I'm an active, independent cruise veteran with 53 cruises over the past 42 years. I flew to London and had private limo transportation to the ship. I've toured London several times, so skipped the city this time and was comfortable overnight at a favorite Hilton hotel near Heathrow Airport. A private car service took me to Southampton the following day after a good night's rest.
I'm elite status with Princess, and enjoy the little extras this status level brings. I do wish, however, that Princess would give a discount to solo travelers (at any level), but at least with the elite cruisers - many other cruise lines do this for their solo travelers, but not Princess.
Embarkation at Southampton's rather outdated and small terminal went very smoothly, thanks to lots of practice by the mature and polite staff on duty. From drop off to boarding the ship, it was probably 10 minutes until I was in my cabin. Luggage arrived approximately an hour later (I checked in around noon. )
I did not like the aggressive photographers who try to trap embarking passengers on the way to the ship, or the equally assertive spa ladies who are literally right at the boarding door, handing out a bunch of paper information. There was no welcome aboard greeting, just sales pitches. Ship's crew were noticeable for those needing assistance or directions, however. The noise level was very high. Forget the elevators if possible - people were mobbing them and wait times were long. Grateful I can climb the stairs with just a carry-o bag and myself.
My cabin was the familiar balcony style I prefer. I had expected a lot of improvement since the ship was in dry dock just a few months ago, but all I noticed was the new bed linen and a colorful updated picture on the wall. I had heard a lot about the new beds, but when I checked it and sat down, it was far too soft. Nice new linens, however,and a thick feather duvet which turned out to be very crackly and noisy, and far too warm, even with the AC turned as cold as it would get. They need to get a thinner one for warm climate cruises and summer travel. The pillows were a mix of feather style and polyester fill style, four in all. Other than the fresh bedding, the cabin looked the same as I've seen on this ship for years. It was very dated as far as the furniture and colors. Furniture was chipped, and not too clean. Fabric chair had greasy stains on the back and arms. The carpet was very dirty. the colors were mainly a dreary mix of brown. The mini-fridge was not working, but I called and someone fixed it eventually the same day I called. There were paint chips all over the balcony flooring and furniture. Smears of old nail polish were on the desk. There were plenty of good wooden hangers in the open closet. Enough drawers and shelf space to store everything for one person, but it might be tight for two people with a lot of clothes. The blackout drapes and curtains were in good condition, but still let in light all night at the high latitudes of the trip - the drapes need to be longer and go all the way to the wall and ceiling. I use sanitizing wipes on every flat surface in my cabin when I cruise, and the wipes came up with brown and gray dirt smudges on them when I was cleaning.
The bathroom looked as if nothing has really been improved at the dry dock session. Kleenex boxes have been removed from the holder beneath the sink and placed in the cabin because people are throwing the tissue into the finicky, delicate toilet systems and clogging them up. A sign was placed in the bathroom, telling guests not to throw anything but the usual human stuff and toilet tissue in the toilet to avoid plumbing failures. Shower gel and shampoo/conditioner were in two pump dispensers in the shower. The shower curtain was stained and had mold all along the bottom. Mold was visible in the soap recepticle in the shower, too. The pull-out clothesline didn't look very clean, either. The tile floor was black with dirt and mold in the grout lines, especially near the toilet and shower. The toilet brush container was rusty at the bottom. There was a large crack on the shelf beneath the bathroom sink, and it had been crudely repaired with what looked like ancient maple syrup. The towels were so threadbare, with holes and some stains, and so rough, I had to ask my steward for softer towels which actually dried something. This repeated throughout the cruise. I wouldn't wash a dirty truck with those old towels. I do like the provided body lotion Princess provides - it's very moisturizing with a lovely delicate scent. The sink appeared as clean as possible,but was very worn, and had low water pressure.
My cabin steward was one of the best I've ever met, doing everything absolutely perfect the first time, supplying everything without being asked, and always cheerful and singing. He worked very hard, and was one of the few things on this cruise that I did not have to keep following up on.
The mandatory safety briefing was somewhat of a joke. Despite the crew asking for people to pay attention, stay awake, and stop using their phones, nobody really paid much attention. People were talking, sleeping, and on cell phones. I guess they don't realize that their lives may depend on this vital information.
The captain was delightful and chatty on the PA system, but his very thick Italian accent as sometimes hard to understand, and the bridge did not have enough volume when the captain made his daily announcements - it was very difficult if not impossible to hear his informative briefings over the loud noise levels throughout the ship.
Despite requesting a solo small table due to some medical issues, I was once again assigned a huge "single old ladies table". Fortunately the maitre'd was human and approachable, and was able to provide the dining table I needed to enjoy my meal in comfort. I had two of the best waiters in the cruise line, I'm sure, with extremely fast, accurate, courteous, and superb service.
