This is the first time my wife and I have ever cruised and it was primarily as a result of recommendations by friends who have all been on various cruises with different providers. Typically we book our hotels and travel independently ... Read More
This is the first time my wife and I have ever cruised and it was primarily as a result of recommendations by friends who have all been on various cruises with different providers. Typically we book our hotels and travel independently choosing hotels and activities which allow us to relax and enjoy some quite quality time in pleasant surroundings with attentive and respectful service. We were admittedly late in booking our cruise with your company as being a little bewildered with the variety of options from different companies we took a long time choosing which unfortunately limited our options.
Generally upon arrival things were handled well, check in was prompt and courteous and we found our way to our cabin which, whilst smaller than we are used to, was adequate and clean. At this point I have to commend the cabin steward who was both pleasant and diligent. However what became apparent during our stay was the inadequacy of the bed, the booking clearly stated a queen size bed and literature waxed lyrical about the quality. So you can imagine our dismay to find what we actually had was two beds pushed together. Whilst this might be acceptable if they had been sprung divan bases the beds comprised two metal framed singles with inner wire supports giving a hard and prominent ridge in the middle of the bed where the two metal frames joined. We were told that whilst this was unfortunate nothing could be done to rectify this situation and that we should take this up at the end of our trip with customer services.
We enjoyed the setting off and the entertainment on deck as we sailed out of the Hamble. In the evening we went to dinner, having chosen the flexible dining option, and were shown to our table with minimal delay. Unfortunately this was one of the few times we had a smooth transition into the dining room. Generally the staffs were pleasant enough but we were constantly shuttled between deck 5 and 6 each evening which admittedly got a bit wearing and confusing and on more than one occasion we were treated to a rather surly greeting at the dining room entrance before being routed to the adjacent deck which quite clearly implied an “are you too stupid to know where to go” rhetoric. Generally the food in the dining room was of good quality but generally the food was only ever tepid. Only on two occasions could the food be said to be hot, once when I had a fish pie and once when my wife had Escargots. Both my wife and I had wine with our meals and on far too many occasions they kept consistently bringing the wrong Rose wine to the table despite my wife being very clear on the name of the wine she wanted. On one occasion they bought the incorrect wine only to replace it with another glass of the wrong wine. It is accepted that this happens occasionally, but the frequency of occurrence was too high to be acceptable particularly when once they know they have brought the incorrect wine they are then at a bit of a loss what to do about it as the system appears not to allow them to replace the drink as it flags on the system as a dubious purchase too soon after the previous one, thus making it uncomfortable for both the guest and the waiter. I personally have to say that I was not a fan of the bench style seats that most of the 2 person tables utilised against a divider. Certainly they are too low and seat you at a significantly detrimental position to the table for both dining and conversation with your partner. Unfortunately the limited options on tables for two with two chairs meant having to wait long times for their availability. We had considered sharing a larger table but had quickly noticed that guest on tables for more than 2 had to wait until that table had filled before anyone took their orders. Having witnessed one couple waiting 20+ minutes for their table to fill we put up with the bench seats, which incidentally are extremely uncomfortable in a suit. Within a few days of eating in the restaurant we noticed a distinct variability in how quickly, or not, we were attended to. It soon became apparent that, policy or not, the staff were trying to synchronise the rows of two people tables so as to aim to serve certain courses at the same time to all tables and ultimately aim to have the tables finish at about the same time. Not only did this result in some evenings feeling rushed and on others being ignored and hence lengthy meals, it also meant that dishes were coming from the kitchen and sitting waiting for others to come out in what seemed to be a deliberate delay aimed at this synchronisation.
Additionally staffing levels in the restaurants seemed to vary quite significantly with some evenings seeming deserted compared to others with the predictable outcome of poorer service levels. On the last formal night my wife and I were seated in the foyer area (another story) and being both dressed smartly but casual decided to see if we could go straight to an early dinner (17:45) rather than get changed into something more formal. The girl at the door point blankly refused suggesting that we should eat at the buffet if we did not want to dress formally and that normal dinner is not accessible otherwise. Dinner is arguably part of the package and to not be able to access it anywhere other than the restaurant which required formal dress on three evenings is unacceptable. Surely it should be that the normal dinner is accessible to guest in a separate area if they do not wish to dress formally? We did get changed and went back down to dinner only to be seated next to two couples, the gentleman both being dressed in slacks and casual shirts one of which was a broad check. Obviously it was quite annoying that the concept of formal dress was being applied in a haphazard way penalising some and allowing others. Dinner on the last evening was nothing short of a fiasco, we were shown to our table which had not been cleared and re-laid. Then it was partly laid and the waiters disappeared. After about 5 minutes I got up and appropriated two water glasses from another table which caught the eye of a supervisor across the room, he came and poured some water. Eventually we got a menu and managed to order. Of note was that we then had to chase to get some rolls on the table and then chase further for some butter. Our ordering caused considerable consternation from a couple two tables down who had been waiting some 20 minutes to have someone give them a menu with the lady having to get up and complain to one of the supervisors before someone attended them. The couple to my right had to refuse water 5 times each time someone would bring them glasses only to take them away when they stated they didn’t require water. They were also told that there was no white wine left which sounded absolutely preposterous but then the couple on my left confided that they hadn’t been given the red wine they ordered despite being reassured it was the same one they had been drinking all fortnight which, this not only was insulting to the couple’s intelligence but also was dishonest. The couple two tables down had to complain further when another couple got their dinner before them despite arriving in the restaurant some 30 minute later. Needless to say despite the large variance in our arrivals all 6 tables were served deserts and coffees at about the same time.
