Star Princess Cruise Review by tormod
- Sail Date: December 2012
- Destination: South America
A: The ship
As a ship I found it had a culture that lacked attention to detail and as for organisation, well anything goes. From embarkation at San Francisco when a Princess organiser insisted we hand our bags to a porter who then demanded a tip to an absolute shambles at Buenos Aires it's a wonder we ever got our bags. In fact one got sent to a wrong cabin on joining the ship and a 'not my problem response' from customer services set the scene. The bag did arrive the next day though with no initial apology, so much for Princess' customer focus. It didn't get any better as the hotel director's recommendation of a Princess tour that wasn't even available to a shambolic degree of organisation on the part of the shore excursion people, and it was only by chance that we found out about the disembarkation transfer process after asking the shore excursion staff previously.
We did find some excellent staff onboard such as the Vladamir in the Crown Grill and a couple of superb waitresses. But if you are expecting consistent top service then choose another ship. For example if you want a fish or steak knife be prepared to ask for them as the majority of the staff were not trained to lay out the right utensils for specific meals. And while on the subject of meals the variation in meal quantity at any given service was up to the gods. One time a sizeable steak and the next time three pieces of duck breast. A burger and chips on the menu really is not what fine dining is about. Also be wary of lukewarm food in the Horizon Court buffet. If you really want good food and truly exceptional service then you have to go to the Crown Grill, it's worth the extra as some of the ordinary wine waiters in the bars knew nothing about the wine and didn't deserve to be getting the mandatory imposed tip.
In terms of onboard activities and entertainment this was really patchy. Joe May was the standout for us. A lovely style and so approachable. As a port lecturer he is one of the best we have ever encountered and was worth his weight in gold. Superb advice and a fountain of knowledge about South America. As for the others if you can put up with JJ Ulich the Cruise Director then good luck, as we have had the misfortune to be stuck with him on a previous 30 day cruise. Add to that retired history teacher by the name of Leonard Davis who fancied himself as a wine buff come historian (but only if you come from California and knew no better) but whose lack of depth of knowledge really showed and could not stand being challenged then you probably get the picture. If you love loud American football then "movies under the stars" on the open deck would be fine but as the majority of passengers were not from the USA it really was a case of a put up with it or shut up attitude.
The changes Princess has made to this ship while they may suit some don't suit everyone. The new adults' only sanctuary has removed the covered in forward viewing area and eliminated the jogging track. So now the joggers compete for space on a narrow promenade deck. Not an ideal situation when we observed a passenger with walking sticks abandon her promenade because of the fitness fanatical joggers jostling for space on the same deck.
B: The itinerary
As an itinerary it was superb and this was the real reason we booked this trip. It fitted in with what we wanted and the timing was right. Make sure you can speak some Spanish and take along a phrase book as the majority of the people speak little or no English but we found our attempts to speak Spanish well received and the locals were helpful. We have the benefit of having regular contact with crew from many parts of the world and followed their advice on what to do independently and when to take a Princess tour. This worked out well for us and we were able to get the most out of our time and not be stuck with some at time very expensive and rushed ship organised tours. Do your homework and don't be afraid to do your own thing or make up a party with other passengers as we do.
Of the ports visited we had one of the best fresh fish meals of the trip in Cabo San Lucas and some great local beer to go along with it as well. Guatemala turned out to be a pleasant surprise and for once we should have bought more from the locals as we never saw anything quite like what they had on offer and they were such happy (yet poor) people.
In Lima we managed to get a group of 8 together and to go to the ancient ruins at Pachacarmac and then to the recently discovered ruins of Huaca Pucillana in Miraflores, and this I can recommend. The ships tours here would have been rushed and more expensive. Just don't worry about the traffic as the locals cope well.
In Valparaiso get local, go to the markets, and take a local bus to the old port and then a ride up the vernacular cable car to the Maritime Museum. Even if you are not interested in things nautical it as oasis amongst the masses and you can take a photograph of yourself inside the Fenix mine rescue capsule. Then go down to the old port again for a local meal and a beer.
Ushuaia is the stepping off city for those going into the mountains of Patagonia and those departing for Antarctic tours. It has a great integrated museum in an old jail featuring many aspects that will take a few hours of your time. The food is great especially the well known Argentine beef and wine. Remember that you are in South America and many restaurants have siesta time and don't reopen at night until 7 or 8pm
The trip through the Beagle channel was a real highlight as was being able to go around Cape Horn in sunshine and calm seas which is something of a rarity.
Going to the Falklands was the bonus for us and as we had booked a private tour we really got our moneys worth. Antony Smith of Discovery Falklands was a superb guide. We sorted out the trip on the day as it was heavily weather dependant. Being the only people at the Gentoo penguin colony and having a guide tour over the Goose Green battlefield site with a person who knows their stuff made for a great experience and one we could recommend. With the amount of tourism occurring out of Stanley make sure you book him well in advance. There just are not enough good guides to cater for a mass invasion of cruise ship passengers.
As for Montevideo we loved it. Take the hop-on bus to get a feel for the place and once back at the port go into the Port Station market where you will find many cute galleries and the real South American food. It will be a challenge to finish the huge portions. And by the way make sure you try the Malbec and Carmenere wines if you like a red. They are also very cheap at a local supermarket in either Chile or Argentina.
In the end
Was it a great itinerary -- YES
Would we recommend Star Princess -- NO, the culture onboard this ship is not to our liking, however if you are prepared to put up with indifferent service, bad organisation and be prepared to stick up for yourself and treat it like a means of transport and don't expect a lot you want be disappointed .