This was our first Princess Cruise and we were quite surprised how poor the experience was. One would think after spending thousands of dollars for passage, one would get luxury treatment, however, I felt we were staying at a budget resort.
1) FOOD: The food was mostly mediocre...the ship has two small buffet courts, twins of each other. One was usually closed half the time which made it rather crowded in the open one. The food in the buffet was served strictly cafeteria style...not very enticing...the food did not look delicious...it looked like they were serving a high school. The food was often overcooked, strangely spiced, or simply mediocre. The dining room wasn't much better...whether one got the steak, prime rib, or Chateaubriand, the meat was on the chewy side. Desserts were OK, but still lacking whatever quality that would make them outstanding.
The ship has THREE upscale restaurants that require an added fee... one begins to think that perhaps they want to serve mediocre food in order to steer one into paying extra.
INSTANT coffee is serve on the ship...if you want real brewed coffee, one has to pay extra. They sell a card for $30 that allows unlimited brewed coffee and 20 specialty drinks.
2) SERVICE: There were a few good crewmen (our room steward was great!), however, most of the crew seemed cranky and some seemed mad. There was a definite lack of joy...very few smiles. The baristas at the coffee bar seemed especially angry and intimidating. The waiters in the dining room seemed robotic as they talked to you, there eyes often looking somewhere else as they explained the menu to you. When one encountered a problem during dining, it became a bigger problem with the staff not knowing how to handle it...e.g. we didn't like our table (we had Anytime Dining) and asked for another one...wow! they made such a big deal about it...they made us feel very uncomfortable as we stood waiting for a different table.
One of the cooks at the hamburger grill looked downright scary! I was intimidated not to ask him to redo my overcooked burger!
3) AMBIENCE: Don't expect to get away from it all and hang around the pool, reading a book, soaking in the sun or taking a nap. Why? There's ALWAYS a movie playing by the pool with the volume cranked as high as possible so everyone can hear. It's like the TV is on and is blasting away. One has to find a nook somewhere else on the deck far away in order to lay back in quiet.
4) ENTERTAINMENT: They had about three production shows which were OK, not great (one was "British Invasion" a show that it seems almost every cruise line offers!). Some of the other shows were anemic. There was a Salute to Frankie Valle with a singer that couldn't sing high notes very well, and backup singers who did the same movement over and over again...not produced very well. Other solo performers were so-so. Steve Moris performed (toured with the Beach Boys)...he is a very likable guy and is very funny...however, his show is rather thin and did not deserve three performances on ship. The best show of the voyage was the talent show put on by the ship's crew...it was fun, creative, and crowd pleasing!
5) OPERATIONS: Note to ship...please do not paint and vanish rails and close down the indoor pool for painting and maintenance on a SEA DAY. We are stuck on the ship and we need the pool and we don't want to smell vanish all day! Note to Spa...please make sure there are towels available in the locker room and soap in the showers. Note to Spa receptionists...please look happy sitting behind that desk.
6) ACTIVITIES: Enough with the trivia contests...please think up something new! There were lectures and I am sure some found them interesting...they seemed a little dry to me. And, of course, there is always bingo. Other activities were the ever-present dance lessons, lei making, and ukulele lessons, I have to admit...sometimes I felt I was in an old-age home with these kind of activities. Note to Cruise Director...stop worrying about producing your early morning TV Wake-up show and work at thinking up some activities that are new and fun to your cruise passengers
7) GYM: It's OK, however, the treadmills are the oldest we have experienced on a cruise,
Up until now, our cruising has always been satisfying and great. Our first Princess Cruise has been quite a let-down. It will be quite awhile until we try Princess again!
Hilo is an interesting city to walk around. The farmer's market is quite interesting to see...fruits and other items that are not available anywhere else but in Hawaii. The old part of town is small and easy to tour on foot. There is an Tsunami Museum in town, but admission is required ($8). To us it was a little too high for what you get.
We did not take a tour in Honolulu...we have been there before. On this voyage we decided to walk around Honolulu and Waikiki. Honolulu is nothing but Los Angeles (we live in L.A.) on an island. There is traffic, homeless, and graffiti. Waikiki is nothing special anymore...it is more like MIami...lots of upscale stores interspersed with bums sleeping on the sidewalk. The famous beach itself is really nothing special...there are dozens of other beaches in Hawaii and California that are much better. Our walk around the area was quite eye-opening...when you are on a bus, one doesn't realize how dirty the city has become.
The Wailua river is a little over-rated. It is beautiful, of course, but please be aware that the river looks the same all along the whole ride. The scenery doesn't change. In other words, after one has seen the river for about five to ten minutes...that's it! Our tour lasted about 45 minutes each way and I was done with it after ten minutes, Fortunately, they had superb hula dancing performed by beautiful women on our boat which made up for the slow ride.
Even though Lahaina is touristy, it is still fun to walk up and down the street...there's lots of people and lots of interesting shops. However, one should not stop walking at the edge of the shopping area...keep going into the neighborhoods to get a feel of how it would be to live there.