We're loyal Princess Cruise customers who booked the Tahitian Princess as a once in a lifetime trip to Hawaii and Tahiti. The itinerary was a dream - and since we have always loved Princess - we thought this was a no-brainer. But while we had a GREAT time on our 12-day cruise - we experienced some problems on the Tahitian Princess. Enough we felt it was important to do a complete review.
First - because we live in New York City - we decided to let Princess book our airfare and we also chose a pre cruise hotel package. We wanted to experience Honolulu and all its sites and because of the time zone change (6 hours) we wanted to also let our bodies get used to the new time change.
We traveled with another couple from Philadelphia - all of us choosing Newark as our point of departure. Our airline reservations were fine - but when Mark and Steve checked in for their flights - they didn't have valid tickets. While Princess Air had their itinerary and a confirmation number - it seems there were not valid ticket numbers associated with the reservation. I'm dumfounded how this could happen in the age of electronic tickets. Mark and Steve almost didn't get a seat on the flight to HNL. But in the end it all worked out. They were annoyed to say the least.
Princess booked all of us at the Royal Hawaiian. One of Waikiki's original hotels - we thought it would be awesome based on the pictures, its reputation and the fact it is a Starwood property. It was far from that. The hotel is on the verge of greatness - but needs a major facelift. Our FIRST room smelled of mildew. The next day I asked the front desk for a room change. They asked us to come back after lunch. We did just that - but instead of a room change - they said, "We've sprayed it." Ok, for $400 a night, if a guest wants a room changed - then we better get one. We were extremely annoyed at that too. It seems that Princess guests are second-class citizens at the Royal Hawaiian. Princess needs to take its business elsewhere.
Embarkation: Extremely efficient. The airport transfers and hotel transfers to the ship were right on time and well run. Once we arrived at the cruise terminal, the lines were non-existent. Princess does e-tickets now via the website. Great idea. It worked flawlessly.
Now to the Tahitian Princess. She's a smaller ship, only about 680 passengers. We thought we'd like this - but now we feel we like the Grand class ships better. Now don't get me wrong - the ship is quite wonderful. The food - so far OK (not great). But we've had some real service issues that give us pause for concern regarding Princess' quality. We hope this is not a Company wide problem, since we plan to sail with Princess again in the future.
Waiter and Assistant Waiter: Nikolay and Plamen got off to a very poor start. Our waiter Nikolay was MIA for the first 30 minutes on our first night. When he finally showed up, he asked, " Do you have any questions?" "Yeah, what's your name?" we replied. Our first appetizer didn't arrive until 920 pm, one hour after we sat down. Second night was much better, and Nik and Plamen seemed much friendlier. Over the length of the cruise we actually became fonder of them. But first impressions are extremely important. They still got an extra tip.
Soda cards. We got a real sense the staff has been instructed to have a lower priority for refills on soda cards. We'd literally be ignored at the bar - in fact when someone ordered an alcoholic drink - we were dismissed. I have never experienced this on a Princess ship. Another example was when a drink waiter asked if we wanted a drink - we ordered a diet coke. They responded: "Cappuccino?" Ugh.
The Cruise Director JJ was also MIA. He didn't make an announcement or wasn't seen until we were at sea, four days after our cruise started. He obviously was too busy looking at himself in the mirror - or getting permission to bring "guests" on board during port calls (I won't go there).
BRIGHT SPOT: Miguel our waiter in the alternative dining restaurants. He's a gem. The food though: just average. Not up to the Grand Class ships for Sabatini's or the Steakhouse.
BRIGHT SPOT: The ship shore excursions are first rate. We had a good time at each stop in the Hawaiian Islands.
BRIGHT SPOT: Our cabin steward Carlos. He told us that it was just his second cruise. We never would have guessed that. He was friendly, fun, and did a great job making our stay comfy.
