This was a cruise we have been trying to coordinate, or something like it, for years. It was specifically for the Fall Colors down the St. Lawrence, and the New England Coast leaving Quebec City to Brooklyn, N.Y..
The weather was what we kind of expected. We had, at various times, sun, fog, heavy rain, drizzle, strong wind, calm, dark clouds and one hot day (by the standards of the rest of the trip). Several shore excursions (some from Princess and others from off the ship) were cancelled at various times throughout the cruise due to weather.
This is our second Princess Cruise, and this is the second time that Princess has missed with some important items, and hit others right on the nose. At least the Royal Princess was not under the finishing of refitting, and did not smell of tar and chemicals as did the Caribbean Princess the year or so before.
So, the good stuff.
This is an amazing itinerary, and my favorite parts were Acadia National Park at Bar Harbor, and Saguenay Fjord in Quebec. On both days we had weather, meaning our view from the top of Cadillac Mountain was about 20 yards in the wet, driving, windy fog (rest of the trip up was amazing) and we had sun, cloud, rain and amazing views on both the drive and the boat at the Fjord.
Quebec City: The extra day in Quebec City after boarding a new scheduling idea, but it worked for us, and the walking tour of Old Quebec City we took was amazing. I believe it was not a Princess excursion. Amazing city, and a fit beginning. The Color there was mid-way to peak, but the city, architecture and vistas both from the high point of the City and the ship were wonderful.
Cape Breton Island: We rented a car in Sydney, Nova Scotia, and went to the Fortress of Louisbourg. A wonderful place, great history and a miserable weather day, but worth it. We cancelled some other driving on Cape Breton Island as the low clouds and rain made vista pictures about impossible, and there was fog on the Bras d'Or as we crossed at one narrow point.
Boston (overnight): We met up with friends in Boston and had an amazing tour of Plimoth, Lexington and Concord, and dinner at the Longfellow Wayside Inn in Sudbury. Worth it, and amazing, but the colonial libations were much too strong, so at least I wasn't driving. The second day we did a "Freedom Trail" walking tour arranged by our fellow travelers, and it was extremely interesting, and the guide was very humorous. This was not an excursion off the ship, but I believe there were some to this description. The brilliant fall color had not reached Boston yet, but there were those 2 amazing trees among the fall green forest on Boston Common.
Newport: The Breakers at Newport was spectacular, and an interesting study in life and history for that period. Even on a very nice day (which this was not) it is definitely worth it. We had intended to walk the Cliff Walk, but the weather did not allow, and the trolley system back to the main port area for the City of Newport worked well. I guess all the drivers are tour guide wannabees, and it was an interesting "bus ride" back.
Meals: On the ship, Sabatini's was a must. Meal, service and details were wonderful. We had seen Sabatini's on the Caribbean Princess the year before, and it was also fabulous. Some of the offerings in the Horizon (Lido) were exceptional, like the made to order omelettes, the pastry area, and a number of the entrees. Service was also exceptional, and the staff always friendly and helpful.
Ship: The ship itself was beautiful, and generally easy to navigate. I would estimate the average age of our 3,500 or so fellow guests to be in the mid-50's, but there were some young couples, a couple of families with children, and some mid-30-50 singles (at least not traveling in groups or pairs for the majority of the time we saw them.) All the staff were very pleasant, and eager to be of service (with some exceptions noted below). Our Cabin was Forward, High, Port side, just behind and above the bridge. It was under other cabins, not the Lido, so it was very pleasant from a noise standpoint. Our Steward, Cheryl, was excellent, helped us with all our requests, was thoughtful of what we needed when we were there, and always had things done when we returned.
And now, the not so good stuff:
Ship, Crowds and Lines: This was the largest ship we had ever been on, and it showed. We will do what we can to avoid something this big in the future. We did "anytime dining," and also had a meal at Sabatini's (already discussed) and one at the Crown Grill. On one or two occasions we ate dinner at the Horizon, and scrounged in the International Cafe or the Pool side places. Generally, the food at the Crown was good, but not worth an extra charge, although the servers were nice, and service excellent. But the meat for a high-end steak house was no better than what was available at the Horizon, and not as good as the one steak I ate at the Concerto DR.
There was a noticeable lack of regional dishes on the MDR menus. In Portland, Bar Harbor and Nova Scotia, there was no lobster, although there was a crab dish out of Halifax and a Salmon dish on the Sea day into Sydney (we were at Sabatini's, though so cannot describe it). There was no description regarding regionality and no offering of regional (Quebec, Maine, New England) sides or vegetable dishes. The only lobster we heard about on the menus at all was the Horizon on the last night from Newport to NYC (we were in one of the Main Dinning Rooms, and there was none on that menu. Since we saw some regional foods and historical preparations while in Portland, Me. and Boston (Sudbury), this lack on the ship was disappointing.
It was a positive that there were more places for "specialty" coffees on the ship, except for the upselling involved. The wine tasting was not available (apparently sold out well before cruising). I assume that is also related to the number of people on the ship.
