We have travelled on many cruises over the past three decades, once favouring Princess but more recently the smaller, upscale lines Azamara Club and Crystal. We decided to try the big ship experience for a change, thus the Regal, and ... Read More
We have travelled on many cruises over the past three decades, once favouring Princess but more recently the smaller, upscale lines Azamara Club and Crystal. We decided to try the big ship experience for a change, thus the Regal, and Princess once more, with the idea of a future world cruise on a Princess ship. Well, I doubt we’ll do either the Regal again or the Princess world.
The itinerary wasn’t of primary importance. We’d done the Caribbean a lot in the 1990s. Hadn’t been to the Dominican Republic, tho' – unfortunately bad weather, heavy winds, cancelled that particular port. The other port of interest was Cozumel in Mexico, and that proved a pleasant visit, though much changed from 20 years ago. The one problem with nearly all ports in the Caribbean is the clutter of big cruise ships: so, with three or more cruises in one port, what you see the most is other passengers.
The Regal Princess has definite virtues. The stateroom, in our case a balcony cabin designed for someone with mobility difficulties, was fine: spacious, airy, pleasing, an excellent bathroom and shower. It was indeed a place of refuge, peaceful, away from the hurly-burly and the noise that filled too many common spaces. The public areas were well-appointed and handsome. The fitness centre was full of exercise machines to serve a lot of users. The movie under the stars, the giant screen, worked well, and the ship offered a diversity of movies, from Jason Bourne to Pavarotti to Circe de Soleil. I was particularly taken with the Horizon Court and Bistro (the buffet): attractive, well-organized, the eating area spacious and clean. Likewise the entertainment areas, lounges and theatre, were fine venues for shows or parties. The two dining rooms we visited, the Allegro and the Concerto, were both pretty, almost elegant, the Concerto more pleasant because the colour scheme quieter – and seemingly more airy than the Allegro. The Piazza, that signature space of Princess, was impressive though we found it too noisy whenever there was a scheduled event. The staff were usually friendly and efficient, tho' not as friendly as on Azamara or as efficient as on Crystal. Indeed the staff were always prepared to help out people with a question – and, note, with a mobility problem.
We are foodies. That's one of the main reasons we like to cruise. The dining on the Regal Princess was good, sometimes very good. The Horizon Court served an abundance of delicious items, breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Some of the highlights: meat roasts, Mongolian barbeque, Thai beef salad, bouillabaisse, grilled shrimp, paella. Not that everything was appealing. Fish dishes looked tired, veal was tasteless, so too surprisingly suckling pig, the cheese abundant at supper but always a bit too ordinary. The desserts and sweets, at The Pastry Shop, part of the Horizon Court complex, were okay, very good cookies and some good cakes, but never startling. The Trident Grill was a disappointment (the equivalent much better on Holland America's Zaandam, a much smaller vessel). If the wieners were tasty, the french fries were not, and the hamburgers were small, the meat eaten up by the bun. The menu in the dining room was shorter than I recall from previous trips. The regular offering of steak has disappeared, perhaps to enhance the appeal of the extra-fee Crown Grill. (We didn’t eat in any of the specialty restaurants or partake of any of the supposed luxury meals, all of which are priced ridiculously high.) But you can find a tasty but tiny caesar salad; good seafood and meat dishes; regional dishes; and decent lunch and breakfast offerings. Highlights here: smoked fish for breakfast one day, pheasant for supper another, prime rib, the crème brulee. On the other hand the sole was bland and the tomato soup had more acid than taste. The standout restaurant was Alfredo's Pizzeria: excellent pizzas, some fine pasta, nice salad, very good service and elegant surroundings – and you only pay extra for the wine, and a delicious red-wine Sangria. By the way an extensive wine list full of California and Italy on board but lacking many South American or German treats, which happen to be our favourites. Still wine prices are reasonable for a cruise ship.
But a big ship has problems. The distances between the stateroom and other places can be great. Just getting around was time-consuming. Particularly difficult for the mobility challenged. No wonder a noticeable number of passengers had electric vehicles. Often the elevators were insufficient, too slow, too crowded, and thus too stuffy. That was especially true when an event, starting or ending, produced a rush of people to the elevators. At times lengthy lineups to get, say, a hot dog. Places like the internet café or passenger services sometimes very crowded. Insufficient drink stations, indeed only one major station, on the 16th floor, serving tea, coffee, and water.
Beyond this, the major problem with Regal Princess seems rooted in what seems to be poor management. The embarkation procedure at Fort Lauderdale was chaotic, and not only for special needs passengers. The lineup of regular passengers was extraordinary. (But this was right after the airport shooting.) The staff was pleasant enough – just overwhelmed. To be fair the disembark was smooth and swift, handled effectively by courteous staff, at least for people with mobility problems.
Trying to change an inappropriate table in the dining room that first night was impossible because so many people were equally distressed. The dining room management seemed unprepared for what was inevitable. Eventually we tried on a later day and that worked, more or less.
Then there's the pathetic room service. I’ve not experienced so limited a breakfast menu before in room service, virtually no protein and little sweet or bread. Not that this mattered since too often some items never came, or arrived before or after the requested time, and on one occasion the whole order was forgotten! Phoning didn’t help because you were likely to be put on hold.
Finally entertainment – it used to be that Princess had the finest shows of any major cruise line. Not now it seems, or not here. (A previous Princess we took two years before, albeit a different ship, had superb production shows.) Too many limited performers. A signature production show Fiera that was abysmal, the only star the special effects. Loud entertainment, full of hype but usually banal. We were frightened away from Bravo (?) by the brassy voice of a female singer. The third production Spectacular had some good dancing but again crummy if over loud singing. The exceptions: the Polonia String Quartet, the Orphia Quartet, and a Mexican folkloric performance.)
In short somebody isn’t administering the Regal Princess effectively, so to ensure the comfort and pleasure of its customers.
The great concern of Princess seems to be selling. Constantly passengers are subject to spiels to shop, go to the specialty restaurants, buy drinks, visit the art auction, acquire some new jewelry, get a photo or a video, and on and on. I did have the feeling veteran Princess goers were inured to this commercial imperative. But for anyone not prepared, or attuned to the less insistent ways of the more gracious cruise lines…well this selling is a real pain. Perhaps this attitude, presumably mandated by headquarters, has exacerbated the problems of the ship management. Maybe the managers aren’t allowed sufficient funds to hire enough staff to handle and supervise the volume of work involved in such a big ship.
Would we go again on Princess? Possibly on a smaller ship, where the itinerary suited. But the days when Princess was gracious and so very good, they've long gone. Read Less