Second-time Princess Cruisers. Two mid-30s married couple, no kids. Above average land & sea vacation experience. Cruise experience: Celebrity, Carnival, Avalon Waterways, Princess.
Solid experience. No issues. Received room upgrade prior to embarkation. Pre-cruise information and checklists were adequate. Enough information was provided to arrange for Visas, inoculations, and port activities.
Embarkation: Valparaiso, Chile
No challenges. The lines moved quickly, our documents were in order, the shoreside staff were friendly. It pays to be friendly even if you're not in the mood. It makes staff more eager/willing to help assist you. Our inside stateroom was ready, bags arrived shortly after. Dining areas were open, but packed as usual. Staff seemed refreshed and ready for a new voyage despite having just completed journey from SoCal. Kudos to them.
On-board Amenity "Familiarization":
A pre embarkation walk-around the ship yielded no real surprising things. Facilities identical to prior cruise on Ruby Princess. Level of staff interest in promoting "add-ons" was expected and not over the top (just yet.) Safety drill was fine; despite the incredible and Cruise-persistent rudeness of non-English speaking passengers. Seriously; in crowded groups, everyone would silence down when messages in Spanish/Portuguese were broadcasted. As soon as the announcement switched to English, noise levels rose dramatically - as though no announcement was being made.
Ports of Call:
Punta Arenas: Arriving on Christmas Day I think was a miscalculation. The area was empty except for vendors in the square. Cruise-tour operators were, of course, available. This seemed like a sly ploy to corner passengers into purchasing expensive excursions. Saw right through this. Off-putting and insincere to say the least. Tendering was fine. We had no issues at this port.
Sailing Glacier Alley: Fantastic. The "nice touch" was having the Captain put the expert speaker on the PA system for everyone to here. We claimed seats early and enjoyed the show.
Ushuaia: First of a couple disembarkation disasters. Getting off the boat took forever. The common response from Cruiselines is attributing this to "circumstances outside our control." I hate this because it suggests a powerful cruisline does not have the ability to make adjustments to its schedule in order to deliver a seamless experience for its customers. Worried about the slow response from port authorities? Plan to arrive earlier to accommodate that delay. Suffer a "gangway malfunction"? Test and service your gangways during an at-sea day. Preventative checks and maintenance never hurt anyone. We had scheduled two Cruise-sponsored excursions and were assured in their non-conflict in time. Passengers on the first tour had to take measures into our own hands to ensure we made the second tour. That should not happen. If a tour is delayed due to a delay in disembarkation, those with follow-on plans should be identified, given alternative options, and/or given priority for transport. Essentially: spend more money = get higher level of service.
Falkland Islands: A fantastic Port of Call. We pre-arranged a non-ship sponsored shore excursion with calculated risk. We were given Priority tendering passes because of an earlier issue. We used them on this port of call. Unfortunately, disembarkation staff did not know how to stage direct us and ended up having us fend for ourselves. We caused some initial angry glares which were cleared up as soon as the priority tender explanation was made/shown. Totally understandable. I too would be upset if someone cut in line. Point: Cruise Staff should all be familiar with how/where to direct priority tenderers so they are not subjected to the justified, but misinformed anger of other cruisers. The scarlet letter we wore as a result of the staffs mishandling of us stayed with us for the rest of the cruise.
Buenos Aires: A nice port of call. Again, disembarkation disaster. Gangway issues caused staff to redirect queued guests to another gangway. Did not file those people in nicely, but essentially "released" them and lost control of the group, causing cutters, angry passengers, and many choice words being thrown about between guests. Staff lost control. Not a good way to start an excursion. This was new-years eve. We should have hung out in the harbor till nightfall to witness BA's fireworks. We did not, but left port for the short, but slow journey to Montevideo. The NYE events aboard the ship were debaucherous. Drunkeness everywhere, vomit in the lobby elevators, boobs, butt, and god-knows what else falling out everywhere. We are not prudes, but the behavior of the majority Argentinian & Brazilian guests was inappropriate by any Western Nation's standards.
