I want to start this review by saying that I will be more critical than usual I guess it is because: 1) I have completed my 10th cruise, so I have way more information and opportunity to compare (ships, itineraries, cruise lines). Things that may have been seen as minor in previous trips have more meaning now, and 2) I am getting older, and things that did not bother me before are more noticeable and create uncomfortable situations.
Let’s get the less positive aspects out of the way:
The service in the Island Princess was not what I expected. I sailed last year in another Princess ship and none of the problems I will outline here I found there. I have to assume that it is not a cruise line issue but a vessel issue. One of the first surprises was that I wasn’t allowed to convert the twin beds in my cabin into a double bed because we also had a third person in the room and we were using the bunk bed. This is the first time I have encountered this problem. Questioned, our steward mentioned that it was now a “new policy” because apparently the cruise line had been sued by someone who fell on top of others. We went to the service desk to know what it can be done and the purser was as surprised as we were. She could not give us an answer. After three days, the supervisor of our Steward confirmed it was impossible to allow us to join the two beds. No one was able to provide us with a copy of such “policy”. During this ordeal we felt like we were treated as a nuisance and not as concerned or disgruntled customers.
The second aspect of service was the waiters in the formal dining rooms. We are used to have the head waiter come to the tables every once in a while to greet us and talk to us. The head waiter in our section, funny enough, came to all tables EXCEPT ours. That went on for the whole trip, except for the last day when we celebrated my birthday. At some point, we even felt he was actually avoiding us because he was talking to the people right beside us and not even a hello or eye contact with us. The waiters were very friendly BUT they had fundamental issues with their waiter training. Most of the time they were reaching across to pick up or put down dishes, they were cleaning crumbs on top of us, they were putting menus upside down, etc. In one occasion, one of them spilled wine in my wife’s lap and he did not even bother to acknowledge the problem. He just walked away! In the buffet you will see waiter picking up the glasses from the upper ring (where you put your mouth) to serve juice or water, and picking up dirty plates without asking if you were done with your food.
In the area of cruise recreation, there were hits and misses. The biggest one was that the cruise staff seem overworked and they had to run from one place to the next, arriving late in some occasions. You could also see that there were times when they did not seem their happy-selfs, and even in one case I saw one of them arguing with one passenger about a minor thing.
Also, for a 14 days cruise, the recreation in the theatre and main venues was not stellar. Besides the 4 productions with the Princess singers and dancers (great!) and one musician-comedian (very good!), the other nights were just not good enough. For the first time in my cruising experience, I decided to miss more shows than I actually attended.
One last thing to note on the minus side was the young recreation program. Very early in the cruise, we started to see flocks of teenagers just wondering around. They took over some areas and every day they seem more daring as to what they were allowed to do. One of the reasons why cruise lines implement young and teens programs is to engage them into activities they can enjoy. Clearly, it wasn’t the case in this trip and at some point (not my opinion but many people I talk to also noted the same) they became annoying. My daughter (11 years-old and experienced cruiser), also became disengaged from the program after a few days. Fortunately she found two or three girls her same age and they decided to create their own recreation program. They enjoyed the pool and other activities not offered in the Shockwaves program.
Now let’s move to the positive side. The itinerary was great and the ports of call where excellent. It is a shame that beautiful ports like Cartagena and Cabos cannot be fully enjoyed (just half-day stops) but I understand there are operational needs that have to be followed.
The ship was spotless! Even after the “wild” parties of Christmas and New Year, the next morning was like nothing had happened.
The music groups we had in the ship were out of the ordinary. From the all omnipresent group that played in lounges and parties with its lead singer Victoria, to the trio playing in the Atrium and the piano man in the lounges, they are true artists and deserve every applause and accolade we can give.
The food was superb. There are many excellent choices and not one of them disappointed. We took breakfast in the buffet, room service and formal restaurant and all of them worked well. Lunch in the buffet was always tasty, as it was the pool side grill and the pizzeria (sometimes overwhelmed by the success). Also, Sabatini’s, at night a cover specialty restaurant, offers some free lunches with gourmet pizza, as well as the Bayou’s “pub style lunch.” At night, the formal restaurants have a great variety of daily specials as well as old good “available all nights” dishes. Great size portions and generally well cooked. Did I forget to mention the always available ice cream stand?
Another great feature in Princess Ships is the “Movies under the Stars”. In this cruise, it also became the giant screen football theatre for play-off and bowl games. It was great! The movies were generally good and it helps to have some popcorn at hand.
Activities were many and there was always something to do, with enough balance to have some “free” time and enjoy amenities like the pool and the bars. Probably one of the highest mark goes to the free Zumba lessons (yes, there are still free activities worth going). The audience grew as the cruise progressed and it was a huge success.
All in all, I will rank this cruise around 7 out of 10. I have seen better and I have seen worst. I would like to see more consistency in the service given the expectations created by a previous Princess experience. I have a Princess cruise booked for July; I guess it will be the chance to break the tie and decide if the line deserves our business.