I would like to preface this review with the fact that we have been loyal patrons of Princess since 2001 and this was our second cruise with Princess in 2011. I personally began cruising with Carnival Corp in the early 90's. After the experience we has this time, we will not be back and will dissuade our friends and colleagues from going on any Princess Cruises in the future. My husband and I vacation to escape our very stressful jobs fortune 50 companies.... This vacation caused even more stress than our day to day careers. I will not complain about norovirus, the weather nor the seas - none of those things can be controlled without cancelling the cruise. Rather, the below outlines the way things were handled and the stressful experience we encountered.
Since this review is lengthy, I would like to summarize my complaints up front: Our issues are with the captain and his crew, the food and the excursions. Also, due to the virus outbreak, we were unable to enjoy our open balcony at calm times in fear of being vomited upon. We purchased a mini-suite with an uncovered balcony.
Also, I noticed the CDC did not have the Crown Princess information on their site for the cruise dates of 12/10-12/17, 12/17-12/24, and 12/25-1/1. Considering the email we received prior to boarding and the handout given to us on board which cited the CDC, the CDC should have something on their site and they do not. http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/vsp/surv/GIlist.htm#2011
We set sail on the Crown Princess 12/17-12/24. Norovirus hit the cruise before us and a large amount of people on our cruise fell ill as well. While I sincerely appreciate the caution the crew took, the crew was obviously not prepared for what was to come.
The day we arrived we were told boarding would begin at 2:00 or 2:30 PM. When we arrived at the terminal we were sent to the convention center where we had to sit for over two hours. The convention center's air conditioning was cranked up so high we had to wear our winter coats to stay comfortable.
We were not even 2 feet into the piazza when we were told to hurry to our cabin to begin the muster drill. Maritime law, per many of the crew, dictates the captain has 24 hours to do the drill and no one understood why the captain opted to do it immediately. Based on this information, many of the passengers were very mad that they were not even given the time to get oriented. We were in the Princess Cays the next morning - could we not have done the drill once everyone had tendered back to the ship? We left the dock late on the 17th, which allowed for plenty of time to do the drill the next day. ("By international law, a passenger muster drill must be conducted by the ship within 24 hours of departure, but many cruise lines choose to conduct the drill before the ship departs port for the first time. It is the responsibility of the crew to ensure that a muster drill is held, and that every passenger and crew member is aware that it is being held. If a muster drill cannot be held, a report in the log book must be made stating the circumstances." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muster_drill)
Our luggage made it to our cabin at 8PM, so we were not able to dress for dinner and therefore we ate at the buffet. What a complete nightmare. Although the crew was trying very hard, it was obvious they were not prepared for the onslaught of passengers. We had to stand in line for 45 minutes to get to the entrance and it took another 20 to maneuver thru the buffet. Way too much waiting caused tempers to flare and food to be cold. Passengers were rude, the staff was rude, it was not a good way to start my vacation.
The next day we went to the Princess cays. We got on a tender which began smoking, so we turned back to get on a different tender. I assume one of the engines blew. When we pulled up next to the ship, the pilot of the tender slammed us into the side of the ship so hard people fell out of their seats. People on the ship could have been harmed due to the negligence. I am also shocked there was no hull damage due to the impact of the crash. I have no idea if the engine was fixed, but this instilled significant fear in me and many other passengers since the tender is actually our lifeboat - what if this had been an emergency?
Our time on Princess Cay was pleasant, minus the masses of bees at all the food and drink service areas. But overall, things went well. This was our only good experience.
Later, from my balcony, I watched the crew pull our lifeboats back on board - it was a very interesting process. One tender went up without an issue at all, but then the sea started to become rough again. When the last lifeboat was attempting to attach to the crane hook, I experienced one of your crew almost die by the hook almost hitting him in the head. The lifeboat began to slam against the ship. The pilot of the lifeboat opted to finally move away from the ship to avoid damage.
That evening we began hearing crew saying the captain didn't know what he is doing. Most captains set anchor closer to the Princess cays so the tender only takes a 10 minute ride, not 20. The crew kept mentioning the sound the tender made as it crashed into the hull. If we would have docked a bit closer, the ocean would not have been as choppy due to the natural protection from the shore. The tender wouldn't have hit the ship so hard. Initial panic would not have set in.
At that point it occurred to me that perhaps the crew was right, the captain made some bad choices. Perhaps the words he made up during the muster should have been another clue - such as "desanitization of the ship." I read the summary of the captain on the patter and became quite concerned when it proudly proclaimed the captain ran away from home when he was 17.
