Star Princess Cruise Review by WWLL: A Truly Wonderful Voyage
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A Truly Wonderful Voyage
The pictures are at http://www.pbase.com/wwll/4con It was the worst prelude to a trip I've ever had - 30 hours without electricity! I even had to go to the gym at 2 am to shower in hot water before I left.
Venice was bright and sunny when I arrived. I booked a boat directly from the airport to San Marco but it was a long walk to the wharf. After I got off the boat I had to cross two short bridges which now thankfully have ramps for rolling suitcases.
The Hotel Campiello is a real gem. There is a chandelier in the room. The shower has multiple heads and sprays all over. But the room was tiny so I had to unpack everything and stow the suitcase. I was three alleys east of the Palace of the Doges and 50 meters from the Grand Canal and vaporetto stations. At the big vaporetto stations there are multiple piers. There is an electronic board that tells you which pier to go to for the next ride. Very civilized.
The Hotel Campiello staff More was real helpful. They made dinner reservation for me and told me about an excellent wine shop nearby.
Following Rick Steves's suggestion, I had dinner at Antica Sacrestia. It was just around the corner from the Hotel Campiello. I had the three-course tourist menu. My first course was lasagna. It was a huge portion. The mixed fried seafood was the best I ever had. The batter is not even visible. The various seafoods were perfectly done. I had a half bottle of Pinot Blanc house wine for 12 euros. I had just one bite of the custard dessert. It seemed like every table spoke a different language but this is no tourist trap. It was very nice.
From Hotel Campiello I walked the 50 meters to the San Zaccaria vaporetto station and took vaporetto 5.2 which left me directly underneath the People Mover. It was a short walk to the baggage drop-off point. Check-in did not begin until 12 noon and I thought it was clumsy. I was in my balcony at about 1 pm. I went back to Piazza Roma to buy a bottle of wine.
The Star Princess
The Star Princess was in dry dock in Trieste, Italy for three weeks before our cruise. All the staff had stayed on board. There are new appointments such as our cruise director Frank.
The ship is a living and complex system so it was not too surprising that after three weeks in dry dock it still has little problems. Overall it was in very good condition.
I had a surprise upgrade to a balcony. The room itself is the same size as an interior but the floor-to-ceiling windows makes it extra nice. My steward Jose from Portugal was very attentive.
The capacity of the Star Princess is 2600 but on this cruise there were only 1055 passengers. This makes the passenger-crew ratio 1:1. It is very pleasant never having to wait for anything.
I thought the food was just so so. There were occasional extra nice meals but for the most part the dining room fare was mediocre. In my pictures I show one particularly nice meal. The soups and breads are fantastic on this cruise.
Because there were so few passengers, at first there was only one anytime dining room open and half of Horizon Court was closed. I had all my dining room meals at Portofino.
There is a new layout at Horizon Court. Desserts and breads are served on a separate island from the main part. Now there are essentially eight different lines so no long lines. Sometimes the food at Horizon Court can be better than the main dining room.
Crown Grill is the new addition after the dry dock. It is on Deck 6 midship and it features an open kitchen. Just walking by you can see the kitchen in action. The cover charge is $25. A group of seven of us tried the Crown Grill one night. The server took a while to get to us. Then he introduced the meats. I made the Mussel Pot my first course. It is a huge order which would be a main course in Europe. The sauce was excellent. However 5 of the mussels would not open. My second course was the Black and Blue Onion Soup. It was one of the most intensely flavorful soup I ever had. For the main course I had the rack of lamb, eight ribs. The outside of the meat was a mustard and rosemary crust. I asked the rack not be cut so that I can cut it myself. It was excellent. I provided a 2007 Camins del Priorat by Alvaro Palacios. It went very well. As a diabetic I do not eat dessert but I had the sampler. The rest of the table rushed to photograph the beautiful presentation. I did like the one bite of the cheesecake.
Vines is a wine bar on deck 5. One day I had a glass of white wine and two plates of tapas which were complimentary. I really like the idea.
I used the gym almost every day. Most all of the machines were working and needed repairs are made promptly, which is rare on ships. The sauna and steam rooms are very nice. The changing rooms were overflowing with thick towels. The showers are a little bigger than the shower in my room.
For such a long cruise the Star Princess had nice entertainment. There were four production shows. They had four singers who also danced. There were two apprentice singers. The production shows had a sameness to them. From beginning to end they sang at the top of their lungs. There was no crescendos.
The best was flutist Bettina Clemen. She plays several flutes and show videos of herself playing for animals. She did a total of three shows. I enjoyed them all.
Caroline Harris is a classical pianist who also sings. She was very good too.
Music was everywhere. Often an Argentine tango group played in the atrium.
This is my first encounter with Movies Under the Stars. This is a giant screen at the outdoor swimming pool. The contrast is good enough to see during sunlight. However, the noise around me made it difficult to hear the dialogue. At night blankets are provided. I never made the effort to take in an entire movie.
