Island Princess Cruise Review by QuilterGirl
- Sail Date: May 2007
- Destination: British Columbia
My husband (DH) and I have five cruises under our belts, but we convinced my sister (DS) and our 30-year-old daughter (DD) that a short trip along the West Coast would be their perfect introduction to cruising. DS has anxiety attacks about travel, and the fact that she agreed to come along was a big step on her part. We hoped the cruise, and all the travel aspects, would go so well that she would be willing to travel with us again in the future. (Note: DS applied for a passport 11 weeks before the cruise. The government said passports were taking 6-10 weeks. She got hers at Week 12.....beware!)
TRANSPORTATION: We all flew down from Seattle the night before, taking SuperShuttle from LAX to our hotel in San Pedro (Port of Los Angeles). We reserved a private van in advance online from SuperShuttle, which, because there were four of us, came to only a few dollars more than being on a regular shuttle (the thought being that a direct van would likely get us there sooner).
PRE-CRUISE HOTEL: The hotel, the Crowne Plaza Los Angeles Harbor Hotel, is just finishing up renovations. Our rooms were on the 7th floor and in the morning we had a view of the two cruise ships that were docked less than a mile away. Our room had a clip for the heavy drapes if you wished to guarantee that no early morning sun would spoil your sleep-in. There were other items to help ensure a good night's sleep: an eye mask, a pair of earplugs, a relaxation CD, and lavender linen spray. The bed linens were of a nice quality, and our room was clean. The bathroom was small but had everything we needed. In the morning we enjoyed the hotel's buffet breakfast for $10 each (not included with our room). We like buffets because DS is a picky eater - likes her food very plain and not exotic - and a buffet lets you be in charge of what you eat. Also, we didn't know how long we would be standing in lines to board, so we wanted a substantial breakfast to tide us over.
EMBARKATION: Although the information provided by Princess said that boarding would be from noon on, we decided to take the 11 AM shuttle from the hotel to the ship and get in line, rather than sit in the hotel just to kill time. We were not the first in line upon arrival at the pier, but it was a fairly short line and it was moving. On previous cruises, there has been a point in the boarding line where you turned in your suitcases to be scanned and later to be delivered to your room onboard the ship. We kept waiting for someone to say "leave your suitcases here now" but it never happened. Indeed, it seemed that the idea was for passengers to tote their own luggage, which for most folks was a small wheeled bag and a carry-on. This was the first indication that our short three-night repositioning cruise would perhaps not be as "full-service" as many longer cruises are.
Once we entered the San Pedro cruise terminal, we followed a contorted figure-eight path where we went from waiting in line to "hurry up!" several times. First you had to lift up your suitcase and put it through a scanner (hard to do with all the passports, boarding passes, carry-on bags, etc. that you were also holding) and then go through a scanner yourself. After that you went across the terminal to the very temporary-looking "fill out the Novovirus form" station, after which you were herded into another line and given a group boarding number, like on Southwest Airlines. This line led to the check-in desks, where we got a representative who was not particularly pleasant or happy (on other cruises, our check-ins have been jovial). DH and I got through check-in OK (the representative felt she had to explain how a cruise card works, which seemed odd since our cards indicated that we were repeat cruisers on Princess), and then DS and DD took their turn with her. DS didn't have a passport but only a birth certificate and her driver's license for ID, which were perfectly valid ID for our travel situation according to the government, but the Princess website pretty much insisted that a passport was the only way they would let you on the ship. While DH and I hovered off to the side in case of panic attack by DS when that same representative discovered her lack of passport, another Princess employee rudely directed the two of us to "go over there (across the room) and sit down." Hardly the way to get folks in a pleasant holiday frame-of-mind.
Once over in the seating area (where all the seats were taken, so we had to stand) they began to call group boarding numbers. Our number was four, and it was called about five minutes after arriving in the seating area. We were then told to hurry up, and had to weave through passengers who were crossing from the scanner to the Novovirus form area - a very poor layout. We then, still with all our luggage, went up outside to the dock, where a photographer posed us along the rail for a "portrait" that didn't seem like an optional activity. We continued to the gangway and to the machine where you insert your cruise card and a photo is taken to be associated with it. Once past this station and on the ship, we felt as if we had just been dumped off the end of a jerky conveyer belt. We were glad to take control into our own hands and proceed to our rooms on the 10th floor, the Caribe deck.
THE SHIP: We had two mini-suites a few rooms apart. Our steward did not come around before the muster drill, so we explained the room's features and how the muster drill worked to the newbies in our party. We went upstairs to the Horizon Court buffet and had a nice lunch while still in port. Also purchased the soda stickers, which were about $11 each. Then it was time to tour the ship, and especially to take photos of it without a lot of fellow cruisers in the way. DS was quite afraid of possible seasickness, and never did figure out the ship's layout. DD got the hang of it all right away. We had figured on going up on deck for the sailaway party, but instead we stayed in our rooms, on the balconies, and watched the harbor pass by from there. By the time we reached open water, it was dinnertime.
