Star Princess was transferred to P&O Australia in late 2020. It will enter service as Pacific Encounter in 2021.
Star Princess is an elegant midsize ship. It's perfect for older couples or groups of friends who enjoy lingering over drinks and long dinners, as well as those who want to find local influences in dishes, lectures and activities onboard. The ship accommodates children and families, but it doesn't cater to them as heavily as other cruise lines do. There are clubs for kids and teens and a pool with a retractable roof for rainy-day swims, but you won't find water parks, private babysitting or activities for children younger than 3.
Dining and drinking are strong points on Star Princess. About 10 dining options and a dozen bars offer the chance to jump around or find a favorite, and the specialty and main dining restaurants (even the grill) offer menu items inspired by the itinerary. We didn't eat one bad thing onboard, and you don't need to spend a night at the extra-fee Sabatini's or Crown Grill to enjoy a gut-splitting gourmet meal. (Though we do suggest trying at least one alternative restaurant. We doubt you'll be disappointed.) For casual dining, you'll have more than enough choice at the buffet, and the standout International Cafe serves up bistro-style snacks any time, day or night, gratis.
If you're keen to splurge on spirits, the whole page of chocolatier Normal Love's concoctions makes it easy to succumb to the "well, I'm on vacation" mentality. Wine aficionados should head to Vines, where they can choose from pages of wine selections not available elsewhere on the ship. Enjoy your glass with the day's complimentary selection of tapas and sushi or an extra-fee wine-and-chocolate pairing. For a deal, take advantage of the drink specials extending until midnight at Skywalkers Nightclub, though be warned: It's easy to lose track of the hours (and cruise card swipes).
Enrichment -- especially in Alaska -- is a highlight that Princess makes a point of emphasizing, and we totally dig it, from the lumberjack show to emotional tales of an unlikely friendship in the wild. Entertainment, on the other hand, is hit and miss. There is music all around the ship, but it's the instrumentalists and not the vocalists who stand out. Similarly, evening entertainment is varied -- a comedian, production shows, a ventriloquist act, a singer and pianist -- but seems like something to do if nothing else is going on, not something to make a point to see.
Service left us with kind of a shoulder shrug. It certainly wasn't bad, but it wasn't outstanding either. Our room was always clean, and requests were always accommodated, but we never got to know our cabin steward. Perhaps it was a matter of timing. Similarly, we had one waiter in the main dining room who was enthusiastic, but the rest of the time, requests were simply fulfilled around the ship -- coffee handed, plates cleared, order taken -- with little personality.
Overall, the ship is comfortable and polished, and the crew has a firm grasp on a reliable level of service. While tropical paintings seem out of place as cabin decor on cooler-clime itineraries, Star Princess does a fine job of highlighting local flavors through daily activities and menu specials, making it a refined ship for any destination.
Star Princess attracts couples in their empty-nester and golden years, along with multigenerational family groups; we saw few young couples on our Alaska cruise. This demographic can change on shorter sailings but will likely hold up on longer South America itineraries. Passengers are mostly American or Canadian with a smattering of Asians, Europeans and Australians onboard, and they range from repeat cruisers to first timers.
Onboard dress is generally casual, and most nights call for "smart casual" (what you would wear to a fine dining restaurant at home). Shorts are not permitted in the main dining rooms or specialty venues for dinner. Seven-night sailings have two formal nights; expect more formal nights on voyages two weeks or longer. On those nights, men typically don tuxedos (you can rent onboard) or suits and ties, and women wear anything from smart suits and blouses to cocktail dresses or gowns. Passengers not inclined to dress up can head up to the Horizon Court in any attire (and many did). We didn't feel as if the formal nights were that intimidating, and it was a treat to "clean up" and go out for the evening feeling a tad more fancy.