My husband was celebrating a BIG birthday, and he loves cruising. I was looking for a cruise where we could celebrate in style. I was also looking for a trip that would cross some locations off of his bucket list. This trip fit the bill ... Read More
My husband was celebrating a BIG birthday, and he loves cruising. I was looking for a cruise where we could celebrate in style. I was also looking for a trip that would cross some locations off of his bucket list. This trip fit the bill perfectly.
Let me start my review by talking about the check-in process. It was excellent! We took advantage of the early medallion check-in. Here is how it works. Cruisers complete their on-line registration(s) at least 2 weeks in advance of the trip. Princess then mails you a personalized medallion along with a lanyard and a plastic case. There is one medallion per cruiser. It has the cruiser's name printed on it along with the name of the ship and the cruise start date. The medallion is your new key and more. You use it to enter and exit the ship, to enter your room, and, when you get close to a bar, the bartender can see who you are without you having to present your key (although my experience is they requested it the first few times we ordered a drink or they ask for your room number). You also use it if you purchase anything at any on-board store.
The next thing about the check-in is it was the fastest I've ever checked into a ship (and I've taken probably 20 cruises). It was lightening fast from the time we arrived at the port to getting on board the ship. It literally took minutes. Kudos to Princess for the check-in. I would like to add that I appreciated that there were no baggage handlers commanding money to put luggage on a cart.
While I am here let me talk about check-out. Princess, like many cruise lines, offers self-check-out. I highly recommend this option. I suppose if you have a lot of luggage it pays to use the ship-provided check-out, but I love the fact that I don't have to place my luggage outside my door the night before departure (and have to deal with the clothing and hygiene needs). Cruise lines usually want self-check-outs to depart the ship on the early side, but to my knowledge they don't really police it.
Beverage plans: Do the math. The average price of a drink is about $10 (less for beer). Take the daily fee for the beverage package and divide by $10; that will determine if the plan is right for you. The plan covers drinks up to $12, and, if you are a soda drinker, it includes those as well. There is a limit of 15 alcoholic drinks per day, but remember you are on vacation **and** you will have several days at sea. NOTE: All adults in a stateroom must purchase the beverage package. NOTE: The bartenders were superb. We tipped several of them the last night of the trip; they were that good.
Speaking of bars, we found that not all bars are open upon embarkation. Boarding was on deck 4, and we had planned to meet our friends at a bar that was not yet opened. We ended up at a bar on deck 5. Oh, and while you are in the embarkation port you must pay taxes on your drinks, even if you have the beverage plan.
The Medallion App is worth downloading. We all had issues with it at one time or another, but it allowed us to find one another on the ship (we were traveling with another couple) and communicate with one another without incurring texting or data use.
Our cabin was fine. We sprung for a mini-suite, since it was my husband's birthday and it was not much more than a balcony. (NOTE: Something we've learned from our cruising on another ship is DO NOT get a balcony towards the rear of the ship. Why? Soot from the smoke stack lands on your balcony. We had to clean the balcony several times a day so that we could use it.). Our room was nicely placed a few rooms from the lifts. Even though there were just 2 of us in our room, the extra space we got in the mini-suite over the balcony was appreciated. We did not see much of our room steward, and that can be good or bad.
The ship was built in 2014. A few of the touches were a bit garish for me, but overall the decor was fine.
Because we were repeat customers we got several amenities for free (free drink package, 250 minutes of free internet, and some free specialty dining). Sign up for your specialty dining early so you get the time(s) you want.
We did not do much in terms of entertainment. We did, however, do a couple of things on a regular basis: play trivia and go to the DJ. The trivia was fine, but I think they could have done more of them. As for the DJ, I went to him early during the trip and showed him a list of songs my husband will dance to. I told the DJ my husband's birthday, and he said he would play many of the songs. On my hubby's birthday I went back to the DJ to show him the list again, and he played 2 songs from the list of about 25 songs. When he played "our" songs the dance floor was rocking. However, the DJ preferred latin songs. As soon as he played the songs he preferred the dance floor cleared.
