As part of my wife’s and my 50th wedding anniversary celebration, we planned a “bucket list” cruise around South America. We planned and reserved the trip in September 2015, while aboard an Alaskan cruise on the Pacific Princess. We sailed on a 14-day cruise on the Crown Princess leaving out of Rio de Janeiro on 04 January 2017, ending up in Valparaiso / Santiago, Chile. The first half of our cruise was like the “cruise from hell”! The second half turned out very nice.
Some of the problems we encountered were particular to us, while some affected everyone on the cruise. Some were not the fault of Princess, while some I totally attribute to Princess. Some were due to weather and some due to an unexpected medical emergency. However, others were due to what I consider poor maintenance on the Crown Princess; some due to poor attitude of some, but not all of, the Princess staff; and some due to what I consider poor planning and execution by Princess Management.
Problems started before we boarded the ship. The Embarkation process in Rio was a disaster. It was not a process at all, but rather total chaos! There was no organization and the subcontractor hired by Princess to manage the embarkation was untrained, unknowledgeable on what was going on or supposed to be going on, and totally rude to some passengers, notably handicapped ones. There was a very noticeable total lack of Princess staff present until very late in the boarding experience. Once a Princess staff member did come out and try to make announcements, they were audible only in about the northern 1/3 of the building. There were far too few chairs for the number of folks there (about 1/3 had to stand the entire time) and the air-conditioning was woefully inadequate. There was no water or cold drinks available except for purchase from one vendor which had a 30-minute line to check out. Priority boarding was non-existent. Platinum, Elite and Suite passengers were given “boarding numbers” just like everyone else, (seemingly at random) based upon when they arrived. Everyone should have boarded by 5 PM and sailed at 6 PM. We, along with two other couples traveling with us arrived at 1:30 PM. We finally boarded around 5:45 PM and our traveling companions did not get aboard until around 7:15 PM, and they were by no means the last to board. We sailed about 3 hours late, missing our scheduled dinner assignment and unable to see Rio de Janeiro’s harbor sights in daylight. It was the worst embarkation, by far, we have experienced in some 16 cruises in numerous North American and European ports, and with six different cruise lines. A couple next to us in the Rio embarkation warehouse said it was the worst embarkation they had experienced in 35 years of cruising!
During our first day at sea, an announcement was made asking for any blood donors with AB+ or O- blood and a donor card to please report for the ship’s medical center since a passenger had a medical emergency and was in need of a transfusion. He was stabilized, but needed to be transported to a hospital onshore for further treatment. The ship diverted course and sailed back to the Brazilian mainland and the patient was transferred to a smaller vessel near shore and thence to a hospital. Unfortunately we learned the next morning he had undergone an emergency procedure there, but had not survived. This necessary diversion caused us to be another 8-10 hours late.
After another day of cruising we had entered the Rio de la Plata river / estuary between Buenos Aires and Montevideo, where we dropped anchor! The Captain explained that 24-36 hours of very strong Northwest winds had caused an unusually low tide in the estuary and there was insufficient draft for us to proceed to Buenos Aires. We stayed at anchor for maybe 6-10 hours while the winds abated and the tides returned sufficient water for the required draft of the Crown Princess. The next morning we were docked at Buenos Aires, albeit a full day late.
We awoke to find that out of some 8 or so planned shore excursions in Buenos Aires, the one we had signed up for was the only excursion cancelled. The reason given was equipment or technical issues. The same exact tours, but with German and Spanish speaking guides, proceeded as planned. It was too late to schedule another tour. We and one of the other couples traveling with us took a taxi into the Plaza de Mayo. From there we walked 2 blocks and took a “Hop-On-Hop-Off” bus tour of Buenos Aires. After several hours on the bus, and consulting the guide, we got off the bus and walked 3 blocks to the Recoleta Cemetery to see Evita’s grave. This had been one of the major stops on the Princess shore excursion that was cancelled. While walking the three blocks through a very nice park, we were “scammed” and I had my pocket picked and lost my new iPhone! Someone threw some foul-smelling stuff on all our backs and while we were distracted, thinking a flock of birds had pooped on us, their accomplice, seeming to help point out the stuff on our backs, picked my pocket. Apparently it is a favorite ploy of gangs in the city. The guide in Recoleta saw our soiled pants and shirts and said “Oh, you have been scammed”. He said we were not the first that day. When I reported it to two nearby policemen, they simply said that’s the way the gangs operate. Guest Services said when we reported it back aboard ship that we were not the only Crown Princess passengers to fall for the same scam that day. We told the staff member working there that future passengers should be warned about this scam. Indeed, the excursion speaker did then warn of exactly this type of scam before we arrived in Santiago. We went to our stateroom, took off our clothes, showered and left quickly for our scheduled early dinner seating. We planned to wash our soiled clothes the next morning in the self-laundry on our deck.
