Please be patient in the reading of this comprehensive review which has taken a long while to compile due to the unwillingness of various sources to explain their actions (inactions) whilst on-board this cruise. Rather regrettably very little input from Princess Cruises themselves to explain their failings has not helped and that their only offering of their ‘sincere apologies’ (5 times over in the same ‘reply) does tend to wears a bit thin!
A recent ‘final twist’ should however prove to be to the added benefit of many cruise passengers when visiting certain Indian Cruise Ports in the future, saving them significant costs, time and inconvenience
This was to be our 35-36th cruise (if you count the 2 sectors) and we are well used to making allowances for some operator failings and loss in our expectations.
Earlier last year we had also completed a comparable 50 Night cruise on the P&O Arcadia, only our second P&O if discounting their former Ocean Village brand. We had hopes and expectations of Princess equaling or surpassing it but sadly it did not even come close.
There were only 4 new ports of call for us, Phuket, Ko Samui, Bali and Busselton, all of which were to be tendered.
Most of our cruises have been with Princess but our strong allegiance to the brand was to be sorely tested on this occasion. From the onset the now well-written about ‘Indian Visa Farce’, along with the multiple mis-management issues affecting most passengers, were so far-removed from the standards of customer service portrayed in the recent Royal Princess ITV cruise series.
We had sailed on this ship in the Baltic for 14 N in 2014 and was brilliant.
Lest we were to forget the positives of this cruise we did find the staff, away from the customer services desk area, to be excellent - in terms of their levels of service, engagement and their maintaining good eye-contact throughout the cruise!
The freedom dining service within the Michelangelo Dining Room, along with that in the International Café; both located on the deck 4 as and our cabin; were also at their best.
To be able to walk-around the ship on the promenade deck on this class of ship is an appealing feature for us. Sadly this is fast disappearing from current cruise ship designs
In our early reading of the ‘Roll-Call’ for this cruise we had identified that there were many troubles and issues being raised in obtaining the Indian Visa, in a variety of countries – both in cost-terms and sheer frustration in form-filling, visiting VFS offices, etc.
We know that Princess have delivered so much to us in the past, hence we have remained loyal to them. We can only hope that despite their unwillingness to formally accept constructive criticism from many more that, they will address these and other concerns already expressed to them.
With our having been to Cochin twice before we drew those visa problems to Princess Cruises attention and sought their approval to being allowed to stay on-board ship without our having to purchase a visa – cited as being possible in some cruise passengers previously posted reviews.
After 3 weeks deliberation they confirmed, that “all guests visiting India must have a Multiple Entry Tourist Visa. Visas must be obtained prior to the cruises and cannot be obtained onboard. Irrespective of any advice obtained from the various India High Commission offices, these requirements will be strictly enforced and guests will be denied boarding if they do not have the correct visas on embarkation”. “You need to check with your travel agent or the government Authorities (VFS Global) and refer to CIBT (their preferred visa agent)”. Princess went on to REPEAT that “If you arrive at the terminal in Southampton without the relevant paper work then you will be denied boarding.”
Faced with the latter ‘ultimatum’, were we not to adhere to their repeated directives and been refused boarding, we would likely be considered to be in breach of our (all?) travel insurance company’s cover. Like many more who would have preferred to have been given that same option, we felt that we had no choice but to get the visa - which both VFS & CIBT were also then recommending (advising?) as also being needed.
The passenger mix on-board was far different to any of our previous cruises. For the first leg it was given out as the ship being Full – 3,028 Passengers with 1,405 – UK/ Ireland, 939 – Australia/NZ, 612 - USA / Canada
We had also read on the passenger ‘roll-call’ that the cruise had been ‘over-booked’, as quite a number of them had received some amazing offers to stand-down. Some were being offered stand-downs during the cruise and as late as disembarking in Melbourne instead of Sydney.
On the day of embarkation there was chaos and confusion at the check-in desks at the Southampton terminal. We subsequently learned that it was caused and compounded by conflicting directives being given by Princess Management to their personnel.
Again, please excuse there being more details than I would normally wish to include in a review as it may help to fill – in some of the facts surrounding the circumstances of this ‘unique’ (all for the wrong reasons) cruise experience, to fellow passenger.
The situations played-out at the Cruise Terminal can be summarised:-
1) Check-in staff had only been briefed that very morning to process all passengers without the correct visa documentation and to allow them to board the ship - but were to initially ‘fine-them’ £200 / $200?pp
2) One passenger we met was advised by Princess check-in staff that ‘over half’ the passengers were expected to arrive with the wrong visa or no visa at all and that the ship would be sailing half-empty and therefore the staff are being told to accept them for boarding”.
3) The check-in staff were later instructed l to drop those charges and to allow any further such passengers to check-in and to board. (those that had been ‘fined’ were re-credited).