On our ship days we ate in the buffet a few times, generally this was a most unsatisfactory experience. At any one time over the lunch period there only ever seemed to be one buffet section from the four available that seemed to be open. Typically lunch meant wandering around until you found a table that was unoccupied, in itself no mean achievement. If you wanted to keep your table you then had to leave something at your table while you got your lunch. Unfortunately if it was something impersonal such as a tray or drink then that did not serve to prevent other people from occupying that table when you were gone. If you had anything bulky that prevented you carrying a tray, such as my wife’s bag or my camera, then you were so far from the active buffet station that you felt that one of you had to stay to look after your valuables while the other went and got their lunch. Then very often you had to walk the length of two buffet areas to join a queue for food which inevitably involved significant jostling and pushing as too many people vied for too little space. Popular items were almost impossible to get to as people competed for that option. Once you had your food, which often took a not inconsiderable amount of time, you then had to walk it back to your table and then your partner could get their food. Invariably by the time you got your food back to the table it was cold as it was only ever lukewarm at the start and you rarely got the opportunity to eat together. If you wanted more or a desert then often while you were eating the buffet station closed and a new one opened so you had to then hunt the current open station before you could eat something else. On one occasion the buffet station closed between my wife getting her food and my subsequent attempt. Quite clearly there was an inadequate amount of facilities for the amount of people resulting in something far from a relaxed or enjoyable dining experience. It was something more akin to how you imagine a cheap package holiday buffet to be but with less seating.
Breakfast was a similarly disappointing experience. The quality of some of the cooked breakfast items was poor, in particular the sausages and bacon while other cooked breakfast staples such as mushrooms and fried tomatoes seemed non-existent. In general the breakfast seemed to have been conceived on an American concept of an English breakfast rather than a universal approach. In the mornings most stations appeared to be open but seating was virtually inaccessible. On one occasion we had to sit outside in the rain (fortunately partly undercover) as this was the only place available. Another morning we had to sit outside again, which initially was quite pleasant until the maintenance staff decided to replace and varnish stair and balcony rails in the seating area at around 9:30 - 10:00 am. On a few occasions we had to go and hunt cutlery, condiments collecting what was needed on an ad-hoc basis which as you can imagine was far from enjoyable and resulted in the food becoming cold.
Generally the boat felt very crowded and noisy, below decks seating was at a premium and the first few days we were often jostled out of the way by people trying to get to seats being vacated by other guests. Ultimately we learned to be more assertive but that is hardly something you want when you are on holiday. One day we went for a coffee and stood waiting for a table only to be informed by one gentleman that he had been waiting for nearly 30 minutes and there was a couple in front of him. Needless to say we gave up on the idea of a coffee that day. Invariably if you wanted to sit in the foyer area around the piano or coffee bar then there was a wait followed by a burst of running to snag a seat. Things were no better in Crooners or the wine bar. Often the problem was people just using the seats to sit and read or just relax. They could not be blamed for this as there was nowhere else for them to go to do this but it did block access to these facilities. The situation was not helped by selling opportunities organised for “the few”. On an already crowded ship it is reprehensible to close the Explorers Bar for half the day at a time just to sell a few paintings to a handful of individuals. If it had been just the one day it would still have been inexcusable but multiple days is just beyond belief and totally detrimental to the well-being and comfort of the other cruise guest. The overcrowding made itself apparent on a number of evenings. On one in particular we could not get a seat in the Wheelhouse bar nor could we find a seat in the Explorers bar or adjacent lobby area, the Foyer area around the piano was full as was Crooners and the Wine bar. Most evenings meant getting an early meal and then finding a seat before the scheduled diners came out and filled the seats. Because of the lack of seats it made it very difficult to access much of the entertainment. Moving from one area to the other often meant not getting a seat in your target venue when you got there and then finding you had lost your original seat. We tried staying put in one area but there were significant 45 minute plus breaks between much of the entertainment and invariably meant you had to sit through something you were not interested in before something you had waited for came on. We are early fifties and found much of the entertainment on board inappropriate for our age group. Bingo, Sudoku, knitting and sexy legs competitions are not really things that appeal and quite frankly suggest a lack of imagination. The abundance of quizzes in the various bar areas was also of note and clearly suggests a “what can we do cheap and for minimal staff and resource input” approach to the entertainment schedule. One person a microphone and some poor quality slides are far from quality entertainment. In general the day activities had more in common with 1960’s Butlin’s than a luxury cruise experience. Some entertainment was aimed at relaxation, the pianist, a trio and the guitarist but for the most part with all the people jostling for seats and the constant noise of people milling around, talking and using the coffee bar etc. it was like trying to relax at London Victoria station. At no time during the cruise did we get a sense of peace and quiet unless we were in our room. Part way through the cruise we discovered the Sanctuary, then we discovered it was $40 to go in. Clearly Princess are aware of the lack of a relaxing atmosphere on ship as you have spotted an opportunity to cash in on the one option that exist to get some peace and relaxation.
