Ocean Princess Cruise Review by Mike W: Sell It Quick!!!
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Sell It Quick!!!
Summary This capsule version of this 14 day Tahitian Princess Alaska cruise is for those who do not care to sort through the Princess drama. The bottom line is that Princess had neither the corporate philosophy, training nor the skills to operate an upscale cruise so should sell the Tahitian Princess as soon as possible. Princess needs to remain true to corporate mission by offering attractive fares to novices, fixed income or blue collar customers then gouging them with every possible gimmick. Princess probably has more revenue streams than a sea otter has hairs on a square inch of skin. The Tahitian Princess is a magnificent ship and the itinerary was great. After that, not much positive can be said. The food is mediocre, service is inconsistent and attention to detail is largely ignored. Crew training is focused on sales and regulations rather than efficient, empowered service. This was our second and last Princess cruise.
Day 1: Departure/at Sea: My wife and I, More along with a long-term traveling couple, arrived aboard the graceful Tahitian Princess direct from the Pan Pacific Hotel. The "R" ship had recently transited from its Tahiti route and had likely gone through some refurbishing along the way. It was in first class condition in most respects with some rehab projects in progress. We were greeted on the gangway after a swift, efficient check-in process and directed to our mini-suite on Deck 6 Aft. Our friends had taken a full suite adjacent to us and a great trip was anticipated. We were surprised when neither we nor our friends were given escort to the staterooms but rather directions. The directions given us by a stairwell guide were, in fact, completely backwards so we ended up in the bow of the ship. When we circled and did arrive at the rooms, there was no one present to provide an overview of the operating features of the rooms. I can remember no other cruise - of the 15+ we have taken - where we have been so unceremoniously dumped. It was our hope that this single glitch was not representative of the cruise. This hope was dashed over the coming days. The mini-suite itself was decent with a love seat couch, plenty of storage and thoroughly cleaned. One dresser door on a storage cabinet had an irritating broken hinge and I was surprised to find no DVD player or clock. Shortly thereafter, I inquired about a clock at Reception and was told that I could purchase a clock at the ship's shop. The reason given for no clock was that the steward would have to reset it as time zones were crossed. This made little sense as the steward would leave a printed reminder card on the dresser when clocks were to be reset. This type of flawed thinking would emerge as the rule for the entire crew. I was excited to go to the pool deck for a soak in one of the two hot tubs after sail away. Despite the crisp weather, prefect for spa soaking, there were no passengers in the spa. I did not yet have a robe, issued by request only made at 3 p.m., so hung up my towel and jumped into approximately 30 C degree water. I quickly checked for a heat control switch and finding none, bolted to the second spa only to find it grossly below desirable temperature. I got out, dried quickly and sought out a deck attendant for assistance. Our language barrier prevailed so headed for the room. Just as I turned to leave the pool deck, a young man with a blazer sporting a Reception tag came through the door. I presented the spa temperature issue and he quickly referred me to the now disappeared deck attendant. I was livid and returned to the room where I called Reception to rant and complain about the spa but mostly the staff attitude. The voice on the telephone was appropriately apologetic and reasonable - action was promised on the spa temperature. Our early seating - table, service and food - were all very good. We returned to our stateroom and our steward delivered at 8:45 p.m. the two robes requested at 3 p.m. The steward blamed the laundry for the delay. Day 2 at Sea We spent the day at sea so I toured the ship. My favorite spaces were the elegant library and the cheerful Tahitian Lounge forward with plenty of windows and cozy seating areas. I went to the gym which was well equipped and all equipment was functioning. My sole dissatisfaction with the gym was the lack of bottled water or even a paper cup. It just seems so chincy that such a small amenity as a disposable cup in the gym would be disregarded. On the way from the gym to my aft stateroom, I checked the spas to find they were both barely warm, so again reported this to the familiar voice at Reception. The voice assured me that the spas were operating correctly and set at the prescribed 30 degrees C. For dinner, we found the Steakhouse to be well worth the $15 per person cover charge with great food and fabulous service. It is just unfortunate to have to pay to have expectations met.