Our first port of the cruise was Dubrovnik. Princess offered a shuttle for US$15 round trip to Old Town. I got off the ship, found an ATM and bought 2 local bus tickets for 20 kunas, about US$4. The bus got me to the Pile Gate of Old Town, just like the shuttle. It was bright and sunny so I got a ticket for the City Walls, 70 kunas. But I apparently took the wrong entrance and found myself in a very steep climb in the northerly direction. So I came down and walked the Placa, the main street of Old Town to the other end. I did some internet, had a beer and went back to the ship.
I went to a money changer and tried to change the remaining kunas. I got some euros but they do not change into US$!
The Star Princess docked at a container port and Corfu had complimentary bus rides from the ship to the entry of the port. From there I caught Bus No. 16 into town, 1.5 euros each way. Most of Corfu was closed for the tourist season. After a short walk I found the Museum of Asian Art. It has a surprisingly good collection of Chinese art. Two men who started buying towards the end of the 19th century donated their collections. You might agree if you look at my pictures.
There were some nice bargains, like a belt for three euros.
When I got back to the port I found that I had lost my key card. I had to be escorted from the port to the ship in a Mercedes.
We had a spectacular entry into the Grand Harbour in a sunny day. One can see all the centuries old buildings from the ship.
I went with a tour organized by our Cruise Critic group. Amy, our guide, was excellent. First we went up to a fort high above the Grand Harbour to look back at the Star Princess. We drove out to Mdina, a fortress where some of the old families have their mansions. Malta has distinctive architecture. Houses have blue doors and a small balcony over the door. The balcony is to see who is at the door. The main door have openings through which one can see a courtyard with a tall tree. It was Sunday and we dropped into a church with a service going on for only a couple of minutes.
In Malta all the signs are in English although the official language is Maltese which stems from Phoenician.
Towards the end of the day we went to a fishermen's wharf. It was interesting to see local life other than the glitzy parts.
Amy says tourism has declined and now the economy depends on high finance. Is Malta the Cayman of the Med?
Entry into La Goulette, the port for Tunis, is a very long channel. There was real confusion about entry into Tunisia. We had to use our passports for entry and had to fill out a form.
I was on an all-day Princess tour. We had a very excited tour guide. He was literally yelling, about us coming and about Tunisia becoming a democracy. After a half-hour drive we were at where the jasmine revolution took place a year ago. There were still some demonstrators camped out. There was minimal police presence. Driving through Tunis I saw vendors on the streets selling toilet paper. That reminded me of seeing old ladies selling used plastic bags in Russia ten years ago.
We walked to the Medina, an old-fashioned shopping mall. Here you can buy anything from jewelry to perfume to everyday needs. We stopped in a perfumery. That was fun. Next we walked to The Chateau of the Medina. This is a department store. They sell everything that a tourist might want. After drinking sugary mint tea, we were shown piles of carpets. From my eye, most of these were machine made. In another showroom they sell everything from tiles to clothing. One woman wanted a shawl. The asking price was 750 dinars. She got it for 50.
The highlight of the day was certainly the Bardo Museum. Here one sees wall after wall of Roman mosaics. Some are complete while others are missing small parts. Some of us wondered if we should be walking on these mosaics.
By now it was 2 pm and we drove to Carthage. We had a five course lunch which was not very filling. The restaurant was next to Hadrian Aqueduct, 132 kilometers long to supply water to Tunis and over 2000 years old.
Carthage turned out to be a disappointment. There was just a little bit of ruins visible. The nearby Roman bath was more extensive.
I cornered the guide and asked him what does the future hold for Tunisia. Where does future development come from. They do not have oil, though they have plenty of sand. A country of 10 million does not offer much in terms of labor. He replied he does not know. They are trying to sort this out. They first have to learn how to trust each other in a democratic society. Middle aged, he voted for the first time this year.
From my balcony on starboard I had a terrific view of our approach to Gibraltar and watched a 109000-ton ship being parked inch-by-inch. I walked into town and just bummed around. Local buses are free. I walked the length of Main Street and at last found the wine shop. Main Street is full of liquor stores but only this one serious wine store. I bought four bottles of Spanish wine which I greatly enjoyed.
Gibraltar is a little like Hong Kong Island. It is hilly and rocky. Streets are narrow. Gibraltar is now the last British colony.
After Gibraltar we entered the Atlantic Ocean and we were immediately hit by a major storm. For 12 hours the ship rocked and rolled. The second day in the Atlantic we heard announcements called dishwasher so and so to report. Soon the captain was making the announcements. At noon the captain came on and said this dishwasher is missing, and we are doubling back to try and find him. The ship backtracked at high speed. A little later the captain said tapes of closed-circuit TV showed the man had jumped. We spent another six hours searching but found nothing.
Two days later at 12:30 am the ship lost power partially. The announcement woke me. Electricity was restored shortly.
After six days at sea we all wanted to stand on terra firma. There was a free shuttle from the ship into town. I immediately found a Citibank and got some reals. I walked into town in search of internet. After much searching I found one. Recife is a third-world city. The nice looking water is smelly and full of garbage. While in Brazil one has to have coffee so I stopped in DeltaEspresso and had a cap. I should have stopped here first because there was free WiFi.
All nice things must come to an end. This voyage ended in Rio. Less
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