Review of the Regal Princess, Cabins M411 and M415,Venice to Barcelona June 2014
To celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary, my wife and I (53 and 57) took our 3 sons (24, 25 and 28) on this cruise. We are well traveled and have cruised previously on Regents, Celebrity, Holland America, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Carnival, and now Princess.
We don’t cruise any more on Carnival or Norwegian, and this will probably be our last cruise on Princess. To me, Princess is more like Carnival than Celebrity. It is just my opinion. We had a great time on this cruise, but to me Princess just did not meet up to the standards set by Celebrity and Holland America.
Please forgive typos since I am typing this on my phone on the plane home.
FOOD – The quality and the selection was great everywhere. I really enjoyed the salad bar area for lunch.
DINING ROOM WAIT STAFF – George and his group were outstanding (however, the wait staff in the buffet area was hit or miss. Many times it was difficult to get waited on)
EMBARKATION DEBARKATION – seamless
THE GYM – pretty high quality machines and more than I expected
PLENTY OF POOL RECLINERS – there was always one available. It is nice not having to get to the pool early to get a chair.
BIG SCREEN ON POOL DECK – This thing was amazing. Great hi-def quality and surround sound. They showed movies and music videos throughout the day. I didn’t personally go there to watch a movie, but it was pretty nice.
TV – The televisions in the room did not work most of the time. This was very annoying.
WIFI – We bought a WIFI package – a total waste of money. Most of the time it didn’t work. We just used free WIFI in port.
PRINCESS – I always felt nickel and dimed. As most of you know, there was the room service charge fiasco (that Princess did reverse).
When we got on board in Venice, there were ‘vouchers’ for water taxi rides to Venice. We didn’t use them so we threw them away. We found out later that if they were not turned in, they were assumed used and charged to your room! We told them we didn’t use them, and Princess reversed the charges, but what if we hadn’t caught that?
One afternoon I ordered an orange juice for lunch, and to my surprise a $2.00 charge for it. Juice is only free in the morning.
Charging $20 pp to take you to Toulon – Toulon is the port of call … get me there.
GUEST SERVICES – any time we called guest services, we were put on hold. It was like they NEVER had enough people working.
A/C – We kept our curtain closed to keep out the sun, and kept the AC on full blast. It never got cool. It wasn’t hot, but is wasn’t cool either.
TIPPING POLICY – I know this is the same now on most ships, but I do not like pre-paid gratuities. I like to distribute my tips to those that I feel are deserving. We did the prepaid tips, and then gave extra to those that we thought deserved it. Let’s face it – these AREN’T tips. We are just prepaying salaries of the staff. I am all for workers being paid a fair wage, but don’t call these tips. Just increase the price of the cruise to cover these salaries, and let the guests truly tip for exceptional service.
COFFEE – The coffee on board is not good. I tried the coffee shop, but it was the same coffee. I know that everyone has different taste, but this is my take on it.
Pre-cruise in Venice
Getting from airport to Venice
We arrived in Venice on Sunday morning, June 1. We all wanted to take the cruise along the Grand Canal and listen to Rick Steves’ downloaded tour on our phone. We decided that since we had limited time in Venice, we could take the bus from the airport to Venice (6 E per person), and take the vaporetta (public boat transportation) down the Grand Canal to our hotel near St. Mark’s Square, and listen to the Grand Canal tour on the way. BIG MISTAKE! The vaporetta was packed, and people were very rude and pushy (no respect for places in line). There was to no way to see anything with people crowding around you. It was a big waste. Take my advice and just take a private water taxi from the airport to your hotel. If you are going straight to the ship from the airport, take the bus and it will drop you off right by the ‘people mover’ that will then take you to the ship.
We got off of the vaporetta at St. Mark’s Square and proceeded with our luggage to find our hotel. We stayed at the Best Western Doge’s Palace. It was a nice hotel with a great location (1 block north of St. Mark’s Square). We paid $275 for a double room and it included a full hot breakfast served buffet style and free WIFI.
