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25 Princess Expedition Cruise Reviews

I will preface this with, this was 17th, SEVENTEENTH, cruise on Princess. I have NEVER EVER had one complaint, none, nada. I do this time. My major complaint was the food. Always have had excellent food on this line, and 2 nights we had to ... Read More
I will preface this with, this was 17th, SEVENTEENTH, cruise on Princess. I have NEVER EVER had one complaint, none, nada. I do this time. My major complaint was the food. Always have had excellent food on this line, and 2 nights we had to send back as you could not have cut the meat with a hatchet. The only good meal we had on the ship was in the Crown. Our cabin steward was surly, trashed some of our personal items the night before leaving ship. One of the cabin supervisors told me the reason the safe quit working was because I had slammed the door and killed the batteries! Seriously! First did not slam door and second batteries may become dislodged if you slam, but that certainly does not make them lose their power or juice~! She was beyond rude. Altho the food was marginal, the dining service was quite good. Some have said the ship is in bad shape. I did not find that to be true. The carpet needs replacing, but all else was up to Princess standards. A couple of the gents in white coats in the Buffet area were rude, but I can handle a rudeness or two on a cruise, the supervisor of cabins being the exception. So before you elect to tar and feather me, A. were you on this cruise? If so, where did you eat? B. Keep in mind this is my 1st complaint in 17 cruises, so I feel I am versed in what Princess is, was, and should be. So all in all, I KNOW OF WHAT I SPEAK. And our cabin was certainly more that someone suggested. On a cruise I expect good service and good food. That is all I require. Read Less
Sail Date April 2014
After cruising many times in the past, I finally convinced my sister and brother-in-law to join me and my parents on a cruise. It was the first for them. My parents are Elite status and I am platnium. It was so much fun traveling with ... Read More
After cruising many times in the past, I finally convinced my sister and brother-in-law to join me and my parents on a cruise. It was the first for them. My parents are Elite status and I am platnium. It was so much fun traveling with newbies!!! The ports were ok about what you would expect in the Caribbean. The highlight was obviously the Canal. It was spendid!! The Ship was nice. It is smaller which I enjoyed. There were always places to find a seat in the Horizon Court. Believe it or not the International Cafe was never very crowded. Not the case on many other cruises!! I loved that part. The food selection was good. We had traditional dining in the Provence dining room. Hated eating at 5:30 pm but the late seating at 7:45 pm was way too late. What happened to 6:00 pm??? All I ever hear is how people love the anytime dining. However, it seems like traditional time slots are always full. The entertainment was not enjoyable unless you include Movie Under the Stars. Dancer and singers were lack luster at best. I did enjoy popcorn during the movie. Embarkment and disembarkment were both efficient. Overall I would recommend this boat and this distination. Read Less
Sail Date March 2014
For years I have wanted to go on a cruise, but my husband was very reticent. Finally, in this our 49th year of marriage, the decision was made and I found the cruise that fit us perfectly: Sapphire Princess to the Mexican Riviera.... and ... Read More
For years I have wanted to go on a cruise, but my husband was very reticent. Finally, in this our 49th year of marriage, the decision was made and I found the cruise that fit us perfectly: Sapphire Princess to the Mexican Riviera.... and what a treat it was! Right from the start things went well: parking right at the dock for a reasonable price and friendly porters to take our bags. Then getting to our stateroom and meeting our "caregiver." Lily was wonderful throughout the trip, doing her utmost to make us comfortable. We had decided on a balcony, and immediately knew that our choice was the right one. Even before we left the dock we were out there relaxing. In fact, we ended up spending a lot of time in our very comfortable cabin--more perhaps than some would, but that's what we liked, and that's what the cruise was all about: doing what we wanted. Of course we also spent time outside of our cabin, on excursions and in the buffet and dining rooms. The food was absolutely excellent, as was the service. We got to know some of our servers personally, especially the young Peruvian man whose Mexican wife also worked on the ship.... what a lovely couple they were! Seeing Ensenada and Puerta Vallarta by bus were also great fun, especially the visit to the tequila factory in the latter, where we learned that saying "mas tequila" could be dangerous--but fun--thing to do. We decided to "do" Cabo san Lucas on foot, perhaps not the best idea for a couple in our age range, but we survived and had fun doing it. Sailing back from Puerto we really relaxed and just enjoyed the Sapphire Princess.... which included the casino and the shopping facilities, as well as some of the entertainment offered. Reaching Los Angeles was a bit of a bummer.... I would have liked to start all over again. Still, we were left with wonderful memories, and my husband admitted that cruising was great, and that he'd like to do the same cruise again sometime. Whether it's your first cruise that you're planning, or the next in a list of many, you'll not regret choosing the seeing the Mexican Riviera on the Sapphire Princess.... the ship is beautiful and the people are amazing.   Read Less
Sail Date February 2014
This is rather lengthy, but I’m trying to cover different aspects of our cruise. DISEMBARKATION…I had read stories before leaving that warned that embarkation would be horrible. We did not experience any such thing. However, getting ... Read More
This is rather lengthy, but I’m trying to cover different aspects of our cruise. DISEMBARKATION…I had read stories before leaving that warned that embarkation would be horrible. We did not experience any such thing. However, getting through traffic in San Francisco was another story. Once we got into San Francisco, it took another hour to get to the ships terminal. We arrived at the terminal about 12:30. By 1:30 we had already checked-in, visited our cabin and consumed a buffet lunch. Watching our ship pass under the Golden Gate Bridge was breath taking. THE CREW on the Grand Princess must really love their jobs. They were all so helpful, courteous, and constantly smiling. I truly believe that smiling is contagious. We began every morning with a pleasant greeting from our cabin steward Edgar, who also greeted us throughout the day, every day, and asked us if there was anything we needed. Our cabin was perfect. We stayed in ocean view cabin on the Aloha Deck next to the terrace swimming pool. We found ourselves to be drawn out to pool deck quite a bit. FOR ENTERTAINMENT, we did many things while on the ship, as the first two full days are at sea, six days total. I have to say one my favorite past times was comedian Kevin Hughes, who also gave a seminar on the brain, which we enjoyed as much as his comic act. We also very much enjoyed the theater show “British Invasion”. The performers are truly talented, and the theatrical sets and costumes were beautiful. It was a class act. During the day, we played some bingo (won $200), visited the spa, we watched both a crew, and then later, a passenger talent show. We also watched some silly game shows that the passengers were contestants in. They were parodies to the old TV shows The Newlywed Game & Match game. There was also the Princess Pop Star competition…karaoke. Also my husband joined the pop choir which performed in the Piazza one afternoon. There really were too many things to do, and we missed some things we had later heard were quite fun. NOW FOR THE FOOD…and boy did we eat lots of it! I found the buffet to be mediocre. That’s not a complaint. I’ve just never really been a big fan of buffet food. The only place I’ve really enjoyed buffet food is in Las Vegas at one of the finer casino resorts. So I tend to compare every buffet to Las Vegas. I have to say though, there were some dishes that I very much enjoyed, like the leg of lamb, and sea scallops. I thought all of the desserts in the buffet were very good. We also ate in the dining room three times, which was nicer than the buffet. We even did one formal night in there. But for a real treat…pay the $25 each and dine at the Crown Grill. We dined in there on two nights. We ate filet Mignon, rack of lamb, rib-eye steak and lobster. This restaurant is a classy place. They give you full servings. And second helpings if you want more lobster. I saw the lady across from us order a 22 oz. porterhouse steak and three lobster tails. We also ate at Sabatini’s (Italian) Restaurant. It was good, but we both preferred the Crown Grill. Now for what was my favorite “everyday must have”…The Pizzeria in the Piazza. A sit down restaurant where you order you own whole pizza. They make it right there. The toppings and sauce are flavorful, the crust is perfect, and you get an ocean view while you are listening to live music from the piazza. That was my guilty pleasure…one pizza every night after gambling just before the trip to the dance club…my fourth meal! Our waiter Widy always asked us if we enjoyed our meal. Our reply was always an enthusiastic “Yes!” Also, the chocolate cookies were an everyday event as well. FOR PORT ACTIVITY…I liked Juneau and loved taking Roberts Tram up to picturesque trails, colorful foliage and snow caped mountains. We ate at Tracy’s Crab Shack and did a ton of shopping in town too. In Skagway we went zip-lining. Fun! My favorite excursion however was in Ketchikan. We went on the Aleutian Ballard’s Crab Fishing Tour. That was a lot of fun, and educational. We were able to watch them catch fish, sea creatures, and crabs. We also stopped in an area where bald eagles fly, where they threw fish to feed the eagles. We took such amazing pictures of wildlife on this tour. Ketchikan was a quaint town to visit. To my surprise, I didn’t expect to love Tracy Arm Fjord so much. The glacier was just breath taking. Again, we took some gorgeous photos. Later we sat in the buffet and ate as we looked outside cruising through this beautiful scenic area. Victoria was a lovely city to visit, although we really didn’t spend much time there and used the day to eat where the locals eat and do some more shopping. I would love to go to Victoria again to do more than just shop. SO NOW FOR THE NEGATIVES: It clearly is a money-making business. They over charge for portraits, as well as some other gift shop items too. My husband also had a problem with his cruise card getting demagnetized. We were at the cursor’s desk almost every day to get him a new card. The casino also did not seem to pay-off. The spa was also over-priced. Save your money and get a massage when you get home for half the price. If money is no object, you won’t care about my negatives. All-in-all, the good by far, outweighs the negatives. GOODBYES…We will miss everything about out trip. (Although, I am tired of eating!) Well miss the crew… from the entertainment people to the people serving us our meals...to our cabin steward Edgar. We’ll miss the people we met and hung out with throughout the cruise…the Jersey girls, the Brazilian kid in the Disco (he looked like our son), the chicken-dance lady we seemed to see everywhere, the family from PA, and Bill & Helen from Bakersfield. I’ll even miss the Rhapsody Trio who played in the Piazza every day. I was mesmerized by the classical violinist. (And I don’t usually listen to classical music.) I apologize for rambling on. If you are planning on taking a future cruise and you have questions, or if you are any of the people I mentioned above and want to keep in touch, I welcome hearing from you. cadillon@email.com   Read Less
Sail Date June 2013
Background: We planned this trip for a year in advance. 10 signed up and 2 dropped out due to a medical situation. Our initial contact was with Vacations To Go but we were disappointed in call-back responses so we dealt directly with ... Read More
Background: We planned this trip for a year in advance. 10 signed up and 2 dropped out due to a medical situation. Our initial contact was with Vacations To Go but we were disappointed in call-back responses so we dealt directly with Princess and were glad we did so, traveling from the East Coast left too much room for problems and we wanted the Princess "assurances", even though another, earlier, booking experience with VTG was fine. The Princess booking people were a pleasure to deal with. We used Princess Air and all of us got on the same planes. Our only hitch was that we found on our own, without any notice from Princess, that our return flight was booked into Dulles, not BWI as we had signed up for (lesson: keep checking your itinerary). One key element in this cruise was the desire to be able to have adjoining cabins with interconnecting balconies, which was a big selling point for our group and we were able to do that on Coral Princess, so everyone was pleased with that. More on the cabin arrangements later, but a balcony cabin is almost a must for this cruise. Arrival in Anchorage: We flew into Ted Stevens Intl. Airport. We were greeted warmly by Princess reps. Our bus was waiting for transfer to Cpt. Cook Hotel. Baggage was handled efficiently and ALL of it went to the hotel. We boarded and were off for about a 45 min. ride into Anchorage with some good commentary along the way. Capt. Cook Hotel: One of several in downtown Anchorage, which is more cosmopolitan than we imagined. Arriving around 9 p.m. (still daylight) we were tired from a long trip and hungry. We went to the rooftop "Crow's Nest" restaurant with a great view. However, that restaurant does not allow shorts, flip flops, or hats. We found the staff in it somewhat condescending. We had a drink in the "Nest" and went to Fletcher's on the ground floor where the food selection was much better and the staff eager and accommodating. The room in the hotel was very nice, not extravagant. The one issue with this leg of the trip was that our bags were to be tagged with "Meet Me Onboard" or "Keep With Me" luggage tags and NOT placed in the hall the night before, but left in the vestibule to the room which the porter would enter around 7 am the next morning to retrieve. We got up early to make sure all was in order and not be surprised by his arrival. Leave plenty of time for breakfast as the hotel lobby restaurant was mobbed and the service was slow. We walked around Anchorage the morning of our departure. Mosquitoes (it was very mild) were an issue down near the waterfront, but the downtown area is nice. We saw our luggage loaded on to trucks for transport to McKinley lodge (not on the bus) and to Whittier, for the ship, then ate our breakfast and boarded our motor coach for McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge in Talkeetna. Arrival at McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge and Talkeetna: The bus trip of about 2.5 hours from Anchorage to Talkeetna went quickly. Nadine. our driver, provided great commentary. Views of the countryside were excellent. On arrival at the Lodge, our luggage had not yet been delivered, but it was promised soon. Again, a lot of mosquitoes (some said it was the worst in the last 40 years due to the mild weather with temps in the 70s and 80s F). A fabulous view of Mt. McKinley greets you at the lodge. New arrivals crowd the deck in the back for views of the mountain. Our room was spartan, but neat, with a tv, desk and a fan since there is no air conditioning in the rooms. We could have used the a/c but the fan proved enough. The staff at the Lodge was pleasant and answered questions. The Lodge operates a shuttle into Talkeetna, since the Lodge is about 45 mins. outside of town. The shuttles run throughout the day and into the early evening and are free, except for gratuities. Our first experience with "Roy" was not too pleasant as the a/c on the bus went out and it became very warm inside. After arrival at the bus "turnaround", we walked through the town. The women did some shopping and the men went to Denali Brewing Company where the food was good and the beer excellent and cold and we were subsequently joined by the women. Talkeetna Air Taxi Excursion to Ruth Glacier at Mt. McKinley. This was not booked through Princess. The air trip and the glacier landing was a FABULOUS experience. The staff was warm, welcoming, and competent. It takes a bit of an easy walk from the town center to the airpark. Once at TAT, you are weighed and given boots to protect your feet from the slushy snow on the glacier. Sunglasses are a must and TAT will provide them if you don't have them. Trent was our pilot and he advised he had a lot of hours on multiple aircraft and was fully certified. To say this was a breathtaking excursion would be putting it mildly. The weather was perfect - clear skies and great visibility. Trent remarked that the weather is not often like it was that day since the Mountain generates its own weather. Anyway, we landed smoothly on Ruth Glacier. No one needed a jacket even though we had them with us. Long sleeve wicking material and a tee shirt over it (we were our Ravens' shirts) was sufficient with a pair of jeans. We stayed on the glacier for about 20 to 30 minutes and then smoothly took off. Trent took us over "Moose Meadow" where we spotted some of them grazing. Our flight back to Talkeetna and landing were smooth and uneventful. Do not miss this type of excursion if you can help it. (Note: We learned after our return that another TAT pilot's plane and passengers suddenly got "fogged in" while on the Glacier. News accounts stated that the passengers spent about 2 days on the plane, which carries emergency supplies and sleeping bags, on the glacier with additional emergency supplies delivered by rangers who hiked in. The lesson is not to take this excursion for granted.) Dining in Talkeetna. There are not a lot of restaurants in Talkeetna, as you might expect, but what's there is very good. In addition to our lunch at Denali Brewing Company, we ate at West Rib (site of the tv show episode of Man vs. Food for its giant burger) for dinner after our TAT flight and were served by Trent's girlfriend and a charming and pretty young woman. The next morning we had a great breakfast at Roadhouse, which truly is a Roadhouse, with accommodations for day hikers, etc. Alaska Railroad's Denali Express: Our "Keep With Me" luggage was placed outside our door in the a.m. and picked up for transport to the railroad. The rail trip was a great experience. Different cruise lines have different cars. We were in the last car. They are double deck with the dining area below and seating on top. The panorama is great. You sit at a table on the top level and have plenty of room to spread out at your table which fits 4 comfortably. The trip takes about 4.5 hours after about a half hour ride to the train depot. Our coach supervisor, "Zach", kept the trip interesting. The service was great. You are assigned a time to eat lunch but you can "defer" your time until a later point if you are not yet hungry, but at some point dining service stops. The food served is soup and sandwiches, but it was very good. Upstairs and down in the rail car you can have beer, soft drinks or mixed drinks. The bartender has "specialty" cocktails available. All of this is paid for at the end of the trip by credit card. We had no issues with the rail car travel at all - it was a pleasant experience. Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge: Again, this Lodge is Spartan but nice. The dining here is limited. The area across the street is rather "honky tonk" but a number of people were seen going over there for liquor or food at Subway and another restaurant. The bar at the Lodge serves food which is fairly reasonably price and seats a large number of people both outside and in. There is a pizza parlor on the site which we did not use. The view from the bar's dining area is fabulous. Again, mosquitoes were an issue outside. The King Salmon dining was "overpriced" in our opinion. The main lodge area has a snack bar and the ever present gift shop. Get to the snack bar early on the morning of any excursion as it becomes "mobbed" and you might miss departure. Be warned that the Visitors Center at the Park and the Wilderness Center are not easy walks from the Lodge as we were led to believe. It's about 3 miles to the Visitor Center on foot. Kantishna Experience: We were up early to take this excursion, grabbed a bite at the snack bar and boarded a bus to the Denali National Park Wilderness Center. Tours of Denali depart from there. Watch the excursion you book as this one goes all the way into Denali and turns around to head back out. It is a long day but a great trip. We heard that the partial trip into the Park was not as enjoyable. Our driver, Don, spoke the entire length of the trip, save for brief times when he had to negotiate traffic on switchbacks. The buses are not air conditioned and do not have bathrooms on them but there are frequent rest stops. We saw the "Big Five" game in the Park and additional wildlife. Photographers were living a dream. The bus provides a "bag" lunch of snacks and drinks with plenty to keep hunger at bay. At the end of the trip, a Park Ranger boards the bus for the final leg into Mirror Lake and to tell the fascinating tale of Fannie Quiqley. Again, this is a long day but highly recommended if you wish to see all Denali has to offer. Don said that only about 10% of all the visitors to Denali see what we saw on that day. It was great. Denali to Whittier: Our final day of the Cruise Tour was marked by a 8 hour or so bus trip from Denali to Whittier. Our driver, Bob, provided great commentary. Frankly, the time passes quickly. We were so tired from our land adventures we slept most of the way. But if you don't think you'll sleep, bring lots to do. To get to the port at Whittier you will pass through the Anton Anderson Tunnel, only one way each hour and your coach's arrival is scheduled so it has to be on time or else you might miss the ship's departure. There is a brief stopover in Anchorage on the way to Whittier where you can buy some liquor in accordance with Princess rules to bring onboard. The Coral Princess: We were one of the first buses to arrive. Embarkation went smoothly and continued for others throughout the afternoon. The ship looked to be in fine shape with no showing of excessive wear and tear. As promised, our travel companions and we had adjacent cabins. Also, as promised, doors on the balcony opened to allow all the balconies to flow as one and we could move freely between our cabins. We were on the Emerald deck on the starboard side, which I would recommend to anyone going Southbound because on our trip the prevailing winds coming over the port side made for colder and windier conditions than the starboard. We found our cabin steward to be pleasant and provided good service. We only attended one show which was comedy and pretty good but very short (an hour at most). We enjoyed a movie on deck on several nights. We would not recommend the dining room for breakfast, we found the buffet had a greater selection and the service in the dining room for breakfast did not merit using it. Plus, the view was better. When we arrived on board we cancelled a helicopter glacier landing since we had already done that and thought our prior experience with Talkeetna Air Taxi could not be topped. Our dining experiences in the Bordeaux Dining Room were just superb. The food was good and our server was excellent. A nice feature from Princess is a kiosk near the service desk on the main deck that allows you to check your bill each day. We had no children with us but I do not think this is child's type of trip. We did not see many children on board. Hubbard Glacier: We could not see this stop on the trip as we were fogged out of Yakutat Bay with much ice floating in the water. The Captain apologize for this but felt it just unwise to proceed for safety reasons. It was creepy moving through the waters in the fog with ice floating by and the fog horn sounding. Shades of "Titanic". Glacier Bay: Here we had a great visit and the Captain spent much time in the Bay and he maneuvered the ship marvelously to allow those on both sides of the ship a view of the Marjerie and Grand Pacific Glaciers, as well as some "lesser known" such as Johns Hopkins (which we did not maneuver around but passed going and coming). The weather was perfect. Skagway: Having cancelled our helicopter trip over the Chillkoot Mountains we opted for a walking trip to White Pass Gardens, which was beautiful, then walked back into town to eat at Skagway Brewing Company, doing some shopping, and hitting The Red Onion for a drink before returning to the ship. Skagway can become very crowded on certain days of the week with multiple ships in port. Watch out, we were told, for long lines on those days which I believe were M-W. Juneau: Here we got a close up shot of an eagle AND a close up view of whales with a calf on the Whale Watching and Wildlife Quest run by Allen Marine Tours (Princess Excursion). Our boat for the Quest was big, very comfortable seating (airplane like) with lots of viewing area and with a bar with snacks. Be prepared for the wind up top if you go and dress warmly even if the day is warm. The commentary on the trip was superb. We walked the town, went to the Heritage Center (but did not go in due to limited time) and passed on the Roberts tram which is very expensive to ride. Ketichikan: We ended our trip with a great excursion with Backcountry Zodiac Expedition. Jeff, our guide was wonderful and it is an experience that can be shared with young and old alike. All gear is provided for the trip. The Zodiacs are fun to drive and easy to do so. A more comprehensive review of this great excursion (also through Princess) is posted on Tripadvisor as the vendor requested. Disembarkation: This went smoothly. We boarded buses for Vancouver Intl. Airport at the dock and waited for several hours until our plane was ready to go. The plane ride was pleasant and uneventful. In summary, this is a very active Cruise Tour but a great experience. If you have good weather, as we did, and you allow Princess to give you some peace of mind as to your travels, it is a wonderful experience. All of group shed tears remembering it. A true "bucket list" voyage. Bon Voyage!   Read Less
Sail Date June 2013
The 28 day cruise aboard the Sapphire Princess was the longest cruise my wife and I have ever taken. I was afraid it might be too long, but much to my surprise,I was disappointed when we got back to Los Angeles. The main reason we ... Read More
The 28 day cruise aboard the Sapphire Princess was the longest cruise my wife and I have ever taken. I was afraid it might be too long, but much to my surprise,I was disappointed when we got back to Los Angeles. The main reason we booked this cruise was because we live near Los Angeles, we wanted to see Tahiti, and we hate the hassle of flying. This cruise was perfect for us. We were dropped off at the Port and were on board eating lunch within an hour. The Sapphire Princess was recently remodeled and had the appearance of a new ship. Our room was was the typical Princess interior, but everything was clean and fresh. The public areas were all nicely decorated. We enjoyed watching the Presidential debates, and the World Series "Under the Stars" on the big screen TV next to the pool. Being out to sea for as long as we were, I was surprised at the variety and quality of entertainment provided. I have to mention the Hawaiian Dancers and the Tahitian Dance troupe were exceptional, and a must see if you take this cruise. I want to remind everyone to book your excursions on line as soon as you can. I forgot to book an excursion in Moorea and by the time I remembered everything was filled. The ship did add a tour at the last minute, but I would have been lost trying to find something on my own. I never thought I would ever go to Western Samoa, but I have to tell you, it is the most friendly and beautiful island I have ever been too. The people are so proud of their island. They keep it amazingly clean and love to show it off. Every person we passed, waved and smiled. I would highly recommend a visit. I was surprised at the number of passengers we met that had taken this cruise, or the Hawaiian cruise before. Some of them as many as 6 times. They just enjoyed the ship and the cruise. My favorite on board activity was the Ukulele lessons. I hope they keep them. I thought the food was good, but I do have to say, if you have the anytime dining, you have to find a dining room you like. Until we found a Waiter and Maitre D you like, we felt ignored in some of the dining rooms. We finally ended up in the Pacific Moon Dining Room. Frances the Maitre D always had our table ready, and Simeon our waiter and Yahany, gave us excellent service. The only negatives on our trip was the casino, which needs updating, and the surprising number of plumbing problems we encountered. All in all this was a great cruise, and I would recommend it to the people like us, that cruise not so much for the destination, but because you love to cruise. Read Less
Sail Date October 2012
My wife, adult daughter, and I sailed the Island Princess in July -- August 2012 from Whittier to Vancouver, and had a blast! We had booked our daughter her own room, which by a tremendous stroke of luck, turned out to be a very good ... Read More
My wife, adult daughter, and I sailed the Island Princess in July -- August 2012 from Whittier to Vancouver, and had a blast! We had booked our daughter her own room, which by a tremendous stroke of luck, turned out to be a very good decision indeed. I suppose that Princess must have over-booked the cruise, because 2 days before embarkation, they called and offered to exchange our 2 interior rooms for one premium suite, plus give us $1,000. We received the message late in the day on a cell, plus our daughter was a bit hesitant to give up her private room for sleeping on a pull-out sofa, so (fortunately) we didn't respond that day. I called the next day to ask about the sleeping arrangements in the suite, and the agent informed me that the pull-out sofa could be separated from the bedroom area with a curtain, and when she described all the amenities that came with the suite, and upped the ante to $2,000, this was an offer we couldn't refuse! They apparently really wanted space, and I suspect we were one of the very few families of 3 -- if not the only one -- from whom they could get 2 cabins. In any case, we didn't look that gift horse in the mouth any longer, and so we were livin' large on the cruise. If money is no object, I highly recommend the suite. You'll feel like a rock star. Only qualifier is that sleeper sofa has a rather thin mattress, so it's hard to sleep on it comfortably. Two solutions are to put the mattress on the floor, or, if you enjoy sleeping under the stars and the weather cooperates, pull the mattress onto the balcony. The latter was what our adventurous daughter ended up doing most nights, and she enjoyed the experience. Otherwise, perfect -- lots of storage space, roomy bathroom with both shower stall and jetted tub, wet bar, 2 TVs and a DVD player, enormous balcony. But even apart from the sweet suite, the cruise itself was great. About the ship: As a perk of staying in the suite, we ate breakfast at Sabatini's every morning (with free mimosas), and loved it. (Only suggestion for improvement here would be to expand the menu a bit, but the service and food were great, including an excellent rendition of my favorite, eggs benedict.) For lunch, we generally went to the buffet (we only ate lunch at the sit-down restaurant once), and for dinner we did the buffet 3 times, the Bayou Grill once and Sabatini's 3 times. As you might infer from this, we had great experiences at Sabatini's and so kept going back. But the food at the buffet was quite good, with lots of options. We also enjoyed the pizza place a couple of times. For wine lovers, they have a pretty good wine list, with prices that in general are moderate. The exercise room on the ship was well equipped with weight machines and all kinds of exercise machines (running, rowing, ellipticals, biking, etc.). The only time it was crowded in my experience was at prime time the first day cruising; otherwise, it was very under-utilized. They offer an extensive list of spa services, and our daughter used a few. She was unhappy with one massage, but they immediately offered her another. We didn't avail ourselves of many late-night activities -- too much to do during the day -- but we did watch a movie in the Universe Lounge, which is a nice facility. The lectures by the Park Rangers and narration during the cruise (rangers came on-board 2 days of the cruise) were very informative. The cruise resident lecturer, Dr. Ryan, is obviously very knowledgeable and has a lot of experience in Alaska, but we found his talks a bit disorganized. Still, they were worth hearing, except the last one (titled something like ''The Inside Passage''), which we found was pretty repetitious of the previous ones. There was a lecture by the first woman to win the Iditarod, but unfortunately this was during the day in Skagway, so we had to miss it. (It would seem they could have brought her on board the previous evening.) About the sights and ports: As much as we enjoyed the ship, what really made the cruise special was what went on in the water and on shore. While cruising, we saw our first whales soon after leaving Whittier, then later saw many, many whales, sea otters, seals, sea birds, and even a bear and wolf (a long way off) while cruising Hubbard Glacier and Glacier Bay. The only excursion we did was whale watching with Alaska Galore tours in Juneau, which was fabulous. (Read my review on Tripadvisor; search ''Alaska Galore''.) In Skagway and Ketchikan, we looked around town on our own, and had a great time. I'm sure the excursions are good, but we found plenty to see and do on our own. A final word on a topic about which I consulted Cruisecritic chat groups before our cruise -- bringing beverages on board. At our original embarkation and while re-boarding after a port call, I brought on board boxes and (at embarkation) plastic bottles of wine and a 12-pack of soda cans. At one stop, our daughter brought a 6-pack of beer and some cans of cider. No one said anything about this. This is not Princess's official policy, but I have to infer that they have sensibly concluded that it's not worth the time and aggravation (for their staff and passengers) to really try to prevent this. This certainly makes me more willing to cruise on Princess again. Read Less
Sail Date August 2012
We left from Copenhagen on the Emerald Princess on Aug 30th. I will divide this review into major sections but all in all it was an absolutely wonderful experience with great staff on a beautiful ship. Very intense itinerary but a short ... Read More
We left from Copenhagen on the Emerald Princess on Aug 30th. I will divide this review into major sections but all in all it was an absolutely wonderful experience with great staff on a beautiful ship. Very intense itinerary but a short nap every afternoon enabled us to enjoy the ship in the evening. PORTS OF CALL; We had been in Stockholm and Helsinki in the past so I will focus on the new ones for us. Oslo, wonderful port, went to the Viking museum and visited couple of churches, found the people friendly and very helpful. took excursion with Princess, very organized and efficient. AArhus great medievil city with original wall around it, found people very friendly and architecture interesting. St. Petersburg highlight of our trip, took the 2 day excursion, very interesting, guide was great. History so interesting and the architecture so intricate and amazing. Went to 2 different restaurants for lunch both good but not great. Copenhagen interesting city with a great Canal Boat tour, people very friendly. Saw Tivoli Gardens at night so beautiful all lit up. Stayed overnight in the Kong Arthur, beautiful hotel but no air conditioning so would not stay in the summer. We were very Blessed to have sunny weather during our entire cruise, people told us this is very unusual for this time of year. SHIP: Beautiful, many different food and bev venues, well kept, always clean, staff courteous. Very disappointed in the Main Dining Room food choices. The food was good just not many options. I asked every night we went (4) about Escargot, I finally was told one night they were available but not on menu so I ordered them. They had Lobster one ight that was the size of a prawn. It actually was served with prawns as they were so small. My favorite meals were actually in the Caribe Cafe where theme dinners were served most nights. My favorite was the Bavarian night with an unbelievably tasty roast pork, sauerkraut and potatoe pancakes. I know it sounds like a little thing but I love the fact that the staff brings you beverages while at the Buffet. We took a Celebrity cruise last year and this was not offered and it really made a difference. The Lotus Spa is wonderful, had a different massage each sea day which I needed desperately after all the walking on cobblestones. Never took advantage of the specialty restaurants though we usually do, so I can not comment. Cabin we were in a Balcony room on the Caribe deck, the balcony was huge with 2 reclining chairs, 2 upright chairs and a small table. It was like having another room, We had a balcony for the 1st time about 10 years ago and can't go back now. It is well worth the money, the entry and exit into and out of Stockholm is breathtaking. The Cabin itself was pretty roomy with large space for clothes, etc. Cabin steward was excellent, took really good care of us. MISC: John Lawrence, past cruise director was on our cruise and did all of the port tours, I was lucky enough to send away for his DVD on the ports beforehand and it really made a difference. You can google his name if interested. HAPPY CRUISING!!!! Read Less
Sail Date August 2012
My wife and I cruised recently on the Crown Princess from Venice, on to Dubrovnik, Croatia, then to Corfu, Greece, as well as Katakolon, Greece, followed by Mykanos, Santorini and Athens, then topped off with 2 days at swa, then a day in ... Read More
My wife and I cruised recently on the Crown Princess from Venice, on to Dubrovnik, Croatia, then to Corfu, Greece, as well as Katakolon, Greece, followed by Mykanos, Santorini and Athens, then topped off with 2 days at swa, then a day in Naples and finally disembarking in Rome, Italy. The Crown Princess is a huge ship and the service onboard was very good - be it help from the Front Desk, Room Service, or even service in the Da Vinci Dining Room (one of two Anytime Dining Rooms onboard). We were upgraded to a Mini-Suite with Balcony across from the Passenger Laundromat services, which at first concerned us, thinking that there would be constant traffic - this was not the case and we NEVER heard a peep from anybody using the room, so this was excellent. The bed was so comfortable and having a full bathroom with tub, made for much greater living space. Embarkation and Disembarkation were absolutely painless and only took minutes each time. Very professionally run. Now for my two complaints. The first revolves around the entertainment. Showing the same acrobatic act 5 or 6 times during the cruise IS NOT entertaining after you've seen it once. Having 75-year old british comedians come onboard telling corny jokes IS NOT entertaining. Four theatre shows on a 12-night cruise IS NOT entertaining. Princess, your cruise director isn't doing her job!!! Instead of having 17 mediocre theatre performers, do like Holland America has done, reduce that to 7 or 8 professional high-end performers plus two dancers and make them perform multiple different broadway shows throughout the cruise. 20-minutes of so-so singing and dancing, hardly qualifies for entertainment. I found that the shows were a little risque too, such as the Roxanne number in Destination Anywhere (a hodge-podge of singing and dancing with no real point). Dancers pretending to do the nasty on stage isn't for everyone. Surely, Princess can entertain passengers without stooping to this level. Greg Scott, the violinist was excellent - more of him and less of has been comedians is in order. The magic show/comedy routine was also lame - either the person is a magician, or a comic!!! Seldom do people excel in both areas and the shows proved that. The International Crew Show, was a desperation move, to fill an empty evening. 3 very good crew members performing is excellent, but you can't bill the 3 acts as a show. Filling in with lame crew staff skits like "Fountains", where the cruise director and her team spit water at each other to music, or "If I Were Not at Sea", in which the same cruise staff sing and act a song in which one performer continues to grab his female colleague's breast multiple times IS NOT entertainment - in fact, if an employee of mine were to either grope the boss, or vice versa, it would be sexual harassment. I know it's a show, but really! If that's all the excitement the cruise director can dish up for entertainment, then Princess you have a problem. Food on the Crown Princess was not that spectacular. Of course you know that buffet dining will be hit and miss - it's hard to please everyone all the time in a buffet, but the Da Vinci Restaurant was not so special either. My wife and I both had a rib-eye one evening and it was like shoe leather. The soups were good onboard as was the fettucini alfredo, but aside from this, our experience in the main dining room was not what we would have expected. We did partake in the Crown Grill experience where Princess charges a $25/head cover charge for upscale dining. My wife had the Filet Mignon and it was superb. I had the Porterhouse Steak (a T-Bone) and I wasn't too happy with the grizzle, nor the cut of the meat. Remember this is the premium restaurant - not the buffet, so expectations on my part were high and I was disappointed. If you are a soda drinker, buy the soda card on Day 1 for unlimited sodas. We went to buy two (one for each of us) and we were told "No need, just buy one". Throughout the cruise, we had no issues with this except for one server, who tried to make it look like she was doing us a favour, by giving us two cokes for one soda card. The photo team onboard is excellent and they take a gazillion photos of you during the cruise. Don't rush to buy them as you see them. Instead, pool all of your photos together somewhere in the photo display area and towards the end of your cruise, simply choose the best ones. At $25/sheet, having 20+ photos in hand could prove to be one of the most expensive purchases if you aren't careful. I highly recommend taking the Ultimate Ship Tour ($150/person), which takes you behind the seens of the ship, allows you to speak with key crew members about the ship, provides each person with a Princess Bathrobe ($90 in the boutique) and a Chef's coat to impress your friends when you return home. Sign up for this at the Front Desk upon boarding. Read Less
Sail Date August 2012
Overall impressions of this cruise:1. It was a great itinerary. Only 2 sea days, but the port locations were fabulous. About half of the stops we had never been to before. We can't complain about any of the stops.2. The Ruby ... Read More