The food continues to decline in quality since Carnival ruined the former very good original Princess/Sitmar line. Apparently the menus are the same world-wide. If it is embarkation day, it must be spring roll day, type of mentality as far as menu planning. Some of the food items were so bizarre that either it was a contest in the kitchen to see who could do the most creative thing with the leftovers, or somebody was just having a bad day. The fish was junk or bottom feeder quality, and inedible, except for the sole. Shellfish was good, and there was a lot of shrimp and prawns. Lobster made a few appearances, and was also good. Vegetables were barely cooked and served nearly raw. The pasta was a disgrace - the rice was served so hard and uncooked it was likely to break teeth. It was as if somebody had poured some hot water over uncooked rice, and then put it in the plate. The pasta was not "al dente", but simply hard as a rock and barely cooked and terrible. Sauces were very watery, which is criminal when it involves Italian cooking. The featured chocolate deserts were full of nuts, which made them off-limits to many guests. Menu items were really uninspired - people can get steak, hamburger, sphaghetti, meat loaf, fried chicken, baked potatoes, and other home cooking comfort food items at home. It's not what I want when I cruise and can escape "healthy" eating for a few weeks. Some of the vegetarian items sounded bad on the menu, but turned out to be delicious. I did not starve, but was very disappointed in the quality and choice of food items in the main dining room. I lost three pounds on this cruise, unintentionally, due to the food. The deserts were also very poor choices - again, I can get ice cream at home. The sugar-ffree items were slimy with gelatin and nearly tasteless. Anything cold or inedible was sent right back to the kitchen, which my waiters handled with grace - but the head waiters seemed annoyed, and surprised that I did not love their "wonderful" cuisine.
Some nights on the cruise, special items were cooked at the entrance to the dining room, and the nauseating odor of hot, cooking garlic permeated the entire dining room, sucked in by the ventilation system. This always seemed to happen on the nights when we had rough sailing, I noticed.
The first night's appetizer had an added ingredient - a big black hair on the plate, beneath the last bite of the appetizer I was eating. I quietly told the appropriate dining staff, and one of them just said, "well, these things happen". It took a solid week of complaints, follow-up, haggling, and frustration to get any sort of proper response from the zombie-like front desk staff. I could have stood up and screamed about a hair in my food, but to save face for my nice waiters and myself, I was quiet. This should have been worth something to the cruise staff, but apparently it's routine for them to have hairs in the food. I finally received an adequate form of compensation for this disgusting lack of hygiene, but it wasted hours of my time.
I only ate at the buffet once, as I try to avoid it with all the dirty hands there. The two nice new sinks for hand washing have replaced the handy Purell dispensers at the entrances to the buffet, and nobody seemed to use the sinks. The breakfast pastries were stale and dry, even when the buffet first opened, and there were swarms of fruit flies hovering over the pastries from the second morning on. This was reported, but the problem never was resolved. Despite the fancy new name for the buffet, the same congested, disorderly mob surges through too small a space and nothing has changed. Some food with nuts was not identified as such. Other foods were mysterious enough to make me wonder what they were, but there were no signs, and when staff was asked, they couldn't speak enough English to answer. Lots of officer types circulated through the buffet area, but nobody seemed to do anything useful. I had one lunch at the buffet, and everything in the hot section was lukewarm or cold, and dry. The French toast in the morning was also cool, or cold, and dry. Some of it was labeled as plain, but had fruit and/or nuts or meat in it. Lots of confusion labeling the foods in the buffet, apparently. I took what I needed for an early breakfast back to my cabin and ate in peace and quiet.
I enjoy the food at the deck 5 Atrium level's International Cafe. Some of the staff there were like robots, unfortunately, and some did not speak enough English to communicate about the food. Others were very nice. They make a very good daily quiche, but the oven kept breaking, or the quiche were not ready to be heated, even though the cafe was open and demand was high. Lots of interesting salads, and some good deserts, but very little in the chocolate family. This was usually my main source for lunch, and I also took this back to my cabin rather than try to eat in the traffic jams of people and ear-splitting noise.
There were some unruly, uncontrolled, noisy kids of all ages on this ship, and their parents let them stampede up and down the corridors, quite late at night. Reporting this did nothing to stop it. There were also some young adults with their cabins near mine, and they would return roaring drunk at the small hours of the morning, banging on doors and shouting to each other, and yelling inside their cabins. This also was reported and not stopped. I wish the cruise line would post a prominent notice in each cabin about time limits for noise in the corridors and cabins, and if people insist on making noise and disturbing others, they should be fined or put off the ship.
The smoking ban was also disregarded around the ship - I could smell it in the corridors, and people smoked on their balconies.