4) Some of those passengers with no / incorrect visa were warned that they may have to depart the ship in Dubai and fly to Phuket and later rejoin the ship - which seemed most odd!
5) Others were told that their Cruise Cards would be ‘blocked’ so as to prevent them disembarking in India, which also seemed to be at odds with those ‘Dubai’ references.
6) Even the check-in personnel were openly questioning the indecisions and inconsistencies given by their own management team (Princess?).
Princess had obviously not thought-through the significant consequences of making an extremely late decision - to effectively break / ignore their own ‘binding’ Contracted Booking Conditions - which they themselves had dictated and ‘imposed’ upon all of their fare-paying passenger’s.
Least of all in their minds were the affects that their unilateral decision would have upon the vast majority of their loyal passengers – all those of us that, at some considerable cost(s) and time, had fully complied with those now very questionable Princess Conditions.
A passenger we spoke with frequently (first-time cruisers), had met the Captain in the bar and asked him as to why all those passengers had been allowed to board. He was advised that, ‘because there were so many without visas; ‘upwards of 230’; it was felt that we could not leave so many in the port’ – ‘It may be that the Indian authorities will fine them $300 or so?’
Princess on-board management rather shamefully, chose instead to laud all the blame on to India for their having supposedly ‘changing of their rules – again!’ That was totally unfounded, as even CIBT (Princess recommended Visa Agents) have subsequently advised that there had not been any recent changes to India’s Visa requirements.
Customer Services Supervisor when asked 10 days in to the cruise for the actual affected passenger numbers said ‘we do not know’ and 2 days later their Senior Manager was ‘not at liberty to divulge’. Neither would they clarify, then or since, those passenger numbers involved or as to why they had decided to breach their own conditions. Impressions were given of a major cover-up going on?
With a further circa 300 passenger change-over in Dubai, references were made to most of those as not having a visa for India either. That may account to comments upon previously published reviews, referring to there being ‘several hundred’ without ‘the correct documentation’.
As ‘converts’ of Princess to the benefits of their Freedom / shared dining (now adopted by other cruise-lines) this issue inevitably would get raised by someone during the table conversation at virtually all mealtimes.
On a number of occasions we were also unfortunate enough to be witness to some of the shameful behaviour by staff Passenger Services members , who were disrespectfully shouting and / or talking down to passengers. Most distressing for those passenger and very upsetting for all those around the desk area at the times, including ourselves. Other passenger comments on this have also been previously aired in reviews.
Immigration officials from India had boarded in Dubai and started their processing of visa checking the next day and were completed by the following afternoon.
With immigration checks being completed the day before we were to arrive in Cochin a standard open-letter from the Princess Legal Department was issued to all cabins, seen as a belated attempt to try to defuse the situation. Passengers wishing to make claims were asked to ‘please reach out to a member of our Customer Relations staff upon your return home’. It also included 3 different e-mail addresses, one for the UK, Australia/NZ and USA/ Canada.
Not to be interpreted as having taken benefit from their visas, there were 70 plus with correct visas not wanting to go ashore, ourselves included, elected to remain on-board - in the company of the ‘several hundred’ or so of those without ‘correct documentation’. We were also joined by large numbers of Indian families sampling the on-board bars and dining facilities
Potentially, this should allow those passengers to reclaim the visa cost from Princess for their breaching of their own conditions - or so you may have thought!
The UK & USA seemed to be given the ‘short-straw’ in that their e-mail addresses included ‘customer services’ as a prefix. Those of us from the UK seeking reimbursement of their visa costs from the UK have been advised to the effect “nor am I able to reimburse you for the visas you purchased”. Do not know what the USA passengers have since been advised?
The Australian / NZ passengers were however assigned an e-mail address with a ‘claims’ prefix – but currently do not know how their claims have been dealt with either. This is not helped by Princess installing ‘firewalls’ between those 3 regions – to prevent cross-reading / interrogations of information including their differential pricings, etc.
What has since been determined is that Carnival Group adopt a ‘Will be denied boarding ..without the correct documentation’ conditions wording (seemingly now only when it suits them?). However their P&O Australia brand independently conveys ‘May be denied boarding’ –in line with that conveyed by the RCI & Fred Olsen cruise line brands. Got to give it to the Aussies - they get to say it as it is! (They also remove fixed gratuity charges and insist £AUD on-board currency on cruises out of Australia - another lesson for the UK?)
None of the cruise-lines, nor VFS Global and CIBT (+other agents?), elect to specifically cite and / or promote the Consulate General of India’s (CGI ) directive which confirms that there is definitely no need to obtain a visa if you remain on-board any ship whilst it is in any Indian Port.