We got checked in by 11:00 and proceeded to St. Mark’s Square. We had a pre-purchased tickets (buy them on-line for 2 E each to get a reserved spot and avoid all lines). We toured St. Mark’s Basilica listening to Rick Steves’ downloaded tour. It worked great. We were there for about 1 hour.
After the Basilica we all walked around the Rialto bridge area to see the sights of Venice. Mainly touristy shops, but also back alleys and side streets.
We had a Bar Tour scheduled with Alessandro (a local Venetian) for 6:00 at Rialto Bridge (email@example.com). The cost was 30 E per person. This was an awesome tour. DO THIS IF YOU ENJOY WINE AND TAPAS! We met Alessandro at the bridge and joined up with two other couples (a total of 9 people plus Allesandro on the tour). We went to 3 different bars off the beaten path, had plenty of great local wine and plenty to eat (no need for supper). We got along great with the other couples, and although the tour ended at 8:00, we all stayed at the last bar until 11:30 and drank another 5 bottles of wine. We then went back to the room and went to bed to rest up for the next day.
We got up the next morning at about 8:00, got showered, packed and had breakfast. The hotel kept our bags for us until we came back to go to the ship.
I pre-purchased tickets for the Secret Doge’s Palace tour for 10:45 am. Again, do this to avoid the lines. The secrets tour was nice, and the Doges Palace was amazing.
After the Doges Palace tour we again explored Venice and bought some souvenirs. We ate lunch at a local café, and went back to the hotel to get our luggage. We then took the Alliguana boat directly to the pier. This worked out GREAT. We bought our tickets right outside past the Doges Place after our tour to avoid the ticket line with all of our luggage. The boat leaves about every 25 minutes, so just show up when it works in your schedule.
Embarkation and Wine
We got to the ship at about 4:00, and there was no line. We got straight on the ship and to our rooms. We brought 9 bottles of good Napa cabernet from home, and bought a Barolo, two Chianti Classico Riservas and 3 bottles of Champaign in Venice for a total of 15 bottles to be brought on board. There were five of us, so we expected to pay the $15 per bottle corkage on 10 bottles. We didn’t hide anything, and weren’t charged a dime. We ended up paying corkage on the 9 bottles we took to dinner, so we really only saved $15, but that was our choice.
We had rooms M411 and M415. We originally had rooms M409 and M411 (both with bigger balconies), but the Princess rep told us we should change to M411 and M415 because the M409 and M411 balconies did not connect. THEY WERE WRONG. Both rooms connected the same way, through a door that opens up between the balconies. Just mis-information by Princess.
The rooms were mini-suites, and were set up nicely. Our room had a queen bed (2 singles hooked together), a nice sized bathroom with a shower/tub combo, and one sink. There was also a couch, a desk and two 40” flat screen TV’s (one in front of the bed and one in front of the couch). Room M415 was set up the same way, but the couch was made into a single bed.
The balconies were some of the smallest we have ever had, especially in a mini-suite. There was only enough room for 2 chairs and a small table, and we had the BIGGER balconies!
These are the dreaded peek a boo rooms (called that because people walking on the sea-walk can see on to your balcony. At first I thought this was an issue, but it really wasn’t. Not too many people gawked at us on our balcony. We have pre-dinner drinks out on the balcony every night. The one ‘problem’ with the balconies is that the Large screen TV on Deck 16 poolside is loud. We bring along a Bluetooth speaker so we can listen to music on our balcony (we don’t turn it up too loud) but couldn’t use it much when the TV at the pool was on.
Day 1: Venice
After we all got settled in the room, I went to the gym to work out. The gym was very nice, with about 10 ellipticals, 10 treadmills, and a good selection of machines, dumb bells and a smith machine.
After my workout, we had some wine and cocktails on the balconies. My wife went up to the buffet to get some cheese and fruit and brought them to the balcony to enjoy with the wine. My wife pre-ordered some bourbon, gin and vodka for the rooms. The price was about double retail, but much cheaper than buying drinks at the bars on board, and more convenient than having to go up to the bar every time you wanted a cocktail.
We then went to dinner at the buffet. I was very impressed with the quality and selection of food at the buffet. After dinner, my wife and I explored the ship and the ‘boys’ went to the casino. We were in bed by 12:00.
