Star Princess Cruise Review by Crewbie
- Sail Date: December 2018
- Destination: South America
- Cabin Type: Oceanview (obstructed view)
Howdy. I went on the 30-day encompassing travel from Los Angeles to Buenos Aires. Travel was part of a family/family friends unit accompanying passengers in their 60s and 70s, one with mobility, non-wheelchair considerations; we're mostly a group that wanted to see the sights and hopefully get an inkling of the life of the region with less emphasis on the bells and whistles of cruise life/services and holiday cruising. Some, but not extensive cruising experience prior to this one. All in all, I feel that our days were lucky and well spent with very comfortable service/passage, interesting ports, and fortunate weather with the caveat and advice that the experience is also more driven by your own efforts, energy, and embracing come what may of the cruise experience.
Ship spaces are generally pleasant. The Star feels more of a modest environment: There are few-to-no grand visual statements and often swaths of low ceiling, unexciting carpet, and mild patterns; the best of what decor offers is more in some updated spaces that are intimate and comfortable (Wheelhouse Bar, and the fee-dining areas of Sabatini's and Crown Grill - perhaps my gravitation for polished wood and booths, here). Other areas feel a little more perfunctory and are deflated a little by what feels to be almost consistently cramped design: The flow and available space in the Horizon Court dining areas, for example, seem to subdivide yet compress traffic flow, and the Piazza/shopping area feels a tad compact and cold in comparison to other cruise experiences. There are also some awkward moments, such as locating the nearest bathroom of the Amalfi 6th-floor dining room one floor up, the random corridor/dead end in navigating from one side of the ship to the other, and what came to be called 'elevator roulette' in trying to figure out which door opened (sometimes behind you) - small details and decisions that don't necessarily make sense or feel accommodating to the passenger.
Cabin space continues the general idea of functionality without much flair - for three passengers, ours was an obstructed view starboard with two twin beds and two fold-down options. Sharing for three is possible, but dependent on traveling style. Storage includes a small safe (not for anything larger than small electronics - maybe one camera, a footprint not much larger than a paper sheet) and cabinet column next to an open closet (with plenty of hangers) and then a few open shelving corners, drawers, and a night table per twin bed. There was some fair space in the closet for standing luggage, but at the same time there was barely desk space for two and open floor was very limited - seating and rest were pretty much constrained to the beds which were happily comfortable. (Note that the upper berth has a light switch that is permanently lit in green.) Unfortunately we didn't check the lamps for USB ports; we relied on the two available room outlets to rotate between charging our gadgets. The bathroom is basic with a shower stall and again some limited open shelving and one outlet. TV and phone were without frills and fine - ultimately, our cabin only served for rest and recuperation as needed.
Professional service was the norm - overall, the impression was attentive and dedicated, particularly despite the extensive hours and scheduling being worked by some staff. The weaker points come from the instances of when service fell through, most prominently in information distribution and scheduling and handling of port day organization. Causes seemed variable - a lack of confidence in providing/committing advice, an outdated piece of information here and there - but it also felt almost structural - never had I been more aware of feeling like the staff somehow needed more resources and bodies to address the needs of the passenger audience.
Nevertheless, those thoughts don't diminish that we had wonderful stewards and waiters during our month on board, with great conversation and care that made traditional dining always a highlight to wind down the day (many thanks to Julius and Fitri!). There are many teams hard at work on board - dining, bar, entertainment, photography, to name a few - and the sparks of friendliness helped to create a sense of consistent community on the ship, especially in the cheerful atmosphere set from LA to Santiago under the command of Captain Michele Tuvo (a definite highlight - passengers on the Sky Princess will be in good hands).
Mostly traditional, no-fee for our experience; for the most part (along with our excellent service) we were pleased with the various menu ideas and items if equally occasionally disappointed in the execution. Appetizers - a wild mushroom tartlet, crab cake, for example - were probably the most satisfying, with dessert second. Cold soup options like one with crystallized ginger and a lychee-coconut drink and sorbets in honeydew and apple cider were among our favorite and most surprising discoveries over the whole course. On the other hand, savory soups were frequently salty, and over the course of two menu cycles it was possible to encounter variance in quality in any item (a disappointing, fibrous vegetable quiche to a fantastic slice; a supremely sweet mousse to one well balanced). For traveling along South America, fruit itself also seemed inconsistent, perhaps a necessity of cruising but still perplexing.