Overall impressions of this cruise:1. It was a great itinerary. Only 2 sea days, but the port locations were fabulous. About half of the stops we had never been to before. We can't complain about any of the stops.2. The Ruby Princess is a great ship. We've sailed on several Princess ships, and while we enjoy some of the smaller ships in the line, we never felt really crowded on this cruise. We're used to taking books with us to the Theater 30 minutes before a show to get good seats, this cruise we could walk in a few minutes before showtime (usually early shows) and get good seats.3. Our cabin was P247 (Cat. EE, unobstructed oceanview) located near the art gallery. It's a good location and was not noisy at all.4. Really enjoyed the Cruise Director Ron Goodman. He was very personable and was very visible around the ship. He's also not bashful about telling passengers where his office is and if you have a complaint, to stop in anytime (don't let it fester until the end of the cruise).5. Our cabin steward Noel was excellent. He was very attentive to our cabin, and got our laundry back to us very quickly whenever we sent some out to be cleaned.6. Art Director Chris has a personality that is always on the go. He tries to make everyone feel welcome.7. Elite Perks -- first cruise since we got Elite status and we really enjoyed these perks. It's amazing what people will do to get free laundry service!8. Dining Rooms -- we did anytime dining. We didn't do any specialty dining this cruise. Thought it was easy getting in at 6pm for dinner each night and we had very good wait staff. Service at dinner was good. Breakfast and lunch service was hit or miss. One morning for breakfast they never did bring around the pastry tray that we saw going thru other sections of the dining room. And it was sometimes difficult to get coffee at lunch to have with dessert.Below are daily details of our cruise.We flew in to Barcelona a day early and arrived about 8:30 am. We claimed our luggage and went to the Hotel Continental Barcelona, which is located on La Rambla. The hotel is reasonably priced and in a very good location. We dropped our luggage off and left to catch the Barcelona Bus Turistic, which offers a Hop On/Hop Off bus service around the city. We ended up doing all 3 routes on Saturday. This is a good way to see a large area of Barcelona.On Sunday (June 6) we took a taxi over to the port. Check-in was extremely easy. We dropped our bags off, went thru the Platinum/Elite check-in line, and were on board within 20 minutes of our arrival. When we got on board, we called room service for some wine glasses so we could enjoy some of the wine we bought in Barcelona and carried on board. We had lunch at the Horizon Court and explored the Ruby for a while. When we got back to the cabin, our luggage had shown up so we got unpacked. Muster drill was at 1715 hrs, so we went to our location in the casino. When we got back to our cabin, we were surprised to find a platter of chocolate dipped strawberries from the Art Director (Chris) to welcome us back on board. We do enjoy the nice touches from Princess!That night we went to the Princess Theater for the welcome aboard show. Best part of the show was comedian Tom Drake, who we enjoyed at other shows that upcoming week.Monday we arrived in Monte Carlo. We were fortunate to be able to dock and not have to use the tender service that was originally scheduled. We ended up this cruise using the Princess tours. In Monte Carlo we did the Old Monaco, Royal Palace & St. Nicholas Cathedral half-day tour. The tour was very enjoyable, and we saw them setting up for the Grand Prix race that was the next weekend. The tour was not too physical, which was good considering what was coming up the next few days. On board ship that night, we saw comedian Tom Drake's full show in Explorers Lounge. Definitely worth seeing.Tuesday we arrived in Livorno for tours in and around Florence. We booked the Florence, The Chianti Region & Wine Tasting tour. Since we had been to Florence a few years ago, we thought this would be a good chance to catch a few areas we had not seen in Florence during the morning. The morning in Florence was mostly free time, so we did some souvenir shopping and toured the Basilica of Santa Croce where Michelangelo and Galileo are buried (we missed this somehow 5 years ago). By lunchtime we had taken the bus up to Tuscany, where we had a nice lunch featuring some good Chianti wine. After lunch we went to a wine tasting. We were able to sample about 10 wines, and purchased some bottles to take back to the ship (Over the 15 cruises we've been on, we have bought wine in several ports and have never had any trouble taking it back on board to our cabins). That night, the first production show Stardust was in the Princess Theater. We hadn't seen this one before so we went and did enjoy it. The singers and dancers always do a good show on the Princess ships.Wednesday was another full day after we arrived in Civitavecchia. This is the port for going in to Rome. We did the Forum, Trevi Fountain & Time On Your Own tour. The morning part of the tour is a walking tour thru Rome that started at the Trevi Fountain (where we did throw coins in so that we would get to return to Rome again) and went around to the Coliseum and Forum areas. Very physical tour just as Princess described. The afternoon we were dropped off near the Vatican for a few hours of free time. We ended up doing the Vatican Museum tour and got to see the Sistine Chapel this trip. Allow a few hours to visit this Museum. On board ship that night, we went to see Ventriloquist Damon Scott in the Princess Theater. Our opinion, find any other show or activity to go to. His show was very lame and judging from the comments we heard most everybody else that was there agreed with us.Thursday meant we arrived in Naples for another day of tours. We did the Pompeii & Amalfi Coastal Drive. This was a great tour. We enjoyed the drive up the Amalfi Coast that morning, there is a lot of scenic coastline to see. One word about this tour -- many of the towns have traffic control because some of the roads can't handle buses passing each other on some spots along the curving road. You'll see some vehicles a few inches from the bus as you're on the road. We had a nice lunch in Amalfi, then drove back to Pompeii. The ruins they've uncovered there are amazing. One of the people on the tour said he was there over 20 years ago, and that it was nowhere near as impressive as it is now. Touring Pompeii is over a lot of cobblestone streets and going up/down thru the city. Some areas are pretty congested where people are trying to see the wall decorations that are still visible after 2,000 years. On board ship entertainment that night was vocalist Michelle Montouri in the Princess Theater. Her show was definitely better than the ventriloquist, but was not very well attended. Theater was over half empty for the early show.Friday arrived which meant we finally got a day at sea! Time to rest after several busy port days. On board we did our usual -- played trivia, went to the art auction, and had some pictures made since this was the first formal night. That night the Captain's Welcome Aboard party was in the Atrium, and Princess has combined that with the Champagne waterfall (which used to be a separate event but which I guess has been combined to save costs). It's amazing how many people attend to get the free champagne they serve. One nice perk we enjoyed during our first cruise as Elite was ordering the chocolate dipped strawberries as the complementary Canapes before dinner. After dinner we saw the second production show of the cruise Broadway Ballroom which was also a very good show.Saturday meant we arrived in Mykonos. Contrary to what our itinerary said, we were able to dock and did not have to use tenders to get ashore. This day we decided to use the shuttle service into town (it was 7 euros/person roundtrip). I would definitely advice using this service instead of taking a tour. It is very easy walking through town and finding your way around. The white buildings with the blue or red trim are what you expect to see on this cruise. While in town, we saw the pelican which is the mascot of Mykonos. The pelican is very used to people -- you can get very close to make some great pictures. This is one of those ports where you get to set your own pace and enjoy the people and local cuisine while resting up for some more busy port days ahead. Sunday was Istanbul, Turkey. We did the St.Sophia, Topkapi, Blue Mosque & St Irene Church tour, which was a good all day tour. Being Sunday, the Great Bazaar was closed. It's too bad Princess couldn't have rearranged port calls so that we could have visited the Great Bazaar. In town, we also got to visit a Turkish rug factory. The demonstration and skill of the people is amazing and their creations are amazing. Be cautious outside the demo, the street vendors are selling LOW priced so-called Turkish rugs and items, and these vendors can be aggressive. One followed a lady to our bus and knocked on the windows trying to get her to come out and bargain. While many of the locations we toured were impressive, the area around the Blue Mosque is worth seeing. One site we had not expected to see were the boys in ornate gowns with their families near the Blue Mosque. Our guide told us these boys were celebrating going to be circumcised the next day and looked forward to the day they got to dress up and go around town. We also got to go in the Blue Mosque, which we were surprised to find allows pictures inside. It is a very beautiful building. Expect to see large crowds there. Monday we were in Kusadasi, Turkey. This is near the ancient city of Ephesus. However, we had seen so many ruins at earlier stops we decided to take it easy and just tour Kusadasi on our own. This town is definitely the place to shop for fake goods. As our cruise director said on the Wake Show, this is one of the best ports for buying good fakes. In town, they also advertise that. One shop had a sign with large lettering across the window "GENUINE FAKE WATCHES". You name the brand and they had it. Also had a lot of cheap RayBan sunglasses for sale. In town, there is also an information location where you can get information on using the city bus to get around town. The Ladies Beach (it's now open to men and women) was maybe a 10 minute ride from the center of town. Back on board ship, the entertainment that night was comedian Al Katz. We saw part of his show in the Princess Theater (we had to leave early so we could go play Country Music Trivia which my wife won easily) and thought he was very funny. Luckily he was going to be in Explorers the next night so we didn't feel too guilty about leaving early.Tuesday we arrived in Piraeus, Greece which was the port for Athens. This was definitely one of the highlights of the cruise for us. We had looked forward to seeing the Acropolis for years. We did the Acropolis, National Museum and Plaka tour. The tour starts with a bus ride to the Acropolis, where you have to climb the stairs to get to the Acropolis. Restoration work appears to be a very on-going activity. But the restored ruins are amazing and are the highlight of any cruise. We also got to visit the Olympic Stadium which was used the last time Greece hosted the Olympics. The National Museum has a large number of relics on display, including many beautiful statues and gold jewelry. The day ended in the Plaka, which is the opportunity to do some shopping for souvenirs on your own. That night we went to Explorers and caught Al Katz's comedy show. Glad we got to see his whole show.Wednesday and we're having our second sea day of the cruise. Sea days are meant to relax -- unfortunately with this itinerary you don't get very many of them. Besides playing trivia we got caught up on laundry. We sent off what dirty clothes we had to be laundered on board (yes, we do like the free laundry service we now get after becoming Elite) so we could pack clean clothes for the trip home. Also went to the Princess Grapevine wine tasting (another Elite perk). That night was the second formal night. We went to the Past Passengers reception that night. The statistics were interesting -- out of 2,960 passengers we had 1,100 Gold, 300 Platinum, and 87 Elite. That meant over half of the ship was first time passengers on Princess. The show that night was the Once Upon a Dream production show. Probably the best production show on the cruise. We also saw the Marriage Game Show -- it's funny watching some of the answers you get from the contestants.Thursday we arrived at our last stop, Venice. It's enjoyable standing along the rail listening to the music on the PA system as you cruise along and see the canals for the first time. We were the fifth ship to dock that day -- Venice was certainly hopping with tourists. After we got in town we found out that qualifying races for the America's Cup were scheduled thru the weekend in the canals. In town we did the Ca' Rezzonico, Doge's Palace & St. Mark's Basilica tour. St. Mark's Basilica and the Doge's Palace were definitely worth seeing, but much of the best sites in Venice can be found just wandering around thru the town on foot. This tour had a tour guide that was not our favorite -- she had an annoying habit of telling the group a description of a room or item, then asking a tour member if they understood what she said and asking them to repeat it back to her. Then she'd complain that she might have to repeat her speech. Once or twice was OK, but this went on for several hours.Friday we got off the ship and went to our hotel near the cruise terminal. Disembarkation was very smooth. Only took us a few minutes to find our bags and get the our bags dropped off for transfer to our hotel. We stayed at the Hotel Olimpia. This is a very nice hotel. Rooms are comfortable and the morning breakfast that is included was very good. When we got to the hotel we dropped our my backpack off and got water bus tickets for the entire day to ride any of the canal routes. We toured around the city that morning before going back to St. Mark's Basilica, where we had lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe. Then we found out the water buses and taxis were shutting down due to the America's Cup quarterfinals from lunch until dinner. Talk about disrupting traffic on the water! We found a good viewing spot on the canal and watched the ships sailing up and down the canal. After a few hours we walked back about 1.5 miles to the hotel. The walk was enjoyable and we got to see some areas away from some of the big tourist areas.Saturday we got up and caught the airport shuttle bus about 300 yards from our hotel. Hotel was definitely in a good location and the shuttle bus is a cheap way to get to the airport. At the airport, expect to stand in line. Took us about 45 minutes to check in and drop our bags off. Then had to go thru security before we got to go to the gate. When we boarded, I got stopped for another security screening of my backpack and camera bag (full hand search which took several minutes). Finally got on board for our return home from a great vacation. Read Less
Sail Date May 2012
We decided to go a little further afield and do the 16 day Southeast Asia and China cruise, accompanied by the same couple with whom we have done all our previous trips. We booked the entire package directly with Princess, including an ... Read More
We decided to go a little further afield and do the 16 day Southeast Asia and China cruise, accompanied by the same couple with whom we have done all our previous trips. We booked the entire package directly with Princess, including an extra three days in Beijing and one night in Singapore. We didn't like the initial air routing which would have required us to pass through US customs and immigration twice, as well as one extra stop en route. Since Air Canada flies direct from Toronto to several China destinations, we asked Princess to arrange one of these for us. Our contact at Princess, Denise Hogan, was able to secure a routing which avoided transiting the US. In fact, she was super about staying in contact with us by phone and e-mail, ensuring that we were kept advised of any changes, helping us arrange payments, ensuring that we were aware of visa requirements, etc. It was great to have someone right at the cruise line that we could contact whenever a question or problem arose. The hotel used in Beijing was the 5-star Marriott City Wall. The hotel was beautiful and for the most part, the service was at the level expected. However, there was one major problem: the elevators in the main tower were completely inadequate during times of peak traffic, such as when all the tour buses returned to the hotel at the end of the day. At the end of the first day, when I approached the elevator lobby, the line extended out of the lobby and for some distance down the hall. I noted the time and it took 17 minutes until I actually got into an elevator--and there were still a considerable number of people behind me in the line. There were also problems in the dining room for breakfast and it took three days for the hotel to figure out how to cope with several hundred people arriving and wanting to eat within a very short space of time. We had the same English speaking tour guide for all three days and had a great time. The only thing that marred this period was the presence of two very lackadaisical couples who seemed completely unable to read watches and whose benchmark for being "on time" was to be no more than 15 minutes late. At every stop, the bus was kept waiting for these four people and on several occasions the tour guide had to go searching for them. The three lunches included in the tour package were: OK; less than OK; and superb. While there we booked a last minute evening package of an acrobatic stage show with dinner prior. The stage show was terrific, the dinner inedible, service even worse. Embarkation (once past the Chinese checkpoint) was fast and easy, as we have come to expect from Princess. Problems were due to Chinese authorities who, despite the cavernous nature of the terminal, set up security inspection just inside the front door, forcing several hundred passengers to stand outside where the wind-chill was just below freezing. We had booked a restricted ocean-view cabin, but a month before departure, we received a complimentary upgrade to an ocean-view balcony cabin. This was nice of Princess, but we were not able to use it to advantage. The first five days were far too cold (although I walked three miles on the Promenade deck each morning before breakfast) while the last four were far too hot and humid. I did sit out and read for a few hours, and we did sit out and enjoy wine and cheese on our traveling partners' balcony departing Hong Kong harbour during the middle of the nightly light show. We had two cabin stewards (the first was tour-expired at the end of the first week aboard) and both were first class. We prefer traditional dining, and had the early sitting in the International. We had a terrific set of waiters and can't praise them highly enough. The food was generally well prepared and well presented, but there were some problems. I suspect the beef being used was Australian, which is not as well finished as what we are used to in North America. Thus, while it was flavourful, it was a bit on the tough side. The range of choices was adequate. Breakfast and Lunch were taken in Horizon Court and the general impression of our party was that the overall quality was not as good as on our two previous trips with Princess. However, the main problem was related to seating. The first five days out of Beijing were too cold to use a significant chunk of the seating area, which made it difficult to find somewhere to sit once you had your food, and many passengers simply took their plates back to their cabins. A further complication was the fact that there were several marathon mah jong and card games that seemed to start after breakfast and went to mid-afternoon, occupying tables that were intended for dining! Staff should have nipped this in the bud on day one. We did not eat in any specialty restaurants which did not, in any case, seem very well patronized. One of them is simply a roped off area in Horizon Court and since there is zero additional ambience, the food and service would have to be awfully good to justify the surcharge. Speaking of ambience, Princess policy states that t-shirts and shorts are not to be worn in the dining rooms yet for some diners t-shirts, ripped and faded dungarees and flip-flops were their standard dress. The ship either has a policy or it doesn't! Another questionable policy relates to smoking, which is supposed to be prohibited in cabins and on balconies. From our balcony on deck 12, one can see directly down into those on decks 9 and 10. On one occasion when I stood out on our balcony there were three smokers within view: one woman with a cigarette and an ashtray in her hand, one gent with a large cigar, the stub of which he flicked over the side when done, and a woman on his balcony with a cigarette who was using an ashtray sitting on the balcony table, I found the on-board entertainment a bit spotty. Princess has obviously invested a considerable amount of money in its on-board song-and-dance troupe. The costumes and sets are the most elaborate I have seen and while the members may lack a bit of skill, they make up for it with energy and enthusiasm. Several critics have complained about the poor skills of the singers and dancers, probably because they expect the quality of a hit Broadway show. The latter would cost more for orchestra seats than the complainers paid per day for their cabin and meals. The other entertainers were hit and miss, but I think too many people expect far too high a level of entertainment. I am sure Princess could book "A-list" entertainment---but not at what most passengers paid for this cruise! The on-board education programme was great. The port speaker, Hutch, was a bit full of himself, but was a welcome change from the usual sales pitches for Diamonds International, etc. His information on museums, public transit, taxis, local scams, markets, etc. was very useful in planning what to do ashore if you weren't taking a shore excursion. The historian, Dr. Freedman, gave a great background on each country stretching from paleolithic to modern eras and nicely complemented Hutch's presentation of what the city is like today. Mr. Maxtone-Graham's history of cruising was very interesting, particularly his large array of vintage photographs of some of the great liners of the early 20th century. His last presentation, a set of skits with his wife, fell a bit flat but, hey, five out of six ain't bad! I was disappointed to see that Princess is still running its art auction sham. I say "sham" rather than "scam" because although they are not doing anything illegal, I believe many of the practices cross ethical boundaries. I attended all four auction and while somewhere around 20 pieces were sold to passengers, not one of them was actually auctioned. Instead, buyers simply paid the reserve price, which purports to represent a significant saving off what I feel is a somewhat inflated appraised value. What clients don't realize is that they are actually buying a very nice, and expensive, frame with a bit of art (usually a reproduction) thrown in as a bonus. Normally, we don't take ship's tours which, if you read the back of your tour coupon, aren't really ship's tours because Princess is only acting as an agent for shore-based companies. However, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck........... In this case, we did book two excursions: Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City, largely because these cities are 2-2.5 hrs by bus away from the dock site and you can't "...get there from here..." without booking a trip through the ship. Being to some extent forced into accepting this option, we felt that these excursions provided acceptable value for the cost---although not as much as the trip we arranged through Cruise Critic in Nha Trang. The main advantage (in addition to cost) of arranging your own excursions is that you don't have to cope with the chaos that results from 10 busloads of passengers descending on the same location simultaneously, particularly when that location is really not geared to handling more than perhaps 25 or 30 people at one time. My wife tried to use the fitness centre but found it difficult first thing in the morning. Although the instructions say use of the exercise machines is limited to 30 minutes if other users are waiting, many users ignore this dictum and do so with impunity because there was no on-site supervision. She found it was easy to get a machine later in the day---but only if you are willing to give up something else in the programme. The laundromats are a great idea and are in constant use. I suspect that the ship may make more money off these than it does from the specialty restaurants. It would be really great if they could be converted to use your cruise card rather than having to feed them copious numbers of quarters. The bottom line is that we had a great time both on-board and during the port stops, felt that we got excellent value for the cost, and feel that Princess continues to offer great service and value (after all, we have stayed with them after trying their major competitors). Now, if they would just tweak those areas in which they are a bit weak...... Read Less
