This was our 14th time on Princess and 4th on Caribbean Princess. We took the cruise because we hadn't been to the Panama Canal for several years. Everything met our expectations, except for the implementation of the new Medallion Class Technology.
Before saying what was wrong with the implementation, I must say it is great technoloy if the users are able to understand how to use it. It was the fastest boarding we've ever had on a cruise. It's neat to be able to find your friends around the ship, buy stuff with the tap on the phone, see what's going on around the ship at a particular time, and have the cabin door unlock as you approach. That said, the implementation suffered on several levels.
First, there were serious problems with the smart phone apps. We couldn't download the Ocean app once on the ship. (While sitting in the theater at 1:45 PM on Boarding day listening to the Cruise Director tell us how wonderful the technology was, most of us with iPhones were still trying to download that app. We all had the same error message, "Can't connect to iTunes store". I don't remember a thing the cruise director said. I do remember thinking, "Does he know what a fool this technology is making him appear to be!") I finally figured out a solution which involved uninstalling the Medallion Class app I'd loaded before coming onboard and then reinstalling it by downloading it from the system on the ship. Then I was able to download the Medallion app and get things set up. It was well after dinner before I was able to get that done; because thousands of my fellow travelers were also trying to download apps. No cruise line has a big enough pipe to support that simultaneous Internet demand.
My guess about how that could have happened is that a new update to the Medallion Class and Ocean apps had been developed before we left for the cruise. I'm guessing Apple hadn't cleared that app for the iTunes store because of bugs, but Princess had pushed the apps to the ship. The new Ocean app certainly wouldn't handshake with the old Medallion Class app. As to what the bugs that kept Apple from putting it up might be, an obvious one is that geographic location wasn't displayed on any of the photos we took both on ship and on shore excursions. My phone didn't start displaying that photo information again until I'd uninstalled the apps after the cruise.
One other technical bug is that the whole system seems to have been designed for 24/7 Internet access from the Medallion system through purchase of 24 hour or cruise long Internet packages. It seems that somebody finally realized that the frequent travelers have free Internet minutes. The solution to that was access through a screen on a web browser that is separate from the apps. It was really easy to run out your free minutes by mistake the way it's set up. That happened to my wife. We gripped, and the minutes were restored.
The second problem is marketing gobbledygook. When you finally get the Ocean app installed, there are six or seven parts all called "Ocean" something. I still can't remember what each individual one is called. (While the designers are probably too young to understand "Age Related Memory Loss", the guests certainly aren't. I'm surprised Princess hasn't changed the title of the person in charge of the ship to "Ocean Captain"). The company did mess with another bridge position. "Navigator" is the jargon term for "help desk employee". The physical location of the help desk is "Ocean Front". (Great oxymoron. It has nothing to do with the ocean the ship sails on and is located at the back of the ship.) Yet another terminology problem is that the Internet is called "MedallionNet". That wouldn't be so bad were the Wifi system on the ship not also called "MedallionNet". That renaming of common terms was a contributing factor to my wife losing her 250 free minutes of Internet. It happened when whe wanted to go from Internet on the browser screen to the Wifi system. She might have hit the "Medallion Net" button in the center of the screen instead of closing the browser and going to the app.
One last note is that in deploying a system that requires hand held devices, Princess seems to have forgotten they need to be recharged. There is still just a single two plug outlet in a stateroom. The cost of adding another outlet plus a couple USB ports would have been no more than a rounding error in the cost of the new hardware that's been installed throughout the ship. (Didn't bother us. Thanks to something I read on Cruise Critic five or six years ago, I always back a small power strip when leaving for a cruise.)
A note not related to IT is that the theater is too small. It takes three shows for all the passengers to fit. On our three prior cruises on Caribbean Princess, they did three shows a night. Now they've gone to two. We had 5 PM traditional dining - the earliest sit down dining offered. We got to the theater at 6:45 PM and couldn't get seats together for two people for the 7:15 show two times. When we were able to get in, the shows were good - worth waiting in line for.
Some comments about dining. I have Celiac Disease and thus must eat gluten free. In the evening, I take advantage of formal dining where I have the same waiters every night. They learn about the food allergy the first night and then accommodate me the rest of the cruise. (It doesn't work that way in anytime dining. New waiters every night.) On this cruise, in 5 PM traditional dining, our waiter Richard Rodriguez did an outstanding job meeting my need. I was able to pre-order for the next night, he would have things specially made gluten free for me, and he generally kept me out of trouble. That all happened while providing excellent service.
I can only give a mixed review about dining at breakfast and lunch in the buffet. There is plenty of food that's gluten free. With the exception of a couple of desserts at lunch, none of it was labeled gluten free. On the first day, kitchen staff persons were available at lunch to show us what was gluten free in some areas of the buffet. I remember the man that gave me the tour showed me lots of things. All I remember out of that is, "the soups are always gluten free". The other stuff was intermixed among non gluten free items, and then there's the fact that the fare on the buffet changes every day. I played safe. What I had was good, but I'm sure I missed a lot of great stuff; because it isn't labeled.
One last comment - my "Platinum" benefits as a frequent cruiser on Princess aren't worth much in light of Celiac Disease and the new technology. The three main benefits have long been 1) expedited checkin, 2) Special receptions at 5 PM, and 3) Free Internet minutes. As I noted above, everybody blows through checkin at the pier with the new technology. I need to eat at traditional dining because of Celiac, and since I'm not a night owl, I don't want to sit down to dinner at 7:30 PM. That leaves me in 5 PM traditonal dining when all the platinum activities happen. Finally, the cruise line is obviously moving towards Internet packages and wishes the free minutes thing would go away.
The cabin was fine. There was enough storage space and plenty of coat hangers. The only problems were the aforementioned lack of electric plugs and the fact there is very little desk space on which to put the devices plugged into said single electric plug.
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