Our Mediterranean cruise aboard the Star Princess was an amazing experience! We are an active, healthy couple in our early sixties and this trip was our first cruise and visit to Europe. We have waited 40 years to visit Europe, and the Star Princess cruise and our European adventure were both as great as we hoped!
The Star Princess experience was excellent in every respect! The attentiveness and high level of customer exhibited by each crew member was actually astounding to me since customer service is so dismal and decining in the US, at least! Our Steward in balcony stateroom C209 and our Traditional Seating waiter and assistant were the best! Our requests were consistently and quickly granted. For example, ice was in our room every day without a reminder and our room cleaned quickly and promptly. And unfailingly cheerful in the face of a lot of banter from our table of 6. Ignacio always gave us excellent menu tips and recommendations and frequently brought us extra tastes of various menu items, particularly chocolate since we expressed our addiction often!
The ship was in excellent condition and the common areas kept sparkling. Although the two main pool areas were usually crowded during the day, I always could find a deck chair facing the sea,, my preference, in the sun or shade. The embarkation, disembarkation and land tour off-loading processes were amazingly easy - very well organized and did not take much time at all, considering the 2600 plus passengers! Since this cruise stopped each morning for the day at a different Med port with popular excursion options, there were hundreds of us taking tours each day. The passenger demographics were probably more in the older age range, but just barely - plenty of families with young children and teen-agers - and plenty for them to do too. More passengers from Great Britain and Canada then US -many from Australia as well -overall a nice mix and it was very easy to find "child-free" locations aboard ship for quiet relaxation.
Since we picked a Med cruise to see the historical sites on the Greek Islands and Italy, we took a Princess tour almost every day and each one was excellent - (we walked the wall in Dubrovnik ourselves) The disembarking process were smooth each time with no confusion or long waits. Other US companies could learn how to handle crowds and lines from Princess! Each tour guide was pleasant and extremely knowledgeable - and of course the historical sites - Olympic Stadium, Acropolis, Delos, Pompeii, not to mention all of Venice and Rome are must-see places to visit. Of course everyplace was really crowded since this was July - but the only place that the crowds really got in the way was Santorini - the narrow little streets in Fia were just choked with visitors from several cruise lines. But the Santorini views are not to be missed!
Outlined below are some specific comments prompted by my first time cruiser experience and my reading of past Cruise Critic comments. While we each have our own particular likes and dislikes, I'll add my two-cents worth to some of the popular topics discussed on CC.
Princess vs private excursions - we went with Princess because as a first timer I felt they would be more reliable and certainly easier to arrange! We were not disappointed - the guides were extremely knowledgeable of the sites and ancient history, the buses were air-conditioned and comfortable, and we arrived back on time for our evening sailing every day! This is not a small detail, since several times the Captain commented as we were leaving port that some passengers were not yet aboard! Since the "Port Review" section does not allow for more then 8 ports I will add here that Santorini and Pompeii are also not to be missed - Pompeii is truly incredible - and the Princess tours are excellent!! As noted elswhere, Santorini was really crowded and the line for the cable car down to the tender was a 40 minute wait so I walked those 700 steps - very hot and crowded with donkeys and their droppings - but beat my companions who waited in line! I would book Princess excursions again - I guess if you are a very experienced traveler private tours or going in on your own might be preferable, however. We did use RomeInLimo for a one day Rome tour, where we stayed for 3 days after the cruise. RIL is an excellent as advertised - our driver Mauro and Vatican guide Aurora were excellent - make sure to book Vatican guide through RIL and purchase your Coliseum and Vatican tickets via internet before you go - you really do avoid the line this way! In Venice we walked around on our own and loved Venice - however I did a walking tour of St. Marks which was great and avoided lines - and we did a gondola tour booked though our hotel which was also great - at first I thought it would be too cheesy - but you get too experience the smaller, back canals and gondolier expertise is amazing! (Hotel Bartolomeo - small, inexpensive, great staff)
What to Bring - we each packed one large bag and one carryon - the latter more as a safeguard against lost luggage or delayed bag delivery. The latter did happen because our room was upgraded and changed last minute and I forgot to change the number on the luggage tags provided by Princess. So because we had carryons with a few changes of clothes, including "smart casual" clothes for dinner - we were fine. In general I probably packed about 5 or 6 more outfits then I needed because I didn't wear everything twice- but that's what women do! I thought the 2 formal nights were a great chance to dress up and a couple of cocktail /shoes and coat/slacks and couple of dress shirts do not take up that much room! Since we went off the ship for each of the 10 ports, we needed more "touring" clothes (capris/shorts/tee shirts, etc.) then one would need for a stay on the ship type of cruise.
Dining/Food - we chose the early traditional seating in the Capri dining room and it was fine - a little early at 5:30 pm, but not crowded on the other hand, and we were done early enough to catch the 8 pm shows! Plus we had a window table and enjoyed the sail-away each evening! I might try anytime dining next time, but I did notice that after about 6:30 pm there was a wait for a table. The food was consistently above average to excellent and there are so many choices it was easy to find something delicious every night! We tried both Sabatini's and the Crown Grill and they were both worth an extra $20 if you want to spend the $$- personally I liked the Crown Grill better - great steaks! For breakfast we got room service since we left on tours at 7 or 8 am every morning! It was simple (fruit/cereal/pastries) but satisfying and promptly delivered! For lunch if we were on board we went to the Horizon Ct. which was excellent for a buffet - a million choices it seemed - hot and cold. The dreaded "syrup" coffee isn't that bad - but we got the coffee card so we could have brewed at dinner. I was worried about eating too much, of course, and lost 5 lbs before the cruise in preparation! I ate very light at breakfast and lunch (salad bar!) so I could pig out at dinner and at the couple of lunches during tours (great Greek food everywhere!). My scheme worked better then expected - I came back half a pound lighter! Guess all that walking on tours paid off!