We booked this cruise more than a year in advance, when we were aboard the Star, cruising the Eastern Mediterranean (Oct., 2010). Our first experience with the Star wasn't good (there's a review covering it), but we booked this Future Cruise in the second day, we could not anticipate the problems we had - if we did, we wouldn't have booked it, for shure.
But we kept the reservations up, and then we flew into Venice this December, 2011, to our second cruise aboard the Star Princess. We were excited because it would be the first cruise after the Star had a 30-day dry dock period. We kept a Cruise Log here at CC and many of the facts and opinions here below were first decribed there. By the way, regarding to cruising after a dry dock period, we deeply agree with an user who said he never cruises right after a dry dock, for there's always unfinished work during the cruise. True, and we learned it the worst way.
EMBARKATION - Check-in at Venice harbor was quick. Ok, this cruise was only 70% full, there were no lines (only at X-ray scanners) but time spent at the counter was minimal - everything was ready and we made our way to our stateroom in few minutes.
STATEROOM - As I said, we booked this cruise when we were aboard this same Ship, so we asked for the same stateroom - B326. I have to point out that we've done it with 14 months in advance, This also means that Princess knew, with 14 months in advance, that cabin B326 would be occupied in December 2011, right after dry dock. So, it was a bad surprise when we saw a tecnician still working in the communication system at cabin B326 - things were not ready, yet! With so much time in advance, how could Princess assign us to a cabin that they knew was not fully functional?
The tecnician left, minutes after, without saying a word. TV was working, but phone was off. In the following two days (At Sea and Dubrovnik), we had that same tecnician coming to our cabin many times, trying to fix the system. We could not have an afternoon nap. And, needless to say, things didn't work. We could not place a wake-up call and we lost a shore excursion at Corfu, the following day. After that, we demanded a solution from Passenger Services, and then they moved us to another cabin... B330, right next door!!!!!!!! They could have done it since the beginning of the cruise, that cabin was empty!!!!!!!!!!!!! Reminder: never take an after dry-dock cruise again.
FOOD - We had a great dining experience during our 2010 cruise and that repeated this year. We had fixed seating at Amalfi, we had great service from our Italian Waiter and from our Portuguese Head Waiter. They made everything to keep us satisfied (we were 4 people in a family trip) and they were responsible for the best moments onboard. Food quality and presentation were excellent. On the other hand, our experience at Sabatini's Specialty Restaurant wasn't worth the $$$ they charged. Believe it or not, dining at Amalfi was a far better experience than doing it at Sabatini's. It's a don't go. We didn't go to the other Specialty Restaurant - Crown Grill. Everytime we crossed it's door when it was opened, we got "smoked" - there's obviously a problem with smoke exhaustion, there. And they just came from dry dock...
Another good food experience was the Horizon Court Buffet, better than last year. Prego Pizza wasn't that good. Burgers and Hot Dogs at Trident Grill kept good quality.
For those who are wine lovers, please consider the Vines Bar, deck 5 midships. They had a nice staff, there, and very good service. Hope they kept them.
ENTERTAINEMENT - I believe that a Trans Oceanic cruise is a challenge to any Cruise Director. Things are different when you have ports of call every one or two days, but a six-day crossing... I have to confess that I'm fed up with those onboard, Broadway-style, after dinner shows. They are the same, no matter the ship, no matter the company. What else do we have? Line dance classes, bingo, trivia - that's entertainemet (?). The most original thing we had was a (very good) guy doing freestyle bike presentations right at The Piazza, deck 5 - a very tiny space. We also had Flamenco Dance presentations. And one Under the Stars party. But this was a 16-day cruise...
PORTS OF CALL - Dubrovnik, Corfu, Tunis, Malta, Gibraltar, Recife and Rio. This is a beautiful itinerary. My personal considerations are:
Dubrovnik: don't book the Brandy Tasting/Cavtat/Old Town tour if you're not an extreme brandy lover. The Brandy Tasting session, although located in a beautiful place, is far, then you'll spent a lot of time in Cavtat (it's only a photo-spot small city) and, in the end, you won't have enough time to visit the Old Town (it's a World Heritage!).
Corfu: lost our shore excursion. Skipped.
Tunis: we've been in Tunis during our last cruise. It was my first experience in Northern Africa and I didn't like it. Anyway, I gave Tunis another try. Worthless. Princess could move this stop to another place - Morocco, for example.
Malta: we've also been there, a year ago, and we loved coming back. Our tour was for wine lovers (and we are) - the Meridiana Winery wine tasting. We brought very good Maltese wines. Wandering at the waterfront, by the harbour, for a cold beer and some souvenirs were a nice option for the pre-"back on board" moments.
Gibraltar: we went to Europa point and to the top of the Rock, by cable car. Nice views, from both. We also visited the Great Siege Tunnels. Interesting - a lot of history and good photos.
Recife: as a Brazilian citizen, I'd prefer stopping at Salvador. Recife is not ready to receive cruiseship passengers with comfort. The ship docks at a cargo terminal and the surroundings are old and dirty.
SERVICE - Star Princess crew was very warm, throughout the cruise. Ok, there will always be one or another in bad mood, but the overall impression was very good.
CLEANLINESS - even after a dry-dock, there are many points that still show rust stains and other marks. Despite this, the ship is kept clean all the time - there's always somebody keeping things bright.
DEBARKATION - as fast as Embarkation. No lines, no rush. Good job.
Now, packing for the Sapphire Princess Hawaii from LA cruise. It's only 70 days away...