Lines were ever present, and they were an issue. For "anytime dining" before 7:30 a reservation was needed, but not recommended by the staff or "Patter." First night out of Quebec City were arrived about the time they opened, put the 4 of us were put on hold with a buzzer until about 7:30. Only one DR was open at 5:30 for Any Time. On the first night, after a 1.5 hour wait, the dinner service took almost 2 hours, with no specific issues in our 4 place orders. So it is now 9:30 as we leave the dining room.
Entertainment: Unless one wanted to spend an 1/2 to 1 hour sitting in the Princess Theatre (the sitting time got longer as the Cruise progressed and people learned of the lack of seats at the actual show times), in advance of showtimes (both), the entertainment in the Princess Theatre was closed out. Yes, there were people sitting and saving spaces, but that was the only way to get your group in, and staff were not policing it. We finally gave up trying, as this was a waste of time, with no apparent solution proposed by the staff of the ship. Thus, on the final night, when the Theatre was for some, not clearly explained, reason, closed, and everything moved to the performance area in the back of the ship (Vista Lounge), we were not impacted, but hundreds were, and the complaints throughout the ship were noticeable.
There was a noticeable lack of dance music in workable venues. There was usually something in the Piazza, but it was classic rock, and the area full with little room to maneuver, or it was fine classical music. Crooners had good music, but a lack of places to dance. Vista was always a show of some kind with no music. The Club 6 didn't start until 10, and requests were not taken, although for the most post the music was good, and there was room to dance if the dancers knew the music. The Wheelhouse was always incredibly crowded with people going either to the Crown Steakhouse or the Vista Lounge, and music was generally good quality, but not dance music. (Not Ballroom, Latin, or Swing).
We have rated the Entertainment as poor, for these reasons, although the entertainers were excellent. The way we gained access to them, or the way the ship planned was horrible. And a place to dance with music to dance to is important to us.
We did not spend any time in the Casino, Art Gallery or Auctions, not in the Spa.
Unless you had a suite on the Marina Deck that gave you access to the roof deck above the bridge, there was a total lack of outside view space forward (unless you wanted to sit in the cabin and watch the bridge cam). The Promenade Deck on this ship is NOT. There are limited outside accesses, but most were blocked, and there is no deck access to passengers through the lifeboats, which are suspended right above the deck. External access to the upper decks (Sun, Sports and Sky) is better, but again, not really accessible in the weather we had as they are not covered. Add to that, the Sun Deck is taken by the "Sanctuary" at the Bow 1/3d of the ship (which we saw was never in use, but we did not spend much time up in an area where access was limited to others who paid for it).
Coming out of Halifax, we were told that at Portland, we would have to clear U. S. INS. The ship posted a "recommended process," which we followed. We were supposed to be part of the 2nd group, and the majority of the 3rd through 6th groups were already moving into line, when we did for our recommended time. The result, we got in the line to be processed in the "Vista Lounge" about 5 minutes ahead of our schedule. Instead of moving rearward, we were directed forward through the entire ship (we had entered at the Piazza), through the Theatre Lobby, and then back toward the stern. As we came back to the Piazza (30 or so minutes later), some people were just starting, and had to go all the way back to the Vista and down the stairs to get in line and then move all the way forward, and then all the way back. Once past the Wheelhouse Bar ship staff started directing a number of lines, but since there we people moving the other direction this was nonsense. Once inside the Vista Lounge Doors, again, without much reason, were were now separated into 4 lines, but there were only 2 INS agents, so the lines had to recombine. Each of the INS agents looked at the passports (U.S.) they were shown, and said "Welcome Home" very pleasantly. (Total time for each U.S. passenger from the INS people was about 2 seconds.) We then had to continue in lines through the stage front of the Lounge and then forward to the other doors where multiple staff were handing out entrance cards and putting a sticker on the Cruise Cards confirming we had done the INS thing. Surely, there as to be a better way for the Ship to handle this.
This was a miserable, cold and rainy day. We were later informed that the Non-U.S. passengers had endured a similar excruciating line, but over 1/2 of it was outside on the deck they were moving through, in the weather with no warning in advance that they would need weather gear and warm coats. I did not hear how long they took, no one seemed to think that Princess or INS (whoever made this the process) was doing it well.
To me, this was a wasted 1.75 hours of poorly coordinated nonsense. NOTE, when we had to do something similar in Ireland the previous Spring, passports were collected the night before, and processed and returned with Irish Stamps as we docked at Cobh.
This fiasco may have been forced on Princess by U.S. INS, but Princess did a horrible job coordinating it. We were not yet cleared into Portland, so why not make the schedule mandatory, instead of "recommended?" I was later jealous of those who did none of this, and waited until the last call warning where they cleared the whole process in leaving their rooms, getting welcomed and the sticker and entry card, and back to their rooms in under 15 minutes so they could go to the rainy, foggy, miserable wet dock area at Portland. I was not smart enough to think of that when I saw the enormity of the line when we joined it.