Only common-sense really, when most of the crew do exactly the same when the cruise ships are in port. Why therefore should passengers be discriminated against by Princess (+ other cruise lines?) Instead Princess attempt to thwart those same Indian Statutory rights from being recognised, for their own fare-paying passengers - by adopting a form of ‘weasel words’ to try to convey otherwise?
At the time of this cruise Princess had included a reference in the Cruise Personaliser; only readable via your insertion of a bespoke passenger booking reference number; that read “Irrespective of any advice obtained from the various India High Commission offices“– (this has however since been removed from their current cruise conditions – see later).
Both VFS Global and CBIT have repeatedly failed to advise applicants of that same very clear CGI directive. More recently and rather selectively both of those bodies’ had no such problems in their recognising and passing-on to applicants the recent directive issued by CGI to increase the price for the Indian Tourist Visa by a further £10.
Particularly for the benefit of those who also experienced this cruise I paste here a post-cruise ‘explanation’ offered-up by Princess. Not only does it differ to that conveyed in a separate e-mail from ‘them’ (Carnival), it is also at odds with the content of their own letter issued some 2 weeks in to the cruise to all those passengers registering formal complainants (presumably in an attempt to try to diffuse the situation?).
Fact versus fiction you may say –
“As explained during your cruise, the Indian Immigration Authorities decided that as they had allowed one couple to board without the required visa, they decided others would be permitted to do so as well, but would not be permitted to go ashore in Cochin. This meant those guests who decided to not purchase a visa prior to travel were allowed to board on immigration officials agreement, as opposed to being denied boarding as would normally be the case.”
Compare that with, thirteen days in to the cruise – those passengers with no / incorrect visa had still not been notified officially of being able to stay on ship without incurring a penalty etc. for their doing so (confirmed by the Customer Services Desk). Also at that time Princess were still awaiting feed-back from the Indian Immigration authorities, as to whether those with no visas / incorrect visas would even be allowed to even stay on the ship’.
A number of those we spoke to ‘without visas’ were still worried that they may have to disembark in Dubai – poor communications to them by Princess and so long after leaving Southampton!
The 80-90+% of passengers that had complied fully with Princess Cruises conditions; paying sums which varied greatly between £250 to $1300 per couple (for the sake of an 8 hour stop in Cochin) had not been given any thoughts or respect they deserved by Princess.
On the face of it, those passengers allowed to board without having laid out any expense (money and substantial time, etc) for an Indian visas were effectively made in to ‘winners’ - entirely due to Princess not invoking their own Conditions with them. They were not fined as some of them had expected to be.
However, an e-mail between one of those passengers without a visa dated the 30.08.16; to / from the CGI (Consulate General India) Birmingham office; was presented and copies made and readily circulated as proof by them that they had personally done nothing wrong. They had merely exercised the very clear and precisely conveyed option, granted to ‘a foreigner’ to remain on board (in any Indian Port) without there being a need to obtain a visa. CGI are the very body that regulates Indian Visas (VFS Global are only their bespoke visa handling agents).
That CGI e-mail statement has since been independently validated, along with the same information from their Visa Support Centre, that states:-
“A transit /regular visa is not required by a foreigner who does not leave the ship while it halts at an Indian Port. In case a person desires to leave the ship during its halt at an Indian port, he/ she may be allowed to do so on a temporary landing permit not exceeding 3 days. Please refer the link http://boi.gov.in/content/temporary-landing-permit for information on the same.”……. Etc.
This tended to put the blame fairly and squarely back on to Princess’s own shoulders. Seemingly the likes of both VFS + CIBT + other agents (?) were all too readily to have ‘supported’ them, however all make their living (money) out of the selling of Tourist visas. Despite this very specific information being re-presented to all of them, up to 12 weeks ago they continued to be in denial of that being an alternative option to buying a visa.
Princess however still wanted to maintain that their ‘passengers will be denied boarding etc…’stance. VFS Global when pressed quoted that “You need to check with the Cruise Company as it all depends on their requirements”! Princess of course originally contended “I hope that you can understand Princess Cruises have no influence in this (VISAS)”.
Had Princess decided to adhere to their own rules for this cruise, it is not difficult to work out that they would have potentially lost-out upon a 10 -15% benefit from their on-board spend, expensive excursions and their ever-increasing gratuities. Could it be the ‘$ker-ching’, factor had ruled their heads?
This is the first Princess cruise that we have heard of some USA passengers exercising their right to sign-out of the daily gratuity charge. What message does that send- out I wonder?
I subsequently put to Princess Cruises a number of simple but pertinent questions. In-keeping with everything else presented to them, they have declined to answer. Examples :-
Would Princess expect 230+ - 500+ (subject of Princess Ratification) individual passengers to turn up for the cruise embarkation (in Southampton + Dubai) with no India Visa?