The next morning we “learned” that because we are a day late, we had lost our docking spot in Montevideo and thus would not dock there during the day but only a short time in the evening to take on supplies and food. All shore excursions in Montevideo are thus cancelled. We are also told that we “must take on fuel” and because we have lost our docking slot in Montevideo, we again sat at anchor for 6-8 hours in the Rio de la Plata while a small tanker and pump barge tied up alongside and loaded bunker fuel. Also when we awoke that morning we found some of the carpet in our stateroom wet. We learned that the toilet in the adjacent stateroom had overflowed and somehow seeped through the bulkhead and into our stateroom. We also found that all the laundries were closed for “water rationing”? We complained to the head steward who was on the hall overseeing carpet clean-up, asking when the laundries would be open because we had the fouled clothes for our Buenos Aires scam. He offered to take our clothes and have them cleaned complementary with the crew’s laundry. We thanked him and then went to eat breakfast. We had to stay out of our cabin most of the day while the carpets were vacuumed, shampooed, and dried (or at least partially dried). We had a very noisy blower in the room for two days.
It seems strange to me that a ship capable of extended cruising and making trans-Atlantic and trans-Pacific crossings of 7-10 straight days at sea should have to refuel only 4 days after leaving the beginning of the cruise in Rio de Janeiro! I am guessing that since this ship for the remainder of the season cruises alternatively between Buenos Aires and Valparaiso that they have attractive bunker fuel contracts in both areas. However, with only one stop per season in Rio, I suspect that Princess had to purchase fuel at a more expensive “spot market price”, and thus Princess management chose to sail from Rio with only partially full bunker tanks. Then after unexpected weather and unforeseen medical situations, we must sit anchored in the muddy Rio de la Plata and refuel for 6-8 hours. In retrospect I think this may also be the reason for the “water rationing” since I doubt if that the reverse osmosis water-makers could properly handle the very muddy water being taken in from the Plata while we sat at anchor. I had noticed water from our tap the night before being somewhat cloudy or brown!
We finally docked at Montevideo just at dusk and passengers are allowed ashore for about 3 hours and told to “enjoy the nearby shops, bars, and restaurants” since no tours weree offered. My wife and I disembarked and got just to the end of the pier before a major thunderstorm unleashed torrential rains. We quickly re-boarded, being some of the lucky ones to get only slightly wet instead of thoroughly drenched. People who did stay ashore later complained that all the shops and many restaurants and bars were shuttered for the night (or the rain?). We just got to “set foot” in Montevideo and Uruguay, and had no excursions or tours!
The next morning we were informed that we would totally bypass the Falkland Islands in order to get back on schedule for the remainder of the cruise. All shore excursions in the Falklands, including the one we had booked to go and see the penguins, were of course cancelled. Seeing the penguins had been one of the anticipated highlights of our cruise! We went to the Shore Excursion Desk to see if there were any options to change, or add, excursions in Ushuaia to see penguins there. We were told they were all already full with “very long waiting lists”! People were really getting upset by now. After waiting in line for quite a while at the Shore Excursion Desk, two men cut in from the side and went directly up to the desk. Several people behind us yelled at them to “wait their turn and get in line like everyone else!” When we then approached the staff member (we were next in line before the men attempted to cut), my wife told the staff member working there that in addition to helping with shore excursions, he should also help maintain order and ensure that folks kept in line and did not cut. He, almost indigently, told her that he had been there several days and nobody had ever cut before! He also said that we should not anticipate on getting on any excursions to see penguins as they were all much too full.
As new Captain’s Circle Platinum members, my wife and I were disappointed in the lack of attention that was paid to the “claimed Platinum Benefits”. First there was absolutely no priority or preferred boarding in Rio for us as Platinum members. There was a “Happy Hour” for Platinum, Elite and Suite passengers held in the Skywalker’s Lounge every night. We received no notice of this initially. We only learned about it after 3-4 days at sea from a fellow Platinum passenger. My wife called the Guest Services desk and inquired about these functions and about an invitation. She was told we should have received an invitation in our stateroom (which we didn’t). My wife requested one and was told it would be sent to our room shortly. Late the next day after still not receiving one, I finally went to the Guest Services desk and asked for one. After a lengthy “verification” that we were indeed Platinum, I was given a copy. We did utilize the special disembarkation lounge for Platinum, Elite and Suite guests in the Explorer’s Lounge and that was nice.
There were also a number of smaller instances which all pointed to the age of the Crown Princess and what I consider poor condition and maintenance. There were numerous plumbing problems. In addition to the overflowing toilet next door, our toilet overflowed once but thankfully was contained on the tile bathroom floor. Over the remainder of the cruise, we heard of several other “overflowing toilet issues”. The tub in our mini-suite was VERY slow draining for the entire voyage. Initially there was no Wi-Fi service in our stateroom. I called and complained and was told that the “router would be tweaked and it should be better”. It was never consistently available. Occasionally I could get a weak Wi-Fi signal in one or two spots in our stateroom, but if my phone or iPad shifted more than a few inches, I lost the signal. I resolved myself to going to the ship’s common areas to text, and send and receive email. One day we were both in our stateroom, my wife in the bathroom and I on the couch reading. There was a loud thump or bang. I thought my wife had fallen and she thought I had fallen. Instead a large fabric-coated wooden panel had fallen off the wall beside the bed between us and bounced over the lamp and onto the floor. It probably weighed 20 pounds. I informed our steward and it was promptly reattached. I know we experienced some rough seas both in the Atlantic as we approached Cape Horn and also in the Pacific as we came out of the Strait of Magellan and the ship rolled and pitched. However, all the attached wooden furniture (desk, cabinets, etc.,) in our stateroom (D515) creaked and popped so loudly that on several nights my wife could only get to sleep after putting in earplugs and taking some melatonin.