Tendering had similar line issues at Bar Harbor and Newport. We had a Ship excursion at Bar Harbor, so we were processed as part of a huge excursion group (10 to 12 tour coaches). However, it took at least 4 tenders from when we arrived at the lounge ahead of the time on the excursion ticket, to get this tour off the ship. At Newport, we followed the ship's instructions, but once in the waiting area, it took nearly an hour to get to a tender (even though we knew there were at least 4 running from two tender access locations). We were thanked frequently, but never a real explanation of the reasons. We were about to be loaded (there were 4 of us, when 10 Elite Passengers showed up at the last second, and were boarded ahead of us, and the numbers called for us were modified lower, keeping us in the waiting area until the next tender. (I know that Elite members have this priority, but it should not apply if they decide to show up at the last second.)
The Booking and "upgrade" process: Both of our couples booked together through the same travel agent, and the same categories at the same time. We did have "or better" cabin bookings. They were moved aft, low to a higher category, and we, as noted were still bow, high in the correct minimum category. We tried to solve this division in advance but were told we had to do it on the ship. Once we saw the lines awaiting for what we assumed was something similar at embarcation, we decided it wasn't important. Our room and area were great, but it made it very hard to coordinate with each other.
The text messaging system available on the ship has issues. Unless you kept your device tuned to it constantly (thereby killing any device battery life), there was no immediate notification you had a message waiting. The result, messages were seen hours after they were intended, since having direct internet access (and thus text messaging) was unreasonably expensive, especially considering an 11 day cruise, there was no alternative, except when we did have land based service in port. Sometimes the messages had significant delays in delivery time. That certainly wasn't helpful. Yes the phones worked, but who spends all their free time in a cabin? We didn't, and we liked our cabins (even widely separated).
The t.v. video system was so screwed up, there was a credit issued to every passenger the night before Brooklyn. But that was a Note in the delivery system, and there was a lot of confusion viewed. To us the note was clear, nothing needed to be done, and the credit appeared on the final statement. But the system was really screwed up. There was never a daily "Patter" screen showing the details of the day (you could get that online but not on the t.v.) For the 1st 5 days, there was no map, ship status, bridge cam or weather. Over the next couple of days, those each came back up. We did not try the movie library. The only videos we could initially find were related to how to book excursions, buy stuff in the shops, plan future cruises, etc., nothing really useful to answer "what's in Halifax, or how to get around on public transportation. Eventually, the morning we were in the fiasco at Portland, the system started fully working.
The "Captain's Circle" event was a huge, impersonal, glorified, future cruise sales pitch. First, they announced that our category (Gold) had over 1,000 passengers on the ship, and the Ruby, with whom we shared this "gathering" numbered about 500, or a quarter of the total ship in those two categories. There were over 700 of us in the Theatre between the two groups, there was no ability to discuss with crew or planners, no reference points, no pins, and nothing else for the time spent beyond a free drink coupon. However, And, they did not open the doors until late before the meeting, so hundreds of people were crammed into the Elevator lobbies and stairwells on 6 and 7 forward, and there was a significant amount of claustrophobia displayed with NO staff in attendance to assist until the doors opened.
I mentioned above that I felt all the crew were wonderful with some exceptions. Those were the Captain's Circle Representative and the Future Cruise Representative. The first was put out that I was asking about the "pins" that Princess had advertised would be distributed, and curtly advised me they didn't have any, and wouldn't until Brooklyn, and did not seem to catch that we were leaving (as was almost everyone else) there. Eventually she also could not advise what other planned Gold events there were. Their hours were limited, and unworkable.
The Future Cruise Consultant also had limited hours, and when I showed up, and his office was empty, he told me there were others in line, which was not clear until he so advised. He suggested I come back another day, but did acknowledge I had arrived during the hours so he would see me as his last appointment. Three others appeared before his hours ended, and two were curtly advised they would have to come back another time. When I did finally meet with him, he had none of the information we were looking for without a search (thorough) of his office space. He said I could find it online, and that it was available through Princess.com without internet charge. I asked him about the categories that worked (the 3 for Free promotion was being heavily pushed throughout the shows, entertainment, videos and the Captains Circle gathering), he asked me why I didn't just look at the Atlas. So I asked him for one, and his first response was, why didn't I have one, then in looking at my account, I guess he realized it was not an automatic perk at my level. I had specific questions about the promotions, what was an add on to other promotions and what was not, and he did answer. When I finished, there were 2 others there, and he told them to come back another time.
This didn't feel very friendly and welcoming and made me wonder in both cases if these crew were suddenly assigned to this duty, and given minimal training to do it.
The End Result
We had a wonderful cruise, based on the itinerary, and that fact it was what we wanted. For us, this ship was too big, and the logistics of doing things on the ship were poorly managed by Princess and its staff. Our inability to find good dancing may mean we were spoiled by several cruises with other lines where that was readily available.
Would we go again, on this itinerary, yes, but not on this ship. Read Less