Would all those passengers have independently risked contravening / breaching of Princess’s Booking & T&C’s and thereby render their own Insurance covers null and void, had they not been given professional advices that they could stay on ship?
For Princess check-in staff to have been given conflicting advices by their management on allowing those with no visas to board the cruise; in direct conflict with the Princess’s own conditions; Princess management must have somehow ‘gleaned’ some time beforehand that there would be a major problem on that day concerning visas and how could they have known?
By now it was getting to feel a bit like ‘Miss Marple’at this point?
PRINCESS HAVING A ‘PREVIOUS HISTORY’
Princess have been asked repeatedly to confirm any of their cruise ships that have ever refused boarding, solely for their not having the correct visa documentation - at the time and since and have failed to do so. Had they done, it may well have served to quash the matter as it would likely have been verifiable from past posted cruise reviews?
Princess have however seemingly ‘pulled the same trick’ on their much smaller Pacific Princess World cruise only 2 years ago – see:-
http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=2229888&page=19 – shelldo1 2.11.16.
This only serves to convey contempt for the opinions of their loyal passengers, adding to the already loss of faith and trust that we personally now have of Princess as a leading cruise brand.
Our lesson learned is to never believe what Princess Staff tell you whilst on-board, as seemingly it counts for nothing, even if you record them!
It is as though no-one in the Princess organisation is willing or expected to take ‘ownership’ and / or responsibility for their own repeated serious staff-failures.
Their important Information messages - about Visas, Passports, etc., instead of being conveyed on the front page of the Princess Patter, were only being presented on the Wake Show. Only a small percentage of passengers find the time to watch and on this cruise was further compounded by the frequent time-zone adjustments.
4No. ‘Serious Messages’ were conveyed by the Customer Services Director for the morning of the 24th October- two days after Cochin (had been pr-recorded hence was worded for the day at Sea after Cochin). – See https://youtu.be/EP4mFEEjlZE - 24.10.16 – Item 4of4 which conveys:-
“The last ‘serious’ -I want to talk about on the Wake Show is the Visa Issue with India.
As you know we have had a Lot of Passengers upset about the India Visa situation.
We do know, we do understand.
We have sent a letter to your cabin that the Corporate office is dealing with this and I wanted everyone to know a little bit of follow-up”.
We had a huge meeting yesterday. Corporate officials flew in from Santa Clarita.”
We met with the Chief Immigration and the Chief in Charge of the Ports as well to discuss all the issues that we have with them this cruise, including the onboard issues and some of the visa issues, some of the face to face issues - a lot of various problems. Ah, they know that, they understand that, it is being discussed still.”
I am sorry there is no outcome that I am going to be able to give you – this year!”
It is something India is slowly working on and trying to fix and at this point I can let you know to watch the near future and see what happens”
Princess Cruises have been frequently requested to explain what that message was all about but have declined to do so. So why then did they choose to have put-it-out on TV if Princess (?) and their passengers would not understand it?
My perception is that crew members are normally allowed ashore without themselves or Princess having to ‘buy’ a visa for them and that on this particular occasion the ‘local port authorities’ were creating difficulties for them – possibly because they had lost-out on the income from those visas? - See what you can make of the video clip!
Tendering - On the same Wake Show / video, another of the CR Director’s ‘Important Messages’ concerned a decision to suspend / cancel priority tendering for Elite Passengers. This seriously questions their skill of basic maths, with 900 Elite out of 3000 passenger (30%) being determined by them as - “ So, as you know as an Elite passenger we normally have priority tendering we can do in some ports unfortunately that’s almost the whole ship so unfortunately we will not be having an Elite tendering lounge for our tendering in to Thailand”.
Passports – The taking and late returning of passports was also farcical and rather irresponsibly executed on the part of Princess. They had recently decided to adopt a system whereby the cabin stewards are charged with collecting your passports at various set times, but do not give you a receipt card for them - as normal practice (still common practice on other cruise-lines?).
Rather hypocritically of their system, the steward has to get a passenger’s signature each time they return the passports to the guest’s cabins- why different?
An added role and responsibility for already over-worked cabin stewards you may think? – Good guess may well be it reduces staffing costs and does not cost the company?
Their CS Manager subsequently explained that it is part of a ‘new Princess System’, introduced earlier in the year "in order to save paperwork”! When mentioning the unnecessary nightly junk-mail in our box to him – he rather flippantly responded with ‘that is another department sir’.
I also reminded him that there are some very expensive visas inside most passenger’s passports (ours also having the even more expensive 2 Year China Visa).
Their ‘new system’ however effectively places their passengers in breach of most, if not all, of the UK Holiday Insurance Company’s T&C’s. It also conveys that Princess are being rather ‘cavalier’ when it comes to the safeguarding of their guests personal and ‘intellectual property’, data etc.