FOOD: We chose Anytime Dining, and ate breakfasts, lunches, and one dinner (on Formal night) at the Horizon Court buffet. We always found plenty of good choices, even picky DS. (The coffee, though, was so poor that we learned to head down to the 5th floor Patisserie (coffee bar) after breakfast, for a relaxing cup ($) in the atrium area.) We ate dinner two times at the dining room set aside for Anytime diners, "Bordeaux." DD especially raved about the food she had there, and I think memories of those meals alone will make her a repeat cruiser! Every course was perfectly prepared and served. We were never made to feel rushed, even thought the room became full and we could see a line to get in. The final night of the cruise was DH's birthday, and he was serenaded and presented with a small cake.
We also tried afternoon tea (free), the ice cream stand ($), the pizzeria and the grill (both free). On other Princess cruises we've been on, there is free ice cream served in an area of the buffet for one hour each afternoon. On this cruise, there was free ice cream (and sundae toppings) available self-serve in the dinner buffet line. We didn't go to Sabatini's or the Bayou Cafe, since DS would not have been willing to try the spicy foods presented there.
SERVICE: Even though I have requested robes online in advance of our three cruises on Princess, they have never made it to our room without an in-person request to the steward. Do they not read that stuff? I think they must, because each cruise we've been on has had a special occasion associated with it, and there are always balloons and a door sign to commemorate the date - and these dates were entered into the same area online in advance.
ACTIVITIES: The weather was not conducive to sitting on one's balcony, or for sunning around the pool - it was overcast, cool and windy most of the time. So swimming and lounging weren't big hits on this cruise. Kids on the cruise seemed mostly to abandon the outdoor pool, and instead headed for the adults-only indoor pool (hmmm).
Since it was such a short cruise, we didn't want to be toting the larger suitcases that formalwear would have necessitated, so we didn't participate in Formal Night. However, we had told DS and DD about the traditional Princess "champagne fountain" that is created in the atrium on each cruise, and the party and dancing that go along with it. I knew they would enjoy seeing others at this event, even if all we were doing was watching. Maybe it was because it was such a short cruise, but that whole atrium-party thing didn't happen on this trip. We also never saw the captain, or heard of any get-togethers with him (which, as repeat Princess cruisers, we have been invited to in the past). I guess these activities were also abandoned for such a short cruise.
DS and DD did the ceramics-painting activity ($). There was only a small window of time in which to do this, since the post-painting firing took up a large portion of the cruise, but they enjoyed decorating their mug and tile.
We participated in three Trivia contests, where the big prize was a Princess luggage tag. The Wheelhouse Bar overflowed during these contests, whereas on other cruises there was a polite smattering of chairs taken. DS, DD and I also went to a couple origami sessions, making a box out of old menus, a paper heart, and some crepe-paper 'hibiscus flowers.'
We also took in the Line Dancing classes, which were held in the Universe Lounge. They were humorous as you might expect! And also good exercise! Ballroom dancing lessons in meringue and salsa were also given.
There were Princess takes on game shows and board games that we did not attend or participate in, such as Jeopardy, Millionaire, Passenger Feud, The Weakest One, Newlywed & Not-So-Newlywed Game, Pictionary, Scrabble, and Scavenger Hunts. There were "Dr. Bob and Bill W." and "Friends of Dorothy" and "Singles Mingles" gatherings. There were numerous opportunities for table tennis, shuffleboard, golf in several flavors, and basketball shootouts. There were classes ($) available in pottery-wheel throwing, Excel, file management, and photo editing.
We were disappointed that there were no ice- or vegetable-carving demonstrations, and no tours of the kitchen or theater backstage - all items we had mentioned to DS and DD that they should be sure to take in....more items dropped due to the shortness of the cruise, I suppose.
ENTERTAINMENT: We went to the first night's show in the Theater, which is usually an introduction of the Cruise Director's staff, along with a teaser set by several of the ship's performing groups, and then a little summary of coming attractions. In this case, there was a one-night, one-man Motown show provided by entertainer Kenny James and the ship's band. Kenny stated that Princess was sending him around for one-night gigs on many of their ships this summer. Cruise Director Billy did appear and, over the course of the cruise, cemented his image (as mentioned by others in this forum) as crude and dated.