Overall much of the entertainment was good but where it mattered, mainly in the theatre and some of the key acts, it was poor. The Gala show was dire, I would like to say that was just my opinion but the resounding lack of applause confirmed otherwise. It was a lacklustre and discontinuous parade of poor quality cameos none of which was well received. In particular the magic was badly executed and lacked imagination with clumsy presentation leaving the audience in no doubt how it was done. The magician stands out for being particularly bad both in the gala show and his separate stage performances. Before his show in the Explorers bar he approached members of the audience about whether they would be willing to partake, in itself commendable, unfortunately when people declined he seem to take it as an affront and was quite rude to them so as to belittle them and infer it was their problem not his as he was superior anyway. I recall his words when someone declined along the lines of “if you had let me finish what I was saying” which is quite curt and easily construed as rude. Generally his act was poor dropping props and messing up tricks, most of which are available in any toy shop these days. The female comedienne was excessively coarse and I am far from being prudish, her act had the air of a working man’s club and at time bordered on inappropriate, mocking of people with physical and mental issues implied or otherwise is inexcusable and not humour. Crudeness is not necessary to make a good comedy act as the male comedian proved being both funny and entertaining without unnecessary toilet humour. Nearly all the entertainment in the Princess Theatre was mediocre and of only 30 minutes duration the longest show being the Gala show which lasted the billed 53 minutes which given the poor quality was one show that would have benefited from being shorter, 53 minutes shorter. The Princess Theatre gave the clearest indication of just how overcrowded the boat was for the provided facilities and entertainments as on more than one occasion we spoke to people who had been waiting >50minutes to guarantee a seat for 30 minute show. During the gala show there were people standing in the aisles and down the sides of the theatre which talking to other guests was repeated for the second show. Yet more guests we spoke to hadn’t seen either show as they were unable to access the theatre due to the lack of space. In addition the layout of the ship and the theatre meant that at the end of each show one half of the theatre streamed out through the Wheelhouse bar. This meant that if you had been lucky enough to snag a seat to enjoy some quieter time with one of the acts you were regularly interrupted by hundreds of people traipsing through the bar all in loud animated conversation.
On a few evenings we tried to watch the films shown on the large screen. Once again this proved to be a less that satisfactory experience. The first night we managed to get two loungers and settled down to watch a film. Unfortunately we had to get straight back up again as the loungers are the same ones used by bathers during the day and are still wet. Now having wet clothes we managed to acquire some towels and spread them over the wet loungers. This helped but as we discovered on subsequent evenings it doesn’t take too long for the wet to penetrate up to 4 layers of towels. The routine soon became watch film, change clothes. On one evening we were not served, due to lack of staff available in the screen pool area, for around 3 hours. This also meant that during this time no tables were cleared and plates and old glasses were left on the small tables by the loungers. As like below decks, during the day somewhere to sit/lay was at a premium. We did note that towards the end of the cruise they announced that any unattended loungers would be cleared after 15 minutes not 30 minutes as previous so this clearly wasn’t just a perceived problem. Above decks, where you sat greatly influenced the level of service you obtained. It was not the fault of the staff but clearly they were overwhelmed by request before they even got to the higher decks or to the further extremes. Scheduling of above deck entertainment was poorly thought out with a band or discotheque playing in one area and a film in the other. The net result for many of the positions around the pools was that neither was clearly discernible and just resulted in an irritating cacophony of noise. We did notice that the above decks areas seem little utilised later in the evenings something that obviously pushed people downstairs into the overcrowded lounge areas. On a number of occasions staff cleaned the windows while guest were using the deck areas resulting not only in inconvenience but large wet areas that had to be negotiated and water trickling through the floor from higher sun decks.