The need to obtain a receipt when parting with your passport has been mentioned several times on recent UK Holiday and consumer TV programmes as a ‘savvy tourist -reminder’!
Yet another blinkered obsession of considering only their company interests ahead of their passengers when looking at cost-cutting!
As one passenger has already posted on this site - “On the last day of the cruise the cabin steward was giving back our passports they were stacked on his Trolley for anyone to touch …………. A bit lax to say the least!” - Wood, Leeds
Re-boarding the ship in Singapore, our passports were again collected, only this time from inside the Terminal bridge link to the ship (no receipt given!).
The Customer Services manager advised that they had to account for all of the passports as a Port Authority pre-requisite to leave the port and for Princess to ‘scan- them in’(?). About an hour later, the Captain came over the PA system, apologising for the delay to departure – as they were still missing 19 Passports which were “preventing the ship from leaving the port”. Some passengers were obviously rather more assertive in holding on to their passports with no receipt than we were?
As Princess do not seem to want to know about this serious flaw; assuming of course that they intend to continue with it; I would advise taking your passports to the desk (on those stated collection dates) and insist that they give you a receipt for them.
Another bit of cost-nibbling to watch out for is the free internet minutes available to Captains Circle members, Platinum and above. The threshold for the 500 minutes free package coming-in has recently been raised to 21+night cruise durations (from 17). The 250 minutes is still however a nice ‘loyalty reward’ to derive benefit from.
Also look out for changes to their Future Cruise Deposit (FCD) forms which do not now benefit those passengers without internet access / skills. The option for passengers to be issued with a hard-copy confirmation (to your cabin) has been withdrawn so you can now only receive one by e-mail.
The FCD is also no longer useable on future cruises over 45 Days duration (replaced by a supposed 3% price reduction?) – All this is in the very small ‘Specsaver-proof’ print included on the form.
A widow-friend on-board had no e-mail address (then) but had been assured by the FC consultant that she would receive a hard-copy confirmation for the 2 further future cruise credits she had recorded on her form. No hard-copy was ever received. Although her credit card had been debited for 2 some three months later her TA advised her that Princess had only credited her with 1.
Her companion, who had not even filled in a form for any FCC, had her credit card debited £75 for a single FCC. These are very basic errors and although since corrected, you may wish to carefully check your own Princess particulars on their web-site and upon your Credit Card statement in the future.
Feeling reticent about taking out a further FCC it was late-on in the cruise that I tried to drop off our own form with the FC consultant but she was always busy. For the very first and last time, I decided to use their drop-box service. I had taken a photo of the form and only when I had not received an e-mail confirmation did I open the photo file and noticed that, whilst I had completed and signed the form, I had failed to insert our cabin number (my error).
Being no hard-copy confirmations issued whilst you are still on-board ship allows them to process these forms post- cruise. However they cannot subsequently ‘manually’ rectify any missing or incorrect details, as indeed common-sense may have otherwise dictated if processed on-board?
They are also adamant that this cannot be done retrospectively either. Had it been missing from a form for a cruise excursion I would imagine that someone would have had the ‘nouse’ to have obtained a cabin number?
As things have panned-out since, with Princess being in denial of their staff failing or decisions, we had no plans to risk them again in the foreseeable future.
Rather disappointing to experience that Princess standards had fallen so fast on this particular cruise, particularly when our recent experiences of ‘sister companies’, on bothP&O and Cunard, they have managed to have ‘upped-their-game’ and standards!.
By Princess not wanting to take ownership / responsibility for their own personnel failures and management decisions I can now relate somewhat to the judges cover-up summation in the $40m 'magic pipe' case in which Princess Cruises were given a record fine for dumping waste at sea.
Always subjective in terms of personal likes /dislikes and by our past experiences we have found that Princess usually manages to strike it somewhere ‘in the middle”. For the first 10 days or so the main shows were pretty good but then, apart from the odd exception eg. Jo little, they failed to impress many. This showed itself by the drastic fall-off in audience numbers, particularly for the late shows.
The Princess show-team were judged by many to be below average, even resorting to miming songs on some occasions.
Daytime activities were much the same, poor by any standard. If you strip-away the potential revenue- generating activities of spa treatment, therapy ‘demonstrations’, art auctions, ever-expensive bingo etc there was not much left. Carpet bowls, croquet (infrequent) and the like were all-over-the-place in terms of venue(s) and / or timings.
Even the Champagne (fizzy water?-cheap) hoop-la started off on deck with 6 bottles (to be ‘hooped’). This was later replaced to 4pegs to be ‘hooped’ – best of 3 go’s - with only the one bottle prize when brought indoors (most days). Health & Safety gone mad they say – another cost-cutting scheme more-like?
