional - memorizing our preferences immediately, accommodating every special request, and making us feel like family. The food in Amalfi was surprisingly good - my two steaks were cooked medium rare as requested; an eggplant parmesan appetizer was delicious. Baked goods were always good as well. We enjoyed every meal in Amalfi. The Horizon Court buffet was an entirely unpleasant experience. First, the layout of the serving station was very illogical and user unfriendly, causing passenger to interfere and bump into each other. The food was bland, tasteless, unappealing - choose your favorite adjective for bad. We rarely ate from the buffet after the first trial. My DW discovered the grill and claims the veggie burgers were delicious. For breakfast, we alternated between Sabatini's (a suite perk) and the main dining room. Both were good, but overall I preferred the dining room menu options.
Entertainment was fair. The main shows were typically held three times each day so there were options to attend at least one showing. The primary acts were comedians (two) and the ship's singers and dancers. During the day there seemed to plenty of activities from which to choose, ranging from the usual trivia and contests to enrichment programs. The musicians in the lounges drew appreciative audiences every night.
We opted to plan and book most of our shore excursions ourselves. In Victoria, we thoroughly enjoyed Butchart Gardens, and made our way back from downtown to avoid the afternoon rain. In Seattle, we made our own walking tour and took in the Seattle Aquarium along the way. Astoria brought another self-guided walking tour - the walk from the ship to downtown along the River Walk is rather easy, and we avoided the lengthy lines for the shuttles and rail trolley. While in town, I enjoyed Bow Pickers (excellent fish and chips) and we toured the Maritime Museum. At San Francisco, we purchased our only Princess excursion to Muir Woods and Sausalito. The loading process for the cruise excursions was totally unorganized and chaotic. When we finally departed, our first stop was the Golden Gate Bridge, followed by the scenic beauty of Muir Woods' giant redwoods. On our way back to the ship, the tour bus detoured through Fisherman's Wharf and nearby areas, which negated the need for us to revisit these areas. Reboarding the ship through the terminal was a nightmare - Princess was attempting to board another ship at the same time, and used the same two security lanes for both ships. The back and forth winding queue to security rivaled the lines at Disneyland, and took seemingly forever to move. Another demerit for Princess and their staff. In Santa Barbara, we began with a self-guided walking tour. We finished with a very fun Segway tour along the beaches and through local areas.
At our terminal port of San Pedro in Los Angeles, the disembarkation process was the best we have experienced. We left our cabin at 8am and were at the Long Beach airport before 9am.
We had hoped that Princess would make our list of "go-to" cruise lines. The uneven service, poor organization, and dreadful buffet put Princess on the edge. The final straw occurred on our only at-sea day. That day, our toilet ceased to function. After three phone calls and a personal visit to Guest Services, action was finally taken. All the while, the persons on the other end of the phone promised to send someone right up, along with the comment "there was only one other complaint." Never did anyone come to our cabin, and there was no follow-up to assure that our service was restored. Later we learned from our neighbors that their toilets failed as well. The equipment failure, failure to promptly address our concern, and the lack of communication pushed our opinion of Princess over the edge - negatively. It is doubtful that we will book another Princess cruise again.