Day 2: sea day
We signed up for the 8:15 dinner setting, so we all got ready for dinner by 7 to have pre-dinner cocktails on the balcony. It was formal night, and my wife wanted several family pictures. We rented tuxes on the boat for the boys, and when they tried them on we had some fitting issues. We called, and they immediately sent up several other sizes for the boys to try on. I was very pleased with the tux rental service. The cost was $100 each, but I feel it was worth it to get some nice family pics for mom.
This was our first dinner at the dining room. We met our wait staff and they were all great, especially our headwaiter, George. We brought a nice bottle of Cabernet and Champagne for dinner, and had a great meal. The food was decent, and the service was great.
After dinner, I called it a night and went to bed early to rest up for our first port day.
Day 3: Kotor, Montenegro
I thought that this stop would be a ‘throw away day’. Boy was I wrong. This place was absolutely beautiful! We tendered to shore at about 10 am, and explored the medieval town. It was clean, now too crowded and fun to explore. I had booked a private sailing boat tour with Yuri from 1-5. Yuri is a retired Russian submariner that is enjoying retirement in Kotor and takes people out on tours of Kotor Bay in his 50’ sailboat. We had a beautiful tour of the bay, and visited the church out in the middle of the bay, Our Lady of the Rocks. My older son and I also swam for a while in the Adriatic (yes, it was cold, but I might not ever make it back). Yuri served wine and snacks on board. We shared the trip with another family of 4, and the cost was 50 E per person. It was well worth the money and I would highly recommend this tour. (phone is 00382 67500132 / 00382 67675934)
After we tendered back to the boat, it was time to get ready for pre-dinner balcony cocktails and dinner.
Day 4: sea day
Typical sea day. Work out, eat lunch, and hang by the pool. We also did a Super Tuscan wine tasting held at the Sabatini’s restaurant. It was set up great with gourmet food pairings, one sparkling and 5 reds. It was $40 per person (a little pricey, but I think it was worth the cost). This was more than a wine tasting … it was an event.
That night was the second formal night. A lot of pictures were taken!
Day 5: Rome
We got up early and were off the ship at 8:00 for our private Rome tour with Miles & Miles (City Tour and Vatican in a Day Tour; website is www.milesandmiles.net). Our tour guide, Roberto, picked us up right off the ship (he was there early) and we left in our Mercedes van for Rome. The total cost for the tour was 615 E plus the cost of tickets to the Vatican and the Coliseum. Miles and Miles bought the ‘skip the line’ tickets for us in advance and I simply reimbursed them.
It took a little over an hour to get to Rome. We told Roberto that we wanted to stop at a local coffee shop for a cappuccino. He took us to a place close to the Vatican. It was perfect. We sat outside and enjoyed the BEST cappuccino I have ever had. I asked for the bill and was told Roberto had taken care of it. I told Roberto that I would reimburse him and he refused.
From there we saw the saw a few of the major sights in Rome.
We had a personal Vatican tour scheduled from 10 – 12. The line was 3 hours long to get into the Vatican. Since we had the ‘skip the line’ tickets, we went right in. We had a knowledgeable tour director that took us through the Vatican grounds and explained everything, The Pope announced that St. Peter’s Basilica would be closed that day, so we couldn’t see the inside of the Basilica. We could see everything else ,but were a little disappointed. The Vatican was PACKED. Roberto picked us up after our Vatican tour and said that he found out that the Pope would be making a surprise appearance in St. Peter’s Square a little after noon. He took us there, and we got to see the Pope live from about 25 feet away!
After the Vatican tour, it was time for lunch, I did some research on Trip Advisor and told Roberto where I wanted to go. He said he knew someplace better. I assumed he was just taking us somewhere so he could get a referral fee, but I succumbed. Boy am I glad I did. We were seated in a great outside table, were served antipasto, 2 home made pastas, salad, bruschetta, bread, tiramisu, wine and lemon cello. Total cost for 5 persons = 115 E. The best meal of the trip. And, we got in and out quickly. Another great job by Roberto.
After lunch back on the road to see the sights.