The first mention of Remembrance Day was in the Patter & the Wake Show for that very morning - mentioning the Service 11/11 held in the theatre - even the organisers were taken-aback as it proved to be standing room only. There was no pre-selling of poppies either and with their bringing forward the auctioning off of the Navigational Chart 3 days to that same afternoon we had expected the proceeds would have been donated to the Poppy Appeal (as P&O do). The $1,100 approx was however allocated for a Princess Charity. Has supporting the war-dead and associated charities now become yet another victim of being too ‘PC’?
I trust that this additional information has served to enlighten those who experienced this cruise and that it may ultimately bring-about a change to Princess’s approach to their cost-cutting programme. Likewise, consider changes to the Indian Visa situation and to assist those when contemplating their future cruise itineraries, with Princess and / or other cruise lines.
And now for the Twist - Indian Visa ‘breaking news’:-
I am very surprised that this significant change has not been presented in the Main Tourist Media.
From the 1st April 2017 the Indian High Commission (HCI) / Consular General of India(CGI) have included 3 ports (Cochin, Goa & Mangalore) to their on-line e-Visa system. Previously this was just for airports and effectively reduces the cost to $50 US pp - reported by initial users as being issued in circa 3 days. You can now find the instructions for an e-visa in the following web-site link - https://indianvisaonline.gov.in/evisa/tvoa.html
Their site information, responsibly and commendably, even warns of the on-line search engine risk of sending you to the wrong site link, by virtue of – “It is advised not to believe or fall in trap of any such unscrupulous elements who claim speedy/express grant of e-Visa and charge money for it”
Recent access to the Princess Cruise Personaliser (only accessible after booking a cruise and then using a booking reference) for the current Majestic Princess cruise visiting Cochin in June17 has revealed that Princess have now made some very significant changes to their own Conditions - relatively ‘on the quiet’!
It would seem that it had been re-compiled prior to the 1.04.17. and had already removed their previous conditions that we had cited to them as being potentially inequitable, namely:-
“Irrespective of any advice obtained from the various India High Commission offices, these requirements will be strictly enforced and guests will be denied boarding if they do not have the correct visas on embarkation.”
Likewise they had replaced their “Must have a multi entry Tourist Visa” with “staying onboard or going ashore require an Indian visa”. However, being compiled prior to the 1.04.17, this should be subsequently reworded as it is now negated by the introduction of the eTV for Cochin. Likewise the CGI (+HCI) statements should also now be automatically recognised / accepted (whereby the alternative option of staying on-board, without the need for a visa is an Indian statutory entitlement)
Conversely, still included was an addition of “Please note that a regular Tourist visa is required; the Electronic Tourist Visa (eTV) is not valid for cruise passengers” as this would also now become redundant - by virtue of the introduction of the e-TV ie, for all cruise ship arrivals / departures for the current 3 ports of Cochin, Goa and Mangalore.
However it took Princess 26 days in to April before formally ‘recognising’ this eTV change. This was done by notifying their passengers by e-mails (+ by respective Cruise Personalisers), however they can still be considered rather ambiguous and misleading by their very wording:-
“Please be advised that the visa information for India has recently been updated on your voyage. Most nationalities require a visa for India if staying aboard or going ashore and it must be obtained in advance. Electronic Tourist Visas (eTVs) are now available for visitors entering India via the Cochin Seaport. We do not recommend eTVs for guests going ashore on Princess excursions or independent tours, as processing time at the port may be lengthy and we cannot be responsible if you miss your scheduled tour due to immigration delays.”
Effectively, they are advising passengers; despite the much cheaper and easier to obtain eTV being valid; to obtain a full tourist visa at a cost £135- £260 pp (UK) for Princess to be able to guarantee that passengers can take, or rather make, their normally more expensive tours - preferring that their client’s should pay out a further £95-£220 more pp for their 8 hour stay? Wow!
This comes across as ‘a really big-ask’ of their passengers (see later Cochin port advices).
Princess still do not convey that you do not even need any Visa for any Indian Port if you were to chose instead to remain on-board ship as reaffirmed by both the official Consular General / High Commission of India confirmations
That was even the case before and post 1.04.17. It has even been further reaffirmed by CGI / HCI after the 1st April by both those parties (and now endorsed by VFS since):-
1. A transit /regular visa is not required by a foreigner who does not leave the ship while it halts at an Indian Port.
2. In case a person desires to leave the ship during its halt at an Indian port, he/ she may be allowed to do so on a temporary landing permit not exceeding 3 days. Please refer the link http://boi.gov.in/content/temporary-landing-permit for information on the same.
3. Else, you may apply for an e-Visa which is valid for entry through 3 designated seaports (i.e. Cochin, Goa, Mangalore). The validity of e-Visa will be 60 days from the date of arrival in India.