I realize the crew needs to have their cleaning carts and supplies parked in the very narrow corridors, but they were there nearly all day and half the night, making it very hard to get through, and blocking access for those with wheel chairs and scooters. Carts were placed around 6 AM, or a bit later, and anybody trying to sleep through this, as well as the cheerful and loud chatter of the stewards both in the corridors and nearby pantry and storage room spaces, were sadly out of luck.
I noticed a horrible odor like a dirty wet dog when I arrived on my deck upon boarding, and this odor persisted for half the cruise. Apparently there was carpet shampooing scheduled, and the wet carpet never really dried well, plus whatever the used on it was terribly nasty as far as the odor. I was asked if it was OK to shampoo my cabin carpet (why wasn't this done at dry dock or immediately when it was stained - and there were some large, disgusting stains on it), and I politely declined. I had enough problems from the prevalent stink in the rest of the ship without having it in my cabin for a two week cruise.
The first night I tried the new bed in my cabin, it had a definite downhill slope towards one side, and was so soft I had a backache the entire trip. The pillows had no support, either, and made my neck ache. So much for improved new beds by some supposed sleep doctor. The beds looked great, but even the new linens had stains and holes in them, and the quality of rest was very poor. I was tuck most of the time in a deep hollow in half the bed. New dust ruffles were attached to the bed(s) in my cabin during the cruise, but they looked worse than the old ones.
The ship itself is 13 years old, and very tired. It creaks and rattles, has a lot of wear and tear on everything, and is outdated in style. During some very rough weather for several days, the thuds and bangs and other loud sounds made me wonder if the ship were coming apart. The stabilizers worked as designed against the rolling, but it sounded like enormous pieces of metal grinding equally enormous pieces of metal into smaller bits, all night long, all day long, about every 10 to 15 seconds. At least the toilet, AC, and phone actually worked normally this cruise, for which I give thanks.
I am extremely appreciative of having self-service washers and dryers on cruise ships, even at the exorbitant cost. However, some were always out of service, and people literally lined up at dawn to grab a machine before anybody else. Sometimes a whole family would spend the day in the laundromat room, hogging all the machines. It made doing laundry a nightmare, especially if one had clothes soiled from a fitness workout or Zumba class. I've learned to bring my own detergent and dryer sheets to save money, and also more clothes so I don't have to use the washers.
Activities on the ship were a joke. If one has infomercial withdrawal away from home, this is the cruise line for you. Most of the so-called activities were seminars selling something - all that was missing was the TV pitchman seeking plastic junk for $19.99, and saying, "but wait!". Same for the ceaseless hawing of the art auctions, night and day. You can get the same prints for 10% of the cost simply by going to art.com. There is a "big name" jewelry store on the ship, and it seems that Princess is obsessed with this man and his products - it's all you see and hear as far as "enrichment" articles and sales. The actual gift shops were OK but small, crowded often, and did not have a great variety of things in them. The casino was popular with the gamblers, but reeked of stale tobacco. Most of the activities wouldn't have entertained a 10 year old at a summer camp in 1950.
I did not go to the evening entertainment or shows, as it is not to my personal taste, and I've seen the production shows on other cruises. The best entertainment was the local folkloric shows in Ireland and Scotland, brought on board in the afternoon, and truly entertaining. Some of the solo acts were really bad, with poor quality instruments and off-key singers.
The guest services staff could use some further education about who is paying their salaries, and how to be courteous to the guests. Some were absolutely robotic in their manner and responses, and it became obvious very quickly that complaints were not passed on or acted on beyond the first contact - I had to keep going back and repeating everything day after day, as with the case of the hair in my food. I envy the staff at the front desk as far as being multilingual, but apparently they are better at languages other than English, as there were some misunderstandings about what I was plainly and simply explaining to them.
I don't know who is in charge of the sound levels in public spaces on this ship, but they must be deaf. Everything broadcast in the Piazza area in the atrium was at dangerously high decibel levels, and it made being there painful, and speech with companions impossible. Same for the guest services desk, which was right at the top of this area and blasted with noise. It is not good business to need to shout at guests, or have them shout at the staff, and some of the information was personal. I had to ask to be taken to a quieter area so I could explain what I needed, on several occasions. Everything was far too over-amplified, expect the captain's announcements.
Speaking of announcements - during one of the earliest nights of the cruise, at about 11 PM, somebody on the bridge obviously pushed the wrong button. I was startled awake by an announcement about "this is the bridge", and then a welcome recording began playing before somebody realized what was happening and shut the thing off. What would most people think at that hour of the night when an announcement comes blasting into the cabin, from the bridge? Probably that there was some emergency happening. It took hours to settle down after that and go back to sleep.
The fitness center had had more good equipment added, and seemed to be cleaner than I remember from past cruises on this ship. Not nearly enough space for workouts with the weights, however, and classes took up the floor space elsewhere at times for those wishing to stretch or do floor workouts independently.