Sail Date February 2012
Although we have over 110 days sailing on Princess Ships, this was our first cruise on the Pacific Princess. We waited in the terminal where we saw the ship for the first time. It really wasn't as small as I had somehow pictured. ... Read More
Although we have over 110 days sailing on Princess Ships, this was our first cruise on the Pacific Princess. We waited in the terminal where we saw the ship for the first time. It really wasn't as small as I had somehow pictured. We took a 28 day back to back cruise from Ft. Lauderdale to the Amazon River and back to Ft. Lauderdale. This cruise to the Amazon River made stops in Saint Maarten, St. Lucia, Tobago and Devil's Island before we entered the Amazon River. There were four more stops in the river, Santarem, Boca de Valeria, Parintins, and Manaus, Brazil. I won't make this a travelogue, except for the fact that the Amazon River is amazing! There were native Amazonians, monkeys, sloths, piranhas, pink fresh water dolphins and river waters that didn't mix. The ports and tours in the Caribbean were very nice even though the ship had to pass Devil's Island on the leg south due to windy conditions. When the ship returned north to Ft. Lauderdale, the water was smooth and the stop was enjoyed by all. The tours were reasonable and interesting on the Amazon. We did not encounter many mosquitoes at all (day or night) even though we had taken our malaria pills and had our Deet spray with us. The outside doors on the Panorama Buffett, however, remained closed while in the river to limit bug stowaways. On December 16th we checked in and got to our room -- an ocean view room on deck 4. The room was fairly good sized although the bed was "tired" so we had to have some foam added to the mattress. The bathroom and shower were tiny and the closets are poorly placed. There were floor to ceiling mirrors in the room to give it a much larger appearance. As this was a Christmas cruise the ship was adorned beautifully with trees, decorations and garland amid rich dark wood walls. The ship had the look of an exclusive English club at Christmas rather than the glitz of a larger ship. The ship had most of the things that you would expect...only smaller. The atrium was small and cozy, there were only two small shops, the dining room was smaller (only one set-seating dining room with early and late seating and no any-time dining rooms), the lounges were smaller, the casino was tiny, the pool was small and the buffet was much smaller. The Cruise staff did double duty with their usual duties that they customarily have during the day as well as being the dancers for the evening entertainment. The best thing was that this ship only holds 680 passengers and this cruise had only 570 (680 on the return trip) so there was always seating to be found at the shows, in the lounges, at the buffet and no backlog getting on or off the ship. Speaking of the lounges...forget the Vista, Explorer, Wheelhouse lounges and the Horizon Buffet. The main lounges were the Pacific Lounge, Cabaret Lounge, Club Bar and the Panorama Buffet. They were just as nice and the service was impeccable. Everything was there...only smaller. We tied up across the pier from the Caribbean Princess in St. Maarten and many came out on their balconies and looked down at us. I am sure they thought "Oh, look, a little ship! Isn't it cute". The ship took seas a bit rockier than some of the larger ships and one dance performance had to be postponed. The entertainment was typical but good with dancers, comedians, magicians, piano performances and more. There was no theater so all of the performances were held in the Cabaret Lounge on a bit smaller scale. Other bars had their own excellent entertainment. By the way, Bingo had fewer people so it seemed easier to win. We won four times including the snowball (shared). The food in the dining room was very good with elegant meals as well as home-style meals offered. I am not sure why anyone would want to cruise and eat meatloaf, but I am told it was good. The buffet had all of the fare that you would expect without the crowds. The coffee is typically awful! Princess has instituted a new coffee card for $29 which supercedes other cards and is only good for one cruise for regular coffee and specialty coffees can be obtained on that and the next cruise only for a punch. It's dated. **NEWS FLASH** I had heard that Princess, later this year, will institute a new policy whereas no company, like Vacations-To-Go, will be allowed to discount the price of a cruise lower than what Princess offers. We checked with Sandy, the Captain's Circle and future cruise hostess, and she said that the information is false. Princess will definitely allow discount rooms. I hope she is right. Read Less
Sail Date December 2011
Canada & Colonial America Cruise 2011 October 14 -â€" 26 Greetings from the Crown Princess: Friday, October 14th We are now comfortably ensconced in our beautiful category AB Mini-Suite D317 on the Dolphin Deck 9, a ... Read More
Canada & Colonial America Cruise 2011 October 14 -â€" 26 Greetings from the Crown Princess: Friday, October 14th We are now comfortably ensconced in our beautiful category AB Mini-Suite D317 on the Dolphin Deck 9, a substantial 3-category upgrade from the category AE mini-suite guarantee for which we paid. It is almost amidships, which is highly desirable in case of rough seas, which is a definite possibility during the next 12 days to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Our two days here in Quebec City have been very interesting and the intermittent rain drizzles have only mildly interfered with our activities. Today's "major rain" failed to materialize -â€" thankfully -â€" and dragging our suitcases the one block from our Hotel Le Germain-Dominion could not have been more convenient and rain-free. An excellent choice for an elegant "boutique" hotel and an outstanding location so near the cruise terminal; we could actually see parts of the Crown Princess from hotel windows. Our ship remains in port tonight, leaving tomorrow afternoon at 5 PM. Hopefully our Sail Away will be rain-free also. Today we again lunched at a very small but very good Bistro du Cap, near the hotel; yesterday we had crepes -â€" ham & cheese -â€" and a glass of pinot grigio for me, of course. Today we both had an open-face ham and cheese (and toasted) sandwich, with salad and DELICIOUS soup, with another glass of pinot grigio for me. Not cheap, but NOTHING in Quebec City is: a very expensive city. Tonight we will probably have dinner in the Botticelli Restaurant aboard ship, and POSSIBLY go back off-ship, but POSSIBLY not. Depends on whether or not it is raining. Tomorrow we have an all-day tour, a repetition of the same tour taken 5 years ago on our last visit to Quebec City: Montmorency Falls, Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré Basilica and a wonderful French lunch on the Isle of Orleans in middle of the St. Lawrence River. Anyone not having yet visited Quebec City is missing a most unique experience: the MOST European city in North America. > It is still quite early here as we approach the dock at Sydney, Nova Scotia, for today's visit. Our scheduled tour begins at 7:30 AM so it will be a full day. Included are the Bras D'Or Lakes, the small town of Baddeck with a visit to the Alexander Graham Bell Museum, and the Scottish Highland Village. Hopefully the weather will be such that we can enjoy these sites without rain. Yesterday was our first (of three) days at sea and the ride was very smooth -â€" to start with -â€" as we cruised down the St. Lawrence River, but became a little bumpy as we traversed the Gulf of St. Lawrence. So far today, it has been quite pleasant as we now cruise up the Sydney River towards our dock. The three days spent in Quebec City were just wonderful! As commented before, the Htel Le Germain-Dominion was an excellent choice -â€" both in its elegance and in its location, so very near the Cruise Terminal. On Friday it was a simple matter to drag our luggage over to the Terminal under clear skies; we were all checked in shortly after noontime, then returning ashore to continue our touring of this magnificent city. Quebec City is indisputably the MOST European city in North America. We again enjoyed lunch at the Bistro du Cap, the charming little place near our hotel. Our ship's tour on Saturday was a repeat from our last visit here in 2005 and included the Montmorency Falls -â€" higher than those of Niagara, the Basilica of St. Anne and a wonderful drive around the Isle d'Orleans (in the middle of the St. Lawrence River) where we enjoyed an excellent lunch. Returning to the City we visited the Chateau Frontenac, the Parliament Building, the Plains of Abraham -â€" historic war battle site, and then a repeat of the ancient Old City below the funicular and the "upper city." Of course, we had independently roamed around many of these cobble-stoned streets on our own. So I will attempt to make up -â€" and keep up -â€" with our very port-intensive cruise as we proceed around New England and on down to Florida. It is almost time to get ready for the day's tour. > It has begun to rain again but we are now back aboard the Crown Princess, safe and dry, having returned from our tour about an hour ago. Although VERY cool and crisp today, it was dry for our visit to the Highland Village and the lengthy walk down the hill amongst historic structures -â€" homes, schools, churches, stores, blacksmith shops, etc. - housing artifacts and antiques, staffed by local citizens appropriately dressed in period costume. This has been the second or third time I have visited this beautiful and interesting "living museum," overlooking the expanse of the Bras d'Or Lakes. We then traveled along the shores of the Bras d'Or Lakes, at one point crossing one of its arms on a cable-drawn auto ferry, until we reached the small village of Baddeck, home of Alexander Graham Bell and a museum in his honor -â€" which we did NOT visit on this particular tour. Our lunch was in a large convention hall at the Inverary Inn Resort where we had lunched also on our previous visit in 2005. The food was plentiful and delicious -â€" especially the seafood chowder and peanut butter cookies for dessert. One entrée was salmon in a tasty sauce, the other being roast chicken pieces, but the real "star" was the chowder on such a cold and windy day. After a brief stop in the village of Baddeck with time given to walk around the shops -â€" many already "Closed for the Season," it was time to return to the warmth of our bus and begin our return trip to Sydney and our ship. Leaving Baddeck we drove along the "old road" right at the water's edge, passing the Alexander Graham Bell Museum, and viewing some of the sailboats common on these lakes; the air blowing off the lake waters, although dry, was FRIGID! A light drizzle had begun to fall. Arrival back at the cruise terminal and our ship was right on schedule at 2:30 PM with our ship's departure scheduled for 4 PM. Evidently there are a few late-arrival tour buses because it is now after 4 PM and we are still at dock. With the rain and strong winds I fully expect a bit of a "bumpy" ride tonight on our way to Halifax for tomorrow's visit there. Last night was the first (of two) formal nights and was the occasion for the Captain's Welcome Party in the Atrium with Princess' traditional Champagne Waterfall and complimentary champagne for all. Surprisingly there was a majority of gentlemen either in tuxedos or dark business suits, along with ladies in their finest and fanciest dresses. Our Captain is Andy Proctor, from Scotland, who has been Captain of this Crown Princess since its introduction into the fleet a few years ago. So evidently, he was our captain last August when we were aboard the Crown Princess on the British Isles cruise; I did not remember his name from then, however. Well, we still haven't yet left the dock; the Captain just came on the PA to explain the delay and to warn us of the strong winds and high seas expected as we make our way around Cape Breton and on down to Halifax. Goody! I guess this is one advantage of the huge ships: better stability. And the location of our mini-suite amidships on Dolphin Deck 9 should be to our advantage also. So that is it for today; tomorrow's tour out of Halifax is again back up north to the Annapolis Valley and wine tasting at vineyards there. Many of their wines are surprisingly good. > We are again underway having departed Halifax just a few minutes ago, a few minutes after 4 PM local time (one hour earlier than EDT). Even with our extended weather-related delay last evening leaving Sydney -â€" over two hours -â€" our arrival this morning and today's schedule was almost back to normal; the captain really stoked the boilers last night and we were CRUISING! Today's tour was to the Annapolis Valley, about an hour north of Halifax, where we visited two fine wineries: Grand Pre Winery and Gasperau Vineyards, both offering excellent wines. The first, Grand Pre Winery, we had been to in 2005 on an NCL cruise; now there are 15 wineries in this area near the Bay of Fundy which the French Acadians settled in the 17th century and reclaimed land using an ingenious system of dikes before being expelled by the British when they refused to pledge allegiance to the Crown. You might recall the poem Evangeline by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, based on this inhumane tragedy. The Acadians were then scattered up and down the 13 colonies - sometimes with families split apart, many winding up in Louisiana where they became known as "Cajuns" - a mispronunciation of "Acadians." A very informative lady, a family member of the Swiss Stutz owners, gave excellent descriptions of the 6 different wines featured: 3 white and 3 red. They were all very, very good and I purchased two bottles despite their rather expensive price. We then drove through the charming village of Wolfville, home of the University of Acadia, to the second winery in the Gasperau Valley. Here our wine tasting -â€" again by an informative young lady -â€" was conducted as we strolled among the vineyards where grapes were waiting to be harvested -â€" some today! This was a most unique type of wine tasting and the day's weather cooperated with clear skies and only cool temperatures. Again, we were presented with 6 excellent wines -â€" some from the same cold weather grapes as the first winery, but this time alternated with chunks of delicious local cheeses. An "Ice Wine" was also presented and explained and which turned out to be a delicious, albeit very sweet "after dinner wine." Again I purchased 2 more bottles of their wines, one a dry red similar to a pinot noir. The remainder of our cruise will certainly not be void of good wines to drink! Our tour also included lunch at a local restaurant, the Tempest, in Wolfville, which featured an outstanding lobster roll, delicious potato salad, a small salad, and a sinfully good dessert, an apple tart laced with maple sauce and a dollop of vanilla ice cream. Yum, yum! The accompanying large glass of chardonnay was extra at a price of about $10 Canadian. The last stop was at a lookout point in Wolfville from which effects of the low tide could be observed; the Bay of Fundy has one of the largest tidal actions in the world, the difference being 50 to 70 feet between high and low tide. At low tide there are vast areas that exhibit the red clay bottom of waterways that are absolutely full at high tide. Most interesting. Before departing Wolfville for our return to Halifax there was a brief stop at a local produce market for a taste of their apple cider and an opportunity to purchase some of their magnificent apples. On my first visit to the area in 1998 on another NCL cruise, we had stopped at this exact market and I have never forgotten the large yellow apple (with red stripes) I bought at that time and relished during the hour-long bus ride back to Halifax. I repeated my purchase during this visit and again enjoyed a wonderful apple on the bus. This very fertile area of the Grand Pre is famous for the wonderful apples grown here; orchards can be seen in almost every direction. Thanks to the Acadians for their reclamation and development of this excellent farming region from the flooding of the Bay of Fundy tidal action. Tragically the British unceremoniously deported them from their home of 200 years. We are now in transit towards our port-of-call tomorrow: Bar Harbor, Maine. Our wonderful Canadian visit has now concluded. >> Princess Cruises' frequent cruiser/ loyalty program is called the Captain's Circle with membership levels: Blue, Gold, Platinum and Elite, based on a member's number of cruises and days at sea. Both Jim and I are at the Elite level with 21 cruises and 284 days for me; Jim has one less 7-day cruise. Twice now we have been honored among the "40 Most-Traveled" aboard a cruise with a special Captain's Lunch or Party, but not this time. With so many Captain's Circle members on this cruise, we didn't make the "cut." In fact it was necessary to hold four separate Captain's Circle Parties to accommodate all those members aboard. Our Captain's Circle Party was at 7:15 PM until 8 PM on October 20th, the evening after leaving Boston. At each Party, those with the highest numbers of cruises and sea days are individually honored -â€" usually with a bottle of champagne, and then there is a drawing among the rest of us to receive bottles of champagne. The last name drawn at our Party was Jim's! The first time either of us has ever "won" a bottle of champagne! It was shared with those at our dining table on the last formal night, October 23rd. > Right now at almost 5 PM EDT we are preparing to depart Pier 90 on the Hudson River in New York City, our sail-away scheduled for 5 PM. Tomorrow will be a much-anticipated and welcome day at sea after our whirl-wind series of ports-of-call this past week. Day after tomorrow will be our final port-of-call in Charleston, South Carolina; then another day at sea before reaching our terminus, Fort Lauderdale, Florida. After the extremely rough night of high swells and high winds during the night, our arrival yesterday morning in Newport, Rhode Island, was relatively calm and the lateness of our shore excursion (12:45 PM) gave an opportunity to recover some of the lost sleep from the night before. Newport is a lovely small but historic village, once playground for the very rich and famous, who built extravagant "cottages" - huge, elaborate and magnificent mansions. It was a tour of two of these millionaire mansions that we enjoyed yesterday afternoon. The first mansion to be visited was The Breakers, built by Cornelius Vanderbilt in the late 1800s, and probably the most spectacular of all the mansions in Newport. The allocated hour and a half fled by quickly as we were permitted to enter and view almost every one of the rooms, both first and second floors. Besides the beauty and extravagance of the building itself and the splendid interiors, the collection of vintage furnishings -â€" furniture, draperies, dishes, etc. - was well worthy of the finest museum. And the spacious, meticulously landscaped lawns and gardens were truly awesome. The name "Breakers" was totally appropriate after viewing the spectacular surf crashing just beyond the yard's edge. Words fail to describe the opulence and extreme elegance of this "cottage." The second mansion was Marble House, another Vanderbilt family "cottage." Its name results from being constructed of imported marble -â€" outside and inside. The exterior marble and columns are all white but two of the interior rooms were a pale gold marble, and another in a pink marble. The cost was undoubtedly astronomical. Of course, in both mansions there are gigantic parlors with a "Gone With the Winds" staircase winding up to the second floor mezzanine. It was hard NOT to imagine these as movie sets and not real homes. One room in the Marble House, called the "Gold Room," had walls and ceiling ENTIRELY gilded with 24 carat gold. Nothing was too good for these pampered millionaires and their families. Now these and other mansions are part of a National Trust - Conservancy and are maintained partly by the income from tours such as the one we