Outside of dinner, the options were serviceable: Secondary notables included the reliable and satisfying Prego Pizzeria slice for lunch and the often overlooked afternoon tea on sea days (tea, scone with jam and cream, sandwiches, and desserts in a brief window). The Horizon buffet options were standard with a clear orientation towards quantity production - a good option for a do-it-yourself sandwich, but for most items often featured idea over execution with a few finds. Paired with tight spacing and inconvenient seating, it was less favored than a formal dining room or grab-and-go. Late-night grub is also limited to one option after 11 p.m., which ties a bit into the overall ship life...
Entertainment, Programming, and Ship Life:
Programming/ship life unfortunately was probably the flimsiest portion of our cruise experience, whether navigating past the cascade of jewelry and gallery events to queuing for limited seating in craft sessions to the early morning scheduling of enrichment lectures and so on. Personally, I was a little disappointed by how promotional activities wanted to be, with art lectures that tried to tie into the auctions, craft sessions with purchasable kits, and port lectures with excursion ops: these seemed less suggestive of personal enrichment and kept events from feeling as professional, educational, or enjoyable as they should have.
Intentions, demographics, and target audience aside, many ship activities never seemed to really gel, dogged by a feeling that resources and space were never really meant to accommodate the audience that arrived. Easier options included Movies Under the Stars (which sometimes allotted three showings of the same film), but seating, preparation, and planning otherwise for events would have benefited with more attention - not placing an event at the same site as a sale or an auction, ensuring that passengers waiting for an event had an alternative to sitting on the floor, checking that equipment compatibility did not delay a start for twenty minutes - the cumulative details felt unrefined.
Entertainment quality was also mixed - musical entertainment outside of evening shows held up well with performers providing enjoyable listening (what felt like nightly Tango music with the Bujacich Quintet was very in-theme and well appreciated) whereas mainstage acts could impress (magician Alex Ramon, guitarist Nestor Santurio) or less depending on the evening. One major miss for me was a silent run through Glacier Alley: whether simply unscheduled or maybe a technical malfunction, the Star Princess sailed through the area without announcement and a far cry from the Alaskan Glacier Bay experience on a different cruise line.
The port schedule serves to balance out the unflattering as-you-go nature of sea days - the itinerary, particularly in the main leg of San Antonio/Santiago to Buenos Aires, is filled with singular experiences of landscape, wildlife, history, and culture, paced often with an alternation between port days and sea days to rest and prepare. The repositioning from Los Angeles to Santiago is deceptively slow, with two sets of three sea days back-to-back, but its ports of call can also provide for some expansive offerings to those traveling first-time like we were (San Martin was a spectacular surprise in providing terrain and wildlife we'd never seen before).
As strong as the itinerary is (and our schedule also saw us as the only ship in most ports), a warning that doing research on the ports and vendors available can be well worth the time and money saved. Skip out of what might seem like a convenient bus-based city tour for taking the courtesy shuttle and/or walking the path directly (San Martin, Punta Arenas, and Montevideo come to mind) and also realize that comparable and reliable options do exist at sometimes less than half the price. Another major shortcoming is the management of tender and shuttle ticketing: we were ill-prepared for how poorly operations went for Lima shuttle tickets and not-insignificant wait times were involved for most tender operations without personal planning. (Aside from the iconic Captain Tuvo, nothing unified the ship more than the antipathy towards the WiFi and tender services.)
Odds and ends:
For repositioning to the first run of the season, the 30-day sailing does encompass the winter holidays and New Year's. Nods in the decor were trees, wreaths, and other decorations for the entirety in addition to some light scheduling of holiday events (card making, gingerbread houses, caroling, etc.) and a special dinner menu for each occasion. A piazza balloon drop celebrated the turn of the year - enough late-night fun for me! - but other cruisers might have preferred something that felt more extensive and encompassing.
Young adults on this cruise should be prepared to find or prepare their own entertainment. The two portions of the cruise were markedly different in composition, so finding a similar cohort was even more challenging before the family groups and end-of-year cruisers arrived for Santiago to Buenos Aires. There are all-ages activities and enrichment opportunities, but nevertheless, targeted activities were scarce.