This is also verifiable should you wish to do so via these UK e-mail address links:-
firstname.lastname@example.org - Consulate General of India Birmingham (CGI)
email@example.com – High Commission of India London (HCI)
(similar offices in other countries I suspect?)
This ‘remain onboard’ entitlement applies to any Indian port (not just the 3ports accepting the eVT) and is applicable to ‘any foreigner’.
VFS Global have now finally accepted this to be the case (despite there being no commission for them). This followed on from their failure to advise an applicant ‘post 1.04.17’ of the e-TV change or the remain on ship /no visa option, and their subsequent confirmation:-
“However considering the fact that the Consulate General of India in Birmingham has advised you otherwise. We will raise this with the concerned authority and resolve this urgently for the benefit of our applicants and update our teams accordingly. In the meanwhile we will suggest you to please follow the instructions provided to you by the Consulate General of India, Birmingham”.
With the availability of the significantly lower cost and ease in obtaining the new eVT this should now become less of an issue. Those with limited physical abilities and those of us who have been before may opt to save upon unnecessary expenditure.
Although it has proved very difficult to get these points across to a number of the various parties over these last six months, it now seems that such persistence has gone some way to produce a significant change.
Future cruise passengers should derive significant benefits from these changes, hopefully for many years to come.
Or to put it another way - based upon 3,000 passengers; using the UK data; this could now potentially save cruiser passengers an average of £95 - £220 pp = £285 – 660K ($370 - 858K US) per ship!
If only Princess were to be more transparent and clear and precise as the Indian Authorities have now proved to be! Their ambiguity only serves to confuse and disappoint.
Americans who are offered the option of a 10 year full Indian visa may however wish to consider the individual longer term benefits to them.
Apparently the Princess Cruise Personaliser for China is still insisting upon a double-entry visa, even though this was in fact superseded by a 2 year multiple entry visa back In January 2016 in the UK and almost doubled the price.
We can only hope that Princess can somehow start to turn things around and begin to act upon genuine well intended customer feed-back?
Ports of Call Tips
Civitavecchia –Have visited here many times. Port shuttle coaches now drop you at a coach terminus which is further from the station for the trains in to Rome (10 Euro return) – now a 20 Min walk . At the coach terminus we noticed there were min-buses waiting with wi-fi facility for 20 Euro pp return journey in to Rome.
Naples – Our having done Pompeii, Herculaneum and Amalfi coast ‘to death’ we tried one of the underground Walking Tours – particularly good if the weather turns. The one we did was Napoli Sotterranea (Naples Underground) only 10 Euro pp and took just 90 minutes to do, Others include the Catacombs.
Those who did Capri by hydrofoil reported as being too rushed and very busy.
Messina – Previously done the Godfather tour + Coastline & Etna (all good).A showery day so this time we opted for a leisurely walk in the town taking in the Messina Cathedral’s Musical Bell Tower at 12 noon.
There were plenty of taxis at the port gates with really good value alternative tour options available.
Suez Canal – A perfect sunny and mill-pond like waters transit. Narration of the points of interest over the PA was quite informative.
Aqaba (Jordan) – Petra tour is a must if not done before. Whilst not cheap, those who did it independently as a group reported their experiencing more and their’s being far better value than the ship tour. The Waddi Rum experience also had good feed-back from those who did it – one for us next time around.
There was no visa charge made nor was there a $25US admin fee levied (as was conveyed in the Princess Cruise Personaliser)!
A free locally arranged transit port shuttle bus service was provided in to the town terminus and tourist centre where taxis and open-top Ho-Ho tourist bus connections were available
Dubai – Do not rely on any references to a ‘Free Shuttle’ as this was a ‘no-show’ - despite the Wake Show announcing there was a service and the Reception Desk ‘making-up’ times when asked. Just take a taxi (cheap) to Dubai World Trade Centre from where you can either walk to the Souk and / or catch the underground to the elevated mono rail to the Burj Khalifa etc. (Pre-book the tower on –line beforehand – circa 16:00 is good (if time allows) to get the sunset as well).
Make sure you use the official metered cream coloured Dubai Transport Corporation taxi cabs (pink trim have female drivers).
Cochin – The presentation was for us to arrive in to the ‘new terminal’ but the day before it was changed back to the former ‘coal-yard’ berths. They had however managed to tidy it up a little in 6 years and aligned a fair number of Gazebo covered stallholders to screen-off – as we looked down from the ship!
If you choose to purchase the eTV /visa and go ashore try the tuk tuk’s – far better experience than any tour. You see more, interact with the lovely locals and it is so cheap. We were told by those that took them that inside the port they were $25US but outside the gates $10US (2-seater)
Phuket – Berth was changed to a deep water port and tendering in – shared with an RCI ship. The tender now dropped you some 5-6 miles distance from the town but there were no shuttle buses (free or pay) laid on. The advised 45 minute tender transfer times - turned out to be 15min out & 20 min on return.