took. Catherine's Palace and Peter the Great's Peterhof are the only comparisons I can offer. On our way back from the mansions, the route of travel passed by the International Tennis Hall of Fame, and we were able to get the bus driver to let us off for a quick visit to this esteemed "Mecca" of the tennis world. There was available a tour of the spacious facilities but our limited time permitted only a visit to the gift shops and a few purchases. Then it was a 15-minute walk back down to the tender dock and on back to the ship. All in all, it was a most interesting and productive afternoon in Newport, Rhode Island. Today's activities in New York City will be described in tomorrow's email; tomorrow will be a relaxing day with only a wine tasting in the afternoon and our second -â€" and final -â€" formal night of the cruise. Then the tuxedo can again be packed away for another day. > We are now SMOOTHLY cruising on calm seas on our way down the Atlantic Coast towards Charleston, South Carolina, our last port of call tomorrow, Monday, October 24th. It is SO nice this morning to have a break in our normal routine of rushing around to get down to the Princess Theater to check-in for our tour of the day. Having an occasional sea day - such as today - is a welcome relief and cause for a lazy, relaxed morning. This afternoon at 3 PM we have another wine tasting -â€" complimentary for us Elite members -â€" and tonight is our second and last formal evening. Then the tuxedo gets packed away for a while. Yesterday we were in New York City for the day and it could NOT have been a more perfect day, beginning quite early around 5 AM as we sailed beneath the Verrazano Straights suspension bridge, marking the entrance to New York Harbor. Shortly afterward the Statue of Liberty came into view -â€" on ship's port side, requiring us to dress warmly and go up to the top deck to see her, all aglow in lights with her crown and torch shining brightly in the pre-dawn darkness. It was a MOST impressive sight! Then I returned to our starboard-side stateroom from which the view of the skyline of lower Manhattan, with the new World Center Tower -â€" already more than half-completed at 86 levels -â€" was awash in lights, a beacon shining brilliantly from the construction cranes on top. Its completion is scheduled for 2013 at a height of 1776 feet and 103 stories; the downed World Trade Center towers were 110 stories in height. Farther up the Empire State Building came into view with its top tower also aglow in colored lights and I watched as the lights were extinguished as the dawn neared. The entire skyline, silhouetted by the pink skies of the approaching sunrise was truly a sight to behold. The Crown Princess docked at Pier 90 around 7 AM alongside a German cruise ship, the AIDA aura, with its hideously painted bow with large red lips and bulging eyeballs farther back -â€" what kind of sick mind came up with THAT? Also at dock was the MSC Poseia, and the NCL Norwegian Jewel was approaching dock just behind us. Meeting our tour group in the Princess Theater at 7:30 AM we then proceeded ashore to our waiting bus for the 6-hour tour I had selected, "New York, New York." Our tour guide was Darrell, a very TALL black man, who turned out to be one of the BEST tour guides we have so far encountered. His wealth of information, crisply and clearly offered as we drove all around the Island was interlaced with his quick and acerbic humor; he could also be a stand-up comedian! Our first (of 4) stops was at Rockefeller Center where we were given tickets and an hour and a half to go up to the observation decks, "The Top of the Rock," the first at level 69 and the top-most at level 70; VERY fast elevators soared us to level 67 in seconds and escalators carried us further up to level 69, AFTER having passed through a very intensive security check -â€" quite understandable in view of the horrors of 10 years ago. The day was spectacularly clear and views from the Top were breath taking! Down to the Empire State Building with the new World Center Tower behind, and up to the expanse of Central Park, lined with posh apartment buildings. Darrell, our guide, had shared much information about some of these buildings -â€" the Dakota, for one, and who lived there, or had lived there; on and on his flow of facts came in a steady stream, allowing no lapse in listening to him. Again reboarding our bus we continued with a serpentine route, down and around the many famous streets of Manhattan: Park Avenue, Broadway, 42nd Street, Times Square, 57th Street (CBS), ... We passed Macy's Department Store, Bergdorfs, Tiffanys, ... I don't think we missed a single sight of tourist interest. We passed the Times Square location of ABC's "Good Morning America," with which I am so familiar, saw the huge globe that falls on New Year's Eve, saw many of the marquees of current Broadway plays, ... Down, down we traveled to Columbus Circle, then on into Greenich Village, Tribeca, Chinatown, and finally to our lunch stop on South Street at Pier 17, "The Seaport." With Google Earth I had previously "visited" this neighborhood and had already selected my choice for dining (not included in tour): The Heartland Brewery, just across the street from the Pier and the THOUSANDS of tourists dropped there by probably EVERY tour bus in Manhattan! Our table was outside and back far enough not to be bothered by the swarms of tourists. Our menu selections were for their delicious barbecue pulled pork and brisket, mine with sweet potato fries and cornbread and Jim's with baked beans and cornbread; I also chose one of their own brewery products, "Red Rooster Ale," which was very good, albeit a little heavy for my personal taste. After lunch and a brief walk along Pier 17 from which there was a great view of the Brooklyn Bridge going over the East River from Lower Manhattan. We reboarded our bus and then proceeded to the site of the World Trade Center disaster where we were given a sufficient amount of time to observe -â€" as well as possible -â€" the ongoing reconstruction from large windows; construction is NOT directly on the site of the two downed towers, but in the surrounding area where 5 other buildings came down, or were damaged, as well. Back on the bus we were driven by a point from which we could just barely see the 9/11 Memorial, a 90-foot waterfall -â€" from street level down, surrounded by a grove of trees. Our route of travel passed by Wall Street and the current and enlarging group of protesters, making the street traffic very congested in addition to the street congestion from the World Trade Center construction projects; it was a pleasure to be inside the bus with someone else driving! Being Saturday, the usual traffic was less than on a weekday, but in this area it was VERY congested. The last stop of our tour was at the very tip of Manhattan Island, at Battery Park, from which great views of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island are possible. Then it was back on the bus for our 3:30 PM return to Pier 90 and the Crown Princess, well ahead of the 4:30 PM "all aboard" and 5 PM sail-away. It was a very FULL day, a MOST interesting day, and a THOROUGHLY complete visit to Manhattan -â€" thanks to our excellent guide, Darrell; he got a sizable tip from us, at least! Many other old cronies probably stiffed him, failing to tip at all! But these are the same slugs of society who continually complain about everything; I try to avoid them like the plague. So that is it until after tomorrow's visit in Charleston, South Carolina, where our tour is "Historic Charleston and the Magnolia Gardens." Luckily the weather will be warming the farther south we cruise. > The evening of our next-to-last day at sea was also our last formal night but, unlike past cruises, there was no Captain's Farewell Party -â€" with free drinks -â€" preceding dinner. More of Carnival's cost-cutting, I conclude. The Captain's Welcome Party has also now been combined with the Champagne Waterfall event -â€" more Carnival cost-cutting. I often yearn for those "BC" years on Princess cruises: "Before Carnival." Since Jim's birthday is October 29th, the date on which we would be flying home from Washington DC, he decided to do a "turn around" by presenting to those at our dining table with HIS birthday cake! Of course, it was enjoyed by all of us, especially our waiter, assistant waiter, and room steward who also received a healthy slice of the huge, delicious cake Jim had ordered. > Our final day at sea is here! Tomorrow morning we again join those on land and this great 12-day cruise from Quebec City to Sydney and Halifax, Nova Scotia; to Bar Harbor, Maine; to Boston; to Newport, Rhode Island; to New York City, and lastly to Charleston, South Carolina, will have come to an end. The seas are rather smooth and the blue skies are only partly clouded with prospects for another warm day as we approach Florida. Yesterday in Charleston turned out to be a beautiful, warm day and this first visit for me was filled with new sights and new information. It is a historical and old city, filled with ante bellum homes that have been carefully maintained and preserved. Popular tourist attractions are carriage rides around the town, pulled by mules, but our full day tour did not include such. The main attraction in our tour was the Magnolia Plantation, a fair distance from Charleston, along the Ashley River -â€" one of the two rivers that create the "peninsula" on which the City lies, the other being the Cooper River. Fort Sumter occupies a prominent position at the entrance to the large and busy harbor of Charleston. Our tour buses brought us to the Plantation along the Ashley River Road, a two-lane highway, appropriately running along the Ashley River. Originally comprising 2000 acres, reconstruction after the War Between the States (the preferred name here) necessitated the sale of all but 500 acres, the present size. Covered by thick groves of ancient oak trees, draped with Spanish moss, and dotted with numerous "lakes" or bogs -â€" once sites of a thriving rice production, the Plantation also hosts a plethora of camellia bushes, azalea bushes, and other beautiful flowering plants. Some of the lakes, covered with green vegetation, are home to alligators some of which were visible sunning themselves on constructed wooden "benches" in the lake. Our first activity was a 45-minute tram ride all around the property along paths covered by over-hanging branches laced with Spanish moss. This was followed by an extensive tour of the Plantation house -â€" the third such in its location, the others having been burned -â€" some in the War, some otherwise. Filled with antique furnishings and family memorabilia of the Drayton Family, the most stunning exhibits were the hand-stitched quilts adorning the several beds: beautiful! Then came an enjoyable "nature walk" along the River bank and amid the many ponds; fortunately, no alligators were sighted during the walk. Lunch was provided and served at tables beneath the spreading branches of the oak trees, near a pasture where small horses were grazing and attracting the tourists' attention. Along with a delicious chicken salad served on a large croissant, potato salad and Cole slaw, a pickle, and a chocolate chip cookie, topped off the box lunch. Then it was time to say goodbye to this magnificent relic of the Old South. Our return to the City of Charleston was followed by an extensive tour of the city streets, a main highlight being a drive around and through the Citadel, the famous military university steeped in history where some of the 2000 cadets were observed striding around the campus, busy with classes on this Monday morning. Then came the many, many beautiful old homes with their columned porticos, all meticulously maintained according to City codes. A stop near a park on the southern-most point of the peninsula provided a short walk along the waterfront with Fort Sumter in view out in the harbor, and more ante bellum homes lining the street behind the park. No home over 100 years in age can be destroyed and remodeling or refurbishment must be done with the approval of an architectural board. Our guide for the day was Martha, a true lady of the South and dedicated lover of the City of Charleston; her soft southern accent, her obvious affection for the city, and her vast knowledge its past and current history made this tour one of the best we have experienced. My first time in Charleston was indeed memorable. Our departure late yesterday afternoon at 6 PM was blessed with a spectacular sunset, viewed from Sun Deck 17 during the Sail Away; our exit brought us right alongside Fort Sumter, still guarding the entrance to the harbor of Charleston, the site of the first shots of the "War Between the States." Today is a relaxed one with the only special activity being our Champagne Balcony Breakfast, due to arrive and be served at 10 AM; Patric, of Travel Travel, has again gifted us with this very enjoyable, delicious and elegant treat. Fortunately, our balcony is today warm enough for completely pleasurable dining. This will be my last email from the ship because also today is that most UN-enjoyable task of packing for tomorrow's disembarkation; we will immediately go to the airport by taxi for our 12:40 PM flight to Washington DC for three nights before returning home. Read Less
Sail Date October 2011
Embarkation: The ship was not anchored at the usual cruise terminal in Singapore, and we were only apprised of that fact a few weeks before traveling. It was great fortune, though, to board our shuttle from the convention center at the ... Read More
Embarkation: The ship was not anchored at the usual cruise terminal in Singapore, and we were only apprised of that fact a few weeks before traveling. It was great fortune, though, to board our shuttle from the convention center at the absolutely incredible and fantastic Marina Sands Resort. The boarding was orderly and the shuttle trip took us through the largest, never-ending container port imaginable. There is nothing like it anywhere I have ever seen. Boarding the ship and getting to our room to unpack was a breeze, except for some minor queues that are of course expected with such a huge number of guests. Ship: The ship is huge, 2700 passengers I was told. It's a beautifully appointed and mostly convenient, except for the long, long walk from "fore" (the entertainment) to "aft" (the food). The gym, as is typical on most ships, was too small to accommodate all those wishing to utilize the facilities. The buffet court, as is also typical, was always too crowded and always presented a challenge in finding a table. Stateroom: We booked an inside cabin because we don't like spending time in the room other than for sleeping and showering, and also because on one cruise we met a retired Royal Caribbean Captain and his wife, who said they always choose the inside cabins because they sleep better in total darkness and they think the outside cabins and suites are a waste of money that could better spent on excursions and entertainment/food in port. Our cabin was small, comfortable and, most important, quiet and dark. The bathroom was tight, but serviceable, with a shower curtain instead of a glass door, which was not a huge deal. There was plenty of closet space, shelf space, and drawer space. The safe and TV were fine for our needs. Lectures: Cultural lecturer was excellent, providing great insights into history, culture and recent politics in each of the countries visited. It was educational for us Americans to visit three of the countries that we have previously bombed. All I can say is that the Vietnamese seem to be very forgiving. The port lecturer was helpful except for the final port, which I will describe later under "Disembarkation." Live Entertainment: After a less-than-stellar first show, the ship's singers and dancers were excellent in the two subsequent large productions we saw. General Entertainment: The several entertainers that we saw were not really our style. Pianists, comedians, and vocalists were OK, but not electrifying. Food: We ate half our meals in the International Dining Room and half in the Horizon Court Buffet. The dining room was satisfactory (we are both vegetarian and always have to navigate the menu carefully). The service in the main dining is always slower on any ship, so when we want to do other activities, it's nice to be able to use the buffet for a quick in-and-out meal (if you can locate a table). Service: The staff was accommodating and pleasant in all areas of the ship. Laundry: We normally pack only one carry-on bag for each of us. We adopted that strategy after Delta Airlines lost our luggage at the beginning of a two-week Mediterranean Cruise. We had to borrow clothes from our teenage relatives for the entire two weeks, because the other older males on the family cruise were much larger than we are and their clothes wouldn't fit us. Of course we looked like members of an aging punk-rock band. On board the Diamond Princess we were grateful for the convenient Laundromat on our floor, and we washed clothes twice during the voyage. Excursions: It was disappointing to find that this ship is too large to moor at some of the usual passenger terminals. Therefore, we sometimes had to take a free shuttle for quite a long distance (Hong Kong, Shanghai, Busan) or a tender (Nha Trang) or sometimes we had to pay for one of the ship's "On-your-own" excursions just to get into town (Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City). I don't think Princess should advertise cruises to ports which are not really accessible unless you book an excursion or take a long, long taxi ride. It was two hours going and two hours returning Kia Pools, deck seating: We only used the Jacuzzi and occasionally the deck chairs in the enclosed pool area and on the rear pool area. We had no problem with finding lounge chairs, possibly because the weather during the second week was a bit colder than the first week as we traveled northward on the map. Crowd: I believe we had a good mix of ages, with a slight preponderance of retirees. I would estimate one-fifth Brits, one-fifth Aussies, one-fifth Canadians, one-fifth American (we are), and one-fifth native Asians and assorted Russians, Europeans, and Latin Americans. We are very sociable and always manage to meet huge numbers of our fellow cruise-mates. It's rare for us not to like almost everyone we converse with. We made many temporary and long-time friends on this trip. We are a "Gay couple," married, and together a total of 26 years. We net no form of discrimination or antipathy from anyone on board, whether guests or crew. Ports of Call: What can I say? We loved every port, although for different reasons. This was for us a chance to get a taste of new cultures and to decide which ones deserve a closer look. Our favorites were Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Beijing. If you don't like the site of poverty and of cultures quite different from your own, you should perhaps book a different cruise. I am truly grateful for the exposure to both the developed and the underdeveloped areas on this itinerary. Disembarking: The final port, Tianjin, was the most challenging, and I lay most of the blame on Princess for not provided adequate information or assistance for getting from the port terminal to Beijing, unless of course, one signs on to one of their after-cruise excursions ($80-$160/pp). We always prefer to go on our own. It was insane at the terminal's taxi stand. There was no help at the port for securing a taxi, no information about how to pay, or how much to pay, or for finding out how to use the train system once we reached either Tianjin Station or Tanggu Station. It was pure chaos from the terminal exit till we got to the train station in Tianjin. Everyone who was traveling unassisted, as we were, had to navigate the Chinese taxi drivers (who I really think just pretend to speak no English) and who make every attempt to cheat the tourists. This failure to assist passengers at the terminal is my greatest criticism of the Princess Line and of this particular cruise. I will post my suggestions for successfully managing the port-to-city transfer on "Cruise Critic" for assistance to future travelers with similar Tianjin-Beijing itineraries. Read Less
Sail Date October 2011
Ok! First let me start out by telling you if you are going to go on a cruise to anywhere in the world. Do your research! I cannot believe how many people would go on a cruise without taking advantage of all the information that is out ... Read More
