We have cruised with Princess many times before, upgrading each cruise from inside to oceanview to balcony, to mini-suite and finally to suite. In general, we have enjoyed every Princess cruise and have had few bad things to say. This was, by far, the worst Princess experience we’ve ever had.
This cruise started off a little poorly when Princess changed our flight way back in September from the 9am flight down to the 7:51am flight out of Chicago, which meant we were bound to wait at the airport or at the terminal. EZAir charges extra fees for booking. On the United site, our airfare was listed $99 less than charged thru EZAir.
Day 0 – Saturday, embarkation at Port of Houston
It felt strange to hand our luggage over to a truck not marked in any way as Princess affiliated. When we arrived at the port of Houston, it was pretty easy getting in initially to obtain our boarding passes since we were both Platinum and Suite passengers. Once checked in, however, we were informed that the ship had gotten in several hours late due to fog and we would not be embarking for a minimum of 2-3hrs.
They offered us shuttles to Kemah Boardwalk and told us the shuttles would be constantly running throughout the afternoon. My husband opted to wait in the terminal, a very uncomfortable setting with no food or water, but mercifully out of the weather. My son and I decided to go to Kemah. Getting to Kemah Boardwalk went smoothly, and we settled down to eat at Bubba Gump. I called my husband for an update on boarding(this is < 45min later) and he was already in the cabin (He told me that Princess offered us complimentary reservations at Sabatini’s to make up for the long wait. This was NOT a concession since Suite Passengers get dinner at either Sabatini’s or Crown Grill on embarkation night already)
We ate quickly and arrived at the queue to get on the next shuttle. There were already over 100 fellow passengers who had been waiting for about 45min in 40degree/windy weather. 30min later I called the Princess 800# and asked them where in the world the shuttle buses were. 5 minutes later another passenger made a second phone call to Princess. 10 minutes later, 4 shuttles of varying sizes showed up to take us back to the port of Houston.
We had been told that since we already had our boarding passes, we would have little or no line. NOT!!!! It took an additional 3-45minutes just to get through security a second time. My son was in shirt-sleeves and he caught a nasty cold. Passengers in the “normal” line were wrapped around twice, so their wait had to be at least one hour.
There appear to be only 2 screening stations for 3000 passengers to pass thru, hence the long, long lines.
5pm – finally on board, champagne and canapés in our stateroom. Took a look at our balcony. The last time we cruised and booked the suite, we had a table and chairs to eat on the balcony. This cruise we had 2 chaises, 2 chairs and a tiny little table. The suite only had a cocktail table, so we couldn’t eat together when ordering room service, another suite “perk”.
Dinner at Crown Grill – strip steak was tough, lobster tails WAY overcooked
Day 1 – Sunday at sea,
No significant issues, ship is really moving to make up for lost time. Dinner at the anytime dining Coral Dining Room was very good, no wait and very attentive wait staff. This however would not continue. The mini-cake tray that we couldn’t eat wasn’t delivered to the stateroom until Tuesday afternoon, very stale!
Day 2 – Monday, late into port, late out of port
Cozumel, everyone booked for an excursion was loaded onto one of only 2 ferries to the mainland, Playa de Carmen which made for very long waits. Finally boarded a bus for our excursion to Rio Secreto with 1hour 40min of shopping. This was a disaster!!! Road construction ate up ALL the possible shopping time, the 40 min bus ride extended 2-3 times normal. The town is not at all pretty. It reminded me of Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo over 20years ago, where there was very definite tourist area and the local area with mothers/children begging in the street.
Rio Secreto – amazing tour, leave your cameras at the ship because they are not allowed. Charge for picture CD, $70; more if you want souvenirs
Tried to eat in stateroom. One at the desk, one at the table, one at the vanity area
Day 3 – Tuesday, late into port, left very close to on time
Roatan, Because Princess did not offer intro scuba diving excursions, we had to book independently thru Scuba Roatan and they booked us a “trusted Taxi”.
Princess, however, does not allow these taxis into the port area, nor do they offer a shuttle over the hill in the pouring rain, about ½ mile, so once again, we are soaked to the skin. Our “trusted taxi” had booked 2 parties and we had to wait even longer in the rain until the taxi admitted the other party was probably not coming(the other party was smart, they got into one of the 200+ taxis without prepaid riders RIGHT AT THE PORT!
Again, now because of the long walk/wait, we couldn’t go on the 11am boat, but took the 12:3- and 2pm dives instead. That left us with @30min to shop at the port stores.