Port talk gave out false information – ‘you will get ripped off by taxis’ but, as others have commented, it seemingly just got rid of their unsold tours. Not surprisingly the 3 hour tender-wait was to prove very off-putting for some! Taxis were accommodating and cost less than made-out.
Singapore – Having done 3 end-of-cruise stays here and this our second port of call we have done all the popular venues ( Sentosa Island, Ho-ho buses, gardens, even Universal Studios, etc) ‘to-death’. Visibility permitting I would recommend the top of Marina Bay Hotel for the best and varied iconic views. Costs of drink and dining-out seem to have risen sharply in 18 months – as some now liken the Singapore Sling at Raffles to ‘taking on a mortgage’!
A walk from the cruise terminal to the Marina Bay Centre, to burn off some of those added-calories – took us approx 1 hour (If tempted to do, keep to the RHS pathway leaving the terminal to pick up on road crossing points). Taxi return was 10 minutes and cost us only $5 SGD ($3US). If at Peak traffic times / costs may vary as the city congestion charge is triggered on the meter.
Princess made a charge of $8US pp each way for their organised shuttle bus!
Laem Chebang – Princess Shuttle bus was laid on in to Pattaya at the seeming ‘standard $8US each way pp’! If doing again we would consider share / negotiate taxi from the port to see the sights en- route in to Pattaya - as some passengers opted to do.
Bali – The CS Director came on the Wake Show to say that Bali was dropping the Visa charge claiming the Bali (Philippines) web site was wrong! The web-site was always correct as there never was a charge. Even their Princess Cruise Personaliser had conveyed the same, but also referred to a Princess $25 admin charge which was not levied or referred to– More proof that Princess are literally ‘all-over the place’ with their conflicting Visas advices. https://youtu.be/MJrujPZ2ZG0 - 2.11.16
Benoa / Bali - This venue was really talked-down by the port-talks advisor who gave out scares of high risk of malaria , bag snatchers, muggings etc leading to a number not wanting to risk it (my wife included). Fortunately she relented so we went ashore with friends and thoroughly enjoyed the town and taking a couple of beers on Kuta beach. Tender transfer time was only 15mins not the 40 that was given out!
We shared a taxi from Benoa to Khuta Town / Beach (12-13km) – Port-controlled taxi outward was $25US. The return fare from town was only $15US . Princess shuttle-bus with a set time out and return was a staggering $49 return pp! https://www.whatsinport.com/Bali.htm
Plans are afoot for the construction of a New Cruise Terminal (berth?) to take 3 ships for 2018.
Freemantle – Our second visit here. First-timers, consider an ‘On Your Own option’ - Prison Tour (from $17AUD), free local shuttle bus service laid-on in to the town (walk-able) + a free circuit bus service from town out to the beaches which runs continually during the day. The Round Tower (donation box) and the Little Creatures Micro-Brewery (even do samples).
There are also frequent trains in to Perth (20mins travel time) with station just 10 mins walk from ship.
Busselton – This was really talked-down badly by the tours advisor; resulting in a fair number, not wanting another long tender crossing (15mins again not the 40 given out!); deciding to give it a miss. Others had suggested again that this was a likely a tactical ploy to get rid of unsold tours? Recent Cunard cruise conveys it to be “surrounded by calm waters and white-sand beaches is a family friendly town that has lots to do for everyone”
‘An absolute gem’ of a stop, noted for being home to the longest wooden jetty (pier) in the southern hemisphere, stretching almost 2 km out to sea. The locals were very warm and welcoming. A nice stroll in to the town but a free local bus was laid on for those that preferred. Display of vintage cars, Craft Stalls, historic court-house / prison cells (free access). There was even a reasonable selection of shops & supermarkets for the size of the places, with local pies + fish and chips proving to be too tempting to resist for many of us.
Melbourne – This was our third-time port of call here and arranged to meet-up with relatives. Good Tourist advice provided in the Terminal Building which also serves the ferries service links to Tasmania.
There is a convenient tram-link from the port in to and around the city. There is so much to see on-foot in the city that a tour, for many first-timers, may be a waste of money for agile passengers amongst us. Was a shame that we had to depart the port so early for Sydney.
Sydney – A very early morning entry, mostly under a full moon with cloud. The Emerald was the largest cruise ship to have berthed here – only to be ‘trumped’ a month later by the RCI Ovation of the Seas.
An announced fireworks and tug fire-sprays reception failed to live up to the hype but the iconic entry in itself did not disappoint.
Conveniently located along from the International Café and benefiting from the recent mattress & bed linen. Cabin steward even more ‘CCD’ than the wife!