Ok! First let me start out by telling you if you are going to go on a cruise to anywhere in the world. Do your research! I cannot believe how many people would go on a cruise without taking advantage of all the information that is out there regarding the region you are going to be traveling in. Hello!!! There are 3 things you have to keep in mind when going on a cruise to Alaska. #1) Possibility of rough seas #2) Possibility of rain #3) Cold weather! I bring this up because, YES! There were passengers on board who were unprepared for this cruise. Because of this, they were miserable. I am a first time cruiser. However, my wife isn't. She told me to make all the arrangements for our cruise. This way I would learn all the in's and Out's. I had so many questions and so much to learn. Learn I did. I was completely prepared for our cruise and had a wonderful time. Here is some tips that I picked up by reading so many wonderful reviews here on Cruise Critic as well as joining the Roll Call for our particular cruise. Check the average weather forecast for the region you are traveling. As well as each port! Be prepared to dress in layers of clothes and bring a light jacket that is water proof. having gloves and a warm hat are nice to have especially in Glacier Bay. Bring a travel size umbrella. It rained five out of the seven days we were on vacation. If you get sea sick. Start taking your medications before you start your cruise and keep taking them throughout. Drink ginger ale, Eat green apples as well as crackers (Yes, they serve both items on-board the ship). Also, spend most of your time in the middle of the ship. If you can, try and select a room that is as close to the middle of the ship as possible and as low to the water as well. Less rocking and rolling there. Embarkation: As many of you have read. Princess cruises knows how to get people on-board there ships in an extremely efficient manner. I can say this without any reservations that I agree. We had arrived early at the terminal at Pier 91 in Seattle around 9:30 am. I knew we would have to wait. No Big Deal! I guess you can call it First time cruiser anticipation! My wife was laughing at me the whole time. Hey we weren't the only ones waiting! LOL...As soon as Princess opened the terminal around 10:00 am. We checked our luggage with customs. Then went to the check in counter, were we received our room keys after handing over the appropriate documents. Than it was more waiting til they started to load the ship in groups of about 200 passengers starting at 11:00 am. We were unfortunately not part of the first group. Because we were not preferred passengers. However, we were next. as soon as yo get on-board you have you r picture taken for security reasons and than your picture is taken again for your embarkation photo. After that it is party time your cruise has pretty much begun. We went straight to our cabin to check it out. It was wonderful. Than we called the Dine line at noon and made our request to eat at the chefs table (by the way the price to dine at the chefs table went up from $75 to $95 per person. But still worth it in my opinion). As passengers are boarding the ship they are told to go to the Horizon court for lunch. We learned from other cruise critic members that one of the main dining room is open at this time. So we went there and had a nice relaxing and great tasting lunch and watched from the window all the activity of getting the ship ready for leaving. At 3:30 pm we had our life boat muster drill. that didn't take to long. Than it was party time. By the way! for the first day and a half. expect all the offers to buy soda, coffee, and ultimate kid package drink stickers. We put our room keys on a lanyard around our neck so we weren't bothered that much because the stickers are placed on your room key and visible to the serving staff. first day at sea: We had rough seas (Swells approximately 17 feet tall)that lasted about a day and a half. We had a couples massage planned for 9:15 am. We still enjoyed the treatment and commend the therapists for the great job under the conditions. Items that were on the shelves and counter ended up on the floor and the wooden sliding shutters that covered the windows were slamming back and forth against the wall. That is my only complaint about the spa. Not very practical for a ship at sea. Dining: We chose Traditional dining 2nd seating (8:15 PM). Food was wonderful and the service was superb! We had great table mates. The only thing we would do different next time is do the first seating next time. Second seating didn't allow us the freedom to see the shows we wanted to see. we were so busy during the day that we were to tired to see the late shows. 10:30 Pm and on... Special thank you to our server Svetlana. She indulged my desire to try so many things I have never tried before. We ate at the Chefs Table on our 3rd day of the cruise. Well worth the money paid. It was a pleasure from start to finish. My wine glass was never empty and the food just kept coming. The Horizon court buffet, The food there was pretty darn good. I was pleasantly surprised. My only complaint is that the serving lines as stated before have no rime or reason to them. Yes you go in one way and out another. But while you are in, it can be a mad house at the popular times. also, when you sit down to eat. it can take a long time for a server to come and ask you what you would like to drink. The Trident grill was fantastic. We didn't try out either of the Specialty restaurants on-board Entertainment: We love to gamble. The casino was great, However, we did have to wait on a few occasions for some of the tables to be opened. There were always tournaments going on at one time or another. The slots are very tight. However, I did manage to hit one Big Jackpot! Woo Hoo!!! As for the shows on-board. Well, we weren't to impressed. especially with the aerialist and the illusionist. They were pretty bad. The Motown show was like something out of a collage production. (there were only a couple of cast members that could really sing) Wished we had a chance to see the British Invasion. I had heard great things about that. Glacier Bay was Beautiful! What an amazing site. It was very cold and of course it was raining. But we were prepared once again. We actually went to the top of the ship and enjoyed the sites from under the radar installation. Hint Hint... Great place to view. LOL... If you want to take pictures from out side. go to the prominade deck. it is covered. Our port of call in Ketchikan was cancelled due to rough seas. Oh well. we didn't get to go zip lining like we wanted but we went straight to Victoria B.C, Read Less
Sail Date September 2011
We recently returned from our cruise on the Crown Princess departing Quebec City on September 24, 2011, and arriving in New York City on October 4.. There were six of us in our group, all in our mid-seventies. Our staterooms were forward ... Read More
We recently returned from our cruise on the Crown Princess departing Quebec City on September 24, 2011, and arriving in New York City on October 4.. There were six of us in our group, all in our mid-seventies. Our staterooms were forward on the starboard side of Plaza, deck 5. After I had convinced our friends that we should take this cruise, I started reading reviews on Cruise Critic, and I also learned that the ship was due for refurbishing three weeks after our trip. I became very apprehensive about having recommended this trip because there were so many negative comments in the reviews and because I was afraid that since the ship was scheduled to be refurbished, it might not be in very good condition. With that background being laid, I want to stress that NOT ONE of the negatives I read in the reviews was experienced during our wonderful trip, and even though the ship was to be refurbished, we found the ship to be in wonderful condition. Last week the six of us met to share highlights of our trip. Not one of the six of us had a single complaint. Let me share what we all agreed were highlights. 1. Even though there were 3,000 passengers, we never felt that the ship was too crowded. We never had trouble finding a place to sit in the Horizon Court buffet; the two tender ports were handled as smoothly as anyone could hope for; we never had a problem moving from one part of the ship to another; we always found a space to sit in the common areas and on the promenade deck where we liked to watch sailing away each afternoon. The only place that was crowded was the Princess Theater for the first show each evening, but we were willing to arrive 30 to 40 minutes early so the six of us always got seats together. It was a great place to wait, relax, visit, people watch, and make new friends. 2. Dining All agreed that the food in the Botticelli dining room where we had traditional dining first setting was outstanding (some would say particularly the desserts!). Enrique and Maja, our waitpersons at table 114, were delightful and super efficient; both of them had wonderful smiles and a cheerful persona. Our orders always came quickly and just as we ordered them. From the first night on, they remembered our individual preferences. For example, I told them the first night I like coffee with my meal and I did not have to ask for that again; they always had it ready. The six of us ate breakfast together in the Horizon Court every morning except two when we ate in the main dining room. The food at the buffet was more than adequate and the variety was good. Made to order omelets and rice pudding every morning were big hits. The International Caf provided an excellent option for a light snack when we needed a bit of lunch or a refresher after our day on shore. 3. Entertainment All three of the main production shows were very well done with wonderful costumes, staging, and lighting effects (although the third one seemed a bit more disjointed than the first two). Ray Cousins, a former pianist for Frank Sinatra, had one performance in the Princess Theater, and Mark Preston, formerly with the Letterman, had two shows in that theater. These shows were at the top of our list of highlights for the trip. Ray Cousins performed nightly in Crooners Lounge, and Indigo performed in various venues throughout the trip. They, along with the pianist in the Adagio Lounge, were outstanding. 4. Ports of Call All nine of our ports were wonderful, but the unanimous consensus of our group is that Quebec City, Halifax, Saint John, Newport, and New York were the top of our highlight list. We did not take advantage of any of the tours provided by Princess, but we did a lot of research before the trip and had our personal walking tours planned before we went. One tip for Saint John we discovered that the city transit system provides a two hour tour on a city bus for $20.00 per person. We found this tour near the Market Place a few blocks from the ship. The driver/guide was simply outstanding, and we had a very complete tour of the city including time at the Reversing Tides area. We also took advantage of a 48 hour pass on the Grayline Hop on Hop Off bus in New York City; we purchased our tickets on line for $49 per person. We used the bus to get acquainted with the city, to get to from Times Square where we stayed for two nights at the Hotel Edison to Battery Park for our trip to the Statue of Liberty, to get to the site of the 9/11 Memorial, and to get back from those sites. We rode five or six different segments at different times, and each time we had fascinating guides that told us so much interesting information about the city with each guide having a different area of interest/expertise that made it all the more interesting. 5. Embarkation/disembarkation Both of these events could not have gone more easily or efficiently. All in all the six of us making this trip together would rate it 10 on a scale of 10! Read Less
Sail Date September 2011
With the exception of a few staff members who did not smile, say hello, or excuse themselves prior to cutting in front of us on Deck 14, our cruise was fabulous. The cabins are comfortable, especially if you take one of the balcony cabins. ... Read More
With the exception of a few staff members who did not smile, say hello, or excuse themselves prior to cutting in front of us on Deck 14, our cruise was fabulous. The cabins are comfortable, especially if you take one of the balcony cabins. I'd highly recommend it because of the sheer scale of the landscape. We had a little bit of rain and drizzle (which didn't matter, except to obscure the windows). It was nice to stand on our covered balcony and have a perfectly clear view. You can run back and forth across the ship to see what's surfaced on either side, but when you're in Glacier Bay they'll stop the ship and then turn it around so everyone has a chance to see whatever there is to see. It was spectacular. The highlight of our cruise was meeting Tom Strand of TNTours. The cruise lines are not yet aware of him which is why you'll need to contact him directly at tntours98 at msn.com. Seeing Skagway with Tom Strand of TNTours was much more than an excursion. It was a lifetime experience. Tom of TNTours was recommended to us by Dyea Dave's outfit when Dave's tours were too full to accommodate our party of 7. We had intended to take a tour from one of our Princess Cruise tours but the cruise ship's endorsed guide's recommendation seemed like it could be a great idea. I explained to Tom that we were interested in a more intimate group tour, as opposed to taking one of the large busses. He suggested that if we were willing to pay for a total of 8 fares he'd be able to give us the whole van as our private coach. We were to find that very convenient and comfortable as we were able to leave our personal items on the bus at each stop without worry. We booked our Skagway excursion with TNTours and were told the cancellation policy was 24 hours advance notice which we thought was more than generous. Tom continued to be very flexible with our group. He was waiting for us at the dock with his "TNTours" sign picking us up in a very clean, comfortable van. We headed straight up through the center of Skagway all the way up to Emerald Lake. Our path allowed us to watch the train excursion, too. It was charming to watch it parallel our trip. Our anticipated 6.5 hour tour turned into over 8 hours because Tom let us take our time for all the photo opportunities and wild life and scenery viewing we'd needed. We were able to watch four bears having their meal of dandelions and spring grasses. One of them got spooked at the sound of the van. It made me wonder if the folks who spent $100-140 on their train tickets were able to see any bears close up. The bears we saw were not more than 20 feet from our van. Tom used a small microphone system which enabled all of us to comfortably hear his commentary as we drove along. Additionally, he carried several books by local authors which he shared with us throughout the drive. He told us stories about the area's historical movers and shakers and pointed out their photos from his small but useful on-board reference library. We had binoculars and cameras, but we were very impressed (and grateful) that Tom also brought binoculars and a tripod. You'll be looking at wildlife that, in some cases, may be a little dot way up a nearly vertical rock sheer. Tom would set it up the tripod at each stop giving us plenty of time to get a good, close look at the wildlife. At one stop, we ran across a competitor's bus tour which lacked the binoculars on the tripod. Tom very generously offered to let their customers take a peek as well. The competitor's bus driver seemed very impressed saying "We don't have one of these". Tom responded that they should get one because they're great to have. We agreed—being so lucky as to see such wild life was too good not to share. It was great to see Tom's dynamic with the other tour operator. He explained that in that remote area all of the tour operators try to help each other out because you never know when you might need help yourself. It was a glimpse into a lifestyle where business could be done on a handshake and goodwill is worth more than a dollar. For me, that was as much a part of the tour as the tour itself. Seeing the wild beauty of Alaska was a once in a lifetime experience. Seeing it with Tom made it truly special because he thoughtfully planned our activities not to coincide with droves of other tourists on the large busses. It gave us a lot more time to spend looking around instead of standing in lines. Additionally, he had a great sense of humor and wasn't shy about getting a little silly with us. He even posed in front of one of two stuffed battling grizzlies, so as to appear to be battling a grizzly himself. If you're looking for an incredibly interesting, personalized, relaxed tour out of Skagway, AK without the customary 30% broker's fees, I would highly recommend going direct to TNTours owned by Tom and Michele Strand in Skagway. Tom and Michele are the "little guys" you always hear about who go above and beyond and whom you really should meet if you're ever in Skagway and looking for someone to both inform and entertain you. Thanks to Dyea Dave, too, for the friendly recommendation. It says a lot about Dyea Dave that he'd recommend us to such a fine competitor! Read Less
Sail Date May 2011
We flew down to Rio 3 days prior to the cruise. We stayed at the Atlantis Copacabana Hotel. It was a great location between Copacabana and Ipanema - we could walk to either beach in 5 minutes. Rio is a beautiful city - don't miss ... Read More
We flew down to Rio 3 days prior to the cruise. We stayed at the Atlantis Copacabana Hotel. It was a great location between Copacabana and Ipanema - we could walk to either beach in 5 minutes. Rio is a beautiful city - don't miss Sugarloaf (Pao de Acucar) and Corcovado - the views from both are amazing. Corcovado was great in the late afternoon because the viewing area is in the shade of the statue by then and the lighting is perfect for looking down at the city and the bay. Embarkation was a breeze. We took a taxi down to the pier just before noon, and we were on the ship in less than 20 minutes. We were in an inside cabin on the Baja deck between the fore and the midships stairways. It was a great location since it was very quick to get to the buffet or the pool areas. Our room steward, Nancy, was the best I've ever had in 10 cruises. One thing I like about a more "exotic" itinerary like this is the greater mix of nationalities among the passengers. There were lots of South Americans, as well as Americans, Canadians, Europeans, and others. It's nice to meet and talk to people from all over the world in the relaxed atmosphere of the cruise ship. I'm quite susceptible to seasickness, so I was a bit concerned about this cruise with its many sea days - including two crossings of the Drake Passage. We were very lucky though, and most days were very smooth including our time down in Antarctica. It was a bit rougher when we crossed the Drake Passage, but even that wasn't as bad as I had expected. Antarctica was amazing. We lucked out and had very good weather for most of our 4 days down there. It didn't start out that way, however. When we first approached Elephant Island, there were 70-90 knot winds and the snow was coming down horizontally. We couldn't even see the island. It was very cold on deck, but a fitting introduction to Antarctica! After about an hour, it began to clear a little bit and we could start to see Elephant Island through the snow. Then the wind suddenly died right down and the visibility improved even more. In the afternoon, we sailed by the huge Endurance Glacier, on the south coast of Elephant Island. The clouds had lifted by this point and we got our first clear views of the snow-capped mountains. By late afternoon, the sun was out as we sailed past Gibbs Island and three other small islands - a beautiful sight! The next day we were in Antarctic Sound (iceberg alley). At first it was quite foggy, but then the fog lifted and we could lots of huge icebergs. We could see penguins on some of them. Unfortunately, we had to turn back due to the conditions, so we didn't make it to Esperenza station. In the afternoon, we sailed into Admiralty Bay. The conditions in Antarctica change quickly: at first it was cold and windy, then the wind died right down, the sun came out and it felt quite warm. The water became very calm - perfect for spotting whales and porpoising penguins. We also saw the Artowsky Station and some amazing views of the glaciers on the other side of the bay. Our third day in Antarctica was my favorite. We reached our southernmost point, just shy of 65 degrees south, and it was also our longest day: sunrise at 2:29 am and sunset at 12:01 am! We sailed along the Gerlache Strait, with amazing mountains and glaciers on both sides. Then we went through the narrow Neumayer Channel. I was surprised at how thick the chunks of ice were that we passed through. We saw several seals on the ice flows, as well as penguins and whales. It was another beautiful calm day, and when the sun began to peak out, it felt downright warm! Later in the afternoon we went into Paradise Harbor - beautiful still water surrounded by mountains and glaciers - stunning! On our fourth day, our last stop in Antarctica was Deception Island. There was quite a bit of fog and low cloud, so the island itself was partly obscured. However, the water was once again very calm - perfect for watching the penguins porpoising in the water - which is one of the main reasons to visit Deception Island. We'd seen the penguins elsewhere in Antarctica, but never so many so close as at Deception Island - there were hundreds of them all around the boat. Antarctica really was an amazing experience - it was the best cruise I've been on. Hopefully, they will sort out the fuel issue so that the big ships can return to Antarctica at some point in the future. The other ports on this cruise included the Falkland Islands, Ushuaia, Punta Arenas, Puerto Madryn, Montevideo, and ending in Buenos Aires. I'd been to all but Montevideo before on a previous South America cruise, but they were all very enjoyable to visit again. In the Falklands, we went to see the penguins at Gypsy cove. They had a shuttle bus, but we walked. It takes about an hour and twenty minutes each way, and there is a shortcut across the bog near the end of the harbor (where the Lady Elisabeth wreck is). The walk is great - lots of interesting things to see along the way and it gives you a real feel for the area. We had a beautiful sunny day in Ushuaia, with great views of the surrounding mountains. The ship left at 4 pm, and we had an amazing evening cruise down the Beagle Channel past the 7 glaciers. The weather was perfect and the incredible views just kept coming - we ate dinner in the buffet so as not to miss a moment of it. Along with Antarctica, it was one of the highlights of the cruise - just perfect! We stayed in Buenos Aires for 6 days after the cruise. If you have a cruise that begins or ends here, definitely plan to spend some time in this beautiful and amazing city. The delta area around Tigre is a great day trip (you can take the commuter train and commuter boats to get there). There are many vacation homes and small resorts in this area and it's got a great relaxed atmosphere only an hour away from the city. Also, don't miss the helados (gelato/ice cream) - it's even better than Italy! Out stay in Buenos Aries was a great way to end a fabulous cruise. Read Less
Sail Date December 2010
Embarkation: Was well done, even better than Carnival that we had sailed on in May of this year. The process was made very easy by checking in according to your cabin level. The ship: Very attractive on the inside. The colors were ... Read More
