We booked a group of six on the Caribbean Princess. This was going to be our 3rd seven day cruise on the Caribbean Princess. We were aware that she just came out of dry dock and we were excited about all the new changes. The paperwork we received said boarding would start around 2:00 p.m., and we arrived from our flight about 1:45. When we got there, it was pretty confusing, and when we asked the baggage handlers which way to go they directed us to this one guy who was walking around handing out papers.
The piece of paper apologized for the delay, but it stated that they had just COMPLETED a multi-million dollar renovation on the Caribbean princess and just need a little more time to clean up and that we could board at 5:00. It said we should go to the convention center to wait. It was pretty confusing to figure out how and what, but we did and found the bus to the convention center. Please understand by this time no one is upset, a little confused and slightly disappointed from not getting to start their great vacation, but we and most of the passengers were patient, upbeat and took it in stride as just a minor inconvenience.
We entered the convention center and they gave us a number for the return trip to the dock. They checked us in we got a burger and we all sat a large table for the 3 hour wait. We got there earlier than some and there probably about 500 people there. There seemed to be ample food available then, but as hours went by and more people got there, the wait in the food line got up to 1 1/2 hours long and they ran out of food before some people got anything to eat.
They told us at 5:00 they would start calling groups by numbers and we would be taken back to the ship to board. (No Problem Right) We were group #4, by about 5:20 we were still standing in line to get on a bus. It wasn't organized, they called out 10 times as many people as they had buses available, they had absolutely no method, but it didn't take terribly long and you are looking forward to getting on the ship, so we still, at that point weren't really upset, but it was beginning to take its toll. By about 5:40 we were back at the dock.
When we got off the bus there were no Princess people in sight, just lines that looked like snakes of people and we had to figure out on our own where to go (with the help of all the very angry people in the line already). We stood in line about 2 ½ hours in a hot parking lot, with no shade, and no idea what we were doing or suppose to do. My husband has arthritic knees and for two days his right knee was sore and swollen and he was very limited in what he could do. There was gentleman in front of us in line that had a heart condition and his friend would hold his spot in line so he leave the line and go and sit under a nearby tree to rest. One of my brothers in law has back and leg problems from cancer radiation treatments and standing for long periods of time wreaks havoc on him. He really didn't recover from this the entire trip. It limited everything he could do. You are standing there not knowing if it going to be 5 more minutes or hours. If you get out of line, what do you do then? By this time we are hearing so many people complaining about how horribly this is being handled, but if the rest of the trip had gone better I think most could have all got past this. Please keep in mine, in these lines, were thousands of people, from elderly and disable people to moms holding babies for hours in a line.
I can't speak for the other people in line, just us, WE probably could have got past this had it not just got worse and worse. All this time, no information as to what, why or when. No Princess people telling anyone anything. We and thousands more, stood in a line that didn't move at all for at least the first hour and a half, not knowing if it was ever going to move, or what to do. Not a soul anywhere that appeared to work for Princess, nor anyone who knew anything about what was happening. What we latter surmised was that they obviously had all their people working on trying to get the ship ready and they dumped this on some San Juan tourism people who were totally overwhelmed, understaffed and unorganized. I guess Princess assumes it is not their problem if they keep you off the ship.
When we were finally on board I think around 8:30 Sunday night we noticed the ship was really HOT. We figured they didn't have all the generators running or something. By the 2nd day we were at sea and our cabin still had never seemed to get cool (My husband is a Contractor and he figured the temp was somewhere between 78 and 80 most of the time). The first 4 days, it didn't cool off in our cabin enough for us to go to sleep until about 2 a.m. The Palm dining room was so Hot you couldn't enjoy your dinner, you were sticky hot. The Ship was basically Hot everywhere, everyone was complaining, the passengers were always sweaty.