My wife and I took advantage of all the shore excursions which were of great variability in terms of quality and organisation. We were often surprised at the poor quality of some of the coaches often having dirty seats and curtains, chipped and cracked screens, non-working air conditioning and externally rusty with large holes and corrosion. Being told that the coach has a toilet but that we shouldn't use it as it doesn't really work that well is not really how we expected a tour to start. St Petersburg was most enjoyable with a competent and knowledgeable tour guide. At times it did feel like the tour had been padded to make it last longer as we visited some places twice, once for a look and photo opportunity and then again later in the day to visit a place of interest at the same location. Places visited appeared to be expecting us and we were efficiently and courteously processed in and out of the various buildings. This was in complete contrast to some of the other tours. In Denmark we were not expected at Kronborg and had to stand around like lost children while various discussions and arguments entailed about who would be responsible for us. In Sweden the guide was most condescending, talking to the guest like they were small children and then at lunch again they were not expecting us so we had to mill around in the street while they readied the tables. Eventually they let one of the ladies in so she could use the facilities before finally allowing us all in. Once we sat down we were presented with water that was a mix of sparkling and still as they tried to rapidly fill the jugs from both taps at the same time as they clearly were not ready to receive guest. In Tallinn the guided tour primarily comprised the guide walking us somewhere before inviting us to have a look around and then moving to the next spot. They did take us to the square for coffee and pastries and on arrival the guide extolled the beauty of the square particularly in the sunshine before cramming us all in the basement of an adjacent café where even the waiting staff were getting cross about the lack of space. Poland was the worst experience, the guide had very poor command of English and given a coach full of English speakers was a bad start. He then wore a loudspeaker on his chest which was useless as he proceeded to walk in front of us all broadcasting to any oncoming strangers but not to the group. The visit then moved on to Malbork Castle where the guide informed us we would have a new guide, this did result in a slightly uncharitable cheer from the coach. When we arrived at the castle our guide disappeared and returned with the new guide before regrettably informing us she only spoke Polish. We stopped for an agreeable lunch marred mainly by how tightly packed we were into the hall. Many people had to try and eat with one hand as it was nigh impossible to eat with two given the tightness with which we were seated. When it came to dining on the tours a feature that marred all dining (and some visits) was the bringing together of all tour groups at the same time in the same place. Whilst this is understandable from a catering and logistics point of view, when it comes to rest-room facilities it became a nightmare. On one occasion only having 3 unisex cubicles for around 300 people who have just been eating and drinking suggest a distinct lack of thought to the process. Given this was a feature rather than an exception using the toilet where possible became a fixation of most people on the tours thus detracting from the experience of the visited site. Post tours the return to the ship was often greeted by the inevitable queue to get back on board. In itself not unexpected but not helped by the often bored and discourteous manner of some staff in particular the security staff. In one instance my wife’s passage was blocked by an arm thrust in front of her by one of the security team without a word being spoken or even the benefit of eye contact. When she was finally allowed to proceed it was indicated by the am being removed, a grunt and a wave of the head. At no time did the member of staff acknowledge her, speak to her or even make eye contact. This was hardly the warmest or friendliest welcome back to the boat after a long hot day. Whilst it is appreciated that security is important and there is a need to scan items a part of that process, it was disconcerting to have to scrabble inside the scanner for items that were too light to push aside the screening mats. Often there were no trays to put smaller items in so this became a necessity on more than one occasion while the security team watched impassively.
Overall the experience was not a good one. Generally we were left with the impression that the boat was overcrowded. Staff seemed to become less enthusiastic as the cruise wore on, perhaps due to more people than usual? Non restaurant dining was also marred by too many people and too few places to eat. Breakfast was a crowded affair with nowhere to sit and a jostle to get your food. Restaurant dining was spoiled by tepid food, poor seating and an endeavour to synchronise tables. Entertainment was inadequate in frequency and content and all venues overcrowded. The cruise often felt like a poorly run “Costa” package holiday geared primarily to maximise profit at the expense of the guest comfort and well-being. Living on the south coast we are aware of a growing trend to cater for pensioners and a decline in standards associated with that approach to a level perceived by the purveyor as “what they can get away with” as many pensioners have lower expectations of service and quality, this cruise certainly had many of those hallmarks.
Given the costs of the total package, the content and quality of the cruise fell way below expectations and represented extremely poor value for money. The excursions were also for the most part of questionable value for money and sometimes felt like you were being taken for a ride figuratively as well as literally.
We did take this up with Princess on our return and received a curt reply along the lines of "couldn't care less what you think". Given the package, with everything, cost was not inconsiderable it shows the level of disrespect Princess and Carnival have for their guest.
Hope this helps others thinking of cruising for the first time, we certainly will not do it again. Read Less