All of the meals we ate, regardless of the location (Crown, Sabatini's, Michelangelo's or the buffet) came out lukewarm. The first evening we ate in the dining room, the "new" wine package was pushed hard on us. We explained that we preferred the 3 bottle set, but the "gold package" was pushed on us instead. We thought about signing up, but realized all of the wine we drink cost between 45 and 150 dollars. When we declined, our waitress put a ticket for the package in front of me several times and told me to "just sign it" before accepting our "no thanks, please bring us a bottle of Silverado." She threw her hands down to her side, let out a very angry sigh, and stormed off to get our bottle which happened to be bad. We dank some of it regardless because we didn't want to upset her further at the risk of getting bad food as well. Instead, it was cold.
We continued to hear negative things about the captain from the crew. We experienced fighting amongst the crew. On six separate occasions we heard bartenders yelling at wait staff.
When we arrived in Curaçao, we took the sea aquarium beach tour. We were dropped off at a construction site (This was actually acknowledged by your Shore Excursion Manager). There was no aquarium nearby. We were told we should take a cab, which we would have to pay for. We then had to pay for our own cab back to the ship because the tour operator was disorganized and we simply couldn't tolerate the intense rain and wind any longer. Once back on board we heard people on the later tour were allowed to cancel due to the weather. We were not given that option.
The next day was Aruba and we were signed up for the water park excursion. After a rough night of sailing, we woke up to more bad weather. I called the tour desk to see if the excursion was cancelled. I was told that Princess prepays for the excursion and it was up to the tour company to cancel. I was told "It will be more fun in the rain! It's a water park!" We went on the excursion and could do nothing but sit under a shelter due to the weather. Even the children on the excursion were sitting under the shelter because the rain was simply too much. When we began asking how to get back, the tour operator on the island told us they called Princess and tried to cancel and the cruise ship insisted on the excursion. The excursion company was as irritated as the excursionists because they had to deal with about 100 angry people when it would have been easier to cancel up front - for everyone. We returned to the ship 1.5 hours early.
The Shore Excursion Manager refunded one half of our excursion fares (letter is on record per the Shore Excision Manager). I wasted hours of my life away from the ship being miserable and Princess finds this acceptable. I do not. I could have been helping local economies by shopping rather than sitting around completely miserable watching either torrential rains and/or a construction site.
That evening the captain made an important announcement regarding the rough seas. He stated "never in my 20 years have I seen a gale force warning in the Caribbean sea." He proceeded to tell us we will experience 18-20 foot swells and told the crew to brace for rough seas. My first thought was the smoking engine on the life boat as well as how hard we slammed into the ship. Captain Nash's announcement literally caused panic on board - not only for the passengers but for the crew as well. People were talking about it all over the ship and people were getting sick everywhere we turned. I firmly believe there would have been less instances of sea sickness if the psychological fear factor had not introduced. Captain Nick Nash does not have a good way with words. He said the most alarming things in such a matter of fact way. We ate at the Crown Grill after the announcement. My steak was served luke warm (not even warm enough to melt the butter on top) but that didn't matter because I could not eat it for fear of losing it later based on the alarming announcement by Captain Nash. We were rushed through our meal because the wait staff was concerned about the seas,. Again, I place blame squarely on Captain Nash and his terrible tact in communicating with his passengers and crew.
On Thursday and Friday, the lunch buffet was identical. Were we being served reheated leftovers?
On various occasion we walked down our hall and noticed a "sick cart" outside of a state room. On one instance, said cart was left in the hallway for over 2 hours. How is that ensuring my safety?
On our last night as we were enjoying a glass of wine at Vines, the overwhelming smell of raw sewage permeated the area. It was bad enough for us to evacuate the area immediately.
Norovirus continued to spread. The crew had it, we were told by several crew and passengers. The weather was horrible and the seas were quite rough. These are facts and although I can complain about it, there is nothing you can do about it. I recognize that. I cannot believe we wasted our money on such a horrible experience created by the captain, crew and tour operators.
This being our 5th Princess cruise (our SECOND in 2011), we knew what to expect: a hassle free vacation. Rather, our vacation was a complete hassle due to the constant vigilance we all had to take due to norovirus, waiting in line, horrible excursions, angry crew and passengers, cold food, and an alarmist captain. This cruise did not live up to the Princess brand. Instead of "Escape completely," it was more on par with "Fear completely."
I was told by princess they received HUNDREDS of negative surveys. This vacation experience was a nightmare. I will no longer recommend Princess to anyone.