***I have to pause from the review to discuss a very concerning matter that became evident at this point in the Cruise - Abusive treatment of Staff by cruise guests.***
We began to see the effects of guest treatment on the Staff by this point. Servers were clearly trying hard to stay polite - but the way some of the guests treated them was shocking - predominately from the Argentinian and Brazilian guests. Seriously. One server expressed to me after I witnessed what could be considered a "sexual assault" event (a female server's butt was jokingly pinched by a guest. She protested, he apologized.) that they dare not complain to their supervisors because of retribution and being fired for cause. I could not believe it. The responsibility should NOT be on the guests to report such events. Every team lead, every staff member should be empowered and protected by the cruise-line to report passengers who abuse them. (I saw towels thrown at staff, yelling, etc...not cool). If they don't have it, Staff should have their own "bill of rights." - Back to the review.
Montevideo: Rainy Port of Call, but a beautiful city. Cruise-sponsored tour guide was spot-on. No issues. Fantastic day.
Rio de Janeiro: If I never have to go back to Brazil, I'll be ok with that. Hours late to get off the boat because of admitted "problems" between the Cruise Staff and Port Authorities, Rio was supposed to be an immediate drive to the airport for many. We had a couple of follow-on days in Rio so the delay didn't effect our plans, but I still felt bad for those who had to leave. Many flights were missed. I don't know how the Cruiseline managed this. Said our goodbyes to the staff and disembarked. Had a 30-minute circus show between the port transfer folks and local customs authorities over which way we needed to walk. Everyone was fine, but it was somewhat tone-setting for the unoraganized nature of Brazilian government. We rolled with the punches.
Cabin: Fine. Was what was expected. Cabin Steward friendly, gracious, kind. All good.
Dining: Again, anytime dining continues to be the trend. More folks using this. However, I am not a formal dresser. I was denied entrance to the standard dining room because I did not have a jacket on. This is unacceptable. I should not be made to feel a second-class citizen for choosing not to dress-up. Formal Nights are for a bygone era. Allow those who want to dress up to do so, but do not limit ship amenities because others choose not to. My dress has no bearing on how another chooses to "experience" the evening. It is classism at its most obvious.
Enrichment: Kudos to Princess for stepping up their game on lectures and educational activities. More of this...
Entertainment: SO MUCH BETTER THAN A FEW YEARS AGO. Shows are finally getting edgy. One features dancers in lingerie! Oh my!! MORE MORE MORE adult-appropriate shows with a few kid shows thrown in! Greater production value, better props, better choreography. Movies under the stars: fantastic.
Fitness: Didn't use but a couple times.
Service: Staff continue to be the shining star and the Keystone of Princess. Guests ought to spend time and invest in getting to know their staff. This is a huge gem of an opportunity to enrich ones cultural understanding. So many traditions of our shipboard crew; it was fantastic and they loved to talk about their backgrounds and traditions. Wonderful!
Shore Excursions: Continue to be overpriced. Utilize the same tour operators as what can be hired separately. A cruise-ship based economy in a Port city is hinged upon tour operators getting their cruisers back to the ship on time. The fear-mongering that Princess and others use to convince cruisers to sign up for their tours is annoying. Cruisers just need to be smart, do their research ahead of time, and sign up with reputable tour operators who have a long standing reputation for that location. Trip Advisor is your friend in that regard.
Spa: We usually drop way more than we should on spa services. Why not; it's vacation. However, the subcontractor Princess uses should back-off on the post services sales pitch. Nothing ruins the state of tranquility after a massage than a hard-pitch, high-pressure sale of products used during that massage. If I want it, I'll ask. This was incredibly off-putting.
Value for Money: The Face-price cost of the cruise was an incredible deal. But the cost of excursions, Visas, airfare, and on-board costs quickly negate any value. We rank our trip as being average cost for what we received.