Route: 58 days round trip Fort Lauderdale including 21 ports of call, passage through the Panama Canal, rounding Cape Horn, and scenic cruising around Devil’s Island. Total trip 17,591 nautical miles.
1. General Comments: We are regular cruisers, and our focus of this cruise was to get an overview of the South American continent. This cruise showed us that further visits are needed. Five ports required tendering, of which two (Easter Island and Falkland Islands) were rather rough. All the other stops were in ports that had varying degrees of support for cruise ships. We were a full ship; due to the length of the entire cruise, most passengers were of older age. Besides the complete cruise, it was also divided into three legs: Fort Lauderdale to Santiago; Santiago to Buenos Aires; and Buenos Aires to Fort Lauderdale. I guess we changed around 500 passengers on the second and third legs.
We had a suite on the 10th deck that made for a comfortable two-month cruise.
2. Travel to For Lauderdale and Embarking: We made our own plane and hotel arrangements. Having checked in on-line, we boarded the ship relatively quickly. Our suite was ready, and luggage appeared 30 minutes after we walked into our suite. A record time for receiving our suitcases.
3. The Island Princess: An attractive ship (2,000 passengers), but it is showing some wear and tear and definitely needs its dry dock session at the end of 2020. There is no smooth walkway around the ship. The back of the 7th deck promenade deck is blocked off to provide balconies for cabins there. There is no way to walk around the ship inside without either having to go through a public space or go through an area of cabins. The track on the 15th deck is blocked off in the back by The Sanctuary.
The moving of the gym to the 5th deck - and no windows - is odd. The lack of a large lounge area high up on the ship is noticeable with the holding of gatherings in various bars. Odd venues result in Zumba sessions in the Explorer Lounge, and university-type lectures in the Wheelhouse.
Our suite: There are two double outlets for recharging devices. Bathroom has one outlet for shavers, 110 and 220 volts. Storage space is not bad; you may have to use your suitcase under the bed as additional storage, especially if having large temperature changes and needing appropriate clothing. The bathroom could use a shelf under the sink. Temperature in cabin is a constant 70 degrees, no matter what you set the thermostat on. If too cold for you, ask your cabin steward place work order with maintenance to check system. Public areas are colder. Unless you love cold temperatures, bring a sweater.
Door decorations. During the first week on board there was a variety of door decorations, both by the passengers and generic ones for birthdays and anniversaries provided by the ship. Suddenly they all disappeared, and since then only the generic ones remain. Gossip said the ship staff had problems with some of the decorations (fire hazards), and the staff took all of them down. This was changed to approving only the generic ship signs for birthdays and anniversaries.
You have to read the daily planner very carefully. Special Activities are listed among the regular ones, and there are not necessarily any extra highlights. Bridge gives a navigation and weather report at noon. Cruise director sometimes gives a morning or afternoon report of activities; rest of the time he is quiet. There is some odd scheduling of meetings, ie, the shore excursion lecture is at 9am. It is rebroadcast on the ship’s tv channel, but the time is not published.
The ship also has music channels on the tv. Unfortunately, each station runs for a certain length and runs at the same time every day. This can get old; for example, as when we ate breakfast, the background music was always the same Irish songs.
TV channels on board are Fox, CNBC, MSNBC, ESPN, BBC, and some movies. There is no printed “newspaper;” you have to get your news off the TV.
The library is minimal. We learned that Princess no longer runs libraries on board. They do purchase books, but the taking and returning is all on the honor system. Crew members only clean and neaten up.
Service on board. Excellent by all. Due to the length of the cruise, cabin stewards and wait staff got to know our individual habits and likes/dislikes. Front Desk personnel were truly “jacks of all trades” and were able to resolve whatever matters we asked about.
4. Meals: Anytime Dining worked perfectly. Our usual time was 7pm and except for a couple nights when the area of our two waiters was full, we always had seats in the same area. Our waiters got to know us, and we them. Worked out well for this long cruise.
Food was very good. There were creative presentations of desserts, especially pastries. Because of the length of the cruise there was repetition of some of the menu items. There is enough variety, though, so that repetition was not a real problem. Quality of fresh fruits fluctuated throughout the ship. Bananas disappeared within a couple weeks of departure from Fort Lauderdale. Melons, on the other hand, fluctuated between ripe and delicious to barely ripe. Pineapples declined from pleasant to inedible by the second month.
Horizon Court: We used it for lunch and a couple times when we wanted just a bite for dinner. There was quite a variety of good food, whether you wanted a meal, sandwich, or salad. Desserts were equally varied.
Specialty Restaurants: We did not bother with meals in the two specialty restaurants. We had leisurely breakfasts on sea days in Sabatini’s.
There are other food outlets (pizza, grill, ice cream, etc.) and bars on board. You cannot go hungry or thirsty. The La Patisserie is not that; it has no food. It only has coffees for a charge and is also a regular bar.