Embarkation: Was well done, even better than Carnival that we had sailed on in May of this year. The process was made very easy by checking in according to your cabin level. The ship: Very attractive on the inside. The colors were bright and appealing not dark like the Carnival Freedom. I was very surprised to see that the outside of the ship had rust showing in several places and places on the hull that looked like they were painted over with out sanding the rough spots. Carnival clearly does a better job at keeping the ship snow white and attractive on the outside. This was proven when we docked between the Carnival Freedom and another Carnival ship in the Virgin Islands. Dining: We were spoiled by Carnival early in the year. Princess started out slow but came on strong and I thought the food and the selection was good especially through out the latter part of the cruise. Two negatives were the lack luster service on refills unless green coated supervisors were around and the need to allow people to get their own refills if they wish to. On several occasions I attempted to get my own refills while the unsupervised servants stood around like zombies. The ice machines were almost always out of ice. Entertainment: What we saw was good although we are not hard to please in this area. The cruise director Marahscalh , a alabama traveler himself , kept every one informed and entertained to the best of his ability which I thought was done with class and professionalism. Cabin: Our cabin was satisfactory. You give some and you take some and Princess gave more closet space with less bathroom space than Carnival Freedom. The shower was so small that at six feet tall I almost had to shower half of my body at a time. To bend over and wash my feet or legs while in the shower I had to stick the upper part of my body out of the shower which caused my face to almost go into the toilet bowl. The balcony was larger than the last cruise ship but the seats did not recline which was a real disappointment for me since I spend a lot of time on the balcony. Room service: Our room servant missed changing the sheets and towels on one day and did not bring fruit but brought double on a later day. We understand that these people are very busy and are human and can forget , so no problem. Service: The lack of posting one's account on the TV screens was a big negative because you have to go all the way to the customer service counter for account information and my information was not correct or updated on more than on occasion when the public print out monitor and the customer service monitor are only feet away from each other. Ports of call: The Ports of call were the highlights of this cruise. The itinerary was well planned and laid out and none of the stops were disappointments to us. Over all the cruise was relaxing and affordable. We enjoyed it and appreciate the effort of Princess and staff. Read Less
Sail Date October 2010
We flew into Seattle a day early and enjoyed a lovely day there, staying at the Westin, dinner at Elliott's and a very quick embarkation process at Pier 91. The ship was as expected, almost identical to the Royal Princess on which ... Read More
We flew into Seattle a day early and enjoyed a lovely day there, staying at the Westin, dinner at Elliott's and a very quick embarkation process at Pier 91. The ship was as expected, almost identical to the Royal Princess on which we cruised for 24 days last fall. The ship is very intimate, with small but comfortable public spaces and the most friendly staff we've encountered in a while. Cabin (BD) was great. Just suggest if booking a BD, be sure you're not over the Lounge area as rehearsals and afternoon activities can be a bother............learned this on the Royal last year. Food was pretty good, not great, service was better than food, but individual requests were honored graciously. Just remember that if you want something special to request it the night before. Entertainment was somewhat repetitive for us as we'd seen at least two of the entertainers on the Royal last fall. Both were good enough to get us back for a second take. Production numbers were okay, enthusiastic, but lacking some talent on the lead male singer's numbers. Ports were interesting, with the exception of Juneau which has turned into the Caribbean of the North. We enjoyed Skagway (private tour), Seward where we spent an extra day due to weather and visited the Sea Life aquarium and did a Resurrection Bay tour (not with ship) due to weather in the Kenai peninsual which we wanted to do. In Icy Point Strait, we and another couple did a private whale watching that was the highlight of our cruise............lovely captain on small boat with humpbacks in the extreme. We also has an interesting naturalist onboard and on one evening up top, witnessed "bubble net" feeding with humpbacks. Naturalist said this is seldom witnessed from cruise ships. Last day, from Juneau to our mandatory stop in Victoria BC, was extremely rocky, causing captain to slow speed dramatically, and cancel all excursions there, but we were scheduled to arrive at 5:00 PM, so who was going to see anything anyway. We made our "courtesy" call after midnight, arrived Seattle a bit late in heavy fog. I loved the trip with excellent crew, interesting ports generally, but a lot of that was due to our booking independently. We had a wonderful bear encounter in Skagway. Can't decided if that or the whales in ISP was the highlight.......or the neon jellyfish that surrounded our boat in Seward. I was going to do comments for some of the ports, but no option for Seward or Icy Strait Point which were our two favorite ports.........no or minimal jewelry stores, lots of wildlife, lovely locals, more the real Alaska than Juneau, Ketchikan and Skagway. Great trip.........need I say more? Not a shopper, so can't report on those activities except as previously noted. Ya buys your ticket, ya take your chances! Read Less
Sail Date September 2009
Our great adventure to Alaska began in Seattle with a bus ride to Vancouver early Saturday morning. Trip started badly since one of the party requires a breathing machine and forgot the mask. The Princess contact at the hotel helped him ... Read More
Our great adventure to Alaska began in Seattle with a bus ride to Vancouver early Saturday morning. Trip started badly since one of the party requires a breathing machine and forgot the mask. The Princess contact at the hotel helped him get in touch with a Medical Supply shop in Vancouver which had the mask. The bus driver let him off near the shop, and he got the mask and was on the ship in short order. Both the Princess rep and the bus driver were quite helpful! Overall however, we were not happy with the service on the ship - the bar staff seemed less than attentive and with the exception of one waiter, the dining room waiters certainly were not the best we have had either. The food was above average, and the presentation quite good the majority of the time. we did eat at the specialty restaurants. The steakhouse menu and service was well worth the extra charge of $15/pp; the Italian restaurant however was not as above average as expected for the extra $20/pp charge. service was quite good but menu quite limited. Food in other areas of the ship was fine, with the exception of their pizza, which needs some help. Buffet had a nice selection for each meal we visited there - lovely fruit choices at breakfast! Our balcony cabin on the Caribe deck was nicely appointed and plenty spacious for our stay. Storage for both handing and folded clothes is more than adequate and accessible. Our cabin stewart was excellent and addressed us by name from the first day forward. We had a mini-suite earlier in the year on the Golden Princess however, and were unaware the tolietries were not the same on balconies and mini-suites. The shower gel was missing sadly - we loved it! We enjoyed the nightly shows on the Diamond and were the first audience to see one of their new shows with a new crew and the 6th night of the cruise. The show was well presented, had lovely costuming and choreography and was enter taining. The costuming on Holland is always A+, but this was a close contender! The days at sea cruising Glacier Bay and College Fjord were relaxing and quite informative thanks to the naturalist aboard who broadcast on the open decks, and in your cabin on the TV if you were watching from your balcony. She provided wildlife alerts for sea otters, whales, seals, eagles, etc., as well as information concerning the actual glaciers we were viewing. Approaching the Harvard Glacier within 1/4 mile, was awe inspiring when you realized the size in comparison to the ship. Althought not technically 'in port', the days were full sightseeing from the ship. Probably the very best part of the trip were the days spent at the Princess lodges in Denali and McKinley. The lodges were beautiful, the staff very friendly and helpful, the sites were endless, and we were fortunate enough to see many wildlife including lynx during our stay. The food was very good in the restaurants and was perhaps only $2-3 more than we would have paid for similar fare in Denver. On our first morning at McKinley, there was not a cloud in the sky and the mountain stood clearly visible and majestic off the deck of the lodge. The staff said it was the best they had seen it in weeks so we were fortunate. We took a trip to a Iditerod kennel which was informative and a lot of fun. The owner, Jeff King, gave a very good presentation, and was very personable and informative. We went into Talkeena and took a raft trip which was relaxing even tho we didn't see much wildlife other than fish during the trip. The bus service Princess provided was excellent during the entire trip. Certainly was not the Caribbean or Hawaii - much colder, more rain and clouds, totally different wardrobe requirements, no catchy music - but the sights were amazing. It was an unforgettable adventure that we all hope to do again in a few years with Princess. Princess did a very good job with hotels in Seattle, bus transportation, luggage handling between locations, airline reservations, and lodging making the trip stress free. DEFINITELY take the cruise-land tour package - it was well worth the extra money! Read Less
Sail Date August 2009
This was my 10th cruise, second time to Alaska and second time on Princess. The 10 night cruise tour was a great experience, I am glad that we took the land portion first. I was first on an Alaskan cruise in September of 2006 on ... Read More
This was my 10th cruise, second time to Alaska and second time on Princess. The 10 night cruise tour was a great experience, I am glad that we took the land portion first. I was first on an Alaskan cruise in September of 2006 on Celebrity's Summit. I must admit The Summit is STILL my favorite ship of all I have cruised. Anyway. We arrived late afternoon in Fairbanks after being on planes and in airports from 4:30 AM, so needless to say we were tired. Alaska Airlines service was as good as I remember and even though I flew coach the planes were comfortable and the crews friendly. The last flight was especially memorable as we flew to Fairbanks, and got a lot of narration from the crew. The views of the glaciers were spectacular. Once in Fairbanks we were met by the Princess Rep and boarded the bus. Some people went to The Fairbanks Princess while we were booked into the Rivers Edge Resort. This was a very nice place, I suspect an older facility, since there were individual cabins. Our cabin was modern, neat, clean and very comfortable, I would have liked to stayed there another day or so. The next morning our baggage was piked up promptly and we ate breakfast before departure in the Rivers Edge Buffet, EXCELLENT! From there we went by coach to the train and boarded on time and went to our assigned seating in the Domed observation cars. We met two ladies from Canada who would become good friends during the train travel and on the cruise as well. First stop was the Princess Denali Lodge. Very nice lodge, and of course the scenery was wonderful. I We were scheduled for the 1/2 day tour which was nice however we did not see a lot of wildlife. We ate in the Princess restaurant, I did find the menu a bit limited and prices a bit higher than expected, but the service was good. All In all ate there 3 times, one breakfast, one lunch and one dinner. The morning of departure we ate at the Buffet, I was disappointed with the quality and service, I suspect that this was being run by a contractor and not Princess. Back on the train for the trip to Mt. McKinley, we actually did get to see it from some 75 miles away while we were on the train. Ate lunch on board, very nice and not terribly over priced. The rest of the trip was spent admiring the beautiful Alaska scenery and playing cards with our friends. After you disembark the train for the Mt McKinley stop you have about a 1 hour bus ride to the lodge, our driver was a young lady who had lots of knowledge and was very informative and funny. We only had one night at the Princess Lodge, that was a shame, the lodge there was beautiful, great views , McKinley hid however, but service and food was excellent. We really felt that this was the nicest of the Two Princess Lodges. Back on the train to go to Whittier. This was a LONG day, thank goodness for good friends and cards and nice scenery. No dome car on this leg, but the windows were big and the views again were great. Arriving at Whittier we boarded the ship very quickly, princess has the boarding process well in hand there. The Coral Princess has yet to get it refurb, (Big Movie Screen) but it was in excellent shape. Our partly obstructed stateroom was clean and comfortable and out attendant was very attentive to our needs. One real high point was the Head Waiter in the Bordeaux Dining room. Since we had anytime dining we made reservations for a specific time each night to meet our friends. The service was excellent, food superb, and portions very nice. We ate all but 1 evening meal there. The buffet, is another story. I hope when they do the refurb they redesign it, it is cramped with little rhyme or reason to the layout. The food, other than breakfast was not as good as I had on Celebrity at their buffet. All in all I was disappointed with the buffet area with the exception of breakfast. Ports of call were fine, we didn't do any sightseeing other than Ketchikan, where we piked up a local tour on the dock. Saw some bear, eagles, and some of the city highlights, well worth the time. Skagway, we got off the ship to go to the drug store and The Alaskan Shirt Factory, other than that we stayed on the ship and had a good time. As usual I played trivia everyday, and had fun we won a couple of times. The production shows were very good I did not go to any of the single acts, however. Disembarkation in Vancouver was smooth, we had a VERY long wait for our flight back. Our air was arranged through Princess, I do feel they could have done a better scheduling job so in the future I will probably schedule my own air. All in all the trip was wonderful, but I did feel the land portion was a bit pricey. Read Less
Sail Date August 2009
We have cruised roughly 20 times on a variety of cruise lines, including Princess, Norwegian, RCCL, Celebrity, Holland America and Carnival.  No cruise ship or cruise is likely to be perfect.  The "Grand Mediterranean" ... Read More
We have cruised roughly 20 times on a variety of cruise lines, including Princess, Norwegian, RCCL, Celebrity, Holland America and Carnival.  No cruise ship or cruise is likely to be perfect.  The "Grand Mediterranean" itinerary on the Ruby Princess comes close, although there were occasional glitches that could be easily addressed.The ship is very tastefully decorated, spacious and easy to get around.  We had a balcony on the back of the ship on the Caribe deck.  This was a wonderful cabin affording great views, especially when leaving port.  We must have sat and looked at Naples and Mt Vesuvius for at least an hour as the ship moved out to sea.  There was an occasional odd smell wafting up from somewherenot the ship's exhaust, but more like passing a landfill quickly on the Florida turnpike. This was rarely noticable (occured outside only on the balcony) but at the same time unmistakeable when it happened. I would happily occupy the same cabin again as this was a very minor problem.The service was consistently excellent from almost everyone throughout the cruise.  Our room steward, the waiters in the dining rooms, the reception areas and the shore excursion desk were all staffed by top notch, knowledgeable and friendly people.  I asked one of them if Princess selected only the best from their other ships when they staffed the Ruby.  I was told that was not the casebut indeed the customer service was great.The only slight isssue I had was in the Vines barnot once, but twice.  It almosy seemed like I had a sign on my forehead saying "persona non grata" when I stepped into that area.  The Vines bar serves wine, tapas and sushi.  For unknown reasons, when I asked for a plate of tapas with our wine, we were not offered any choice but given a small plate of two or three tapas which was fine at the moment (other guests who seemed to have an inside "understanding" of the rules walked away with huge plates of sushi, cheese, assorted meats, etc.).  Given that there were two of us and lots of wine. I approached the sushi chef later and simply asked for some bread.  I was told to go "back to my seat" and someone would bring the bread. It never happenedeven after I asked again.  This would have been forgivable except for the hordes of children and non-paying people returning time and time again to get plates of fresh sushi and tapasfor free.  The second incident occurred one night when I stopped in to get a glass of wine as we were waiting (with a remote pager) to be seated for dinner ("anytime dining" can mean anytime they are ready for youand not the other way around).  The bartender insisted on knowing what I was going to "do" with the wine glass as he did not want it leaving the bar.  I finally told him to keep the wine and the glass since taking it into the dining room seemed to be a mortal crime.  PleaseI think anyone paying thousands of dollars for a cruise at my age (early 50's) is not trying to run off with a Reidel wine glass.  They sell them now at Target nowI'm not that impressed.  Give me a break!  I complained to the "head" bar manager who listened and assured me he would address it.  I avoided the Vines bar after that.  I probably contributed to the incident in some way so I will give the benefit of the doubt. Back to the positives, this really was a great experience.  The entertainment on board was goodespecially the comedian, Billy Vader (or something like that).  The food was very good in general except for the buffet breakfast, which was average and not as good as I recall on other Princess ships.  In contrast, both Sabatini's and the Crown Grill were absolutely superior in every way.  I was disappointed in the main dining room's attempt at Grand Marnier souffleit was more like a cold orange breakfast muffin stuffed into a dish with vanilla sauce, devoid of Grand Marnier.  In contrast, the expresso creme brulee was wonderful.  I have never before eaten dinner at the "buffet" on any shipbut we did on one evening as we were very tired.  This ended up being the "pasta buffet" night and it was excellent; in fact, it surpassed many nights in the main dining room.We are independent types as a rule, but this time the majority of shore excursions we booked were with the ship.  The notable exception was Athens.  My advice is do not plan to take the metro into Athens on your ownthe metro in Piraeus must have been a good 30-45 minute walk, at minimum, from where the ship docked.  Taxis would not take us there because it was not a long enough trip for them.  We were exhausted before we ever got to Athens, which ended up being our least favorite port.  Ephesus and Istanbul were outstanding and pleasant surprises.  Mykkonos was our second least favorite stop as there is really nothing to do there but walk around and have a beer.  The ship mentioned that we would be sailing past an active volcano, Stromboli, at 11:30 pm en route to Naples.  We sat on the balcony and watched Stromboli erupt at  least three times in about half an hour.  This was much more dramatic than what you see in Hawaiithe lava seemed to shoot straight up into the air for a good distance from the top of the volvano, although we were too far away to really photograph it.  I would highly recommend the tour that does the Amalfi Coast drive and Pompeii.  The Amalfi drive hands down beats almost any coastal road I can think ofincluding Australia's Great Ocean Road, US 1 in California and the Road to Hana on Maui (although that one may be a tie).  I have done this excursion twice (in 5 years) and was fortunate to have the same tour guide both timesKareem with Aloshi Bros.  If there is any way you can get the bus with Kareem when you do this tour, request it as he is extremely funny, entertaining and seems to be the most popular man in town wherever we stopped.  He said he has been doing the tour for 16 years.  He's the best, bar none in my opinion.  He called our tour bus group his "family" and oddly that's exactly how we felt.What can you say about Rome?  Rome is one of the great travel experiences anyone can have.  We took the Princess-booked train into Rome and did it on our own.  This was my third trip to Roime and the third time the Vatican musesum has been closed while I was there. Not a problemthere's plenty more to see and do.  There was a crazy person literally standing in Trevi Fountain shouting at the crowd which ruined that photo op, but added to the experience,  If you have already been to Florence, or even if not, consider doing something in the Tuscan countryside.  We did the tour to San Gimignano and Pisa and had a great timehighly recommended.  The village of Eze is a great excursion near Monaco.Last but not least, this cruise itinerary starts and ends in two of the most fascinating cities in EuropeVenice and Barcelona.  Venice was like a good, long, slow dream from which you hope you never wake. Forget the maps and GPS devices in Veniceyou'll be totally lost in no time no matter how many maps you bring, but you can always naviagte by the major landmarks.  By a two or three day pass on the Vaporetti (water taxis) and just explore with no agenda is my recommendation.  The same goes for Barcelona, although it is easier to follow a map there.  The Hotel Antiche Figure in Venice is close to the ship dock, but also on the Grand Canal, so a great overall location.  The MonteCarlo in Barcelona is similary strategically located at the top of Las Ramblas. Both are top-rated and well worth the Euros.I apologize for the length of this review.  Any comments are offered in the spirit of helping all the contributors on this site who have been so helpful to me in planning the best cruises.  Any criticism I offer with regard to the Ruby Princess should be heavily outweighed by all the positives.  It is a near-perfect experience and a near-perfect ship, and perhaps as a result, only the minor problems come to mind with regard to the overall experience. Read Less