As a football fan I was also disappointed in the choices of Princess as to how games were presented on television. We watched all the pre-game hype and interviews for the NCAA championship game on our stateroom TV. Just as the game was about to begin, however, the screen went blank and then a message was displayed that “this presentation is blacked out on this station”! The first weekend of the NFL playoffs, games were shown on the large poolside screen and on the TV’s in Gatsby’s Casino, but not in the staterooms. The next weekend of the NFL Division Playoffs the same arrangement was initially started. There was so much interest in the Dallas – Green Bay game that Gatsby’s was standing room only. The Blackjack Dealers could not even get chairs around their tables and no one came to the tables to play in spite of the dealers trying to set up. Finally the head man or Pit Boss came out and told the dealers to just give up and wait until after the game. At the end of the Dallas – Green Bay game, they made an announcement that the next game between the Steelers and the Patriots would instead be shown on the stateroom TV’s! I’m not sure of Princess’s arrangements with satellite television but when the business in the casino suffered, they certainly found a way quickly to broadcast the games in the staterooms! Why didn’t they do it earlier for the NFL and for the NCAA game?
Although there was clearly a bad attitude among some of the Crown Princess staff, especially the staff manning the Shore Excursion and Guest Services desks and some of the shops, not all were of this same attitude. Our stateroom steward was very attentive and efficient and very promptly attended to every issue raised with him. The Botticelli formal dining room wait staff and the staff at Vines Wine Bar deserve special praise. They were excellent.
We were also somewhat disappointed in the overall quality of the entertainment. The specialty venue musicians were all very good and the comedian in the Explorer’s Lounge was very good. The Princess Production crews (singers and dancers) were very talented, but the production shows themselves seemed “dated” and unimaginative. Nathan Foley, whom we had seen win Princess’ Entertainer of the Year on the Caribbean Princess last year, was great as usual. The audience response to all shows, however, even including Foley’s, seemed to lack the enthusiasm we have experienced on other recent cruises.
The food in the main dining rooms (Botticelli and da Vinci) where we ate and the Horizon Court buffet were adequate. The food in the International Café, which we frequented for lunch, was very good. Our two meals in Crown Grill and Sabatini’s specialty restaurants were probably the best dining experiences and meals we have had on any cruise.
The second half of the cruise was much better; making all ports and having no shore excursions cancelled. Cruising around Cape Horn and the glaciers around Beagle Channel and the Strait of Magellan were spectacular. Ushuaia was beautiful and fun to visit. Our Wildlife Watching excursion there was excellent. Punta Arenas was interesting also. Disembarkation went very smoothly in Valparaiso.
One last personal problem did arise related to disembarkation, however. We had dutifully placed all our large bags outside our stateroom the night before so that they could be transported to a lower deck for offloading into the passenger terminal. We kept only our small carry-on bags and one set of clothes to wear ashore and on the full-day tour of Valparaiso, Vina del Mar, and a wine tasting and lunch en route to our hotel in Santiago. I had saved the hiking pants that had been taken and cleaned by the chief steward for us after they were severely soiled in our earlier scamming incident. I had checked that all of the odorous substance had come out of the trouser legs and that they had not been stained. Much to my chagrin, however, I discovered as I put on the trousers that last morning, that in the washing, drying or ironing that the entire zipper pull was missing! Luckily I had also left out a pullover golf shirt with an extra-long shirttail that I could constantly pull down to cover my open zipper! I did fill out a Damage Report at the Guest Services desk, but it was still an uncomfortable, embarrassing day until I could get to the hotel in Santiago and get another pair of pants from my suitcase! I have yet to hear from Princess or receive any reimbursement for the ruined pants.
I know this was not the experience or quality cruise that I, nor other passengers, nor Princess was expecting. Obviously Princess realized this since they offered each passenger ½ of that they had paid for the cruise in a “Future Cruise Credit” and another ½ of that they had paid for the cruise as a credit in their “Onboard Spending Account”. I am grateful for that, but still do not think that this particular cruise and ship was anywhere near the quality on prior Princess cruises.
Cabin was spacious and balcony very nice. Drawer space seemed a little less that we recently experienced in Ocean View cabin on Royal Caribbean on a 14-day, transatlantic repositioning cruise. See notes above concerning plumbing problems, furniture "creaking & popping", and a wall section falling off.