The next night we went to the theater production, which was a Motown revue ("Motor City") with singers, dancers, and the band. Excellent as usual! The third night we attended a show in the Universe Lounge, "Tribute," another song and dance number by the troupe. Did not check out any piano bars, comedians, ventriloquists, bingo, karaoke, casinos, etc., but there were plenty of these.
Movies shown in the Universe Lounge or the Theater were "Dreamgirls" and "The Queen" and "Because I Said So."
SELLING: There were two evenings where professional photo-sits were available, one formal and one informal. On previous cruises the photo-taking venues consumed much of the atrium and surrounding elevator areas. There were not as many locations set up on this cruise. Perhaps they assumed not as many folks would be bringing along formal wear, so would not want these opportunities? Or maybe, like so many other departments on the ship, the staff seemed to be taking a little vacation themselves?
"Chains by the inch," which on previous cruises was prominently featured in an area with excellent lighting and traffic, was tucked away in a dark passageway for a few hours and was not always staffed. Closeouts on winter-season cruise items were available as the boutiques were restocking with Alaska merchandise; there was a sale in one of the dining rooms on the last full day of the cruise, with "apparel, souvenirs & much more" at up to 75% off, including "a large selection of accessories for only $10."
Mercifully, the 'mailbox' outside our stateroom was not stuffed daily with ads for spa services and other 'opportunities' to spend money...those are always such a waste of paper and make Princess seem very un-ecological.
DISEMBARKATION: Being as the cruise ended in Vancouver BC, but we live in Seattle, we needed to somehow traverse the miles home. We had thought Princess would run a bus back to Seattle (last year, they ran a bus from Seattle to Vancouver for an Alaska cruise). We had our cruise travel agent check on this twice, and we also called Princess ourselves, but they said no, they had no plans for such a bus. So we booked in advance, online, with QuickShuttle. That bus was to pick us up right at the cruise terminal one hour after the ship's arrival in port. This made us a little nervous - what if we weren't allowed off the ship in a timely fashion, or there was some hold-up with Canadian Customs & Immigration? (We would rather have had a Princess bus that was guaranteed to wait for us.) And wouldn't you know, there was an announcement THE NIGHT BEFORE DISEMBARKATION, stating that a Princess shuttle bus would be available ($) from the Vancouver cruise terminal to Seattle. (Wouldn't most folks like to have this transportation piece figured out BEFORE leaving for their cruise?) The price was within a dollar of what we paid for QuickShuttle, and the bus was guaranteed to wait for you. But the best thing about the Princess bus would be, when it got to the Canada/US Border, it would just be waved through without the passengers having to exit the bus and proceed individually - with their luggage - through US Customs & Immigration. Our bus, however, stopped along the way and picked up random passengers in Canada, and we spent nearly an hour at the border. So, Princess: how about publicizing the existence of ALL your shuttle busses in advance - even allowing passengers to book them online before departure, like an excursion? (Profit center!!! Can't believe you aren't "all over" this!!!)
Well, it worked out fine - we got the self-help early departure tickets (which were never checked by anyone) but had to wade through hoards who were crowding the aisles on the departure level (even though they had been told to wait elsewhere.....Princess could do a much better job of crowd control for disembarkation). Canadian Customs & Immigration were a breeze; we were 45 minutes early for our bus, which was adequately comfortable but nothing special. Numerous folks on the QuickShuttle bus were unaware that there would be no stop along the way for bathrooms or food (neither were available at US Customs & Immigration) and were unprepared. (Of course, carrying food along is tricky, because so many food items are not allowed across the border.) If taking a bus back across the border, I would highly suggest one that comes directly from the ship with only ship's passengers on it, for the purpose of speeding through US formalities and getting home that much earlier.
WRAP-UP: We all had a great three-night trip, but for those seeking a true cruise experience, be forewarned that Princess didn't go the whole nine yards on this repositioning cruise. There was plenty to do - I'm not complaining - but for whatever reason, not all the bells and whistles were pulled out on this voyage. For newbies with no preconceived notions, it would be a wonderful experience!
POSTSCRIPT: We were pleased at how well DS did on the cruise, and had high hopes of her being able to join us again. However, all four of us suffered MdDS, Mal de DEbarquement Syndrome, that is, "post-cruise seasickness" - not just the feeling of rocking while standing still, but nausea and dizziness. The seas had not been heavy and none of us felt in the least ill during the cruise. Neither DH or myself had this feeling after our previous cruises, which had been longer and had some rougher seas. We are quite mystified as to why we should have experienced it this time around. All we could figure is that we were on the ship for about 65 hours straight (no shore excursions). Too much sitting? Maybe we should have walked the Prom more? Unfortunately, DS's symptoms lasted longer than the cruise itself, so we think those memories will overshadow the fun times we all had on the Island Princess....but hope not!
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