It’s Funny how Princess lets the “trusted taxi” over the hill and into the port area for dropping off passengers, but not for picking them up. BAD, BAD POLICY PRINCESS.
Finally tried the thermal suite. They used to provide flip flops, not this time. Many taps/etc missing. Dinner tonight there were several things forgotten on the order.
Day 4 – Wednesday, into port on time, the sun finally came out
Belize, Ship excursion, our priority tender passes were worthless because the excursion’s boat came directly to the ship instead of the pier so they came a little later. Sergeant’s Cay is very difficult snorkeling, deep water/high waves. They assign guides, but they are absolutely impossible to distinguish one from another once in the water. So we wandered pretty aimlessly. Still good snorkeling, but this reef is not as exciting as other destinations we’ve been to.
Mediocre dinner service again tonight
Day 5 – Thursday, at sea
The captain’s cocktail party is pretty much nothing more than a Princess commercial. Dinner service tonight was better than the other nights since this was the second formal night and they were more attentive. Forgot my son’s pasta, so I gave him mine.
Day 6 - Friday
The ship is racing the fog to try and get into the Port of Houston before the fog gets in. We have reservations at Sabatini’s to celebrate the end of the cruise, and since we didn’t have any time at any port to go shopping, we used the money we saved to pop for the specialty restaurant. Sabatini’s, I must say was very patient and attentive, holding our various courses as we raced all over the ship trying to communicate with passenger services, dogsitters, employers, etc.
Minutes after seating, announcements started about how the ship did not make it to Houston before the port was closed. Now instead of docking @midnight for disembarkation in the morning, it is estimated that the ship will not dock until 11pm Saturday and disembarkation won’t be until Sunday morning.
All passengers are now given one complimentary phone call from their stateroom and 30 minutes of internet to try and make arrangements. This would be great if the ship could accommodate the thousands of phone calls and internet. It can’t. Not only that, we learn on Saturday morning, after dozens of tries that the directions given in the stateroom notebooks and from ship’s personnel, that the directions are wrong.
Back to Friday night – Passenger services rebook our flight to 3:38pm Sunday, exactly 24hrs later, even after explaining the necessity to get into Chicago as early as possible Sunday because all 3 of us were scheduled to work Sunday. Princess also informed us that we would not be moved from Red 4 to Red 1, for transfers and possible standby.
Day 7, Saturday
After giving up trying to make phone calls, I tried the internet and made arrangements for 2 of us to work Monday in place of Sunday. I made all my changes at 8am and by the time I was through, there was a line 20 deep to get onto the computers.
At 10am, passenger services announced that the fog had cleared sufficiently to get us into port at 11:30am.
Nothing was said about them changing our air back to Saturday, so my husband went to check on these arrangements. He was told that passenger services would deliver our new air itinerary to our stateroom.
They proceeded to check him out of our cabin. When I took the paperwork to check for accuracy, I found they had checked him out of the wrong cabin!!! It took another half hour to straighten this mess out, since someone at the desk decided that the crew member who had made the mistake had to correct it.
At about 12:00, my husband called from the stateroom to see if our air had been changed. They verbally gave him the flight and confirmation number. They managed to get us a 5:29 flight to O’Hare. I felt lucky to get this flight even though we were scattered all over the aircraft. Next, I went to the internet café to print boarding passes. There were very few passengers there, but all of us had one goal: get our boarding passes. I tried signing in, but the system said our time had expired although we still had about ninety minutes and thirty more minutes of free internet to make arrangements. There was no Princess Representative in the internet café. It took some time, but someone finally came down after a few calls and got our boarding passes printed. Good move as it turned out!
Passengers were informed that they could opt for self-handling of luggage for faster disembarkation, a necessity for anyone with flights leaving before 4pm. There were at least 500 people already in line to disembark this way.
They finally started allowing passengers for the shuttle buses off the ship at about 2pm. There were several shuttles for: IAH, NOT United; only one for United airlines passengers. We sat on the bus, waiting for passengers to disembark since all United Airlines booked passengers were required to be on that one bus. We started asking about when we were going to leave at 3pm and were told at 3:20 we were still waiting on 20 more passengers. Many passengers missed their flights, since the bus didn’t pull out of the Port of Houston until 3:30pm, waited for a freight train to clear and pulled in at arrivals at @4:35. The only reason we made our plane is because IT was late arriving from Chicago. During the shuttle ride to the airport, we were finally able to contact all of our people in Chicago.
In conclusion, we would NOT recommend the Western Caribbean sailing out of Houston. This terminal is much too small to accommodate any ship of size and this was the third time in a month that the ship was delayed because of fog.