Day 3 Ketchikan Went to the gym early and noticed, when the DVD player began skipping, the absence of a single television in the gym. This downgrade seems representative of the general stinginess that pervades the ship. After working out, I traveled to the Panorama Buffet for a quick breakfast. The food was good and selection nice - but, my word, where is the Splenda for my coffee? Is this another indication of low quality standards? Why do so many of the serving dishes look like stainless steel mixing bowls? Why are the ham slices floating in greasy water? My, aren't the dusty plastic arrangements spine-tingling? In Ketchikan, we four met Family Air Tours for a bush pilot ride into Big Lake for trout fishing - fantastic ride and views. Fishing was almost as cold as the 40 degree F weather but great fun. We returned to the ship in time for a great lunch - stuffed cabbage rolls were excellent as were other selections. A lazy afternoon was followed by a disastrous dinner experience with terrible service. We had ourselves to pour two bottles of wine, peer over dirty dishes, beg for water and, finally, just got out of the dining room I spent my final part of the evening in a face-to-face meeting with the Reception "voice" who assured me the spa temperatures were correctly set at 30 degrees C. I requested a visit with the Chief Technical Officer but was told all communications must go through Reception - a final and fatal service affront! This is obviously another brilliant Princess corporate strategy focused on disempowering crew and passengers.
Day 4 Glacier Bay Cruising Awoke to study the Princess Patter which closely resembles a sales flyer with so many advertisements they blur together. Passengers obviously cannot be trusted with a weather forecast - not a single one shared yet excepting the repetitive one day-in and day-out on the in-house TV. It was a wondrous, quiet day spent mostly in the Tahitian Lounge taking in gorgeous scenery and several whales. Lunch was okay in the dining room followed by a perfect nap. We were back in action just in time for the three great glacier introductions. Dinner menu was okay while service had dramatically improved from the previous night. Blackjack in the casino was good for one and not so for the other while the wives were discouraged from singing along with the somewhat crotchety piano banger. I wrote a detailed official complaint on spa temps due to lack of response. A perfect illustration of the PPP (penurious Princess philosophy) occurred at the pool bar when a young lady with a Coca Cola cruise cup (buy it and receive free soft drinks) came to the bar and requested a ginger ale. The bartender declined to provide the ginger ale citing that only Coke products were available. It was positively amazing and the tenacious lady argued her point well - a club soda was available and it was not a Coke product as were all other available carbonated soft drinks. The bartender finally relented and provided the 6-7 ounces of ginger ale with a warning this would be the end of it. Why alienate a guest over 10 cents worth of a beverage? Later, a senior bartender told me this was the rule on Tahitian Princess but the rule varied from ship to ship and bar to bar.
Day 5 Skagway Early to the gym then to a quick breakfast - egg white omelets are darn good! We bail off to take in the main drag of Skagway. We are seeking several pharmacy items that are not in the overpriced ship shop. Low and behold we find everything, including temporary dental cement, in a combo grocery/drug store. The ladies drool over magnificent stones and a wily salesman negotiates on one selection from $14,999 to $4,799 to $3,798 in the course of three breaths. Then there is an offer of wine in styro cups and lunch too! We wander off to the nearest bar and settle for a couple of beers. After an invigorating walk, we return to the shop for lunch, naps and Spades. The highlight of the evening is a trip to the Italian restaurant for dinner where we enjoyed impeccable service and too much food - cover charge is $20 per person. All of the courses are excellent except the three pasta items which are just okay. My veal chop, ordered rare, comes encrusted with about a pound of shredded potatoes. I laboriously peel off the layered coating to find a small well-done veal chop. Our other three guests had better luck with entrees but there was just too much food and we waddled to our rooms. Speaking of potatoes, one of my favorite but most restricted foods due to carbs, show up everywhere. Crab cakes, pepper pot, split pea, mushroom and virtually every other vegetable soup was potato based, minestrone soup was chock full of a tiny potato dice (no beans, thank you), zucchini soup had hint of green potato. My wife's veggie burger was a potato pancake with a couple of root vegetable strings. It had to be sent back. I detest waste and support creative use of leftovers but the potato junket was over the line.
