This was the 50th Anniversary cruise for Princess Cruise Lines and, as a result, somewhat different from a regular Princess cruise. To begin with, there were over 400 Elite members on board a ship for around 600 passengers. There were also TV celebrities on board for the entire cruise, and this was certainly different from the norm on a typical Princess cruise. These differences made the experience more significant, in my view, than the usual Princess cruises I take. The cruise was sold out almost from the first day it appeared on the schedule, and there was reportedly a long waiting list. I felt very fortunate to be on the cruise in the first place.
First, the good: the food in the dining room was outstanding, the best I've ever had on a Princess cruise. Even dishes I have avoided over the years because of declining quality (particularly the prime rib) I ordered on this cruise and found them perfect. Our cabin was very nice, with a little love seat in addition to the bed where it was nice to sit and read in comfort. The balcony was small, but it was certainly adequate. An advantage of the smaller ships is that getting from one place to another is faster and easier. The stairs saw more traffic on this ship than others, and the four elevators (fore and aft) were amazingly quick.
The entertainment was special, with the cast of the Love Boat on board giving interviews and generally mixing with the passengers, and all the winners of the Princess Entertainer of the Year contest took a turn doing the shows. There was hearty praise all over the ship about the shows. My husband had a great time playing bridge on all the sea days. The service was top-notch both in the bars and in the dining room. Our waiters, Nelvin and Mauro, turned out to be maybe the best we've ever experienced. (The entire ship was fixed seating, so we had the same waiters every night.) The MaitreD' Oscar was Mr. Personality and visited every table more than once. Our room steward, Marias, was personable and efficient. The bar staff in the Pacific Lounge was good, and the bartender would make the rounds of the tables when he wasn't busy to see how we liked the drinks. We went on three Princess excursions and had an outstanding time on each. Embarkation was a breeze, and disembarkation was less of a nightmare than usual. Sammi Baker, the CD, was amazing, and I think she is easily the best CD Princess has.
Then the not-so-good: Room service was always a problem. They got the orders wrong more often than not, and the person who answered the phone was always short with me and just this side of rude. The people bringing the food were always smiling, however. The food in the buffet was uneven. Some things were good, and some were downright awful. The smaller ship means a smaller selection, too. The pizza was good, of course, but they couldn't seem to keep up for the demand for pepperoni. Another problem with a small ship is the small venue for the shows. It's not a big theater but a smallish lounge. It was more difficult that ever to find a seat, and even more difficult to find a line of sight to the stage. The queues to meet the TV celebrities were seriously long and did not move swiftly. The casino is very small, and it was sometimes a challenge to get to my favorite machines before they were taken. There is also an issue with the restrooms at that end of the ship, with only one, one-person ladies' room available to serve both the show lounge and the casino.
The good outweighed the bad, fortunately. What I found most interesting about the cruise, however, was the passenger mix and the opportunity to observe a majority of the Elite in action.
While people's behavior on a cruise ship is generally similar from one cruise to another, there was something unique about the behavior of people on this ship. There were about 600 passengers, and over 400 of them were Elite members of the Princess Captain's Circle, the Princess loyalty program. This served as kind of a "petri dish" to see the privileged in action. I am, myself, an Elite member, but my husband was one of 197 Platinum members on board, and we did have an occasion to meet one of the 8 Blue card passengers with his equally underrepresented Gold card wife. Apparently they booked the cruise for the itinerary only and had no idea they would end up in the middle of a Love Boat festival! One half of the couple was expressing regret at not knowing what they were getting into before they boarded the ship. (Live and learn, I guess.) I was told that the remaining Blue and Gold card holders were family members and friends of the celebrities.
One might expect a ship full of Elites to be card waving snobs, but that turned out not to be the case--for the most part. The vast majority was polite, not crowding at elevators or demanding immediate attention at dinner or at the bars. We met many interesting and pleasant people (hello, Tom and Gloria, Al and Irene) and fortunately did not encounter too many rude or unpleasant people. However, it was inevitable, I think, that the rude and entitled would make themselves heard, and that did happen, unfortunately.
Sammi, the CD, made a remark that some people seemed to be having almost a high school reunion. I agree with that, but I might modify that to omit the reunion part. There were groups on board, people who obviously knew each other from other cruises, who formed into high-school style cliques. As I say, this was not the majority, but there were enough of these little cliques to notice, and, as high-schoolers do, they were often excluding of other people and sometimes downright rude about it. In the library, for instance, there was a jigsaw puzzle in progress, and the group working on it left a note saying "Hands OFF!" when they weren't there to guard it. Since I have always found jigsaw puzzles on cruises to be an activity for anyone to join, this seemed very unfriendly to me.
In the lounge in the evening, these groups would pull together a circle of chairs so they could talk, but more than once I saw someone in the group deliberately turn his chair back to the outsiders sitting next to him without so much as an "excuse me." The message was clear: you are not welcome in our clique. It was interesting to eavesdrop on them. "I never complain, but..." followed by a litany of complaints about everything from the lack of storage space in the suites to the lack of deference given by a crew member, "I asked him if he knew who I was." It was a high school cliche conversation. As might be expected, there was the usual superficial friendliness, such as when someone not in the clique walked by. Everyone would say "Hello" sweetly, then follow it with much eye-rolling and ugly faces as the the person disappeared from their sight. (There was one couple on board who seemed to be the target of much of this cruel derision whom I found to be very sweet if a bit eccentric.) Then there were the divas, smiling at each other through clenched teeth, each trying desperately to out-do the other. "I had breakfast with Isaac." "How sweet. I had dinner with Isaac AND Captain Stubing. He told me I look just like Tuesday Weld." Another topic was "how many friends I have," and this would be illustrated by running through a list of names of the people she could identify on the ship. Her competition could out number that list, and it became increasingly unclear which one would be crowned prom queen.
This behavior extended to the dining room in some cases. In fact, we were subjected to such an astounding act of rudeness that I have been hard pressed to recall when we have ever been more insulted or ill-used.
Another unique aspect to this cruise was the active Roll Call here on Cruise Critic. More than 30% of the passengers were involved. This enthusiasm may have led to higher expectations for the cruise ("best service," "Princess VIPs aboard") and may have, thus, contributed to the subsequent griping. It's hard to know. One thing was shown in high contrast: how people come across online is not necessarily how they will be in real life. While I never met face-to-face with the majority of people on the Roll Call (Meet and Greet was chaotic with that many people) the ones I did encounter turned out to be more interesting than they had seemed or much more unfriendly than the online personas they presented. I also think the Elite-heavy Roll Call contributed in some way to the entitled clique behavior I noted earlier. I have never been much of a Roll Caller, and I think I'll return to my previous ways and just take people I meet on the ship as I find them when I meet them there.
As I've said, the cruise itself was very good, with many high points. As I have also said, the number of unpleasant passengers was small in comparison to the friendly ones. Again, I think what I learned from this unusual cruise is that one, the small ships of Princess are true jewels, and two, I think I enjoy a cruise with a more diverse population than this one, even if I am among those Elites I seemingly criticize.
Very nice, with a little love seat near the window. The showers on the small ships are larger than those on the Grand ships. Small but adequate balcony.
Fascinating boat ride into the estuaries with wonderful bird watching. This tour is not easy for anyone with mobility issues.
We went into town and walked around. It was Sunday and not much was happening.
This port is scarcely worth the tender ride to the dock. Nothing but beer and souvenirs.
We got off the ship to go to Wal Mart. It was too hot and humid to do much else.
Wonderful tour of the 2000 year old ruins and a nice lunch in a mountain village.