At the end of the day we visited the Coliseum. Roberto dropped us off and told us where to go to skip the line at the Coliseum. Again, this worked perfectly and we went right in. We looked around the Coliseum for about hour, and then Roberto picked us him and we headed back to the ship. We got back at about 5:30. There is no way we could have seen half of what we saw in Rome without Miles & Miles and especially Roberto. I HIGHLY recommend them.
Day 6: Livorno (Florence)
We booked a private tour of Florence and the Chianti wine region with Miles & Miles at this port also. This time our tour guide was not early, and in fact was a few minutes late. He provide the service he promised, but was not nearly as organized as Roberto and not nearly as passionate.
We saw the sights in Florence, and had skip the line tickets for the statue of David. We visited a church where Michelangelo was buried, and saw the other ‘must see’ sights in Florence.
At about noon we headed for wine country. Our first stop was Emma Vineyards. There we did a lunch and wine tasting visit, and the wine and food were great. The total bill was 175 E for the 5 of us. We ended up buying a case of wine and balsamic (amazing stuff) and had it shipped home.
We stopped at another winery and just did wine tasting and olive oil tasting (10 E each). We bought two bottles of the olive oil, but no wine.
We then headed back to port and arrived at 5:30.
That night we had dinner at the Crown Grill. The meal was fantastic and well worth the $25 per person upcharge.
Day 7: Toulon
The disappointment of the trip. We paid Princess 20 per person to take a boat ride from the pier to Toulon. The biggest waste of money on the trip. Toulon was dirty, and not really much to see. Our itinerary said ‘Toulon”, but for some reason we had to pay Princess $20 per person to get to Toulon. Tacky. I did talk to someone on the flight home, and they said they went about an hour away to see the highest cliffs in Europe and enjoyed that. An excursion away may be a good thing, but there is nothing to see or do in Toulon.
Day 8: Barcelona
We got off the ship with no issues. We also had a private tour in Barcelona booked through Spanish Trails. Our tour guide was Andrew and he was fantastic. He picked us up at the port, and took us to our hotel (Hotel America) to check in and drop off our luggage. The hotel was clean and friendly with a good location for around $200 per room, no breakfast included but free WIFI.
We then went to see the sights of Barcelona. Included were Parc Guell, the Olympic stadium, the Barcelona Football stadium, , Roman district and ended up at La Familia Sagrada with skip the line tickets and a trip to the top of the towers. Barcelona is now my favorite city, and I can’t wait to go back.
Andrew took us to a stand up Tapas bar for lunch that was great. He recommended Catalana Cerveseria for dinner and it was fantastic. If you go to Barcelona, go to Catalana Cerveseria. It is worth the one hour wait.
Day 9: Barcelona to airport
Our hotel arranged a mini-van taxi to take us to the airport that next morning. He arrived early and the total cost was 60 E including tip and a lot of luggage (they charge per bag).
RoomsWe had rooms M411 and M415. We originally had rooms M409 and M411 (both with bigger balconies), but the Princess rep told us we should change to M411 and M415 because the M409 and M411 balconies did not connect. THEY WERE WRONG. Both rooms connected the same way, through a door that opens up between the balconies. Just mis-information by Princess.The rooms were mini-suites, and were set up nicely. Our room had a queen bed (2 singles hooked together), a nice sized bathroom with a shower/tub combo, and one sink. There was also a couch, a desk and two 40” flat screen TV’s (one in front of the bed and one in front of the couch). Room M415 was set up the same way, but the couch was made into a single bed.BalconiesThe balconies were some of the smallest we have ever had, especially in a mini-suite. There was only enough room for 2 chairs and a small table, and we had the BIGGER balconies!These are the dreaded peek a boo rooms (called that because people walking on the sea-walk can see on to your balcony. At first I thought this was an issue, but it really wasn’t. Not too many people gawked at us on our balcony. We have pre-dinner drinks out on the balcony every night. The one ‘problem’ with the balconies is that the Large screen TV on Deck 16 poolside is loud. We bring along a Bluetooth speaker so we can listen to music on our balcony (we don’t turn it up too loud) but couldn’t use it much when the TV at the pool was on.