On to other problems my brother in law's stateroom didn't have hot water, so they had to take cold showers. When we went to the purser's desk to complain for the fourth time about the hot cabin, the hot ship and my brother in law not having hot water, a man standing next to us over heard us complaining and said he had to buy bottle water everyday to brush his teeth because he didn't have any cold water. The hot water problem was never fixed, but they learned if they ran they water in the shower for 45 minutes to an hour prior to using it, they could get some hot water. They would literally get up an hour before they had to, to start the shower to they would have some hot water in time to get ready.
Every time we would finally get through the service desk line to talk to a Princess employee they would tell us they would have our air checked again and that they weren't aware of any air conditioning problems. We noticed on the 4th time that the man we were talking to and the other people behind the counter were visibly perspiring at the time they were telling us they knew of no problems with air conditioning. I realized it was hotter at the passenger services desk than in our cabin. It is terrible that these people had to stand there hot and perspiring and lie to us saying they knew of no air conditioning problems on the ship, I am sure, because they were directed to do so.
At least every public ladies restroom had at least one toilet out of order the whole trip. My brother in laws' girlfriend was using one of the restrooms and a vent fell from the ceiling and hit her on the head.
The casino open 2 days late, the steakhouse never opened. They said they had the, so called, "up scale steakhouse", but just carried people to a table in the upstairs buffet area, (what a rip).
They were still working on the ship constantly while we were on it. It smelled like something burning in the atrium areas. We assumed it was welding. You couldn't use certain access areas. You would have to go up a floor, go over, then back down to get to a lot of areas. Basically no one on this ship, that are in any sort of management position employed by Princess, wanted to admit this ship was not ready for passengers and, very obviously, they were sternly directed to constantly say there were no problems. Working crew members however were much more forthcoming. Some would comment on the problems at great length and others were rude and ill to passengers. We assumed that was from the pressure they were under and the conditions they were forced to work in. Lucky for you, there are many outstanding crew members that did their very best to make the best of it and make sure we were cared for the best they could. We rewarded them accordingly. Although we heard a lot of people say they were not going to tip or tip as much. We felt our waiter and room steward went above and beyond, in the conditions they had to work in, and we rewarded them fully on our on board account and additionally outside that.
Everyday in the elevators and on the decks the conversation was how horrible this trip is. I overheard one couple on the deck saying with the economy this bad they should not have spent the money on this vacation. They said, "Maybe if this wasn't the cruise from hell they could excuse spending the money, but basically they just threw their money away". They made me think, if Princess is now treating customers this way in a bad economy, when you would think they really need passengers, how do they usually do business.
I know you can't always make everyone happy, but you would be hard pressed to find anyone who had ever been on a cruise and had anything to compare it to that was pleased on this trip. I talked with a family that had never cruised and they remarked that this was not what they expected from what friends and family had told them about cruising. We told them this was not what we had ever received in 18 cruises and we were sorry their first one had to be this. Regrettably this was our 3rd cruise on the Caribbean Princess, the only ship we have ever repeated, and we are guilty of recommending it highly in the past.
We have told hundreds of family, friends, acquaintances, and total strangers about our cruising experiences and have helped many of those arrange their first cruises. We have always said that of all our cruises, rated on a scale of 1 to 10 the worst was an 8 ½. We have never written a complaint. We have never rated anything on a ship below "good" or 4 out of 5 on their customer satisfaction survey and those were rare, almost always excellent. We rated this ship at the top in all categories including the food on our previous 2 sailings. This trip the food dropped to the lowest of any cruise we have been on. We are not sure if this is related to all these other problems or related to some new attitude that Princess has about customer service, but it was not up to previous levels. Mind you, it was not as bad as all these other issues, but it would not impress you, especially in the buffet areas. Some items in the dining room were really good and some were not. The soups, which are a particular favorite of my husband, were drastically below par. I don't think he finished a single bowl and many times just tasted and pushed it aside. The other problems on this cruise were so severe, I pondered whether to even mention the sub par food, since it was only somewhat below par and the rest of the ship was a catastrophe. The food did go from a 10+ to a 7. Understand we have never had a 7 before, but the rest of the ship rated about a 3 and we have never had anything we would rate below an 8 ½.