Sail Date July 2009
This was my wife and my first cruise, and we went with friends that had been on cruises before. We choose Princess on the advice of friends who had taken several cruises before. Overall we had a great time. We arrived in Vancouver a day ... Read More
This was my wife and my first cruise, and we went with friends that had been on cruises before. We choose Princess on the advice of friends who had taken several cruises before. Overall we had a great time. We arrived in Vancouver a day and a half early as we had never been to the city before. I suggest that if you take this cruise to take a day or two to see Vancouver. You will not regret it. We arrived early at the port at about 11:15 AM. This was not recomended but we were able to quickly get through the check in and board the ship. We went to have lunch on the top deck. The food was very good as was the service. After lunch we went to our room and found it was made up and ready for us, and our bags were in our room. We packed light and had room for all of our clothes. I suggest bring some plastic hangers as we were a few short and we didn't have that many clothes. We found we had a problem with the shower. First it is very small which is something I'm not use to. I am not small, but I felt that way in the shower. We could not figure out how to get hot water. We found our stewart and he showed us we had to turn the knob counter clockwise until it stopped then press in on the small button and it would trurn on the hot water. The only other problem we had was with the toilet. You will get use to the sound it the same as on a airplane. You are instructed not to flush anything that dosen't belong in the toilet. We had kids in the next cabin and the flushed something that they shouldn't and it stopped three cabin's toilet for an hour. They did fix it quickly. There is a small safe in the room. Don't forget to look at the code you entered each time. It will show the code for a few seconds after you enter it. I had to get the staff to come up and unlock it after I entered the wrong code when I was locking it and could not get it open. I do not like formal dinners. So my wife and I skipped three of the evening meals so we could just relax. I have no way of comparing this cruise with other, as this was our first cruise, but Princess did a great job. Any problems we had were taken care of rightb away. If you plan to do laundry on the cruise pick up $10.00 in quarters from Passenger Services. The coin machine was not working and it takes about $5.00 a load. (We had to run the dryer twice to get the clothes dry) Read Less
Sail Date July 2009
STAR PRINCESS Antarctica Cruise Feb. 19 - March 6, 2008 By Mary & Vincent Finelli We anticipated this 'trip of a life time' with eagerness, and now that it is over we are still awe inspired by this southernmost continent: ... Read More
STAR PRINCESS Antarctica Cruise Feb. 19 - March 6, 2008 By Mary & Vincent Finelli We anticipated this 'trip of a life time' with eagerness, and now that it is over we are still awe inspired by this southernmost continent: Antarctica. So little is known by many of us, that when we think COLD, it is the Arctic North Pole which first comes to mind; however, actually it is Antarctica and the South Pole where the coldest temperatures are recorded (-112 to -130 degrees F. in the winter and 41-59 degrees F. in the summer). Don't forget that the seasons are reversed in the Southern Hemisphere. Antarctica is a frozen desert with hardly any precipitation. Then why go there? Actually less than 20,000 people have visited it. But, those of us who have, can now relate the beauty of the snow covered mountains, the stunning variety of icebergs seen in "Iceberg Alley" and the various wildlife (whales [9 varieties], seals [3 types], penguins [5 varieties] and the many other birds like albatross, petrels, cormorants, etc.). Now let us go back to the beginning -- We flew American Airlines from Miami, FL on Feb. 17th. Flight #909 was set for a 8:15 pm departure and we boarded on time. Then we sat on the tarmac for two hours while baggage handlers searched for a passenger's luggage in order to remove it, since this person had opted to be paid to make a latter departure. In the waiting areas, it was obvious that AA had over booked several flights and enticed passengers to give up their seats for money plus free hotel rooms and meals etc. We left two hours late, but the time was made up in flight and we arrived on schedule in Buenos Aires, Argentina the next morning. We spent overnight with Vincent's family and embarkation was Feb. 19, 2008 at noon. EMBARKATION Embarkation was chaotic to say the least. In port were the MS Symphonia and other ships. There were no baggage carts and very few handlers to take luggage. Vincent with the help of his cousin Fabian found someone to help with the wheelchair, but there were huge potholes and we didn't get far. Out of the blue, the taxi driver from yesterday at the airport appeared: Giorgio! He came straight to us and said,"Signora! May I help you." Problem solved. When Vincent returned and heard about it he said,"nothing like tipping well." We had done pre boarding at a downtown hotel the day before and received cream colored boarding cards. Thus, we moved straight ahead to buses and the ship's gangway. It all seemed well, but we were told we still needed boarding cards which were supposed to be on the pier. After a mix up, where our passports were sent back to the pier, Jr. Asst. Purser Suzanna Romano got our boarding passes from the ship. She assured us our passports were safe with the ship's personnel. And they were, because all passports were collected, so that clearance for each country we entered was done on board in each country we visited. SHIP The Star Princess was built by Fincantieri in Monfalcone, Italy and launched in January 2002. Her length is 950.1 feet; Breadth is 118.1 feet and she has a draft 27.7 feet. Her total passenger capacity is 3,100 and she sails with a crew of 1,120. She is propelled by six diesel electric engines. Her cruising speed is 21 knots and maximum speed 23.3 knots. The Star Princess is beautiful both inside and out. We have already done a deck by deck description of this ship, published in 2005, when we first cruised on her in the Caribbean. So this review will center on the Ports and the gorgeous natural vistas offered by Antarctica. There were over 1,800 Princess Captain's Circle Members on board and Captain Bob Oliver of Harwich, England hosted four cocktail parties in order to accommodate us all. We had a fantastic Bridge Tour with Capt. Oliver and his 3rd Officer Raffaele Ansanti. We learned of the many ship's components all linked to the LIPS joystick giving terrific maneuverability to this huge 109,000 ton ship. This was soon to be appreciated as the very able Captain threaded our way among icebergs. Overall the ship's decorations are in exceptionally good taste. There is simplicity and elegance rather than neon and gaudiness. We found the ship to be in excellent condition and well kept. CABINS Our wheelchair accessible cabin #E304 on Emerald Deck 8 is centrally located near the forward elevators. It has a wide entrance which is necessary for a wheelchair. On the left is an excellent large bathroom with safety rails all around. There is a fold away seat in the 5'x5' shower. There are also two large shelves for toiletries above the single sink. There are two low dressers flanking the king size bed with the "de rigor" heavy white puff, but, for the first time, since we were travelling to the South Pole, this puff was necessary. When entering on the right there is a parking space for the wheel chair. Next, there is a triple armoire with hangers in, two sections and shelves and a private safe in the third section. There s a TV, bar and refrigerator,and a long desk/vanity with a lighted mirror and four drawers. The back wall has a huge window which was partially obstructed by a life boat. Our view was "letterbox", just as when viewing an old Vista Vision film on TV. Top and bottom are cut off, but the panoramic sweep is wonderful. We had an excellent view of the continental shelf from our cabin. Our steward was Luis and he was very efficient. Thanks. SERVICE & FOOD Service is overseen by Passenger Services Director (PSD) Claudio Mazzoni, who was extremely helpful in answering our many questions. The ship service is excellent, Asst. Purser Suzanna facilitated boarding, assessed delays and took control. How nice it feels when it seems everything is mixed up and someone can take control and ameliorate the situation. We were leery about taking this trip so far away from home with a wheel chair etc. Mary has a distinct fear of falling, since she broke her leg that way last October. However, Dr. Marguerite Bozian, our travelling companion, was the one who slipped and broke her arm. Princess' Dr. Stewart Buchanan and nurse Vina came to the rescue: they expertly cared for her and sent her home with a write up, DVD, X rays and a history of the whole matter. All of which her husband Dr. Richard Bozian termed as "not only efficient, but accurate and sensitive....the whole matter was impeccable" and a credit to Princess Cruises. Thus, we learned about the medical service on board through our friends, and it is comforting to know that the quality is excellent. Of course, it is in the dining rooms where service reaches its apex. The suave Maitre D'Hotel Daniele Saredi secured for us a table for six near the entrance to the Capri Dining Room. We don't like to disturb diners with our walker or wheel chair. We had sixteen happy evenings with our travelling companions the Drs. Bozian and the Drs. Chen. Our Waiter Emmanuel and his Asst. Waiter Ariel were spot on. The Head Waiters Silvio and Angelito always charmed us with Executive Chef Francesco La Forgia's marvelous food! We can still smell the wonderful Limoncella cake served in an artisan crafted chocolate bowl. How delicious! The best way to describe the food is to start at the beginning; each morning we were served continental breakfast in our cabin by the very prompt and efficient Elena. Her smiles and her bouncy curtsies were a delightful way to start off the day. The meal consisted of Cappuccino, hot chocolate, croissants, and brioches with fresh fruit plates and marmalades along with cereals. Excellent! At lunch we mostly dined in the Portofino Dining Room where Maitre D' Vincenzo outdid himself with excellent tables near the windows. The lunch menu was terrific. Some of the selections were Mozzarella in Carrozza , fried calamari, Monte Cristo sandwich (ham & cheese on French toast) and crispy English style fish & chips. So many choices, so many decisions. When the weather was nice, we went up to the Horizon Court Buffet or to Prego Pizza and the Trident Grill, for Hamburgers, Chicken Sandwiches, Hot Dogs or German sausages, which were served with the lightest French Fries afloat. Dinner was the best time for our group, because we all got together after going our separate ways during the day. We talked of the ports, the Antarctic scenes, the photos we took, the gigantic tabular icebergs, the wildlife and the wonderful food. Appetizers were Pate', shrimp, pineapple boats, etc.... Soups included Lobster Bisque, clam chowder, cream of wild mushrooms, clear broths with tortellini, or refreshing cold slurry style soups of pineapple or mangos --- so nice. Entrees of many types were offered, plus a pasta course. Try the Fettuccine Alfredo served in a Parmigiano Reggiano cheese bowl, or spaghetti alle vongole or primavera. The main entrees included succulent and tender beef Prime Rib; fillet Mignon; veal, lamb or pork chops; and seafood such as salmon, Chilean bass, shrimp, lobster, etc.... Desserts were many and varied pies -- lemon, apple, pecan, etc.; profiteroles; souffle`, cheese cakes and mousses -- plus a large selection of ice creams and sorbets. Our hats are off to Chef Francesco La Forgia. When he strolls through the dining room, you can't miss him-- 6'2" with a 10" chef's toque, he's easily spotted. ENTERTAINMENT Cruise Director Frank Castiglione keeps the passengers hopping with the following: Bingo, Trivia (Get some new questions, players are tired of seeing the same back-to-back and round the world cruisers walk off with all the valuable prizes [the real plastic key chains and the Princess logo luggage tags are collectors items!] and No, if you are on the ship nonstop for 76 days, it does not make you smarter than the rest of us, even a parrot could win if it heard the same questions over and over again). There are dances in the Skywalkers Night Club on Sky Deck 17and Casino tournaments. The on board Lectures by Joe May and other University Professors were very well received. The Las Vegas style entertainment each evening was lead by the following: Philippa Healey with her mix of opera and classical songs had a standing ovation, the tenor Vincent Talarico was enjoyed in concert. Maurizio, who played several nights in the Atrium, Plaza Deck, was a sensation in concert one night titled "The Duke of Verona" in the Vista Lounge. The ship has many areas for entertainment and relaxation. We had a wonderfully relaxing time, but of course, it was the itinerary which drew us so far from home. This was a never to be forgotten trip. In view of an article dated March 6, 2008, which detailed the breaking off of a 400 square kilometer ice sheet from the Wilkins Ice Shelf on the SW Antarctica Peninsula and with scientists saying that this is another indication of global warming, we feel that future generations probably will not be as lucky as we have been to enjoy the wonders of Antarctica. Perhaps, these wonders will diminish with the passing of time. ITINERARY 2-19-08 Buenos Aires, Argentina Sail away. 7:00pm 2-20-08 River Plate out to the Sea headed to the Falkland Islands. 2-21-08 At Sea 2-22-08 Stanley, Falkland Islands Arrive 7:00am Depart 7:20pm Tendering to the on shore pontoon. 2-23-08 At Sea. At 1:15pm we passed over the Antarctic Convergence Zone where the sea temperature falls rapidly due to the constant melting of Antarctic ice into the Southern Ocean. The first look outs for icebergs were put to work on the Bridge. 2-24-08 Elephant Island -- The first pieces of ice were detected on the ship's radar. This island juts out of the ocean. At 4:30am we passed latitude 60 S. and formally headed into Arctic waters. At 9:00am we sighted Elephant Island, numerous icebergs and many penguins. After cruising around the island we headed SW. 2-25-08 We set course toward the Antarctic Sound, but conditions worsened and at 8:24am we turned around and began a slow exit of the Sound and crossed the Bransfield Straight towards Admiralty Bay. This was the first of several stunning days, with the slow movement of the ship affording passengers magnificent views of icebergs and spouting whales. The sun was shining brilliantly and we approached 400 foot high icebergs. Surreal! They were so huge compared to the ones in Alaska. This was our first glimpse of Antarctica and it was spectacular! The age of an iceberg is told by how low it sits in the water. The blue ice is the oldest and most compact, the white ice is newer and has more air in it. These huge icebergs usually last about 8 years and are eroded by water and air. They turn over in the water and there is a tide line around the bergs. The seals are in the water even in the winter. During the winter, this area is 80% covered in ice and only ice breaker vessels can enter here. The famous explorer Captain Cook would pull up the smaller icebergs, called "Burgy Bits" and bring them on board as a source of fresh water. On the Port side of the ship we saw part of the ice shelf 100ft. above water and 800ft. below. There were spectacular icebergs every where, with some bigger than the ship. There were tabular perfect rectangles of pure white that looked as if they were sawed off. There were some shaped like ramps which could be used for water skiing. Our first glimpse of Antarctica revealed its pyramid shaped mountains, snow and vertical striations and the ice cap that in some places can be over 5 miles deep. We sailed through out Admiralty Bay and at 1:15pm the scientists from the Polish Artowski Research Station boarded the Star Princess and gave a short informative talk. They were invited to dinner and left soon after to return to King George Island. Their station has been operating continuously since 1977. We heard of glacial movement and the micro chemistry of their layers which trap pockets of atmosphere. At 6:32pm we passed out into the Bransfield Strait and headed south to the Neumayer channel. 2-26-08 Sunrise 5:55 am and Sunset 9:47 pm gave us an almost 16 hour day -- fantastic, like the white nights of the Baltic! This morning there was a brilliant sunrise. Humpback and orca whales were sighted spouting everywhere, easily spotted by the oil slick they leave on the water. Penguins were also seen. The orca whales work in packs much like wolves; they separate out the weaker prey and attack. Thank heaven, we did not witness them in action. The view from our cabin window is picture perfect. The on board Antarctic specialist says this is a rare clear day here. Port side lets us view the Ice Cap and the Antarctic Peninsula. It is the narrowest point of the peninsula called Paradise Harbor. The other side of the peninsula is the Weddell Sea. The water is incredibly calm and there are Burgy Bits everywhere with penguins on them and pods of whales in the Gerlach Strait (Gerlach was the first explorer to spend a winter here and with him was Armundsen the first man to go to the South Pole). At 11:20am we reached our Southernmost point of this voyage, latitude 64, which places us 3,898 nautical miles south of the equator. The eeriness and quiet of this scene is remarkable, the water is almost glass like, today. Lion Island is at the head of the Neumaier Channel. It looks like a sphinx with a black face. There is much more snow and ice here, actually, yesterday we saw snow flurries. In 1819 Anvers Island was named by a Belgian Expedition. We sailed northeasterly toward Deception Island. 2-27-08 At 7:45am we approached Deception Island and it was visible from some 10 miles away. All morning we saw minke and humpback whales and then penguin colonies on the shore. The island is actually the remains of a volcano with a caldera similar to Santorini. From here we turned away from the Antarctic and faced patches of fog where visibility was near zero. 2-28-08 We crossed the Drake Passage neared the Pilot Station at Cape Horn. The waters were exceptionally calm, unlike the last time we rounded the Horn. The pilot boat was an hour and a half late and Capt. Oliver circled patiently waiting. Fortunately, the sea was very calm, and we had an excellent view of the Chilean Flag over the weather station and the Albatross Monument dedicated to those sailors who lost their lives in these treacherous waters. There is an old tradition for sailors who round the Horn: they had their ears pierced, got a tattoo and had a drink of rum, which they shared with the sea by pouring some into the ocean. 2-29-08 Ushuaia, Argentina Arrive 6:50am Depart 4:28 pm Many passengers were happy to set foot on terra firma and do some shopping. Magellan called this Tierra del Fuego (Land of Fire). It was named that because sailors feared it due to the wildness, fierce winds and the rocky shores that literally ate up whaling ships. Today it was 58 F degrees and bright and sunny in the morning. In the afternoon we headed for the Beagle Channel. The Argentinian pilot debarked and the Chilean pilot steered the Star Princess through the Beagle Channel past the European named glaciers. We have seen these glaciers six years ago and we were amazed by how much they have receded: in some of them the ice that once arrived all the way down to the water has been replaced by waterfalls, more evidence of global warming. 3-1-08 Punta Arenas, Chile Arrive 6:48 am Depart 7:50pm This is the southernmost Chilean city which is a center for oil drilling. It has stark snow less mountains and was the turning point of our journey, for today in the rain we headed back east and then north to Uruguay. Our travel companions returned to Sotito's Restaurant where we had dined in 2002. They enjoyed it, but not as much as when we had eaten there before. 3-2-08 At Sea Smooth seas and a sunny day in the open waters of the South Atlantic. 3-3-08 At Sea Sailing Northeasterly in over cast skies. 3-4-08 At Sea Sailing Northeasterly in clear skies. 3-5-08 Montevideo, Uruguay Arrive 7:45am Depart 5:00pm 3-6-08 Buenos Aires, Argentina Arrive 6:00am Debarkation 8:30am DEBARKATION This was much smoother than embarkation. We had wheelchair assistance from our cabin to the bus only, and then we were stuck until we were moved to luggage pick up. Once more we were on our own until we managed to get a porter. Needless to say, it was not too smooth, and we were happy to see cousin Fabian again, waiting for us outside the terminal. CONCLUSION Definitely, this has been one of our best cruises ever, considering the itinerary, our traveling friends, Marguerite and Richard Bozian and Yvonne and Alan Chen, the excellent food and service, especially in the restaurants, and our return to the Star Princess. And just think that we almost canceled the booking of this cruise due to Mary's recent knee replacement surgery. We are glad we didn't! We have booked two future cruises with Princess, one on the Norwegian Cruise Line without specific dates and one in November on the new RCI ship Independence of the Seas. We have not booked a cruise for this spring or summer due to Mary's knee surgery scheduled for April 10th. However, we hope that she will recover fast, so we don't have to wait too long for the next cruise. Happy Cruising! Read Less
Sail Date February 2008
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