Day 6 At Sea The usual early trip to the gym reveals an earthshaking surprise - both spas are drained and have "closed for maintenance" signs posted. It is a day of indolence, cards, books and champagne. Frankly, none of our group can remember many specifics so we believe we drifted through the day in a pleasant haze.
Day 7 Valdez No time for the gym, we were off for a whitewater rafting adventure on the Lowe River. Our outfitter, Keystone, was friendly, professional and fun. Guides helped with every aspect of the preparation and we boarded 3 rafts for an hour run down 4.5 miles of the Class 2-3 rapids. There were too many stupendous waterfalls to count and everyone got splashed at least once. It was a fun, affordable and beautiful excursion! Our school bus driver, Mike, gave us a mini-tour of Valdez on the return trip and pointed out a "bar of local color". We begged for and received an immediate discharge from the bus to burst into the Valdez Club. There were two grizzled men and a "rode hard" lady barkeep present. Andy Day, III, a longshoreman and native Alaskan, cursed us roundly as tourists then bought us a round of drinks. For about 90 minutes, we regaled each other with jokes, lies, foul language and more drinks. We were introduced to fresh halibut fingers in beer batter which were mouthwateringly good. Why couldn't our ship get some fresh fish like this? Our on-board ship fish selections have been gruesome thus far. Andy promised to see us off as he was the longshoreman responsible for untying the aft end of the ship. We tossed him a couple of VO miniatures and hope to see his promised shipment of halibut. We are going to return BBQ ribs. This is a good time to talk about cabin service for both mini-suite and suite. We both had challenges initially maintaining a supply of ice and glasses. Every amenity is "on request" and apparently "requests" walk the plank at midnight. One particularly humorous instance involves complimentary canapes for suite holders. Our traveling friends tried to phone in an order and were told that a menu form (not available in the room) had to be used. Subsequently, the form was delivered and submitted but rejected because there was only 5.5 hours notice. Next day, the form was submitted by the deadline so, promptly at 4 p.m., six single canapes were delivered for our little private sail away party. All of the canapes were dried and bread rounds were stale, obviously sitting prepared for hours. That was the first and last canape order but several subsequent stale deliveries continued. Both couples found cabin service to be inconsistent as to delivery of ice, forms and glasses. The suite folks requested 2 extra pillows that took 2 days for delivery. Both cabins were cleaned spotlessly each day indicating that only special requests created confusion. I was lying in bed last night and noted pieces of paper stuck under the ceiling and wall panels. Closer inspection and removal revealed the strategically placed wads of paper prevented panels from rattling. Thank you, prior travelers, for your assistance! Day 8 Seward It was up early to the gym, while my wife recovered from a losing bout with B+B. I grabbed some fried eggs with spritely salsa from the buffet and later found our female traveler friend visited the buffet for the first time - good experience. We left the ship at 10:30 and grabbed a taxi for an hour charter in Seward - $50 for the highlights. The driver had to stretch but we got to visit a salmon stream with weirs as well as all the major attractions. We stopped at Thorn's Showcase Theatre for cold beer and great halibut fingers then caught the shuttle coach to the ship. Lunch was decent but service was a disaster. We were seated over 15 minutes before being greeted. There were only 30-40 people in the dining room at 1:15 p.m. but service was slow and sporadic in spite of half a dozen staff members standing about. Afternoon was naps and Spades then happy hour at 5:15 p.m. with the famous 007 martini from ADI. Dinner menu was strong with accolades on the onion soup, halibut and orange duck - sauce on the side. Captain Stephano chose an unusual route from Seward to Kodiak due to the great weather and calm seas. It was a beautiful transit! Thank you, Captain!