Just plain weird: During our first formal night, the photographer came around and said, "On the first night we just take solo pictures of you. We'll do group shots on the second formal night." So I asked why? She said, "That's the way we do it." And she got annoyed and FLASH! LOL Why would anyone want to buy a SOLO picture of formal night? Especially all these newlyweds feeling the love.
Friends of Dorothy: OK, I commend Princess for trying to help LGBT passengers meet each other. But what's with the code (Friends of Dorothy) in the Princess Patter? Just say it: LGBT gathering. Why shove us in the closet?
Fitness The gym is pretty good for a ship this size. There are treadmills, Stairmasters, machines and free weights. Deck 9 Forward. Pretty busy when it opens at 8 am. Best time seems to be shortly before lunch or port days.
Entertainment: I only saw one show - and what I DID see under whelmed me. The show was more like a high school musical. But then again, we were here for the itinerary. David the piano player in the Casino Bar was a real treat. He was great, and gave valuable tips about each port.
Dining menus: The food was actually pretty good. I was concerned after reading less than favorable reviews. Highlights included the grilled salmon (always good); Prime Rib (huge cut) and the soups were always out of this world. Deserts were just ok, while the souffle was awesome. As the trip progressed I think the food got better. Very enjoyable.
Ports: Honolulu: Pearl Harbor is a must see! Waikiki Beach is bustling. Duke’s for a drink and dinner on the beach is also a must.
Kauai: We took the Waimea Canyon Tour. This was a delightful tour of the island to a mini Grand Canyon if you will. It last several hours, you also get to see a blowhole geyser. Beautiful place—we were told lots of movies film on this so-called Green Island.
Maui: Wowie. It is amazing here. We did the zip line tour. Where you are strapped to a steel cable and zip over forests and canyons. Well worth the price.
Hawaii The Big Island: Tour of Volcanoes National Park. Had a great tour guide. Tip of the day: don’t buy macadamia nuts at the factory. There’s a free Wal-mart shuttle from the ship, you can get them half off at the store. Also this is your LAST chance to stock up on personal items and such before you leave the US and ten days at sea.
Christmas Island: We didn’t get off here, since there was little to do. But it appeared everyone on board just wanted to see this tiny little island in the Pacific. During our brief spot, the ship was practically deserted. In other words: a perfect time for sunning (tons of chairs free), the gym, and lunch. Passengers returning to the ship said it had lovely beaches, a little poverty, but perhaps worth a peak.
Bora Bora: Considered the most beautiful island in the world (we disagree—more on that later). We did a 4WD tour of the Island. Patrick was our driver, and if you don’t like bumpy roads or have a bad back – this is NOT the tour for you. But the ride up to the mountains provides spectacular views on this Island.
Raiatea: Another tour via open-air jeep. This wasn’t as bumpy as the first tour, and well worth the price. A nice circle drive around the island, stopping at a volcanic crater, Polynesian sacrificial site.
Morrea: Simply amazing! The most beautiful place we have ever seen. We did the Motu Beach and BBQ. Highly recommend this. You take a small boat to a motu inlet, swim with stingrays, have a nice BBQ and swim in the most incredible waters in the world.
Papeete: Princess dropped us here on a Sunday. That means every store in town is closed. We did a quick walking tour, and then headed back to the ship. Thank God for the laptop and movies!
Disembarkation: Our flight on Air Tahiti Nui was at 1030 pm. The airport has no air conditioning, but wasn't too bad. Mob scene. Two hours to check in. Call Air Tahiti BEFORE you leave to get seat assignments.
In conclusion: We will definitely sail Princess again. It’s too bad they are taking the Tahitian Princess to Alaska during the summer. This itinerary is really amazing. Here’s a note: if you book her to Alaska, make sure the ports and itinerary are truly spectacular. I wouldn’t sail this ship if you can get the same itinerary from a Grand Class ship.
You can see all the highlights (including tons of photos) of our trip at my vacation blog: http://courtpassant.blogspot.com