Embarkation from Los Angeles went smoothly with friendly service. Disembarkation was more reflective of the organizational ambivalence that emerged through the course of the cruise with disembarking excursion passengers called very early in the morning to assemble before waiting further to disembark. Nonetheless, the excursion itself was a very smooth process (be warned - EZE was not).
In any sort of going on and off the ship, those with mobility issues were often lost in the crowd.
In hindsight, we all had a memorable experience with the essence of what we had hoped - new experiences, culture, land, and people with hopefully more revelation of how little we do know. In that regard, I'd like to say that it was excellent. Nonetheless, for the purposes of this review, I can't really say that we lay that claim to the Star Princess, however grateful we are for the excellent instances of service and the privilege for the convenience and comfort of the ship. Depending on what you're looking for, this could be a very good cruise - one where you form friendships and memories and travel affordably - but if it is, it will likely be because of your own efforts, investment, and objectives as opposed to the experience of the vessel.
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Port & Shore Excursion Reviews
Buenos AiresOn the penultimate day of the cruise we spent a full day doing a tour of Buenos Aires by vehicle. We were quite surprised by a full-sized tour bus dedicated to our group of 12, but as it was we were quite grateful for its refuge by the end of a humid, hot, and overcast day. Our tour guide and driver still rather expertly navigated through the city for visits to La Recoleta, Buenos Aires Metropolitan Cathedral and Plaza de Mayo, La Boca, and viewing the grand architecture of the city. We had a well-timed lunch stop in which we ordered too much food, belatedly learning that some menu items (particularly meat) are evidently meant to be enough for several people. Walking tours are an option, but we couldn't imagine having covered the ground we did by ourselves in the summer heat and rain of the day. If planning, prior discussion on what the group plan for lunch and also perhaps researching to enumerate specific stops with your guide would provide more structure - we had a great day thanks to the skill of our guide and driver, but agree with the opening statement: "If you really want to see Buenos Aires, you have to live here."View All 12,810 Buenos Aires Cruise Port Reviews
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Tigre DeltaOn the final day, we disembarked the ship with an excursion to the Tigre Delta. I was apprehensive about booking with Princess, but this turned out to be the occasion that we were pleasantly surprised - a stop at San Isidro Cathedral was all too brief, but the river cruise and cooperative weather sustained us (along with the small coffee and alfajor provided). The cruise loop is quite lovely along some of the main channels of the delta; do note that for the most part it does not retrace its path. Both sides are scenic, and the guide suggested the left - I came to think that the right-hand side was possibly more interesting (especially as that was the side that the Sarmiento Museum appeared on as we cruised by). Viewing was done from a covered, single-level passenger space but with mostly enough room for most passengers to be comfortably seated along the open viewing windows.View All 19 Tigre Delta Reviews
Catamaran CruiseWorthwhile and interesting; even with waves of other tourist boats the material characteristics and scale of El Arco are worth seeing from a closer distance than simply from where the ship anchors. The right-hand, front corner (closer to the arch) is probably the best vantage point as the boat does not decelerate on the return trip to provide an equal pass. Hat and sunscreen recommended - if you're booked with Princess, you might be waiting for multiple groups with an overlapping itinerary.View All 18 Catamaran Cruise Reviews
San Jose del CaboAn interesting drive to a pleasant, touristic setting - perhaps less interesting to those residing closer to the region.View All 19 San Jose del Cabo Reviews
City TourFor independent excursions, be warned that traveling the five minutes from the ship to the port gate is extremely difficult due to the supposedly mandatory, 1.5-hour circuit that Princess bus shuttles must take into the Lima city center, further complicated by intense traffic and gridlock within Lima. There were no dedicated port gate shuttles in place when the Star Princess was at Callao.View All 29 City Tour Reviews
The city tour itself, with stops including the Basilica and Convent of San Francisco and its catacombs, Plaza Mayor, Huaca Pucllana, Morro Solar, and Barranco was very interesting in learning about the history of Lima while getting a glimpse of all its different manifestations.
