We just got home from our 32 (29!) day cruise on the Star Princess that was supposed to be a dream vacation and ended up being anything but - penguins and going around Cape Horn were the reasons we booked this cruise -- the only penguins I saw were in the gift shop - we didn't go to Punta Arenas, Falkland Islands or go around the Horn -- granted Princess couldn't predict the earthquake that happened on February 27, 3 days before our sailing date, but they certainly could have handled the situation better. With all the uncertainty they should have told us to stay home and we could have rebooked at another time. But Princess, thinking of their bottom line first and not their customers, insisted that everything was on schedule and for us to get down to Santiago and the ship was leaving on March 2 as scheduled.
We had a hard time getting there but were one of the lucky ones that had been scheduled on LAN Chile airlines - we managed to be rescheduled on the only flight out of LAX on March 1 going to Santiago (our original flight was early afternoon on March 1 but we got out of LAX at 5:55 pm). We had to stop in Lima on the way for a scheduled 45 minutes stop that ended up being almost 3 hours because we had to wait for clearance in Santiago. We'd been flying for 11 hours from LAX with a 5 hour time change and we were tired when we arrived in Santiago (we left Vancouver, BC at 6:30 am on March 1st arriving in Santiago midday on March 2nd) - only to find out from Destination Management personnel (no real Princess people were there) we weren't going to the ship but to a hotel for 2 nights at $180 US per night - the ship had to leave port and anchor in the harbour because of congestion in port and the tender dock was damaged and couldn't be used - we stood in the sun for over an hour, without any water, waiting for the buses to come to take us to the hotel - at the hotel we had little information available as to what was happening - finally the evening of March 3rd there was a sign saying we'd be leaving early March 4th and check with the DMC rep to get our bus assignments.
We left the hotel at 7:00 am (breakfast was at 5:30 am - it took a couple hours to get from Santiago to Valparaiso -- we got a mini tour because they weren't ready for us at the terminal for embarkation. The embarkation process in Valpariso was a joke - over an hour in the terminal building waiting for them to start the embarkation process which looked like a free for all (they could have done a better job manually and forgotten the computers) once they figured it out our priority line moved rather quickly but we didn't get key cards but were told we'd get them onboard - we were so relieved to get on the shuttle bus to get on the ship at 11:00 am because we'd been up so early and had a very early breakfast, we were hungry, thirsty and tired -- when we arrived at the ship we didn't get our key cards handed to us but we were coralled in the Capri Restaurant - after 5 hours we finally were called to get our key cards (this was 4:00 pm) - there were trays of sandwiches and drinks brought in periodically but they were swarmed when they arrived and many people didn't get anything to eat - we rejoiced when we got our cards and went to the cabin only to find our people were already in our room - back to another area to wait for another hour for another key card - we finally got into our cabin at 6:00 pm - we bounced around in the harbour until just after 9:00 pm when we finally set sail. They kept blaming the earthquake for the disruption but they had 2 days floating in the harbour waiting for us to get onboard and they still royally screwed things up -- the mismanagement and dysfunctionality onboard had nothing to do with the earthquake because it was there the whole 29 days we were onboard.
The next adventure was trying to find our luggage -- we finally found 2 pieces at 7:30 am the next morning outside the cabin we were supposed to be in 2 decks up -- the 3rd piece arrive around 11:30 am at our new cabin. It took 2 days of standing in line to get our proper key cards, to get our platinum status back and for the internet system to recognize we were passengers.
We sailed straight to Ushuaia, Argentina, which we really enjoyed - the scenery going through Magellan Strait was beautiful and we figured we were going to have smooth sailing from then on. We went to Montevideo and then to Buenos Aires - we had issues with our key cards and had to have them replaced at both ports when the machines wouldn't accept them for re-entry.
The day before we arrived in Rio de Janeiro our room steward informed us we were moving cabins -- with everything that had happened to date (I've left out a lot of the little stuff or I'd be writing a book!) this wasn't well received. I went back down to Passenger Services to find out what was going on and was informed that someone was coming into our cabin in Rio and the head office send orders for us to move - I lost it and told her I didn't care who the order came from that we weren't moving - someone was in our cabin when we arrive onboard. She said Nicholas would call me to discuss it -- I'm still waiting today for him to call and I didn't move cabins!
We got a notice that we had to go to the Vista lounge at 7:30 am the morning we arrived in Rio de Janeiro to clear customs -- was a zoo, it took over 2 hours to get our small group through Brazilian customs, the "organizer" told us he expected some respect when he had screwed up the whole process.
Another example of the attitude adopted by the staff - on one of the many formal nights my husband decided he didn't want to wear his wool jacket as it was too warm - we have never had a problem with him going to the dining room with a dress shirt on with no tie before (this was our 13th cruise with Princess) - we were a party of 4 and 3 of us headed off to our table but they stopped my husband and told him he couldn't join us because he didn't have a jacket and tie. They were not very pleasant about it and it caused some embarrassment. There were others we noticed later in the restaurant that didn't have jackets and the head waiter at the door said that someone hadn't done their job by letting them in. We later talked to the Customer Relations staff they said there shouldn't have been a problem and that they'd look into it.
Overall, this was the worst cruise we've been on with Princess - we realize that Princess couldn't have prevented the earthquake but they could have handled the situation a lot better. Many of the issues later in the cruise had nothing to do with the earthquake, it was just poor management and bad attitudes of the staff. I read many bad reports about issues on the Star Princess before leaving on this trip and I, as many do, figured it was just people being nitpickers but after being on the Star Princess they really do need to change the top staff onboard and work from the top down to correct the mismanagement and poor communication skills.
The staff at the Customer Relations desk tried their best to help passengers but their "bosses" were nowhere to be found -- they took a lot of abuse from some passengers that had just reached the end of their ropes. It would have been better if some of the higher level managers came out and tried to explain what was wrong instead of hiding behind the poor front end.
The Captain didn't even come to the Captain's Circle Party for the Valparaiso to Rio portion - the excuse was that he couldn't leave the bridge because of some fog - we were told he had an excellent crew - I'm sure they could have handled the bridge for 20 minutes so he could at least have made a short appearance - did he not sleep or eat for the whole day we had fog? Many felt he was scared to show up in case people wanted some answers.
Being one of the few that managed to get on the ship on the 4th after arriving in Santiago on the 2nd - I feel that our group was the smallest for Princess to piss off so they catered to the remainder of the previous cruise plus the few that got on the ship on the 2nd and then to the new passengers coming on in Rio.
The whole point of booking this cruise was to see penguins and go around the Horn - none of which happened. We are planning to try again and go to the Antarctic but its doubtful that we'll book through Princess. We have been faithful Princess cruisers for 18 years and have recommended Princess to many of our friends and acquaintances. I think its time we looked around.