Finally we were getting off the ship. We booked a tour on board for San Juan, since our flight didn't leave until late. The tour lasted 4 hours and they said they would have us to the airport about 1 p.m. We were directed to a vacate dining room at 8 a.m. to await our tour, which we assumed needed to leave about 9 (four hours 9-1). Our luggage tags color wasn't called until right at 9, but we thought we were still fine, so several hundred of us filed out of the dining and were directed to go down a few flights of stairs to depart to the luggage and customs areas.
The stairs were packed with people going down (reminiscent of a life boat drill) except most were carrying luggage, so it was even more crowded, then suddenly with us about half way down the flights the line stopped. We had no idea why. No one told us anything and it was so crowded you could barely move. We were stuck there for nearly an hour on a flight of stairs, again standing up. My husband's knees were hurting, but the gentleman beside us that had had knee replacement surgery and was walking with a cane was even worse. He was in severe pain standing there that long. You couldn't get through to go down or up and if you did you didn't know what to do. When it finally moved and we got to bottom of the stairs, there was a Princess Officer in a white uniform and we asked what the problem was. He told us customs had held things up. When we got to the luggage and got a porter we asked about the delay and he said they and customs had been waiting an hour before Princess let anyone off the ship. We asked the customs officer and he said, "Absolutely not". He said they waited an hour before Princess let anyone off. We told him that the Princess people were blaming customs and he was not pleased. He said several things, but he was not pleased that he and the other officers had stood there that long waiting and then were blamed for Princess' problem. For us it just added insult to injury.
We were on the Royal Caribbean Adventure of the Seas sailing from San Juan just 4 months prior to this. Same airport, same town, same customs. There weren't any of these problems. It was very nice, but we really looked forward to the Caribbean Princess because, from past history, we rated it even better the Adventure of the Seas. Were we ever wrong! They made Princess look like lying, blundering, uncaring amateurs. No actually Princess made Princess look like lying, blundering, uncaring amateurs. I shouldn't put that on the nice folks at Royal Caribbean.
Bottom line, had Princess offered a very discounted cruise and said this is a cruise to finish the ships final touches fix any problems and basically do an experimental trip maybe you would say you received what you paid for. But instead this is a ship that, other than Puerto Rican residents, everyone had to fly to San Juan to board. As you know, this cruise itself was very pricey, not to mention the airfare to San Juan to go on this ship. You can't help but feel you woefully didn't get nearly what you paid for, because hopefully if you were to go on this ship two months from now, the air conditioning would work, ALL the public amenities would be available for you to enjoy, the crew would not be in such a bad mood and you would not feel like you were being lied to constantly and you could basically have a nice vacation.
If you want one final note, we went on this ship intending to book another cruise on board on the Emerald Princess for October 2009. Cruising again on Princess is not likely for us. From what we heard from most everyone on board, they will never cruise Princess again or let anyone they know cruise Princess again.
We understand the world is not perfect and things are going to happen, but the best test of a company is how they handle adversary and problems, not how they do it when things are good. So far in this experience, it is apparent that Princess is only interested in collecting fares. No regard for your customer's welfare, health, comfort and obviously none for the value you deliver.
I truly think the one thing that made the most people on this ship the angriest, was the constant denial by the management that there were any problems. People would go to the service desk to report the problems and on the way hear dozens of people discussing how many times they had complained, stand at the service desk and hear other people in front of you report similar problems and then have the personnel tell you they had heard of no other problems. Treating nice people like they were absolute idiots. This absolutely had to be dictated from upper management. These nice people were their customers.
Among the many other things, Princess should be deeply ashamed for such disregard for the customers that have made them what they are and who trusted them.