Usually I am a fitness nut, but since I was on vacation I did not visit the gym. I still got my Fitbit 10K+ steps per day (and I am a senior citizen) from walking around the ship and doing the shore excursions.
Here is something I really appreciated in the casino: they have no-smoking times in the casino. Even my husband, a reformed smoker, mentioned how much he liked the no-smoking times.
The casino is on the small side. Our preferred game is blackjack, and there were a few times that the low-cost table was full (sorry - no $25 minimum bet for us). Bar service in the casino was spotty; often times someone would have to ask the manager to send over a waitress.
I would say the shore excursions were OK. Here is what we did and my evaluation of each:
* Stockholm Ice Bar - This is quite the gimmick. The Ice Bar is in a hotel. You arrive at the hotel and wander around the lobby until it is your tour's time to enter. There is what I will call a dressing room between the hotel lobby and the actual bar. This is where helpers place a one-size fits all poncho with mittens attached over your head. The ponchos are a bit sticky, and I would challenge that one size fits all for me at 5'4" and my hubby at 6'3". Once inside you see a bar carved of ice and snow along with art work also made of ice and snow. You are served 1 drink (you choose with or without alcohol). It is served in an ice shot glass that is kind of hard to drink from.
* St Petersburg - We did 3 events in 2 days. Absolute must is the Hermitage. The evening at the Catherine Palace was OK, but there were 2 issues: (1) We departed at 6:30 PM, and we incorrectly assumed this meant we'd be served dinner. That was not the case, so by the time we got home around 10:30 we were very hungry. Princess should have advised us the eat before we left. (2) It was raining, and many of the guests were not prepared (we were). Given the conditions Princess should have had some umbrellas on the bus. Our third excursion was local connections - roots of Russia. This excursion included watching some chefs cook a traditional Russian food (but a guide had to translate what the chef said he/she was doing, and it was clear there were some translation issues), then all of the guests were served whatever the chef was making. I would say the food was so-so. The 2 things I liked were (1) we all got to make and then eat a small pasta stuffed with meat and (2) there were different kinds of vodka served with each course.
* Tallin - Local Connections: Old Town & Beer Tasting. There were not a lot of options in Tallin. We both love beer, so this seemed like the thing to do. We were not disappointed. There is a tour of the brewery followed by beer tastings (I think there were 5 different types of beer). Now, when I say beer I don't mean you get a shot glass. They put the beer in containers like those you see in the lobby of a nice hotel that has flavored water in it, and you take what you want. You also get a small dish of hors d'oeuvres to eat. It happened that the day we were there there was a kind of flea market in town, and I bought some lovely earrings there.
* Berlin - Warnemunde. I am really torn here. We went to the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. It's powerful to go to a concentration camp (I had been to one 40+ years ago), but the problem is getting there. You board a train and travel 3+ hours to get to the camp. Our tour guide was good but a bit pretentious. My recommendation is to not go on a shore excursion that requires a long bus or train trip to get there.
* Oslo - Kon-Tiki and Viking Museums. We really enjoyed both museums. I'd give this a thumbs up.
The dining was OK but not memorable. There were lots of options at the buffet. The main dining halls had the same fare. Due to our status we could take advantage of a special entry site, which gave us an extra course (a pasta of some sort). Technically our friends could not eat with us, since they did not have our status, but the compromise was we would sit in the "regular" part of the dining hall but still get the extra pasta.
Service was good in the buffet, meaning the staff kept the tables cleared. They also walked around at breakfast with water and juices and asked if you wanted coffee. There was no hawking extras (like fresh-squeeze OJ) that we've experienced on other cruise lines.
One additional comment I made to Princess after the cruise. In today's day and age guests should be able to see their combined statements on the TV and the phone app.
FYI. In case you are interested, we observed that the cruise was LGBT friendly. Read Less