Along with our good friends, we planned this trip for almost a year. Our extended vacation would start by spending four days, including New Years Eve on Copacabana Beach prior to boarding the cruise.
This cruise did not start well. The embarkation process in Rio de Janeiro was an organizational disaster that reaffirms our perception that Princess, while a cruise industry leader in many categories, lacks competence in the basic tasks of embarking and disembarking guests. The delay in Rio de Janeiro may well have been exacerbated by ANVISA authorities arriving late for work and delaying the disembarkation of the arriving passengers but the flawed embarkation process falls solely on the shoulders of Princess. The disorganization started with the written communication from Princess announcing a “Progressive Check-in Schedule”. This ill-conceived idea failed to recognize that hotel guests have check-out times and they should not be expected to sit waiting with their luggage in the hot sun of Rio. The check-out for our accommodation was 11:00 AM so, on the advice of our travel agent, we headed to the departure terminal considerably earlier than the time dictated for our Riviera deck. We supposedly have preferential boarding based on our platinum status…supposedly.
Upon arrival it was apparent that another boarding procedure was now in place and departure staff were handing out stickers with letters and numbers presumably based on a guest’s status (although that was never made clear). Once inside the departure area it was total pandemonium with no leadership from Princess staff, no signs and no indication of where to enter or how to navigate a poorly designed queue. This is yet another example of Princess Cruise Line’s lack of respect for their customers and, in particular, their returning guests. First time cruisers were being boarded prior to platinum, elite and suite customers and the number and letter “system” was being ignored by both departure staff (a contractor) and cruisers alike. Asked by us what was supposed to happen and what we should do….the supervisor indicated that he and his co-worker were trying to figure that out! Obviously it was a little late in the game to try to formulate a plan. It must be noted that no Princess staff were offering direction or assistance to the guests or to the ground contractor’s staff. Princess staff were only at the final station where they were collecting passports. Princess can blame ANVISA and the ground contractor but the ultimate responsibility to embark and disembark passengers is theirs and they do not do it well.
That said, Princess and other cruise companies would do well to bypass Rio (and Brazil) until they do a better job in welcoming tourists. You cannot have a cruise terminal that lacks in basic air conditioning, available food and beverage and, most important, competent and reliable staff and officials. An employee of mine was planning a cruise trip out of Rio with herself and five friends and promptly changed destinations when she heard about the onerous visa procedures to enter Brazil and our frustrations at the terminal.
We were not overly disappointed with the Crown Princess but do share the opinions of many guests that she is due for a significant re-fit and a re-thinking about the available public spaces when the ship is at full capacity. It was difficult to find places to sit and relax and would often have to retreat to our room. We tend to avoid the buffet for most meals but, when we had the need to go there; it was a challenge to find seating. Perhaps they should consider keeping tables free for diners at peak times rather than permitting many tables to be occupied with passengers playing a variety of table games. Princess (and not just the Crown) has gone way overboard hawking merchandise. We do enjoy browsing the stores but do not appreciate the public areas being filled with tables that constrict traffic flows.
We, along with many other passengers, were disappointed with the itinerary changes, the much abbreviated port call in Montevideo and the missed stop in The Falkland Islands. At the same time we do appreciate that it was a medical emergency that precipitated these cruise complications and we do not fault the Captain and crew for the actions that were taken on behalf of that passenger. In fact we do have considerable respect for the ship’s Captain in the way he kept the passengers fully informed throughout this ordeal. He was highly professional and you could feel his empathy for patient and the entire compliment of passengers in every announcement. Certainly the financial impact on Princess Cruise Lines was extensive both in terms of operational costs and then the size of the compensation package offered to the entire compliment of passengers.
As much as the Captain is to be commended for his communications to the passengers, the same cannot be said of the excursion staff. Our tour in Buenos Aires was cancelled for “operational” reasons but we did not discover this until returning to our stateroom just prior to dinner. A ship’s announcement should have been made so that we could look at alternate tours prior to them being sold out. Although we did manage to book a replacement tour, it should be standard practise to hold spots on an alternative itinerary for guests already booked on a cancelled tour. We would have been extremely disappointed if we had been unable to book this alternate tour because it had been sold-out before we even had knowledge of ours being cancelled. The excursion staff, other than the female officer in charge, were totally rude and unhelpful. The one positive to come out of this was that our guide was outstanding and perhaps the best we have ever had.
The four of us on this trip find ourselves torn when it comes to the Princess brand. On the one hand we have earned a platinum loyalty (and near Elite) status that is hard to turn away from but the flip side of that is our continued frustration with incompetent embarkation, disembarkation and a sub-standard internet service. Their internet speed is only marginally better than dial-up. Last September we sailed on the Celebrity Infinity so as to do a comparison with Princess and we experienced great staff, comparable food, an efficient and organized embarkation/disembarkation process and an internet that actually was high speed. It is difficult to recommend the Princess brand to family or friends when we know other companies can do it better. Obviously the technology to deliver proper high speed internet exists since Celebrity has it on their ships….the question is why Princess does not when it is part of Carnival Corporation who should be an industry leader.
We also see in Princess a company where a blind eye is turned about rules being broken. Customers ignore their boarding priority and the staff permit it to happen. The dress code (particularly on formal nights) is not enforced and one of the differences on Celebrity that we did not appreciate was the much more casual attire at dinner. We enjoy the tradition of formal nights and smart casual and do not think shorts are appropriate in the dining rooms at dinner. The majority of guests on formal night are properly attired and it is an insult to them when Princess staff do not enforce the stated policy and permit jeans and sport shirts rather than turning them away.
As noted, there was a compensation package offered to all guests that did seem to appease the majority of the very disgruntled passengers on board. This package did replace an earlier offer that left many guests fuming and clearly Princess’s head office recognized that they were about to lose many customers forever were it not revised. Again, full credit should go to the Captain for his willingness to directly engage with the passengers (many angry and rude) on this issue. Our previous experience with the Captain of the Grand Princess was completely opposite when he literally disappeared after some operational difficulties during a Pacific coastal cruise.
Compared to other reviews, we must have gotten lucky when it came to our dealings with the front-line staff who most immediately impact our on-board experience and we were thoroughly pleased with our outstanding evening dining room servers….Gaby and Carolina (both from Peru). They were upbeat, happy, and knowledgeable about the menu and knew our names and preferences from the outset. They brought a smile to our sometimes frustrated faces every night and always kept us laughing. They are head and shoulders above any other food servers we have ever had…on any ship/on any cruise line. Every Princess waiter and assistant should spend time with this incredible team to learn how to deliver such a delightful customer experience. These two over-deliver night after night.
We saw the same professionalism and friendly greeting from Kathrizz in Crooner’s Lounge and, like Gaby and Carolina; she greeted us by name every night and remembered our preferences as well. We can tell that she has a great rapport with many of the customers in that lounge.
We have cruised with Princess for many years and, like others, are seeing that brand decline in quality. The on board entertainment (other than the singer/pianist in Crooner’s and a couple of comedians) is sliding badly and the Princess Theatre was always packed as it lacks the capacity to support the number of passengers when the ship is full. Carnival Corporation would do well to look at the demographics of their Princess cliental and recognize that they are not the twenty-something’s on board a Carnival Party ship.
Functional and in good shape. Small balcony but that was our fault for not paying more. Great cabin steward.
Did our own tours while in Rio prior to the cruise.
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