Day 9 Kodiak It was a usual start of gym and breakfast followed by a minor miracle - the spas were in service! I climbed in for a 30 minute soak before our group departed the ship with the specific goal of chartering a float plane or helicopter to find sea lions, brown bears and sea otters as well as any other living things. We hopped on a school bus for a shuttle to town to find that there was a $6 per person shuttle charge imposed by the ever dollar vigilant Princess. Next stop was the Kodiak Visitors Center that was staffed with helpful and accommodating folks who quickly came up with a recommendation of Island Air Service that had a float plane special. I called Olivia who negotiated a guaranteed bear sighting flight for $226 per person that included a 2 hour air tour. Amy picked us up, carried us to Safeway Liquor for some cold beer and installed us on a Cessna 206 float plane with an entertaining young pilot - Dan - one of a set of twins. We took off and had a great time sighting three brown bears (one huge), landing in the midst of a sea otter "raft" and multiple close-up sightings of every other creature we sought. We returned to the ship too late for lunch but enjoyed cheeseburgers, hot dogs and bratwurst at the BBQ. The sandwiches were cooked to order and the fries were crisp. The only downside to the day was that the spas were again "closed for maintenance". My inquiry to a deck attendant was met with the response "water is bad".
Day 10 At Sea Transit south to Juneau. It was a lazy day of sleeping late, gym, dining, cards and cocktails. We played Spades and dice in Tahitian Lounge and sat through an Art Auction. What a folly! Several pieces of "art" went for $1 or $10. One serious piece, and I use the term loosely, went for the minimum. The art director had all the attributes of a used car salesman. It is positively amazing that Princess would engage in this peddling sham. The free champagne, too nasty to drink, drew a crowd of 11 by our count. Formal night was disrupted by rough seas and spewing passengers. Menu was nothing special.
Day 11 Juneau Normal start - spas are working but pool is drained - no towel service. Juneau is the best equipped tourist trap on the itinerary with hundreds of tourist shops in downtown area. We hired a car and traveled to Mendenhall Glacier which was interesting, beautiful and impressive. A short city tour followed and we were done in 90 minutes. Returned to the ship for a good lunch, nap, cards, soak, dinner and reading. One interesting phenomenon not previously mentioned is the not infrequent sounding of the general announcement gong followed by - silence or static? This happens about 3-4 times per day - leaving puzzled passengers shaking their heads. The "boy who cried wolf" story entered my mind.
Day 12 Sitka Usual start - tendered into Sitka. It is a great little town with retail on one end and Totem Park and Fish Hatchery on the other - a nice walk! The fish hatchery was especially unique as visitors are allowed to touch the many ocean bottom crawlers on display in shallow tanks. Wife found a mink wrap at best price on total cruise - $79.99 at the Fur Factory. Returned for late lunch - very good selection. Dinner was okay and then played Blackjack until 11 p.m. - both lost.
Day 13 At Sea A leisurely day - spa, gym, cards, lunch, reading. Took our blow-up friend Sally to dinner to meet Maitre de Hotel Lorenzo who was delighted while many other dinner guests either failed to notice or ignored Sally's presence. Finally, at the conclusion of dinner, several people came by to laugh and look. Lorenzo termed the prank as brilliant and moved Sally to his small office behind the host stand. One of our party finished with a casino disaster playing 3 card poker and blackjack.
Day 14 Victoria The early part of the day was spent in gym, spa soak, cards and a nice lunch. We arrived in Victoria, a prior 2-day stop for both couples, and hired a delightful driver/guide with a classic Daimler limo - $100 for city tour. Greg was well versed, loquacious guide and did a fantastic job introducing us to the lovely attributes of Victoria. We chose to dine on ship - very good except for the Tom Turkey and Stuffing. They just do not get it.
Day 15 Early arrival in Vancouver for disembarkation which was handled smoothly and efficiently. Less
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