5. Dress code – formal nights. When you discuss a cruise with three legs, make sure your agent gets the correct information from Princess on the number of formal nights. We were told 4 nights “for the cruise.” It turned out to be 4 nights for the first leg, 2 for the second leg, and 2 for the third. “Formal” meant anything to the passengers: from tuxedos to sport shirts. All other nights on the cruise were “smart casual.”
6. Shore Excursions: Make your shore excursion reservations online! This saves you standing in line at the ship’s tour desk. If you know the ports of call and want to travel by yourself, then, of course, you don’t need the ship’s tour office. Tour prices are not cheap; you are paying for the convenience of having the ship organize the tour rather than you doing it after you get ashore. Also, if you obtain your tour through the ship’s staff, you have support when there is a problem.
On this cruise, in the main, the excursions were good. Buses were comfortable and guides’ abilities fluctuated between excellent (English ability and subject knowledge) and poor (lack of ability in either). Drivers were uniformly outstanding when dealing with traffic and road conditions. Tour descriptions have to be improved, especially in describing the tours to the ship’s passengers. Princess should print an actual itinerary of the tour in the material provided on board, similar in detail to that posted on the Princess website. This includes the amount of time at each location and travel time. Toilet stops should also be noted. Most tour guides provided this information, but there were slip-ups. Most of the passengers on this cruise were older and did not have the ability nor stamina of a 30 year old.
At the same time, passengers (and their travel agents) have to honestly consider their health situation. Can they handle steep gangways? Walking on rough roads? Handle heat and humidity? Are they able to get on and off bouncing tenders? Passengers need to consider such questions, and they should be able to get accurate answers from Princess shore excursion personnel before booking these excursions.
7. Shipboard entertainment: We saw a few shows of the review type and the guest artists. They were pleasant and entertaining. The combos playing in the lounges varied between fine and depressingly melancholy (singer in Crooners was especially the latter).
The theater is small with no balcony. We went to some of the second shows. Fifteen minutes before showtime you can still get a seat. Preferably, you should go between 20-30 minutes before.
There were different guest lecturers on board. A good speaker was George Weston (lectures at UCLA) who spoke of music (operas, opera singers, Broadway shows) and ancient history (Egypt, Greece, Rome). A delightful lecturer who, unfortunately, left the ship in Lima.
A miserable speaker was Armando F Sanchez, an “oral historian.” His lectures on intelligence and espionage were baffling due to his rambling and lack of back-up facts to his statements.
The ship has a daily schedule full of activities for all tastes: lectures, bingo, exercising, movies, etc. The art auctions were ever present and not too obnoxious.
The selection of duty-free liquor on board was not great, but adequate; you order your liquor and it is delivered to your cabin before disembarking. There will be plenty of opportunities for you to have your picture taken by the ship’s photographers--pricey, but a good souvenir.
The Island Princess is a small ship when it comes to shopping. There was one jewelry store, one half watches and half perfume/cologne store, one art auction, and one “all other” store (clothing, snacks, liquor, cigarettes, souvenirs). Popular were the occasional sales in the atrium and in a dining room. They replaced the usual end-of-cruise sales on many ships.
8. Tipping: Not a problem if you sign up for the recommended amounts.
The amounts are charged to each person’s shipboard account. You have nothing more to do. You only need to tip separately (cash) the person who brings your room service. Your bar and wine bill automatically adds 18 percent. If you want to tip anyone for exemplary service, you can give him cash in an envelope.
9. Settling of Accounts: During your voyage, anything you purchase on board (drinks, souvenirs, tours, duty free items, photos, etc.) is punched into a computer. You do not receive a receipt for drinks/wine in bars or the dining room. You can get a printout at a machine (looks like an ATM machine) near the Front Desk in the atrium with your key card. If you have a computer or phone, you can access your account through the ship’s WiFi. There is NO charge for this service; you just have to register. You should be able to settle any bill questions beforehand and not spend departure morning in line at the Front Office sorting it out. We did receive a final paper bill the morning of our disembarkation.
10. Disembarkation: Not bad, but not great, either. We had to be out of our cabins by 8am after which we were scattered around the ship to wait. We had to wait about one and a half hours past our scheduled time. As this was 7 March, we feared the coronavirus issue was the reason for the delay. It was not; apparently the reason was bureaucratic. When we got off the ship, it was smooth going in the terminal passing through Customs and Immigration. The disappointing SNAFU at the end was when we left the terminal looking for the Princess buses to take us to the Fort Lauderdale airport. There was no one from Princess around to help, and we all had to depend on local law enforcement personnel to get us to the correct buses. The scene was a bit chaotic as people were also arriving to board the ship, thus adding to the confusion of what buses were going where. This finally worked itself out (without Princess personnel present) and we arrived at the airport in time to proceed on home.