The spa is at the entrance to the fitness center, and there were always several crew on duty there, trying to engage the guests at the beginning of the cruise to sign up for seminars and spa services. A few of the staff were pleasant, but the rest of them seemed to have joined the zombie crew and did not smile, had no expression, and looked depressed. This ship doesen't seem to have the happiest crew members, at least from what I've observed in at least five sailings on it, and unless the itinerary is too good to pass up, I won't be choosing to sail on this ship again. Yes, I know they work very hard, but I'm on the ship to have a good time and be around pleasant people, and it didn't always happen on this cruise. With that said, the usually sour and taciturn security people seemed unusually cheerful and pleasant on this trip.
A few of the cruise staff remembered me from previous trips, and they were delightful to visit with.
Some of the ports I'd been to before and enjoyed seeing what I had missed the first time. The other ports were all delightful, and it was a great sampler of what Great Britain, Ireland, and Scotland have to offer visitors.
Shore excursions were very popular, but I did not take any. I use Tours by Locals for private, custom-tailored tours, and 99% of the time they are far better value than what the ship offers. I get to see exactly what I'm interested in, travel in comfort, meet local people, and benefit greatly from the experience in places all over the world. I also use private transportation rather than the ship transfers and private car services for the same reasons. The passengers were from all over the world, and some were nice to interact with, and others were dealing with squabbles with family, friends, groups. It did not seem to be a cruise environment friendly to singles of any age. Most of what I saw were either couples, or tour groups, or family groups. The youngsters on the cruise seemed bored, and would hang out on the staircases and yell in the corridors, very annoying at all times, and especially a hazard when blocking the stairways.
None of the public rooms seemed to have benefited from the recent dry dock overhaul, but they seemed to be in decent condition, if not a bit outdated.
I did not have any photos taken, or purchase any. The photography staff delayed guests getting off the ship in almost every port, and were outfitted in tacky, stupid, costumes some of the time, and yelling like street vendors in some out of the way place on the planet to get business. The photos were also very expensive. It was annoying to be aggressively intruded upon during dinner by the photographers trying to get yet another photo or two. Some people liked this, but many did not.
This was a very port-intensive itinerary, and not conducive to staying up late if one had to be up at 5 AM for breakfast and an early tour, either private or with the ship. I could hardly wait to get to bed in the evening, and definitely slept very well despite the uncomfortable bed and noisy cabin neighborhood. Sadly, one of the most anticipated ports had to be bypassed due to an awesome North Sea gale-force storm at the top of Scotland that lasted several days.
At the end of the cruise, since this was the British Isles, there was a Celtic festival that was some of the most fun and best entertainment on the ship. A few of the entertainment staff provided good Irish music, some folks danced with great spirit, and those of us who love Zumba and who had learned a few Irish folk dances joined in for the grand finale.
Speaking of Zuimba, this took place every sea day, and was so very popular that the small lounge area dance floor was jammed. It was great fun and exercise, just needed more room.
I choose to cruise on Princess mainly for the ports and the boat ride. The newer ships, like the Royal Princess, are quite nice. The cost is also reasonable if two share a cabin, but going solo, I pay double and wish they would change this policy and give singles a break with the cost. I keep asking, but no response positively yet. While some of the crew are truly outstanding, there are others badly burned out and despondent at their jobs. Some can't communicate sufficiently in English and this causes misunderstandings and frustration on both sides. The food quality continues to decline, as do the menu offerings. Everything on the ship seems to be aimed at making money for the cruise line. It is one gigantic floating sales pitch or commercial most of the time. I go to the spa to relax and enjoy the rate luxury of having someone else do my nails, hair, or have a massage - but even then, the sales pitches continue for all sorts of products I'd not use in one hundred years. I also wonder about the quality and wisdom of offering things like Botox injections, teeth whitening, and other cosmetic medical services which should be done on land with a reputable physician you can return to easily if you have a problem with the results.
Disembarkation was extremely efficient and easy if one planned carefully ahead of time. I was able to get off the ship in a matter of minutes, and found my luggage quickly as well. I had a private car back to the hotel at Heathrow, as my flight did not leave unti the next day. To avoid stress, I never take a flight anywhere the same day a cruise ship is either arriving or departing, as its movements can be extremely unpredictable.
I had a mostly good time, visited wonderful ports with great private tours, enjoyed being on the ocean again, and even the two impressive storms we sailed through. If a cruiser is mainly concerned with getting to the ports by ship, and doesn't care much about the amenities on older ships with questionable crew quality, Princess delivers for a reasonable cost for double occupancy. It is just sad to see how this once very stylish and nice cruise line has deteriorated since Carnival bought it and lowered the quality so badly in almost every area. If cruisers want everything to be five star for what they paid, Crystal Cruise Line exceeds beyond expectations, and flawlessly. Read Less