Indian MarketPaired with the Larco Herrara Museum as a Princess option. More interesting than expected, but mostly to view for the collective aesthetics once getting a little deeper into the market.View All 7 Indian Market Reviews
Larco Herrara MuseumPaired with the Indian Market as a Princess option. The museum visit itself a bit too brief considering its collection - most of my group opted to detach from the tour guide and group (the exhibition galleries are compact and relatively sequential) to view the artifacts quickly but independently from the crowd. The grounds are lovely as well - a visit here is better than no visit at all.View All 7 Larco Herrara Museum Reviews
MontevideoOur visit to Montevideo took place on New Year's Day, meaning that most of the significant tourist sites were closed but with much of the walking district to ourselves. We booked an independent city tour with an addition of a barbecue lunch. The tour was interesting, though most of its highlights are actually very much within walking distance from the cruise ship (there was plenty of time to do a walk and return later in the day to Plaza Constitucion and Plaza Independencia). What really set the day apart was the home barbecue (with plenty of wine, meat, vegetables, and a finish of ice cream and dulce de leche) - a delight in both sharing the food and generosity of our guide and his family.View All 12,810 Montevideo Cruise Port Reviews
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Petrohue FallsA very beautiful landscape that presents a different side of Chile with views of Petrohue Falls, the river, and the nearby Todos los Santos Lake. Going with a smaller, independent operator affords more mobility that the larger bus tours cannot manage as we were able to view Osorno through the nearby La Ventana point and briefly visit the lakeshore.View All 30 Petrohue Falls Reviews
Punta ArenasAfter a brief tour of the city, our tour took us to park located south of Punta Arenas. The hour's drive itself is beautiful with the land on one side and the waters - with kelp and wildlife - on the other. We were glad to have a tour guide and driver to help with entry into the park which is separated into several portions that require vehicular access regardless. The information center is modern and attractively presented; the fort reconstruction is interesting - don't miss the short trail just past the fort to the viewpoint. The park is worthy of a longer visit in itself.View All 12,810 Punta Arenas Cruise Port Reviews
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Puntarenas (Puerto Caldera)A lengthy trip from Puntarenas to La Paz. Included lunch is quite good and a welcome difference from cruise quality. However, be aware that this excursion via Princess is a very curated experience: there is no free walking to explore the grounds, and I was rather disappointed to be left with very little time to view the waterfalls themselves at the very end of the tour. Those with mobility issues should be aware that there are numerous steps involved in the walking path.View All 12,810 Puntarenas (Puerto Caldera) Cruise Port Reviews
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StanleyWe were very glad to make it to Stanley and made sure to line up for an early tender. The ride to Volunteer Point consists of a lovely scenic drive on paved then unpaved road to a brief restroom stop before pathfinding directly over the brush to the site. This hour-long second half is a memorable ride, for sure, akin to constantly riding a slow mechanical bull - not as extreme as imagined, but nevertheless held pretty much in constant motion as we rocked back and forth across what was dusty terrain for the season. Volunteer Point itself is pretty much a dream - do abide with guidance to respect distance with the penguins and their delineated areas, but visitors still get very close in seeing king, gentoo, and Magellanic penguins. There is ample time to take in the surroundings and walk along the beach portion of the site as well. Do research and book early - this is a popular excursion and both independent and ship vendors fill with good reason.View All 12,810 Stanley Cruise Port Reviews
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Ushuaia (Tierra del Fuego)After Tierra del Fuego, we had scheduled a trip up to the Lake District outside of Ushuaia. In honesty, this trip provided views to rival and surpass any that we had seen earlier in the day. The drive is gorgeous and scenic, and there were few other cars to be seen - a very different side from the bustle and tourism of Ushuaia and Tierra del Fuego. I'd highly recommend a visit in this direction if time allows - truly breathtaking.View All 12,810 Ushuaia (Tierra del Fuego) Cruise Port Reviews
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Tierra del Fuego National ParkWe took a taxi to visit Tierra del Fuego National Park and were very thankful to do so as it allowed a little more flexibility - we had small stops for different viewpoints and a slow pass of some of the more scenic features without extraneous coffee/drink timing (and the added perk of our driver being a considerate photographer for the family as well!). Tierra del Fuego has some beautiful viewpoints, but be advised that it would be recommended to head out early in smaller independent groups - a continuous stream of cruisers will be through for as long as the ship can schedule.View All 65 Tierra del Fuego National Park Reviews